The BioLogos conference in July featured a great lineup of speakers who covered a wide range of topics related to our mission. Videos of the
Predictably, one of the topics at the conference was Adam and Eve. As I’ve said before, BioLogos does not have an official position on Adam and Eve. That shouldn’t be understood to mean that the organization is wishy-washy and unwilling to take a stand on the issue; rather it means that the organization is made up of individuals who hold to a range of positions on the topic, and we believe it is worthwhile to let the conversation play out (follow the links at the bottom of the page to see some of this conversation).
Next week we’ll feature OT scholar John Walton’s plenary talk, which defends a historical Adam and Eve. Today, we feature NT scholar Scot McKnight’s talk called, “Adam and the Scientists.” He doesn’t really argue for or against the historicity of Adam and Eve in this talk, but attempts to clarify the “Adam” with which Paul was concerned in the New Testament. He says (at 15:45), “What science is talking about—origins, biology, and evolution—and what the Bible is talking about both overlap and are different. And I will suggest we need to learn to see Adam and Eve as Jews did before we can begin our struggle with the scientists.”
It has long been noted that the Apostle Paul did not merely retell the Adam story from Genesis, but instead gave a new spin on it. For example, for Paul the Adam story is about how sin entered the world; but Genesis 3 doesn’t even use the word “sin”. Some think that when we look at Genesis by itself, it reads more like a loss of innocence story. And notice that Paul doesn’t mention Eve in Romans 5, where he says that sin entered the world through one man. Did her contribution count for anything? Clearly there is more going on here than a simple retelling of the Genesis account.
One way of explaining this is through the concept of progressive revelation. This is the idea that God revealed more to Paul than he did to Moses. Defenders of this say that Paul’s account of Adam is filling in the gaps of the Genesis account; or perhaps better, Paul’s account is telling us what the Genesis story really means.
But there is another way of explaining Paul’s take on the Genesis account: Genre. Paul was writing at a time when the Adam of Genesis was used by Jewish writers to illustrate and defend their ethical agendas. They weren’t concerned about giving Adam a historical reading as we understand that term today, but instead used the basic Adam story from Genesis for their own purposes. Was Paul writing in this genre of literature? If so, are there implications for how we understand the historicity of Adam?
McKnight says (at 42:22), “We can’t jump from Genesis 1-3 to Romans 5 and think we’re doing history, because Paul read his Bible in a historical context.” McKnight argues that this makes the question of a historical Adam and Eve a complex one that demands very careful thinking and research.
Both progressive revelation and attention to genre are solidly evangelical readings of Scripture. Which one is a better interpretation of Paul’s use of Adam? Perhaps we need them both. But if dialogue with the sciences is legitimate in interpreting Scripture, it seems to me that McKnight’s work tips the scale in favor of interpreting Paul’s use of Adam as part of the genre in which first century authors glossed the Adam story in Genesis.
On a related note, McKnight is something of an expert on “deconversions” from Christianity, having researched and written a book on the topic. In his research he found that one of the main reasons cited for leaving the faith is a perceived conflict between science and the Bible. We might be cautious, then, in claiming too much about topics about which there is legitimate disagreement. McKnight says, “I don’t want my students to lose their faith because I taught more than what the Bible actually teaches” (9:45)
Listen to Scot’s lecture, then let’s talk about it in the comments.
Further reading on this topic:
- Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures? (Common Questions page)
- Denis Alexander, How Does a BioLogos Model Need to Address the Theological Issues Associated with an Adam Who Was Not the Sole Genetic Progenitor of Humankind? [PDF]
- Deborah Haarsma, Interpreting Adam: Introduction
- Loren Haarsma, Why the Church Needs Multiple Theories of Original Sin
- Daniel Harrell, Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?
- Alister McGrath, What Are We to Make of Adam and Eve?
- David Opderbeck, A “Historical” Adam?
- Robin Collins and Ted Davis, Evolution and Original Sin by Robin Collins (series)
- Daniel Kirk, The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ (series)
- Jim Stump, NT Wright and the Historical Adam: Reviewing “Surprised by Scripture” (Part 2)
- Benno van den Toren, Not All Doctrines Are Equal—Configuring Adam and Eve