Jesus's sacrifice

Evolution is true. But it doesn’t rule out God at all. But I am wondering, if I don’t take the Bible literally like conservatives, can I still believe that Jesus existed, was who He said He was, and died on the cross, and rose again, and believe that He died for my sins?

I’ve wondered that.

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A couple of thoughts:

(1) “Taking the Bible literally” needs unpacking: William Tyndale set the Reformation tone by saying that the literal meaning of Scripture requires treating poetry as poetry, allegory as allegory, history as history etc. The idea that every word should be taken as intended to be context-free fact is a recent Fundamentalist position, not a “conservative” one. And Tyndale’s kind of “literailsm” doesn’t rule out evolution at all.

The real issue to have settled in ones mind in dealing with the Bible is “Do I believe this is God speaking authoritatively through humans?” or “Do I think this is humans writing what they believe about God?”

(2) The question to address is not what you can believe, but what you can believe consistently. We’re capable of completely irrational contradictions, like believing the Bible is completely unreliable but at the same time insisting that Jesus was who He said He was (in the Bible!). Alice’s White Queen wasn’t unusual when she said “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The trouble with inconsistent belief is that it’s immensely vulnerable, even if crucially true. For example, “Jesus existed, was who He said He was, and died on the cross, and rose again, and believe that He died for my sins?” is a basic set of faith propositions (a creed, if you like - and one I believe and consider the basis of salvation). Each bit expresses belief in an objective fact. But the only source for those propositions is the New Testament and the traditions based on it.

So if some radical scholar managed to persuade you that the gospel accounts can’t be taken factually, being only the faith-commitments of the early Church and blah blah, your “creed” has to live alongside something like “The early Church believed Jesus existed. He was who later believers thought he was. He was probably executed by the Romans, but can’t reliably be shown to have risen from the dead, so what does ‘dying for my sins’ mean anyway?”

In that case, something would have to give down the line, since the two beliefs contradict each other. The early liberals, for example, as well as some recent Evangelicals, jettisoned the need for facts and said “My experience of the risen Christ is all that matters”. But one then notices the tendency for “Jesus” to get buried beneath the “facts” that can be demonstrated, like what other people around think.

Then instead of Jesus’s teaching changing us we slowly change Jesus to suit our preferences, and those of our society.


Thank you for the replies. John Garvey, I don’t fully understand point 2 in your post. Could you explain a little more?


Ironically, the Catholic Church’s main role has been to DEFEND the wandering Protestants from this fate!

They use procedures of logic and faith - - perhaps as Byzantine as the Rabbi’s! - - to establish DOGMA.

And for those gray areas where it is hard to be absolutely sure … the Church offers DOCTRINE - - which are answers and approaches deemed to be “best practice” until the Church breaks through to a NEW TRUTH in the matter.

Perhaps being a Non-Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian IS precarious … and that we should return to the bosom of either the Roman Catholic church or the Orthodox community!

Sorry to be unclear, Emily.

My point was simply that some attempts to square current evolutionary theory with traditional faith tend towards denying the latter in the end, and it’s not always obvious at first that that’s the case.

The example I chose (and it was just one example of many) was the path of saying that we can escape literalism simply by saying the Bible makes many mistakes, and so got its science and history of origins plain wrong. The problem with that is that exactly the same unreliability would apply to what you’re eager to preserve: “Jesus existed, was who He said He was, and died on the cross, and rose again, and believe that He died for my sins” .

Take Jesus’s teaching on marriage. He taught on divorce that “In the beginning it was not so”, quoting the text of the Adam narrative in Genesis as his authority, “What God has joined together…” But if you’ve decided that Adam is fictional, but conclude that Jesus believed in him anyway, then you have to say that Jesus made mistakes on (a) the existence of Adam (b) the authority of Genesis to settle doctrine and © quite possibly his teaching on marriage.

If he was wrong about marriage, and the Bible, what else was he wrong about, especially when he claimed to be the fulfilment of the Old Testament? See what I mean?

So some careful listening and evaluation of the various ideas around is important, so that down the line, having thrown out the bathwater, you don’t find yourself wondering where the baby went. My own (strong) conviction, after seven years or so of studying it more or less full-time, is that there is no incompatibility between science and Scripture taken “literally”, in the sense I described in point (1) above.

People like John H Walton operate on the same principle of high Scriptural authority, and as regards making sense of the Creation accounts in Genesis with reference to science, his “Lost World of Genesis 1” is a brilliant place to start.

I’m not sure that George’s apparently tongue-in-cheek plug for Catholicism or Orthodoxy above is that much help for a struggling soul, but it makes at least one important point. And that is that the Catholic Church (which in its “basic” theology on the nature of God, the Creation, Providence and even the historical existence of Adam and Eve, and so on, is biblically conservative, and in pretty full agreement with historic Evangelicalism) really doesn’t have much problem with accepting evolution.

I’m not by any consideration a Catholic, but I find some of their thinking on the matter refreshingly free of the tangles that many American Evangelicals - I’m English - get themselves into (perhaps because they’re reacting too violently to strident Creationist Fundamentalism). To me it’s an encouragement that the biggest “party” in the world Church finds its traditional teaching quite compatible with science.

This is not necessarily the slippery slope you portray it to be.

One could imagine someone mostly persuaded by a “radical” scholar as you suggest, who nevertheless is able to live without too much cognitive dissonance because he also happens to have read N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, and happens to have come away recognizing that, despite the improbability of resurrection, an empty tomb and risen Jesus are the only way that a first century community of Jewish folks could have arrived at the beliefs that the early church arrived at. Thus “dying for my sins” continued to mean something to this person, and the creeds remained intact.

Such a person may bear a suspicious resemblance to someone I know with the last name Wolfe.

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Fair do’s. Wright’s book is an excellent antidote to many ills.

On the other hand, Emily was asking how to hold evolution and “historical” faith together, so it didn’t seem appropriate to advise sailing as close to the wind as possible and relying on a passing lifeboat if she capsizes!

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Hi Jon,

Let me start by saying I greatly respect your contribution to these threads and am glad you’re here to offer your perspective. It’s in that spirit that I offer occasional pushback.

I went to Matthew 19 and Genesis 2 to try to get my mind around what you’re saying and to figure out if I really agree with you on this or not. Help me understand here. It looks like the argument here runs like this.

  • God personally and specially hand-crafted Eve by taking something out of Adam’s side while he slept.
  • Adam awoke and praised this new creation as “flesh of my flesh.”
  • This is why we say the two become one flesh. Because they literally were.
  • Jesus cites this in his teaching against divorce.
  • Jesus was the Son of God, so we can’t say he was wrong about this.

If I take your approach — which as I understand says, Jesus appealed to it so it must be factually true — doesn’t that then mean that we don’t just have to believe some vague modernized version of the Adam story (such as we often hear: e.g., “our first homo sapiens parents chose to sin and we’ve struggled with original sin ever since”), but that we actually have to believe that Eve actually was physically fashioned from a piece removed from the side of Adam while he slept?

Do you believe that?

If not, are you saying that Jesus was wrong in quoting the Adam narrative as he did? Because that’s the part that He quoted as authoritative! Or is there some way to harmonize and salvage this without saying Jesus was wrong? For instance, perhaps, when we read,

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mt 19:4-6)

…could “for this reason” not mean, more abstractly, “because they were created for this very kind of unity together”? But then haven’t we done away with the need for a historical Adam in this circumstance?

Of course, perhaps your wider point about the slippery slope / baby & bathwater etc. still holds. I’m just trying to evaluate your wider argument by looking at this case study you’ve offered, and I’m wondering if I’ve really understood you.

Hi Emily,

I agree with @beaglelady. And let me take a moment to say: I thank God that you’re continuing to engage with these questions and not just throwing in the towel on faith in Christ. I notice you’ve been asking questions like these every so often over the last few months. I don’t know a hipper, non-patronizing way to say “You go, girl!” but maybe this: It’s inspiring to see you keep churning through this, and I pray your fire for the Lord keeps burning.

Are you managing to connect anywhere else in the web or print world (or maybe even real-life if you’re lucky!) with like-minded progressive-leaning evangelicals / post-evangelicals? There’s a wide range of personalities and materials out there, some hewing closer to historic orthodoxy and some not so much, but I think you’ll certainly find plenty who fit the description in your original post here. If you haven’t, I suspect doing so could potentially really strengthen your faith.

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I think it’s valuable to read the contributions from all kinds of people, no matter where they are on the faith spectrum. (Except for mean people, of course!)

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Thanks for the affirmation, Sir. It’s good to be challenged intelligently, because that way arguments are clarified, reasons are sharpened and, we hope, we all end up as better servants of Christ.

Forgive me if my reply is ponderous - I want to “show my working” since your question opens up all kinds of interesting implications. First, I don’t think that Jesus’s reply depends at all on a literalistic (or any specific) interpretation - rather, his stress is on Scriptural authority (which accords with the “Tyndale” definition of “literal sense” I gave above, that “It means what God intended it to mean in that context and genre”).

Let us start by assuming Emily’s axiom: “Jesus is who he said he was”, and therefore that Jesus’ teaching is authoritative. So far, then, we’re wearing the “W.W.J.D.” wristband. We have no access to exactly how Jesus understood the literality of the details of the “rib” episode - but we don’t actually need to.

In crude terms his methodology is this:
*This is what torah teaches.
*Therefore it bears my Father’s prescriptive authority.
*Therefore is bears my own authority.

That in itself is food for thought, since Peter teaches that the Scriptures were the result of “the Spirit of Christ” working in the authors: so does Jesus speak as a torah obedient Jew, or as a divine author? Or maybe, as both God and man, he speaks as both.

But that aside, he doesn’t actually simply say, “The Bible says…”. Instead, he says, “This is how God ordered things ‘in the beginning’”, and quotes Gen 2.24 as proof. But that’s interesting, because in Genesis (a) God does the rib thing, whatever it was, (b) Adam says, “Hey - my wife is my other half! How cool is that!” and (c) It’s the narrator who glosses the prescriptive meaning that Jesus quotes as if it were God’s own words. This places the divine authority in the text, and not just in God’s part in events described, whatever they were, which is interesting to consider.

Now to return to your suggestion that this commits us to the “surgical option”, I answer that it doesn’t at all, though of course it doesn’t preclude it. John Walton, for example, sees in the “deep sleep” the marker of a visionary experience (we tend to see “general anaesthesia”, but that is absurdly anachronistic, as well as suggesting that the Creator God used surgery). Walton suggests that God showed Adam the ontological unity he had with his (existing) wife, thus establishing a new, spiritual, model of family. An interpretation like that would fit perfectly well with Jesus’s use of Genesis.

Similarly, those who suggest that the Eden story represents God’s self-revelation to a particular tribe, or even the whole human race at a particular time, who presumably interpret the “rib” episode as some kind of revelatory experience, should have no problem saying “Amen” to Jesus’s argument. And so on for many interpretations more or less figurative, given only that they accept Scripture as “God’s words”, because that’s the basis of their authority, as far as Jesus is concerned.

The one necessity, it seems to me, is that there be some basis in history for the Genesis account, whether in an individual’s life, an act of creation, or something else definite. Because Jesus makes his case by saying, “This is how it was ‘in the beginning’, so that’s how it ought to be now.” That requires some conception of what “the beginning” means, and seems to me to preclude purely allegorical, timeless, interpretations of Gen 2-3, such as “It merely shows that we all sin” - because Jesus talks of an original intended pattern for marriage which, if it never existed, or was never known about by anybody “in the beginning”, would be a lie.

Likewise, for the same reason I have trouble fitting Jesus’s teaching into scenarios in which sin is somehow our inevitable evolutionary heritage - that we were, in effect, created sinful by the blind (or wicked) evolutionary Demiurge. If that were the case, although Jesus is not directly addressing that issue, he’s talking about an ideal of marriage that never was “in the begiining” either when mankind emerged as a species or when God revealed himself to some or all humans, but only in some later time when, perhaps, the human race matures into godliness.

Then Jesus would be really screwing up, criticising divorce-on-demand as an aberration from an orginal pattern, when in fact he’s introducing an ideal for the future. So, to address your words specifically:

…could “for this reason” not mean, more abstractly, “because they were created for this very kind of unity together”? But then haven’t we done away with the need for a historical Adam in this circumstance?

To be “created for that kind of unity” means it happened (in the beginning) until something intervened to disrupt the created order. That “something” can’t be evolution unless evolution is seen as an interference with creation, rather than “the means by which God created” (a phrase that’s full of holes theologically, but which is OK enough in this context).

So that leaves us with a Fall into sin. Personally I see no reason to preclude an individual “Adam” within history, and I think that’s the most parsimonious explanation, but if one has some other version of a Fall, it preserves what Jesus appears to me to assume in the teaching we’ve been discussing.

Now, coffee time.

See how easy it is to use the phrase “Fall into sin” ???

Other verbs other than “to fall”?:

  1. becoming: they BECAME sinful.
  2. entering: they ENTERED into sin.
  3. bumping: they BUMPED into sin.
  4. traveling: they TRAVELED to sin…
  5. adopting: they ADOPTED sin.

etc. etc. etc.

But by choosing the “falling” verb, you are attempting to influence the discussion subliminally.

Here, the serpent says “ye shall be as gods…”

Gen 3:4-5
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And here, God mentions the very same thing:

Gen 3:22-25
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

If Evangelicals were correct in their use of the image of “The Fall”, we would find texts that say: "DESPITE KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL, because Adam and Eve sinned they can never become as Gods!

How do you know evolution to be true? You do not even define what evolution means so I can equally claim Genesis is true as it amounts to the same statement with both describing the idea of the sequential appearance of life forms. You might as well claim doughnuts to be true.

Have a look at the principle of having a worldview in a nutshell in 22minutes at
to understand that your ultimate truth has to be believed and it’s truth value can only be understood in it’s coherence with reality.

How you make sense out of the written - or spoken word depends on your perception of reality. Do you insist on the rise of Jesus to be a material resurrection or a spiritual one, is he born again to you as a separate entity to yourself or is he born again inside those who follow him? Is God an eternal agent because he is an incredible old man sitting on a heap of clouds moving the universe by mechanical means or a non material existence who moves reality through his will.
If someone died for your sins, what was were / are they and why did he have to die for them? Was there someone demanding sacrifice that needed to be made happy by revenge? It might be the preferred explanation if you want to foster the idea that accounts can be settled by payments of one kind or another to make believers pay, but in the context of God and sin this would be incoherent in the light of the teachings of Jesus. Did he die for your sins of the past or also for the sins you are about to commit? before you worry about the material truth of Jesus existence you should worry about the conceptual truth of what it mans for you that someone died for your sins. If you think it was to make God happy so you can do what you want now or if it was to make you understand how to obtain eternal life by accepting the authority of God over your life makes a profound difference to the truth you live by, the truth that will set you free.

you sound like made a real effort to climb into sin :slight_smile:

Between “Man’s Fall” and “God’s Curse” … it would seem that the most crucial aspect was the Curse:

if there hadn’t been for the flaming sword, we would all be immortal, still eating from the Tree of Life.

you sound like you did not eat from that tree of life, even if you have access to it in Jesus - or hold - don’t tell me you believe it is meant as physical immortality.

Ahhh … well that makes for marvelous analysis.

So are you telling me that you don’t think the Tree of Life is literal? That the story of Eden is a metaphor for Jesus and Eternal Life?

Do tell…

There’s more to the Christian life than believing Jesus died for your sins.

The story of Eden is about the evolution of life and the concept of sin using a poetic description of puberty. Blessings to those who think its about mudpie humans and eating apples but it’s okay to think so for a child.

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