Tim Keller on Original Sin, Atonement, and Evolution (Part 1) | The BioLogos Forum


(system) #1

Sin and Salvation

Some may respond, “Even though we don’t think there was a literal Adam, we can accept the teaching of Genesis 2 and Romans 5, namely that all human beings have sinned and that through Christ we can be saved. So the basic Biblical teaching is intact, even if we do not accept the historicity of the story of Adam and Eve.” I think that assertion is too simplistic.

The Christian gospel is not good advice, but good news. It is not directions on what we should do to save ourselves but rather an announcement of what has been done to save us. The gospel is that Jesus has done something in history so that, when we are united to him by faith, we get the benefits of his accomplishment, and so we are saved. As a pastor, I often get asked how we can get credit for something that Christ did. The answer does not make much sense to modern people, but it makes perfect sense to ancient people. It is the idea of being in ‘federation’ with someone, in a legal and historical solidarity with a father, or an ancestor, or another family member or a member of your tribe. You are held responsible (or you get credit) for what that other person does. Another way to put it is that you are in a covenant relationship with the person. An example is Achan, whose entire family is punished when he sins (Joshua 7.) The ancient and Biblical understanding is that a person is not ‘what he is’ simply through his personal choices. He becomes ‘what he is’ through his communal and family environment. So if he does a terrible crime—or does a great and noble deed—others who are in federation (or in solidarity, or in covenant with him) are treated as if they had done what he had done.

This is how the gospel salvation of Christ works, according to Paul. When we believe in Jesus, we are ‘in Christ’ (one of Paul’s favorite expressions, and a deeply Biblical one.) We are in covenant with him, not because we are related biologically but through faith. So what he has done in history comes to us.

What has all this to do with Adam? A lot. Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 15 about Adam and Christ that he does in Romans 5:

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)

When Paul says we are saved ‘in Christ’ he means that Christians have a covenantal, federal relationship with Christ. What he did in history is laid to our account. But in the same sentence Paul says that all human beings are similarly (he adds the word ‘as’ for emphasis) “in Adam.” In other words, Adam was a covenantal representative for the whole human race. We are in a covenant relationship with him, so what he did in history is laid to our account.

When Paul speaks of being ‘in’ someone he means to be covenantally linked to them so their historical actions are credited to you. It is impossible to be ‘in’ someone who doesn’t historically exist. If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’, but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.

If you don’t believe in the fall of humanity as a single historical event, what is your alternative? You may posit that some human beings began to slowly turn away from God, all exercising their free wills. But then how did sin spread? Was it only by bad example? That has never been the classic teaching of the Christian doctrine of original sin. We do not learn sin from others; we inherit a sin nature. Alan Jacobs’ great book on Original Sin: A Cultural History says that anyone who holds to the classic Augustinian view of original sin must believe that we are ‘hard-wired’ for sin; we didn’t just learn sin from bad examples. The doctrine also teaches that it was not originally in our nature to sin, but that we have fallen from primal innocence.1 Another problem arises if you deny the historicity of the fall. If some human beings began to turn away from God, why couldn’t some human beings resist so that some groupings would be less sinful than others? Alan Jacobs in his book on original sin insists that the equal sinfulness of the entire human race is foundational to the traditional view.

Notes

1. Alan Jacobs, Original Sin: A Cultural History (Harper Collins, 2008), p. 280.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/tim-keller-on-original-sin-atonement-and-evolution-part-1

(Brad Kramer) #3

Pastor Keller is not available to respond to questions and comments, but you are invited to discuss his ideas below. I want to particularly encourage thoughtful comparisons of the approaches of Keller and Dr. Bankard.


#4

I find that, even with a historical Adam and Eve, the concept of ‘original sin’ and being in federation with Adam isn’t always intuitive and may have some of the same problems Keller identifies if we deny a historical Adam and Eve. For example, did other humans exist outside of Eden and/or away from Adam and Even after they were ejected? Is this a possibility since Cain left God’s presence and his family and found a woman away from where his family was living (Gen 4:16-17)? Or do we assume he took a female from his family with him since the text is silent on that point? Do we acknowledge that incest was necessary in the beginning (putting away the science re: genetics)?

If other humans existed outside of Eden (e.g. Nod), Keller’s concerns re: not accepting a historical Adam an Eve come into play. For example, as Keller says, “You may posit that some human beings began to slowly turn away from God, all exercising their free wills. But then how did sin spread? Was it only by bad example? That has never been the classic teaching of the Christian doctrine of original sin. We do not learn sin from others; we inherit a sin nature.” Keller also states, “The doctrine also teaches that it was not originally in our nature to sin, but that we have fallen from primal innocence. Another problem arises if you deny the historicity of the fall. If some human beings began to turn away from God, why couldn’t some human beings resist so that some groupings would be less sinful than others? Alan Jacobs in his book on original sin insists that the equal sinfulness of the entire human race is foundational to the traditional view.” These problems also exist if we believe other humans existed outside of Eden and/or subsequently away from where Adam and Eve lived when they were ejected.

I’m not arguing for or against a historical Adam and Eve, but even with a historical Adam and Eve, some of the same problems may crop up. I would be interested to hear how Keller views/resolves these issues.


(Darach Conneely) #5
"When Paul says we are saved ‘in Christ’ he means that Christians have a covenantal, federal relationship with Christ."
Covenant theology is a traditional explanation of how Adam's sin is supposed to affect us all and how Christ saves us. But we have to set that aside to examine alternative understandings of what Paul is saying, or we end up dismissing them, not because of what the passages actually say, but because they are contradict the traditions we read into the passages.
"But in the same sentence Paul says that all human beings are similarly (he adds the word ‘as’ for emphasis) “in Adam.” In other words, Adam was a covenantal representative for the whole human race. "
Was Adam's sin exactly the same as Christ's death on the cross? The word 'as' shows us there are parallels between Adam and Christ, but it doesn't mean everything is exactly the same. Romans 5 is full of parallels between Adam and Christ but it is just as emphatic that there are vast differences between them. Even if Christ saves us through covenantal relationship with him it doesn't mean mean we inherited Adam's sin that way. After all the bible does refer to Christ's death as inaugurating a new covenant, it never describes Adam in covenant terms. In fact the bible never talks about us inheriting Adam's sin or his sin nature.
"It is impossible to be ‘in’ someone who doesn’t historically exist."
Aren't we all in the Bride of Christ? Yet the bride of Christ was never a historical individual .Romans 5:14 talks of Adam being a figurative picture of Christ. If Paul is comparing Adam and Christ figuratively in the passage, then he isn't explain how sin entered the world or how Christ saved us from Adam's sin, he is using the story of the fall to tell us how surpassingly amazing Christ's redemption is. Similarly in 1Cor 15:22 Paul isn't saying his 1st century readers were somehow still 'in' a historical Adam who if he ever existed had long turned to dust and returned to the ground. Nor are we in Adam the same way we are in a living Christ whose Spirit fills our hearts and unites us to him even now. If Paul was comparing Adam and Christ figuratively as he tells us he does in Rom 5:14, then rabbinically trained Paul is talking in Jewish Apocalyptic terms. Humanity is described in terms of two great archetypal figures; the old man and the new; Adam (the Hebrew for not just man but human race) and Christ. Every human being is 'in Adam', even if Adam never existed, because Adam is the human race. In Adam, as part of humanity, all sin, and all die. Those who trust in Christ are united with him through faith, become part of the body of Christ, and will be raised from the dead.
"If you don’t believe in the fall of humanity as a single historical event, what is your alternative? "
Paul never says why all men sin, but simply states what was obvious to everyone, that all men do. Rom 5:12 death spread to all men because all sinned. It was death, the penalty for Adam's sin, that spread through the human race, not sin. To sin we first need to understand the difference between right and wrong, then we are all faced with the same choice Adam and Eve faced in the story, and just like Adam and Eve we all fail. That is what Paul describes happening to him Rom 7:9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.

(Donald Johnson) #6

I look forward to the continuation of this discussion. Seems obvious to me that depending on how much actual history one reads in early Genesis makes a huge difference on how much historical conclusions one can accept from the theory of evolution and vice versa. I accept the general outlines of the conclusions of scientists on the biological theory of evolution and this means that some ways of reading Scripture are not as plausible to me as others, in particular, an historical Adam.

I think there can be a danger in trying to get too specific, in saying that one explanation (for example, substitutionary atonement) is THE way that God saves us, period, end of story. I think it is more of a mystery and that God provides us with multiple metaphors that give us some hints, but are not intended to be a detailed explanation. So the question for me is when is the metaphorical explanation being taken too far.


#7

I don’t have anything particularly profound to share, I just wanted to say that I think your comment is right on. You did an extremely good job of articulating some of my own very vague thoughts, lol.


#8

Although one could imagine problems with a historical Adam and Eve, it is not necessary to do so. It is logical to assume that Cain took a woman with him, and that incest at the beginning was not a problem… even Adam and Eve were biologically closer than brother and sister. The land of Nod… it is as likely to later become the place where people of Nod lived, instead of being a place where people already lived when Cain went there. There is no “necessity” for people to already be living there when Cain went there.

So no problems.


#9

Adam had a choice to obey, which he didn’t. Christ obeyed completely and perfectly. Christ paid though he was innocent, Adam couldn’t even pay for his own disobedience, although he did end up dead, and separated from close communion with God while on earth. There are vast differences because of these things, but they are parallel in their opposites. We didn’t inherit Adam’s sin nature because of covenantal relationship, but inherited it because of our common humanity, descent, and human nature. Our covenantal relationship allows us the grace and mercy to receive relief from the results of our inherited nature.

Romans 5:12 [ Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ ] Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
1 Corinthians 15: 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

So you see that sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and thus sin came to all people.

The bride of Christ is the people of God, which is certainly historical, and existing and growing at the same time. Not an individual, but the body of Christ, the body of believers, of faithful followers.

In Romans 5, Adam is equated with “one man”, not with the entire human race.


(Albert Leo) #10

“If you don’t believe in the fall of humanity as a single historical event, what is your alternative?”

There is an alternative that fits very well with evidence from the science of genetics and anthropology. But it requires a major revision of the current Christian dogma that Original Sin and the Fall is the only way Christ can be seen as our Savior. Darwinian evolution, operating largely through the pressure of “selfish genes” to pass to the next generation, produced the archaic Homo sapiens (proto-humans), who possessed a brain with a nerve network capable of making more circuits than used by the most modern super-computers. In some manner, a biological mechanism still unknown, the Brain of just a few archaic Homo sapiens (aHs) was “programmed” to become Mind, allowing the invention of language by means of which the “program” could be ‘installed’ in other aHs they came into contact with. Thus, without any transfer of ‘bio-genes’ through sexual procreation, humanity could spread very rapidly–a fact that noted anthropologists call “The Great Leap Forward”.

Not surprisingly, this scenario did not gain immediate approval by either science or religion. First of all, the unprecedented increase in brain size noted in recent hominids was not prompted solely by pressures of existing environmental change, but was, instead, an EXaptation, a fortuitous ‘jump’ that could be utilized, when and if the need arose. (Exaptations are now accepted by most geneticists as explaining how evolution sometimes appears to anticipate a future need.)

Christian dogma, on the other hand, would need to be changed so that humanity never experienced a single Fall, but instead were given the powerful tool of a Mind which could be used, as God intended that humans operate as His co-creators through love and true altruism; or, as is too often the case, as a means to acquire power and even more selfish pleasures. Christ, as Savior, leads us to the former choice. As a symbol for evil, Satan leads us toward the latter.

As I see it, the main task of religion is to encourage us to lead better lives. For the first two millennia the doctrine of Original Sin served Christianity very well. And for children just starting their formal education, it still may be preferable. But as BioLogos has shown, when young Christians get on track to a career in science, an alternative may be called for. The dogma of Original Blessing may have the intellectual appeal that makes their Faith more relevant and their roles as God’s image bearers better defined.
Al Leo


(Albert Leo) #12

“When Paul says we are saved ‘in Christ’ he means that Christians have a covenantal, federal relationship with Christ.”

Could “federal relationship with Christ” mean that God wanted to show us how it was possible for a human, with Homo sapien genes (which Jesus must have had) to lead a sinless and creative life? We are influenced by–but NOT slaves to–our evolutionary genes.
Al Leo


(Johannes De Silentio) #14

No brilliance to add to such a discussion… but did want to say I deeply appreciate both Biologos and the struggles we’re all going through in sorting out a biblical theology taking into account evolution (or, as one soul put it, “The way God done dood it!”).

Blessings.


(Darach Conneely) #15

The bible doesn’t use the phrase ‘sin nature’, though the NIV throws it in a few time instead of sarx flesh. Nor does scripture say say we inherited a sinful tendency from Adam or that it was because of the Fall.

If you look at the passage you quoted it doesn’t say sin came to all people, it says all people sinned it was death that came to them, that spread through mankind. I agree the bride of Christ is the people of God through history. My point was was to show the problem with Tim Keller’s claim about in Adam and in Christ. Our being part of the bride of Christ does not depend on a literal historical woman marrying Jesus.


(Darach Conneely) #16

[quote=“aleo, post:12, topic:644”]
Could “federal relationship with Christ” mean that God wanted to show us how it was possible for a human, with Homo sapien genes (which Jesus must have had) to lead a sinless and creative life? We are influenced by–but NOT slaves to–our evolutionary genes.[/quote]
Interesting question, especially in terms of the incarnation and how Jesus who was fully man could live a sinless life.

My own take is that it is our Homo sapiens genes that give us what Paul refers to as the flesh, both good and bad. All the instincts desires and drives that trip us up now our sense of morality has evolved, these instincts were good in themselves and kept the species alive as we evolved. (And God saw that it was very good.) Through all this, through the millions of year of evolution God has been working his image in us. But as we began to understand morality and compassion God is opening up his true calling to us, a calling higher than evolved primates could ever live up to, one we simply cannot live out in our own strength.


(János Biró) #17

Tim Keller: "The doctrine teaches Also hurt it originally was not in our nature to sin, but we have fallen from harm primal innocence. Another problem arises if one you deny the historicity of the Fall."
I think the most ancient state of innocence was not, but the natural fauna consequential ruthlessness. God - which addressed the first group of people. These ancient people learned the mercy of God, to help each other unselfishly. They were the ones who were the ancient state of innocence, they have to trust in God. The ancient serpent symbolized Satan’s destructive intervention against trust.
So (as I understand), remaining thirst for God after the Fall. The kindness, justice and yearning for grace, is also present, in our fallen state. Consciously we experience the bűnösségünket, as opposed to animals. The more intelligent animals are innocent. Even if often cruel. But people are evil when they are committing atrocious acts. Man’s evil state, which is not responsible for his actions, words. Man is evil, when dominated by selfish intentions. Sometimes it is not so, but in general - lead the people of the wild fauna typical of selfishness and cruelty. The problem there is that he does it consciously. Our childhood innocence did not last long.
We can not escape this trap by their own strength. We need a Savior.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #18

Pastor Keller did a good job in talking about a covenantal view of sin and salvation.

I would like to suggest another model, a sports model. We all know that when a team wins a game or a championship, it is everyone on the team who is a winner, not just the star or even the players that played well. Using this analogy we are saved if we are on Christ’s team. Even though Jesus scores the points everyone on the team makes a contribution and shares in the glory. Those who are not on His team do not.

In terms of Adam and Eve humanity choose not to be on God’s team, but their own team. The human team is not totally bad, because God created humans to be good, but we still do not meet the expectations that God has for us and we should have for ourselves.

We are sinful when we are members of our own team, the team of selfishness. We are saved when we choose to be on Team Jesus and become a citizen of the Kingdom of God. God/Jesus is a our Leader, not we ourselves.

We are in a sense born into self centeredness because as infants we are totally dependent on others for everything. We need to communicate to them when we need help, if we are to get that help regardless other feelings. As we grow older we are supposed to become more aware of the feelings and needs of others as opposed to ourselves.

For a variety of reasons people do not make this transition, because they are trying to lift themselves by the bootstraps, instead of allow God to change their lives. That is why we must join Team Jesus.


(Albert Leo) #19

I agree, Darach. God is still busy with His creation. We see that in the cosmic realm in the ‘Pillars of Creation’ photo that Hubble provided us. We see that in the biosphere by the altruism displayed by Doctors Without Borders (and others) who, risking their own lives, rushed into west Africa to stem the Ebola outbreak. Our modern society has many faults, God knows, but it can also point the direction that God wants us to take. We abhor the action of the Isis warriors (?) who behead anyone not adhering to what they believe is God’s revelation in the Quran. But is there an answer in trying to kill them off with military action? Moderate followers of both Islam and Christian faiths must find a way to work together constructively. That means appealing to Minds being formed in modern times. As Pastor Keller noted:

“The answer (to how we can get credit for what Christ did) does not make much sense to modern people, but it makes perfect sense to ancient people.”

But we cannot count on the effectiveness of the wisdom of Ancient People unless it does make sense to modern youth who are humanity’s future. Viva BioLogos!
Al Leo


#20

Romans 5:12 [ Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ ] Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
1 Corinthians 15: 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Darach, yes the bible doesn’t use the phrase sin nature here. But it does in Romans 7. Even if it wouldn’t use the exact phrase, the intent of understanding is there. You see, sin entered through one man (which is shortly after creation by the fall of Adam and Eve - there is no other time it entered by one man), and therefore all have sinned, which leads to death. Sin entered not just one man, but it entered the world… that is why they sinned. It was because of the sin that death came to everyone… death came through sin. Death originally came to Adam because of his sin, and then because sin has come to everyone (by entering through Adam), then death also comes to everryone.

Romans 7:18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

Romans 7:25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

No one has so far said anything about a literal woman marrying Jesus. Jesus never married a literal woman, nor has scripture indicated such. Scripture indicated clearly that Jesus was single and unmarried. The “bride of Christ” is clearly a symbolic representation of the church, of the people of God, but it is not a term found in scripture. The bridegroom in Matthew 25 is a parable of God returning (Jesus) to his people… and his people are warned to be ready for the bridegroom. In John 3, John the Baptizer referred in a symbolic way to Jesus as the bridegroom, suggesting that the people who follow Jesus are the bride. The language is clearly symbolic.


(richard robinson) #21

I’m no theologian, but I wanted to share these thoughts. There seems to be no disagreement that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis, presumably based upon knowledge he acquired from Jehovah/Yahweh/God. There seems to be no disagreement that there is 430 years between Moses and Abraham, and perhaps another 2100 years between Abraham and Adam.
There seems to be no disagreement that God is supernatural…no natural being could create the Universe. Being supernatural, he is not constrained by the space/time continuum of humanity; and since God had not yet arrived on Earth in human form, the message God conveyed to Moses does not necessarily follow a linear time dimension, nor a 3 dimensional space paradigm for that matter. Moses had to compose/translate it into a linear-time/3-dimensional message in the best way possible. So I agree that the best we can make of it is metaphorical. It’s the story of man’s relationship to God, not necessarily the history of Earth…


#22

I’m just not convinced that it’s quite that easy from a hermeneutical standpoint. And when we include the scientific evidence that the human race could not have come from just one pair of humans, it makes it even more problematic.


(Darach Conneely) #23

Romans 7 certainly talks about our tendency to sin, but it doesn’t say it came from Adam.

[quote]You see, sin entered through one man (which is shortly after creation by the fall of Adam and Eve - there is no other time it entered by one man), and therefore all have sinned, which leads to death.
[/quote]You problem is, there is no ‘therefore’ all sinned. Paul says that all sinned, and tell us what happened as a consequence of all sinning because all sinned”…
so death spread to all men".

Paul does talk of sin entering the world through one man, and if you take Adam as a historical human being, it suggests he was the first to understand God’s command and sin. But it was the consequence of Adam’s sin, death, that Paul says spread through the human race, not the tendency to sin. However as I pointed out from verse 14, Paul may be speaking figuratively when this passage compares Adam and Christ. Rom 5:14 Adam was a figure of the one who was to come Reading through the rest of the passage, Paul keeps comparing one man (Adam) with the one man Jesus Christ. If Paul is speaking figuratively, he is using the imagery of Adam in the story in Genesis to tell us about Christ, his statements are drawing a symbolic meaning from the story rather than making historical statements about it.

This addresses Keller’s point:

[quote=“Tim Keller”]
You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’, but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.
[/quote]If passages about Adam like Romans aren’t discussing how Adam’s sin affects the human race, but using the story to describe our sin and Christ redeeming us, then concepts like Original Sin and The Fall, simply aren’t the core of Paul’s teaching. In fact if Paul only discusses Adam as figurative imagery, we don’t even know if Paul believed Adam was a historic individual or thought the Genesis story was written allegorically like his Jewish contemporaries Philo and Josephus did.

[quote=“johnZ”]No one has so far said anything about a literal woman marrying Jesus. Jesus never married a literal woman, nor has scripture indicated such. Scripture indicated clearly that Jesus was single and unmarried. The “bride of Christ” is clearly a symbolic representation of the church, of the people of God, but it is not a term found in scripture. [/quote]My point is that the bride of Christ isn’t a historical individual, it is a symbolic representation of the church, one we find throughout the NT. Paul also refers to the concept of the bride in 2Cor 11:2 and speaks of the church being presented to Christ as a bride in Eph 5:27, and becoming one flesh with him verses 31&32. Revelation also refers to the Bride coming down from heaven, the New Jerusalem. As you point out, the imagery is clearly symbolic. Which is why it contradicts Keller’s claim that corporeal language like ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Adam’ is covenantal and has to refer to historical individuals. We are in the bride but not in covenant with a historical bride, our covenant is with Christ.