Book Review: Four Views on the Historical Adam
Editors Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday offer yet another installment in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series. This one is on the historicity of Adam with essays by Denis O. Lamoureux, John Walton, C. John Collins, and William D. Barrick.
Lamoureux kicks off the discussion with his evolutionary creation view and the rejection of a historical Adam. He sums up his beliefs saying, “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting natural process” (37). The author dismisses scientific concordism, that is, the assumption that the facts of science align with the Bible. He asserts that statements in Scripture about nature are from an ancient phenomenological perspective and that “Holy Scripture makes statements about how God created living organisms that never in fact happened” (46). Does this mean that God lied? No, he says. It means that “the Holy Spirit used the biology-of-the-day as an incidental vessel to reveal inerrant spiritual truths” (57).
It follows, Lamoureux says, that since ancient science does not align with physical reality, Adam never existed. As for New Testament references to him, the author notes that passages such as that in Matt. 19:4-6, in which Jesus refers to Adam and Eve in a discussion of marriage, present “an archetype of what God intended to be” (60). He suggests that “Jesus was accommodating to the Jewish belief of the day that Adam was a real person” (60).
John Walton sees Adam and Eve as real people in a real past, but asserts that they are archetypal figures who represent all of humanity. Therefore, as he sees it, the second chapter of Genesis is not making claims about the biological origins of humankind and, for this reason, should not be seen as being in opposition to science. For example, God’s formation of Adam from dust, when viewed archetypally, speaks of our mortality and nothing more.
By the same token, the creation of Eve is not to be taken literally. Walton suggests that “God put Adam into a deep sleep to show him in a vision something about the nature and identity of the woman to whom he is about to introduce to him” (97). Additionally, her role as mother does not demand a biological or genetic role if viewed archetypally. New Testament mentions of the couple are also to be interpreted in light of their archetypal role.
C. John Collins presents an argument for an old-earth creation that sees Adam as a historical figure. He begins his essay by defining history as “a way of referring, of talking about events in the real world” (147). He suggests that a variety of literary types can recount history using its own conventions, and cites Psalm 105, in which events of the exodus are recalled, as an example. Because of this, it is perfectly acceptable for an account of history to include figurative and imaginary elements. It does not, he asserts, have to be told in complete detail or in chronological sequence to be trustworthy.
Collins notes that we have to look at more than just the similarity in DNA between chimps and humans to assess our origins. He says we must look at those aspects of human existence that are universally and uniquely human, such as language and art, to see the differences – differences not just in degree, but in kind.
He borrows from Francis Schaeffer and suggests that we are free to develop “a range of reasonable scenarios that address the apparent conflicts between the Bible and the sciences with certain limitations” (165) He does so himself, ultimately concluding that “Christ’s view of Scripture should be our view” (174). If Christ saw Adam as a real person, so should we.
William D. Barrick presents the traditional view of the historical Adam and Young-Earth Creation. He asserts that Adam is the originator of the entire human race and is a single individual, not an archetype or the product of biological evolution. He notes that, “to read Genesis 1 and 2 as presenting him as an archetype without reference to his material formation resembles allegorical interpretations of the text” (198). He offers eight “theological aspects” that depend on the historicity of Adam and Eve including our understanding of the origin and nature of sin.
Barrick’s argument ultimately rests on the reliability of God. Since there was no one there to witness his creation of the world, he must have given the account himself to Moses and he cannot lie. Where other people attempt to assess Genesis in the light of science and creation stories from other Ancient Near Eastern religions, Barrick asserts that the accuracy of the scriptural account does not depend on confirmation from extrabiblical sources and that acceptance of them “denigrates the biblical record and treats it with skepticism rather than as prima facie evidence” (226).
He also notes that a theocentric or theological emphasis does not mean that a record lacks historicity as some have contended and lists seven features of the narrative, borrowed from Old Testament Scholar Gordon Wenham, that indicate the creation account is more “historical than paradigmatic” (212).
All of the authors critique each other’s essays. Then each provides a rejoinder in response to those critiques. In some cases, they repeat what they have said in their own chapters, but they also offer new information and guide the reader in viewing the material analytically.
The book concludes with reflections from two pastor-theologians who discuss the issues in practical terms for those of us who sit in the pews. Gregory A. Boyd insists that, with or without a real Adam, our faith is secure. He recounts his personal experience as a young Christian humiliated in a university course in evolutionary biology that caused him to lose his faith, something he got back through reading the works of C. S. Lewis. He eventually reconciled his religious and scientific beliefs, deciding that whether Adam was a real man or not was non-essential.
Philip G. Ryken disagrees with Boyd as he asserts that we cannot understand the world or our faith without a real historical Adam. He examines the man’s place in Scripture, his importance to church doctrines and what his existence means in the everyday life of the average Christian.
All the authors in this book, no matter what their beliefs regarding Adam, profess a great love of the Lord and his Word. This is evident in the respectful way they treat this controversial issue and in the polite and positive manner in which they interact with each other’s material. They write with passion, clarity and power. One need not be a scholar to grasp their arguments, and for those looking to embark upon a study of the historical Adam, this would be a great starting point. Those well-versed in the subject will appreciate having the information presented in such an intellectually vigorous manner. Therefore, Four Views on the Historical Adam is highly recommended.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist who has just completed her Masters in Theological Studies. She writes fiction, poetry and plays as well as non-fiction.