A Reflection on the Historical Adam-Part 2

by: Dustin Walters

In the first post on the historical Adam, I argued for belief in the historic Adam as revealed in the Genesis narrative. In this post, I want to present four objections to the historic Adam and conclude with further support for belief in the historic Adam. As is the case with part one, this essay is adapted from an academic paper, so please be in mind that the language could get a bit technical.

Objections to belief in the Historic Adam

It is only appropriate to consider possible objections to a belief that a historical Adam actually existed. At least four objections are posited by those who reject the literalist interpretation of the story and are understood in relation to the manuscript evidence, ancient near eastern myth, biology, and epistemology. We, as Inerrantists, claim that the original manuscripts are without error in all that they affirm, yet critics responding claim that these documents no longer exist. The objections regarding manuscript evidence must be considered first.

Discussions about the manuscript evidence center on how autograph is understood. The term refers to “The original manuscripts of the biblical text written or dictated by the biblical authors themselves.” [1] Inerrantists must seriously consider the criticisms leveled against this claim because it is important to observe that a difference exists between the loss of the text and a loss of the codex.[2] This difference allows for nuance on biblical inerrancy. Inerrantists though, “do not have to commit a logical fallacy of saying that if one point in a book is mistaken, then all points in it are likewise mistaken.” [3] Unfortunately, this fallacy is committed more frequently than it should be among evangelicals. Evangelicals can maintain faith in the trustworthiness of Holy Scripture while including what Genesis teaches about the historical Adam. Inerrantists can be encouraged with the knowledge that, “we possess a biblical text that is substantially identical with the autographa”.[4] A second objection involves the nature of myth in the ancient world.

Myth does not refer to a fictitious work in the ancient world but, rather, is understood in different ways according to what scholar one reads. Yet for Rudolf Bultmann, myths are, “are the ways in which a culture symbolizes and objectivizes its entire world view”.[5] Bultmann’s definition in many ways transformed the way mythology was understood in the ancient world. Christian apologist William Lane Craig adopts a modified understanding of myth when he posits that,

Genesis 1–11 exhibits quite a number of the family resemblances characteristic of myths, especially the prominent and abundant presence of etiological motifs. At the same time, the chapters’ interest in history, most evident in their genealogical notices that chronologically order the narratives, reveals that we are dealing here, not with pure myth, but with a sort of mytho-history. [6]

A third criticism comes from a biological perspective. Genesis 2:21-22 recount the way in which Eve (Hebrew חַוּה) was formed by removing a rib from Adam. Biologically speaking, this passage is challenging. While there are likely elements of Eve’s creation that are not mentioned here, Eve’s origins are not typical human origins. This has led critical scholars to deny the historicity of the narrative. Biological science is a fascinating discipline, yet the inerrantist need not fear if this objection is raised. The creation of Adam and Eve is not normative for the creation of all humans who are conceived in the womb. One who believes in a God who creates ex nihilo has no real challenge in believing in God going outside the normal physical and metaphysical realm to accomplish his purposes. Belief in inerrancy is strongly connected to belief in a personal God who is ontologically perfect, just, holy, loving, and good. A fourth objection to belief in the biblical account concerns epistemology.

Epistemology concerns the possibility of attaining knowledge with a focus on the data counting toward knowledge. Christians believe divine or special revelation counts as data like empirical observation in a laboratory does, yet the special revelation from God is distinct. Through the pages of Scripture, God makes himself known by communicating divine words through human personality. One key factor in understanding inerrancy is to recognize the connection to the doctrine of inspiration. Humans can interpret data through the rational capacity endowed by the Creator. F. Leroy Forlines believes that “upper story knowledge” could be acquired through God’s self-revelation. He says, “If we only admit the data of observation and experience, we rule out a Christian worldview. It is not a matter of intelligence. It is a matter of what data is admissible.” [7]

In Favor of a Historic Adam

When the Genesis narrative is rightly understood against the background of an inspired, authoritative, and inerrant Bible, one has no problem affirming belief in the historical Adam. On the other hand, a rejection of the historical Adam has significant consequences also. There are exegetical or hermeneutical, theological, and anthropological implications of viewing the Adam of Genesis as something less than biblical account depicts him as.

From an exegetical perspective, one is forced to address the references to Adam throughout the biblical narrative, especially the references made by Jesus and Paul. One must make important interpretive decisions about any biblical passage. Though these decisions are not always easy, a rejection in the teaching of a historical Adam leads down a slippery slope when it comes to other biblical passages. If the historicity of Adam’s existence is relegated to myth, on what grounds can one justify any other truth claim of Scripture? Lastly, anthropological challenges arise from the development of the historical Adam. One of the foundational propositions connected with historical Adam is the proposition that in Adam all humans participated in what has been referred to as the Fall. Once the historical Adam is eliminated, other doctrines follow suit. Without a historical Adam, there is no such thing as total depravity or original guilt, meaning there is a pivotal identification with Adam as the head of humanity. This concern arguably fits in each of the categories listed here, yet I chose to include it in anthropology because truth is connected to life. Affirmation of the historical Adam makes more sense to the total person and is a fairer interpretation of the whole Bible. While some have tried to argue one can be faithful to evangelical or Orthodox Christianity and reject the historicity of Adam, that position is problematic because of a firm commitment in the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of biblical inerrancy is the way Jesus viewed the Old Testament. Matthew Barrett observes that Jesus, “appeals to the historical narratives of the Old Testament as reliable, trustworthy, and essential components in the drama of redemption”. [8] Barrett goes on to say, “Jesus had no hesitation appealing to the Old Testament as historical and accurate”. [9] He also recognizes that “If we were to abandon inerrancy, not only would the building blocks of our gospel-centered relationship with God be called into question but so would our basic fundamental trust in all of Scripture’s assertions and affirmations.” [10] John Frame expressed it this way, “I conclude that Scripture is inerrant because the personal word of God cannot be anything other than true.” [11]

[1] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 108.

[2] Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Inerrancy of the Autographa” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 172.

[3] Ibid., 172.

[4] Ibid., 192.

[5] Robert A. Jr. Oden, “Myth and Mythology: Mythology,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 947.

[6] William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2021), 202.

[7] F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth: Theology for a Postmodern World, (Randall House: Nashville, 2006), 22.

[8] Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: What the Reformers Taught and Why it Still Matters, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 275.

[9] Ibid., 276.

[10] Ibid., 299.

[11] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2010), 176.

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