Today we are pleased to present a review of an important little book first published in Dutch several decades ago. According to Dr. Vern Poythress, “This vigorous defense of historical Adam is as relevant now as it was when first published in Dutch.” We couldn’t agree more. This review by CanRC pastor Rev. Peter Holtvlüwer (Spring Creek CanRC, ON) was first published in Clarion and is republished here with permission.
Adam in the New Testament: Mere Teaching Model or First Historical Man? by J.P. Versteeg. Translated by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012). First edition 1978. Apprx. $12 from your local Christian book seller.
This is a great book for evangelical and especially Reformed scientists, scholars, teachers and ministers – let me tell you why.
Pressure from Science
Under the pressure of scientific discovery and evolutionary theory, more Reformed scholars and scientists are feeling the academic heat to drop the long-held Christian conviction that the human race began with one man, Adam, as Genesis 1-3 relates. Websites like Biologos (whose authors describe themselves as “evangelical Christians”) openly accept evolution of humans from earlier life forms and consequently think that, at best, Adam and Eve were one pair of humans along the way.
PCA ruling elder and Old Testament scholar Dr. Peter Enns is a leading figure calling for also Reformed Christians to reject the Genesis account of Adam as historical, insisting that God did not intend it to literally describe human origins. For those of us working in a secular scientific or academic environment, such a call is tempting. Why stand against much of what our colleagues believe to be true if we really don’t need to?
But that call is shown by this book to be the Siren calling from the rocks, leading ultimately to the sinking of our faith. This little gem of a book (it’s only 67 pages) speaks as freshly and incisively to the subject as it first did in 1978. Translator Richard B. Gaffin, OPC minister and retired professor of Westminster Theological Seminary, has helped the Reformed and evangelical communities by making this essay of Rev. J.P. Versteeg widely available once again. Rev. Versteeg served as New Testament Professor at the Theological University of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (in Apeldoorn) (sister churches to the Free Reformed Churches of North America). In it he demonstrates that at stake in Adam’s historicity is nothing less than the gospel itself.
Adam a Historical Person?
The beauty of this book is that Versteeg moves the controversy concerning the historicity of Adam away from the immediate context of Genesis 1-3 and looks at it from the perspective of the New Testament. This has the advantage of getting away from the scientific controversies surrounding the origins of the world and of mankind and concentrating instead on what Christ and the Apostles believed and taught about Adam. Since the Bible is its own best interpreter, this approach is surely worthwhile and can be a corrective should current scientific theory press a person to take a wrong turn in Genesis 1-3.
Versteeg’s essay was, naturally, written in his context – the Netherlands in the mid-1970s. But he addresses a teaching then prevalent which is resurfacing in our time on this side of the ocean, namely that Adam was used by the New Testament writers as a sort of “teaching model.” This view teaches that for Paul and the other NT authors, Adam is no more than a pedagogical example to explain some truth about Christ and Christianity. The authors did not assume or need to believe that Adam was a real man, the first man, created in the literal manner described in Genesis 1 and 2. In a careful, judicious and highly readable manner, Versteeg challenges and refutes that claim as he exegetes each passage in the NT where Adam is mentioned by name.
Gaffin on Peter Enns
Another valuable contribution this book makes is Gaffin’s introductory essay in which he outlines the present-day controversy. This helps a reader to get a feel for the various arguments being made today. Gaffin uses the writings of Peter Enns as an example, providing quotations and footnotes and evaluating his writings fairly but firmly. He draws out the dangerous consequences of Enns’ views. It takes courage to publicly address a former colleague (both were professors at Westminster Theological Seminary) on his erroneous teaching (which is also done publicly) but how necessary it is to preserve the church from error! We may thank the Lord for the courage and clarity which Dr. Gaffin has been given and now presents to us in his essay. This essay alone is easily worth the price of the book.
Though others will benefit from this book, I would especially urge every minister, teacher, academic, scholar and scientist in Reformed or evangelical circles to read this book. It may confirm you in the ancient teaching of the church and the historic Reformed conviction concerning Adam or it may gently correct your thinking on the topic. It will certainly educate you on the finer points of exegeting what the Bible itself says about Adam. I hope it will help you withstand pressures to set aside the clear teaching of Scripture in favour of man’s scientific theory. Whatever the case, it definitely won’t leave you unaffected. Edifying and recommended!