Blame Augustine for “Adam” (I)

Here’s the first part of our response to the assertion that “no one in the Bible believed that construct of the historical Adam” and that the church father Augustine (A. D. 354–430) is really to blame for this construct.

The assertion is made in this short video clip from the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, wherein Scot McKnight explains seven assumptions people have when they ask him whether he believes in an historical Adam. He states that their question operates on seven principles or ideas, namely that:

  1. Adam and Eve were two actual, real, solitary human beings created out of nothing or of dirt;

    Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 3.54.10 PM
    Scot McKnight: Wikipedia
  2. That a biological or procreational connection exists between Adam and Eve and all humans that follow;
  3. That there is an implied DNA genetic connection between Adam and Eve and the procreation of all humans;
  4. That Adam and Eve sinned and thus died;
  5. That Adam and Eve transmitted their sinfulness to all humans that followed;
  6. That therefore all humans need salvation from this sin;
  7. That the church must therefore preach the gospel of salvation and this gospel is at risk if we deny historical Adam.

Exactly right! He summarized our position at Creation without Compromise rather well.

It’s immediately after listing these seven principles that McKnight asserts, “No one in the Bible believed that construct of the historical Adam.” He specifies that no one between Moses and Paul believed it. Then he tells us that the church father Augustine is really to blame. McKnight has been making this pronouncement lately in support of a book he co-authored with Trinity Western University’s Dennis Venema. In a Biologos interview last February he wrote about, “the so-called ‘historical Adam,’ which is a theological construct in the history of the church but which was not believed by any single author in the entire Bible.”

In response, I will simply supply the biblical data. In my next post I will show that long before Augustine (354–430) the early apologist Irenaeus (c. 130–202) clearly and uneqivocally argued for the very historical Adam that McKnight denies.

No one in the Bible believed in an historical Adam? Really? 

Besides the obvious account in Genesis 1 and 2, Scripture also says:

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’ When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image, and he named him Seth . . . When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh . . .” etc. (Gen 5).

This is the first of many genealogies, all of which refer to real people. No genealogy in Scripture that goes all the way back to the beginning ever begins with any human but Adam (Compare 1 Chron 1:1; Luke 3:38).

When men began to increase in number on the earth . . . (Gen 6:1).

This verse clearly assumes that it took all the generations of Genesis 5 before the number of humans began to increase, for the human race began with one human pair and only multiplied through the generations. We are never told of a believer in the rest of the OT who challenged or doubted these genealogies, least of all the beginning with Adam and Eve.

But God destroyed the rebellious human race entirely, to start over with Noah. Thus we read,

These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth . . . From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood (Gen 9:19, 32).

What happens after Noah parallels what had already happened after Adam, as recorded in Genesis 5 and 6. Many more texts speak of Adam as the source of the human race, our first father, and of Adam and Eve as those who were from the beginning.

Your first father sinned; your spokesman rebelled against me (Isa 43:27).

Like Adam, they have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there (Hos 6:7).

“Haven’t you read,” Jesus 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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matt 19:4–7)

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth (Acts 17:26).

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them (Jude 1:14).

Besides these texts one encounters the famous teachings of the Apostle Paul about Christ and Adam. In Romans 5, Paul wrote about death reigning “from Adam to Moses” and that Adam sinned by “breaking a command” (Rom 5:14). Adam was as real to Paul as Moses; further, the Genesis account of the fall into sin was treated by him as historical truth (the same occurs in 1 Tim 2:13–14 when Paul speaks of Adam being formed first, then Eve, and of Eve sinning first, then Adam). Paul then argues from the universal effects of Adam’s sin—the many died, and death reigned through the one man Adam (Rom 5:15, 17)—to the abundant grace and righteousness that came by the other “one man,” Jesus Christ (Rom 5:18). In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul called Christ the “Second Adam” inasmuch as “in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22), and, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), and, “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:49).

McKnight’s assertion cannot stand against the clear evidence of Scripture. He makes his rather odd pronouncement only after accepting his co-author Venema’s arguments for the validity of biological evolution. McKnight even admits that anyone who doesn’t accept Venema’s arguments in their co-authored book (wherein, incidentally, the scientific arguments precede), need not bother with his own arguments. How odd, that a New Testament scholar would let a scientist’s conclusions form the starting point of his own positions, rather than the very Bible that he has been trained to interpret!

Review: The Genetics of Adam and Eve

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Dr. Georgia Purdom is a research scientist and speaker for Answers in Genesis. In this presentation, Dr. Purdom, who has her PhD in molecular genetics from Ohio State University, addresses the importance of the existence of a literal Adam and Eve. She then goes on to explain that the science of genetics is consistent with the existence of a literal Adam and Eve, who were the first two human beings, directly created by God.

Purdom begins by citing the views of several well-known Christian scientists who don’t believe that the traditional understanding of Genesis 1 lines up with scientific evidence. Francis Collins and Karl W. Giberson, for example, state that “literalist readings of Genesis imply that God specially created Adam and Eve, and that all humans are descended from these original parents. Such readings, unfortunately, do not fit the evidence, for several reasons.” They go on to assert that, “it is simply not reasonable to try to turn the brief comments in Genesis into a biologically accurate description of how humans originated.” It is impossible for Adam to have been created from “dust and God’s breath,” they state; nor is it feasible that Eve was actually created from Adam’s rib: “Human beings are mainly water, not dust, and there is no process by which an adult person can be made quickly from a rib” (The Language of Science and Faith, 2011).

Purdom also quotes Denis Alexander, who argues that “the disciplines of both science and theology should be accorded their own integrity. The Genesis texts should be allowed to speak within their own contexts and thought-forms, which are clearly very distant from those of modern science. We can all agree that the early chapters of Genesis exist to convey theology and not science.” According to Alexander, “the data are overwhelmingly supportive of certain scientific truths, for example that we share a common genetic inheritance with the apes.” What Christian scientists must do, Alexander claims, is “to treat both theological and scientific truths seriously and see how they might ‘speak’ to each other.”

Finally, Purdom quotes Peter Enns, in his 2012 book The Evolution of Adam, who argues that “the evidence points us clearly in the following direction: the early chapters of Genesis are not a literal or scientific description of historical events but a theological statement in an ancient idiom, a statement about Israel’s God and Israel’s place in the world as God’s people.” Enns goes on to write that it is not necessary for Christians to hold to the existence of a literal Adam and Eve, asserting that, “attributing the cause of universal sin and death to a historical Adam is not necessary for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a fully historical solution to that problem.”

Purdom disagrees strongly with these conclusions, and spends the first half of this video dealing not with the interpreting the evidence of science, but with the teaching of Scripture. This is the great strength of her presentation – the fact that, despite her scientific specialization in the field of genetics, she begins with God’s Word, and draws her conclusions from that starting point.

Unlike Collins, Alexander, and Enns, Purdom understands the devastating results that denying Adam and Eve’s existence as actual human beings will ultimately have on the Christian faith. As Frank Zindler, editor of American Atheist Magazine, stated in a debate with William Lane Craig, “Now that we know that Adam and Eve never were real people the central myth of Christianity is destroyed. If there never was an Adam and Eve, there never was an original sin…” And if there never was an original sin, there is no need for a Saviour. If there is no First Adam, what are we to think of the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)?

Only after discussing the necessity of Adam and Eve’s existence to the message of the gospel does Purdom move on to discussing the genetic evidence. It is to her credit that she does not draw unwarranted conclusions from the available data. She does not argue that genetic evidence proves the existence of a literal Adam and Eve. Rather, her thesis is that the evidence of genetics, far from disproving their existence, is actually consistent with their existence as the first humans.

I won’t go into the details of Purdom’s discussion of the evidence in this presentation. However, her conclusions show that many of the “assured results” of scientific inquiry are not nearly as assured as they sometimes claim to be. Peter Enns has made the claim that “The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, has shown beyond any reasonable scientific doubt that humans and primates share common ancestry.” For those of us who aren’t “in the know,” who have little knowledge of the intricacies of genetics, let alone the findings of the Human Genome Project, statements like this can be troubling. But Purdom shows that “beyond any reasonable scientific doubt” is, to say the least, an overstatement.

I highly recommend this video without reservation, especially to high school level science students, or those who may be struggling with how to interpret and understand the claims that are being made about the current scholarly consensus, and how those claims affect the Christian faith and the reliability of Scripture. Dr. Purdom’s methodology is sound, and she shows a clear understanding of the importance of our presuppositions, the foundations of our thinking, in leading us to draw conclusions from the evidence in creation. Her concluding statement is a radical rephrasing of a statement made by Dr. Bruce Waltke, and it’s a good one:

“We have to go with Scripture. We can’t ignore it. I have full confidence in Scripture, not in man’s ideas about the past. Only when we begin with the Bible’s authority can we rightly understand the science of the past and it is consistent with the existence of a literal Adam and Eve.”

The Genetics of Adam and Eve is available as a DVD ($12.99) or for download ($7.99) on the Answers in Genesis website. The presentation is 62 minutes long.