Did Adam have a belly button?

Why we need to clarify Article 14 of the Belgic Confession

AdamIn the fourth century a big battle was fought over a one-letter difference. The Church professed that Christ was homoousios – “of the same substance” – as God the Father, while the Arians argued that Christ was homoiousios, or merely “of a similar substance.” The two Greek terms used differed by only a single iota (the Greek “i”) but what was at stake couldn’t have been bigger: the Arians said Christ was like God but was actually a creature.

Today we’re contending with an issue that seems quiet small: our battle is over a belly button. On the side are those that profess Adam had no belly button, because he had no mother and because he was never born. As the Belgic Confession Article 14 puts it:

…God created man of the dust from the ground…

On the other side or those who say Adam may well have had a belly button and a mom, and ancestors, and may have shared one of those ancestors with the chimpanzees.

So this belly button battle quickly shows itself to be about matters much more important. It comes down to whether Adam brought death into the world through the Fall into sin, or whether God used death – millions of years of creatures evolving up from the primordial slime – to bring about Adam. The issue here is every bit as big as Christ’s nature: it’s about the character of God.

That’s why Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church has proposed amending Article 14 of the Belgic Confession to clarify that Adam has no ancestors. They propose that the Article begin with these two new lines:

We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid.

Their addition would add about 40 words to the confession, and remove any doubt as to what should be believed.

But is the change needed? Is there really anyone in our church circles that’s confused about Adam’s origins? Yes, and yes. Not only is there confusion in our churches, this same confusion exists in other Reformed churches including the OPC. Continue reading

Adam in the New Testament (review) — Rev. Peter Holtvlüwer

Versteeg_Adam.indd

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.

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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!

Clarifying what we’ve always confessed

14On March 11, Classis Ontario West adopted an unusual proposal from Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church: Providence wants an addition made to the Belgic Confession.

As they explain in their proposal, our confessions differ from Scripture in that they aren’t perfect or sacred…so they can be amended or edited. That has happened in the past: for instance, at the 1905 General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands a number of words were deleted from Belgic Confession Article 36 “in an effort to better conform to biblical teachings on the role of civil government.”

But why would a change need to be made now? Because “the Canadian Reformed Churches presently face a significant doctrinal challenge in the area of origins.”

What change does Providence propose? They want to replace the first line of the Belgic Confession’s Article 14 with the following to clarify “our confessional and biblical stance on human origins” (new wording is italicized):

We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and are the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre- Adamites, whether human or hominid. God made and formed Adam after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy.

As the proposal notes, many believe that our confessions are already quite clear on this topic. However, the fact is some Canadian Reformed academics have joined together to argue that the confessions leave room for a great diversity of views on how mankind came to be. This group, Reformed Academic, includes some very prominent figures: Dr. Arnold Sikkema, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer and Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff. They have a diversity of views amongst themselves, and it can be hard to figure out just what they each believe about Man’s origins. On the group’s blog they have allowed their most outspoken (and clearest) member, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer, to outline what he considered strong evidence for the possibility that man and chimpanzees have a common ancestor.

Does that mean Dr. Van der Meer is affirming the evolution of man from some relation of chimps? Well, there is a nit that can be picked here: relating strong evidence for evolution is not necessarily the same thing as affirming evolution. As Dr. Sikkema noted in a response to the proposal, even a creationist like Dr. Todd Wood has acknowledged that there are strong evidences for evolution.

But, of course, there is acknowledging and there is acknowledging. While both Reformed Academic and Dr. Wood acknowledge the evidence for evolution only Dr. Wood acknowledges that God created Man over six literal days and not via a process that involved pre-Adamites and millennia upon millennia of death, disease, and disaster, which He thereafter declared “good.” Context is key.

In his response to the proposal Dr. Sikkema argued that Providence Church had misrepresented him in supporting materials by labeling him a “theistic evolutionist”:

I don’t “believe in evolution.” It’s not about belief. I don’t believe in Einstein’s theory of gravity either, but I do believe in a good, loving, and covenantally faithful Triune God…

Dr. Sikkema uses the term “belief” here in the sense of “place my hope in.” In that sense he believes in God, but not evolution or Einstein’s theory of gravity. However, no Christian anywhere “places their hope” in evolution, so if that is what it means to “believe in evolution” it is not surprising Dr. Sikkema rejects the label “theistic evolutionist.” As he has redefined the term it can’t be applied to anyone at all.

But what if we give the term a more reasonable definition? What if we say a theistic evolutionist is “someone who argues that God-directed evolution is a legitimate possibility”? Then the term applies. In a joint blog post (responding to the charge that, “evolution falls outside the tent of the Reformed confessions” Dr. Sikkema and the other members of Reformed Academic wrote:

…God-directed evolution does not exclude the direct creation of Adam, because everything that happens is under God’s direct control. Therefore, theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity [i.e. the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Belgic Confession].

Other objections have already been raised, some of note (an edit will be needed to acknowledge that Eve, too, was made in God’s image), but very few of which wrestle with what is at stake here. To paraphrase Douglas Wilson, did Adam bring death into the world (Romans 5:12) or did millions of years of death and dying bring Adam into the world? Providence’s proposal specifically and clearly rejects the latter and calls upon our churches to do the same.

The proposal’s critics are going to fall into one of two camps. There will be:

  1. Those who argue it isn’t necessary because they believe the Confession already rules out pre-Adamites.
  2. Those who argue it isn’t necessary but who won’t rule out pre-Adamites.

If the critics all fall into the first camp, Providence’s proposed addition isn’t needed. Conversely, if there are any who fall into the second camp, that will highlight why we need to clarify our Confession.

There will also be some who make a show of being in the first camp with carefully parsed statements such as, “it could be argued that the Confession already rules out evolution.” While that sounds very first camp-ish, it can be a clever way of saying, “some people – not necessarily me, mind you – could argue…” We should view such critics who won’t be clear as strengthening the case for Providence’s clarifying proposal.

Lots of work, research, and thought has gone into Providence’s proposal, and you should read it for yourself. Along with the supporting appendices, you can find it here.

A version of this post originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective.

No Adam, No Gospel (review)

No Adam No Gospel

Why all the fuss? Is theistic evolution, in its various forms, really a going concern? According to Richard Gaffin, absolutely. He writes,

But more recently scientists, biblical scholars, and others who consider themselves evangelical or even Reformed Christians are increasingly calling into question the common descent of all human beings from Adam. Moreover they are persuaded that their doubts about this truth should be accepted as compatible with their Christian commitment (No Adam, no Gospel, 5).

Does this really matter? Gaffin is certain that it does:

Every Christian truly submitted to the Bible’s authority needs to be alert to this relatively recent development. Despite what others may tell us, we need to be clear about the consequences of these doubts and denials. No matter how well intended, they undermine the gospel and will lead to its eventual loss. The truth of the gospel stands or falls with the historicity of Adam as the first human being from whom all other human beings descend (5).

Who is Gaffin? He began teaching New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1965 and just recently retired. He had great appreciation for developments in redemptive-historical exegesis in our Canadian Reformed tradition, and loved the work of Geerhardus Vos and John Murray. He is well-known for careful, consistent, and historically-informed biblical exegesis.

Back in 1978 Gaffin translated from Dutch an important work by J. P. Versteeg about Adam in the New Testament. This book was republished in 2012, with the comment of Gaffin that these issues of 50 years ago (from the date Versteeg first wrote) are even more relevant today. The little booklet at hand, No Adam, No Gospel: Adam and the History of Redemption, continues this theme. Gaffin even ends by quoting Versteeg, “There is no danger that theology has more to fear than this danger [that the Word no longer determines everything].”

In the first half of the book Gaffin makes a number of salient points about Adam in Romans 5:12–19 and First Corinthians 15:21–2, 45–9. In the second half he addresses the published views of Peter Enns, who was once a fellow faculty member with Gaffin at Westminster.

Gaffin demonstrates why believers must hold together the historical reality of Adam with the theological reality of original sin, original guilt before God, salvation through Christ, and eternal glory. He deals with the approach that denies Adam’s historicity as well as that which affirms his historicity but denies that he is the first human being who fathered the whole human race. What he doesn’t consider is the position of, for instance, Tim Keller, who tries to maintain Adam’s historicity, his fatherhood of the whole human race, and his biological evolutionary ancestry.

Peter Enns, whose views Gaffin particularly addresses, argues that Christians do not need to believe in a historical Adam in order to maintain the rest of Christian doctrine. Gaffin convincingly proves that this is an unbiblical position. And, in fact, when Enns argues that “a true rapprochement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis” (15), it appears that Enns himself realizes that most of the core doctrines of the Christian faith require major renovation if they are to accommodate the theory of evolution. Gaffin demonstrates that Enns’s views on sin, salvation, the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection, as well as on the end times are all incompatible with the biblical message (15–26). Basically, Enns is offering up nothing but a reworking of the theories of the liberal biblical scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (26).

Most critically, Gaffin adds this:

Finally, not to be missed is the view of Scripture involved in Enns’s historical-critical approach, as it makes contemporary evolutionary theory decisive for interpreting Scripture and so for deciding what in it is or is not valid and relevant today (27).

One could reasonably argue that this fundamental problem afflicts almost every rapprochement between evolutionary theory and the Christian faith, including forms that are not as radical as Enns’s.

This is the sort of booklet that is best read either when your mind is already well engaged in the topic or when you have a quiet spot and an open Bible so that you can read the numerous passages he alludes to, and gain the full benefits from his arguments. It is not an entry-level account. Not that the writing is unclear; rather, the arguments are fairly tight and the requisite prior knowledge fairly significant. But no one can miss the point that when the apostle speaks of Christ as the “second” Adam, he must be no less real that the “first” Adam (10–11). Anyone who wants to play loose with Adam as a real historical being and try to hold onto Scripture can’t do it, and Gaffin convincingly shows why.

Review of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., No Adam, No Gospel: Adam the History of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2015), 29 pp., $4.99.

June 24, 2015

 

What’s at Stake? The Gospel Is at Stake (Tim Challies)

Tim Challies recently interviewed Dr. William Van Doodewaard about his new book The Quest for the Historical Adam.  With his kind permission, we are republishing it here on Creation Without Compromise.  The original post on Challies.com can be found here.

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There is always one truth or another that is being disputed. There is always some doctrine or another that is under attack. And speaking personally, I find it hard to keep up. Sometimes it is best to recruit some help, and I did that very thing recently. I keep hearing about differing views on the historical Adam, with more and more people moving away from a strictly literal understanding that Adam was divinely created by God on the sixth day of creation. Knowing that William Vandoodewaard had just written a book on the subject (The Quest for the Historical Adam), I asked if he would help me sort it all out. He did that in this brief but helpful Q&A.

MeCan you briefly (and as objectively as possible) lay out the different options when it comes to the historical Adam? What are the predominant views?

WilliamThere are really five possible views:

  1. Adam was specially created by God on the sixth day, as understood by the literal interpretation of the Genesis text. Adam is created without ancestry, apart from any evolutionary processes. He is the first human.
  2. Adam was specially created in the manner that Genesis describes (out of the dust, life breathed into him), but without the time frame of six days of ordinary duration—it occurred at some unknown point in the ancient past. Adam is created without ancestry, and apart from any evolutionary processes. He is the first human.
  3. Adam was created through a combination of natural processes and supernatural, divine intervention at some unknown point in the ancient past. Evolutionary processes played a part in Adam’s creation, he had animal ancestry, but God intervened, doing something special in his conception, or making him human after birth, even though his biological parents were not. Some argue that God’s intervention included changing Adam’s physical constitution; others argue that it was only God’s gift of a spiritual constitution or soul that set Adam apart from his animal ancestors.
  4. Adam developed the same way as in #3, but he was simply an individual whom God entered into relationship with, making Adam religious. The immediate change that made Adam “human” was relational, not constitutional.
  5. There was no Adam. Adam is simply a figure or type for early humanity as a category.

While these are the five main categories, it is helpful to be aware of their place and proportion. The historic, mainstream understanding of the Christian church is view #1. Despite continuing efforts to the contrary it remains the predominant view among evangelical Christians. By contrast, view #2, rooted in post-Enlightenment geological theories, is actually a minority stream. Views #3–5, while trendy, very vocal, and on the evangelical edge (where broad evangelicalism merges into theological liberalism), actually represent an even smaller fringe than view #2.

Ongoing round-tables and “four views on Genesis and origins” type books produced by parts of evangelical academia are misleading. They give the impression that the literal understanding of origins is a minority when it actually remains an overwhelming majority commitment, much to the chagrin of its opponents.

MeWhat is really at stake here? What does the church stand to lose if we widely accept an alternate view of the historical Adam?

WilliamThe teaching of God’s Word is at stake here. God’s character is at stake. The gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. Accepting an Adam with evolutionary origins immediately impacts what it means to be human, created by God in His image. It opens a Pandora’s box of theological problems—from Adam’s relationship with his animal parents and surrounding community, to the doctrine of sin and the fall, to God’s holiness, goodness, and justice. It immediately impacts the doctrine of Christ as the One by whom all things were created, as well as His incarnation and work of salvation. It’s an issue that touches so many others: from soteriology to race relations to sexual ethics to the new creation at the second coming. Those who take the logically consistent step beyond an evolutionary Adam to a figurative Adam join a line of thinkers including Voltaire and Kant.

MeDo you think there is an inevitability here? Do you think that those who deny a historical Adam are necessarily on a slope to full-out theological liberalism?

WilliamThe denial of a historical Adam is already theological liberalism, beyond the bounds not only of evangelicalism, but also historic Christianity. There is an inevitability of further decline, not always in the case of the individual who departs further from Christian orthodoxy, but almost always in the next generation, and in any institution or church that allows this. The underlying problem is the capitulation to reading Scripture through the lens of this world’s culture and thought, rather than reading culture and thought through the lens of Scripture.

MeAre all 4 of the alternatives to the literal reading of Genesis 1 equally dangerous? Or do you think there is room within Christian orthodoxy for some or all of them?

WilliamI don’t believe that we should ever say there is room in Christian orthodoxy for “lesser” error: if something is unscriptural we should not give it a pass. Christian orthodoxy should not be viewed as the “core concepts” of biblical Christianity; orthodoxy is the whole counsel of God’s Word. Our job is to be committed to being conformed to Christ, to the Word, in all things. This should be our passion and joy, pursued in love for Christ, His church, and a world in desperate need of the complete gospel.

But Christians are at various points in their spiritual growth, so, as one theologian said, “a man may be in error, and yet not be a heretic.” Someone may hold to an error at some point and still be a Christian. Understood this way, the first alternative view on human origins is the least problematic: you can hold to view #2 and retain an orthodox view of Adam, but it is nonetheless error requiring correction because it requires hermeneutical choices which set the stage for worse alternative views, in Genesis and elsewhere. Views #3 and #4 move significantly further into error. #5, with its flat out denial of Adam, brings one into the realm of heresy. The Quest for the Historical Adam details the historical realities and theological consequences of each of these in contrast to the coherence and orthodoxy of the literal understanding of our origins.

MeShould the average Christian church-goer get informed about this issue, or is it one where we can allow the scholars to work it out?

WilliamAverage Christian church-goers cannot afford to ignore this issue. Its erosive impact is continuing, if not gathering steam, in American evangelicalism. It may impact you directly through the minister you call or the elders you ordain: discernment here is essential for the church’s life and future.

Our children are likely to face the denial of the historical Adam at many Christian colleges—under the guise of Christian education. The issue is not just for us, but for our children’s future in the faith and for the continued expansion of the kingdom of Christ. Despite the naysayers who say “there is no slippery slope,” church history shows over and over that those who buy into alternate views of human origins are getting on the road that leads to complete abandonment of biblical Christianity.

I believe the best way to be informed is not found in immersing ourselves in books that present various views of the creation account, but by understanding Scripture’s richness, beauty, and cohesiveness on our origin, taught by faithful expositors and theologians for millennia. We must begin recapturing the marvelous reality of the literal understanding of our origin, all it entails, and how it applies to our lives. This was a key part of my aim in The Quest for the Historical Adam. When we understand the reality of what God has said and done, we will not trade our birthright for a pot of stew. We will worship our Creator and Redeemer.

WilliamYes, I would recommend two recent books: Richard Gaffin’s No Adam, No Gospel (P&R, 2015), and the collected essays in the volume God, Adam and You (P&R, 2015).