David 's Reviews > The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins

The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns
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Jul 12, 12

bookshelves: bible, apologetics, theology, science
Read in July, 2012

The debates about creation and evolution have been around forever and do not seem to be slowing down. On one side you have the young-earth creationists who declare that the Bible be taken in its most "literal" form and thus the universe is only about 6,000 years old. Interestingly, no creationists support a flat earth model. Other Christians accept the age of the earth but still reject evolution (old-earth creationists). On the other extreme are voices that declare evolution is true and thus God is non-existent.

In between we find people who try to reconcile the two. Of course, people here get beat-up from both sides. To more conservative Christians, they are sell-outs. To the atheists, they still have their head in the sand. Further, in a world that values extreme positions because that's what gets ratings, views from the middle are marginalized.

Peter Enns is someone in the middle. He accepts the evolutionary origins of the universe and humanity. For that reason right away his book will be rejected by many Christians. But Enns, as a bible scholar, believes the Bible is inspired by God. How can the two be reconciled, especially when it comes to Adam?

Enns is correct in saying that reconciling evolution with Genesis 1 is easy. The bigger challenge comes in reconciling the first couple, Adam and Eve, with evolution.

Enns does this by placing the creation story in its ancient context, comparing it to other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories (Enuma Elish, Atrahasis). Through this he shows that Genesis was not written with scientific questions in mind. Instead, it was written to show that the God of Israel is the one God rather than the gods of the nations. Enns also shows that Adam is a relatively inconsequential character in the Old Testament narrative, never mentioned again other then in the very beginning of 1 Chronicles.

It was especially interesting how Enns argues for Adam as the first Israelite, going into exile the same way Israel did. Along with that, Adam works as a wisdom story, showing how Adam chooses the path of the fool rather than the wise. Finally, nowhere in the Old Testament does anyone say Adam's first sin is the reason why we all sin.

For Christians, this is the crux of the matter. Paul argues that in Adam all die and in Christ all are made alive. Here is where the debate ends up, for some Christians would say that without an Adam the whole gospel of Christ goes away. Enns argument is that while Paul saw Adam as a historical person this is not a point we need to agree with him on. Belief about Adam as historical person is akin to Paul's beliefs on other subjects of the time - Paul is a product of his culture. God did not give special knowledge to Paul about biology or physics or the beginnings of humanity.

Does this mean humans are not sinful? Enns argues no. His argument is basically that the truth remains (all humans are sinful) even if the illustration to show this (we all come from Adam) is not tenable. Clearly original guilt is gone, humans are not born guilty, so this does affect theology. But Enns concludes that humans are still born into a sinful world and with a tendency to sin.

The real question is, does Enns succeed? It depends who you ask. If you are a Christian who thinks that if any one verse is not "true" or "literally true" then you're going to reject what Enns says. But if you're someone who is convinced of evolution and trying to figure out how it relates to your faith, you will find what Enns writes to be helpful.

Ultimately, it is a question of what the Bible is. Enns argues that the Bible is a human book inspired by God (much like how Christians believe Jesus is fully God and fully man). As a human book, it is subject to the assumptions of the writers' cultures and times. Again, they weren't doing science. If you see the Bible as nearly dictated by God, then you will not agree with Enns.
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