Is Adam Historical? (Part 1)


The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)

Last week I was reading a blog post by Peter Enns titled, “Framing the Evangelical Discussion of Adam and Evolution.” Enns was recently asked to present a paper at the northeast regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society on his book, “The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins.” His blog post of April 8, 2013 gives the major points of his paper, and by extension, his book on Adam and human origins.

I’ve noticed in the last few years a growing number of Christians (laity, clergy, and theologians) who identify themselves as “evangelicals” but are increasingly interested in accepting the theory of evolution and denying the biblical account of Adam and a literal understanding of the first few chapters of Genesis. This represents a radical departure from traditional “evangelicalism” which has historically affirmed both special creation and the historicity of Adam as the first created man. Enns agrees saying, “Already among their [evangelicals'] ranks is a critical mass of thoughtful, yet quiet, people who are eager to find ways to move beyond the current impasse [on the issue of Adam and evolution].”

I am especially troubled by what Enns describes as his starting point for addressing the conflict between evolutionary theory and the historicity of Adam. He writes:

“My starting point for how I handle this issue of Adam is twofold: (1) I accept the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning evolution, and (2) our considerable knowledge of how ancient stories of origins functioned.”

To be honest, everyone’s perspective on any issue is framed by certain presuppositions (i.e. background beliefs). Enns has identified two of his presuppositions (above) that frame his evaluation of the Biblical account of Adam. I reach very different conclusions about the doctrines of special creation, a literal understanding of Genesis, and the historicity of Adam because I begin with completely different presuppositions.  Here are some of them.

  1. I accept the overwhelming evidence (both internal and external) that the Bible represents a trustworthy and supernatural revelation given by an all-powerful, all-knowing God who exists independent of and outside of linear time. God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible is often called “special revelation.”
  2. God has also revealed Himself in creation (sometimes called “natural revelation”).
  3. God cannot lie, as it would violate His very nature (Numbers 23:19).
  4. Since God cannot lie, both of His revelations (the Bible as “special revelation” and creation/nature as “general revelation”) must be in perfect harmony.
  5. Man has developed systems for interpreting and understanding these revelations. Theology is a system designed to interpret special revelation (the Bible) and science is a system designed to interpret general revelation (creation/nature).
  6. Since both of these systems (theology and science) are developed by man, they may lead to conclusions that are incorrect..
  7. Because both of God’s revelations must be in perfect harmony, any apparent conflict between those revelations (the Bible and creation/nature), is the result of a problem in man’s interpretation of those revelations (i.e. either our theology is wrong, or our science is wrong, or both).  God’s revelation in the Bible and creation/nature is never “wrong.” However, only our interpretations of these revelations is frequently wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m by no means calling Peter Enns a fool. I’m particularly conscious of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:22 not to do such a thing. I do, however, strongly disagree with his self-stated “starting point” for handling the issue of Adam’s historicity. I think that a critical examination of any topic must begin with, “the fear of the Lord,” which, “is the beginning of knowledge.” Having a fear (awe and reverence) for God necessarily includes having a high regard for His revelation of Himself in the Bible. Therefore, the proper starting point for examining the question of Adam’s historicity is to first determine what the Bible says about it.

On Friday, I’ll discuss why I’m convinced that an acknowledgement of Adam as a historical person is essential to the Christian faith.

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2 Responses to Is Adam Historical? (Part 1)

  1. Jon Swart says:

    I think it’s healthy to examine our faith with openness and sincerity.
    We do that by reading and listening to what others say also – regardless of whether we
    agree fully or not. The alternative (which I have witnessed in many Christians) is a head in the sand approach which claims “Lord, Bless us four – and no more.” I’ve seen that too often among long-time Christians who never grew or demonstrated anything of spiritual maturity. I appreciate your discussion on this topic that requires some thought instead of “blind faith”. There are enough blind guides out there in our Christian communities.
    God bless your good work, Jim.


    • Pastor Jim says:

      Thanks for you comments, Jon. I agree that it’s healthy to examine our faith with openness and sincerity. Most of my objections to current discussions among evangelicals concern (1) an apparent desire to be more ‘acceptable’ to the world, and (2) what seems to be a desire to “ask questions for the sake of asking questions,” with little or no regard for what is revealed in the scriptures.

      I think Charles Spurgeon said it best. “”Questioning with honesty and candour is not to be condemned, when the object is to ‘prove all things, and hold fast that which is good’; but to treat revelation as if it were a football to be kicked from man to man is irreverence, if not worse.”