Thursday, September 24, 2009

Adam: How important?

Justin Taylor reports that Tremper Longman III, who is normally known for his evangelical credentials, questions the historicity of Adam. This fellow responds with 12 reasons why he thinks Adam should be a real historical individual.

There are framework concepts that chug along in the background and only occasionally surface like an iceberg (E.g. Trinity). Other theological concepts need to be constructed from a couple of sections (E.g. The nature of Scripture) and still other doctrines are common but always sit in the background (E.g. Relationships). Of course, some doctrines are laid out in clear sight (E.g. God's Judgement). Interestingly, some theological concepts rarely appear but nonetheless seem to have a qualitative weight beyond their quantity, I think Adam is one of them. (Another example is the presence and departure of God's glory in the temple.)

This isn't a problem theologically or apologetically. If every theological idea presented itself in equal proportion and in equal intensity we'd simply have white noise. The real trick is organizing their relative importance and relationship to each other.


Andrew Bowles said...

If people want to maintain the historicity of Adam, then they have to do some theological and spiritual work to make it meaningful. Accounts of original sin often make it sound bizarre and remote, ie 'A distant ancestor of yours caught an infectious disease which he has passed to his descendants' or 'The first human committed a crime and you have to pay for it for some reason'. We have to bring out the basis for spiritual solidarity that makes an 'historical' Adam meaningful rather than just talking hermeneutics about how to interpret Genesis. And we need to engage thoughtfully with the cosmological questions about evolution, etc. I'll post in a separate comment a quote from Bulgakov, a Russian theologian, who expresses how I think this could work. Apologies for the length of it.

Andrew Bowles said...

‘On the pathways of the development of life on our planet, on the phylogenetic ladder of man, there appear both the animal species homo sapiens, and, in this species, an individual capable and worthy of becoming the vessel for the human spirit, or serving for its incarnation […] This splendid animal, by its form already prefiguring man, takes from God the human spirit and is illuminated by it. Through this act, which transcends the being of the organic world and therefore is not subject to any empirical observation and interpretation, a perfect man arises from this perfect animal. This man is perfect in the sense that he corresponds to the creative design, and he bears within himself the task and potential of the world’s humanisation. This perfect man issues out of God’s hands into the world, into the Garden of Eden that was expressly humanised for him. But, in his fall, man loses his perfect humanity, which remains beyond the limits of history as an unactualised ideal. Human history begins and proceeds in the same ‘evolutionary’ way as the rest of creation, with the difference, of course, that, even in the natural process, man retains the supranatural principle of his spirit.’

The point is, as ‘Adam’ (the theological figure), the man is a meta-historical figure in touch with eternity, but as Adam the father of Cain he is just another man among others awaiting the ‘second Adam’ of Jesus Christ. So in one sense he is ‘historical’, but in the way that matters he is not. That’s probably what Tremper Longman et al are getting at.

Andrew Bowles said...

My last comment! Of course, if the question is whether the historical reconstruction of the early chapters of Genesis (which would place 'Adam' in Mesopotamia circa 4000BC) is meant to be literally accurate, then I would question the historicity of Adam in that sense. I would read it instead as a 'theological foreshortening' of history designed to bring Adam closer to the story of Abraham and his people.

David said...

This "de-historising" of the Adam/creation story seems to replace definite and real meaning with vague connotative allusions.

I'm reminded of Francis Schaeffer's model of upper and lower stories in his book "Escape from Reason" - you've placed the Genesis origins account in the upper story making it immune from evidential and logical testing.

Andrew Bowles said...

David, I think the question here is more about whether different types of description are allowed for the same events. The existence of the universe and the emergence of human beings within it can be described from a number of perspectives, and I'm arguing that Gen 1-3 is a theological account of this rather than a 'bare' historical one (if such a thing exists anyway). In that sense I think the story of Adam is not amenable to 'evidential and logical testing' in the sense that you seem to mean, anymore than the Song of Solomon is. But this is a hermeneutical question about textual interpretation, and of course much debated by Christians, hence Luke's post.

Luke said...

Hi Andrew,

I agree that quite often theories about how sin begins and effects us have been poorly presented and I also agree it's a complex topic. However neither precludes a genuine connection with Adam and a specific beginning of sin.

Bulgakov makes me a little uncomfortable when he says: "Through this act, which transcends the being of the organic world and therefore is not subject to any empirical observation and interpretation, a perfect man arises from this perfect animal." The beginning of humankind and sin can't transcend all interpretations, we are able to say meaningful things both generally and specifically about Genesis 1-11.

But thanks for commenting. :-)

Thanks for dropping by David.

Andrew Bowles said...

I think the point about transcending empirical interpretation is to say that human spirit is not an evolved capacity but arises from the free gift of God to 'Adam'. This of course has very visible effects on human history (eg. Gen 1-11), but in itself it is not a visible act. In the same way that the Incarnation of Christ is not based on genetics but an unseen work of the Spirit. Also the regeneration of Christian believers is not something that can be empirically tested apart from their works and testimony.