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Jesus Creed


Tim Keller on Adam and Eve (RJS)

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The white paper written by Tim Keller for the November workshop “In Search of a Theology of Celebration” is posted on the BioLogos web site: Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople (or direct link). In his paper Keller gives what he finds to be the three most common problems posed by laypeople in the church on the questions of science and faith … 1.  Biblical authority; 2. Biology and philosophy – Evolution as biological process (EBP) versus evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything (GTE); and 3. The historicity of Adam and Eve. “If we don’t believe in an historical fall, how did we become what the Bible says we are–sinful and condemned?”

Today I would like to consider Keller’s approach to the third problem – starting where he starts in the white paper:

Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.

My answers to the first two sets of questions are basically negative. I resist the direction of inquirer’s thought. I don’t believe you have to take Genesis 1 as a literal account, and I don’t think that to believe human life came about through EBP you necessarily must support evolution as the GTE.

However, I find the concerns of this question much more well-grounded. Indeed, I must disclose, I share them. Many orthodox Christians who believe God used EBP to bring about human life not only do not take Genesis 1 as history, but also deny that Genesis 2 is an account of real events. Adam and Eve, in their view, were not historical figures but an allegory or symbol of the human race. Genesis 2, then, is a symbolic story or myth which conveys the truth that human beings all have and do turn away from God and are sinners.

Before I share my concerns with this view, let me make a clarification. One of my favorite Christian writers (that’s putting it mildly), C.S.Lewis, did not believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and I do not question the reality or soundness of his personal faith. But my concern is for the church corporately and for its growth and vitality over time. Will the loss of a belief in the historical fall weaken some of our historical, doctrinal commitments at certain crucial points?

What do you think? Will the loss of a belief in the historical fall weaken some of our
historical, doctrinal commitments at certain crucial points? Does it matter?

What are the alternatives?

Keller’s white paper is 14 pages long and approximately half deals with the question of Adam and Eve. This is not surprising, because this is clearly where the real theological problems lie.  Genesis 1 is trivial. Genesis 2-3, Romans 5 and 8, 1 Corinthians 15 – the problems raised by these passages are much more significant.

We have discussed this in the past in several posts: Romans 5: Death, Romans 5: Part 2 Adam, Romans 5: Part 3 Sin and its Solution Romans 8 Creation Groans, C.S. Lewis, Outside the pale? … and more, I am not going to link them all. I am convinced that this issue is the tough one. We won’t solve it today, I have no clear solution, even in my own mind – but we must continue the conversation in humility, before God, and listening to all.

Keller finds two areas of concern where he feels that the loss of a belief in the historical fall will weaken some of our
historical, doctrinal commitments at certain crucial points. These are (1) the doctrine of sin and salvation (see discussions in the posts linked above for a start on this discussion) and (2) the trustworthiness of scripture. According to Keller, because Paul clearly believed that Adam and Eve were unique individuals, the trustworthiness of scripture requires that we take him at his word.  I think this is flawed because I don’t think that inspiration means that God corrected the author’s cultural understanding. I think that Paul wrote of God’s truth regarding the the work of Jesus Christ using examples from his understanding. 

But … This is not a make or break issue off the top – there are alternatives that meld both evolutionary biological processes and belief in an historical Adam and Eve.

Keller discusses a model proposed by Derek Kidner in his commentary Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). This model is also used by John Stott in his commentary on Romans (The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today)). 

According to Keller quoting Kidner:

“If this…alternative implied any doubt of the unity of mankind it would be of course quite untenable. God…has made all nations ‘from one’ (Acts 17:26)….Yet it is at least conceivable that after the special creation of Eve, which established the first human pair as God’s vice-regents (Gen 1:27,28) and clinched the fact that there is no natural bridge from animal to man, God may have now conferred his image on Adam’s collaterals, to bring them into the same realm of being. Adam’s ‘federal’ headship of humanity extended, if that was the case, outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both alike.” (p. 30)

Here Kidner gets creative. He proposes that the being who became Adam under the hand of God first evolved but Eve did not. Then they were put into the garden of Eden as representatives of the whole human race. Their creation in God’s image and their fall affected not only their offspring, but all other contemporaries. In this telling, Kidner accounts for both the continuity between animals and humans that scientists see, and the discontinuity that the Bible describes. Only human beings are in God’s image, have fallen into sin, and will be saved by grace.

John R. W. Stott also follows Kidner – Keller does not bring Stott’s commentary into the discussion, but I think it is worth bringing up. In a section on The historicity and death of Adam (p. 162-166)
Stott finds that “the narrative itself warrants no dogmatism about the
six days of creation, since its form and style suggest that it is meant
as literary art, not scientific description.” He also finds it likely
that the snake and trees are meant to be understood symbolically in Gen
2-3.  He holds to the historicity of the original human pair
6000-10,000 years ago largely because of the genealogies (esp. Luke 3)
— but not in the sense you might think.  He does not deny any of our
scientific findings – and will even accede to the  probability that creation from dust is a Biblical way of saying that
God breathed his divine image into an already existing hominoid. Evolutionary biological processes may well have produced this hominoid. But…

The
vital truth we cannot surrender is that, though our bodies are related
to the primates, we ourselves in our fundamental identity are related
to God.(p. 164)

Stott suggests that Adam’s “federal” headship extended outwards to his contemporaries and onwards to his descendents. Homo Sapiens living across the globe were included under Adam’s headship. If it is important to retain a unique historical couple – Adam and Eve – Stott’s approach is worth consideration as well.

Keller concludes with the following 

How do we correlate the data of science with the teaching of Scripture? The simplest answer for scientists would probably be to say ‘who cares about Scripture and theology?’ but that fails to do justice to authority of the Bible, which Jesus himself took with utmost seriousness. The simplest answer for theologians would probably be to say ‘who cares about science?’ but that does not give nature its proper importance as the creation of God. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 teach that God’s glory is revealed as we study his creation, yet in the end both of those passages say that it is only Scripture which is the ‘perfect‘ revelation of God’s mind (Psalm 19:7). We must interpret the book of nature by the book of God.

I have two comments here – the first is that I don’t think that the citation of Psalm 19:7 makes the point Keller claims. The verse does not say that scripture is the perfect revelation of God’s mind – it says:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (NIV)

This has no bearing on the relationship of the book of nature and scripture except in so far as it relates to the relationship of God with his creation and the revelation of God’s mind in that relationship. Law, statutes, precepts and commands all pertain to the relationship between God and mankind created in his image. I don’t think that the passage applies to the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve or God’s method of creation or the supremacy of scripture as pertains to history or science. We must develop a biblical view of scripture – and I don’t think either Keller in this example or most of American evangelicalism succeeds in this endeavor.

The second comment is that Keller is absolutely correct in his first assertion – Christian  scientists cannot say ‘who cares about Scripture and
theology?’ for that fails to do justice to authority of the Bible and theologians cannot simply dismiss the the science for that does not do justice to God’s creation.

And then Keller continues:

When Derek Kidner concluded his account of human origins, he said that his view was an “exploratory suggestion…only tentative, and it is a personal view. It invites correction and a better synthesis.”(Kidner p. 30) That is the right attitude for all of us working in this area.

Again Keller is absolutely correct. We will make progress and build up the church if we present ideas and interpretations, discuss the evidence, compare and contrast, point out
strengths and weaknesses of various theories and hypotheses, and do it with an attitude of love and respect for all concerned (a point I paraphrase from a comment I read elsewhere).

So a few questions:

Personally I think that the question of the trustworthiness of scripture is a red herring here – but perhaps you disagree. If so why?

The doctrine of sin and salvation is a much more significant consideration.

Do you agree with Keller – that the loss of a belief in a unique Adam and Eve and a historical fall will weaken some of our
historical, doctrinal commitments regarding sin and salvation?

How should we move forward?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net



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Rick

posted December 30, 2009 at 8:06 am


This may cause some rethinking of some views of sin in portions of Christianity. However, it need not change view of Scripture or other core essentials.
Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, holds that death, brokenness, and related consquences came into the world through Adam and Eve (or humanity), but Adam’s “sin” itself is not passed on. Thus, whether they are real people or not is not impacted by EBP.



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EricG

posted December 30, 2009 at 9:08 am


Agreed that the issue of authority of Scripture is a red herring, and is not as hard as some people make it out to be (at least from my perspective). However, the basic story of the Christian faith — that God created a good world, which humans corrupted by sinning, leading to death and decay for the entire cosmos — is in significant tension with evolution (and other scientific disciplines). The scientific evidence seems strong that death preceded the fall — and in fact was part of the process that created us, and that decay has always been with us. Human sin did not lead to these things. This goes to the core of whether traditional Christian understanding is correct.
Does Keller address that issue? Based on the post, it sounds like his approach doesn’t resolve the issue, or even provide suggestions. If so, it seems troubling.



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Pete Enns

posted December 30, 2009 at 9:27 am


RJS, thanks for posting Tim’s essay and contributing to this very important conversation. I think Tim’s paper is a great sounding board for bringing a lot of important hermeneutical and theological issues to the table.
The first two comments posted on this thread (Rick and EricG) may already foreshadow where some of this conversation may need to go. I think both are making very good points, and they are actually interconnected. ErikG’s comment suggests that there is a real impasse in the evangelical/evolution synthesis (the fall–which is true), while Rick’s comment suggests that a solution might be to broaden evangelical theological categories by listening to theological traditions that heretofore have not been a part of the popular evangelical landscape but whose theological categories do not have this same impasse.
Given the essentially polemic roots of American evangelicalism, one might legitimately ask whether “broadening theological categories” and “evangelical” are compatible. I think, however, the future viability of evangelicalism depends on widening the tent, and this is conversation that BioLogos (which generated Tim’s paper) wants to be a part of.
So, again, thanks for posting, RJS!



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RJS

posted December 30, 2009 at 9:28 am


EricG
Keller notes that traditional theology has never held that Gen 2-3 was a glorified, perfect state, nor was Eden the consummated world of the future. There had to be some death and decay. He suggests that there is greater natural evil (perhaps), but the real consequence of the fall is in humans and human moral evil. Creation groans because humans have failed to be God’s stewards according to the initial setting of Gen 2.
The “perfect world with no decay” really seems to be at most a minority thought through church history – the view may even be a modern product of the last couple hundred years, a fundamentalist creation. I have not done enough research here to be sure.



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derek leman

posted December 30, 2009 at 9:51 am


I can’t quote references, but many have said that Eden is not the consummated world. The story itself suggests it is not complete. Knowledge of good and evil is lacking. Life is mediated by a tree of life and is not innate. The Garden is limited in space and time.
Eden is neither redeemed nor completed.
Kidner’s proposal at least shows there are other possibilities to understand Adam and Eve in relation to humanity’s pre-history. Yet it seems a wooden theory, sort of a “God makes the theory work when the facts seem contrary” approach.
Focusing on possible points of agreement: all humanity is summed up in Adam and Eve in some way and God only knows the details. Mystery is inevitable, but we can affirm the summing up without knowing how it came about.
Derek Leman



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dopderbeck

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:05 am


I don’t think the “scripture” issue is a “red herring.” Even if you ultimately do want to move in something like a neo-orthodox direction regarding scripture and the fall, there are serious theological and cultural implications to that move, so it’s not merely a “red herring.”
Keller’s citation of Psalm 19 is not so easy to dismiss. Psalm 19 is a key proof text for inerrantists because of its use of the words “perfect,” “trustworthy,” “right,” “radiant,” and “sure” to describe what the Psalmist would have thought of as the scriptures. (The “law” is the entire Torah). If the Torah purports to teach about events with historical referents that in fact have no historical referents, can we consider it “perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, and sure?” This is at least a fair question, and not a red herring.
Pete Enns: how do you respond to the foregoing?
Regarding scripture, I think where I might differ from Keller is in this statement: “We must interpret the book of nature by the book of God.” Here we move from the doctrine of scripture into hermeneutics and epistemology. Neither Psalm 19 nor any other part of scripture suggest that human interpretations of scripture are “perfect.” Therefore, even if one holds to Keller’s view of inerrancy, there seems to be no reason why any interpretation of scripture should closed to the test of coherence with the truth of nature. In fact, Psalm 19 seems to make no such distinction — it moves abruptly from the book of nature to the book of Torah without any disjunction concerning their respective trustworthiness.
I’m guessing that Keller’s prioritizing of scripture over nature here reflects something of the Westminster / Van Tilian tradition. In that tradition, there is a somewhat more radical distrust of human perception and reason than in some other Christian epistemologies. Because of the radical corruption of natural human reason, scripture is given primacy as an unerring foundation for knowledge. (Again — Pete Enns — would appreciate if you think I’m on track regarding this.)
All of this is a long-winded way of wondering whether it’s possible to hold to some notion of the “inerrancy” or “perfection” of Torah (and all scripture, by implication) based on Psalm 19 without necessarily giving presumptive hermeneutical priority to what scripture seems to say when this conflicts with what nature seems to say.
Obviously, I suspect this is quite possible, but it would involve defining “inerrancy” in a way that would make many evangelicals uncomfortable — more of an inerrancy of purpose or effect.



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RJS

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:16 am


dopderbeck,
I know that the Law = Torah can and does refer to the entire Pentateuch. This is why a quoted both verses and considered quoting more. It is the context and the range of parallel terms that suggest to me that the use of this as a proof text for all of scripture is a misuse of the text.



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dopderbeck

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:20 am


Sorry for multiple posting but I have lots and lots of thoughts and questions about this particular topic, which has been a major point of issue for me for a few years…
Scot McKnight (and Pete and others): regarding this notion of “inerrancy of purpose or effect” — I sense that some evangelicals who have become enamored of speech-act theory (VanHoozer, Walton, et al. — a “Wheaton School” of inerrancy perhaps?) are really going in this direction, though they wouldn’t phrase it exactly like this. The only reason to bother separating locution, illocution, and perlocution is that the locution (the semantic or literal significance of the statement) apparently differs from the perlocution (how the statement was received by the listener).
What this means for inerrancy is that the locution could be literally “wrong” by some external standard, but the illocution could nevertheless be “inerrant” or “perfect” in that the perlocution is something beyond the apparent literal verbiage. In Psalm 19, for example, the desired perlocutionary effect is clear: Torah “revives the soul,” “makes wise the simple,” and so on. The same sorts of perlocutionary intentions for scripture are evident in 2 Tim. 3:16 (teaching, rebuke, correction). Based on this sort of speech-act analysis, someone like Walton can say, for example, that it is not “error” for the scriptures to assume the ANE three-tiered cosmology because that background assumption is not directly connected to the intended perlocutionary act of recognizing Yahweh as the one sovereign creator of the world.
This speech-act approach, I think, differs in some significant ways from the Van Tilian epistemological approach adopted by Keller, which probably results in a greater openness to hermeneutical “correction” from the “book of nature” about what the illocutionary act in a given portion of scripture really is all about.
My question — am I reading the “speech-act” approach to inerrancy correctly here? Am I right that employing speech act theory is largely if not completely about preserving the “perfection” and “trustworthiness” of scripture in light of its human phenomena?



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Pete Enns

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:30 am


Hi David,
Re: your two points, I think you are correct in how Ps 19 is used by some, but to apply it as relevant to the discussion at hand may be employing Ps 19 in a way that is foreign to its purpose. The issue is what words like “perfect” mean in Hebrew, not how they can be used in contemporary English debates, and what those words point to in Ps 19. And, of course, the other issue there is what Torah “purports to teach about events,” etc., and whether making such determinations actually settles modern questions of origins and the information we have available to us and that the ancients did not. In other words, an appeal to Ps 19 does not settle the issue but–if taken in a rationalistic way–actually exacerbates the problem.
Re: your second point, about Tim’s intellectual tradition, I am not sure I would locate the issue in wholly in Westminster/Van Til and the general “distrust” of allowing extrabiblical information to affect doctrinal formulations (which is a true criticism of that tradition). It may be more a matter of Tim’s denomination, the PCA, which requires subscription to the Westminster Standards, Although various PCA communions allow for some latitude in “how” these things are confessed, federal headship in a real, physical, indeed specially created (in some sense) Adam is probably not open for discussion.
Simply put, I think it is fair to say that this ecclesiastical tradition is uncomfortable with science informing theological formulations. There are certainly nuances and exceptions to this, but this is my experience over the past 25 years or so. In fact, I would say that Tim’s paper is a very courageous one for that ecclesiastical context.



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dopderbeck

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:36 am


And one more… :-)
Re: Adam: I largely agree with Keller here, even if I might lean more towards a speech-act or some other hermeneutical grid for what the “perfection” of scripture entails. I’ve tried to wrestle with it every which way, and IMHO the theological problems taken as a whole are just too enormous without a “real fall” in time. For me, this isn’t so much about inerrancy and proof texts as it is about theological coherence. The neo-orthodox view always seems to me to slide into a kind of mushy Pelagianism.
I don’t really like the Kidner/Stott model, however. The idea of a Neolithic Adam in the midst of a what have been at that time a population of millions seems nutty to me. But there are other options. I think there’s a possible “genetic model” of original sin and the image of God — not that “sin” is literally genetic, but that the image and the sin nature “propagated” throughout the proto-human population in similar fashion to the propagation of a genetic mutation.
Although “Adam” cannot be the single literal biological father of all present humanity (unless he lived four million or so years ago as a monkey-like hominid), it’s entirely possible that every human alive today has inherited something from a single ancient source by “ordinary generation”. Science has indeed established that this has occurred in Mitochondrial Eve. I am not making the basic mistake here of suggesting, however, that ME was in fact “Eve” or that ME was the only woman alive in her time. The point is simply that there will have existed a variety of individuals in the relatively recent past to which every human being alive today can claim some line of biological descent.
There are other options than this “biological” one — I know of one prominent evangelical reformed theologian who is working on a book on original sin based in “Augustinian realism,” which will acknowledge the fact of human evolution. Here, the idea is that all humans who would ever live were existentially “present” in “Adam”. It’s an ontology that sounds strange to us moderns, but it was a relatively common notion among the Patristics.
All this is to say that, like Keller, I think we have to live with a tension here. We can’t ignore what science is establishing — present day humanity doesn’t derive entirely from a single pair living 5-10KYA. But this means we need to think more deeply about what it might mean for all of us to be “in Adam,” not that we should default to the neo-orthodox view (IMHO).



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Pete Enns

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:38 am


David,
Not sure if you are correct about Speech-Act, but it sounds right to me from my experience. If your take is correct, I would offer that Speech-Act is one way of coming at the issue of what it means to read Scripture responsibly, which includes the interface of general and special revelation, true humility in declaring what certain things in Scripture “must” mean, and just generally recognizing that engaging Scripture, i.e., reading it well, may be as much a journey and means of grace in the Christian life rather than a rationalistic starting point for a faith system.
OK, I am going to try to get some work done today. I will check back later.



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dopderbeck

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:38 am


Pete (#9) — what do the Hebrew words really imply? (I’m not “defending” the rationalistic view here — just highlighting and exploring it)



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Allan R. Bevere

posted December 30, 2009 at 11:22 am


RJS:
I have nothing to add to the conversation, but I simply wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your posts. They are extremely thought-provoking.
Thanks!



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JoanieD

posted December 30, 2009 at 11:27 am


I know that the Catholic church now teaches that we do not need to believe God created the world in 6 days. We can believe he created it over billions of years. Yet, the Catholic Church still teaches that there were actual people we call Adam and Eve who chose to sin and that therefore all people after them are affected by that choice and also sin. Still, I feel that it does no damage to my Christian faith to believe that Adam and Eve are allegorical. They can stand for humanity who at one time was in harmony with God’s will but who chose to try to “go it alone,” so to speak, in knowing what was best for themselves. Once each of us leaves the presence of God by thinking we know better, we become separated from God’s presence and it’s impossible to return without the grace of Jesus through the Holy Spirit of God. Thinking this way, you don’t have the problem of where the other people come from that Cain talks about.
I am not so “dogmatic” about this that I “look down” on anyone who believes in a literal Adam and Eve and I could be wrong about them not being a literal couple who listened to a talking serpent and did what God told them not to do and about Eve being made from Adam’s rib. I am happy to be in the good company of C.S. Lewis, though! I love him.
Keller does make some interesting points though. Good paper.



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Pete Enns

posted December 30, 2009 at 11:51 am


David (12)
Ps 19:7-14 are, let’s say, descriptors of the law’s efficacy in building up followers of Yahweh, not descriptors of the ontology or “nature of Scripture,” as some might try to use this psalm. Note how each of the words like perfect, trustworthy, etc., is followed by something that Torah “does” for the Israelite: revives the soul, makes wise, gives joy, etc. The point seems to be that Torah “works” as an encouragement and means to an end, that being “faithful Israelite.” For Christians–ironically given the discussion here and how Ps 19 is used– the focus morphs from the written Torah to Jesus the embodiment of Torah, the new and improved Torah, Jesus, who has become Torah for us (to use Paul’s memorable phrase).
So, to be a bit provocative :-) a rationalistic use of Ps 19 does justice to the point of the Psalm and actually encourages a sub-Christian understanding of what Torah means in light of the climactic revelation of the Son of God in his death and resurrection.



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Pete Enns

posted December 30, 2009 at 11:53 am


Oops. Better proof reading needed.
Change that to “…Ps 19 does NOT DO justice to the point of the Psalm….” in my last paragraph in 15. Sorry.



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Jeff Doles

posted December 30, 2009 at 12:13 pm


Jesus and Paul both seem to take the First Couple (Adam and Eve, not Barack and Michelle :) as literal, historical figures, making significant points based on them.
Were they mistaken? If so, then what else might they have been mistaken about? Were they merely accommodating common a misunderstanding, affirming certain things based on that misunderstanding while leaving their readers/listeners remaining in that misunderstanding? If so, what other misunderstandings might they have accommodated while leaving us in the dark about them?
I do not think this issue is a red herring.



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EricG

posted December 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm


RJS (4) and Derek Leman (5) — thanks. I agree that neither the OT or NT indicates that the world was perfect when created. But it does seem to indicate that it was good, and that death and decay entered the world through human sin. That seems to be in tension with what science shows, and the tension doesn’t seem resolved by saying that the world wasn’t perfect.
And as I understand it, one of the primary reasons for the Christian creation account is to address the key question that serves as an impediment to faith for many people: How can we say God is good when the creation we live in appears bad/corrupt/full of death? We try to answer that by pointing to the creation account; the traditional answer is that God created a good world, but the curruption we see arises from sin, which is not of God. Science seems to cast that explanation into doubt, and saying that God’s creation was not perfect doesn’t resolve the tension, at least in my mind.
Maybe the best that can be said is that if we had not sinned, we would have been able to improve the world and the “natural evil” that exists. That’s not an entirely satisfactory answer in my mind, and it seems like there is no getting around the fact that death and decay are baked into the design of the universe. What happens to our traditional Christian answer to the question of why natural evil exists?



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RJS

posted December 30, 2009 at 12:36 pm


Jeff,
Jesus is recorded as referring to Noah – or the time of Noah. I don’t think there is reference to Adam or Eve recorded. Perhaps you could correct me?
Paul is another issue – and this is a point where I disagree with Keller as he takes your point of view.
I think that discussion of Adam and Eve is very significant theologically – but not as an issue of trustworthiness of scripture.
Let’s take Jude — if the trustworthiness of scripture demands that Paul is correct in every cultural and literary reference he makes does it demand the same of Jude?
Or how about Matthew or Mark or John? John is simply not consistent with the other gospels in the chronology of details in the life of Jesus. This off the bat is a clue to me that we err (not scripture) when we demand consistency of detail in scripture.
We have to let scripture tell us how to read scripture.



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AHH

posted December 30, 2009 at 1:01 pm


I agree with RJS that the “scripture” issue should be a red herring. Certainly if we put aside the issue of Paul invoking “Adam”, there is no more reason to interpret Gen. 2/3 as a scientific description of actual individuals than there is for Gen. 1, or Job or Jonah or the Good Samaritan. And I don’t think it diminishes the authority of Scripture to say that for Paul “in Adam” was a cultural way of saying “fallen human” — and whether Paul in his inspiration knew that he was accommodating to his culture by using a literary figure or whether Paul in his humanness believed Adam to be a real individual is not particularly important. Maybe Pete Enns can give us his perspective on whether Paul’s use of this OT image should tell us anything about how to interpret Gen. 2/3 (maybe a parallel question would be if Jesus’ mention of Jonah should constrain our view of the genre of that book).
But I agree with dopderbeck that, in practice, the “scripture” part is more than a red herring, especially in parts of Evangelicalism like Keller’s PCA denomination where rationalistic “inerrancy” is such a central doctrine. Pete Enns could probably also tell us how dangerous it would be in the PCA (or at Westminster!) to do something like suggest that Paul’s inspiration in writing Scripture does not entail that Paul had perfect understanding of OT genres and used passages in ways consistent with that perfect understanding.
As both RJS and dopderbeck point out, the more serious issue is with traditional concepts like “fall” and “original sin”. There I appreciate Keller’s humility and desire for respect among different viewpoints where there is no clear answer. While some of us may be comfortable without a literal Adam in our theology, having a real Adam/Eve in a “federal headship” scenario is certainly not ruled out by scientific evidence, and should be recognized as a viable view.



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Darren King

posted December 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm


While Tim Keller is respected by many, his assumptions around the “trustowrthiness” of scripture – and what that means exactly – are enough to give me serious pause. In fact, it makes me not take what he says very seriously because, to me, it seems he is still approaching the questions with rose-colored glasses.
On another point, I am often perplexed by the degree to which people will try and square their positions with historical figures such as CS Lewis, or, going back further still, people like Augustine. I have nothing against such figures, and they contributed greatly to the collective faith in their way, at their time. However, it seems silly to try and square contemporary understandings with their historical positions – because they were working with a much more limited, primitive scientific understanding. Attempting to squre their positions, with our scientific understanding, seems to me to be an exercise involving apples and oranges. Frankly, why others don’t see this incongruency bewilders me.



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Jeff Doles

posted December 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm


What I had in mind, RJS, is Matthew 19:4-6, where Jesus speaks about marriage, grounding it in the creation of man and woman, which he locates “at the beginning.” As he is responding to the Pharisees attempt to justify divorce from the Torah, I don’t think Jesus is responding generically, from cultural or unauthoritative literary works, but from the Torah.
Certainly Adam and Eve are significant theologically, not as mythical or imagined characters, but because they are historical figures in a religion that is grounded in history. So it does become a matter of trustworthiness of the Scriptures that speak of them.
This is not simply a matter of cultural or literary reference, as if Paul considered the Torah as nothing more than culture or literature. The Torah was foundational to his thinking and argumentation, not an interesting cultural aside to his message.
In the case the Gospels, they are not a genre in which every last detail of chronology is important. Though there is good correspondence in the broad strokes of timing, moment-by-moment chronology is not the thrust of the genre represented by the Gospels.
Yes, I agree that we have to let Scripture tells us how to read Scripture. That is why it is significant to me that the NT consistently refers to Adam and Eve in a historical way, not as myth or some other non-historical narrative. Nor, I think, should we let present theories of science, and its underlying presuppositions, direct our hermeneutics.



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RJS

posted December 30, 2009 at 1:41 pm


Jeff,
Clearly Jesus was aware of the Torah – and Genesis. But he is not speaking of Adam and Eve here – rather of male and female and marriage.
And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
He could have – but did not – make reference to specific individuals here. I emphasize this because I would find it much more troubling if Jesus made the kind of reference that Paul makes.
Paul, of course is a completely different issue – he clearly refers to Adam as unique individual.



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Rick

posted December 30, 2009 at 1:53 pm


Darren stated:
“While Tim Keller is respected by many, his assumptions around the “trustowrthiness” of scripture – and what that means exactly – are enough to give me serious pause. In fact, it makes me not take what he says very seriously because, to me, it seems he is still approaching the questions with rose-colored glasses.”
As I commented yesterday, Evangelicals/Protestants have a serious issue (problem) of even getting people to the same table. We hardly get going before people begin to splinter, and in this case over Tim Keller! He is one of the more respected leaders across the board. You don’t have to agree with him on every detail, but you have to respect him as a scholar, theologian, and pastor. Amazing. You can’t make this up.
And for the record Darren, I take “serious pause” in regards to your specific take on Scripture (and that of RJS, Dr. Enns, etc…), but I recognize that there is still core common ground that can serve as a healthy starting point.



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RJS

posted December 30, 2009 at 2:00 pm


Rick,
Good points – and Keller is an excellent example here, open to the kind of discussion we need to have. I’ve been impressed with him since I read and posted on The Reason for God on Scot’s blog here. He is high on the list of people I would like to be able to sit down and talk with. This doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything, but he is always worth listening to and considering.
The tone of his white paper is excellent – whether I agree with all or not.



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BradK

posted December 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm


RJS #23
“Paul, of course is a completely different issue – he clearly refers to Adam as unique individual.”
RJS, is it really that cut-and-dried that Paul referred to Adam as a unique individual? These are the references of which I am aware:
Romans 5:14
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
1 Corinthians 15:22
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:45
So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL ” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
1 Timothy 2:13
For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
1 Timothy 2:14
And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
I’m not so sure that he is making the case for Adam as a specific, individual human being in any of these cases. Certainly not all. Some might even say that Romans 5:14 implies that Adam was symbolic, although that might be stretching the meaning of the Greek tupos. I don’t know enough Greek to say.



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Paul Vander Klay

posted December 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm


What Keller does with this paper is probably as important as what he says in it. Can evangelical openly (especially in the Internet age) discuss these important subjects? In the early part of the paper Keller asserts that in fact we MUST! This point was recently made by both IMonk http://bit.ly/36wzoV and Tim Stafford http://bit.ly/4qoV2v in their blogs. What Keller is doing here is leveraging his considerable pile of conservative evangelical chips to try to create a safe table for the conversation. This not only in my opinion helps move this one important conversation forward but also helps recalibrate expectations of what a pastor is and should be. His comments on pastoral identity early in the paper I thought were as important as anything else in it.
Thanks for bringing this paper to my attention and providing a table for processing it together.



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Dana Ames

posted December 30, 2009 at 2:42 pm


I think the scripture question is only a red herring for those who are not incapacitated by the “inerrancy” doctrine, as typically understood.
As for the rest of it, it’s problematic if all one’s eggs are in the penal substitutionary atonement basket. If they are in the Christus Victor basket, a literal Adam and Eve is not so important.
Someone up above made note that our relational connection with God is more than biological (I would say that it includes biology, since that is how we have been created, and Jesus became a human being), and that’s the real point, as you also said in the previous post, RJS. We were meant to trust God, walk with him faithfully and worship him. It was the trust and faithfulness that were broken, not a law. “The Law” wasn’t even given until Moses, but death exercised dominion anyhow, because death spread to all as a result of the “original” lack of trust and faithfulness on the part of the “original” man. This is a sort of restatement of Romans 5.12-14a. Than St Paul says, “Adam, who is a ***type*** of the one to come.”
IOW, Paul sees everything Through Christ. The point is not Adam all by himself (whether or not Adam was a historical individual human), or that Adam explains anything about Jesus. The point is:
The Messiah/The True Human Being -Jesus- explains Adam.
Jesus was faithful where Adam was not. Through Jesus’ trust of God and Jesus trustworthiness as the True Human, even unto the worst kind of death, death is no longer an enemy and its power has been turned back. (Perhaps it is because of the lack of trust of humans that death, though existent beforehand, became an enemy…?) He simply passed through it on the way to the Resurrection- and as we are in Christ, so will we.
In principle (the deepest there can be), because of Jesus, God the Word, and what he accomplished, there is now nothing left to stand in the way of our trust and faithfulness and worship, and the right living that results. (the “praxis” parts of the epistles)
With such a view, science is no longer “a problem”; science is simply how we study and explain how things happen in our material universe. But I don’t know where this view is to be found in Evangelicalism. Perhaps in England, where Polkinghorne and Newbigin could come to their conclusions?
Dana



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BradK

posted December 30, 2009 at 2:43 pm


Let me ask another question. If Paul actually believed that Adam was a real, individual human being but this turns out not to actually be the case (i.e. Paul was wrong) does it really affect the veracity of scripture? At no time does Paul appear to be arguing specifically about the existence of Adam, but rather using him to make some other spiritual point. So is the meaning really altered?
It’s pretty clear from reading scripture that people in Paul’s time believed that the stars in the sky were celestial beings or angels. This is obviously not true. Does that also challenge the veracity of scripture? I’m sure it is a challenge to a certain view of inerrancy, but there are lots of other problems with certain views of inerrancy.



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Darren King

posted December 30, 2009 at 2:52 pm


Rick,
Let me clarify: I’m not saying Tim Keller isn’t a respectable person. I agree that its generally recognized that he is. And he is certainly willing to participate in the discussion, which is great. I give him props for that.
What I’m saying is that, at some point, we begin with a priori assumptions. And Keller’s assumptions are non-starters for me.
Like RJS mentioned already, I think one goes astray in assuming that Paul wasn’t biased by his own contextual particularities (time, place, etc), even to the point of error. I think he was contextually localized, and therefore prone to the mistakes common to that locality. I personally am not threatened by this reality. It is the human condition. It is how God made us. And Paul is no exception.
If one begins by assuming that all of Paul’s assumptions were without error, just because they’re recorded in scripture, then we have a problem. That’s not biblically “provable”. Rather it’s an a priori assumption one brings to the text.



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Jeff Doles

posted December 30, 2009 at 3:07 pm


RJS, If Jesus was responding from the Torah (the context of his discussion with the Pharisees concerning divorce and marriage), and seeing that he speaks of “in the beginning” and the creation of male and female, how should we suppose that he was NOT referring to the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1? “In the beginning” echoes the opening verse. And then in 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM.” He is not appealing to some vague notion from the mythical mists of the past, or in the mating habits of early hominids. He is grounding his response in the account of the creation of man (male and female) in Genesis 1, to whom was given blessing and dominion over the earth and its creatures (Gen 1:26, 28).



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Rick

posted December 30, 2009 at 3:20 pm


Darren, you state:
“What I’m saying is that, at some point, we begin with a priori assumptions. And Keller’s assumptions are non-starters for me.”
I rest my case. Your “starters” should be core essentials of the Protestant/Evangelical faith (or at least the historic essentials), not the inerrancy issue (or other secondary issues). But you are going to limit participation in the discussion to only those who hold to your own “priori assumptions”, your discussion group is going to be small, and probably have little impact.
On the other hand, Keller, BioLogos, RJS, Dr. Enns, etc…, appear to be opening up the table to a wider group so that progress for Protestants/Evangelicals as a whole can actually be made.



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RJS

posted December 30, 2009 at 3:28 pm


Jeff,
I don’t think that Genesis 1 refers to the creation of adam and eve as a unique individual pair – we get that from Genesis 2. Someone like Pete Enns could probably shed some light on this discussion.
Of course Jesus also refers back to Gen 2:24 in the discussion of marriage. But he does not refer to Adam and Eve – he refers to the fact that God ordained marriage between man and woman.



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JoanieD

posted December 30, 2009 at 3:50 pm


Darren wrote about the apostle Paul, “I think he was contextually localized, and therefore prone to the mistakes common to that locality. I personally am not threatened by this reality. It is the human condition. It is how God made us. And Paul is no exception.”
I agree, Darren. I don’t know if Paul thought Adam was an actual literal person or not, but I think we can read what he wrote either way. I do think Paul thought that Jesus was coming back VERY soon and that’s why he could recommend that it was best if people could stay single (among other things)and why we never see him take up the issue of slavery. Paul thought it was all coming to an end soon anyway. So, he was wrong there. But, in my mind, that does not make him wrong about everything, particularly in how Jesus was the Savior of the world. It just makes Paul human and it makes me realize how intimately he felt the Spirit of God to feel that any moment now, Jesus was returning and judgment would occur.
I refer to Job now and then but I don’t have to believe that a person named Job experienced all that the poor man did in the story of Job! Yet, when someone has some very bad sufferings for unknown reasons, I think or may say, “Just like Job.” So just because Paul refers to Adam and Jesus refers to Noah and Lot’s wife, it doesn’t HAVE to mean they believe in those people in actuality, but that the story has meaning. Personally, I just cannot believe that Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt, but it makes a poignant point if someone is looking back on something bad that needs to be left behind, to say, “Don’t be like Lot’s wife!” Jesus did exactly that.
I know people may say of me that I pick and choose what I believe literally in the Bible, but I would say that 99% of us do. I am willing to bet that there is SOMETHING in the Bible that almost everyone says has to be allegorical or metaphorical. I believe Jesus was conceived by a virgin. I believe he rose from the dead and has ascended into heaven and yet he is with us through the Holy Spirit. But I don’t believe there was a woman created from a man’s rib and I don’t believe that a woman turned into a pillar of salt. So…there you have it! :-)



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Marcus

posted December 30, 2009 at 3:58 pm


dopderbeck #8
I have never explicitly heard Vanhoozer put it the way you do. In fact if I remember correctly he shies away from that approach in First Theology (but I could be mistaken, I read it a while ago). However, I agree with Pete that it seems to me to be a reasonable and responsible way forward (In a recent post on my blog I defined inerrency as ‘in Scripture, ‘God inerrently accomplished his goals of communication’ – although I like the way you put it better – inerrency in purpose or effect).



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Jeff Doles

posted December 30, 2009 at 4:17 pm


Yes, the male and female of Genesis 1 are not given names until Genesis 2. However, I find nothing in the text to suggest that Adam and Eve, the unique individual pair created in Genesis 2 are anything other than the male and female created in Genesis 1. The creation of man in chapter 2 follows as a recapitulation of the creation of man in chapter 1.
And yes, the quote in Matthew 19:5 is from Genesis 2:24, “THEREFORE a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The “therefore” in that verse (or “for this reason” in Matthew 19:5) follows and is a conclusion from the account of God’s creation of Adam and Eve — a unique individual pair. How shall we possible suppose that Jesus did NOT have Adam and Eve in mind when he quoted from a passage in which they figure quite prominently? It seems unreasonable to me to think that he had something quite different in mind?
It is much more reasonable to suppose that it was on the basis of God creating Adam, then creating Eve from Adam’s side, then bringing her to Adam that Jesus speaks of God as the one who joins the two, male and female, into one flesh. Because that is what happened in Genesis 2 in the immediate context of the verse Jesus quoted. Marriage is based in a mythical coupling or some sentimental notion but in an act of God in a unique individual pair, Adam and Eve. In saying, “from [or “at”] the beginning,” Jesus is taking it as something that took place very early in history, “at the beginning.” Had he thought it a timeless, mythical narrative, there would be no need to give it such a time signature.



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Robert Landbeck

posted December 30, 2009 at 5:37 pm


It is too often presumed that human nature itself is as it was before the ‘fall’. And while it may be a theological convenience to discuss this event in abstract, exactly what the implications are of what can only be considered as an important loss have never been successfully understood or explained. And as it has never been agreed precisely the nature of the transgression that caused the fall, whatever the intellectual contortions of theology may ask us to accept, ones return to grace, i.e. salvation, via any Christian tradition must be considered unlikely until these gaps in understanding, so easily brushed aside, are completed.
Yet the looming environmental crisis may be slowly forcing a more honest, if less flattering appraisal on human nature itself. For self evidently humanity is without the critical values of sustainability that would make us appropriate stewards of the ‘creation’ we call our earth. And without those values, thus far unavailable and unlikely by either evolution or natural reason, we can hardly be considered moral by any divine standard.
And here there may be an insight into the fall. For human nature itself is without the moral insight of an ethical foundation whereby the spiritual informs the material with an integrity and necessary limitation that would provide the basis of both sustainability and true morality.
For that reason the religious quest remains unfinished and ironically it may be religious tradition, founded upon an all too human theology, that stands in the way of progress. For the danger of tradition is that it tries to impose limits and controls on thought and imagination. Yet the aspirations for a different future are already bypassing those limitations as the credibility of religion continues in decline, particularly in the West. For in a world that will soon be desperate for answers, religion has none. And if God decides to provide those answers by challenging the claims of existing religious ideas and institution, religion as we understand it will be left starring into the abyss. That process might already have started! http://www.energon.org.uk



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Philip Henry

posted December 30, 2009 at 9:11 pm


Regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve, I believe Jesus spoke indirectly of it in
Matthew 23:35 ?And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.?
It seem to me here that Jesus is placing Abel in a historical context with Zechariah, which would make Abel a real person. In my opinion, the passage would not make much sense if Abel and Zechariah weren?t real. My point is if Abel was a real person, would it be such a stretch to assert that his parents, Adam and Eve were real also? On the basis of this passage I think it is quite probable that Jesus thought of Adam and Eve as real people.



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Dana Ames

posted December 30, 2009 at 10:40 pm


Philip,
I think Jesus was capable of using rhetoric. It seems to me that Jesus is indeed pointing to their history, but rather indicating something like “the righteous priests who have been faithful throughout your whole history”, and pointing on to the “next righteous, faithful priest in line” whose blood is shed: Himself.
The problem is one of hermeneutics and Meaning. I think “historicity” must serve Meaning. Of course Christianity is historical- and some details we just don’t know and maybe can’t know, but that doesn’t necessarily affect the clarity of Meaning.
Dana



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RJS

posted January 1, 2010 at 9:02 am


Rick and Darren,
One of the things that impressed me about Keller’s paper – especially this last discussion is the tone and tenor. He started off by citing CS Lewis as one he respects as a Christian thinker (sure quoted him quite a lot in The Reason for God) but with whom he disagrees on this issue. He lays out his concerns and discusses alternatives. I tried in this post to continue a conversation. We need kind of dialog and approach.



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Terry M. Gray

posted January 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm


Keller’s take and what’s expressed here is similar to what I wrote in a guest post at Steve Martin’s An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. Interestingly, my piece was by far the most conservative contribution there.



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