Thoughts in the Dark

Trying to Bring Ideas into the Light

Tag: Adam and Eve

Great Example of Critical Engagement

Shortly after I posted this morning about Fundamentals and Liberals and their lack of engagement with each other (or anyone), Peter Enns posted a great blog entry wherein he critically engaged some of Answers In Genesis’ fundamentalist propaganda.

Enns (if I were a fan of labels, I’d plop him down somewhere on the conservative side of moderate) does a great job of critically engaging the arguments put forth on a a poster available for sale on Answers in Genesis. The poster represents basic fundamentalist tactics to avoid biblical arguments and instead, as Enns puts it, tells “us how Ham reads Genesis having already assumed the point that has to be argued.” Enns moves through the first major points of the poster to show his audience how these arguments do not hold water and engages them without being belittling or rude. I would not be surprised, unfortunately, if Ken Ham and the rest of the guys at Answers in Genesis ignore this criticism and refuse to engage with any ideas outside of their own minority view.

Peter Enns, Hans Madueme, and the Historical Adam (or, Theological Cop-Outs?)

Peter Enns recently wrote a response to a response to his The Evolution of Adam.

I don’t want to revisit his entire response, as I feel that it is certainly worth reading on its own, but I do want to highlight a couple of paragraphs out of the middle.

To his credit, Madueme himself comes clean with his methodology, though he does so only at the very end of his review (section 6, “Concluding Thoughts”):

I recognize the force of the mainstream evolutionary consensus, and I know that it raises tough questions for the viability of a historical Adam and the doctrine of the fall. But I am constrained by Scripture, tradition, and weighty theological considerations. I am a son of Adam. That is why I am a sinner. And it is why I need Christ.

Madueme is to be commended for saying plainly what many others only think: “I know there is serious evidence to the contrary that calls into question what I believe, but, come what may, I’m going to stick with ‘the Bible’ as understood by my tradition and the theological conclusions required to maintain theological stability.”

One might wonder, however, whether Madueme’s apologetic motives should have been stated at the outset, and perhaps led to a much shorter review. I mean no disrespect, but, after all, if Madueme truly recognizes the pressure that the scientific consensus on evolution (and I would add the study of ancient Israel) puts on the historical Adam and the fall, but then slips out the back door, so to speak, and returns home to his dogmatic commitments, all else is just filler. Any true engagement with counterevidence is in principle off the table at the outset.

This resonates deeply with me – it is incredibly hard to engage in a discussion with a person who says “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that is that.” If theological presuppositions restrict someone from engaging in a conversation, then it would be easier for everyone if that person simply did not try to enter the conversation. That person is quickly talking at me instead of talking with me.

Have any of you ever had a conversation with someone who had their mind made up from the start, and no amount of evidence could ever get them to change their tune? How did the conversation go?

More on the Origin Debate

I know this is a topic that I’ve covered many times, but it just appears to be a very popular subject right now. Christianity Today has published another article recently about the origins of humankind and the literal readings of Genesis. I recently finished reading and reviewing Peter Enns’ “The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins” for Reviews in Religion and Theology (I think that it will be published in their first issue of 2013).

I want to know this – if Adam doesn’t exist, what do we lose? Enns discusses the Adam found in Genesis versus the Adam found in Paul’s writings, and it is pretty clear that Paul is using extra-biblical sources to create his understanding of Adam. In addition, the inclusion of Adam in Paul’s writings does not affect his main argument; getting rid of Adam does not get rid of original sin. Original sin is an obvious part of the world around us, and Paul’s argument concerns God’s answer to the problem of original sin (Jesus!), and whether or not sin originated in Adam does not change that fact.

So, what is lost if Adam didn’t exist? Is it simply that people don’t want to admit that Paul was a fallible human being, like everyone else?

Let’s discuss this! What do you think? 

Is the Entire Christian Faith Based on Genesis 1?

No, it is not at all. But it seems that many Christians will argue that it is.

Timothy Michael Law posted a follow up to his post yesterday about a literal reading of Genesis.

I feel that this plays in to what was talked about in the Adam and Eve / Historicity posts here as well as the recent “How to Interpret the Bible” post.

In response to yesterday’s post by Timothy Law, many people complained that reading Adam and Eve metaphorically, or as anything other than exact, true history, caused serious problems with their faith. In fact, it affected a few specific areas:

*The foundations of marriage
*The truthfulness of Jesus
*The truthfulness of Paul
*The foundations for the rest of the Bible’s truth
*The origins of sin
*etc, etc, etc

Now, this seems a bit ridiculous to me, and luckily Timothy Law pointed out that, even if Genesis 1-11 had anything at all to do with these issues, they would only be affected if the rest of the bible was entirely silent on the matter.

Law also makes a great point a little later in the post:

Individual Scriptural texts ought to be read according to their own internal (and potentially distinctive) literary conventions, rather than being submitted to a flat, literal reading across the board.

I agree with this 100%, but I would also add that they should be read according to their own socio-historical context (to the very best that we can reconstruct it – right Phillip? Hehe).

Granted, part of Law’s argument is a bit of a “red herring;” whether or not people take Jesus’ commands seriously really has not bearing on why they mistakenly view Genesis 1-11 as history. Law does, however, make some good points otherwise and his post is well worth the read.

How to Interpret the Bible 101

Alright, this post is an extension from the comments found in a previous post. I feel that the comments were the start of a very good discussion buried under a post that was unrelated, and I thought that it would be good for everyone to benefit from them. Feel free to go back and read the original comments if you like.

A good friend of mine from college, Phillip Stokes, challenged my method of interpretation in that he felt that the original intent of an author can never be known, nor can we ever truly know what the original readers/hearers would have taken from the text. Instead, he argues, we need to focus on the history of interpretation; we can know how the text has been understood throughout the ages by various interpreters.

An excellent example of Phillip’s view is illustrated in the following video. N.T. Wright takes the story of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden and tries to read it in a way that Jews living in the century before Christ would have understood it (this video might also be of interest to the commenters of the historicity and Adam and Eve posts).

(Thanks to the Pangea Blog for posting this video to twitter this morning)

Now, my immediate reaction to this type of reading of Genesis is to use it as an argument that the final redaction (at least) of the book obviously took place after the exile, because it is simply too much of a coincidence that the author would not have intended the audience to read exile in the Adam and Eve story.

Now, Phillip asserted that, although we have plenty of material from the ancient world, our ability to understand the material is in question. This is because, as we discover more and more from the ancient world, our viewpoint is constantly changing. Our understanding of the text depends on our understanding of the ancient world. To this point, I agree completely.

To say that we cannot know anything, however, is to throw the baby out with the bath water. It is like saying that if we might ever be proven wrong, then to come up with a hypothesis is futile. If we followed this thought process we would have no scientific method whatsoever!

Finally, I want to address the issue of whether or not a text can have meaning outside of its original context. My answer: yes and no.

A text can mean something different to me when I read it than it might to you when you read it. These meanings, however, tell us much less about the text than it does about you or me and our current situational contexts. If you read Augustine’s interpretation of the text, you learn more about Augustine than you do about the text!

The meaning that we can gain from a text in its canonical form (see my post on Brevard Childs’ view of Isaiah for a simple overview of canonical criticism) is most telling of the time in which the text was finally redacted. Tearing apart the text (via source criticism and other such devices) to find the original sources is fun, but it can be fruitless if taken to an extreme.

Finally, I agree with Phillip that we can never be completely impartial when we come to a text. We can still try to be as impartial as possible, but he is right; our entire understanding of the text and the ANE as a whole is based upon partial and biased reconstructions.

I would invite all of you who might be reading this to comment with your thoughts on the matter! How do we interpret a text?

More questions concerning the historicity of Adam and Eve

I recently posted this blog, as well as this one, and then this one, concerning historicity of stories in the bible. Some of these lead to some good discussion from multiple points of view.

I want to ask a couple more questions concerning the historicity of the creation stories:

(1) Do those who insist on a literal Adam and Eve throw out source criticism? It seems very apparent that Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 2:4bff are different stories and have various elements that do not agree (such as the order of creation [Animals - Man and Woman, and Man - Animals - Woman]). What does a literalist do with that?

(2) What do literalists think the purpose of the creation account is? Why was it written?

(3) I am re-reading John Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths, in which he presents what I would argue is a false dichotomy between myth and history. Have any of you read it, and what do you think?


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