We continue our review of the book, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight . Today, Chapters 7 and 8.
Chapter 7- The Variety of Adams and Eves in the Jewish World, is an attempt by Scot to set up his theses in Chapter 8 about how Paul viewed Adam. It lays the groundwork from Jewish literature about how Paul’s predecessors and contemporaries used Adam. Although somewhat dry and academic, I appreciate Scot’s attempt to set up any interpretation of Paul as grounded thoroughly in his Jewishness.
Philippians 3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
If Paul himself, describes himself as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” why wouldn’t we think he was influenced by his culture and heritage?
Scot contends there is a broad and diverse history of interpretation of Adam. He sketches out three main reconfigurations of Adam and Eve in the Jewish interpretive tradition based on the study of Felipe de Jesus Legarreta-Castillo of Adam in Jewish literature :
- Hellenistic Interpretations. Interpreting the story of Adam and the fall incorporating Hellenistic traditions. Portraying Adam a paradigm of humankind and the ancestor of Israel who faces the dilemma of freedom and its implications.
- The “rewritten” Bible Interpretations. These interpretations express the hope of future reward for Israel on the condition that one keep God’s commandments contained in the Law. Adam’s sin is the prototype of the historical transgressions of Israel and the nations that brought into the world all sorts of misfortunes for humankind.
- The Apocalyptic Interpretations. They emphasize the story of the fall over the story of the creation of humankind to explain the hardships and the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
The first piece of literature Scot summarizes is “The Book of Sirach” sometimes called “Ecclesiasticus” written sometime around 200 BC, and usually included in the Old Testament Apocrypha. The Adam of Sirach is the volitional Adam, or the Adam of free choice. Sirach 15:15 says, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.” Sirach broadens that from Adam to Israel to Everyone. So a literary Adam becomes an archetypal Adam as Israel, or more narrowly focused, a moral or ethical Adam. Adam (and Eve) in Sirach, then, can be called archetypal figures for the human summons and responsibility to live well before God.
The next book is “The Wisdom of Solomon”, another OT apocryphal book written in Egypt in the first three or four decades of the first century AD. It was the author’s attempt to win back Jews who had shifted towards Hellenism and is written in eloquent Greek with Greek rhetorical forms. The author is interested in “incorruption” and “eternity”, each tucked away in a dualistic framework of body versus soul, all concerned with avoiding “death”. Immortality for the soul, then, requires wisdom and Torah observance or righteousness which is the supreme characteristic of Adam and Solomon, who are made in God’s image. It is wisdom that can protect Adam and Eve and all humans from corruption unto death and preserve them to immortality.
Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgressions, and gave him strength to rule all things. (10:1-2)
Since the Wisdom of Solomon states each human is “a descendant of the first-formed child of earth” (7:1) this author believed in a genealogical and biological Adam.
Philo of Alexandria (ca. 30 BC – AD 50) is the paradigmatic example of Scot’s thesis that each Jewish author saw in Adam what one believed and used Adam to prop up a theology or philosophy. Scot says:
Adam for Philo is the paradigm of the Greek theory of the human made of body and soul. Writing in Alexandria, Egypt, and fully conversant with Greek philosophical categories of his day (Platonism and Stoicism), Philo combined exegesis of Scripture, philosophy, and apologetics into a strategy for articulating Judaism in a way that made it palatable to non-Jews. One might be accurate in saying Philo sought to argue that God’s revelation is mediated through Wisdom, the Logos, and when interpreted aright, the Torah of Moses and the entire Jewish tradition is a manifestation of that cosmic Logos-Wisdom.
The Book of Jubilees, sometimes called the “Lesser Genesis,” was probably written in the 2nd century BC and records an account of the biblical history of the world from the creation to Moses. The author of Jubilees uses Adam to emphasize his own concerns with Torah observance, like Sabbath practices. Adam thus becomes an archetypal Adam of Torah observance.
Titus Flavius Josephus was a first-century Roman-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry. He was a contemporary of Jesus and Paul who rewrote the Bible’s history to appeal to Roman tastes. The Adam of Josephus is the “first man”, that is, the genealogical Adam with slight modifications to make him the archetypal virtuous figure and example, so as to be palatable to Roman tastes.
A late first-century AD dialogical apocalypse called 4 Ezra presents a theology of Adam similar to the apostle Paul. In 4 Ezra Adam is a literary Adam who has become, because he is also a genealogical Adam, a moral and fallen Adam. This portrait of Adam is not identical to the apostle Paul’s, but it is much closer than the Greek- and Roman-sounding Adam. Similarly, the apocalypse called 2 Baruch came into existence after Jesus and Paul, probably closer to AD 130. For 2 Baruch, each of us is our own Adam, meaning that our own destiny, and the destiny of the world, is in our hands—we can choose to obey God or disobey, but the matter is in our own hands. In this text we have the literary, genealogical Adam who is archetypal of all humanity; here we find Adam as Everyone.
Here is how Scot summarizes this chapter:
“There are elements of the so-called historical Adam present—genealogical Adam, fallen Adam,– in these Jewish sources, but the historical Adam that Christians now believe in has yet to make his appearance on the pages of history. Perhaps we will encounter him in Paul, or perhaps not, but this point must be emphasized: the construct Christians use when they speak of the historical Adam is not to be found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish sources. This does not mean that Christian theology, even if that theology develops after the New Testament, is not true, but it does mean that it is postbiblical.”
Scot and co-author Hauna Ondrey wrote a book: “Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy”. He notes that, in essence, those who leave the faith discover a profound, deep-seated, and existentially unnerving intellectual incoherence to the Christian faith. On his blog, discussing the book, Scot notes:
“My personal top challenges–those nagging back seat issues that keep forcing their way to the front seat–are: various issues of intellectual implausibility, few and far between “God moments,” random suffering, and the fact that Christians can be complete jerks to each other and everyone else (I being chief among them, to borrow Paul’s words).”
Obviously, Scot is not laying all deconversions to the “science vs. the Bible” issue, but still he makes the point that, particularly in regard to human origins, the reality of the historical Adam is a deal-breaker for many, especially young, people given the science since the Human Genome Project. For any Christian who takes the Bible seriously, the passages that count the most are 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49 and Romans 5:12-21 (New International Version (NIV)).
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49)
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)
Scot organizes his arguments into 5 theses.
Thesis 1: The Adam of Paul is the literary, genealogical, image-of-God Adam found in Genesis.
This is a state-the-obvious point before he moves into more particular details later. However, he makes the point that what Paul knew about Adam was not gained by scientific examination as we now know science. What Paul knew about Adam and Eve, he knew from the scriptures; the literary and genealogical tradition he inherited from his forebears, which he did not question.
Thesis 2: The Adam of Paul is the Adam of the Bible filtered through—both in agreement and in disagreement with—the Jewish interpretive tradition about Adam.
Jews of Paul’s day did not pick up the book of Genesis as if it had never been read prior to them. Like you and me, when they read the Bible, they encountered the text of Genesis with terms and categories that had become familiar to them and that shaped what they saw. The Adam of Paul is a Jewish Adam—that is, he is not simply the literary-genealogical, image-of-God Adam but is instead that Adam as interpreted in the Jewish tradition.
Thesis 3: The Adam of Paul is the archetypal, moral Adam who is the archetype for both Israel and all humanity.
Very much like the Adam discussed in Chapter 7 in the Jewish literature, Adam is presented as the one who was summoned by God to obedience, who disobeyed, and who brought death and destruction. Paul says nothing about biology and genetics (of course) but instead presents Adam as the man who made the wrong choice and that choice ruined himself and his descendants in both Israel and all humanity. Paul’s presentation of Adam sets up an antithesis between the first Adam (a tragic hero) and the second or new Adam (a redeemer hero, Christ) schematized as follows:
|Adam||Christ (the second Adam)|
|Union with others||Union with others|
What matters in the context of this discussion is that Paul uses Adam to bolster his Christology and to magnify the accomplishments in Christ. It is a re-use of the literary Adam for theological purposes. Adam as type is the reverse image, or the negative, of Christ. As to whether Paul thinks of Adam as historical Adam, Scot quotes James D. G. Dunn:
“Whether Paul also thought of Adam as a historical individual and of a historical act of disobedience is less clear. Philo should remind us that the ancients were more alert to the diversity of literary genres than we usually give them credit for. And Paul’s very next use of the Adam story (Rom. 7:7-11) is remarkably like 2 Baruch 54:19 in using Adam as the archetype of “everyman.” Be that as it may, the use Paul makes of Genesis 1-3 here is entirely of a piece with the tradition of Jewish theologizing on Adam in using the Genesis account to make sense of the human experience of sin and death.”
Thesis 4: Adam and all his descendants are connected, but original sin understood as original guilt and damnation for all humans by birth is not found in Paul. In Jewish fashion, Paul points his accusing finger at humans for their sins. How there is continuity between Adam, all his descendants, and their sins and death is not stated by Paul.
Scot points out that the Greek in Romans 5:12, έπί ὅς, translated as “because of” in the NIV, was translated by Augustine (following Jerome) into the Latin in quo, “in whom”. This started the long theological tradition in which all humans were guilty in Adam’s original sin. The expression, έπί ὅς, is found in 2 Corinthians 5:4, Philippians 3:12, and Philippians 4:10 and never means “in whom”. What Paul is saying in Romans 5 is that each person, like Adam, sins and therefore dies, NOT that all have sinned IN Adam and therefore die. So death spreads to all because, like Adam, everyone sins.
Notice also, to maintain the symmetry of the passage, that just as one man’s disobedience brought death, so one man’s obedience brought life; but just as one must act—believe—in order to benefit from the one act of Christ’s obedience in order to inherit eternal life, so we need to act—sin or disobey—in order to accrue to ourselves the ultimate death—our separation from God. Which leads Scot to conclude:
Thesis 5: The Adam of Paul was not the historical Adam.
Scot repeats his 7 criteria for what it means to call Adam and Eve historical from Chapter 5:
- Two actual (and sometimes only two) persons named Adam and Eve existed suddenly as a result of God’s creation
- Those two persons have a biological relationship to all human beings that are alive today (biological Adam and Eve).
- Their DNA is our DNA (genetic Adam and Eve); and that often means;
- Those two sinned, died, and brought death into the world (fallen Adam and Eve) and ;
- Those two passed on their sin natures (according to many) to all human beings (sin-nature Adam and Eve), which means
- Without their sinning and passing on that sin nature to all human beings, not all human beings would be in need of salvation;
- Therefore, if one denies the historical Adam, one denies the gospel of salvation.
As he looks over the list Scot believes that Paul may have believed in #1, even though he doesn’t explicitly say so. But there are no explicit observations by Paul with respect to 2, 3, or 5. Paul did explicitly affirm #4, but Paul does not anchor his gospel of redemption in the historical Adam, at least as Scot has explained “historical”. Scot then says that Paul affirms what his fellow Jews affirmed: people die because they sin. Paul’s gospel does not require that definition of “historical” Adam; what it requires is:
- An Adam and Eve who were made in God’s image
- An Adam and Eve who were commanded by God not to eat of the tree
- An Adam and Eve who chose to disobey
- An Adam and Eve who therefore were aimed toward death
- An Adam and Eve who passed on death to all humans.
And Scot believes it requires an Adam and Eve who are paradigms of the condition of all humans; faced with the demand of God, each human in history chooses to disobey and therefore dies. Scot’s concluding paragraph of the book is:
“If we are to read the Bible in context, to let the Bible be prima scriptura, and to do so with our eyes on students of science, we will need to give far more attention than we have in the past to the various sorts of Adams and Eves the Jewish world knew. One sort that Paul didn’t know because it had not yet been created was what is known today as the historical Adam and Eve. Literary Adam and Eve, he knew; genealogical Adam and Eve, he knew; moral, exemplary, archetypal Adam and Eve, he knew. But the historical Adam and Eve came into the world well after Paul himself had gone to his eternal reward, where he would have come to know them as they really are.”
Well, that was one sophisticated argument, although if you don’t buy it, I suppose to you it was just sophistry. Nevertheless, if you are going to take science seriously and you are going to take the Bible seriously, then some form of Scot’s argument is going to be the way forward.
There is no way the ancient authors of scripture, including Paul or even Jesus, could have imagined the implications of current genomics. To them, if you wanted a sheep you bred a male sheep to a female sheep, if you wanted a cow, you bred a male cow to a female cow, if you wanted a man, then a man and a woman had to get together. So at some point, logically, there had to be a first pair of sheep, a first pair of cows, and a first man and woman. What other explanation could there be? There is no way they could have imagined a population emerging, hell, I have trouble imagining a population emerging. If our species emerges from a primate lineage, when and where did the first morally culpable human arise? Are there lineages of humans that were/are not morally culpable? What is sin, how is it revealed to us, and what are its origins?
The only way we are going to get satisfying answers to the question of origins and who we are as living beings is for scientists like Dennis Venema to keep pushing the frontiers of science forward and theologians like Scot McKnight to think through the implications. There is no going back.
• • •