I recently wrote a 9-part series of blog posts on this issue, so some of these reviews can be briefer. Here I want to zero in on the fantastic book by Jack Collins.
In this volume, Jack Collins (not to be confused with evolutionary creationist Francis Collins) advocates what he calls “mere historical Adam-and-Eve-ism” (a term inspired by C. S. Lewis’s use of the term “mere Christianity”). By staking out his claim in those terms, I take Collins to be wanting to defend what all (or the vast majority of) traditional Christians have believed about Adam and Eve, without getting into theological differences that divide Christians on how Adam’s sin affects us (e.g., original sin, imputation, etc.).
I especially liked Chapter 2, “The Shape of the Biblical Story,” where Collins makes some very helpful introductory comments on the nature of biblical historical narrative. One key hermeneutical point is the distinction between “historicity” and “literalism.” Some (notably many Young Earth Creationists) incorrectly assume “that if a story is to qualify as ‘historical,’ it must not make much use of figurative elements” (p. 33). Collins disagrees and argues instead that a historical account is one in which “the author wanted his audience to believe that the events recorded really happened” (p. 34).
It is at this point that one should skip ahead and read the extremely important Appendix 1, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts and Genesis 1–11,” where he lists and summarizes the ANE texts, especially the ones from Mesopotamia, that demonstrate the closest parallels with Gen 1–11:
- The Sumerian King List
- The Atrahasis Epic
- The Eridu Genesis
- Enuma Elish
- The Legend of Adapa
- The Epic of Gilgamesh
Collins lays down some hermeneutical guidelines for comparing the biblical accounts with these ANE texts: “There is no question that such comparisons will help us understand the Bible better ... These writings help us to appreciate the world in which God’s ancient people struggled to survive. At the same time, just because there seems to be a parallel does not mean that there is one ... Further, we must never forget that the Biblical writings are coherent texts in Hebrew, and not simply instantiations of things we find elsewhere” (p. 139).
Here is another great quote on this topic from a different section of the book: “Genesis sets itself over against other origins stories from the ancient Near East, especially those from Mesopotomia. Genesis 1–11 provides an alternative front end for its worldview story; its author and audience thought the alternative was in some sense ‘more true’ than the other stories” (p. 109). I love that phrase, “an alternative front end for its worldview story.” Collins adds that the other ANE stories demonstrate historical intentionality on the part of their authors, although clothed in “imaginative description.” We should expect the same of Genesis 1–11 – historical referentiality clothed in imaginative description. This encourages us to “sit lightly on the literality” (p. 160) with which we take some of those descriptive aspects (e.g., God being pictured as a workman creating in six days; Adam being fashioned from the dust of the ground; Eve being formed from Adam’s rib/side; a talking serpent, etc.), even as we maintain the fundamental historical claim of the text.
In Chapter 3, “Particular Texts That Speak of Adam and Eve,” Collins surveys the OT, Jewish literature, and the NT, and concludes that “while some texts do not absolutely require historical Adam and Eve for their truth value, others look like they do in fact require it” (p. 92).
In Chapter 4, “Human Uniqueness and Dignity,” he gets at the question of what makes humans distinct from the animals. Obviously it has something to do with the fact that we bear the image of God and that we have a rational soul. However, he doesn’t want to limit the image of God to the soul. He defines a human being as “a body-soul tangle that expresses God’s image” (p. 95). He points out that scientists cannot explain the origin of the human capacity for language – this seems to be one of the key attributes that sets humans apart from animals. This suggests that it is harder to get a human being than scientific naturalism would suggest. There must be divine intervention at some point to get image-bearing humans.
In Chapter 5, “Can Science Help Us Pinpoint ‘Adam and Eve’?” Collins addresses the problem of the seeming discord between the biblical account of Adam and Eve and the modern evolutionary account. As one who advocates a moderate and restrained concordism, Collins thinks we should try to use our imaginations to come up with scenarios that may help us to reduce or eliminate the discord between the Bible and science, to the degree that we can do so without sacrificing the historicity of the text. He sets forth four criteria for any such scenarios if they are to “stay within the bounds of sound thinking” (p. 120):
First, any concordist scenario ought to recognize the point of Chapter 4, namely, that humans are unique and that you can’t get a human being from purely natural processes.
Second, for any concordist scenario to be within the bounds of sound thinking it must affirm that Adam and Eve were “at the headwaters” of the human race. This is important for explaining the unity of the human race – its unity in being made in God’s image and its unity in being in a state of fallenness and death.
Third, such a scenario must affirm a historical fall, as a moral event involving rebellion against God, that took place at the beginning of the human race.
Fourth, such a scenario must preserve the notion of “solidarity in a representative” (p. 121). In other words, if a scenario is adopted that envisions other humans besides Adam and Eve at the headwaters of mankind, then these other humans should be viewed as a single tribe with Adam as the chieftain and Eve as his wife, so that the whole tribe fell under his headship. There must be a real covenantal relationship between Adam and the human race, otherwise the effects of the Fall would be reduced to the Pelagian idea that Adam was simply a bad example that, inexplicably, everybody follows.
Overall, I appreciated Collins’s emphasis on the biblical “story” of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. This story makes sense of the world better than any other story. The biblical story has a clear narrative that begins with a good creation and moves to the tragedy of the historical entrance of sin into this good creation. If there is no transition in history from pre-Fall goodness to post-Fall marring of the goodness, then we cannot understand the world. We cannot understand why this world is marred by evil and death, and we cannot rejoice in the good news of God’s work, in history, of redemption and new creation in Christ.
See my comments on this book on 12/8/14. I have very little good to say about this book. Based on his denial of the historic Christian understanding of the Fall and original sin, and his low view of Scripture as nothing more than a collection of erroneous beliefs about God held by some ancient Israelites, I cannot see how Enns can long maintain a profession of traditional Christian belief. I would not be surprised if someday he came out as an agnostic or an atheist. His trajectory is setting him on the path to being the Old Testament counterpart to Bart Ehrman.
Editors: Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday; Contributors: Denis O. Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, William D. Barrick, Gregory A. Boyd, and Philip G. Ryken, Four Views on the Historical Adam (Zondervan, 2013)
This is a great book to get a handle on the debate. Denis Lamoureux defends a view quite similar to that of Peter Enns. John Walton is closer to Enns in his hermeneutic (particularly the too facile manner in which he uses the ANE materials to exegete Genesis) but closer to Collins in his theology, since he wants to hang on to some vestiges of historical Adam, although I think his understanding of the Fall needs to be shored up. William Barrick defends a Young Earth Creationist position on these issues, but, as Collins points out, he confuses literalism with historicity. Of course, I think Collins killed it. I liked this statement by him: “The biologists and paleontologists may explore their own fields of study, and may God bless them in it; at the same time, when they wish to integrate their conclusions into the larger story of human life, they do not automatically speak with expert authority” (p. 133).