Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Apr 09 2008 - 10:37:40 EDT

How NT writers regarded the figure of Adam is certainly a significant question but we should also ask how Old Testament writers regarded him. & the answer is, "Not very much." 1st, it's not entirely clear at what point in Gen.2 - 3 - if at all - 'adham starts being treated as a proper name. Certainly it is in Gen.5:1-5, the beginning of the genealogy, and that is picked up in I Chron.1:1. But beyond that the only possible mention is Hosea 6:7 & there Adam may be a place name (as in Josh.3:16).

Most importantly, Adam & events in which he was involved is never included in any of the OT's recitals of salvation history, such as Dt.26:5-9, Josh.23:2-13 or Ps.78. They may go back to the Exodus, or Jabob, or Abraham, but never beyond that. This suggests that if the Isrealites during this period thought of Adam as an historical figure at all it was differently from the way they thought of Moses, Javcob or Abraham.

But when we get to the intertestamental period, as represented in the Apocrypha, there are a number of references to Adam that figure him as an individual person. (This includes Wisdom 10:1-2 where the name "Adam" isn't actually used, consistently with the fact that no other names of easily identifiable figures are used in the recital that begins there.)

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: David Opderbeck
  To: Chris Barden
  Cc: ; ;
  Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2008 9:26 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?

  Chris -- you raise a good point, but consider a further difficulty with respect to Jude 14 (and really the entire book of Jude) -- the author of Jude quotes from and alludes extensively to the non-canonical book of 1 Enoch (as does the author of 2 Peter, which is related to Jude) (text here: 1 Enoch reflects a widespread tradition about the role of Enoch in a cosmic battle of demons and angels which involves, among other things, the marriage of angels and humans possibly alluded to in Gen. 6. In 1 Enoch, the fallen angels who marry humans are called the "Watchers." The Watchers are giants (see Gen. 6) who teach men the arts of weapon-making and warfare.

  We have to ask, then -- did the writers of Jude and 2 Peter consider 1 Enoch to be true? Would the writer of Hebrews have considered texts such as 1 Enoch to be true? If so, do the allusions to and quotes from non-canonical books such as 1 Enoch in the canonical scriptures suggest that these non-canoncal books are valid sources of "history?" Are we as Christians obligated to accept the whole of the "Watcher" tradition? Or is there at least some sense in which the writers of scripture are seen here to be drawing on the "history" of their day?

  At the end of the day, I'm with you in affirming an essential historicity to "Adam." But, even the NT references to OT personages clearly aren't a simple matter once the literary and cultural context of the NT documents is brought out.

  On Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 7:26 AM, Chris Barden <> wrote:

    It certainly does seem in the NT as though Adam is treated at least as
    "given" through revelation and a rich tradition of Judaism. We do not
    have any easy way of unpacking the position of the NT writers on this
    point; was Adam's importance really tied to his historicity, or was it
    the tradition of Adam proving a certain theological or homiletical
    point that held first precedence? Take Enoch as an example (Bernie, I
    agree the list can be somewhat desultory but I feel confident this is
    not a rabbit trail!).

    Enoch was "the seventh after Adam", according to Jude 14, and he "did
    not experience death ... for God had taken him away" according to
    Hebrews 11:5. Moreover, Jesus is descended from Enoch according to
    Luke 3:37. All of this coheres with Genesis 5:18-24, so all writers
    are in agreement on the specifics of the tradition. Fine, so if we
    could stop there we could explain it as merely referring to that
    tradition. But Enoch's mysterious translation into heaven was the
    subject of much discussion in Jewish circles in antiquity. Further,
    extrabiblical traditions arose, perhaps as late as the 1st century BC,
    that had Enoch's trip to heaven tied in with a mission he was given.

    This mission, according to 1,2,3 Enoch, involved Enoch proclaiming a
    message of doom, a la Jonah, to the fallen angels who had children by
    the "daughters of women" in Genesis 6. And it is the background of
    this mission that makes sense of Peter's peculiar preaching at 1 Pet
    3:18-22. 1 Enoch 1:9 is even _quoted_ in Jude 14-15 as a true
    prophecy of "Enoch, the seventh after Adam" though Enoch most probably
    did not write 1 Enoch. The Ethiopic Coptics still have 1 Enoch in
    their Bibles! All this means that we have to take seriously the
    notion that the weird stories about the Nephilim, arguably weirder
    than the Garden of Eden, were at the very least considered edifying to
    the point of (almost) rising to canonical status in the early church.

    I find it hard to believe that all of the early Christians were so
    steeped in Jewish traditions that they credulously accepted the
    historicity of all of it; in fact, I believe wholesale acceptance of
    these speculations were perhaps behind Paul's letter to the
    Colossians. But certainly some of them did, and it wasn't a fringe
    view at all, judging from the diversity of writers in the NT who refer
    to this material. If Adam wasn't a real person, how could Enoch be
    the seventh after him? This line of thought is why I accept the
    historicity of someone named Adam, and I think Dick's explanation is
    probably the best out there.

    Granted, this explanation does not satisfy some, and might even be
    faith-shaking. But consider: for at least 20 years, the earliest
    Christians did not have the NT, and may not have had all of the OT.
    Their focus was on Jesus and his teaching, and they did just fine.
    Maybe (and I know this isn't the forum to expect too much approval of
    this idea) our nattering about the loose ends and how they fit
    sometimes get in the way of edifying our fellow believers.


    On Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 11:41 PM, <> wrote:
> Not only does the NT refer to Adam as a real person, but in my opinion, the
> OT also does… by naming his offspring, ages lived, etc.
> First of all, one of things that can be discouraging on the ASA list is
> that so many discussions rapidly go off into rabbit trails. This was
> originally a great question Bernie raised, but almost all the posts so far
> have been discussing Abraham and Jonah instead of what Bernie had asked
> about. David's point in bringing up Abraham and Jonah was not to question
> their historicity -- so there is no purpose in arguing about their
> historicity -- but just to point out that the Bible itself should be taken
> as a valid testimony at some point, and that this applies as well to the
> question of Adam as to any other person that anybody has ever questioned in
> the Bible. In doing so, David's post was making an outstanding point and
> it was well written and thoughtful and highly interesting. The details of
> just how much Abraham can or cannot be questioned was never important to
> David's point! I was very disappointed when the replies to David
> immediately chased the rabbit (to no value!) instead of continuing to
> address Bernie's real question. I think there needs to be a little more
> restraint in not chasing the rabbits so that we can maintain a meaningful
> conversation here. Or maybe the "subject" line should be changed whenever a
> rabbit is chased.
> Bernie, one way I've been thinking about the historic treatment of Adam in
> the OT is with the idea that the Adam, father of Seth, in Genesis 4ff was
> the earliest person listed in the Hebrew geneologies and therefore Moses (or
> prior authors) took the opportunity to reflect him backwards as a literary
> device to "become" the first human ancestor in their creation mythology.
> (BTW, I don't use the word "mythology" in a negative way.) Thus, Adam in
> Genesis 4ff may have been a historic individual as the geneologies and
> subsequent accounts imply, and yet Adam in the garden may have been a
> theological symbol. I think it's pretty obvious there is a genre change
> between the garden account and the geneologies/historical sections that
> follow. Therefore the treatment of "Adam" may have likewise been different
> in the two sections. We needn't assume that because the name identifies a
> literal individual in one genre therefore it refers only to a literal
> individual in all genres.
> As an example, Ephraim is treated as a literal individual in Genesis, but
> his name symbolically represents an entire people group later in the Bible.
> The Hebrews were accustomed to using an individual name to represent an
> entire group. IMO, it is not too difficult to believe they did the similar
> thing _backwards_ to refer to the origin of man by using a _later_ literal
> individual Adam, who just happened to be the first in their geneology as
> well as possessor of a name that was highly symbolic of mankind.
> This doesn't address the issues with Adam being treated as a historical
> person in the NT, but then I think we can question if we really know that he
> was being treated as a historical person in the NT. Just because _we_
> thought Adam was literal while we were reading Paul doesn't give us the
> right to impose our assumptions onto Paul. Paul may have been more
> sophisticated about the myth genre than we have been. After all, he lived
> in a Greek culture that was seeped in theology taught through myth, with
> strong contacts to the identical Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman uses of the
> genre. How could we be smarter than him in recognizing that genre and
> knowing what's normative for it?
> Regarding your model for resolving this conflict: Personally I wouldn't
> pick the "clearer scence" over the "foggier Scripture" in determining what
> Genesis 1 was supposed to be telling us. To do so is equivalent to saying
> the Bible is just plain wrong and therefore we will reject it wherever
> necessary and keep the better science in its place. Instead, I'd want to
> use conflicts with science to clue me in to where we may have misunderstood
> Scripture and then take a closer look at its internal evidence to see if
> indeed we have. IMO, when we look at Genesis 1 in the light of science, we
> can break out of our prior hyper-literalism and recognize that by golly it
> actually isn't of a genre that we would normally have taken as literal
> history.
> Phil
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  David W. Opderbeck
  Associate Professor of Law
  Seton Hall University Law School
  Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

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Received on Wed Apr 9 10:42:03 2008

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