RE: [asa] Was Adam a real person?

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Wed Apr 09 2008 - 14:18:26 EDT

Bethany said:
"The "kernel of historical truth" need be little more than "God created,
every human sins, and God has since been working towards redemption".
If nothing else, the character of God that is portrayed is certainly
historical truth!"


Hi Bethany- I think you are on to something, but then you run-up against
what may be an evangelical idol- the notion of "the inerrancy" of
Scripture. My understanding that this "inerrancy" strong stand, that is
pervasive in Evangelical Christianity, is relatively new. Once you say
that Adam was not a real person, the inerrancy issue is the next giant
to fight. If that giant can be slayed, then you win. If not, you have
a contradiction with the Bible as inerrant and errors in the Bible
(since the Bible strongly indicates that Adam was a real man).


I am preparing myself to proclaim that Adam (and the creation story) was
a myth, but useful for theological truths (and inspired as such), and
that the Bible is not without error. (It only takes one error to prove
the Bible is not "without error," and I don't think that is hard to do.)
In this way, the doctrine of Adam (and related "origin of sin," etc.)
and the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy go hand-in-hand I think.





From: Bethany Sollereder []
Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2008 10:48 AM
To: David Opderbeck
Cc: Chris Barden;; Dehler, Bernie;
Subject: Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?



I'm not sure if the Hercules analogy was the best possible. Perhaps a
reference to popular hagiography would have been better... perhaps like
St. Boniface and Thor's Oak. Powerful legend (that after the first axe
stroke, a wind blew the tree down to reveal its rotted inner core) is
built around a kernel of historical truth.
In Adam's case, it behooves us to consider the mythologies of the
nations surrounding post-Exodus Israel and how dialogue with those
cultures shaped how they saw the world and themselves. The incredible
similarities in terms of motifs like seas of chaos, magical trees,
serpents, gardens, exile, floods and so on cause the dissimilarities in
regards to the nature and character of God and humans to stand out in
stark contrast. The "kernel of historical truth" need be little more
than "God created, every human sins, and God has since been working
towards redemption". If nothing else, the character of God that is
portrayed is certainly historical truth!

I agree that "this is one of those questions that requires careful
treading" but I don't think that after long, deliberate, and careful
study we should hesitate to draw conclusions that we can hold
confidently, even if also provisionally.

Bethany Sollereder

On Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 10:19 AM, David Opderbeck <>

Bethany, I think your overall direction is right, but I'm not totally
comfortable with the analogy to contemporary reference to mythic
figures. The writers of scripture certainly had more in mind when
referring to OT characters than what a modern writer means by something
like "herculean." And we have these tricky issues of authority to deal
with -- in what way, and over what, is scripture authoritative? How do
we get from the writer's mindset and intentions to the authoritative
message to the Church today? And with Adam, our hermeneutical issues
are also bound up with important theological ones, such as human free
will and the Fall. For me, this is one of those questions that requires
careful treading and provisional conclusions at best.


On Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 12:12 PM, Bethany Sollereder
<> wrote:


I feel that we should be careful about too hastily ascribing historicity
to biblical characters simply because other biblical authors refer to
them. For one thing, they had to use the stories that carried currency
in their culture. People would have been familiar with who Enoch was
(meant to be) and what he stood for. That would have been enough to use
him as a powerful symbol. I might talk about 'herculean efforts', but
that doesn't mean I think Hercules was a historical figure. Same thing
with Adam. They used him as a type, and even perhaps believed that he
was a true historical figure, but that doesn't mean that we must also
ascribe historicity to him.

Even if Paul and the other biblical writers did not think of Adam as a
'real' person, what other story could they have used? If they are
talking about one man dealing with the sin of the world, and in your
tradition you have the story of one man who brought sin into the world,
you'd be a fool not to use that sort of imagery. We all use the stories
and myths and real histories that give shape to our world view. We can
hardly expect the biblical authors to do otherwise.

Bethany Sollereder

On Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 8:07 AM, Chris Barden <>

        I don't disagree with anything you say here, indeed I think I
        some of it. Perhaps I was unclear.
        The notion of truth as history vs coherence with the traditions
        probably too complicated for any straight yes/no answer to your
        questions. The Ethiopian coptics were clearly persuaded to say
        to your question as to whether the Watchers tradition was
        as they decided to put 1 Enoch in their canon. But the majority
        not persuaded. If the criteria was for everything to be
        historically true, then Jude should be left out for alluding to
        apocryphal materials (not just Enoch, but also probably the
        of Moses, a document we have only in part and in double
        Indeed, some in the early church did so argue, but the majority
        was that Jude was to be kept as it was apostolic, edifying, and
        contained no heresy.
        My guess? The authors of Hebrews and Jude probably believed
Enoch was
        a historical figure. Peter may well have viewed Enoch as a
"type of
        Christ" just as Adam was to Paul, though whoever wrote 2 Peter
        the quotations when relying on Jude. Does that mean Enoch must
        definitely be a historical figure? I'm inclined to think that
        teaching of Hebrews would be blunted if he were not, but on the
        examples I'm open to the notion that appealing to the tradition
        Enoch is enough to make the writers' respective points.

> 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
> books such as 1 Enoch in the canonical scriptures suggest that
> non-canoncal books are valid sources of "history?" Are we as
> 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
> > 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
> > are in agreement on the specifics of the tradition. Fine,
so if we
> > could stop there we could explain it as merely referring to
> > tradition. But Enoch's mysterious translation into heaven
was the
> > subject of much discussion in Jewish circles in antiquity.
> > 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
> > 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
> > notion that the weird stories about the Nephilim, arguably
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > sometimes get in the way of edifying our fellow believers.
> >
> > Chris
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > 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
> 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
> 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
> > >
> > > 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
> 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
> 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
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > ________________________________
> > > Get the MapQuest Toolbar, Maps, Traffic, Directions &
> >
> --
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

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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 14:30:20 2008

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