Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?

From: David Opderbeck <dopderbeck@gmail.com>
Date: Wed Apr 09 2008 - 14:39:57 EDT

I think you're mixing some things up here, Bernie.

First, inerrancy doesn't *necessarily *require a literal Adam. Much depends
on what is meant by "inerrant" and "myth," and on the scope of what one
thinks scripture is inerrantly "affirming." It is probably fair to say,
however, that inerrancy as defined in some prominent evangelical statements,
such as the Chicago Statement, in particular in connection with the Chicago
Statement on Hermeneutics, would make it exceedingly difficult to affirm
both inerrancy and an entirely non-historical Adam. Yet, many evangelicals
who affirm both inerrancy and a hermeneutic that includes accommodation hold
a more nuanced definition of inerrancy that *might* allow for this.

Second, a strong stand on inerrancy isn't "relatively new." The Church has
continually affirmed that the scriptures do not err, going back to the
Fathers. Nevertheless, IMHO, you're correct to note that many American
evangelicals since the 1940's or so have promoted a version of inerrancy
that is less balanced and much more "technical" than the historical
notion, and that the term "inerrancy" has taken on an inordinate degree of
importance -- though even this point is hotly disputed.

Third, "it only takes one error to prove the Bible is not 'without error'"
is too broad a statement without defining what you mean by "error." A
famous example often quoted here is the hyrax chewing its cud in Leviticus
11. This is obviously an "error" if the purpose of this text is to define
scientifically which animals chew the cud; but it's not necessarily an
"error" if the purpose of the text is simply to identify animals that
shouldn't be eaten under the dietary laws of the time. A significant aspect
of an evangelical hermeneutic of accommodation is to argue that this sort of
"error" isn't what we mean by the historic affirmation that God doesn't
"err" in scripture.

Fourth, I don't think you "win" the Adam question even if you dispose of
inerrancy. There are very big theological questions here besides inerrancy
because the sin of Adam is tied to the doctrines of the incarnation and the
atonement. Moreover, the sin of Adam plays an important role in just about
every confessional context, from Catholic to Reformed. Inerrancy
is ultimately a very small part of the Adam problem.

Finally, I don't think the Adam problem is an issue to be "won" or "lost."
For anyone who wants to take both Christian faith and learning seriously,
this is one of a constellation of questions that have to be discussed openly
and charitably, without an expecation of complete agreement or resolution.

On Wed, Apr 9, 2008 at 2:18 PM, Dehler, Bernie <bernie.dehler@intel.com>
wrote:

> *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). Comments?
>
>
>
> 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.
>
>
>
> …Bernie
>
>
> ------------------------------
>
> *From:* Bethany Sollereder [mailto:bsollereder@gmail.com]
> *Sent:* Wednesday, April 09, 2008 10:48 AM
> *To:* David Opderbeck
> *Cc:* Chris Barden; philtill@aol.com; Dehler, Bernie; asa@calvin.edu
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?
>
>
>
> David,
>
> 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 <dopderbeck@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>
> 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 <bsollereder@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>
> Chris,
>
> 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 <chris.barden@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>
> David,
>
> I don't disagree with anything you say here, indeed I think I said
> some of it. Perhaps I was unclear.
>
> The notion of truth as history vs coherence with the traditions is
> probably too complicated for any straight yes/no answer to your
> questions. The Ethiopian coptics were clearly persuaded to say "yes"
> to your question as to whether the Watchers tradition was historical,
> as they decided to put 1 Enoch in their canon. But the majority were
> not persuaded. If the criteria was for everything to be unambiguously
> historically true, then Jude should be left out for alluding to
> apocryphal materials (not just Enoch, but also probably the Testament
> of Moses, a document we have only in part and in double translation).
> Indeed, some in the early church did so argue, but the majority view
> 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 excised
> the quotations when relying on Jude. Does that mean Enoch must
> definitely be a historical figure? I'm inclined to think that the
> teaching of Hebrews would be blunted if he were not, but on the other
> examples I'm open to the notion that appealing to the tradition of
> Enoch is enough to make the writers' respective points.
>
> Chris
>
>
> > 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 <chris.barden@gmail.com>
> 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.
> > >
> > > Chris
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > On Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 11:41 PM, <philtill@aol.com> 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
> > > >
> > > >
> > > >
> > > >
> > > >
> > > > ________________________________
> > > > Get the MapQuest Toolbar, Maps, Traffic, Directions & More!
> > >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > David W. Opderbeck
> > Associate Professor of Law
> > Seton Hall University Law School
> > Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
>
> To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
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>
>
>
>
>
> --
>
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
>
>
>

-- 
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 14:43:32 2008

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