Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?

From: <>
Date: Wed Apr 09 2008 - 16:30:25 EDT

For one thing, they had to use the stories that carried currency in their culture. 
An example would be if we quote Hamlet.  Since Hamlet is an important figure in literature, we can speak of him as if he is a real person but without really implying that he is.  When the NT quotes Enoch, it may be quoting him as a literary figure.  Likewise with Adam.

the issue is whether we think the people were sufficiently sophisticated to quote a literary figure without confuisng him with a real person.  It comes down to what Lewis called "chronological snobbery."  I think the people in the past were actually much more attuned to literary devices than we are, since they grew up with oral storytelling as opposed to the great literary institution known as television.


-----Original Message-----
From: Bethany Sollereder <>
To: Chris Barden <>
Cc: David Opderbeck <>;;;
Sent: Wed, 9 Apr 2008 12:12 pm
Subject: Re: [asa] Was Adam a real person?


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 <> wrote:


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.


> 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.
> >
> > 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 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

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Received on Wed Apr 9 16:33:25 2008

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