The Historical Adam, Round 2: John H. Walton
Reading Carefully, with Charity
Concern: At the same time, I am not comfortable with how he portrays the biblical account: “Without thinking, we recognize the story as a tale, a myth, saga, or a legend.” I do not think that this is the normal impulse of Christian readers. I believe that he is also guilty of overstatement with his claim that “literal Adam and Eve are discrediting the Bible and causing faith to be undermined.” He has assumed the most conservative understanding of “literal Adam and Eve” in this statement. The major concerns about Adam and Eve are not whether they actually existed; it is the role they play in biological human origins.
Like: VanDoodewaard is absolutely correct with his assessment about God being the main focus and about the foundational role of exegesis and hermeneutics: “Genesis is first about God, second about us. Our exegesis and hermeneutic have theological and spiritual consequences, for good or ill.”
Concern: At the same time he misrepresents some of those that he identifies as his antagonists. BioLogos does not seek to “advance the cause of theistic evolution.” They identify themselves with Evolutionary Creation, which carries at least a subtle distinction from theistic evolution, and for some, there is a substantial and essential distinction. His failure to understand the nuances of those he is arguing against is also evident in his statement that “some claim a figurative couple as archetypical for an evolving early humanity.” Since I am the only one among the contributors to this roundtable who uses the designation “archetypal,” I assume he is talking about me. I must protest, however, that I do not consider Adam and Eve to be figurative and I do not consider them an archetype of evolving humanity. When we engage in discussion, we should make sure that we understand what the other person is saying lest we characterize them falsely, creating, in effect, a straw man. Unfortunately, this happens to me often when people are critiquing my view.
The differences between the positions presented in this roundtable focus primarily on the status of Scripture (i.e., how the Bible is Scripture) and what the biblical text claims as scriptural truth. Which aspects of the text are theological affirmations to which we are bound? Which aspects are cultural relics? How important are the intentions of the author, and have we rightly identified those intentions? We can therefore see that one of the main issues is hermeneutics. It also strikes me that those arguing on both sides of the issue have failed to consider that Adam and Eve can be viewed as historical and those through whom sin entered the world without their being connected to the question of biological human origins.
In the end I do not believe that we need a major overhaul of the doctrine of sin (though we may find Augustine less than adequate at some points), nor is there any reason to adopt a more limited doctrine of Scripture. We just need to read the text as carefully as we can and to recognize it as an ancient text. A view of historical Adam and Eve is not demonstrably false even if some aspects of their position or role may require reconsideration. Such re-evaluation can lead to a revised understanding that can accommodate both the demands of scientific realities and the significant essentials of traditional doctrine.
One of my deepest concerns is the attitudes that too easily emerge in the debate. Those who have accepted the conclusions of the scientific consensus too easily use sarcasm, ridicule, and rhetoric replete with exclamation points and scare quotes to denounce their more traditional brothers and sisters as virtual idiots, while those who are convinced that faithful interpretation requires maintaining traditional viewpoints paint their more accommodating brothers and sisters as destroying Christianity. Such attitudes emerge clearly even in many of these short essays. We need to take more seriously the biblical call that we demonstrate our allegiance to Christ by showing love and charity to one another. We should neither insult brothers and sisters nor hereticate them.
This article is part of our Symposium on the Historical Adam: