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The Historical Adam, Round 2: William VanDoodewaard

No Adam, No Original Sin, No Christ

In his recent interview with John Wilson here at Books & Culture, Karl Giberson aptly notes that "many evangelicals … recognize that evolution essentially rules out the possibility that our species consisted of just two people a few thousand years ago. Nevertheless, because St. Paul builds his theology—and his Christology—on the sin of Adam, they are inclined to retain a historical Adam of some sort …. They envision new 'Adams' that are often quite different from the Adam in Genesis … to preserve the authority of Paul—who most likely believed in the exact Adam described in Genesis—people are inventing new Adams quite different from the guy in Genesis."

There is a certain clear and compelling logic to the post-Adam/no Adam viewpoint of Karl Giberson, Peter Enns, and others participating in this roundtable. Where we grant that an ancient earth requires an alternate, "non-literal" approach to time in Genesis 1 and 2, we are left with little (if any) exegetical ground to argue against wide-ranging evolutionary hypotheses. If we accept an adjusted hermeneutic and allow for mainstream evolutionary biology, there is no longer exegetical ground to maintain a historical Adam and Eve, created specially by God in a brief span of time, from the dust of the earth and Adam's rib, respectively. If we have actually adopted a new hermeneutic for Genesis 1-2 and maintain that Scripture teaches a unity of truth, then we ought to revisit and work towards reinterpreting New Testament passages on Adam.

I believe that the "middle ground" of an evolutionary Adam is just as untenable and ad hoc as Giberson and Enns note it is. But instead of creating agreement, this logic is ample reason to go back to what the mainstream of the Christian church has held to for millennia. The exegetically, hermeneutically, and theologically compelling position is that God created Adam, the first man, and Eve, the first woman, without progenitors, disorder, or sin. It was this Adam and Eve, the only existing humans, who fell into sin in the Garden, bringing the curse on themselves and all creation.

Proponents of a real yet evolutionary Adam are faced with an impossible task, should they desire to reconcile their view with a Reformed Protestant, or for that matter, Augustinian, doctrine of sin. In some cases, like John Walton's, much of what would be considered sin and its effect in historic Protestant orthodoxy is now considered part of the creation order (which he feels included "disorder") prior to the fall. For Walton, Adam functioned as a failed Savior-figure. Death and suffering, which ostensibly had already included thistles, sweat, and pain in childbirth, continued for all as the "curse." One looks in vain in the Old and New Testament to find such an account: it seems to be a rather creative reconstruction. It also presents questions about God's character. How could such a God be fair, good, and holy in putting such high expectations on an Adam who had been created in what historic Christianity would view as a significantly fallen condition? Where in the text do we find such an Adam—set apart by God from his contemporaries to function as a redeemer? And how could sin be justly imputed to those prior to and contemporary with Adam when they had no part in it by participation or ordinary generation? Why would Scripture be utterly silent on all of this? Where do these new revelations come from?

Of course, Giberson's idea of getting rid of a troublesome, ad hoc Adam opens a whole new set of issues: if there was no literal Adam or fall, then what is sin? Where did it come from? One can of course merely state a continued adherence to a doctrine of sin—but on what basis? Giberson's first piece in the roundtable and his book elucidate this sort of thinking. As Hans Madueme notes, the key prospects now become dualism or monism, both of which lead to an eternality of evil, no reason for confidence in Christ, and no hope of enduring salvation from sin. A third option would be that sin is merely a biological present reality which will fade through evolutionary advancement. But this is no Christian solution either, as Richard Phillips reveals: "evolution demands the abandonment of the grand biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption for a narrative of gradual improvement."

Scripture reveals that Christ was the One by whom all things—including Adam—were created. It teaches us with consistent clarity that while Adam, as the first man, brought all humanity under sin and judgment, God had a plan of redemption ready. The literal reading of Genesis provides every ground to recognize that the redemption of fallen men and women will be marked, illustrated, pursued, and confirmed with supernatural activity in history—activity whose nature and timing can only be attributed to God. Passages like Isaiah 35:5-6, where the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, are a glorious prophecy of God's saving re-creation. There is a promised Creator-Redeemer who comes: Christ, the second Adam. He turns water to wine, feeds thousands with loaves and a few fish, heals, restores, raises from the dead, stops wind and waves, and transforms sinners from spiritual death to life. He takes the wrath, the curse for the sin of his people, suffering as substitutionary sacrifice unto death. The supernatural glory of his resurrection and ascension seal and crown his work as Creator and Redeemer. The first Adam and the second Adam are inseparably connected: when we lose the first, we will lose the second. There is much more to say: I encourage readers to engage with my book The Quest for the Historical Adam (RHB, 2015), and Richard Gaffin's recent work, No Adam, No Gospel (P&R, 2015).

The stakes are high in this discussion. There are certainly a number of self-professed evangelicals who do and will follow the evolved Adam/no Adam proposals. I am thankful to speak against this, and thankful to know that our roundtable representation is far from representative of contemporary evangelical belief and historic Christianity. Combined as participants we present one quarter committed to the historical Adam of historic Christian orthodoxy, yet the reality is that the only predecessors to our three quarters who abandon this Adam are found in Enlightenment skeptics, 19th-century higher critics, and 20th-century theological modernists or liberals. It is a small society on the fringe of Christianity in its most broad definition—one which I see with sadness heading outside the parameters of millennia of mainstream Christian confession, away from the Word of God.

This article is part of our Symposium on the Historical Adam:

William VanDoodewaard is a Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the author of two books, including his most recent publication, The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins.

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