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The Historical Adam: Harry "Hal" Lee Poe

A Case Study in Confusion

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Attributing the DNA differences between currently living humans to the mutations that have occurred since the first humans is perfectly good science. More work must be done, however, before sound estimates can be made about how long ago our ancestors might be called human. And this brings us to another point of confusion. Under an evolutionary model, we may say that we have common ancestors who lived 40,000 years ago, 400,000 years ago and 4,000,000 years ago. What that model cannot tell us is when our ancestors became humans. Science does not yet have a definition for humanity that allows us to know when our ancestors became human. Body form does not do it. From a biblical perspective, the greater question concerns when humans came to be made in the image of God. For this matter, theologians also lack a common understanding.

This brief discussion does not allow room to explore the theological complaints raised against the Adam and Eve studies which many took to mean that humans have no common pair of ancestors, but they should be mentioned together with a suggestion of how theologians may also confuse matters. In a variety of articles, essays, and blogs, several theologians have presented the following basic arguments:

1. The denial of a historical Adam and Eve means the denial of the biblical doctrine of the fall. The problem with this complaint is that the doctrine of the fall was a creative theological innovation of Augustine around the year 400 which was not taught by Christians for the first centuries after Christ nor accepted by the Eastern Church. In the West, Baptists have held to the earlier understanding of the problem of universal sin in their doctrine of the age of accountability.

2. If the doctrine of the fall is not true, then Paul's telling of the gospel is false. This argument builds on the preceding argument by confusing Augustine's teaching about the fall with Paul's teaching about universal sin.

3. If Paul's teachings are false, then the Bible is not true and has no authority. This Enlightenment trail of logical dominoes now affirms a non-biblical basis for biblical authority. The biblical basis for biblical authority declared by God to Moses and affirmed throughout the New Testament is that the Scriptures have been fulfilled.

4. If Paul's teachings are false, then we will have to come up with a new storyline for the Bible. This complaint betrays a commitment to a particular theological tradition over the biblical text.

This brief discussion suggests that we should be slow to jump to conclusions about what scientific data has to say and the theological conclusions we draw from the data.

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

Harry "Hal" Lee Poe is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He has written or contributed to a number of books and articles on the intersection of culture and the Gospel, including his 2004 publication, See No Evil: The Existence of Sin in an Age of Relativism.

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