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The Historical Adam: Peter Enns

Once More, with Feeling

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Their creation stories were more like a warm-up for the main event: them. Their stories were all about who they were, where they came from, what their gods thought of them and, therefore, what made them better than other peoples.

Likewise, Israel's story was written to say something about their place in the world and the God they worshipped. To think that the Israelites, alone among all other ancient peoples, were interested in (or capable of) giving some definitive quasi-scientific account of human origins is absurd. And to read the story of Adam and Eve as if it were set up to so such a thing is simply wrongheaded.

The necessity of reading the biblical story against its ancient backdrop is hardly a news flash, and most (but by no means all) evangelical biblical scholars easily concede the point. But for some reason this piece of information has not filtered down to where it is needed most—the mainstream evangelical consciousness. Once it does, evangelicals will see for themselves that dragging the Adam and Eve story into the evolution discussion is as misguided as using the stories of Israel's monarchy to rank the nominees for the 2016 presidential election.

Evangelicals tend to focus on protecting the Bible against the attacks of evolution. The real challenge before them is to reorient their expectation of what the story of Adam and Eve is actually prepared to deliver. These kinds of conversations are already happening, though too often quietly and behind closed doors. Evangelicals owe it to their children and their children's children to bring the discussion out into the open.

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

Peter Enns is Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written extensively on biblical studies and contemporary Christian faith and has taught at Princeton Theological Seminary and Harvard Divinity School. His book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say About Human Origins questions the belief that Adam was a historical figure.

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