Adam Is For Real

May 13, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Adam and Eve 1 editIn 1906, theologian and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, surveying theologians’ attempts to understand who Jesus was historically apart from what Schweitzer thought to be the layers of mythologizing that had been overlaid on Him by the Bible.  Schweitzer finally concluded that Jesus saw Himself as One whose suffering and death would bring in the Parousia, or the final appearance of God.  In Schweitzer’s own words:  “He must suffer for others…that the Kingdom might come.”[1] But Jesus proved mistaken in His imminent expectations of God’s Kingdom and Christianity has been grappling with Jesus’ failed apocalyptic expectations ever since:

The whole history of “Christianity” down to the present day, that is to say, the real inner history of it, is based on the delay of the Parousia, the non-occurrence of the Parousia, the abandonment of eschatology, the progress and completion of the “de-eschatologising” of religion which has been connected therewith.[2]

Interestingly, Schweitzer later abandoned his quest for the historical Jesus, considering it futile.  After all, reconstructing who Jesus was apart from and skeptical toward the record of Jesus in the Bible is a tall order!

Over one hundred years after Schweitzer’s quest, Christianity Today published an article titled “The Search for the Historical Adam.”[3]  Much like the quest for the historical Jesus a century earlier, this quest seeks to reconstruct who Adam was quite apart from the biblical record of him.  But this quest questions not only what Adam did and did not do – for example, “Did he really eat some forbidden fruit?” – this quest questions whether Adam even existed.  The argument against Adam’s existence, which is where the shining stars of this quest have broadly landed, runs thusly:  because evolution is true, a historical Adam cannot be.  Instead, the human race emerged out of the chaos of natural selection, albeit this natural selection was guided by the detached hand of theism, rather than according to the simple and succinct word of the personal Creator.

It is important to note that cries to dispense with a historical Adam are not few and far between, nor are they outside the mainstream of Evangelical Christianity.  Consider this argument against the existence of a historical Adam:

What is a “given” for Paul is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The other things he says, especially about sin, the Law, and eschatology, are reinterpretations that grow from the fundamental reality of the Christ event. Recognizing this relieves the pressure that sometimes builds up around a historical Adam…We can now recognize that Adam is not the foundation on which the system of Christian faith and life is built, such that removing him means that the whole edifice comes crashing down. Instead, the Adam of the past is one spire in a large edifice whose foundation is Christ. The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.[4]

From where does such an argument against the historicity of Adam arise?  From J.R. Daniel Kirk, and associate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a one-time bastion of classic evangelical orthodoxy.  Denying the historical existence of Adam has gone mainstream.

Contrary to the sentiments of many, I would argue that it is theologically and logically necessary for the historical Adam to have existed.  It is theologically necessary because no mythical character can account for real sin.  And the apostle Paul identifies Adam as the original sinner:  “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  It is logically necessary because it is incoherent to make an argument for Christ’s death and resurrection, boldly contradicting the consensus of the scientific community that dead people do not come back to life, on the one hand while arguing against the historicity of Adam because of the general consensus of the scientific community concerning evolution by natural selection on the other hand.

What Professor Kirk engages in is nothing less than a full on gospel reductionism.  That is, Professor Kirk is willing to cede the integrity and veracity of the biblical record on whether or not Adam really existed as long as he can hold on to the gospel that Christ died and rose again.  But once one lets go of what the Bible says in general, he will not be able to hold on to what the Bible says about the gospel in specific for long!  The church body of which I am a part, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, has explained it this way:

The Gospel is not normative for theology in the sense that beginning with it as a fundamental premise, other items of the Christian system of doctrine are developed as provisional, historically conditioned responses to a given situation which will need to be revised for another situation.[5]

This is precisely what Professor Kirk does in his article.  He assumes that we can reinterpret the historicity of Adam for our situation because Paul’s insistence on a historical Adam was only a “provisional, historically conditioned response to a given situation.”  But this false view of Adam can only lead to a false view of the gospel.  In the words of G.E. Ladd, who was addressing those who were undermining the historicity of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ life:

Jesus was a historical person.  His words were historical events.  His deeds involved other people; but they were far larger than the boundaries of personal existence.  His deeds included interpersonal fellowship, healings of bodies as well as minds.  His mission created a new fellowship of men; and this fellowship after the resurrection because the Christian church which has become one of the most influential institutions in Western culture.  All of this happened in history; and it is only because certain events first happened in history that other results were experienced in their existential dimension.  Existential import results only from historical event.[6]

What is true of Jesus is true of Adam.  The existential reality of sin can only be meaningfully explained by an existentially historical Adam.  Evangelically orthodox Christians must settle for nothing less.


[1] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), 387.

[2] The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 358.

[3] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (6.3.2011).

[4] J.R. Daniel Kirk, “Does Paul’s Christ Require a Historical Adam?Fuller Theology News & Notes (Spring 2013).

[5] The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, “Gospel and Scripture” (November 1972), 9.

[6] G.E. Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1968), 64.

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