Adam According to Jesus

If it was good enough for Jesus it is good enough for us!

This is sentiment I have heard repeatedly in the discussion of Adam, Eve, science and Christian faith. It seems clear (some will claim) that Jesus regarded Adam and Eve as historical figures. He taught that Adam and Eve were historical figures. But is this actually what the available evidence in the Gospels demonstrates? What follows is an edited repost examining the topic.

Jesus is the Center. Jesus is the center of our faith. We need a hermeneutic that reads scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ and through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future hope. We believe in the bible because we believe in God, not vice versa. Yes, it is something of a spiral not cleanly separated. We know God and of his mission largely through revelation in scripture, but not solely through scripture. The emphasis of primacy is important though. God (and Jesus) first and foremost.

Jesus alludes to Adam and Eve only indirectly. In the major reference found in the gospels Jesus takes Genesis 1:27 (So God created mankind … male and female he created them) and the institution of marriage in Genesis 2:24 (That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh) and then describes divorce as a concession to the hardness of the “your hearts”.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mt 19:4-6)

Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mk 10:6-9)

One need not believe in a historical Adam and Eve to believe that God ordained marriage between a man and a woman, or that this was part of his plan for creation from the beginning. One also need not believe in a historical Adam and Eve to use Genesis to teach about marriage.

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The Wisdom of this World

Oftentimes when discussing issues of science and faith, or other issues that challenge the conventional thinking of the Christian faith, someone will up and quote or paraphrase Paul from his letters to the Corinthians.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor. 1:18-20, 25)

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” … (1 Cor. 3:18-20)

The implication when this is brought into the conversation is, implicitly or explicitly, that we should forsake the wisdom of this world – the questions raised by philosophy, psychology, science, archaeology – and have faith in the wisdom of God and in his Holy Word, the “plain” reading of scripture. To accept an old earth and evolution or to question the historicity of Adam, Noah, Babel, Job, or Jonah and suggest that the genre of these passages carries truth in a different form, is to succumb to the wisdom of the world, forsaking the wisdom of God (it is usually fine to turn the Song of Songs into an allegory though).

In the 1 Cor. 23 Paul notes that Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” (1. Cor. 1:23). I have at times heard people claim that this view of Christ crucified as “foolishness” explains the resistance to so-called “biblical” views of creation be they young earth, old earth progressive creation, or intelligent design.

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The Assured Results of Modern Science?

I have begun reading the new book Adam and the Genome by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight. This book provides an important and novel contribution to the discussion of science and Christian faith. The book joins a number of other excellent books combining scientific and theological expertise. Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard Carlson and Tremper Longman III combines the expertise of a physicist (Carlson) and an Old Testament scholar (Longman) to address questions of origins. Longman contribution to the book sheds important light on the genre and context of the Old Testament texts on origins. God and the Cosmos: Divine Activity in Space, Time and History by theologian Harry Lee Poe and chemist Jimmy H. Davis looks at God’s interaction with this world, and the influence of science on the ways we think about God’s action. I’ve read, reviewed and recommend both of these books.

For many Christians, however, the question of divine action, important as it is to the theologian, does not impact day-to-day faith. The age of the earth is a non-question, although many books, including Science, Creation and the Bible, provide important new insights. The real sticking point of evolution (and even the age of the earth) comes down to the nature of human kind as the image of God, followed by Adam and the fall. The important scientific questions revolve around evolution and human evolution in particular and on the New Testament importance of Adam as the first man and the original sinner. Adam and the Genome targets these important questions. Dennis is a professor of biology at Trinity Western University. He is an evolutionary biologist and a Christian. Scot McKnight (known, of course, to this audience) is a New Testament scholar and theologian. Together they have given us a thought-provoking book to start a journey through the question. I will be digging into the book and highlighting important points and questions over the next … however long it takes. If interested, pick up a copy, read along, and join the conversation.

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Revisiting the Fall

J. Richard Middleton has thought-provoking post at BioLogos that deals Evolution and the Historical Fall (now a couple of weeks old, but I only read it in the last few days). This short essay is well worth reading, and worth some comment here.

(1) A historical Fall. Richard, like many of the rest of us, finds the biblical and empirical case for a Fall of some sort compelling. He points out that the the Scriptures clearly teach a fallen humanity. But it goes a little deeper than this:

It has always been important to me that the Bible claimed that the world God created was good (indeed, “very good”; Gen. 1:31), and that evil was later introduced into this world by human disobedience. This notion of a historical Fall, which denies a pre-existing principle of evil and lays the origin of evil clearly at the feet of humanity, distinguishes the biblical version of creation from other accounts of origins. Yet it has become de rigueur among many Christian proponents of evolutionary creation to deny the classical doctrine of a historical Fall and to claim that Homo sapiens emerged in a sinful state. However, I don’t think this is a necessary move for those who want to affirm the truth of the Bible and an evolutionary account of human origins.

It isn’t completely clear from the essay, but I think that Richard is looking at human evil, an inclination to disobedience, violence, and oppression, rather than the origin of every phenomenon that might be called “evil.” We were not created sinful, we were created to be the image of God and in communion with God, but we are undeniably sinful and have been throughout all of remembered or recorded history. He suggests that the narrative of Genesis 3 and following depicts a progression of temptation and disobedience. Among other things God assumes that Cain can do what is right, and tells him that he must master the sin that crouches at his door. Sin develops and grows in the opening chapters of Genesis, but it is not a “quasi-genetic” transmission. More likely it is a cultural communal transmission. “Rather than an immediate change in human nature, the narrative of Genesis portrays a process by which humans come more and more under the sway of sin.”

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Should Naturalism Define Science?

Methodological naturalism. For most scientists this is a foregone conclusion; a scientist studies nature and looks for natural cause and effect. Among Christians the term is often viewed as a cop-out, giving away the farm by ruling divine action out of bounds. Many atheists view the term as indicative of a failure to face facts and admit that there is nothing but the natural world. Which view is closest to yours?

Jim Stump, in his recent book Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues, digs into the concept of methodological naturalism. His first point (as a good philosopher) is that methodological naturalism is not an easy concept to define. Well, methodological isn’t terribly hard to grasp. Methodological is contrasted with metaphysical or ontological naturalism. The emphasis in methodological naturalism is on the method of doing science rather than on the existence or nonexistence of anything beyond the natural world. All scientists can approach their work as methodological naturalists no matter what views they hold concerning the ultimate shape of reality – Christians, atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, or whatever. For Jim, the hard term is “natural.” What counts or doesn’t count as natural? Most definitions are, or seem, circular. Natural phenomena are those that are investigated by natural means obeying natural laws.

The trouble with adopting methodological naturalism it that it seems we have to predetermine what counts as natural. And that will inescapably involve metaphysical notions and values that are not properly scientific by the standards of methodological naturalism.In that case, our metaphysics is going to affect our science, so long as we are committed to science as explanatory. (p. 71-72)

Commenters on this blog have occasionally suggested that methodological naturalism is metaphysical naturalism in disguise because it simply rules out everything else. Certainly some who favor intelligent design feel this danger. Let’s not worry about defining “natural” at this time and move on to look at the nature and practice of methodological naturalism.

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What’s in a Name?

hayssThere are many important themes running through the Gospel of Matthew. One of the most significant highlighted by Richard Hays in Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness and the larger book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels is the “inclusio” (a literary device which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section) that defines the entire book. (All quotes below are from Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.)

The Frame: The frame begins with the naming of Jesus. From 1:20-23

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Both names here are significant. The baby is Jesus, Yehoshu’a or Yeshua (Joshua) “God Saves” from the Greek transliteration Ἰησοῦς also used of Joshua in the Septuagint.  He is also identified with Immanuel “God with us” a sign of both salvation and judgment in Isaiah 7.  “In contrast to Mark’s circumspect indirection in identifying Jesus with the God of Israel, Matthew explicitly presents Jesus as the embodiment of divine presence in the world.” (p. 162-163)

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It’s Culture, Stupid

emergence-of-personhoodThe title to this post will conjure up a variety of different impressions. Some will hark back to old campaign slogans, others will take umbrage at my use of the word “stupid “. Who am I to call anyone stupid! The readers of this blog are not stupid and I’ve just maligned large swathes of people who will take the term as a direct indictment of themselves. Words communicate meaning. That meaning can be deep, contextual, and indirect. Meaning is real and non-physical. Words carry power and produce action.

The final two chapters in part 1 of The Emergence of Personhood, A Quantum Leap? were written by Colin Renfrew (Personhood: Toward a Gradualist Approach) and Roy F. Baumeister (Emergence of Personhood: Lessons from Self and Identity). Renfrew’s chapter is interesting, but doesn’t add much that is new for our consideration. In contrast, Baumeister’s chapter introduces a number of new ideas. Like Byrne and Tattersall (see previous posts The Dividing Line and It’s in Art), Baumeister sees the development of language – the ability to communicate – as central, but he adds an important twist. The ability communicate enables the development of culture. Culture isn’t local or isolated in time. It is learned and taught. We stand in community with those around us and on the shoulders of those who came before.

Roy Baumeister is a Francis Eppes Eminent Scholar, Social Psychology at Florida State University. Much of his research has focused on self, identity, and culture. This helps to define the essence of personhood.

What sets humans apart is the relatively novel and distinctive way that humans deal with those perennial problems [surviving and reproducing]. Culture, defined as a novel form of social life based on accumulating shared information (knowledge), systems of cooperation that use division of labor, and systems of economic trade, is the human species’ strategy for solving the problems of survival and reproduction (Baumeister 2005). Human selfhood and identity, and indeed human personhood per se, can be understood as adaptations (or side effects of adaptations) that make culture possible. (p. 68)

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