We have been working through the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some good nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative, perspective in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.
Chapter 4 of Dr. Collins’s book deals with human uniqueness and dignity. These ideas are discussed in the context of the biblical concept of the image of God and in the context of universal human experience.
The image of God is a concept that arises from the text describing the creation of mankind in Genesis 1.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen 1:26-27, NIV
Dr. Collins discusses three approaches to the image and likeness of God while noting that there is no unanimity among biblical scholars on the significance of the term.
Resemblance view: Humans are like God in some respects. The intellectual, moral and aesthetic experiences of human beings are cited as examples of this resemblance. I would also suggest that creative abstract thought and the ability to realize this creativity are aspects of resemblance.
Representative view: Humans are God’s representatives on earth and are commissioned to rule in God’s place. Humans have a job to do.
Relational view: Humans are fulfilled in community – both as male and female and in a broader sense of community. Humans in community function as the image of God.
Dr. Collins incorporates all three of these in his view of the meaning of the expression “image and likeness.”
My view is that the linguistic and exegetical details favor the idea that “in our image, after our likeness” implies that humans were made with some kind of resemblance to God, which was to enable them to represent God as benevolent rulers, and to find their fulfillment in relationships with each other and with God. (p. 94)
I have also heard NT Wright comment on the image of God as a reflection of the glory and presence of God in the world, humans are “angled mirrors.” Some will also comment on the image and likeness of God as temple language. God’s creation is his temple and humans are the image of God placed in the temple – the way an idol would be placed in the temple – a representation of God.
In what ways are humans created in the image and likeness of God?
Which views would you emphasize or combine?
Continuing on with the idea of image and likeness of God, Dr. Collins reflects on the idea of the human soul – maintaining a form of body-soul dualism, but a deeply connected and intertwined form of dualism. The image of God is a property of the whole person – body-soul, not a property of the soul.
The Biblical version of body-soul dualism stresses much more the intertwining of these two elements than it does their separability. … Recognizing this body-soul unity as the focus in Genesis will help us avoid a mistake that has a long history in Christian theology, of seeing the image of God as a property of the soul only: rather, it is the human being as a body-soul tangle that expresses God’s image. (p. 95)
According to Dr. Collins, the image and likeness of God is unique to humans, universal among humans, and transmitted through procreation. He reflects on human moral instincts and the human ability for language and grammar as reflective of the image of God. There is no effective model for the evolution of language capability and perhaps this is indicative of a special act of God. The ability to retain a cultural life in the worst of circumstances is another feature of humans demonstrating that we are more than mere animals.
Universal Human Experiences: Dr. Collins ends this chapter with a discussion of universal human experiences. Humans have a yearning for justice, a need for God, and a feeling of brokenness. Something just isn’t right. We need redemption for broken relationships. A major effect of the corruption of human nature is social – in the breech of social relationships with God and with others.
Dr. Collins suggests that part of the evidence for Genesis 1-4 as historical is found in the general human sense of being lost. There is a nostalgia for a better past that is part of universal human experience. We know that something is wrong, and that once upon a time all was whole. Here he quotes Blaise Pascal ( I include only the beginning of the quote):
Man’s greatness is so obvious it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature today is like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own. (p. 102)
Dr. Collins next considers the commentary of Leon Kass on Genesis. Kass insists on a purely symbolic reading of Gen 2-4 but discusses a nostalgia for our mythical past. Or at least “something that feels, in fact, like nostalgia.” This deep sense of nostalgia tells us to read Genesis as containing a degree of literal history.
With all due respect to Kass, if we fail to read the Genesis story as some kind of history, we fail to persuade the perceptive reader, because we fail to do justice to this nostalgia. (p. 103)
After quoting GK Chesterton (As I Was Saying p. 160) on the significance of the Fall as a view of life, where happiness is not only a hope, but also a memory, Dr. Collins concludes his chapter:
If we say, as I think we should, that there is a level of figurative and symbolic description in Genesis 1-4, we must still allow that the story we find there provides the best explanation for our lives now, and for our hunger for things to be better. (p. 104)
The Historical Adam and Eve. Dr. Collins argues that we must search for the historical Adam because we know that, in some sense, the story is true. We are fallen, we do not and cannot live up to our ideal, an ideal we know as “memory” not just in theory. We long for something better and are in need of redemption, reconciliation, rescue to reach that something better.
I see more of the figurative, symbolic, and even mythical in Genesis 1-4 than Dr. Collins would allow. However, in this argument I think he is on his strongest ground. There is a way in which the fall is at the very root of the Christian story. And Christ was, from before the beginning of time, the way to make this right.
What do you think – is the fall the best explanation for our lives now and for our hunger for things to be better?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net