I am not a theologian. I have not attended seminary. I’d like to think of myself as an average Christian who reads their Bible and grapples with its message and implications.
That said, the trend to mythologize certain Bible stories and figures always seems to end up in bad places. NY Times columnist Ross Douthat, in his book Bad Religion, notes the obvious:
Once you depart even an iota from a literal-factual-commonsensical reading of Scripture you’re on a slippery slope to denying basic Christian dogma
As an example, Douthat references Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong who, in the 1980’s, began questioning basic biblical doctrines like the Virgin Birth before ultimately denying the very existence of a personal God. Similar doctrinal reshuffling seems to occur when the “historical Adam” card is removed from the deck.
A Bible without a real Adam eventually leads to a Bible without a real Jesus.
I was reflecting on this after reading Peter Enns recent Patheos post, Framing the Evangelical Discussion of Adam and Evolution. Enns is rigorous in debating biblical literalists, especially as it comes to the creation myths and evolution. He shows his hand immediately:
My starting point for how I handle this issue of Adam is twofold: (1) I accept the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning evolution, and (2) our considerable knowledge of how ancient stories of origins functioned. These factors affect how we read the Adam story and they cannot be dismissed or marginalized.
You should note, I don’t have a big issue conceding biological evolution insofar as it was 1.) Guided and 2.) Harmonizes with essential Scripture. This may reveal the real divide between my lay interpretations and Enns’ more academic approach. Whereas Enns elevates Science above Scripture, I don’t.
Both approaches have consequences. For instance, If you make Adam a myth, where do you stop?
- At Cain and Abel?
- At Noah?
- At Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob?
- At Joshua?
- At Esther or Nehemiah?
- At King David?
- At Solomon?
- At the prophets, major and minor?
- At Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?
- At Jesus?
Or maybe the better question is: For the revisionist, where does REAL biblical history actually begin?
The apostle Luke, whom some consider a premiere historian, opened his Gospel with these words:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. — Luke 1:1-4 NIV
Luke’s “careful investigation” led to the recounting of events and people, culminating in the arrival of the Messiah. Along the way, the apostle does not appear to be referencing a metaphor. In fact, he becomes even more specific in Luke 3:23-28 where he traces Christ’s lineage back through Judah, David, Isaac, Noah, Methuselah, all the way to Adam (vs. 38).
So which one of these historical dominoes can be removed without affecting the chain?
Then, of course, are the words of Christ Himself:
“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.” — Matt. 19:4-6 NIV
Christ bases His teaching on marriage from a specific creation event. It assumes a very real “beginning,” and a very real couple who emerged there. If Adam and Eve were simply a gene pool (as some biblical revisionists suggest), how can we realistically extrapolate any marriage ethics from that? Much less the even bigger issue of the entrance of sin into the world and “the Last Adam” who would remove it.
- If Adam was the mythological First Man, why would we need a very real Final Man?
- If Eden was the illusory First Paradise, on what grounds can we be assured of a Final Paradise?
- If the world was only plunged into a metaphorical Fall, why did it require a very tangible Resurrection to break its spell?
All that to say, biblical history is grounded in historical events, accounts, and real people, culminating in a very Real Man, who suffered a very Real Death, for very Real Sins, before rising to a Real Heaven, from which He will really return.
Point being: A Bible without a real Adam eventually leads to a Bible without a real Jesus.