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Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Sayabout Human Origins Paperback – Apr 1 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Publishing Group (April 1 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158743315X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587433153
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.2 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 308 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #72,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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From the Back Cover

Can Christianity and Evolution Coexist?

"This is a bold, honest, and direct approach to the questions of origins and the interpretation of the Bible. Pete has battle scars from the journey to his conclusions in The Evolution of Adam, but those battles have made him increasingly sensitive to the plight of the church's struggle with science and the Bible. Here is a theologically alert, pastorally sound, and exegetically informed book that will lead us onward."
--Scot McKnight, North Park University

"The question of the historical Adam is an urgent issue in biblical interpretation and theology today. Recent developments in biology have indicated with impressive evidence that humanity does not go back to a single human couple. Does that mean that the Bible is wrong or that science is wrong? Or perhaps, as Peter Enns argues, we have been misreading the Bible. While not everyone, including myself, agrees with everything that Enns suggests, his book is an important contribution to the discussion concerning Genesis 1-2 and science."
--Tremper Longman III, Westmont College

"The Evolution of Adam not only reflects the evolution of evangelical understandings of Adam, but it also contributes to new perspectives on Paul and the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one concerned with the beauty, glory, and truth of the good news in a scientific world will want to miss out on this landmark book!"
--Amos Yong, Regent University School of Divinity

"The Evolution of Adam provides a sure-footed and engaging look at what the Bible says--and does not say--about the first man. Peter Enns, one of America's most important Old Testament scholars, provides a masterful and accessible survey of the relevant biblical scholarship from the past couple of centuries. Enns combines a deep appreciation of the Christian tradition with a courageous willingness to go where most evangelicals fear to tread. I highly recommend this book."
--Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

About the Author

Peter Enns (PhD, Harvard University) teaches biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He was formerly senior fellow of biblical studies for The BioLogos Foundation, an organization that explores the integration of science and Christian faith, where he wrote a regular column for their Science and the Sacred blog. He has taught at several schools, including Princeton Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, Temple University, and Westminster Theological Seminary. Enns has authored or edited numerous books, including Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.

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If you're considering reading this book, do it.
If you have difficulty reconciling earlier readings of scripture with current understandings of science and research, read this book
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Very good. Challenges traditional Christian views of evolution.
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Wonderful and insightful read from Peter Enns
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa75e0504) out of 5 stars 76 reviews
132 of 151 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa7423e34) out of 5 stars Thought Provoking but less than convincing Feb. 4 2012
By Nate Claiborne - Published on
Format: Paperback
Peter Enns considers his primary audience to be first Christians, and second people who think evolution needs to be taken seriously. Because of that, his aim "is to speak to those who feel that a synthesis between a biblically conversant Christian faith and evolution is a pressing concern" (p. x). He briefly sketches his own Christian background before explaining his approach to Scripture (which was outlined more fully in Inspiration and Incarnation):

The most faithful, Christian reading of sacred Scripture is one that recognizes Scripture as a product of the times in which it was written and/or the events took place - not merely so, but unalterably so (p. xi).

In other words, much of what Enns argued in Inspiration and Incarnation, and reiterates briefly here, is a reconsideration of the human-ness of the Bible. In the same way Jesus was both God and man, Scripture is both the Word of God and the words of man. This in short, is the incarnational analogy Enns proposes for reading Scripture. Enns draws this out (in Insp/Incar) by examining:

The ancient Near East cultural context
The theological diversity of the Old Testament
The use of the Old Testament by authors of the New.
In The Evolution of Adam, Enns uses Part One to further apply his understanding of (1) to the question of Adam in Genesis, and then uses Part Two to apply (3) to the question of Adam in Paul's writings.

He first finishes out the introduction with a discussion of the relationship between science/faith and evolution/Christianity. He wisely notes that "if evolution is correct, one can no longer accept, in any true sense of the word "historical," the instantaneous and special creation of humanity described in Genesis" (p. xiv). Because of this, any attempt to reconcile Genesis and evolution involve difficulties, but adjustments are necessary. As Enns concludes, "The only question is what sorts of adjustments best account for the data," and then he points out that this is an even more pressing concern when it comes to what Paul says about Adam (p. xv).

There are then four options for moving forward (parentheticals mine):

Accept evolution and reject Christianity (the path of Dawkins/Dennett et al)
Accept Paul's view of Adam as binding and reject evolution (many evangelicals)
Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point in the evolutionary process (some theistic evolutionists)
Rethink Genesis and Paul (Enns, and he hopes you the reader by the end of the book)
Interestingly, for what follows, I would place myself in the fourth position as well, but I'm doing so independent of scientific concerns. Enns and I both want to rethink Genesis and Paul and make adjustments that best account for the data. But, as I noted yesterday, Enns has already closed off a path that the data can't lead down because of his scientific commitments. Since I lack some of those, I may have a different perspective on how to best account for the data.

On that note...

Chapter 1 surveys the landscape of 19th century thought and the ramifications it had on our understanding of the Old Testament in general and Genesis in particular. Three factors rose to prominence in that time period that forever altered the landscape of biblical studies:

Darwinian science
Higher level biblical criticism
Archaeological discoveries related to ancient Near East documents and context
These are fairly uncontroversial, at least in terms of observing they did have quite an impact. Whether or not they should influence how we read Scripture is one question, and exactly how we should let these discoveries influence how we read Scripture is yet another.
Chapter 2 then asks when Genesis was written and seeks to apply insights from 2 of the previous 3 factors into the discussion. Enns presents an account of the Documentary Hypothesis or the JEDP theory regarding the authorship of the Pentateuch (which essentially posits various sources, and late date of non-Mosaic composition). He does a great job explaining it to a lay audience, which is a both a positive and a negative aspect of his book. Positive because many readers who have never heard of it will be able to understand it clearly, but negative because he fails to mention much of the counter-evidence to the theory, nor does he direct the reader to the many sources on the Pentateuch that offer a quite different take on its compositional history (e. g. John Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateuch or C. John Collins Genesis 1-4), showing that a better fit for the available data is that Moses wrote the bulk of the Pentateuch and it was scribally updated in the post-exilic period.

Personally I do not think the Documentary Hypothesis is the best way to account for the available data regarding the composition of the Old Testament. Given that data always under-determines theories, the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP) would be hard to ever prove conclusively. I realize this also applies to proving Mosaic authorship, but I just wanted to make clear that both Enns and I are on similar ground and have to present an interpretation that is the best probable explanation of the data. He presents his case though as fact of the matter, when in reality, it is just one way to interpret the available data. Even arguing that it is scholarly consensus (which, depending on your selection of scholars, is generally true) is not evidence in favor of the validity of the interpretation so much as an appeal to authority at best (e.g. most informed intellectuals thinks this is true), or an appeal to emotion at worst (e. g. you're not backwards unintelligent moron are you?)

Chapter 3 surveys the origin stories of Israel's neighbors. While I agree with Enns' conclusion that Genesis 1 has a highly important polemical function (p. 41), I think he has the context wrong for who the polemic is against. Most of his comparative work is between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish, the Babylonian origin story. But, for reasons I explain here, the Egyptian creation accounts/origin stories provide a better parallel and more likely polemical sparring partner. Though it wasn't available to Enns at the time of his writing, John Walton's Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology provides a much richer survey of the backdrop to Genesis 1.

In the rest of chapter 3, Enns surveys comparative literature regarding the flood story as well as Genesis 2 before ending on a plea to rethink our general approach to Genesis. In some ways, Enns and I are on the same team here, but for different reasons. Enns is convinced that a literal reading will just not do and provides his reasons for that. Interestingly, I would consider myself someone who reads Genesis 1 literally, but as became apparent in the course of reading this book, Enns and I mean different things by the term literal. I think Enns is arguing against a "literalistic" reading, or what we might consider "over-literalizing" Scripture. If that's what he means, then I completely agree, and much of what I've said about Genesis is pushing for people to stop reading it that way as well.

Chapter 4 then finishes out Part One by drawing connections between the Adam story and Israel's story, which I found particularly interesting and helpful. His work on creation and sanctuary is a snapshot of more extensive work in Walton (see above). In spite of our disagreements over the exact context of the writing of the Pentateuch, I think there is much to be gleaned from this section. To some extent, I was already on board with this theological connection, but for different reasons than Enns provides (e. g. I don't see Israel using the connection to shape Genesis, but rather see the causation going the other way).

It is at this point that book is neatly divided, and in Part Two the conversation shifts to how to understand Paul. Much like he was doing with Genesis, Enns wants to set Paul in context. Chapter 5 focuses on exploring Paul's theology, particularly as it pertains to Adam. It is also here that he presents connections between Adam and the wisdom literature, particularly Proverbs. This is another feature of Enns' book that I found both particularly interesting and helpful.

The bulk of chapter 6 then is devoted to sketching out how Paul not only fit into his context, but how that shaped his thinking and interpretive practices. Enns provides a few case studies of how Paul interpreted Old Testament passages (remember (3) above from Insp/Incar?) as a setup for determining how to best understand Paul's use of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. I wouldn't agree with all the details as Enns presents them, but I found this chapter a succinct primer on Second Temple Jewish interpretive approaches, and a good background context for Paul (I could tell from reading we're both fond of N. T. Wright).

All that brings us to chapter 7, which culminates in analyzing Paul's theological understanding of Adam. Here, I think the general mis-step involves his use of the incarnational analogy. If we are to use the criteria of the incarnation to better understand Scripture, then it seems we should be careful we don't use a heretical version of the incarnation in our applications. In this case, Enns seems to almost be applying a Docetic model of the incarnation to his reading of Paul. In Docetism, a heretical understanding of the Incarnation, there is too sharp of a separation between the human and the divine, such that you could observe one acting independent of the other. To me, the way Enns interacts with Paul is almost like this. While I have no doubt Enns' personal Christology is orthodox and his understanding of the incarnational analogy is not necessarily Docetic, I found it hard to avoid the conclusion that when interpreting Paul we have to separate cultural assumptions from inspired truths, which verges on a Docetic application.

In the end, I really just didn't find his conclusion satisfactory. I found many things to commend in his discussion of Paul and am eager to go back to Scripture myself and integrate some of what he has said. But I was left feeling like we were simply re-reading Paul because science tells us Paul can't have gotten it right when he says a single man is responsible for the entrance of sin and death into the world. Certainly we should re-read Scripture in light of new information, and Enns does start a discussion about how to better understand Paul. While he does help us nuance more carefully what Paul is specifically saying, I saw very little room for the conclusion that maybe the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to interpret Genesis that way because it is the correct interpretation of that story. For me, it seemed like that wasn't an option because Enns believes science says its not an option.

While I hope that The Evolution of Adam is not merely dismissed by more conservative scholars who will disagree like I have, I imagine many of them will similarly find his conclusions unsatisfactory. I probably will revisit this with a future post unpacking more of why I didn't think he gives the best explanation of reading Paul, but to do so, I need to do a bit more research on Paul, and thankfully, that's on the docket for this summer.

I've only really scratched the surface here, but hopefully, if you're interested, you'll dig more into this topic yourself. If you do, you ought to make Enns at least one of your conversation partners in the process!

[A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes]
60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa7423e7c) out of 5 stars What was the worldview of the author and does it matter? May 4 2012
By G. Kyle Essary - Published on
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Let me begin by stating how thankful I am for the scholarly work and ministry of Peter Enns. As with other evangelical students of the Old Testament, I have benefited greatly from his books, edited works and articles in the past. He has raised many good questions for evangelicals studying the Old Testament. I am most thankful for the following aspects of this book:

First, I appreciate the openly apologetic nature of the book. Enns states in the introduction that his intention is to stop any "unecessary and tragic obstacles to belief," and that a driving concern in the book is "preparing the church for the future." The book is intended for Christians from an openly Christian scholar. Thus, Enns does not attempt to argue from a neutral perspective, but from within a Christian worldview.

Second, Enns seeks to bring all information to the table in his analysis of Scripture, but doesn't dwell on areas outside of his expertise. He doesn't intend to sweep anything under the rug, which is admirable, but also doesn't claim to be a biologist.

Third, Enns seeks to present a biblical theological interpretation of the the biblical data. He wants to think theologically in light of the entirety of Scripture, so what Paul says concerning Genesis matters for his interpretation of origins.

Despite these positive aspects of the book, I would probably not recommend the book as an introduction to the topics for the following reasons. Let me clarify that I do not dispute the evidence presented in the book, but find the interpretive framework flawed. My objections are thus largely hermeneutical:

First, the connections between pagan origin stories and biblical ones are exaggerated by Enns. A direct connection has not been demonstrated in this book or elsewhere. There are similarities, but this says little. There are similarities between ancient Chinese war texts and modern war manuals, but similarities alone do not prove evidence for one text being written polemically against another, or even the familiarity of one text with the other. The ANE texts that have been found are at times separated in origin by hundreds of miles and up to a millennia, and the connections between the two groups are not as clear as Enns suggests. One of the shocking moments in my studies were actually reading these other creation stories for myself. Having done my undergrad work at a mainline seminary, I had heard of all the parallels. Upon reading the texts though, I was shocked at how radically different they were. In all of our discussions about possible similarities, we seem to jump over the radical differences which are far more numerous than the similarities.

Enns would probably argue that they present a similar worldview and we have to read the text from within an ancient ANE worldview to see how these differences explain the polemic at work, but this is simply impossible. We have no access to the minds, worldviews or intentions of the authors. All we have are texts or anachronistic reconstructions of what we think they might have been thinking based on those texts. As such, it is a fools errand to attempt to get into the mind of the author. God inspired texts and not authors nor their worldview and I will say more on this in my third and final points of criticism.

Second, Enns discussions of biblical criticism seemed to begin and end in the 19th century. Whereas de Wette, Welhausen and company began the rethinking of the compositional history of the text, it did not end there. Biblical studies moved from source criticism to form criticism and other methods where scholars attempted to break up the text into parts searching for the origins of the text, but most of the 20th and 21st century has seen scholarship move in the opposite direction. Wellhausen was brilliant and unquestionably the most profound Old Testament scholar of his day, but the discussions didn't end with him. Many of his insights were taken in different directions and some were overturned. Others became the basis for other types of criticism, but in the 20th century things changed and scholars started analyzing the compositional strategies and final form of the text. Discussions today center on complex literary unities in the text to the point that some scholars are struggling to find how you could separate either Deuteronomy from the rest of the Pentateuch on one end and Deuteronomy from the following Deuteronomistic history on the other. Criticisms of the early critical methods of analyzing the text have not stopped, and new ways of analyzing the text such as narrative and canonical criticism have taken central stage in the last century.

With all of that said, Enns adequately describes the current consensus of seeing the final edition of the Pentateuch only reach completion in the post-exilic period. Most conservative scholars are in agreement that at minimum a prophetic shaping of the text occurred in this time period to point the text in a forward direction.

Unfortunately, Enns exaggerates the results of Wellhausen's work at this point. He states, for instance, that if Welhausen is correct, he "obliterated-any sense of the Pentateuch's value as a historical document." Of course, this is simply an exaggeration. As the eminent scholar Jeff Tigay has shown, even in texts such as the Gilgamesh epic where we have literary evidence of vast textual evolution an historical core remains and most likely originates in an historical Gilgamesh. There is no need to exaggerate your case in order to create a dichotomy that doesn't really exist.

Third, a key component of Enns argument comes through his method of constructing a worldview behind the text centered on Israel's crises from exile. A crisis unquestionably happened, as any people placed in exile by God would naturally consider the meaning of the event, and interpret their situation in this light. My problem at this point is that Enns runs into the same problem presented in my first criticism. We have no access to the Jewish mind at this time beyond the words that we are attempting to interpret. Creating a mythological mindset through which we then attempt to reinterpret the very words we used to create that mythological construct seems unhelpful. We have no access to the author's intention or motives. All we have are words on a page.

Thus, I think Enns falls prey to the same critique lobbied against young earth creationists who are criticized for reading their post-scientific revolution worldview back into an ancient text. Instead, Enns reads a 21st century construct of a two millennia old Jewish worldview back into the text. Since we have no access to a mindset immersed in the crisis of exile, cannot "follow the trajectory of the postexilic Israelites" in reading Genesis. Enns rightly says that "Literalism is a hermeneutical decision (often implicit) stemming from the belief that God's Word requires a literal reading." I agree, and it's a hermeneutic largely created in the 19th century. At the same time, why should we read the text through a similarly mythical lens constructed by critical scholars in the 20th century?

Enns desperately wants the mindset of the original authors to be our interpretive grid for these texts. He emphasizes this in both sections of this book. This is why he focuses so much attention on the enculturation of the text and its humanity. This is why he spends so much time explaining the hypothetical Second Temple Judaistic lens through which Paul read Genesis. This was the thrust of his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. But when you combine this hermeneutic with the reality that we are incapable of getting into the original mindset of the author, then the entire project is doomed. But maybe the problem is the hermeneutic? More on this in my final point.

Fourth, I have one issue with Enns discussion on human origins. This can be found briefly in his nine theses at the end of the book (many with which I agree). He says at one point, "Christians misread Genesis when they try to engage it, even minimally, in the scientific arena," and also "Genesis and the modern scientific investigation of human origins do not overlap." Fair enough. Then why conflate the biological origins of homo sapiens sapiens with Adam in your critique against those who want to say that God selected an original human pair to come into relationship with? Ron Choong has recently argued that discussions of this matter should separate out three "Adams." The first is the biological Adam, which is the original homo sapiens sapiens male. The second is the historical person Adam, to which the text points, but only gives us an interpretation of the historical character. The third is the theological character Adam, which is the literary persona in Genesis, Romans and 1st Corinthians.

Evolutionary biology, as it currently stands, suggests that no individual male stood at the head of the homo sapien line. It says nothing about whether or not God created an historical person from the "stuff of the earth" with DNA in accordance with any who may have arisen elsewhere through different means. It says nothing of whether or not God came into relationship with said historical individual. It also says nothing about the theological character of Adam, with whom the texts of Romans and 1st Corinthians interact. These three Adams may cross paths, and I personally think that the historical and theological Adam are one and the same, but I think so for theological reasons that are not affected by evolutionary biology. Furthermore, evolution has little to say about the doctrine of original sin, even if we take it to be hereditary. As Douglas Rohde showed while at MIT, a trait can quickly spread through the entire population in only a matter of generations (search for his paper "On the Common Ancestors of all Living Humans"). Enns has presented nothing to contradict this perspective beyond calling any attempt to maintain an historical Adam "ad hoc." Unless one assumes that the meaning of the text can only be found in what the author of Genesis or Paul thought, then I don't think his book challenges this position though. And that brings me to my final questions for critique.

What if the text means more than what the human authors thought? Who is the author of the text? For Enns, this question is critical, because the meaning of the text can only be found through the lens of the human author. What if the divine author speaks through a compositional strategy interwoven in multiple texts stretching beyond any one period of authorship? What if there is a message in the "grammar" of the Law and the Prophets that shapes the Old and New Testament, as suggested in the recent work of Christopher Seitz? What if, as evangelicals have always held, there was both a message to the original community and all subsequent communities that doesn't require a special knowledge of ANE worldviews? After all, we know so little of that world now, and have such little data to work from. Enns holds that the ultimate author of Genesis 1-3 and Romans 5 are one and the same, so why not interpret with this in mind? What if God's meaning is for the church to understand Genesis 1 through Colossians 1? Enns clearly wants to read both texts together, but only thinks we should read in the direction of Genesis to the NT. What if the proper reading of Genesis is the Christian reading? See for instance, Seitz's recent Character of Christian Scripture, The: The Significance of a Two-Testament Bible (Studies in Theological Interpretation).

To conclude, even if you agree with my critiques against Enns, the data that must be dealt with still remains. Furthermore, many of his nine final theses still stand. This issue does not have a readily available and easy solution at the time, but as with many other issues, things will become clearer in the future. Thankfully, good and godly scholars are working hard at finding solutions. In the end, I probably wouldn't recommend this work to a church member interested in the topic for the reasons I've outlined above. Instead, I might offer C. John Collins Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care or John Sailhamer's Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account, although neither of these are perfect. At the same time, if you are already familiar with the discussions and want more or a different perspective, then you need to read this book.

About two years ago, I attended a conference with Tremper Longman, Walter Kaiser, John Walton and Jack Collins who were all discussing this topic. At the end of the conference Andy Crouch gave a wonderful closing speech. Something he made clear was that in 100 years, the church won't even be discussing this issue because it will have been settled, and probably in our day. What a profound truth! With that future realization in mind, let's not devour ourselves in the process today and may we honor God both in our interpretation of the text and in our interactions with each other.
79 of 98 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa742d7bc) out of 5 stars Peter Enns "Upends" Tradition! Jan. 18 2012
By J. Thomas Campbell - Published on
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One cannot but deeply admire what Peter Enns has managed to produce within the span of less than 150 pages - not counting his endnotes. Kudos as well for his penetrating exegetical say nothing as regards his courage: few conservative evangelicals (and even fewer fundamentalists) will find the title "The Evolution of Adam" something that warms the heart. And yet what Enns has produced here not only is revolutionary (in a very real sense - see below) but may well prove to be one of the more controversial books on the science/theology debate of recent years.

Why so? Primarily because (according to Enns - Part Two of his book) Paul's creative use (in Romans) of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis was primarily for apologetic purposes...a matter that will be discussed in greater detail below. But we begin with Part One.

Essentially Part One (four chapters) represents Enns' understanding of the crucial importance Ancient Near Eastern influences exerted upon the biblical writers - the writer/s of the Genesis creation account in particular. Enns (correctly in my view)hammers this point repeatedly for the reader to consider - i.e., the bible (the whole of it) was not written in a cultural vacuum unsullied by the surrounding culture/s of pagan religious thought, whether ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, or Greco-Roman. Indeed, to do otherwise would have been an impossibility - somewhat like trying to walk along the Tibetan foothills while refusing to breathe its polluted 'pagan' air. None of us ever fully escapes the surrounding influences of culture - and the bible was never intended to do so; rather, God (if one believes in biblical Enns does) works fully within the conceptual categories of culture. Hence, the two creation accounts in Genesis come to us fully embedded with the concepts of Ancient Near Eastern thought patterns. Perhaps the most we can say here is that the Genesis accounts represent (in varying ways) the "demythologizing" of prior Ancient Near Eastern accounts: the God of Israel is not to be identified with any aspect (sun, moon, stars, etc.) of the created order.

So far so good. There's nothing really new here that hasn't been said already by any number of conservative evangelical scholars. Part Two, however, is something entirely different. Here Enns focuses his attention on Paul's creative use of the Old Testament, seeing as how the death and resurrection of Christ has caused Paul to look at the OT writings from a radically different perspective - Romans 5:12-21 in particular.

These verses have a long, long history in the Christian Church as providing the church's understanding of how sin and death entered the world of human existence:
we all "inherited" sin and death in and through the disobedience of Adam back in Eden. Not so...says Enns. And here is where his account veers off in a direction entirely different from traditional orthodox belief - for, according to Enns, Paul gave a particular 'Pauline spin' to these verses that cannot be found either in the OT itself, or in the Second Temple Judaism of which Paul himself was a part. Because the death and resurrection of Christ radically altered Paul's understanding of God's redemptive work in the world he (Paul) "found" in the Adam story an ideal explanation for why it is all Jews and Gentiles alike share in the universal experience of sin and death. Therefore, Adam's disobedience in Eden is NOT the cause of the universal human experience of sin and death (per Enns); rather, the story of Adam's disobedience served Paul's apologetic purposes...quite apart from whatever the story's original intention might have been. The true "origin" of sin and death remains a mystery, for the answer is not to be found (indeed if it can be "found" at all!) in the early Genesis account of Adam and Eve.

And here is where we encounter the book's controversial nature, for Enns' view represents a dramatic departure from the traditional view - a traditional view that has a rich theological heritage that passes directly through the Reformation all the way back to Augustine.

As previously stated, I deeply admire and respect what Enns has done here. For the most part I think he is on the right track. Furthermore, he makes mention of the fact that recent developments in biology have strongly indicated that we cannot possibly trace all modern humans back to an original "Adam and Eve." However, we knew that already...quite apart from modern biology informing us of the fact. Anthropology and paleontology had already amassed considerable evidence that proto-humans and modern humans were spread across the earth long before any conceivable Adam and Eve could have existed. Apparently, however, modern biology speaks with a more powerful voice than anthropology; thus, we are seeing a spate of books recently on the topic of whether or not Adam and Eve were historical - Enns' book being only one of a growing number. (Due to the geneologies in early Genesis we are somewhat limited in "how far back" we can place an Adam and Eve. Placing them 25 to 40 thousand years into the past in order somehow to allow them to be the true ancestors of all modern humans does a grave injustice to the geneologies that plain and simply do not allow for this sort of radical time reversal - a matter that any number of evangelicals, who have done this sort of thing, seem unwilling to appreciate. The early Genesis geneologies, even allowing for some "gaps," serve as a control against such unwarranted time expansion. An Adam and Eve of perhaps 6 to 8 thousand BC appears to be about the limit of what we can reasonably expect). In any case, Enns has raised a thorny and difficult issue in a way previous books on the question have not, and I believe his book will contribute substantially to more open theological discussion (one hopes without heated rancor) on the debate. In the meanwhile, some final thoughts.

Personally, I find it more than a tad curious that David Rohl (a somewhat controversial Egyptologist) has recently authored a book (From Eden to Exile, Greenleaf Press) in which he strongly defends an historical Adam - and yet Rohl acknowledges that he is an atheist. All this is most strange: an evangelical scholar arguing against an historical Adam while an atheistic historian argues for one! ("What fools these mortals be!")

I happen to agree with much of what Enns writes. However, I think Rohl has a point- even though how he fleshes his historical Adam out is somewhat bizarre. For one thing, I'm not entirely comfortable (despite some of Enns' powerful arguments) with a geneology of Jesus in the Gospels that would include "fictious" characters who never even existed. (I might as well inform you that my great, great grandfather was Dr. Jekyll and my great, great, great grandfather was Mr. Hyde). I don't see why getting rid of an historical Adam is at all necessary. Enns himself offers the possibility that OT Israel viewed Adam as their senior partriarch - the man who originally started the "clan." I personally see great possibilities here via leaving Adam within historical existence as Israel's original, grand patriarch.

The origin of sin and death via the Adam and Eve story is another matter entirely. Biology and anthropology together appear to just plain and simply rule it out - and sticking Adam back into the age of the Cro-Magnons and Neaderthals in order to "save" the doctrine is a clear instance of an act of sheer desperation. But I see no reason why we necessarily have to conclude that the "origin" of sin and death (if that's the right word even to use...which I'm not even sure about) can only be regarded as lost in the misty past. I think there is a possible way forward here, and even via an historical Adam, while at the same time embracing what Enns is talking about. I think there may well be a way to retain a personal Adam (perhaps 6 to 8 thousand BC), while also showing how sin and death had their origin in him...but with an entirely different understanding that is informed by Enns' book. Unfortunately, spelling all that out is - like "The Evolution of Adam" - a book unto itself. And Amazon commentary is not the place where one is allowed to "write a book" - quite apart from how lengthy my own commentary here has been. When Hell Freezes Over: Online with Legion and Abaddon

In the meanwhile...kudos again to Enns for his truly provocative and highly insightful contribution to the cause. His vigorous defense of the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection is profoundly gratifying. Because of his firm stance here no one can accuse him of being unorthodox!

(NOTE: Readers interested in a critical analysis of David Rohl's "From Eden to Exile: the 5000 Year History of the People of the Bible," and why this book is of such strategic importance for Old Testament studies - scholars in particular, can easily access my recent review of this book (titled "David Rohl: A "Maverick" in Search of History") by clicking on "See All My Reviews" directly above, or by going to the book's Amazon website. From Eden to Exile: The Five-Thousand-Year History of the People of the Bible Hope you enjoy the read!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa742d6b4) out of 5 stars Very insightful June 13 2012
By West Virginia Born - Published on
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I am a materialistic atheist and I liked this book a lot. Perhaps that is why Peter Enns lost his teaching position!

I certainly would not agree with Enns on his religious views but I found his scholarship & willingness to stray from closed-minded literalism refreshing. I learned quite a bit about Paul and his modus operandi in dealing with OT passages. I was presented a way of thinking about Genesis that transcended "it's just a metaphor" or "its just an ancient myth".

Basically, my take home messages were 1) the Bible was compiled in its final form during exilic/post-exilic times though it contains some much older material 2) the OT was written as a means of self-definition & self-explanation for the Jewish people after the trauma of exile 3) the Bible is "incarnational", meaning both divine & human (those who demand it be free of its chronological & cultural milieu are being unreasonable) 4) God can "inspire" by stooping to our level & it's unwise to tell God what he can & can't do in terms of revelation 5) the Bible has no intent to be scientific and historical in early Genesis 6) Paul is a bigger obstacle to accepting evolution to many Christians than Genesis 7) by tying Adam & Eve to original sin & origin of death, Paul re-shapes/reinterprets the story in a way that seems foreign to OT writers 8) rejecting evolution means rejecting Pauline theology for many and 9) Paul, who also re-writes OT meaning in Abraham (faith vrs law; "seed(s)", uses Adam to put Jew and gentile on equal footing in needing grace/Christ's sacrifice/obedience for salvation. Christ, as second Adam, undoes damage of first Adam for ALL (Jew & gentile) willing to accept the gift of grace. Paul uses midrash/pesher arguments for his Christological interpretations with "creative engagement" of OT texts.

Again, while Enns and I probably have very little common ground for agreement, I appreciated the book & was struck by this passage at the end:
"...the light of science does not shine with equal brightness in every corner. There is mystery. There is transcendence. By faith I believe that the Christian story has deep access to a reality that materialism cannot provide and cannot be expected to know. That is a confession of faith, I readily admit, but when it comes to accessing ultimate reality, we are all in the same boat, materialistic atheists included: at some point we must trust in something or someone beyond logic and evidence, even if it is to declare that there is nothing beyond what we see."

While I wouldn't agree totally with that statement, it strikes me as very honest, sincere & open-minded.
Good book whether you agree or disagree with it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa742d8a0) out of 5 stars Although I disagreed with its conclusions, I stil benefited from this book. Thoughtful-provoking, comprehensive, and respectful. April 4 2015
By Craig - Published on
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I thought Peter Enns’ book was going to be a new, innovative defense of theistic evolution, from a scholar who believed in (some form of) the inerrancy of Scripture. It turned out to be a rehashing of several very old arguments against the literal historical accuracy of much of the Old Testament.

I’m not saying it’s a bad book. On the contrary, it is thoughtful, comprehensive, easy to understand, and very respectful towards a variety of biblical traditions, including evangelistic and fundamentalist branches. I disagreed with most of it, but I enjoyed it and benefited from having read it.

Enns lays out a comprehensive argument that follows this general pattern:

1. Genesis was written after the Jews were returned from Babylonian exile. It was an intentional "reworking" of popular creation myths of the day to highlight the uniqueness of the Jewish God.

2. The story of Adam is essentially a theological story, not a historical one, meant to highlight the recurring pattern of sin, exile, and restoration that dominates much of Israel's history.

3. Paul uses Adam's symbolic, quasi-mythical story to explain Christ's act of redemption on the Cross.

I disagree with these conclusions for a long list of reasons, many of which Enns freely admits in his book: Paul and other New Testament writers clearly believed Adam was real. Without a real, historical Adam, there is no answer as to how sin came into the world. Many of the things Christianity preaches are evil--aggression, death, sexual promiscuity--have to be accepted as important, vital processes in an evolution-based universe in order to strengthen the species, control the population, and ensure genetic diversity.

Even though Enns' conclusions do not satisfy me, I still found the argument well-prepared and thought-provoking.