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