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Mohler | Holtz | and the Historical Adam

Yesterday Al Mohler and Chad Holtz weighed in on the Historical Adam debate, with equally impassioned pleas for their understandings of that first story.

Case in point, Mohler ends his post by saying “The implications for biblical authority are clear, as is the fact that if these arguments hold sway, we will have to come up with an entirely new understanding of the Gospel metanarrative and the Bible’s storyline

….If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.”

In response Holtz ends with “Denying a literal Adam millions of years ago does not sever the link between Christ and he, for I am Adam! And my sister is Eve. What is so crucial to the Gospel is not Adam’s real-ness but Christ’s. And what is crucial for my salvation is realizing my need for this Christ – that I may decrease and Christ increase. To hell with Adam (I mean that both literally and mythically).

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In reading both posts I couldn’t help thinking, if the church is going to successfully navigate this difficult question, we’ll have to do better than this.

Because neither Mohler’s insistence that we – for all intents and purposes – ignore the scientific data because we can’t make it mesh with the text, nor Holtz’ suggestion that the Eden narrative is at its core a mythological telling of the story that is true of each of us, seem particularly helpful.

The first encourages an unhelpful modernist tendency to imagine faith and science are somehow opponents, while the second avoids that tendency by jumping headlong into an (equally modernist) existential reading of the text which would make little sense to an ancient audience.

Yes, Mohler is right that the story matters for how we frame the larger narrative. And yes, Holtz is right in saying we all enact the story of Adam in our own lives.

But importing the modern science-faith debate or existentialism into the story is not going to solve the issue of how we read it, and both may very well be doing different sorts of violence to the text.

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The text needs to be allowed to speak for itself, in its ancient context. And here we might find the exegetical traction to pose a better way forward in this debate.

For example, it has long puzzled readers of Genesis that when Cain is driven away there are apparently whole groups of people for him to fear, and marry, and start a new city with. Where did they come from?

Could it be that the text never intended to talk about the material creation of humanity (back to last week’s posts), but rather a functional choosing of Adam and Eve as representatives and rulers on behalf of the Creator God?

So there could very well have been other homo-sapiens who did not enjoy this same relationship with God, or role in his plan.

I’m certainly not the first to suggest such a thing, and you don’t need evolution to see the textual problem. The ancient Jewish text The Apocalypse of Abraham said much the same thing long before evolution was part of the conversation. Not that this text is authoritative, but it does demonstrate that there have always been other ways of reading the Genesis account, often ways created as a response to pressures in the text itself.

The debate over the historicity of Adam and Eve seems to be with us for the foreseeable future, and we owe it to ourselves, to the church, and to those who come after us to take the text seriously, and to offer something better than either anti-scientific fundamentalism or ahistorical existentialism.

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Mason is a husband to Melinda, seminary student, youth pastor, blogger and freelance writer in, Grand Rapids, MI. He is passionate about theology, community and justice. What little time is left amidst his busy schedule is devoted to reading, coffee snobbery and a new adventure in home brewing.