The Evolution of Adam – Peter Enns [ Feature Review ]

March 2, 2012


Page 2 – The Evolution of Adam – Peter Enns

Enns is writing to Christians who have already come to the conclusion that the evidence points toward evolutionary processes, so if one expects to find a defense of evolution from a scientific perspective, there are plenty of other books to turn to. (I personally would recommend a book written by Calvin professors Deborah and Loren Haarsma called Origins).

But Enns also wants to write to those who have a high respect for Scripture and the truth it is communicating. He says, “My aim is to speak to those who feel that a synthesis between a biblically conversant Christian faith and evolution is a pressing concern. And my purpose here is certainly not to undermine the faith of those who see things differently.”  Thankfully, that is exactly the place where I am in the conversation.

Enns is informative and precise in the information he chooses to relay, relying on archeology and other sources to flesh out the type of literature Genesis is, and consequently the kind of information it is prepared to offer. Then, he tackles the big issue of Paul’s Adam as seen in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, which is a central concern for many Christians. Paul makes a theological argument comparing Jesus to Adam, logically making Jesus’ historicity tied to Adam’s historicity: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19), and: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

To summarize Enns position on Paul’s Adam, he argues that there are many things that people in the time of Paul would have believed to be true that would not be accepted as truth today, such as reproductive barrenness is solely the woman’s fault. We have the resources today to know that is not true, in a way Paul would not have known through no fault of his own. But if Paul had made a theological argument about how God works in the womb of a woman even if she is barren, we would not fault him for placing the burden of barrenness solely on the woman, but we would not believe it scientifically ourselves, either (this is my example based off of my reading of Enns’ argument). Similarly, Enns argues that just because Paul’s access to knowledge about the origins led him to use the language he did to make a theological claim, that does not mean we need to accept the scientific accuracy of his statements in order to agree with his theological conclusion. Here is Enns, in his own words: “…the inspired status of Paul’s writings does not mean that his view on the human origins determines what is allowable for contemporary Christians to conclude.”

I should mention that this book also weds the theology of second temple Judaism with our reading of Genesis in a unique way, as Enns argues the Genesis story is primarily told to convey Israel’s story theologically after the exile, when Israel needs to be reminded that they have in fact been God’s people from the very beginning.

However, my personal biggest obstacle in terms of evolution, is theology regarding the Fall: sin and death, which Enns only brushes upon and leaves to others to discuss for the most part. However, he does cite Lutheran theologian George L. Murphy, who distinguishes between “original sin” and “sin of origin.” The first would require the literal Adam who transmitted sin to succeeding humans. But the second connotes an understanding of the “inevitability of sin that affects every human being from their beginnings, from birth.” This does not answer why all humans are born in sin, but it observes it to be true nonetheless.

Overall, The Evolution of Adam is an incredibly useful book for Christians who are engaged in this dialogue. Harlow’s article and the Haarsmas’s book are both listed in the bibliography, which would be a great place to turn to find more scholarship on issues such as the fall and other theological concerns.

3 responses to The Evolution of Adam – Peter Enns [ Feature Review ]

  1. Pushing this weak theory as fact and undercutting the scripture is so sad. i hae removed myself from this list.

    • On the contrary, I think Dr. Enns is being very respectful of Scripture, as he does his best to wrestle with it in light of what we know today.

  2. Thanks for reviewing books like this – love it!  Keep ’em coming . . .