'Four Views on the Historical Adam' edited by Barrett, Caneday and Gundry

Let’s face it. Most of us tend to take one of two different approaches when we are asked to consider whether we believe Adam and Eve were real life people who lived at some point in history:

Approach 1: A little fidgeting, followed by some vague non-committal murmurs and then a hurried attempt to change the conversation or discover an excuse to leave the room. Avoidance is key!


Approach 2: A gradual, but almost inevitable, growing dogmatism (and perhaps even obsession) about the whole subject to the point that even we get tired of listening to ourselves talk about it!

I know. Those are massive generalisations. But, like most generalisations, there is a kernel of truth to them. In a secular world where current scientific thinking is regarded as authoritative – and where the Bible certainly isn’t – it has become increasingly difficult and uncomfortable for Christians to know how to engage with the world on this issue. Unfortunately, not only do we struggle to engage meaningfully with the world, we also often struggle to know how to engage meaningfully with each other on it.

And so, enter ‘Four Views on The Historical Adam’ edited by Barrett, Caneday and Gundry.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing this thought provoking book that presents the views of four different evangelical scholars on the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve. This book is not a quick read, but it is intriguing and it really does exercise those brain cells! It also has a couple of unique strengths which I think makes it a helpful read for those of us who want to learn to engage helpfully and meaningfully on this topic.

Firstly, in presenting a number of different views it avoids giving a definitive answer to the question it asks. Whilst some might find this frustrating, its strength is that it doesn’t tell us what to think about this issue, so much as it teaches us how to think about it. As we consider the sometimes very distinct, and at other times very subtle, differences between the contributors we are compelled to work them through ourselves, raise our own questions, follow through on the implications and so on. By the time we have finished, perhaps we might have arrived at a firm conclusion or perhaps we might still have some questions. But we will be better for the reading experience because we’ve been compelled to think about it ourselves.

Secondly, while this is a book concerned with theology, it does not divorce theology from the everyday life of the Christian. The editors write:

Too often in debates of this nature we fail to take the next step. While we may rise to the highest levels of intellectual debate, we easily neglect that which is most important, namely, applying the debate concerning Adam’s historicity to the Christian life. (Pg 34)

 And so, in order to ensure that their book does not neglect that which is ‘most important’, the editors have also included two pastoral reflections at the end of the book designed to look at the big picture and how this issue changes (or doesn’t change) the Christian faith and the church’.  For many of us readers, this is where the rubber really hits the road. More on that later. In the meantime, there are a couple of other observations that help set the scene for us as we read.

Firstly, all the views presented in the book are from self confessed evangelical Christians. Although they hold divergent views on the historical Adam, all of the contributors affirm important gospel beliefs in common.

Secondly, the central issue of this book is not ‘Evolution vs. Creation’ (to put it rather crudely), but the question of whether Adam and Eve were actual historical figures from which mankind were descended. That is, it is chiefly concerned with the ‘unity’ of the human race rather than its ‘antiquity’. The editors do acknowledge that how one understands the days of Genesis, evolutionary theory and even the age of the earth to a certain extent will impact in one way or another what one believes about Adam and Eve’ . And so, the question of humanity’s antiquity is not one that the book can afford to avoid.

Finally, the authors of each view were asked to address three particular questions in their response. These were:

1.     What is their biblical case and how do they reconcile it with other biblical views?
2.     Why is their view more theologically consistent/coherent?
3.     What are the implications of their view for the church and individual believers?

 In the next post we’ll take a bit of a closer look at one of the views that answers the question of whether Adam was historical with a resounding ‘No’.

About this month's contributor, Dani Treweek
After training at Moore Theological College, Dani went on to serve as the Women's Minister at St Matthias Anglican Church for over six years. Recently she has said a sad goodbye to her brothers and sisters at St Matthias in order to (God willing) pursue PhD studies commencing in 2016. She loves reading, and so is constantly perplexed that the pile of unread books waiting next to her bed (or on her kindle) doesn't ever seem to get any smaller. She's also a Les Miserables tragic, would choose Pepsi Max over Coke Zero any day and continues to maintain that her best ever organisational decision was ditching all those misshapen, mismatched wire coat hangers in favour of lovely, matching, consistent and aesthetically pleasing plastic black ones.