Creation / Evolution 5 – Ground Rules for interpretation

This is part five in my (not-so-mini) series on “Creation, Evolution and Evangelicalism”. I’ve talked in previous posts (see that post for all the links) about why I think that so-called “Creationism”, more properly known as Young Earth Creationism or YEC for short, is not a sufficient explanation to account for both the Biblical and scientific data. Well, I’ve now done my assignment and the relevant reading for it and I think I’m in a position to at least move on slightly!

In my previous post I looked at Genesis 1 and how we might understand that from an old-earth and, I believe, a Biblical perspective. We now come to looking at the rest of the Bible, specifically, what do we do with the question of Adam and Eve? What do we do with the fall? Now I should say at the outset that anything I say here is not going to be anything other than tentative. The long and the short of it is, at the end of the day we just don’t know exactly what happened.

That said, I think there are a few points which we need to agree on before moving towards any kind of resolution.

A Historical Fall

Firstly, I think we need to affirm that the fall was a historical event. I found Henri Blocher’s “In the Beginning” particularly helpful on this – if you mythologise the fall, what you end up doing is rooting evil in the cosmic order and ultimately in God. One of the problems with the world is the existence of evil – the Bible, and specifically the fall narrative, wants to highlight the otherness of evil. In other words, it’s not supposed to be there.

Jesus himself brings out this theme when he says of divorce, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:8) In other words, God’s intention for marriage was from the beginning intended to be as it was in the Garden of Eden.

Likewise, death is an alien intrusion into our world which was caused by Adam’s sin – as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” We can’t simply mythologise Genesis 1-3 without giving ourselves a whole lot more problems, greater than the problems we started with!

Paul’s Understanding

It seems to me that the biggest problem for most evangelicals when it comes to the issue of Adam and Eve specifically is that of Paul. In both Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, he affirms the fact that we are all descended from one common root and as such all inherit sin through ‘one man’, in the same way that believers inherit Christ’s righteousness. As he says in Romans 5:18, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” Tom Wright wrote in his commentary in this passage that Paul’s argument would fall apart if he was not referring to just one man.

The issue for evangelicals is highlighted by Tim Keller in a very helpful article on the BioLogos website: if indeed Paul understands there to be a historical Adam and Eve, we therefore must too. This is contingent on our doctrine of Scripture.

In contrast to this, the line that someone like Peter Enns takes is, “what Paul believed isn’t relevant: he believed in a literal Adam because that was the standard belief at that time. We don’t need to believe what he believed.” It seems to me that this line is a “get out of jail free” card, which I’m not sure I would agree with – if it can be applied to the question of origins, why not any other contentious Biblical doctrine? “Well, clearly the writers were just writing as products of their time – we don’t have to take it into account.” It just sits very uncomfortably with me.

I think this is long enough for one blog post on the subject, but suffice it to say for now that I think any Biblical model of the question of origins must satisfactorily deal with (1) a historical fall; (2) what Paul thought on the subject – without compromising our view of Scripture in order to do it.

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4 thoughts on “Creation / Evolution 5 – Ground Rules for interpretation

  1. So do you believe in a young earth i.e. 6000 to 10000 years old, or a old earth i.e. billions of years old ??

    Do you believe the Bible uses allegory or is perfectly factual ??

    It seems you believe that Adam and Eve were real…how many years ago did they live ??

    • Apologies that the last bit of my comment got dropped, I was writing it on a mobile device.

      3. Not sure about Adam and Eve. Not 100% sure that they’re literal but I’m not sure we have enough information to say. If they did live literally it would probably have to be on the order of 200,000 years. This is what I’m going to talk about in my next post.

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