Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Adam, Pt.1

"Ken Ham agrees with the Atheists on Literal Adam and Eve?" Christian Post That headline in the Christian Post caught my eye. I had been researching the topic of Adam and Eve and found it intriguing that Ham and atheists would agree on anything much less that Adam and Eve were literal historical people. But it should not have been surprising. Both see a literal, historical Adam as crucial to their arguments.

   Ken Ham argues that the pre-history narratives of Creation through the Tower of Babel - which include the Adam and Eve story - are entirely literal. Atheists argue that the Bible requires that those stories be understood literally. Thus the agreement.

   Many Christian scholars do not agree, however. Some see Adam and Eve as an allegory in which the details of the story refer to realities in the real world or theological truths. Others read the story as a parable meant to explain a truth about the human condition. Neither think the story should be read literally.

  In the allegorical interpretation, each detail is significant and symbolic. In the parable, the importance is in the meaning of the lesson taught. Neither of these options require a literal, historical Adam. In  fact, these options are proposed because a literal Adam seems to be scientifically indefensible. In the modern world the idea that man slowly evolved from pre-human species and that there was no actual "first man" is almost universally assumed. The evidence is just too great.

   Well respected Christian scholars have, therefore, considered what science is telling about man and what the Adam and Eve story tells us and have concluded there is no necessary conflict. These scholars include names such as Francis Collins, the former atheist-turned-Christian who is the scientist known for his ground-breaking work in mapping the human genome and an evolutionist. They also includes Old Testament scholar  Bruce Waltke formerly of Dallas Theological Seminary now at Knox Theological Seminary. Christianity Today

   On the other hand, there is Ken Ham. He - along with atheists - and other theologically conservative biblical scholars see the entire theological premise of the Bible collapsing if Adam was not a literal, historical person and the first man, thus the head of the human race. They see the doctrine of original sin, the need for the cross and atonement, as well as the doctrine of man created in the image of God, as a house of cards in a hurricane if Adam is not literal. And they are right. Not only so but the dispute among Christians has the potential of seriously dividing Christians and perhaps even bringing Christianity down.

   That is, of course, why atheists are making such a big deal of the debate.

   I don't see this debate as fracturing Christianity, however, not only because God has invested his plan for humanity in the church and Christianity but because there is another alternative in the literal Adam vs. allegorical Adam debate. What? I will come to that in Part 2. First, I want to review the data and the ideas that are brought to the debate.

   The following list is not in any particular order, and it does not represent facts or ideas that are agreed to by all. It is simply what I observe.

   1) The moral and spiritual brokenness of human beings is both obvious and universal to all humans. This brokenness is pictured and explained in the Adam and Eve narrative.

   2) Man is a three-part being of spirit, soul (psyche), and body. That is also obvious and universal to all humans.

   3) Physically man is like the animals, and man probably evolved, as all living things, gradually to his present physical state. The last common ancestor of modern humans is sometimes traced to Mitochondrial Eve about 150,000 years ago.

   4) Man is also soul (psyche) and shares the the ability with some animals to relate, emote, and make decisions. That is obvious and a universal characteristic of all human beings.

   5) Unlike the animals man is also conscious of himself and his thoughts, conscious of his mortality, moral right and wrong and of God. Man is able to think abstractly, to appreciate beauty, and create art. That is spirit, and it is obvious and universal to all human beings.

   6) Science can describe the physical man and the psyche but cannot describe or explain the spirit.

   7) The Adam and Eve narrative is both similar to other Ancient Near East (ANE) attempts to explain man's origin and unique among them.

   8) By genre it has allegorical elements and has a similarity to parable. That is, it is highly symbolic and didactic. It is brilliant from a literary point of view with plot, well drawn characters, conflict, resolution, and denouement.

   9) By literary style it is sparse and unembellished compared to ANE myths. Every detail is important to the message. Myths are elaborately embellished with unnecessary detail and have no message or thesis.

   10) The A & E narrative is set in the the literal Middle East with specific geographical details describing the rivers and the lands beyond the plain of the Euphrates valley. It is more realistic than any of the ANE myths.

   11) The word adam often refers to mankind rather than the specific name of an individual. In this story when viewed as an allegory, that is how it would be read.

12) The word Adam is also a specific name, and it is used that way in the narrative as well as later in the New Testament.

13) When the New Testament uses Adam, we should understand it as reference to the specific person.

   Given what we observe both from the Bible and from science the third alternative is that both are right. Adam was the first true man and was anatomically the product of a long evolutionary development from pre-human hominids to modern Homo sapiens sapiens. How can both be true? It turns on what makes man man.

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