Date: 25 Mar 94 16:58:30 To: All Subject: Views of Adam In response to the assertion that

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Date: 25 Mar 94 16:58:30 From: James G. Acker To: All Subject: Views of Adam From: (James G. Acker) Organization: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center -- InterNetNews site In response to the assertion that Adam can only be interpreted as a single, historical personage based on Genesis: ADAM -- an ongoing research project: Status report 1: Recent discussions via email and on have led to a consideration of the following question: Is it a theologically valid position to consider Adam as a symbol of humanity, rather than as an actual historical individual? At this point, I have reached the following tentative conclusion: In an INTERNALLY CONSISTENT study of the Bible, Adam should be considered as a real, historical person. This conclusion is reached on the basis of the statements of other Biblical personages, the most important being Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. Statements in Isaiah (and likely others) are also addressed to the historical personage of Adam. Thus, the doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin, that one man sinned and in so doing condemned all of his descendants to God's punishment: and salvation through Jesus Christ, one man for all of humankind's sin, is internally consistent through the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore: It is likely, given the historical tradition of the Hebrews, that Adam was unquestioningly considered to be a historical person, i.e. the oral history and preliminary written history of the Hebrews included Adam as part of that history. Thus, the prophets would address Adam historically, just as they would address David, Joshua, or Moses historically. *********** The problem with treating Adam as a historical entity, as a "real" person, arises externally, when one attempts to reconcile current scientific understanding with the Biblical narrative. Attempts to do this may be futile, but nonetheless, many have attempted to do so. I have still not determined if Adam has been addressed as symbolic in an external consideration of the Bible -- with the Bible considered in the context of current scientific understanding. I.e. what does Original Sin mean theologically if Adam is taken as symbolic of all humanity? I have constructed my own Christian-based apologetic for this question, but it is not based on any particular source. I still have considerably more research to conduct, obviously. However, I borrowed three books from a friend's fairly extensive library as my first step in researching the topic. The three books: _Genesis in Space and Time_, by Francis A. Schaeffer; _Creation and Fall/Temptation: Two Biblical Studies_, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; _Genesis: An Introduction & Commentary_, by Derek Kidner (part of the Tyndale OT Commentaries Series, with D.J. Wiseman, General Ed.). Furthermore, as I worked on this discussion, I also consulted a chapter in "Is God A Creationist?" by Roland Mushat Frye. The chapter is entitled "The Earth is the Lord's: An Essay on the Biblical Doctrine of Creation", and was written by Bernhard W. Andersen, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary (and many other positions). The essay appeared in 1955 originally, but was revised for inclusion in Frye's book (publ. 1983). Andersen's comments support the concept, and the use of the word, 'adam, as symbolic of _humankind_ and not of an individual human being. Given Andersen's credentials as a noted theologian, I will assert at the end of this first status report that viewing 'adam/Adam as a symbol for humankind, and not as an individual "real" human being, is a theologically valid position. I have highlighted what I find to be very significant statements with asterisks *** in this manner. *** ************* The first book, by Schaeffer, presents an entirely literal view of Genesis 1-11 and makes the case for Adam as a historical person in the real world. Schaeffer does not address scientific issues to any great extent, but conducts an internally-consistent study of Genesis and its relation to the rest of the Bible (though the title would suggest otherwise). He does address some aspects of the "Calvin dilemma" regarding the origin of evil, which I'll try to get to later (not in this discussion). However, there is this interesting, if abstruse, footnote from Schaeffer: "There may be a difference between the methodology by which we gain knowledge from what God tells us in the Bible and the methodology by which we gain it from scientific study, but this does not lead to a dichotomy as to the facts. In practice it may not always be possible to correlate the two studies because of the special situation involved, yet if both studies can be adequately pursued, there will be no final conflict. For example, the Tower of Babel: whether we come at it from Biblical knowledge given by God or by scientific study, either way when we are done with our study, the Tower of Babel was either there or it was not there. The same thing is true of Adam. Whether we begin with the conceptual apparatus of archaelogy and anthropology or whether we begin with the knowledge given us in the Bible, if it were within the realm of science's knowledge to do so, in both cases we would end with knowledge of Adam's bones. Science by its natural limitations cannot know all we know from God in the Bible, but in those cases where science can know, both sources of knowledge arrive at the same point, *** even if the knowledge is expressed in different terms. *** And it is important to keep in mind that there is a great difference between saying the same thing in two different symbol systems and actually saying two different exclusive things but hiding the difference with the two symbol systems. What the Bible teaches where it touches history and the cosmos and what science teaches where it touches the same areas do not stand in a discontinuity. There indeed must be a place for the study of general revelation (the universe and its form, and man with his mannishness), that is, a place for *** true science ***. But on the other hand, it must be understood that there is no automatic need to accomodate the Bible to the statements of science. There is a tendency for some who are Christians and scientists to always place special revelation (the teaching of the Bible) under the control of general revelation and science, and never or rarely to place general revelation and what science teachers under the control of the Bible's teaching. That is, though they think of that which the Bible teaches as true and that which science teaches as true, in reality they tend to end with the truth of science as more true than the truth of the Bible." Fireside philosophers are invited to debate the final sentence at their leisure. Moving on: ************** Dietrich Bonhoeffer is _widely_ respected in modern theological circles. His study, Creation and Fall, touches upon the scientific world in only two places, as far as I could tell from my reading. Here they are: At the beginning of the chapter entitled "The Fixed", and following a recitation of Genesis 1: 6-10, Bonhoeffer writes: "Here we have before us the ancient world picture in all its scientific _naivete_. While it would not be advisable to be too mocking and self-assured, in view of the rapid changes in our own knowledge of nature, undoubtedly in this passage the biblical author stands exposed with all the limitations caused by the age in which he lived. The heavens and the seas were not formed in the way he says; we would not escape a very bad conscience if we committed ourselves to any such statement. *** The idea of verbal inspiration will not do. *** The writer of the first chapter of Genesis is behaving in a very human way." The section addressing the creation of man and woman (Genesis 1:26) is about two pages long. I will quote as completely as possible to avoid the accusation of taking quotes out of context, but will not be inclusive. The chapter is entitled "The Image of God on Earth": "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.' Man shall proceed from God as his ultimate, his new work, and as the image of God in his creation. There is no transition here from somewhere or other, there is new creation. *** This has nothing to do with Darwinism; quite independently of this man remains the free, undetermined work of God. We have no wish at all to deny man's connexion with the animal world; *** on the contrary. But we are very anxious not to lose the peculiar relationship of man and God in the process. In our concern with the origin and nature of man, it is hopeless to attempt to make a gigantic leap back into the world of the lost beginning. It is hopeless to want to know for ourselves what man was originally, to identify here man's ideal with the creational reality of God, *** not to understand that we can know about the man of the beginning only if we start from Christ. *** This attempt, as hopeless as it is understandable, has again and again delivered the Church up to free speculation on this dangerous point. Only in the middle, as those who live from Christ, do we know of the beginning." In essence, I see Bonhoeffer as emphasizing that natural science and what it tells us of the world, of origins, does not affect or detract from what he calls "the creational reality of God", which is (simply) that God made us. Bonhoeffer states that man is connected to the animal kingdom, but has a special relationship with God, which is consistent with Adam as a symbol of humankind -- that humankind, as God's special creation, has a special relationship with God. *********** The third reference, "Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary" by Derek Kidner, is primarily a walk-through on the entire book of Genesis. However, in a sub-section of the preface, "Human Beginnings", Kidner addresses the subject of the Genesis story and scientific understanding. Again, it's somewhat long, so I'll select passages. Kidner is only titled the "former warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge", so I am unqualified to judge his theological standing. However, I will note that the Tyndale commentaries are found in most Christian bookstores (the majority of which are strongly fundamentalist-evangelical in the titles on their shelves.) "How the two pictures, biblical and scientific, are related to each other is not immediately clear, and one should allow for the provisional nature both of scientific estimates (*** without making this a refuge from all unwelcome ideas ***) and of traditional interpretations of Scripture. One must also recognize the different aims and styles of the two approaches: one probing the observable world, the other revealing chiefly the unobservable, *** the relation of God and man. *** The style of reporting will be drily factual for the former, but the latter may need the whole range of literary genres to do it justice, and it is therefore important not to prejudge the method and intention of these chapters." Kidner then discusses the events in Genesis as being actual, pivotal events, including the fall of Adam. Then: ..."It could be that the events are presented here in simplified pictorial form (cf. the opening comments on chapter 3), or are landmarks punctuating an immense tract of time. Even so there are difficulties. If Genesis is abbreviating a long history, the sheer vastness of the ages it spans, on this view, is not so sharp a problem as the fact that almost the whole of this immensity lies, for the paleontologist, between the first man and the first farmer - - that is, in terms of Genesis, between Adam and Cain, or even between Adam inside and outside Eden. Yet the birth of Seth, or of his ancestor, sets an upper limit of a mere 130 years to this (4:25; 5:3). Even if the figures in Genesis 5 are non-literal, the proportions raise the same difficulty. Some other approach seems necessary." "To the present author various converging lines of evidence point to an Adam much nearer our own times than the early tool-makers and artists, let alone their remote forbears... The answer may lie in our definition of man." "Man in Scripture is much more than _homo faber_, the maker of tools: he is constituted man by God's image and breath, nothing less. It follows that Scripture and science may well differ in the boundaries they would draw around early humanity: the intelligent beings of a remote past, whose bodily and cultural remains give them the clear status of "modern man" to the anthropologist, may yet have been decisively below the plane of life which was established in the creation of Adam. If, *** as the text of Genesis would by no means disallow, *** God initially shaped man by a process of evolution, it would follow that a considerable stock of near-humans preceded the first true man, and it would be arbitrary to picture these as mindless brutes. Nothing requires that the creature into which God breathed human life should not have been of a species prepared in every way for humanity, with already a long history of practical intelligence, artistic sensibility and the capacity for awe and reflection." "On this view, Adam, the first true man, will have had as contemporaries many creatures of comparable intelligence, widely distributed over the world. ... [section on Noah, the Flood, connections to past antiquity] ... "Yet it is at least conceivable that after the special creation of Eve, which established the first human pair as God's viceregents (Genesis 1:27,28) and clinched the fact that there is no natural bridge from animal to man, God may have now conferred his image on Adam's collaterals, to bring them into the same realm of being. Adams 'federal' headship of humanity extended, if that was the case, outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both alike. There may be a biblical hint of such a situation in the suprising impression of an already populous earth given by the words and deeds of Cain in 4: 14-17. Even Augustine had to devote a chapter to those who 'find this a difficulty'..." ..."Three final comments may be made. First, the exploratory suggestion above is only tentative, as it must be, and it is a personal view. It invites correction and a better synthesis... What is quite clear from these chapters is that mankind is a unity, created in God's image, and fallen in Adam by the one act of disobedience; and these things are as strongly asserted of God's word as on any other. Secondly, it may be thought that this whole discussion *** allows science too much control over exegesis. *** This would be a serious charge. But to try to correlate the data of Scripture and nature is not to dishonour Biblical authority, but to honour God as Creator and to grapple with our proper task of interpreting His ways of speaking. In Scripture he leaves us to find out for ourselves such details as whether "the wings of the wind" and "the windows of heaven" are literal or metaphorical, and in what sense 'the world cannot be moved' (Psalm 96:10) or the sun daily "runs it's course." (Psalm 19: 5,6)... We are asserting our own infallibility, *** not that of Scripture, *** when we refuse to collate our factual answers with those of independent enquiry. Thirdly, however, the interests and methods of Scripture and science differ so widely that they are best studied, in any detail, apart. Their accounts of the world are as distinct (and each as legitimate) as an artist's portrait and an anatomist's diagram, of which no composite picture will be satisfactory, for their common ground is only in the total reality to which they both attend. It cannot be said too strongly that Scripture is the perfect vehicle for God's revelation, which is what concerns us here; and its bold selectiveness, like that of a great painting, is its power. To read it with one eye on any other account is to blur its image and miss its wisdom. To have God's own presentation *** of human beginnings as they most deeply concern us ***, we need look no further than these chapters and their New Testament interpretation." Summary of my view: Kidner illustrates the difficulty of external consistency quite well, recognizing the validity of scientific evidence and the problems of reconciling that evidence, despite clear indications of its legitimacy, with Genesis. His allusions in the final paragraph speak to the symbolic nature ("artist's portrait) of Genesis. He comes down in final analysis on the side of wisely interpreting Genesis with internal consistency in the Bible itself. *********** Finally we come to Andersen, as instroduced above. I will not be able to capture anything close to his entire essay, so I'll concentrate on those sections pertaining to what he terms *** 'adam. *** Some of his initial comments: "Today some interpreters advocate demythologizing the biblical language concerning creation, that is, disengaging the essential content of meaning from the language in which it is expressed -- *** a prescientific language which is obsolete in terms of the modern scientific outlook. *** ... However, in the last analysis it is questionable whether the content of the creation-faith can be abstracted from the biblical form in which it is expressed. Instead of dispensing with the biblical language the interpreter should seek to understand it from within, that is, *** from within the worshipping community of Israel. *** The problem of demythology is put in a new light when at the outset one recognizes that the biblical language concerning creation *** does not purport to give us knowlege about nature ***, such as can be acquired through science and expressed in scientific terms." ... {the paragraph continues} Next: ... "The narratives of Genesis 2-11 do not deal particularly with Israel, but with all peoples. 'Adam is neither a Hebrew nor an Israelite, but human being (humankind) *** generically ***, including both "male and female" as explicitly stated in Genesis 1:26-27 (note the alternation of the singular and plural forms of speech). This typical or *** representative *** role is further exemplified in Genesis 2-3, where the human situation is portrayed in the primeval parents, Adam and Eve." ... That's a fairly clear statement of 'adam as being a representation for humankind. Further down: ... "But the biblical creation-faith deals primarily with _the meaning of human history_. The great affirmation of the Bible is that the meaning, first disclosed in the events of Israel's history, is the meaning upon which the world is founded. The redemptive Word, by which Israel was created as the People of God, is none other than the creative Word by which the heavens were made. The point bears reemphasis that in the Bible *** creation is not an independent doctrine, *** but is inseparably related to the basic story of the people in which Yahweh is presented as the actor and redeemer." ... There's more, but not too much more. "It is human beings, however, who occupy a special place in the liturgy of creation. In the Priestly creation story the creation of 'adam, consisting of "male and female" (Gen 1:27), is the last of God's works; therefore they consitute the crown of creation. The fact that human beings are created on the same day as the animals is an important testimony to the intimate relation between the human and non-human creatures. ... "The uniqueness of human beings among other earthly creatures is that they are persons whom God addresses, the "Thou" with whom God enters into personal relationship. ... "Though the Yahwist and Priestly traditions differ from each other in important respects, both agree in regarding the creation as the inauguration of a historical drama in which human beings must reckon with the sovereign power and purpose of the God who is Creator and Lord..." I apologize for heavy excerpting in the above. The above quotes are to illustrate how clearly the author equates the creation of 'adam (Adam) with the creation of humanity, and that Adam can be interpreted as representative of all humanity. Finally: "This view of the task of creatures to serve and glorify God helps us to understand more clearly the crucial statement in the Genesis creation story about "the image of God." "Then God said: "Let us make human beings ['adam] in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle and all wild beasts, and everything that moves upon the earth. So God created humanity ['adam] in his own image, in the image of God he created it; male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:26-27 - my translation (note -- BWA's translation). "Undoubtedly the word translated 'image' (tselem) should be taken much more concretely than is often done by those who attenuate its meaning to the "spiritual" part of human nature, or, in Greek fashion, to the "soul" as distinguished from the "body". Elsewhere the Hebrew word refers to something concrete and visible, for instance, a picture drawn on a wall (Ezek. 23:14) or a statue of a god (II Kings 11:18; Dan 3:1). Such concreteness characterizes the usage of tselem in Gen. 1:26-27, although the explanatory addition of "likeness" (demuth) moves in the direction of greater abstraction. Apparently the view in the Priestly account is that 'adam, viewed as a total bodily whole (a psychosomatic unity, as we would say), is fashioned after the heavenly beings of God's Council who are addressed in the plural pronouns of Genesis 1:26 ("us", "our"). If this is the correct interpretation, 'adam is made in the image of the heavenly beings ("angels"; see Psalm 8:55 LXX) who surround God and are members of the heavenly council referred to in Micaiah's vision (I Kings 22: 19-23) and the prologue statement of Job (Job 1:6). However, the main import of the statement about the _imago Dei_ is not to define human _nature_ in relation to God but to accent the special _function_ that God has assigned human beings in the creation. Human beings, male and female, are designed to be God's representatives for they are created and commissioned to represent or "image" God's rule on earth..." You will be pleased to learn, as am I, that the above is my final quotation here! Of particular note is the author's translation of Genesis 1:26-27, where 'adam is translated as either "human beings" or "humanity". The author takes great pains to show the importance of humanity's role, and not just the role of a single man and single woman, as God's special creation on Earth. Therefore, I assert from the above examples that it is a valid theological position to view 'adam, or Adam, as representative of humanity in toto. It is not necessary, in a theological consideration of Genesis, to maintain that the only valid interpretation of 'adam/Adam is as a single, historical individual. However, given the historical traditions of the tribe of Israel and the Hebrews, to explain the message of salvation, it is no surprise that the great teachers Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul addressed Adam as historical -- in order to convey the fundamental meaning of Christ's singular role in salvation. As I finish this (3/21/94), I am aware that the actual meaning of the words Adam and Eve in the Hebrew is under discussion on The definitions provided there only serve to augment the argument that I have sought to bring forth above. The next question I seek to address is the "external" consideration of evolution and the doctrine of Original Sin -- i.e. if Adam is viewed as representative of humanity, how is the doctrine of Original Sin aligned with the sinfulness of humanity and not of a single human being? Again, I stress that the complexities here are primarily due to the difficulty of relating the internally consistent Old and New Testaments to the external world of nature and science. While it is not necessary to make such a relationship in order for the Gospel message to be understood, the intellectual challenge of investigating possible relationships is still worthwhile. I dedicate the above work to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the prayerful hope that it will aid a wider and more conciliatory appreciation of the salvation message of Jesus Christ, and help to bridge doctrinal divisions which are not central to His message. James G. Acker, 3/21/94 =============================================== | James G. Acker | | REPLY TO: | =============================================== All comments are the personal opinion of the writer and do not constitute policy and/or opinion of government or corporate entities.


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