Thursday, February 23, 2012

Adam and Paul

This post on Jesus Creed is mind blowing, although it is really just a summary discussion of some of Peter Enns book, The Evolution of Adam.

The basic points are:
  1. Nothing in the OT gives Adam the importance protestant theology does
  2. Nothing in the OT suggests that Adam's sin is imparted to his offspring
  3. Paul's emphasis on Adam is an innovation in terms of the OT resulting from his encounter with Christ
I would add to those points that Adam is mentioned in only 3 of Paul's letter (Rom, 1 Cor, 1 Tim) and only twice in the NT outside of Paul.  Both those occurences are in terms of genealogy rather than assertions of hereditary sin (Luke 3:38, Jude 14) . He gets a total of 9 mentions in the NT. By contrast Abraham is mentioned over 70 times in the NT, in all four gospels and across both Pauline and catholic epistles.

Now I think those points are more or less irrefutable, but of course the implications are not so clear.  I know Enns' thesis is really about whether or not Christians need to understand Gen 2-3 as literal history or something else.  But long before we get to that topic I'd say this suggests our protestant emphasis on hereditary sin is at the very least an overemphasis and most likely a misreading of Paul.  Which send me scurrying to look at Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15 again, and I think to myself, this is possible . . .

Action points: I'm going to have to read Enns' book myself (I thought Inspiration and Incarnation was overrated, so wasn't going to bother) and I'm going to have to do some exegesis on these Pauline Adam passages.

So, what do you think? :-)


  1. If we are not genetically predisposed to sin (inherited sin) then where does that disposition come from? If we are (and no one is more selfish than a new born baby) then as a matter of fact sinfulness is inherited. Now explain to me why believing this I should imagine the story in Gen 2-3 was intended to be understood as a mere historical record, please!

    I.e. surely the issues are unrelated. Except in the fevered brains of fundamentalists?

  2. But the issue is if it is inherited who did we inherit it from? So the traditional answer being Adam and Eve. Whether you (Tim) recognise that as an issue is not the point ;-) the point is that if you are going to say A&E are not historical personages you better be ready to give another account of the origin of hereditary sin or change the whole Christian story completely. The alternative is either to imply God made us sinful or that we have evolved to be sinful, but neither of those really fit with the Christian narrative.

    Even without being a fundamentalist (by most standards) it gives me brain fever!

  3. If it is inherited then it is part of our genetic makeup. Unless you accept the idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics then in the story it was part of A & E's genetic material... I still cannot understand the need for them to be actual individual people...

    Who did we inherit it from our mum and dad. Etc... From where I sit the strangest thing about original sin is the name, because the doctrine seems to say that there is no such thing as an original sin, we all keep repeating the same sin(s) of seekijng to put ourselves in the place of God.

  4. hehe, that is cos original sin is not original as in "hey that sin is so original i never saw its like before" but original in that its our sinful state that originates from the sin of Adam. But then I suspect you knew that.

    personally i am happy for the origin of sin to be all a bit fuzzy, (i like Tolkien's version of the fall in the Silmarilion) but that is not an option for a pastor who needs to preach clear doctrine to the precious souls he has been called to serve, some of whom have little tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (through no fault of their own).

  5. There is no original sin also for each of us, as there is no "first time I sinned", I have been sinful since I began, and sin kept growing.

    So for humanity ('adam), humanity has been sinful since we began (wherever or however that happened).

    I don't think it is all that fuzzy (though I may have been the origin of the phrase "fuzzy logic"):
    We (humanity/adam) are all sinners and sinful.
    That sinfulness and those sins do not have a point of origin, but are "original" as in they began when we did.

    Where is the fuzziness or ambiguity? Except in that 'adam is either a personal name or a word for humanity/a human... But then I'd say a story about Mr Man was not to be taken over literally as history ;)

  6. yes, but if you say that then you are saying God made us in that state of sinfulness which is where the traditional emphasis on Adam's sin seeks to let God off the hook, i.e. God made us in innocence but then we sinned and fell into a state of sin. this is important because if we are all like this as a result of manufacturer (rather than user) error then said manufacturer can hardly judge us in wrath for those sins now can he?

    now i've never seen how that really lets God of the hook anyway, and i'm not sure God needs us to worry about any hooks he may or may not be on, but there you go. somehow you've got me defending a view i don't hold!

  7. Perhaps, though if our maker designed us to be genuinely free to choose to love God, then necessarily we would be genuinely free not to love. I see no way to "get God off the hook" therefore. Nor any need to. Though I am not tempted to quickly ascribe anger or such to God, the prophets descriptions of God's pain at human rejection seem to me much more powerful.

  8. If you define sin in the idiotic Christian way where everything is a sin then you can make a baby a sinner. Being selfish is a sin? Well then babies are sinners. But where the hell does the Law saw being selfish is a sin? Thus Christianity falls apart (as always) when someone who interprets the Law properly comes up against it. Christianity is nothing more or less than Paul's messed up misinterpretation of the Law. Nowhere does the Law say selfishness is sin; nowhere does the Law say if you commit one little sin God condemns you to burning fiery torment for all eternity; nowhere does the Law say if you commit a non-mortal sin you can't just repent and instantly be forgiven (in fact it implies that very thing!)! By non-mortal sin, obviously I mean one which the Law does not impose a death penalty on. For again, nowhere does the Law say that the wages of every sin is death! Paul might have misinterpreted it that way, but the Law didn't say it. You didn't get put to death for lying under the Law, just for murder, adultery, beastiality, homosexuality, idolatry, and yet not for incest, and pre-marital sex between singles would only get you a fine from the chick's dad. So Christianity falls apart because its built on horrible misinterpretation of the Law.

  9. Hi anonymous, you raise an interesting question, but you do it horribly, why not think about what you are trying to say then produce a comment that is worthy of putting your name to? Then maybe you might get a response you'd be interested to read.