This is the final post of my 3 part review of Peter Enns’ newest book, The Evolution of Adam. I hope that you all are also enjoying other reviews from the tour, which has supported my point that the book’s primary quality will be to generate conversation. In this spirit of conversation, if you haven’t read it, I recommend this review by Nathaniel Claiborne, as it is systematic and provides criticism that I can’t because of the author’s background.

Today we talk about Paul (Part 2, Ch. 5-7). In my limited time as a member of the blogging community, it is clear that it is one thing for Evangelical Christians to accept that a legitimate reading of Genesis doesn’t necessitate a literal Adam; but Paul is a whole other ball of wax. The story goes, as you all likely know… if through one man sin entered and through one man sin was defeated, then if you say the one man isn’t historical who’s to stop someone from then saying the 2nd one isn’t either? Of more import theologically, if Adam wasn’t literal and there was no actual yes it really happened penalty from sin that is death, then what did Jesus have to die for? Augustine couldn’t have been wrong, could he?

Enns’ introduces his argument well early in Ch. 5:

“In this chapter we also take a closer look at how Paul uses the Old Testament in general. Paul’s handling of his Scripture is marked throughout by a creative engagement of his tradition. That creativity stems from two factors: (1) the Jewish climate of his day, likewise marked by imaginative ways of handling Scripture; and (2) Paul’s uncompromising Christ-centered focus. In other words, Paul’s understanding of the Adam story is influenced both by the interpretive conventions of Second Temple Judaism in general and by his wholly reorienting experience of the risen Christ. Paul is not doing “straight exegesis” of the Adam story. Rather, he subordinates that story to the present, higher reality of the risen Son of God, expressing himself within the hermeneutical conventions of the time.” (p 81)

“In making his case, Paul does not begin with Adam and move to Christ. Rather, the reality of the risen Christ drives Paul to mine Scripture for ways of explicating the wholly unexpected in-breaking of the age to come in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God. Adam, read as “the first human,” supports Paul’s argument about the universal plight and remedy of humanity, but it is not a necessary component for that argument. In other words, attributing the cause of universal sin and death to a historical Adam is not necessary for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a fully historical solution to that problem.” (p 82)

Creative. Imaginative. Christ-centered. Higher reality. “Use” of Old Testament. These are the buzzwords and themes that permeate through the last three chapters of the book. Does this feel like, as Claiborne writes in his review, Enns is using his incarnational model of Biblical interpretation to its detriment and is favoring the “human-ness” of the Bible at the expense of the “God-ness” of it? Is Enns relegating Paul’s writing to that of a commentary? Or even worse, is it more like an “inspired” term paper?  This reader doesn’t think so, but even for me Enns is treading lightly. I would imagine he’s got some heavy work cut out for himself with most others. Is Enns sensitive to this? Absolutely. He follows the previous paragraph immediately with:

“I hope it is crystal clear that my intention in looking at Paul’s argument in this way is not to undermine Paul or complicate Paul unnecessarily simply to make room for evolution. Without question, evolution requires us to revisit how the Bible thinks of human origins. But many will immediately recognize the complex and unavoidable network of issues before us in addressing what Paul says about Adam, why he says it, and what we should take away from it—wholly irrespective of evolution. My motive is to allow some of those issues to come into play as we look at the specific problem of what to do about Paul in light of evolution. Further, although I feel strongly enough about my own thoughts to write a book like this, I make absolutely no claim to have found the best path forward in this complex set of issues. Rather, I remain now, as I stated at the beginning, committed to offering some perspective for interested readers to begin exploring Paul’s theology on their own in light of the reality of evolution.” (p 82)

In Ch. 5 Enns looks at the Old Testament occurrences of Adam (outside of Genesis) and finds that they do not support “Paul’s Adam.” Enns says that while Adam is to be found, there is “not any indication that Adam’s disobedience is the cause of universal sin, death, and condemnation, as Paul seems to argue (p82).” Why not? If this was the key event in human history that it is built up to be, why isn’t it mentioned or reflected upon again? Opponents would argue that Adam is mentioned in genealogies and this indicates he is historical. But, Enns is right. There is no discussion theologically of the ramifications of his disobedience until the New Testament. Furthermore, when obedience and disobedience are a focus of Old Testament texts it is in relation to Israel receiving blessing or curse and is not connected to Adam’s initial act. Of course, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence so this argument, while interesting, is not without its limitations.

In the Western world, it is nearly impossible to divorce our reading of Paul and Genesis from Augustine’s later idea of original sin. Enns mentions this and compares the original sin view with the Eastern orthodox view of Adam, in which Adam’s act of disobedience was not a fall from perfection or a “pre-sinful” state but an act of youthful ignorance or immaturity. The story then becomes one of seeking wisdom (note this is highly sought after in the Old Testament), but in an inappropriately childish and impatient manner. For Enns, this reading of the text does not negate the reality of sin and need for a Savior, but he believes biblically the source of these doctrines is Paul and not Genesis.

In Ch. 6, Enns portrays Paul as an ancient man with a radical message. This is clear. Paul would have believed what his fellow Israelites did regarding the physical structure of the world which we know today is wrong. Most have no trouble agreeing with that. However, when it comes to Paul’s theology, it is much more difficult for us to say “he was wrong.” Don’t misread me. Enns is not saying that Paul was wrong and I am not either. But it is interesting how we deal with inspiration (1). In leading up to Paul’s use of Adam, Enns paints a picture of how Jewish interpreters post-exile leading up to Paul’s time understood the Adam story. This section was fascinating and reminded me of just how much there is for a Christian to learned by engaging with ancient Judaic texts. From these interpreters, Enns notes that:

“Thus far we have seen Adam as victim, exalted human, priest, and innocent bystander to Eve’s shenanigans; in no case is Adam responsible for human sinfulness, which is what Paul says. Other interpreters, however, are somewhat closer to Paul’s meaning.” (p 101)

Ch. 6 ends with Enns giving multiple examples of Paul’s creative use of the Old Testament in his writing (2 Corinthians 6:2 and Isaiah 49:8, Abraham’s “Seed” in Galatians 3:16, 29, Galatians 3:11 and Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 11:26–27 and Isaiah 59:20, Romans 4 and Genesis 15:6). It is in this section of the book that my previous concerns about inspiration  (just a commentary?) arose and I noted in the margin, “OK, so if Paul is more than a commentator of today, why are his letters more “relevant” than extra-biblical materials?”

The 7th and final chapter of the book is on “Paul’s Adam”, exploring Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 44–49. Enns writes that Paul views Adam as an historical and symbolic figure. However, while the notion of Adam as representative figure or “federal head” is a method of synthesizing evolution with a literal Adam, Enns writes that this is not an option biblically and would not have occurred to Paul. Instead, Paul sees Adam through the lens of Christ. His understanding of who Adam was is directly shaped by Christ and not vice-versa. But yes, Paul most certainly would have viewed Adam as historical. If science, biblical criticism, and archaeology rule out the existence of an historical Adam, what then happens to Paul’s connection of Adam and Christ? Is it no longer valid? Must we throw out this central theological point because Adam may not have existed?

If you think Enns is going to say yes, you’re crazy! He writes, “the uncompromising reality of who Jesus us and what he did to conquer the objectively true realities of sin and death do not depend on Paul’s understanding of Adam as a historical person (p 122)” and says that without Adam, the universal and self-evident problems of sin and death and Christ’s death and resurrection of Paul’s theology still remain. Enns believes that Paul went beyond what Genesis indicates of Adam, but that the theological ramifications of Christ’s death and resurrection are still essential.

Sin, as it has been said, is the one Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable, and Enns argues that we don’t need Adam to explain that we sin. We just know that we do it. It’s self-evident and so is death.  To the third theological point of the death and resurrection of Christ, this “is the singular focus of Paul’s writings and missionary activity, God’s climactic statement of his love for and presence in the world (p 125).” The resurrection was not a cultural assumption. It was an historical occurrence in real time.

Enns ends the book with a Conclusion chapter containing nine theses that he believes form the core issues before us with respect to Adam. They are a summary of the previous chapters and a couple points that he just begins to unpack. Like the rest of the book, these were very interesting, but in the end, left me wanting more. That being said, don’t get me wrong, I very much liked this book. It will be (it already has been) an amazing conversation starter and will hopefully pave the way for the discussion of evolution and theology that is necessary within Evangelicalism. Evolution and other scientific findings from neurobiology, psychology, genetics, and sociobiology are rewriting what it means to be human from a scientific perspective. If Evangelicalism wants to remain relevant and at least have a chance of saving and transforming the lives of our intellectual brethren for the Gospel and the furthering of God’s kingdom, these issues need to be addressed and, more importantly, there needs to be group assent that it is safe to do so. I hope and pray that books like The Evolution of Adam will be the catalysts needed and thank Pete for his willingness to throw his hat in the ring. Evangelicals would do well to respond graciously and with humility (without sacrificing criticism when needed) to help foster an environment of encouragement and safety so that others will follow in his lead.

And to Pete… thanks, brother. We needed this book.


(1) I taught on the age of the earth today in my biology class and mentioned that no one reads all of the Bible literally. We use discernment to say that particular books or even portions of books are poetic, prophecy, wisdom, historical, etc. Even in books we label as historical we accept minor mistakes or details that aren’t identical in different Gospel stories by way of our discernment. So, it is fairly easy for us (or some of us) to acknowledge that Paul could be wrong on some things, like the structure of the physical world or women’s roles in the church. But in theological matters or issues of Old Testament interpretation, no way, dude! I’m not saying this shouldn’t be the case, but am just pointing it out.