There has been a good deal of debate in the last 100 years over how to understand the first few chapters of Genesis. One of the important issues to consider when thinking about which view you are most comfortable with is what effect each view has on other parts of the Bible. A traditional view of creation (6 days, no macroevolution, special creation of Adam, etc.) has no difficulty reconciling the Adam of Genesis with the Adam of Romans. However, one of the issues with trying to reconcile macroevolution with the Bible is what to do about Adam. Was he an historical figure specially created by God? Was he a hominid or group of hominids chosen by God to be in His image? Is he merely symbolic? Does it matter?
Actually it matters a great deal. When you consider the parallels that Scripture draws between Adam and Christ, how you view Adam can have a very significant impact on your theology and your view of the trustworthiness of the Bible. A couple of authors have written recently on the historicity of Adam and the challenges to the traditional view of Adam that come because of modern evolutionary theory.
One of these authors, Dr. Peter Enns, recently spoke at a conference on the historicity of Adam hosted by Metro New York Presbytery. An elder who is a member of MNY wrote a review of the symposium here. Dr. Enns also wrote up a summary of the talk he gave on his own blog. He briefly summarizes the challenge of trying to synthesize evolutionary theory and evangelical Christianity:
Evolution can either be accepted (in some form) or wholly rejected. If rejected, one has no problem with an historical Adam as first man, but then one has to find ways to neutralize the scientific data, which is attempted in various (but unconvincing) ways. (Google Al Mohler, Ken Ham, and Hugh Ross.)
No need to get into that here. This group of pastors was already (largely) aware that evolution cannot be dismissed, and so we proceded to other things.
If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.
Hence, if one wishes to bring Adam and evolution into conversation, one is left with the theological burden and responsibility of bringing them together somehow in a manner does justice to both.
He goes on to say that there are two choices: Adam is historical or he’s not. If Adam is historical, then there are two options:
(1) “Adam” was a hominid chosen by God somewhere along the line to be the “first man”;
(2) “Adam” was a group of hominids (a view that accounts best for the genomic data that the current human population stems from a few thousand ancestors, definitely not two ancestors).
Dr. Enns rejects both of these views because:
(1) They are ad hoc, meaning that are invented for the sole purpose of finding some way to align the Bible and science. It is generally a good idea to avoid ad hoc explanations, and we rarely tolerate them when others make use of them.
(2) The “Adam” that results from these ad hoc maneuvers is not the Adam that the biblical authors were talking about (a chosen first pair or group of hominids). No biblical teaching is really protected by inventing “Adam” in this way.
So, if Adam is not historical, then you are left with a variety of non-historical options:
One option is to understand Adam as a literary figure, which would relieve the pressure of thinking of Adam as the first human. A mythical understanding–which is the most common, I think, among scholars of the Bible and the ancient world–means that the story of Adam is a concrete expression of a deeper reality. (Some would argue that story is really the best form to communicate “deep reality,” but we’ll leave that to the side.)
A third option, which I throw in because I happen to think it has a lot of merit, is to see the story of Adam as a story of Israel and not as the story of the first human.
You can read more by Dr. Enns on what factors he thinks a good “model” of Adam needs to address here.
Tomorrow I’ll post another author’s answer for what do to with Adam.