Supernatural Creation of Man: Dr. Belcher addresses the historicity of Adam and critiques Dr. Jack Collins’ “mere-Adam-and-Eve-ism”

Last week, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary hosted their Spring conference. The topic of the conference was “The Doctrine of Man:”

Reformer John Calvin wrote that the two most important things for any person to know are who God is and who man is. In order to know God properly, one must know the truth about himself. In our day, there is much confusion about who man is. Is the Bible correct that God made man in His image from the dust of the earth or were the first humans made from primal hominids? Was there human death before the Fall? What role do the creation mandates have in the church today? Because of the seriousness of these questions and others concerning mankind, the faculty and trustees of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary are devoting our 2013 Spring Theology Conference to the study of what the Bible says about man.

A number of men spoke on various topics related to creation, Adam, and the fall. Dr. Guy Water spoke on the Covenant of Works. Dr. Joel Beeke spoke on temptation and the fall. Rev. Matthew Holst discussed the issue of death before the fall. Dr. Bill Vandoodewaard discussed Thomas Boston’s “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.” Dr. Nelson Kloosterman spoke on imago dei and the relationship between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. Dr. Joseph Pipa discussed original sin and depravity.

Dr. Richard Belcher, Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte, opened the conference with a discussion of the “Supernatural Creation of Man.” Dr. Belcher focused his discussion on Genesis 2:7:

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (ESV)

He spoke particularly about the current attempts by some to reinterpret the creation of Adam in order to reconcile it with some form of evolution. He cited the push to get Christians to accept evolution as the way in which God created. He gave the examples of Francis Collins and BioLogos, which Collins helped found. BioLogos states that they are “committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.” Bruce Waltke, in a video for BioLogos, said that the church must accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution or risk becoming a cult. Tremper Longman, in his book Science, Creation, and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins, wrote that Darwinian evolution doesn’t threaten Christianity. Peter Enns has written that evolution is a game changer which should cause the church to reinterpret Scripture. All of these men are Old Testament scholars and all have sold out to evolution. All of their arguments for reconciling evolution with Christianity depend on their interpretation of Genesis 2:7, how God created man.

Dr. Belcher stated that his goals in his address were to give an exegesis of Genesis 2:7, present some of the models that attempt to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Bible, discuss the hermeneutical principles that are sacrificed by those models, and consider the implications for the church.

First, Dr. Belcher spoke on the meaning of Genesis 2:7: the creation of man from the dust. Dust in this passage means dirt, dust, loose soil. Looking to other passages to support this reading, Dr. Belcher pointed out Genesis 3:19 “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (ESV)” Referring to Genesis 2:18-22, he noted that the creation of Eve shows that among the animals there were no helpers suitable for Adam. No other living creature would have been a match for Adam. Eve was unique in that she was created from Adam, and she represented the unity of the human family. All humanity comes from Adam. All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. This rules out the idea that Adam and Eve were a couple of existing hominids adopted by God out of a population of other hominids.

Next Dr. Belcher gave a brief overview of some of the current attempts to reconcile evolution with Genesis 2:7. Evolutionary theory teaches that life evolved gradually over time by means of natural selection and genetic mutations. This lead to lower life forms to develop into higher forms. Eventually this gave rise to hominids, of which humans are a part. The evolutionary models all accept that the genetic diversity found in modern human DNA could not have been the result of a single couple.

One evolutionary theory is that humans developed first in Africa and then spread out. Using this theory, some theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve represent a population of humans from whom the rest of humanity descend. This, in their view, would maintain Adam and Eve as the source of human life now.

Another evolutionary theory is that humans developed in different places around the world at the same time. With this view, theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve were a couple of neolithic farmers that God selected. God then gave them a spiritual awareness which set them apart from the rest of the neolithic farmers. Adam and Eve would then be the head of humanity, even though there were others who were physically the same around them.

Dr. Belcher then summarized the evolutionary theories as they relate to Adam and Eve. According to the theories, human like creatures existed before Adam, so Genesis 2:7 can’t be a literal account of how man was created. One option for reconciling the Scripture with evolutionary theory is that Adam and Eve were selected by God out of a group of humans. Another option is that Adam and Eve weren’t the first couple, and so they aren’t the source of all humanity. A third option is that Adam and Eve didn’t actually exist. Instead they represent a much larger population of people. This incorporates the genetic evidence. A further consequence of this attempt at reinterpreting the creation of man is that according to these theories there was no original pristine condition, physically or morally, since humans inherited their sinful tendencies from their animal ancestors.

Dr. Belcher moved on then to his next point. Since there is such a difference between how Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man and the evolutionary theories on the origin of man, how does theistic evolution reconcile the two? This is where hermeneutics becomes key. According to Dr. Belcher, there are three ways theistic evolutionists seek to blunt the meaning of Genesis 2:7.

First, theistic evolutionists begin by identifying the genre of Genesis 1-11 as mainly symbolic. According to the theistic evolutionists, the purpose of Genesis 1-11 is to teach theology, not history. It’s story, not history. It’s stylized and symbolic. It’s purpose is to explain aspects of human life like marriage, toil and labor, pain in childbirth, and sexual desire. Genesis account of creation can’t be history since no one was there to witness it. Symbolic elements like the talking snake and the Garden of Eden seen as a type of temple illustrate that the proper genre for Genesis is not history.

Second, Genesis 1-11 should be read and understood in light of the other Ancient Near East (ANE) creation myths like the Enuma Elish. According to this theory, the author or authors of Genesis borrowed sequences, themes, and motifs from the ANE myths, including the creation of man from clay. Peter Enns has written that since the foundational stories of Genesis fit so well with the ANE myths, how can we claim that Genesis recounts revealed, unique events? Because these ANE myths are older, then they must be source material for Genesis. Genesis, therefore, can’t be the original events revealed by God. Dr. Belcher pointed out that this hermeneutical approach question both the historicity and relevatory nature of Genesis.

The third hermeneutical approach used by theistic evolutionists is to see Genesis 1 and 2 as contradictory accounts. According to this view, there are great and insurmountable differences between Genesis 1 and 2. Therefore, Genesis 1 has an unknown number of men and women created on day 6. Genesis 2 tells the specific creation of a single man and woman. Since they believe that the difference between Genesis 1 and 2 can’t be resolved, the best answer is that the creation accounts are symbolical not historical.

In summary, Genesis is mythical or symbolical, and Genesis 2:7 can’t be understood as a literal account of the creation of man.

So then, Dr. Belcher asked, what should our response be? There is a good solid response which Dr. Belcher called the historical, biblical, confessional view: Adam was formed from the dust as the very first human being. Dr. Belcher noted that Dr. Jack Collins had written his own response to the question of the historicity of Adam, Adam and Eve: Did They Really Exist? However, Dr. Belcher stated that Dr. Collins’ response falls short because he accepts too many of the hermeneutical assumptions that are foundational to the evolutionary approach to Genesis chapter 2.

The positive side of Dr. Collins’ book, according to Dr. Belcher, is that Dr. Collins wants some form of the traditional view of Adam to be maintained. However, Dr. Collins defines that traditional view as containing three things: the supernatural origins of mankind, Adam and Eve as the headwaters of human race, and an historical fall. Dr. Collins does not include in his traditional view the meaning of Genesis 2:7.

According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins hermeneutical approach to Genesis is not that different from the theistic evolutionists discussed earlier. Dr. Collins accepts two of the three assumptions: Genesis as symbolic and the similarity of the ANE myths. He does not accept that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict.

Dr. Collins writes in his book that Genesis 1-11 are not straight history, but rather historical. By this he means that it refers to actual events, but it contains a high level of figurative and symbolic description. While Dr. Collins doesn’t believe that Genesis is myth, he does believe the better approach is to read it as symbolic.

Dr. Collins also agrees that Genesis 1-11 are best read in the context of the ANE origin stories. Like the ANE stories, Genesis refers to historical events, but in a symbolic way. Since we don’t take the ANE stories literally, we shouldn’t take Genesis 1-11 literally either. Dr. Collins concludes, then, that Genesis 1-11 contains an historical core. This core includes the historicity of Adam, but does not include the way in which Adam was formed. According to Dr. Collins we should not be too literal with Genesis 2:7. This approach is compatible with evolution.

Dr. Belcher gave an example from a Christianity Today article where Dr. Collins said that if the genetic evidence says that one couple can’t be the source of all humans, then Adam and Eve should be seen as a tribe with Adam as the chieftain. Also, in Dr. Collins book, Science and Faith, he writes that while he prefers the view of dust in Genesis 2:7 as loose soil, he can commend the view that dust is the body of a hominid. Dr. Belcher disagreed. Dust cannot mean the body of a hominid. He gave the example of a judicial case from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that addressed that very question. The OPC decision was that dust can’t mean the body of a hominid.

According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins approach gives away too much hermeneutically. It can’t be used to support the historical, biblical, confessional view of Adam.

Dr. Belcher then offered his response. The literary nature of Genesis 1-11 is key, he said. Genesis should be read by it’s own literary character. There is no difference in genre between Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50. The Hebrew narrative use of the WAW or VAV consecutive is consistent throughout the whole of Genesis. Dr. Belcher also said that it is a false dichotomy that narrative history can’t be theological. Genesis is narrative, historical, and theological. He also said that the exegesis of the passage must determine if there are symbolic or literary devices, not assumptions made about the text beforehand.

Dr. Belcher went on to say that it is a misuse to use the ANE myths as a guide for understanding Genesis. The similarities that exist between Genesis and the ANE myths are superficial and insignificant in light of the differences between the them. Genesis is not dependent on the ANE myths, nor are the ANE myths guides to Genesis. That approach downplays the supernatural relevatory nature of Genesis. Instead, Dr. Belcher said that the ANE myths should be seen as derivative from the original stories, the ones given to us in Genesis, handed down over time.

Dr. Belcher also pointed out that Genesis 1 and 2 do not contradict each other, but can be understood as a broad versus a narrow look at creation. Genesis 1 gives the broad view, and Genesis 2 focuses on the events in the Garden of Eden.

Lastly, Dr. Belcher spoke about the implications for the church in accepting evolution as the way God created. Most importantly, it affects other passages of Scripture. If Genesis 2:7 isn’t actually how God created man from the dust, then the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib is also out. However, Paul refers to the creation of Adam and Eve, and the specific details, like woman made from man. Was Paul wrong?

If Paul was wrong there, was he also wrong when he makes the great parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Christ? Paul’s use of Adam to explain the origin of sin and to contrast that with salvation through sacrifice of Christ argues for the necessity of an historical Adam. If Adam wasn’t the first human through whom all humans descend, then there is no salvation for those who are not descended from Adam. Christ took the nature of Adam and died for those in Adam. Any who are not of Adam would, therefore, not be saved.

Dr. Belcher closed with a call for the church to stand firm in preserving this truth. Pastors and seminaries must teach the truth. Presbyteries must be careful in examining men regarding their views on evolution and Adam. As he noted earlier, there are those who would say that they believe in the historicity of Adam but mean an evolutionary Adam. The confessions are clear on the supernatural creation of Adam.

Dr. Belcher also noted that given the changing nature of scientific theories it’s dangerous to attach ourselves to one of these theories as it could easily change in time. In our society, evolution has become a “sacred cow” which must not be questioned. When science and the Bible disagree, it seems that the Bible must always be the one to give ground.

However, opposing evolution is hardly the only unpopular view held by Christians. The church holds the minority position on almost all modern ethical debates. What we believe is abhorrent to society. Salvation by Christ alone is considered intolerant. Sex outside of marriage is seen as prudish. The ordination of men only is seen as out of touch. Believing homosexuality is wrong is seen as bigoted and hateful.

If the culture hates our views on all these, why then are we surprised that the view of the historicity of Adam is also seen as uneducated and out of touch with mainstream culture. Are we willing to stand for the truth of God’s Word even if that means we are looked down on as uneducated? The inerrancy of Scripture and the gospel of Christ are at stake. May God give us the courage to stand for His truth.

[Note: Conference audio may be purchased by emailing bookstore@gpts.edu, or by calling the seminary at (864) 322-2717.]

Dr. Belcher Replies to Dr. Collins

Last week, Dr. Belcher, RTS-Charlotte, wrote a review of Dr. Collins’ book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? over at Reformation 21. Earlier this week, Dr. Collins responded to the review also over at Reformation 21. Yesterday, Dr. Belcher replied to Dr. Collins response. I thought Dr. Belcher’s final word really got to the heart of the discussion:

I thank Dr. Collins for his response to my “review” of his book. My response will be limited to what I see as the main issues arising from the substance of his book. I understand Genesis 1-11 to be historical narrative like the rest of the book of Genesis. Historical narrative can use figurative and symbolic language, but I believe Dr. Collins goes beyond that when he advocates for the advantages of a pictorial approach to the Bible (p. 20). After stating that the Mesopotamian origin and flood stories provide the context in which Genesis 1-11 are to be set in order to provide clues on how to read the literature, he states that there are reasons to accept an historical core to the story in Genesis (pp. 35, 66).

It is problematic to take our cue from the Mesopotamian stories on how to read Genesis and to argue that Genesis 1-11 has only an historical core. I do believe that Genesis 2:7 demands (his words) the view that God took soil from the dust and made Adam the first man by breathing into his nostril the breath of life. Only by taking “dust” in a figurative or pictorial way can it be interpreted as other than soil. Dr. Collins in his response acknowledges that “dust” may have gone through a few intermediate (genetic) steps and that the words of Genesis 2:7 do not actually rule out every kind of “genetic process.” If genetic process is not ruled out in Genesis 2:7, then the door is open for allowing other scenarios of how God made Adam into a living creature. Although Dr. Collins does reject some of these scenarios, he is willing to accept the possibility that there were more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of mankind, who existed as a tribe, with Adam being the chieftain of the tribe (pp. 121, 125). At one point in the past the OPC has rejected similar views (see New Horizons, August, 1996), and so has the PCA in its declaration “That God made Adam immediately from the dust of the ground and not from a lower animal form and that God’s in-breathing constituted man a living soul” (see the minutes of the General Assembly, June 1999).

Another Review of Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

Last summer, I wrote a review of Dr. Collins’ book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? in which I addressed my concerns over what Dr. Collins’ calls his “mere Adam-and-Eve-ism” approach to the question of the historical Adam. Dr. Collins’ basic premise is that there is a core of beliefs that must be maintained in regards to Adam: Adam must be an actual, historical person; Adam must be the progenitor of all mankind; and there must have been an actual fall. Dr. Collins does not believe that the specifics of how God created Adam are important. Therefore, if one wants to believe that Adam and Eve were hominids, or even a group of hominids, whose bodies were the product of evolution, that can still fit within Dr. Collins’ formula.

When I published my review last summer, Dr. Collins took issue with it writing that I just didn’t understand his point at all. Interestingly, Dr. Richard Belcher, an Old Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, has written a review of Dr. Collins’ book over at Reformation 21 that shares my concerns. Here is an excerpt from that review:

The way Collins defines the traditional view is problematic because he omits from the discussion the very text that is at the heart of the debate. He explicitly says that how God created Adam in Genesis 2 is outside the purview of his analysis and that the origin of the material for Adam’s body is not going to be addressed (p. 13). In other words, he bypasses an exegesis of Genesis 2:7, the main text that should be at the center of this discussion. By narrowly defining the traditional view he opens the discussion to other scenarios of how God could have set apart Adam and Eve. The traditional view, however, should include not just the historicity of Adam and Eve and the immediate special creation of Adam and Eve, but also the traditional understanding of Genesis 2:7, which is that God took soil from the ground and made Adam from it.

The basis for Collins approach is rooted in the way he thinks the Bible should be read. He wants to approach the Bible from a literary point of view that stresses rhetorical and figurative language. He defines history as signifying that the author wants the audience to believe that the events that were recorded really happened. However, he so stresses the figurative aspect of the literary approach that he actually says that the Bible should be understood as non-literal, pictorial, and symbolic (pp. 17, 20, 31). He even says that what we are left with in Genesis 1-11 is an historical core (p. 35). This allows him to move away from clear statements in the Bible concerning the formation of Adam in Genesis 2 and to entertain other scenarios. In fact, there are several places where he warns against a literal reading of the Bible (pp. 58, 85, 92, 124). Thus, we cannot be sure of the exact details of the process by which Adam’s body was formed, or whether the two trees in the garden were actual trees, or whether the Evil One’s mouthpiece was a talking snake (p. 66)

And

The payoff to Collins’ approach comes when he analyzes different scenarios of how Adam and Eve may have been set apart as the first couple. Although Collins is critical of many of the scenarios he presents, he also allows the possibility that views that favor population size approaches based on evidence from human DNA are acceptable. In other words, instead of thinking of Adam and Eve as the first couple, some want to think of groups of human beings, or even groups of hominids, that existed from which God chose two individuals to set apart as Adam and Eve. Collins notes that in order to maintain good sense, such a view should envision these humans as a single tribe with Adam being the chieftain of the tribe (p. 121). He is quoted in a recent Christianity Today article on “The Search for the Historical Adam” in the following way: “‘If genetics eventually forces reconsideration,’ Collins remarks, ‘he could perhaps reconceive of Adam and Eve as ‘the king and queen of a larger population’ and thereby preserve Genesis’ historicity.'” (1)

Although Collins is trying to maintain sound thinking, the acceptance of groups of humans from which Adam comes has implications for the place of Adam in relationship to the human race. It is hard to know how to conceive of these other human beings who existed with Adam. Genesis 2:7 says that when God breathed into Adam the breath of life “the man became a living creature.” But were there other living creatures already in existence? If so, then what God does with the first man does not seem all that special. The implication of Genesis 2:7 is that this act of God sets apart the first man. Paul agrees when he states, “The first man became a living being” (1 Cor. 15:45). If there are other groups of humans around then how can Adam be the first man? Genesis 2:18-20 states that no helper of Adam’s kind was found, which led to the creation of Eve. Scripture presents Adam as the first man from whom all other human beings descend.

You can read the rest of the review here. It’s worth the read.

Enns: ” the Westminster Confession of Faith leaves no room for anything other than a first couple read literally from the pages of Genesis and Paul”

In a fascinating article this week, Dr. Peter Enns, formerly of BioLogos, reviewed Jack Collins’ book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?. While Dr. Enns appreciates Dr. Collins attempt to explain Adam and Eve in light of evolution, he does not believe that Dr. Collins was successful in advancing the discussion between conservative Christians and evolutionary scientists. In particular, Dr. Enns does not think that the view that suggests that Adam and Eve were specially chosen hominids is a plausible one. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Enns’ article:

John Collins has taken on the important task of explaining who Adam and Eve were in view of evolutionary theory—which he accepts, at least in its broad outlines. More importantly, Collins wishes to instill in his readers a firm confidence in Adam and Eve as the historical “headwaters” of the human race, and so retain the biblical metanarrative of creation, fall, and redemption. In other words, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? is an apologetic for the traditional view of Adam and Eve as the first human pair in light of evolutionary theory. I commend Collins for attempting to bring under one roof the truth of evolution as the proper paradigm for explaining human origins and the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The topic is timely, thorny, and absolutely unavoidable.

I see two audiences for this book. The main audience is those who share Collins’s doctrinal commitments but may be skeptical of, or hostile to, the Adam/ evolution debate. Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church of America (in which he is ordained). The document that governs their theological deliberations is the seventeenth-century Westminster Confession of Faith, which clearly stipulates a first couple. I commend Collins for the courage to engage this group in a conversation about evolution.

The other audience is a broader Christian one, already invested in and knowledgeable about this discussion, but not necessarily committed to Collins’s theological predispositions, and not pressured to conform to them.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? may help the former audience by nudging them toward some openness to accepting scientific realities and addressing the theological ramifications. Those familiar with these sorts of delicate negotiations will quickly perceive where Collins goes out of his way to remind readers of his firm theological commitments.

In the long run, however, I am not convinced that all—or even most—of these readers will feel comfortable following Collins. Collins’s synthesis requires an ad hoc hybrid “Adam” who was “first man” in the sense of being either a specially chosen hominid or a larger tribe of early hominids (Collins is careful not to commit himself to either option). Although I am sympathetic to Collins’s efforts to blaze such a path (and he is not alone), I do not see how such an ad hoc Adam will calm doctrinal waters, since the Westminster Confession of Faith leaves no room for anything other than a first couple read literally from the pages of Genesis and Paul, and therefore entails a clear rejection of evolutionary theory.

Further, this type of hybrid “Adam,” clearly driven by the need to account for an evolutionary model, is not the Adam of the biblical authors. Ironically, the desire to protect the Adam of scripture leads Collins (and others) to create an Adam that hardly preserves the biblical portrait. Evolution and a historical Adam cannot be merged by positing an Adam so foreign to the biblical consciousness.

You can read the whole article here.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

Many people on both sides of the evolution debate believe that theistic evolution and an historical Adam cannot be reconciled. However, Dr. C. John (Jack) Collins disagrees. In his latest book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, Dr. Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, explains how theistic evolution and an historical Adam are fully compatible.

Dr. Collins begins his book by explaining his purpose in writing: “My goal in this study is to show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view [of Adam and Eve], in spite of any pressures to abandon it.” (C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, [Wheaton: Crossway, 2011], 15, emphasis added).

Basic to Dr. Collins’ defense of a version of the traditional view is properly identifying the genre of the Genesis creation account. Collins states that “certainly the book of Genesis includes Adam and Eve in its story, using a narrative . . .” According to Collins, this narrative is at least “‘history-like’ in its form.” For Collins, the fact that the Genesis creation account is “history-like” does not immediately establish the genre of the Genesis accounts. There are at least four sub-genres in history-like narratives:

  1. The author intended to relay “straight” history, with a minimum of figurative language.
  2. The author was talking about what he thought were actual events, using rhetorical and literary techniques to shape the readers’ attitudes towards those events.
  3. The author intended to recount an imaginary history, using recognizable literary conventions to convey “timeless truths” about God and man.
  4. The author told a story without even caring whether the events were real or imagined; his main goal was to convey various theological and moral truths. (18)

In his defense of a version of the traditional view, Collins believes that option # 2 captures what we find in Genesis including the real historical existence of Adam and Eve. Continue reading