Friday, August 18, 2017

Adam and the Genome 10: Paul and Adam

Second to last chapter review of Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema.

Previous posts
Personal Preface
Forward and Introduction
1. Evolution as a Scientific Theory
2. Genomes as Language, Genomes as Books
3. Adam's Last Stand?
4. Intelligent Design?
5. Four Principles for Bible Reading
6. Twelve Theses about Genesis
7. Seven Jewish Texts on Adam

Finished the book. Chapter 8 is titled, "Adam, the Genome, and the Apostle Paul."

1. This was the chapter I have been waiting for. McKnight knows his Romans scholarship. But frankly, I was left unsatisfied. This is the chapter where I wrestle with evolution. I wrestle with evolution philosophically and theologically. This chapter is exegetical. It does not answer my big question.

My big question is this. Why are humans prone to sin? What is the cause? It would wreak havoc with my theology to think that God made us and the world this way. My sense of salvation says that Jesus came to free us from this condition. In my opinion, McKnight does not really try to answer this question. Yet this is the question.

Paul uses the figure of Adam to express the human condition. I agree with McKnight's exegesis. But I am left lacking an answer to the more significant theological and philosophical question.

I found the Afterword unhelpful. It will not help anyone struggling with this issue, in my opinion, except perhaps to know that Origen and other early Christians did not take the Genesis text completely literally.

2. McKnight lays out five theses in this chapter:
  • The Adam of Paul is the literary, genealogical, image-of-God Adam found in Genesis.
  • The Adam of Paul is the Adam of the Bible filtered through--both in agreement and in disagreement with--the Jewish interpretive tradition about Adam.
  • The Adam of Paul is the archetypal, moral Adam who is the archetype for both Israel and all humanity.
  • Adam and all his descendants are connected but original sin as original guilt and damnation for all humans by birth is not found in Paul. Paul doesn't tell us how this continuity works.
  • The Adam of Paul was not the historical Adam.
What is McKnight getting at with these claims?

First, he is highlighting the fact that Paul is building a case out of the text of Genesis. This is the "literary" Adam. McKnight makes it clear, "I am not assuming this is fiction or that Paul somehow got it wrong" (176). He is simply pointing out that Paul is making an argument from Genesis as a text.

For me, there is a lot of hermeneutics hiding here. Most readers of the Bible are not equipped to distinguish the story world of the biblical text from the biblical text as an event in history. From a historical perspective, the writing of Genesis was an event in history and the stories in Genesis are story worlds in that text. From a pre-modern perspective, we are part of the continuous story world of the text, which we are unable to distinguish from history.

So I am not sure how many will like McKnight's distinction. In my words, I would say that God meets us where we are, and God met Paul within his reading of the Genesis text. If we exegete Genesis, we can see that Paul's reading of the Genesis text differed from the Genesis text itself in some regards. We believe both Paul and Genesis spoke inspired truths, but they were truths that were independent of each other. Again, the pre-modern reader has difficulty distinguishing the two and then cannot distinguish either from history itself.

3. McKnight has been trying to make a case that Paul interpreted Genesis as other Jews did--as a text with meanings that served his context, not as a text that served meanings in its original Ancient Near Eastern context (the original meaning of Genesis). He doesn't necessarily address the inspiration question, but this is the way God inspires. This is the incarnational principle--God meets us where we are so we can understand him.

McKnight has highlighted how various Jewish writers read Adam to serve their context. Paul does the same, and we believe in an inspired way. But this is not the original meaning of Genesis. This is an inspired meaning for Paul writing to the Romans in the first century AD. Many will be surprised at compelling evidence that Romans 1 draws heavily from the Book of Wisdom 13.

McKnight goes further, echoing evangelical scholars like Doug Moo, in noting that the absence of Eve from Paul's discussion in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 is a hint that he is thinking of Adam more in typological than historical terms. Adam is an antitype of Christ. He serves as a foil to highlight what Christ has done. The point is not Adam. The point is Christ. Otherwise, he would pay attention to Eve in this context.

4. Of course I completely agree--and the vast majority of experts on Romans do--that Paul has no theology of inherited guilt. We should only speak of original sin in terms of Adam's sin. Paul does not teach that we genetically inherit sin from Adam or that we are guilty before God because of Adam.

The key passage here is Romans 5:12 and the prepositional phrase eph ho. Augustine could not do Greek and so misinterpreted this expression to mean that we all sinned in Adam and thus are guilty of Adam's sin. But everyone agrees and McKnight gives the evidence that what Paul is saying is that death passed to all people because all sin.

There is no genetically passed on sin here. There is no sin nature here. There is only the fact that we all sin like Adam and therefore die like Adam. Let us put to rest the idea of original sin in the sense of inherited guilt. As McKnight says, "humans have been impacted by Adam's sin, but individuals are not accountable until they sin themselves" (186).

I might note McKnight's claim that the "all" in Romans 5:12 is referring to both Jew and Gentile, not to every individual. I think McKnight would say that all individuals sin too, but he may be right that Paul here is thinking "not just Gentiles have sinned and die, but Jews sin and die too because of Adam." This fits with Romans 3:23 where Paul is not thinking "all [individuals] have sinned" (although he believes that too), but all [namely both Jew and Gentile] have sinned.

5. I feel like a chapter is missing. Perhaps they needed a theologian to come in and address the big question I started out with. Even if Paul does not explain how there is a continuity of sinning from Adam to today, how would we Christians explain it in the light of evolution? Was there evil before Adam and if so, where did it come from? Surely God didn't make the world this way!

This is a question of the problem of evil. Did God create the world sinful so that Christ could eventually save us? If Adam represents a moment in the early history of humanity, what was that moment? What changed? What becomes of Christian theology if nothing ever changed at some point??? The Fall of Satan?

My understanding of Paul's theology is that Sin as a power entered the world as a result of Adam's sin. Walton and Holland understand this as a certain federalism, which makes sense to me, but McKnight seems to reject this idea at least exegetically. But the answer to our theological question--a question for our context and our situation--must surely move beyond exegesis to theology.

Adam, as the head of the human race (McKnight and Wright might rightly push us to see Adam biblically more focally as the head of Israel's race) was representative of all humanity that would come afterwards. This is good theology whether it is precisely exegetical or not. For Paul, the power of Sin over the world is surely a consequence of Adam's sin.

It is not a genetic power. The idea of a sinful nature is not Pauline. It is Augustinian. The NIV2011 has rightly expunged this anachronism and returned to the original word, flesh. My flesh is not intrinsically evil. It is just weak without the Spirit. When the power of Sin entered the world, my flesh could not withstand it. We all became destined to sin like Adam. This is my basic understanding of Paul's thinking in Romans 6-8.

I won't try to write the missing chapter. It is still a theological sticky wicket, in my opinion. Perhaps McKnight intentionally left the book open ended so that the discussion might continue.

Assuming there was a representative Adam and Eve, might we see the Fall as what was withheld from humanity rather than something added? The tree of life withheld? The Holy Spirit withheld?

The discussion continues...


John Mark said...

Do you have any strong opinions on Romans 11: 32? This is one of my favorite Bible verses. But I don't get it.

Martin LaBar said...

Did I miss something? You suggest that "McKnight and Wright" think something or other. Who is Wrignt?


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks again for the series.

I'm guessing that Wright must be N. T. Wright.

Ken Schenck said...

Yes, N T Wright

Ken Schenck said...

John Mark, Paul uses language of predestination at points that I more or less take as a somewhat hyperbolic or figurative way of talking. Of course some traditions take this language literally. John Piper takes it literally. :-)