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Book Review: Four Views on the Historical Adam

Matthew Barret and Ardel Caneday, ed. Four Views on the Historical Adam. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 288 pp. $19.99.

AdamCurrently in the Christian world there’s probably no area of belief more controversial and more hotly debated than that of origins. Is the earth around 6,000 years old or billions of years old? Was Adam a real, historical person and the first human being? Is evolution compatible with an evangelical worldview? Underneath the various questions is a hermeneutical issue–How should Genesis 1-2 be interpreted? And ultimately the question is–What, if anything, is at stake in the origins debate? Four Views on the Historical Adam in Zondervan’s Counterpoint series explores these questions, focusing on the historical Adam.

The editors (Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday) introduce the book with a very helpful survey of the “debate behind the debate” by summarizing the six views outlined by Gerald Rau in the book Mapping the Origins Debate (4 evolutionist and 2 creationist):

  1. Naturalistic evolution–There is no Creator; natural causes explain all things.
  2. Nonteleological evolution–A supernatural being may have created the universe, but had no purpose and did not intervene after it came into existence.
  3. Planned evolution–God has a purpose, but typically does not intervene in the evolutionary process.
  4. Directed evolution–God intervenes continually. Unlike the previous three groups, those who hold to directed evolution are likely to see Adam and Eve as historical people and the parents of all humanity.
  5. Old Earth Creationism–The days of creation are interpreted as long periods of time; this view attempts to harmonize an old earth with the six days of Genesis.
  6. Young Earth Creationism–The days of creation are twenty-four-hour periods. When Scripture and science disagree, Scripture is always given priority.

Views three and four are what Rau calls “non-concordist”–they do not attempt to reconcile science and the Bible. The days in Genesis one are not seen as sequential and are interpreted in various ways (e.g., framework view, analogical view, cosmic temple view). On the other hand, views five and six are labeled by Rau as “concordist”–they attempt to reconcile science and the Bible. Though they both affirm six successive days of creation, these days are interpreted in a variety of ways (gap view, intermittent day view, progressive or day-age view, and twenty-four-hour day view). There is one other model that does not fit neatly into any one category–Intelligent Design. Advocates range from directed evolutionists all the way to young-earth creationists.

The survey on origins is important even though this book focuses on the historical Adam because one’s understanding of origins inevitably affects what one believes about Adam and Eve. In fact, each of the authors addresses the origin debate. This survey is also important because it shows how nuanced and complex the various positions are. As a young-earth creationist, I can say that our camp can sometimes have a simplistic and incomplete understanding of the other views; in order to engage responsibly in discussion, it’s important to have an accurate understanding of the other positions.

Moving on to the main portion of the book, the first view presented is that of evolutionary creation by Denis Lamoureux. This is the only view in the book that completely rejects a historical Adam; Lamoureux also rejects scientific concordism. According to Lamoureux, God accommodated ancient views of science as incidental vessels through which to reveal inerrant spiritual truths. One of his most problematic assertions is that “real history in the Bible begins roughly around Genesis 12 with Abraham” (44).

Next, John Walton argues for the view of archetypal creation. Adam and Eve are real historical people in a real past, but they are archetypes that represent all of humanity. For Walton, the forming account in Genesis 2 is not making claims about biological origins of humanity, but about their roles and functions. Therefore this view is compatible with evolution though it does not explicitly promote it. Walton offers a hypothetical scenario in which the archetypal view can be harmonized with the scientific consensus. At some point during the evolutionary timeline “God undertook a special act of creation that gives the entire human population the image of God” (114). People continue to engage in acts that we would consider sinful, but are not held accountable. Sometime later, individuals whom the Bible designates as Adam and Eve are chosen by God as archetypes for all of humanity living in their time and afterwards. The obvious hang-up here is the problem of death before the fall.

Thirdly, C. John Collins presents the old-earth creation view. Collins argues that “Genesis 1 – 11 is ‘true history,’ because it gives us the true story of how the world began, how evil and suffering came into the world, and how God is still committed to the world he made” (167). The best way to account for the whole biblical metanarrative is with Adam and Eve as real historical figures at the headwaters of mankind. However, Collins argues we should not be too literalistic in our reading of Adam and Eve (leaving room for an earth that is not young) because of the nature of biblical literature. He works through the appropriate freedoms and limitations for reconciling the Bible’s creation accounts with the origin accounts of science employing an approach used by Francis Schaeffer.

The final view presented is that of young earth creation by William Barrick. Barrick argues that Adam is the originating head of the human race and that this is foundational to a biblical understanding of key issues such as the nature of man, sin, death, and salvation. It is also foundational to a biblical understanding of the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture. Barrick asserts that in the traditional view, the historical Adam and young-earth creationism are integrally related. It rejects accommodation to evolution and maintains that “the Holy Spirit superintended the author of Genesis so that he wrote an objective description of God’s creative activities in six consecutive literal days” (197).

Each view is followed by a response from each of the other scholars and then a final rejoinder from the original presenter. This particular volume of the Counterpoints series concludes with two pastoral reflections, one from Greg Boyd and one from Phil Ryken. Boyd does not see the belief in a historical Adam as central to the orthodox Christian faith. Ryken, on the other hand, believes that the historicity of Adam and Eve has profound implications for Christian faith and practice. He shows that the historical Adam gives confidence that the Bible is the Word of God, explains humanity’s sinful nature, accounts for the presence of evil in the world, clarifies the biblical position on sexual identity and family relationships, assures us that we are justified before God, advances the missionary work of the church, and secures our hope in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting (270-277).

This is a very good book for anyone interested in the origins/historical-Adam debate. I am convinced biblically and theologically that a historical Adam as the first human being is essential to our faith and is a gospel issue; I, therefore, disagree with Lamoureux’s position on Adam, and there are big problems with his assertion that real history begins in Genesis 12. However, I did appreciate his chronicling of his journey in this area and his desire for evangelicals to be aware that there are genuine Christians who love the Lord and who do not believe in a historical Adam. While I was once very adamant about Young Earth Creationism, I have since come to see that the Old Earth Creationist view can be held without losing the essentials of the Christian faith and are held by some in the Reformed community. I am uncomfortable with Walton’s archetypal view because of what it can accommodate, but I need to think about it a bit more. This book helped me understand the other two views more without decreasing my conviction of the Young Earth view.

Purchase: Amazon

*Originally posted at Grace for Sinners. A free copy was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.


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  1. Appreciated reading your review. Brought back memories of reading this book earlier this year. Like you I had the hardest time with the first view


  1. Book Log: April 2004 |

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