Did Paul think Adam actually existed? Further observations.

by | Nov 2, 2012 | Biblical History, Science | 0 comments

This is the third post of a discussion (which began on Wednesday) of a couple of quotes on this issue: Does the New Testament teach that Adam existed as a historical person, and was the ancestor of all humans? We’re aiming at growth in our ability to discuss these things with both fellow believers and nonbelievers. Yesterday we looked at the first couple of points.

We continue today with the rest of David Wenham’s quote:

I suspect that Paul would have shared many of the views of his day. He may well have believed in a flat earth. But, his theology does not depend on his science. His theology of Adam has mainly, I think, to do with his understanding of humanity and how it was created, rather than in any way being a scientific statement.”

This is so good for us to begin to notice: we have here the same kind of “splitting” that we looked at by Alistair McGrath yesterday. Wenham claims Paul had an understanding of how humanity was created, but that it wasn’t a “scientific statement.” By using this term I assume that Wenham doesn’t mean that Paul’s theology of Adam was not stated in modern scientific terms, since that would seem too obvious for him to state here. No one would claim that Paul would have used modern scientific terms that didn’t exist in his day. So I have to conclude that Wenham means something like: “Paul’s concept of how humanity began was a theological one, and didn’t describe how humanity actually began. ” The split to notice here is the assumed division between things that are “theological” and things that are “actual.” In other words, he assumes that Paul would have seen some merit to an idea that claimed to be theologically true, but wasn’t based on anything that happened in the material world. 

But as we saw yesterday, this is exactly the kind of assumption we can’t make, if we want to do justice to Paul’s thinking. Paul seems to assume that only things that have actually happened can be objects of faith in the sense that matters to God.

Which leads us to the end of Wenham’s quote:

“I do think we mustn’t underestimate the sophistication of people like Paul. He was highly trained. He will have known and did know aspects of Greek philosophy where they discussed questions of creation and so on. He will have understood the Old Testament with a very sharp eye, and I think he will have understood that the stories of creation are not scientific descriptions, but are theological affirmations about God’s truth and about how God created the world.” (David Wenham)

The same split in thinking is assumed here. Wenham claims that Paul understood that the Old Testament stories of creation are not scientific descriptions. But let’s think here…isn’t the burden of Wenham’s point that Paul didn’t think in modern scientific terms? That those types of thought forms weren’t available to him? So how, then, could Paul have understood that the Old Testament stories were not something he didn’t know existed? Why would he have worried about a category he wasn’t aware of? The answer is that he wouldn’t have. It is only our generation, with it’s preoccupation with this very specific kind inquiry into the nature of the universe that has this dilemma.

So I think the point to see here is that, in discussing these things, it doesn’t help us get closer to the truth of what Paul believed to try “back in” to the conversation by saying what he “wouldn’t” have believed. The question to answer is, “What did Paul believe?” Would he have agreed that the Old Testament stories “are not scientific descriptions, but are theological affirmations about God’s truth and about how God created the world”? Would he have agreed that you could affirm that a story in the Bible was theologically true, but not actually true? Would he have asked us to base our faith on something that didn’t happen? I don’t think a positive answer to any of those questions does justice to Paul’s writings, or the way the writers of the other books of the Bible seem to think.

It is as if Wenham wants to argue that that Bible contains “God’s truth about how God created the world” which is not, actually, a description about how God created the world. Do we have any indication in the scripture that God communicates this way? I hope it’s becoming clear that we can get to the point where we’re simply dealing in absurdities.

The crucial point to make here is that all of scripture takes it for granted that God acts in our material, historical world, and that He then holds up those events for us to remember and trust Him. Specifically, we are asked to remember things like Creation, the Exodus, the Flood, and the miracles of Christ, and the death and resurrection of Christ, as instances where God demonstrated Himself to be true.  Interestingly, He seems to want us to remember the kinds of events that demonstrate His Godhood–including His lordship over nature–and those are precisely the kinds of events that modern scientific thinking must rule out because of its commitment to Naturalism. Now, if we live in a time where the prevailing climate of thought disallows any belief in the kinds of events God says we must remember in order to believe in Him, why should we think we are beholden to this current way of thinking?

A few months ago I posted some information about a book that deals at length with the issue of historical events as the basis for faith. Check it out here.

Soon I hope to write one more post to supplement these observations with one more essential thing to remember in all of this, and one that we haven’t even mentioned yet: the fact of revelation.