If We Reject Paul’s Adam, Why Not Reject His Christ? A Response to Daniel Kirk

by Jared Moore on May 10, 2013 · 22 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

Introduction

Daniel Kirk, associate professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, recently wrote an article titled, “Does Paul’s Christ Require a Historical Adam?” (It Would be helpful if you followed the link and read the entire article). To date, the article has been shared over 1700 times through social media. Kirk is coming against the notion that a person must affirm a historical Adam before he can affirm 1) the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture, 2) a good world gone wrong, 3) the sinfulness of all humanity, and 4) a historical Christ. Kirk agrees that the Apostle Paul assumed there was a historical Adam (In Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15), but he argues that the Apostle was reimagining the Genesis creation account in light of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Kirk argues, “the gospel does not, in fact, depend on a historical Adam or historical Fall in large part because what Paul says about Adam stems from his prior conviction about the saving work of Christ.” Kirk believes Paul’s account in Romans 5 leaves room, “for a person who was chosen by God from a developing or, at any rate, numerically numerous, human race to play the role of representative in obedience and disobedience.” Make no mistake, Kirk affirms Paul’s main point in Romans 5, “that God’s grace, righteousness, and life abound to the many because of Christ.” Yet, he rejects the assumptions with which Paul “illustrated these things to be true” [a historical Adam]. Paul’s emphasis is that God has one worldwide people in Christ. Thus, according to Kirk, Paul does not ask or answer the question of whether an evolutionary account of human origins might stand within the story of God’s new creation work in Christ.

I Disagree with Kirk’s Conclusions for Several Reasons:

1. If we cannot trust what the Apostle Paul said about Adam, why should we trust what he said about Christ? What consistent hermeneutic can be applied to Scripture if we pick and choose which texts we’ll believe and which ones we’ll reject? Kirk encourages Christians to abandon Paul’s assumptions about a historical Adam while simultaneously encouraging Christians to embrace Paul’s assumptions about a historical Christ. Moreover, Kirk encourages his readers to embrace Scientific theories over the historicity of Genesis 1-3, and Paul’s interpretation of these chapters, while also encouraging his readers to reject Scientific eschatological assumptions in favor of Paul’s eschatological assumptions concerning Christ. 

My question for Kirk is, “If We can reimagine Paul’s assumptions about anything, why can’t we reimagine Paul’s assumptions about everything? If we can reimagine Paul’s words concerning a historical Adam, why can’t we also reimagine Paul’s words concerning a historical Christ?” After all, Scientifically speaking, humans do not stay dead for three days, then physically rise from the dead. Yet, Jesus did!

2. Even if we grant Kirk’s hermeneutic, he is not doing what he claims Paul did. Kirk argues,

Where, then, are we left, if the pressures of scientific inquiry lead us to take down the spire of a literal, historical Adam? What might it look like for us to faithfully receive Paul’s testimony not merely by saying what he said, but by doing what he did? Might it be possible that we could retell the stories of both Adam and evolutionary sciences such that they continued to reflect our conviction that the endpoint of God’s great story is nothing else than new creation in the crucified and risen Christ?

Paul, according to Kirk, read the Adam story based on what God did at a later point in history (Christ’s death and resurrection). I’m curious what has happened in recent history that justifies Kirk’s reimagining of the Genesis story. If we grant that Moses (a prophet) wrote the story of Adam with the later story of Israel in mind, and Paul (an apostle) reimagined the Genesis story in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, what has God done in recent history that justifies Kirk’s reimagining of the Genesis story in the likeness of Paul? Kirk is neither a prophet nor an apostle. His writings are not on the same level as Moses or Paul from an inerrantist or even an infallibilist point of view. Furthermore, Paul’s reimagining was due to his understanding of a later story that was essential to redemptive history. What does Kirk think God has done in recent history that justifies his reimagining of the Creation story in a different way than Moses and Paul? Scientific discovery? If that’s the case, then why not reimagine the resurrection of Christ as well. . . if scientific discovery has historic-redemptive significance?

3. Kirk ignores the reality of progressive revelation. He agrees with Sanders and Ridderbos that Paul’s “given” is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” Kirk writes, “The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.” The reality, however, is that Paul wasn’t merely “assuming” a historical Adam, he was affirming a historical Adam and further revealing various truths about Adam. Kirk lists these truths (Rom. 5):

  • Sin entered the world through one person (Rom. 5:12).
  • Many people died through what one person did wrong (Rom. 5:15).
  • The judgment that came through one person’s sin led to punishment (Rom. 5:16).
  • Death ruled because of one person’s failure (Rom. 5:17).
  • Judgment fell on everyone through the failure of one person (Rom. 5:18).
  • Many people were made sinners through the disobedience of one person (Rom. 5:19).

Paul is not reimagining here. He’s further revealing the condition of all humanity due to Adam’s sin. This is progressive revelation, not “reimagining.” After all, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:21).

4. Kirk is unwilling to treat all events in Scripture as equally susceptible to reimagining. Readers must wonder why Kirk is willing to reimagine the Genesis story and Paul’s understanding of this story in light of science, but is unwilling to reimagine the historical life, death, resurrection, and future reign of Christ in light of science as well. Kirk is listening to science arbitrarily. He writes,

Where, then, are we left, if the pressures of scientific inquiry lead us to take down the spire of a literal, historical Adam? What might it look like for us to faithfully receive Paul’s testimony not merely by saying what he said, but by doing what he did? Might it be possible that we could retell the stories of both Adam and evolutionary sciences such that they continued to reflect our conviction that the endpoint of God’s great story is nothing else than new creation in the crucified and risen Christ? For many, the cognitive dissonance between the sciences and a historical Adam has already become too great to continue holding both. We therefore have to carefully determine whether the cause of Christ, and of truth, is better served by indicating that a choice must be made between the two, or by retelling the narrative about the origins of humanity as we now understand it in light of the death and resurrection of Christ. 

My question is if Kirk is ready to reimagine the creation account due to science, is he willing to reimagine the resurrection of Christ in light of science as well? Kirk answers with a stern NO:

Perhaps most importantly, we must not allow biology or physics or chemistry to have the last word about the destiny of humanity. The reality of our lives as creatures limited by death and decay must stand in subordinate relationship to the eschatological reality of new creation that God has granted us in Christ.

To Kirk, the beginning is not important; only the ending. This begs the question concerning why Kirk will listen to science arbitrarily. The only testimonies we have in Scripture are from those who have the same authority as Moses and the Apostle Paul. There’s nothing written by Christ’s own hand in Scripture. Thus, if we can reimagine the previous writings of the prophets and apostles, why can’t we also reimagine the words of Christ they recorded? In other words, I believe Kirk undercuts his own theology by arbitrarily arguing we should reimagine the words of Scripture writers in light of science, for science also says, “Those who are dead three days do not rise from the dead.”

5. Kirk is not abandoning the Christian faith, but if he applies his hermeneutic consistently, he will. To conclude his article, Kirk writes,

To accompany Paul on the task of telling the story of the beginning in light of Christ, while parting ways with his first-century understanding of science and history, is not to abandon the Christian faith in favor of science. Instead, it demands a fresh act of faith in which we continue to hold fast to the truth that has always defined Christianity: the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all. Belief in Christ’s resurrection was a stumbling block for the ancients, and it is a stumbling block for us moderns as well—and increasingly so as we learn more about our human story and the biological processes entailed in life on this Earth. We do not give up on the central article of Christian faith when we use it to tell a renewed story of where we came from. On the contrary, we thereby give it the honor which is its due.

Where does divine inspiration factor into Kirk’s understanding of Paul’s writings? Notice that Kirk believes Paul had a limited understanding of science and history. Kirk believes we should listen to science instead of Paul concerning a historic Adam. Yet, when it comes to the historic Christ, Kirk tells us to listen to Paul, not science. My question is, “Why only listen to Paul half the time.” After all, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Moreover, the Apostle Peter called Paul’s writings “Scripture” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the question for evangelicals is if you will listen to the Apostle Paul or Daniel Kirk concerning the historical Adam. The Apostle Paul believed in a historical Adam and a historical Christ. I choose to merely agree with Paul consistently. Will you?

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

1 Ken Hamrick May 10, 2013 at 9:26 am

Kirk stated:

Thus, for example, might there be room here, not for a physical, natural progenitor of all subsequent human beings, but for a person who was chosen by God from a developing or, at any rate, numerically numerous, human race to play the role of representative in obedience and disobedience?

Unless such representation is grounded in in a real, substantive union of the spiritual, moral nature of those represented with the representative, then there is no moral basis for the sharing of moral status or consequences. It is unavoidably, incontrovertibly unjust to pass Adam’s penalty onto us with nothing more substantial than an arbitrary decision to make him our representative. Not even Christ’s representation is without a real, substantive, spiritual union—an inbeing in Him that joins our identity to His in the eyes of justice. All men had just such an inbeing in Adam, by the fact that our moral, spiritual nature was in Adam, sinned in Adam, and was transmitted to us by propagation. Somewhere in the 17th century, the Church forgot this fact and began to focus only on the representation—forgetting that representation without a substantial union of nature is only an empty shell of truth.

2 parsonsmike May 10, 2013 at 9:28 am

Evolution is a bankrupt philosophy. No complex organism could evolve from simple cells. They [the simple cells] can’t know even what to evolve to and certainly can’t develop multiple dependent processes simultaneously by chance.
Any thinking Christian should reject evolution [macro] outright and trust the Word of God completely including a real Adam and a real 7 day creation.

3 rick May 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

Jared said:

My question is, “Why only listen to Paul half the time.” After all, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Moreover, the Apostle Peter called Paul’s writings “Scripture” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Really?

Are we listening to Paul on the subject of slavery or interpreting that within a historic context based on his social milieu? What about unveiled women praying in the assembly?

The difference is one of degree and not of kind.

4 Jared Moore May 10, 2013 at 10:31 am

Rick, I think you’re comparing apples to oranges. What in the text and the surrounding culture at the time when Paul wrote causes us to dismiss Paul’s view of Adam without also dismissing Paul’s view on the resurrection of Christ? I don’t understand how one can dismiss Paul’s Adam without also dismissing his Christ.

Also, I think we are listening to Paul on slavery and veiled women. Context is key. What aren’t we listening to? The question is, “What did Paul say/mean?” Kirk says, “Paul means to communicate there was a historical Adam, but we shouldn’t listen to Paul here.”

5 Louis May 10, 2013 at 10:24 am

This is really a central point of discussion in our world.

There is no doubt that some of the Bible is figurative literature. All hermeneutic systems I know allow for this and have various rules, suggestions as to when it should be employed.

It seems to me that there must be some leeway granted, in some areas, for the possibility of believing the correct way to approach a passage is to interpret it figuratively.

But as you have correctly noted, we bump up against a hard truth pretty quickly when we do this. If Adam is figuarative, why not Moses, David, John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles and Paul.

And you have hit upon another good point. Once one begins to interpret some passages which were originally believed to be historical as figurative, that train rarely stops.

We can see it in our first Southern Baptist scholar Crawford Toy at Southern Seminary. He did not believe that the entire Bible was to be interpreted figuaratively and that it had little historic value all at one time. There was a progression that began with the OT that eventually affected his view of all scripture. This had an impact on his life, as he eventually became a Unitarian and rarely participated in church life near the end of his life.

We see that pattern replicated over and over again.

It seems to me that with our limited resources and finite minds that we cannot fully understand the mindset of people who wrote scripture a few thousand years ago. Add to this all of the scientific discoveries about origins, and it becomes very difficult for us to reconcile all of the points.

There is no doubt that Jesus is historical, as were his Apostles, and that Christianity purports to be a historic faith. It it not a set of principles or a moral ethic that is divorced from the historical narrative where we find those principles and moral ethic. Believing in the history provided by the NT regarding Jesus and his work is the only sure foundation for believing and doing what Jesus taught us to do.

The difficulties faced by our forefathers in trying to reconcile certain scientific discoveries in their day with the text of scriputure clearly swamped many of them. Hence, the large apostasy in the American church.

The point that I have reached is not to be dogmatic about things I cannot be dogmatic about. And when I am dogmatic, make sure that people know it is a matter of faith. Not completely blind faith, but still faith. For example – God created the heavens and the earth. We know that by faith.

I also believe that an honest discussion requires those in the church who really don’t believe, in whole or in part, in the historical nature of the Christian faith to simply come out and say so.

The lack of faith, or loss of faith, is demonstrated in many ways. That can be expressed in straightforward ways, or is can be demonstrated in a lack of conviction, disinterest in doctrinal matters, or an over emphasis on politics and social concerns.

We would all be better off placing our cards on the table.

And the Church will always be better off with a robust and clear confessionalism that makes clear the boundaries of conviction.

6 William Thornton May 10, 2013 at 10:33 am

As a pastor, Jared, would you accept the salvation testimony of one who either denies or isn’t sure if Adam were a real person?

Is the Gospel incomplete or perhaps fatally flawed if it does not include a literal Adam and a literal Gen 1 & 2?

I’m sticking with Paul on women being saved through the bearing of children and on being baptized for the dead and on women not being allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man and on not speaking in church and on covering and on…well, never mind. There might be interpretive issues abounding in Scripture.

7 Jared Moore May 10, 2013 at 10:37 am

William, anyone can choose inconsistency. I’m not questioning Kirk’s salvation, or anyone else’s. I’m saying they’re living in a contradiction. If they teach these things to the next generation, that generation may choose consistency, applying the same hermeneutic to Christ they did to Adam, thus abandoning Christianity altogether.

Anyone who repents of his sin, places his faith in Christ, believing He lived, died, and rose from the dead to forgive him of his sins and bring him into right relationship with God, will be saved… regardless what he believes about Adam.

8 Rob Ayers May 13, 2013 at 10:42 am

And yet on what basis of faith does that person have in Christ without Adam? Or of the world described in Genesis?

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying [about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” – Hebrews 11:3-7 NASB

Rob

9 Jess Alford May 10, 2013 at 11:53 am

This is exactly what I have been talking about in other threads, man is becoming much to intelligent in the ways of the world, even denying
the Scripture and becoming little gods. (sick).

10 Jared Moore May 10, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Jess, I think your description is a step too far. They’re choosing inconsistency. They’re not “little gods.” Maybe little popes :).

11 Greg Harvey May 10, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

12 Jess Alford May 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I believe if time stands, in 100 years or less your Bibles will not read as it does today. If you take a stance against sin you maybe laughed out of church.

13 Greg Harvey May 10, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I think that is a fair comment. Of course, “our” Bibles will say what they say today because we’ll hand them down to our children. “Their” Bibles are what could be the problem, which is one of the only reasons I don’t stringently oppose the otherwise non-biblical institution of the seminary. It protects the scholarship that dug us out of the Dark Ages and gave us accurate translations into vernacular languages from the best extant source material we have available.

Some of that is causing the text of Bibles to change in favorable and consistent ways. And that kind of scholarship is for the betterment of our faith.

The kind that we need to be cautious of is the kind that revises the Bible in the name of modern social mores that are “enlightened” and presumed superior to the Bible. Satan’s primary technique for undermining faith is lying. He wins when we convinces people to call down “up” and dark “light”.

As to the King James Version being the only one especially blessed by God? Nah. You can see in the progression from Wycliffe to Tyndale/Coverdale/Bishops to Geneva far more of the things we consider important about the KJV than you do in the transition from Tyndale/Geneva to the KJV itself. I think you’re using the possibility of future introduced error to excuse visible error in the KJV myself.

That said: the 2011 NIV borders on atrocious in many ways. But I’m not sure the gender neutrality is one of its worse offenses. It’s the arrogance that says that is necessary that is far, far worse. And I think that’s what Jess is accurately and correctly pointing to.

14 Christiane May 10, 2013 at 1:02 pm

An old saying puts it this way”
” the New Testament lies hidden in the Old
and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”

In order to understand the truth about the First Adam, connect the dots:
Christ created Adam. Christ assumed His full humanity from Mary who descended from Adam.

Christ’s mission on earth as True God and True Man is this:
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. ”

‘Adam’ comes into focus only in the light of Christ.

15 Randall Cofield May 10, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Kirk’s position on Adam is the inevitable conclusion of all who embrace evolution.

Just ain’t no way around it.

16 Bart Barber May 12, 2013 at 7:41 am

Jared,

Trying to cover the comment stream on my own article prevented me from reading yours until now. It is excellent. Very high-quality stuff. Thanks for giving me grist for the mill.

17 Jared Moore May 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

Bart, thanks brother.

18 Bart Barber May 12, 2013 at 7:50 am

Also, allow me to comment on Kirk’s article. If you’ve read them both, reading Kirk is a lot like reading Fosdick, don’t you think?

19 Jared Moore May 13, 2013 at 11:33 am

Bart, Honestly, I haven’t read enough Fosdick or enough of Kirk to know.

20 John Lawless May 12, 2013 at 9:08 am

A West Coast SBCer’s comments

Excellent article. I really liked the organization of the article and of course the content. I support the gentleman’s comment, all those who embrace evolution must deny the existence of Adam. The idea of spontaneous generation just is hard to believe. Yet if you do believe in SG then you must keep returning to the idea, “Where does the soul come into play or is spontaneously generated?”

I support the great geneticist, Dormborsky of Russia when he said, “There can only be two possibilities either spontaneous generation or creation. Since I am an atheist I must support spontaneous generation.”

I do not support the idea that a person can claim to be a supporter of spontaneous generation and also believe in God, it is one or the other. My favorite book on the subject is, “Creation-Evolution The Controversy” by Dr. Wysong. He spends over 400 pages explaining how spontaneous generation just doesn’t make sense.

I was saddened, when I was attending seminary, when one of the professors I greatly regarded, told me one day he saw Genesis 1-11 as nothing more than a myth.

Ok, I’m done now.

21 Jerry Corbaley May 12, 2013 at 9:10 am

Anthropologists have created whole specimens from a tooth.

Paleontologists have created whole species from a fragment.

Archaeologists have linked whole cultures from a shard.

All of the authors of new ideas then link later finds to their own theories.

There is a slippery slope, but it is sometimes not visible from a single artifact, but from the author’s broad perspective; or worldview.

Those who have trouble believing in Adam as the first man in history also tend to discount all revelation regarding God working supernaturally in the Bible’s historical narratives.

When assessing the tiny doctrinal assertion, take note of the broader assertions of a scholar. When folks doubt the historical Adam, do they also doubt the 6 day creation, the historical order of creation events, the origin of evil, the age of the prediluvian peoples, the world-wide flood of Noah, the re-civilization of the world springing from Babel, the supernatural events before the Passover, the miraculous provision of the Hebrew millions in the wilderness, and the list goes on and on.

When someone interferes with time and chance on purpose, it does not violate the physical laws of the nature that same someone created.

Tolerance of compromise is still compromise, no matter how one tries to isolate the argument to a single tooth, fragment or shard.

22 Robert Vaughn May 12, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Jared, thanks for pointing out this article. Kirk’s conclusion attacks the biblical record, questions inerrancy, and compromises our need for redemption. We need to be aware of how much of this is out there. We also need to send forth a clear sound on issues such as veiled/unveiled women praying in the assembly. I don’t agree with Rick, but I do think we can be careless in “explaining away” why we don’t believe or practice certain things. (IOW, to some people it may all sound like “that was just 1st century,” whether talking about veils in Corinth or Paul’s understanding of an historical Adam.)

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