Brief Book Notice
I have been wondering when Westminster Seminary’s well-known theologian, Richard Gaffin, would publish something on the question of the historicity of Adam, and it has finally come. In his No Adam, No Gospel he addresses this increasingly important issue with his characteristic precision and redemptive-historical insight.
Gaffin recognizes the claims of contemporary scientific investigation and the importance of a Christian response on this score, but the focus in his booklet is on the biblical teaching and the theological entailments of the discussion. Having identified the question at issue and the relation of Scripture and science Gaffin first gives attention to Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 – enormously important passages for this discussion. He demonstrates briefly yet cogently that for Paul humanity’s union with Christ is dependent first with humanity’s union with Adam. There is no Adam the second without Adam the first: those with whom Christ is in saving union are those who are fallen precisely because of their union with Adam. It is not overstating to say that in this discussion the Christian gospel is at stake.
Gaffin then turns his attention to various “inadequate interpretations” of Adam, demonstrating both their exegetical weaknesses and their unacceptable theological implications – “a radically altered view of sin … a substantially changed notion of salvation … [and] a significantly different assessment of the Savior.”
In the final major section of his essay Gaffin turns his attention to his former WTS colleague, Peter Enns, and his The Evolution of Adam, demonstrating again the exegetical problems with Enns’ proposal and its unacceptable theological entailments with regard to the nature and origin of sin, the nature of salvation, the death of Christ, the resurrection (both Christ’s and ours), and Scripture. Gaffin concludes his analysis with the re-applied words of Ned Stonehouse: Enns’ proposal constitutes “what may with very little exaggeration be characterized as the persistence of Liberalism” (p.26).
As we would expect from Gaffin, this little booklet is marked by precision and theological perceptiveness. It is a helpful contribution to this massively important contemporary discussion.
Quote & Unquote
Here are some selected quotes from the booklet, just to give you a taste.
- The truth of the gospel stands or falls with the historicity of Adam as the first human being from whom all other human beings descend. p.5
- If it is not true that all human beings descend from Adam, then the entire history of redemption taught in Scripture unravels. The result is no redemptive history in any credible or coherent sense and so the loss of redemptive history in any meaningful sense. p.5-6
- Certainly God’s saving revelation culminating in Christ, sufficiently and authoritatively inscripturated for us, cannot be understood by itself, apart from his self-revelation in nature. Both creation, “a most beautiful book” (Belgic Confession, article 2), and Scripture are necessary for knowing and living before God and with others. But the reciprocal relationship that marks these two “books” and their study is asymmetrical. Scripture, not nature, always has priority in the sense that in it God reveals himself, as the Belgic Confession also says, “more clearly and openly,” particularly on matters basic to our identity as human beings and our relationship to him. p.8
- As a general rule, then, the special sciences in their study of general revelation must always defer to inscripturated special revelation, and where Scripture speaks incontrovertibly on a matter, if science reaches contrary findings, it should be prepared to question them, no matter how apparently certain those findings. p.8
- For Paul, redemptive history has its clear and consummate ending with Christ only as it has a definite and identifiable beginning with Adam. p.10
- The significance of the identifying terms in this contrast must not be missed. Christ in his saving work is both “second” and “last”; Adam is “first” (1 Cor. 15:45, 47). The uniquely pivotal place of each in the unfolding of redemptive history is, respectively, at its beginning and its end. Further, their roles are such that no one else “counts”; no others come into consideration. Only Adam, in his representative role in union or solidarity with “all,” is the “type of the one to come” (Rom. 5:14). As Christ is the omega point of redemptive history, Adam is its alpha point. p.10
- Christ has, and can only have, this identity as Adam is “first.” If Adam is not the first, who subsequently fell into sin, then the work of Christ loses its meaning. Without the “first” that Adam is, there is no place for Christ as either “second” or “last.” The integrity and coherence of redemptive history in its entirety depends on this contrast. It is simply not true, as some claim,that whether or not Adam was the first human being is a question that leaves the gospel unaffected. p.10-11
- Adam is the representative of all who, by descending from him, are in natural union or solidarity with him, and he represents only them. It is not enough today for Christians—ministers, ruling elders, and others—simply to affirm “the historicity of Adam.” p.12
- This is not a minor point. Paul is clear in [1 Cor. 15] verse 49. Believers will bear Christ’s “heavenly” image, the redeemed and glorified image of God, as they have borne Adam’s “earthly” image, the original image of God defaced by sin. It is quite foreign to this passage, especially given its comprehensive outlook noted above, to suppose that some not in the image of Adam will bear the glory-image of Christ. There is no hope of salvation for sinners who do not bear the image of Adam by ordinary generation. Christ cannot and does not redeem what he has not assumed, and what he has assumed is the nature of those who bear the image of Adam and as they do so by natural descent. p.12
- It is difficult to see how the evolutionary understanding of human beings and their origin embraced by Enns and others can accommodate this biblical, Pauline understanding of resurrection. p.21
- In other words, if Paul is wrong about their bodily death as a consequence of sin, then he is seriously in error about the gospel. Enns’s assurances notwithstanding, the gospel does in fact stand or fall with the Bible’s teaching on the origin, nature, and results of human sin, as that teaching depends upon the historicity of Adam and his fall into sin, with human death as a consequence—an entirely “unnatural” and specifically penal consequence—of that sin. p.22
- In global categories, the Bible’s eschatology is no more compatible with evolution than is its protology. p.22
- Adam is in view here [1 Cor. 15:42-49] in solidarity with all other human beings who, by descending from him, are in a natural image-bearing union with him. p.24
Fred G. Zaspel