Published on April 8, 2015 by Fred Zaspel

Reformation Heritage Books, 2015 | 400 pages

I just finished reading through William VanDoodewaard’s new book, The Quest for the Historical Adam and it is by any standard a major accomplishment – a comprehensive work that all sides will want to read and consult repeatedly.

The question of “the historical Adam” is of course one of today’s defining theological issues, and VanDoodewaard gives us a remarkable survey of the issue. Primarily historical in purview yet deeply informed with regard to the various hermeneutical assumptions and approaches throughout, VanDoodewaard’s book traces the thinking of the church regarding Adam (and creation more broadly) and provides a reliable guide to the interpretive approaches of leading theologians through the centuries of church history. 


The opening chapter surveys the biblical data regarding Adam, the following five chapters survey the history of interpretation of this data, and then the book concludes with an analysis of the importance of the issue and the author’s own reflections on it. VanDoodewaard argues for a traditional understanding of Genesis 1-3 and of Adam and Eve, and he presents the challenges that opposing interpretations must face.

Here’s the Table of Contents:

1.  Finding Adam and His Origin in Scripture
2.  The Patristic and Medieval Quest for Adam
3.  Adam in the Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras
4.  Adam in the Enlightenment Era
5.  Adam in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
6.  The Quest for Adam: From the 1950s to the Present
7.  What Difference Does It Make?
Epilogue: Literal Genesis and Science?


All sides will acknowledge that VanDoodewaard has rendered a genuine service with this book. To date, at least, this is certainly the most substantial introduction to the debate as it has been shaped for us today. The question of the historical Adam is enormously important with entailments that bear on how we understand Scripture “whole” and on the gospel itself. A book like this was needed, and we are glad to see it arrive.

We will have more to say about The Quest for the Historical Adam in future posts here soon. For now, this just a heads up with regard to a book that is “must read” for those interested in the discussion.


Below is a sampling of endorsements for the book:

Iain Duguid:
“William VanDoodewaard’s thoroughly documented survey of the history of interpretation of Adam and Eve is an essential entry point to understand the contemporary debate. Highly recommended.” 

Noel Weeks:
“This book is an amazingly comprehensive and detailed documentation of views on the origins of Adam throughout church history, with particular attention to recent controversies. While he himself is convinced of the literal interpretation of the creation of humanity, the author allows alternate views to speak in their own words. That, in turn, enables insightful comparisons.” 

Richard B. Gaffin Jr.:
“It does not overstate to say that the gospel of Jesus Christ loses its biblical meaning and efficacy apart from Adam and Eve as the first human beings from whom all others descend. The author’s thorough and instructive survey of the long history of interpretation down to the present, particularly of the opening chapters of Genesis, shows unmistakably how questionable hermeneutical commitments and unsound exegesis lead to denial or uncertainty regarding the Bible’s clear teaching on common descent and, in conclusion, points out the disastrous consequences that follow for sound doctrine and the life of the church. One need not agree at every point with his own literal Genesis interpretation to appreciate the compelling value of his contribution. This is an important book and, given differences and confused thinking about the historicity of Adam increasingly among those claiming to be evangelical, particularly timely. It deserves careful reading and reflection by anyone interested in this crucial issue.” 

Sinclair Ferguson:
“Dr. Bill VanDoodewaard has gifted the church with a work that began as a labor of love but has grown into a significant major study in which he marries the disciplines of a church historian and the concerns of a Christian theologian. The issues on which he touches reach down to the very foundations of the Christian worldview, to creation itself. Those who share the author’s  understanding of the early chapters of Genesis will deeply appreciate his detailed analysis and synthesis of how they have been interpreted throughout the Christian centuries. And those who differ, whether in fine details or in major ways, ought, in integrity, to familiarize themselves with the copious material that Dr. VanDoodewaard here presents. This is a valuable and significant contribution to a much-debated subject and from a perspective that has too often been overlooked.” 

You can watch the publisher’s promo video here:

Fred G. Zaspel


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Reformation Heritage Books, 2015 | 400 pages

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