I read these quotes in an article on another blog the other day:
“Now the key question, and it won’t go away, is whether Paul is seeing Adam as a representative figure—in some way, here is a figurehead of humanity as a whole—or whether Paul is seeing him as a specific historical figure who in some way gave rise to the human race as we now know it….
“What was Paul’s view exactly about how the world was created? What was his scientific point of view? Now, Paul was somebody who lived in the first century, and Paul did not understand modern science. When he thought about creation, he wasn’t thinking in terms of modern science. It wasn’t the question he was asking. 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. 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.”
Now, you may not be aware of it, but there’s some ongoing discussion of this topic. (Just this month there was a rather lengthy piece on NPR over this very issue.) Regardless of what a Christian believes about the relationship between Science and the Bible, it seems to me this is a key issue. Do we, or do we not, see the New Testament as teaching that Adam was a historical person, and that the events of Genesis 3 actually happened?
And there are really two angles on the discussion. First there is the perspective that begins with modern scientific research, and tries to investigate what, if any, relationship there might be between a typical account of human origins based on the current thinking in biology, and the account of human origins given in the opening chapters of Genesis. The quotes above, however, come from the second angle, which is to examine the Biblical texts to see if they actually teach what many believe they do–namely, that Adam and Eve truly existed, and were the actual, biological ancestors of the whole human race.
Starting tomorrow, I’d like to engage these quotes point by point, and offer some thoughts on the kind of thinking they represent.