Was Adam a Historical Person?

Bob Strimple, professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, says “Yes!” and yes, it matters.

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  1. Was Adam a Real Historical Individual? by James Anderson

    “Lastly, I am astonished by the naivete of these scholars. Do they think they can restrict the hegemony of science over Scripture to the realm of creation issues? What will science make of the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, and the resurrection? The 20th Century gives us the answer. Moreover, do they think they can avoid worldly scorn merely by jettisoning biblical creation, while still holding to even more obnoxious doctrines like substitutionary atonement? The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates, must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall under the humanistic sword.” http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2010/04/theistic-evolution-a-hermeneutical-trojan-horse.php

    If God “created” the old creation by theistic evolution, then why didn’t he create the new creation the same way?

  2. 1. We know what matters by what the institutions are willing to tolerate. Apparently it doesn’t matter, because Reformed academic superstars from Tremper Longman to Alister McGrath are allowed to “express doubts” about an historical Adam. Others say that Adam existed, but probably as the product of evolution by natural selection.

    Peter Enns claimed there was an historical Adam when he was at WTS, yet has since reversed himself. If you think he’s the only one out there like this, you’re fooling yourself.

    2. The Biblical Theology movement is part of the problem. It was grafted in from modernism and it shows. As long as you can give a passable hermeneutic song-and-dance, you can make the text say anything you want and still say you have a high view of Scripture. After all, isn’t Adam just a type of Israel? Why not accept his story as a parable? Here. let me compare Gen 1-3 with other Near East mythologies…

  3. I need to review this issue, but wasn’t B.B. Warfield at the very least open to the idea of theistic evolution? Was there some trojan horse idea with Warfield’s hermeneutic?

    Isn’t it possible for someone to affirm the historicity of Adam and evolution?

  4. This is actually what bothered me most about my experience at Asbury Theological Seminary in the mid 1990’s. While the doctrinal statement of the school says that the Bible is “infallible” in all that it affirms, the actual teaching on the Pentateuch and the Synoptic Gospels was basically higher critical views.

    Stupid me. I thought seminary would equip me to refute higher criticism. I go to seminary only to discover that “Evangelicals” are buying into neo-orthodox views lock, stock and barrel.

    Fortunately, while at an Arminian seminary I became a Calvinist. But that’s another story.

    The real point I wanted to make here is that the doctrines known as the “three points of common grace” really set up the whole modernist attack on biblical authority. The Christian Reformed Church began allow the teaching of higher critical views such as form criticism and canonical criticism as authoritative ways of exegeting Scripture only after the doctrine of common grace was fully embraced.

    The same can be said for the the deterioration of Princeton Seminary. Once Bavinck and Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace was embraced it was only a matter of time before the idea of theistic evolution and the documentary theories of the Pentateuch or Hexateuch took over.

    The irony is that Tremper Longman teaches at Westminster and is not that far removed from the very reasons that J. Gresham Machen started Westminster in the first place.

    One of my professors at Asbury, Lawson Stone, earned his Ph.D. in OT at Princeton. Stone taught openly that Genesis 1-11 is sanctified “myth”. However, he has a convenient way of defining “myth” so that it is “biblical”. The whole Von Rad approach that saga and myth from the Ancient Near East was incorporated and re-interpreted by the “editors” of the Hexateuch was the going thing.

    How this is different from neo-orthodoxy I have no idea.

    I graduated from a Pentecostal bible college and was at that time a “fundamentalist.” After my experience at Asbury I have to wonder if anyone still believes that God could create the entire universe by fiat?

    Sincerely in Christ,


    • Charlie,

      I don’t know of a shred of historical evidence to connect the doctrines of “common grace” with the decline of Princeton or with the rise of higher criticism.

      Your argument is post hoc propter hoc. Princeton’s reception of “common grace” was mixed.

      The evangelicals and liberals who reorganized Princeton did not appeal to common grace. The enemies were rationalism & pietism.

  5. The doctrine of common grace did not begin with Bavinck and Kuyper.

    Calvin writes:

    “Whenever we come upon these matters in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we condemn and reproach the Spirit Himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how eminent they are.

    But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts. Those men whom Scripture calls ‘natural men’ were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good.” (Institutes, 2.2.15).

  6. Yes, it matters. Christ was the Second Adam. If Adam weren’t real, how could He then be the Second Adam?

  7. Regarding Warfield on this subject see the article that appeared in ‘The Banner of Truth’ (Aug/Sept 2009) “In Defence Of Warfield” This was a rebuttal to the claim made by Peter Barnes that BBW was a “Darwinian of the purest water”. To the contrary I cited numerous places in Warfields writings refuting Darwinianism and BBW wholehearted affirmation that the events described in Genesis were historical especially the Fall and the particulars surrounding Adam,Eve and the serpent.

    • Thank you Dr Johnson. I’ve been looking for this kind of information on BBW for a while.

      I’ve found the issue on BoT’s website and I am going to order that.

      Do you know anywhere else that this information is consolidated?

      • James
        The article I wrote explains to some degree why BBW has often been lumped in with theistic evolution . Mark Noll and David Livingston book on the subject has helped to further this perception ( I had a PhD course with Noll on the Old Princeton theology and the two of us use to travel to Speer library at PTS to work in the Warfield archives. Mark also wrote the preface to the book on BBW that I edited back in 2007 for P&R).But I think Noll and Livingston greatly exaggerate the degree to which BBW incorporated evolution into his thinking.. The point is simply this BBW held to the speacial creation of Adam as the federal head of the human race and that the Fall happened in space, time history. This is incapable with the views being advocated on the Biologos website-especially the views of Peter Enns, who when he was at WTS attempted to coop BBW in support of his incarnational view of Scripture -which was one massive failure.

        • Dr. Johnson,
          Thank you for this on Warfield. I think it’s a shame that a whole lot of people in the Christian community distort his view, for whatever reasons. I understand he gets regularly slammed by the AIG crowd and Ken Ham. I wish your views on BBW were more widely circulated.

          • Richard
            For the record, prior to the release of the book on Warfield that I edited I wrote to AIG and pointed out the many ways they had badly misrepresented BBW and told them I would be making this explicit in this book. I got a brief response from Ken Ham’s assistant telling me they regretted the ‘sloppy’ documentation and would try to be more caeful in the future but they refused to issue a retraction. I responded telling them that dileberate misrepretation constitutes malious slander of one of God’s servants. They did not respond back.

            • It’s too bad the dead can’t sue, Pastor Johnson.It does say a lot about AIG’s commitment to truth when they pull this type of distortion. Thank you for calling them out on this.

  8. This subject is one I have thought a lot about, and one that will continue to captivate my thinking for years to come… I have a few quick thoughts and questions for those of you with more of a HT & ST background:

    – Assuming a theistic evolution model, did Adam have to be the first human in order to be our Federal Head? If he weren’t would this affect Reformed doctrines of original sin, and the federal theology that undergirds so much Reformed doctrine?

    – Can there be textual reconstructions that allow for Gen. 2-3 to be supernatural irruptions into the evolutionary process that pose no major assault to the more benign concepts of the general theory of evolution? Would this uphold the historicity of the text in a way that is within the confessions?

    – I would be wary of throwing the biblical theology, and OT theology specifically under the bus as it seems some here do so casually. Now I would say that I am at best an OT theo hobbyist, since it is not my vocation, but when dealing with OT theology there are a lot of difficult and messy questions that have to be navigated when dealing with questions of archaeology, Ancient Near East history and literature, and modern scientific issues. Some navigate these better than others, but those who fail to address these issues, in my opinion, fail almost as miserably as those who assume the most critical stance on the text.

    – Is it acceptable, in questions of theistic evolution or more literal takes on creation to allow for a diversity in opinions since most of the assertions surrounding Gen. 1-3 are not falsifiable by current data anyway?

    • Assuming a theistic evolution model, did Adam have to be the first human in order to be our Federal Head?

      (Devil’s Advocate:) That’s what I was wondering too. More specifically, inclusion under Christ’s federal headship is not by physical birth, so why does federation under Adam have to be? Likewise, Christ is federal head for many who lived and died before his incarnation; is this not possible also for Adam?

      Thinking this through as I type, it seems the tricky part is not how to get imputed guilt from Adam to men that lived before him, but how to get original/actual sin backwards in time. Either men living before Adam would have to have been sinful (how did they get that way without a Fall? Certainly God would not have created them sinful!), or sinless (in which case, what happened to them — without sin, they could not have died!!)

      About the closest to an alternative I can imagine is that pre-Adamic “men” were amoral beasts, without God’s image (and which were subject to death like all the other animals). But that’s quite a stretch from the text, which does not seem to allow any gap between biological man and image-bearing man in either Gen 1:26 or 2:7.

  9. Since a lot of the responses to this matter of the “historicity” of Adam seem to revolve around “theistic evolution” (as though the two must automatically be paired), I have a question or two:

    I realize from reading RCC that we are invoking QIRC if we insist that a 6×24 creation took place in the “days” recorded in Genesis … and that, since we weren’t there, we have no way of knowing what God knew and did as he undertook the creation of the cosmos and the earth.

    On the other hand, though, are we to automatically assume that, if the “days” were really metaphors of some sort for a much longer period that allowed the various stages of life to develop, “evolution” was involved in the process of creation? Remember that evolution, by definition, means that mutation and adaptation occur within various organisms due to climatic or other environmental changes that eventually cause the ones that could not adapt to die out (ergo, suffer and die).

    Does “theistic evolution,” therefore, presume a God who assembled creation in such a manner that caused trauma to one series of species in favor of the next in line? If so, is that not a rather cruel way for God to proceed? And this would have been for the “the Fall” and before creation was cursed, which certainly ensured suffering and adaptation, especially after The Flood.

    Give me a more complete definition of what you all mean by this “theistic evolution,” please.

    • Hi George,

      For clarity, I don’t argue that 6/24 creation is ipso facto evidence of QIRC but rather I argue that it’s use as a boundary marker for Reformed orthodoxy is QIRC-y.

      • Thanks Scott,

        By its “use as a boundary marker” do you mean something similar to what this small Reformed seminary (whose name has been blanked) declares in its stated position on matters of doctrine? (as far as that goes, I’m not even sure that this issue is necessarily a doctrinal one)

        ” … We are aware that several Reformed churches or denominations have been discussing the issue of the length of the days of creation. Some, such as the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in the United States, have adopted positions on this matter. Other churches have not adopted a formal statement or position, such as the United Reformed Churches in North America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

        Within this ecclesiastical situation, it is important to keep in mind that ________________ Reformed Seminary is not under any direct ecclesiastical control, although its Board and Faculty subscribe wholeheartedly to the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession, and the Seminary professors are under the supervision of church elders. Therefore, members of the Faculty of ________________ Reformed Seminary do not and cannot serve in the capacity of official spokesmen for any ecclesiastical body, except insofar as they are authorized to do so by such a body.

        With these observations in mind, we declare that in our public writings and in our classroom teaching, we hold that the six days of creation are to be understood as consecutive, real (i.e., literal) days of alternating evenings and mornings. In other words, the word “day” in Genesis 1 should not be understood as a “day-age” (i.e., some long age of an indefinite number of years). Both the Board and the Faculty of _______________ Reformed Seminary fully agree that the WCF IV.i. accurately teaches what the Bible states in Exodus 20:11 concerning God’s creation of the world in six days

        There is no one on the Faculty at ______________ Reformed Seminary who teaches or subscribes to the framework hypothesis. Furthermore, the Seminary Board has not hired anyone to teach who does not hold to the above position on the creation days. We hold firmly to the special creation work of God, performed in the space of six consecutive, real days. In addition, we also declare and teach that the confessional (im)permissibility of any particular teaching about the creation days must be determined by the churches responsible for the doctrine and life of Faculty members …”

        • Hi George,

          No, I think a sem has a right to take a position on creation. They are simply saying, “this is where were are on this issue.” The statement is explicit that it refers purely to the school and is not an ecclesiastical statement. I have more difficulties those denominations/federations who use 6/24 creation as a boundary.

          There is some apparent ambiguity in the seminary statement you quote:

          With these observations in mind, we declare that in our public writings and in our classroom teaching, we hold that the six days of creation are to be understood as consecutive, real (i.e., literal) days of alternating evenings and mornings. In other words, the word “day” in Genesis 1 should not be understood as a “day-age” (i.e., some long age of an indefinite number of years). Both the Board and the Faculty of _______________ Reformed Seminary fully agree that the WCF IV.i. accurately teaches what the Bible states in Exodus 20:11 concerning God’s creation of the world in six days

          They don’t specify 6/24. They single out the day-age view and the Framework view as rejected but they don’t stipulate 24 hours.

          There is no question in my mind whether the days were “real” or whether we are to think of them as “mornings and evenings” but absent the adjective “normal” (what is “normal” about “let there be….”?) or the “6-24 hour” I think a lot of people could affirm this. It’s unfortunate that they mention the Framework as it tends to foster the FI as a bogeyman. There are 6/24 interpreters who also hold a version of the FI. They don’t say it couldn’t be taught there but only that it isn’t taught there.

          This statement strikes me as carefully written and one which needs to be read very carefully.

  10. If Adam were not an historical person, the Gospel of Luke, Romans and the rest of the Word of God would have real problems. Did Jesus believe Adam was a real person? I think He did. But what if we simply cannot ignore the evidence??? What if Jesus was wrong? Then He’s not God.

    Has the BioLogos crowd gone there yet?

    BTW, contrary to what some assert, “evidence” is not necessarily what determines innocence or guilt in a court of law but rather the interpretation of the evidence. Sometimes when gloves don’t “seem” to fit a killer there is an explanation.

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