Bill Maher, who makes no secret of his disdain for religion, has a standard question he asks of people who say they believe the Bible: "So you believe in a talking snake then?" For many people, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems a hard pill to swallow, even in Christian circles.
Modern scientific theories tell us evolution played a part in the development of the human species, the human genome project seems to point to more than two human parents at the top of our family tree, and other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories have commonalities with what we read in Genesis, suggesting that perhaps Adam and Eve and the serpent and the trees and the fig leaves are all just part of a myth.
In Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, C. John Collins, a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary, explores reasons for believing in an historical, flesh-and-blood Adam and Eve. In doing so, he looks at the biblical data, human experience, and current scientific theories about the origin of our species. But why does it matter? Many people in recent days have reasoned that it shouldn't really matter to the Christian faith. After all, what's important is Jesus, not Adam and Eve. The reasoning goes like this: whether or not the episode in the Garden really happened or not, we all know we're sinful and Jesus rescues us from sin.
The problem with this type of thinking, as Dr. Collins argues, is that removing an historical Adam and Eve from the Christian story, not only leaves the authority of Scripture on shaky ground, but it also makes the promise of God in Christ suspect. You see, we are all sinners because Adam sinned. If there was no Adam and sin is just a part of the natural order, then it's no longer an invading alien force in our world. It's part of the design and not something to be defeated. We need to be counted "in Christ" because we were first counted "in Adam," but if there was no Adam, the biblical gospel makes no sense. While surveying the Old and New Testaments, as well as intertestamental literature, Dr. Collins argues that the biblical (and non-biblical writers) believed in a literal, historical first couple, and that this belief does matter to our understanding of salvation history. "We can conclude that, while some texts do not absolutely require historical Adam and Eve for their truth value, others look like they do in fact require it" (92).
Although the biblical survey was necessary to show the unity of Scripture (and therefore the necessity of historical Adam and Eve), I was most interested in the chapter, "Can science help us pinpoint 'Adam and Eve'?" In it, Dr. Collins identifies criteria for "good" theories (those that will fit with the biblical data and common human experience) and then looks at some of the prominent theories of origin floating around. For me, the take away was that the scientific theories appear to all have some problems, and none of them are really as airtight as some popular scientists would have us believe. (I was a bit disappointed that the issue of polygenesis - the theory that many groups of homo sapiens came into existence around the same time (either through a divine act or evolution - was not confronted a bit more directly, especially in light of Acts 17:26.) At the same time, we Christians need to be realistic about the fact that Genesis is not a science textbook. Much of what we sometimes defend as a "literal reading" of Scripture is actually a traditional interpretation of the text (Please don't misunderstand me: I believe in a literal, historical Adam and Eve!). As new data comes to light, we must be diligent to see how well it lines up with what the Bible actually says. There's a lot at stake:
"First... if we deny that all people have a common source that was originally good but through which sin came into the world, then the existence of sin becomes God's fault.... Second, the notions of sin as an alien invader that affects all people, and as atonement as God's way of dealing with the guilt and pollution that comes from this defiling influence, depend on the story of the original family.... Third, if we cannot insist on a common origin for all mankind, then we have given up the grounds... for affirming the common dignity of all people.... Fourth, how we relate to the story of Adam and Eve does, sooner or later, face us with what stance we will take toward Biblical authority" (133-134).
In 1925, the State of Tennessee tried John Scopes for teaching the theory of evolution in his biology classroom. The trial, commonly referred to as "The Scopes Monkey Trial" became a media sensation and the world watched to see how it would turn out. Fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians defended traditional Creationism and won the day, but the backlash of the battle had repercussions for years to come. These fundamentalists were seen as backward and ignorant and, in many cases, retreated from culture. As I read Did Adam and Eve Really Exist, I couldn't help but think of the Scopes trial. It seems, we are once again faced with an issue where leading scientific theories are in direct opposition to the teaching of the Bible. This issue is not going anywhere. A battle is about to be waged in the popular media, and how we deal with the issue of Adam and Eve will affect how the church is viewed for some time to come.
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Review 2 for Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care - eBook
There is renewed interest and debate in an age old question: did Adam and Eve really exist? From the interaction between Al Mohler and those of Biologos, everything related to Genesis 1-3 is being reexamined and reevaluated from all sides of the issue.
Enter C. John Collins book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care. His approach, thoroughly grounded in historical, biblical truth, examines current scholarship, extra-biblical literature, and critical analysis of from the critics.
If one denies the historical account of Adam and Eve, then it inevitably leads to issues in understanding and explaining sin, the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Bible as it relates to the meta-narrative of the Bible ultimately pointing to a crucified, buried and risen Savior, and impacts our view of humanity in general. To sum up his own book,Collins states, "The alternatives are less satisfactory, and possibly even disastrous, on all these counts (p 133)." 'Counts' referring to those things previously mentioned.
Whether one who has doubts about the historical reliability of creation or even denies the account as recorded in Genesis reads Collins work and is compelled by the evidence to change their view is unclear. However, Collins addresses these issues from a scholarly point of view (with extensive footnotes and a substantial bibliography) but written so pastors, teachers, and students alike can understand. In light of the current issues being discussed, this would be a great resource for any pastor, teacher or student. So, did Adam and Eve really exist? My answer is a resounding yes, and Collins book adds to the biblical foundation that belief is established on. Hopefully, prayerfully, this book will add to your own defense of the historical accuracy and reliability of the biblical account of creation.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Crossway as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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Review 3 for Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care - eBook
The subtitle for this book gives us a quick glimpse as to why this book was written. It states, “Who they were and why you should care!” There has been a real controversy lately that revolves around the aspect that Adam and Eve were not real people but instead are figurative / symbolic of humankind.
Should it matter to us whether they were real or symbolic? YES! There are very solid reasons why it is important that Adam and Eve were real historical people whom God created as the first man and woman.
The book of Genesis reads as though they are real people, not just figurative. God gives them life and they have personality. God gives them instruction and they learn from walking in the garden with God. God gives them free will and they take that free will and abuse the privilege by eating of the fruit that was forbidden.
Bottom line, they sinned! Through their sin all mankind to follow will enter this life in a state of fallen sinfulness.
Maybe the best way to help you understand this books intent is to quote the beginning of Chapter 6, “Conclusions.” C. John Collins states, “What I think I have shown; I do not claim to have solved every problem or to have dealt with every possible objection. But I trust I have shown why the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as our first parents who brought sin into human experience is worthy of our confidence and adherence. It does justice to specific Biblical texts, and suits the Biblical story line, with its notions of representation and covenantal inclusion; it also provides a meaningful explanation for everyday experience. It is the view articulated or presupposed in Genesis, in Paul, and, above all, in the Gospel presentation of Jesus. The alternatives are less satisfactory, and possibly even disastrous, on all these counts.”
Collins accomplished that conclusion in the text of the book. His chapters headings are as follows; Chapter 1, Introduction Chapter 2, The Shape of the Biblical Story Chapter 3, Particular texts that speak of Adam and Eve Chapter 4, Human Uniqueness and Dignity Chapter 5, Can Science Help us pinpoint “Adam and Eve?” Chapter 6, Conclusions
Collins takes a good bit of time taking about the book of Genesis. He then traces the references to Adam and Eve through the Old Testament. He follows that by addressing how the Apostle Paul viewed Adam and Eve in his epistles and also had Jesus referred to Adam and Eve through his teachings as shown in the Gospels.
Further there is some reference to Adam and Eve drawn from Revelation to give us kind of the bookends of the Bible. Genesis starts with Adam and Eve and Revelation sums up why God had to do what He did to bring mankind back to a place where the sin of Adam and Eve has been dealt with and man can now live a life free of sin.
Chapter 5, Can Science Help us pinpoint “Adam and Eve” starts out by referring to the crux of debate that has happened. That crux is that scientist believe that human DNA “points to a population of several thousand people from whom all humans have descended, not just two.”
Collins will work through that discussion and draw on the material he has laid out in the first four chapters of his book to express why he doesn’t believe that is an appropriate belief.
If you are going to deal with any people who question the reality of Adam and Eve or who question that the Bible really addresses them as historical accurate figures rather than just symbolic figures used for the sake of story, then you need to read this book.
C. John Collins does a good job of giving us well thought out logical material to help us lead our ‘skeptic’ friends to further understand their Bibles and see the true storyline that God has woven through history and that He shows us in His Word.
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Review 4 for Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care - eBook
Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who they were and why you should care is written by Dr. C. John Collins Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. This book is a well-written treatment on a topic that is currently being debated by a number of scientists and theologians who are seeking to redefine the traditional position which is that Adam and Eve were actually persons of whom every human being is a descendant of. Rather than giving his opinion of the topic, Dr. Collins goes to the Scriptures and explains them. The author doesn’t just stop at explaining the Scriptures but seeks to answer some of the objections that people are raising against the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve and does so winsomely.
Ideas have consequences. The issue of whether Adam and Eve are historical persons is a huge issue because Genesis presupposes they are. If Adam and Eve are not actual persons who lived then making sense of the Garden of Eden, the Fall and more makes no sense. Furthermore if we deny that Adam and Eve are literal persons then we deny how sin came into the world and the existence of sin becomes God’s fault or something that God could not avoid. Furthermore, the story of Adam and Even deals with the issue of who is sovereign--- mankind or the Lord God Almighty? The answer that one gives to this question will also reveal the position one has on biblical authority which in turn affects how one views who Jesus is and what He has done in His death, burial and resurrection. As you can see the questions that are being asked about the historicity of Adam and Eve have relevance today, because they are foundational to what it means to have a biblical worldview.
Dr. Collins book is one that will help you to think through and understand the important role Adam and Eve play in redemptive history. Along the way the author answers the question: Did Adam and Eve really exist? And why should we care? This book will likely not stop the debate on Adam and Eve but it is an excellent introduction to this topic. I recommend you pick this book up and begin to learn why this issue is so important.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Crossway as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Review 5 for Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care - eBook
sat under the teaching of Jack Collins in seminary, I was glad to see this new book entitled Did Adam and Even Really Exist? from Crossway. Collins' goal is to "show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of any pressures to adandon it" (13). Collins is referring to the view taken by most Christians through history that identifies Adam and Eve as historical persons and the fall of man into sin as coming from their own hands. Collins very carefully handles the concept of history in the introduction to provide the readers a foundation upon which to handle the Genesis narrative. He sides with argument that the author of Genesis believed he was writing about actual events while using rhetorical and literary conventions to shape his readers minds (16). Why is all this talk about history important? For one, many shrug their shoulders and decide that history is unnecessary to modern man. Others, believing in the advances of scientific inquiry but wanting to retain some of the biblical record, cry out that Adam and Eve were not historical persons, but the author(s) of the Genesis narratives believed them to be actual persons. Questions of storyline, witness of other biblical writers, and ordinary experience are questions that Collins relates to the answer of history and its importance. Agreeing with Colllins, I wonder how we can seriously take the writings of Paul relating to sin seriously if we entirely reject the actuality of Adam and Eve.
In the chapter on The Shape of the Biblical Story Collins draws us into the world of the text through seeing its overarching narrative. In speaking of the 'worldview story' that the Bible portrays Collins writes, "..the worldview story..captures the imaginations of those who own it, thereby driving them on and holding their loyalty" (27). What is unique in this delineation of worldview is that it is not merely cognitive but captures the whole person (imagination connects to emotions and gut feeling). Secondly, these worldview stories are not static but provide a steering wheel for their obedience and faithfulness. Next, Collins makes a helpful distinction in seeking to define historical as a 'way of referring to events' that are not necessarily non-figurative, non-ideological and non-sequential (34-35). What is the purpose of this discussion? The main point here is to provide an alterative to applications of the text that seek something that the text cannot provide (prose, complete in detail, chronological sequence, 34-35).
In looking at the rest of the book I wanted to venture into Collins' comments on Genesis and science? Collins wants to provide a discussion between the narrative of Genesis and scientific inquiry that is both reasonable and sound. How does he do this? First, he writes, "We should begin by observing the literary conventions, rhetorical purpose,and original audience of the author of Genesis" (109) Stop right there, why is this important? In order to be good readers of the text, we must pay careful attention to the shape of the text (conventions, rhetoric, divergence from other texts). Genesis 1-11 is markedly different from the ANE stories in its polemical thrust and intent. Secondly, the Genesis narrative has a way of shaping our teaching of the Bible that rids itself from the facts only approach (These are the truths of the Bible, the end). Reading Genesis acutely allows us to see the grand worldview story that is told by the author and allows us to put the events into proper perspective.
I think this is a great book for pastors, laymen, students of the Bible. Collins gets into many other details that people ask when approaching Genesis (no death before Adam and Eve sinned? 115, common origin of mankind). Overall, this is a great resource and a great approach to carefully taking the narrative seriously and engaging science profitably.
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy.
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Review 6 for Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care - eBook
I love studying about the book of Genesis and the debates that surround how the world began. So I was excited to read this book. Let me tell you it did not disappoint at all. The author captivated my attention from the start and was able to artfully blend together science and theology. He did so in a way to show why what we believe about Adam and Eve matters so much. Partly because what we believe about original sin has a great impact on the rest of the Bible and our whole belief in theology. I once read that if the Bible is lying from the beginning, then why would we believe any of the rest of what it says. This book goes along with that sentiment in showing us why our beliefs in the beginning of things is so crucial. I recommend this book to anyone with a curious mind in these matters, it will strengthen your faith.
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Review 7 for Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care - eBook
I wish I could shake C. John Collins's hand. It has been a long time since I last read something as lucid, even-handed, and gracious as his latest book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. Right off the bat, I have to say that the book's simple title betrays it's scholarly depth. Collins's does not pull any punches in carefully examining a variety of facets related to the historicity of Adam and Eve. However, despite the its depth, the simple title correctly portrays the book as accessible and engaging, which is perhaps its greatest strength. Collins does a fine job of distilling difficult concepts into their most basic form, succinctly summarizing complex issues without losing the required nuance. This is a book that every Christian can and should read.
However, for many Christians, discussions related to the origins of man are uncomfortable, to say the least. For some, the near-constant bombardment of "naturalistic" propaganda from the scientific establishment is enough to make them cower in shame, content to hold fast to their "traditional" understanding of human origins while intentionally cultivating a functional ignorance related to modern science's "findings," in fear that such "findings" might prove a death blow to their cherished beliefs (I've been there).
Some Christians lean too far in the other direction, abandoning the biblical text in favor of more recent scientific theories. They view Genesis as an old book full of old myths that do little more than provide us with an interesting (yet unhistorical) back-story to the Jewish people.
Finally, there are some Christians who see modern science as generally in conflict with the biblical witness. They often look at science and boldly declare that it changes nothing about the way they read the Scriptures, because to allow science to induce a revision of our "traditional" interpretations would be tantamount to usurping the authority of Scripture. Additionally, these people generally hold to an extremely literalistic interpretation of the creation account, dismissing literary and historical considerations in favor of a more "plain reading" of the text. Although Collins ultimately agrees with this camp in regard to the historicity of Adam and Eve, he would probably disagree with their basic perspective on the relationship between science and the Bible.
Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? answers all of these people in the same way: "the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as our first parents who brought sin into human experience is worthy of our confidence and adherence" (133). Now, of course there is a lot that goes into that statement, and when Collins mentions the "traditional understanding" of Adam and Eve, he is speaking about what he calls, "mere-Adam-and-Eve-ism" (see below), not necessarily all that has been associated with the belief in a literal Adam and Eve throughout history. This allows room for a variety of theories about what actually took place and how it happened all those years ago. But, the core point remains nonetheless: Adam and Eve did really exist and it does matter.
To that end, Collins is unambiguous about his goal in writing the book:
"My goal in this study is to show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of any pressures to abandon it." (13)
However, this does not mean that he forces his view down the readers' throat. Rather, Collins has written a carefully structured book, with a very specific focus and outline. He fairly presents many different viewpoints, praising their strengths and criticizing their weaknesses in turn. Collins adds that his goal is, perhaps more foundationally, "to help you think these matters through for yourself," (20). My experience in reading the book proved this to be true. Collins respects his readers and lets his well-reasoned arguments do the persuading, allowing room for disagreement and ambiguity where the "evidence" is less certain.
Collins limits his discussion to "mere historical Adam-and-Eve-ism" (borrowed from C.S. Lewis's "mere Christianity"), thus not significantly dealing with many related issues, such as the age of the earth, the origin of Adam's body, the meaning of the "image of God," the means by which sin affects all people and the exact impact of that sin, etc. Although each of these important topics is commented on from time to time, they do not fall into the primary purview of the book, as Collins does not consider agreement on them "crucial for the traditional view" he advocates (14).
This limited focus is actually quite helpful, in my opinion. It enables the author to remain "on target" in discussing the many intricacies related to the book's main question. Although at times I found myself wanting more in regard to specific issues mentioned only in passing, Collins regularly cites his own work (Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary and Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?) and the work of others, so interested readers know where to look for more information.
In the first section, Collins's frames the discussion of the historicity of Adam and Eve in the overarching storyline of the Bible, demonstrating that there are serious problems when one attempts to remove Scripture's origin story from it's truly foundational place in the biblical narrative. One interesting point (which he devotes an appendix to) that he makes is that Genesis was designed to contradict the prevalent Mesopotamian worldviews of the time, providing an alternative set of values for the people of Israel to adhere to.
The second section deals with the specific biblical texts that refer to Adam and Eve. It is in this section of the book that Collins's abilities as a Hebrew scholar can be clearly perceived. He examines passages from the Old Testament, the Gospels, the Pauline corpus, and elsewhere in the New Testament, honestly exegeting the text and drawing conclusions about the authors' perspectives on the creation account. Most fascinating was Collins's brief look at extra-biblical second temple Jewish literature, which he argues provides valuable clues regarding how to understand the biblical creation story. It is my opinion that Collins successfully makes his case from the passages he cited.
In his third major section, Collins argues that reflecting on human uniqueness and dignity provides us with important help in understanding Adam and Eve. Specifically, he looks at the image of God in man and universal human experiences (like yearning for justice). This chapter, in my opinion, is his least convincing one. However, I applaud his efforts to consider the whole range of evidence in coming to a conclusion about Adam and Eve.
Finally, Collins looks at some of the scientific evidence, examining and evaluating a number of theories put forth by those who are attempting to do justice to the biblical text. However, Collins is careful to warn his readers of the risk of reckless concordism (trying to make the Bible and science "fit together") that "assumes that the Bible writer's purpose was to describe the same sorts of things as the contemporary scientist does" (107). This dangerous assumption, so often perpetrated by young earth creationists reading with an overly literalistic approach to the text, can have a detrimental impact on interpretive conclusions.
One of the things I most appreciated about the book was Collins's measured perspective regarding the the many complex issues related to human origins. Collins does not fall into the "all or none" tendency so often advocated by those who regard the "correct" interpretation of the Genesis creation account as perfectly obvious (whether they are young earth creationists or unbelievers who write off the text as pure fantasy). Rather, Collins demonstrates that there are a range of viable theories about how to best understand what the biblical writer was trying communicate, and how that message can fit with the findings of modern science.
When Collins does lay down boundaries that must not be crossed, he does so humbly and graciously, and only after first meticulously demonstrating (from the biblical text, human experience, and science) why it must be so. The author's careful inquiry and gracious tone provides a model to be emulated. Too often, when emotions escalate (as they often do when discussing this issue), logical and exegetical fallacies begin to rule the day, and thus the biblical text is dishonored, even by those who claim it as their final authority.
Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? is an insightful book that has the potential to help many lay Christians navigate the often tumultuous waters surrounding discussions about humanity's origins. Although not comprehensive in dealing with all the important issues related to the biblical account, Collins's book is a valuable contribution to the conversation, especially in it's accessible depth and nuanced perspective. As I have already said, I think that all Christians would benefit from a careful reading of this book. At the very least, it will be a helpful tool in fostering productive discussions regarding this divisive issue.