Saturday, October 25, 2014

Denying the Historicity of Adam and the Resurrection of Jesus

As evangelicals continue to debate the historicity of Adam it is helpful to see how others have argued.  There are those like Peter Enns who deny the historicity of Adam but still hold to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is argued that there is no necessary connection between the two beliefs.  Yet it is instructive to see how the argumentation used by Enns to argue against Adam has been used by others to argue against the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Here, for example, are a few quotations from Enns arguing that the belief in Adam found in Scripture by Jesus and Paul is to be explained by accommodation to the times.

As a child of Israel’s traditions, Paul uses the theological vocabulary available to him and so names the root cause of that universal dilemma [death] as Adam and his disobedience.
 By saying that Paul’s Adam is not the historical first man, we are leaving behind Paul’s understanding of the cause of the universal plight of sin and death.  But this is the burden of anyone who wishes to bring evolution and Christianity together—the only question is how that will be done.[1]
 …Paul’s culturally assumed explanation for what a primordial man had to do with causing the reign of death and sin in the world.  Paul’s understanding of Adam as the cause reflects his time and place.[2] 
Paul, as a first-century Jew, bore witness to God’s act in Christ in the only way that he could have been expected to do so, through ancient idioms and categories known to him and his religious tradition for century upon century.  One can believe that Paul is correct theologically and historically about the problem of sin and death and the solution that God provides in Christ without also needing to believe that his assumptions about human origins are accurate.  The need for a savior does not require a historical Adam.[3] 
Thesis 7: A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors—whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis.  Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment.[4]

Using this same type of reasoning others have gone on to deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ--reducing it to a metaphor.  Consider these thoughts from Gerd Ludemann and Roy Hoover:
 Gerd Ludemann
 If Jesus was raised as the Gospels tell us, where did he go afterward?  As all of us know, Acts of the Apostles tells us that he went to heaven.  But I would like to ask my opponent whether he really thinks Jesus went to heaven.  That is to say, what we are dealing with in the New Testament texts are images of people of a specific time that cannot be equated with facts.  And if you take one of the elements out of the sequence—resurrection, ascent to heaven and then heavenly return—the whole thing will collapse.[5] 
I think that if we can’t say where Jesus went after he was on earth and if we have to exclude that he went to heaven, we have to look for the clearest hypothesis to explain all the texts.  Anybody who says that he rose from the dead is faced with another problem that I shall address later—namely, if you say that Jesus rose from the dead biologically, you would have to presuppose that a decaying corpse—which is already cold and without blood in its brain—could be made alive again.  I think that is nonsense.[6] 
In other words, belief in his resurrection, ascension to heaven and immediate return are mythological elements of the faith of the first-century Christians, which we cannot take as simple descriptions of fact.[7]

Roy Hoover 
The first thing one comes to recognize is that the credibility of the idea of resurrection is dependent on two basic concepts that prevailed in Hellenistic Judaism and in early Christianity, two concepts that were assumed to be true by religious Jews and by the first generations of Christians.  One is a certain concept of God.  The idea of the resurrection of the dead is dependent on faith in a God who is believed to be the Creator and Ruler of the whole cosmos and faith that this God created human beings in God’s own image and likeness.  The logic of a resurrection faith, both in first-century Judaism and in first-century Christianity, is that if this God has the power to create the world and human life in the first place, then this God has the power to re-create the world and human life as well.  Further, the God who created the world is also the God who rules the world with goodness and justice.  This sovereign God will raise the dead in order to demonstrate the reality of divine sovereignty.  In the end, goodness and justice must prevail in this world, if this God really is the world’s ruling power.  The idea of the resurrection of the dead is dependent on this understanding of God.  If this God really is God, then the resurrection of the dead is a reasonable hope.  That is the logic of ancient resurrection faith. 
The idea of the resurrection of the dead is also dependent on a certain view of the cosmos, namely that the cosmos has a three-level structure: the earth is the middle part; above the earth is heaven or the heavens, the space occupied by God and the angels; below the earth is Hades, the realm of death and the powers of evil.  Given this map or picture of the cosmos, it seemed plausible to virtually all ancient peoples that divine powers could and did intervene in the affairs of human beings. 
Indeed, such interventions were to be expected.  They were special manifestations of the divine power responsible for the everyday order and life of the world (compare the relationship between Odysseus and Athena in Homer’s Odyssey, as well as the relationship between Aeneas and Jupiter in Virgil’s Aeneid).  Resurrection was understood by both Jews and Christians in the first century C.E. as such divine intervention, one in which God would end the anarchy of human history and inaugurate a new world order in which God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
If the idea of resurrection both in Hellenistic Judaism and in early Christianity is dependent on a particular concept of God and a particular picture of the cosmos, it is credible as long as that concept of God and that picture of the world are credible.  If that concept of God and that worldview lose their credibility, ideas and beliefs that are dependent on them lose their credibility as well. 
And that, in fact, is what happened with the coming of modern scientific knowledge about the physical and natural world.  Thanks to Copernicus and Galileo, sunrise and sunset have become merely figures of speech for us rather than literal descriptions of the sun’s movements, as those terms were for all peoples in antiquity.  And thanks to Darwin and his successors, we have come to see ourselves as the offspring of a long, evolutionary process who occupy a particular and highly significant place in the process, namely the point at which the evolutionary process has become conscious of itself, as the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it in The Phenomenon of Man. 
In short, the ancient worldview on which the idea of resurrection is dependent has been replaced by a modern worldview based on the findings of modern science.  And with that profound change in worldview, the literal statements about the resurrection of the dead and the resurrection of Jesus have lost their literal meaning, as Ludemann has said.[8]

Let it be clearly understood, the argument is not that Enns denies the resurrection of Jesus.  He claims otherwise.  The idea presented here--in short form--is that the structure of argumentation used by Enns to deny Adam also has implications for the resurrection of Jesus.  The kinds of arguments used by Enns and others have been extended to cover other ground which does impinge on central matters of the faith.  

[1] Peter Enns. The Evolution of Adam, p. 123.
[2] Ibid., p. 124.
[3] Ibid., p. 143.
[4] Ibid. 
[5] Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann edited by Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli (IVP, 2000), p. 40.

[6] Ibid., p. 45.
[7] Ibid., p. 62.
[8] Ibid., pp. 140-142.