Many years ago, the son of a good friend was preparing for a mission. He was offered a scholarship to a major university, and so decided to attend for a year before leaving on his mission. By the end of the year, he was no longer an active, believing member. His parents raised him believing in a 6000 year old earth, with a Creation that occurred over a very short period of time. After several science classes that included biology and evolution, he was forced to choose between the incontrovertible evidence of science and the claims made by church leaders and his parents on the age of the earth. Such is a great danger to many of our kids today, and so various scholars and others are seeking methods to be able to resolve the conflict, and hopefully save some of our people.
Recently, my friend Ben Spackman recommended a book by Protestant Bible scholar Peter Enns, entitled: “The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins”.
It is an interesting book, with the following chapters:
- Genesis and the Challenges of the 19th Century: Science, Biblical Criticism, and Biblical Archaeology
- When Was Genesis Written?
- Stories of Origins from Israel’s Neighbors
- Israel and Primordial Time
- Paul’s Adam and the Old Testament
- Paul as an Ancient Interpreter of the Old Testament
- Paul’s Adam
Enns briefly covers the science behind evolution and the evidence of a 4.5 billion year old earth and millions of years of existence of man-like beings. He quickly delves into the Bible’s origins, discussing the history of the Documentary Hypothesis (you can read more about it from a Mormon angle here at my personal blog),
He states that there are three major ways we can view Adam and evolution: Accept a 6000 year old earth and a perfectly correct Genesis story; reject Adam and accept only evolution; or accept a hybrid theory that ties Adam and evolution together.
Enns talks about early beliefs of Israelites: flat earth with 4 corners, a 3 level system (heaven, earth, hell/underworld). Genesis 1 has the lights created AFTER plant life is created, making us wonder how such things could survive and grow without the heat and light from the Sun. Clearly, the ancient beliefs do not match with our modern scientific understandings. Nor should they, if God deals with mankind within the understanding of men.
He explains that the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible), as we have them today, were not written by Moses, but written by a variety of authors centuries later from their own political/religious perspectives. We see this in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, which give us two different versions of the Creation.
In the chapter on Primordial Time (what Adam S. Miller has elsewhere called “Messianic Time”), we find that ancient Israel did not write about modern science. Israel did not understand linear time, as we do today. Instead, they followed cyclical time. Time went in cycles, repeating itself. So, we see that Israel sought to develop a history that repeated itself, placing Israel in its center of creation, and establishing Jehovah as God.
In this way, the Creation and Adam are representative of God’s creation of Israel under Moses. The plagues of Egypt represent the battle God had with Chaos, or the gods of Chaos (Darkness and Water) to create the earth. As God separated the waters from the land, he separated the waters for Israel to cross over. Adam became the first man of God, as Israel was the nation of God.
Interestingly, Enns notes that Adam is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament: in Genesis and In 1 Chronicles, where he is included in a genealogy that establishes Israel’s divine place as God’s people. It is not until we get to Paul in Romans and 1 Corinthians 15, that we ever get the concept of the Fall of Adam.
For this reason, we see several chapters on Paul, as he gives us the first inkling of the Fall of mankind. Paul uses the ancient Israel’s primordial timeframe to establish why there must be a Messiah, even Jesus Christ. He ties them together, as Moses (or the later authors) tied Israel to the Creation and Adam. Jesus becomes the 2nd Adam, freeing us from the effects of the Fall.
Many of his arguments are very compelling, and well thought out. However, he quickly tosses out the hybrid option of trying to tie Adam and evolution together, because there isn’t enough evidence for him to accept such hybrids and he feels they require too much wrangling of what little evidence there is. Enns believes that Paul believed Adam to be a historic person, and so the apostle wrote accordingly. In doing so, Enns believes it is okay to believe the Adam and Creation stories to be non-historical.
From a traditional Christian view, his arguments are well crafted. I do not think they will convince hardliner Protestants, who believe in a God-breathed sola scriptura. Perhaps it will help some of their children.
From a LDS Chistian viewpoint, we have an extra dimension to consider: what do we do with Joseph Smith? Like Paul, Joseph believed in a historic Adam. However, Joseph also claimed to have seen Adam and Eve in vision, such as in D&C 137, where he saw them in heaven. If they are historic individuals, then we cannot accept Enns’ final premise that they were historic fiction. We have to find a hybrid solution, where Adam and Eve were literal, historic beings, but not the only individuals upon the earth at the time.
My personal preference for a hybrid solution comes from Paul and the Book of Mormon. Paul talks about the adoption into the lineage of Abraham, while the Book of Mormon speaks of the cultural adoption of various groups and individuals into the Nephite line (Mulekites, Sam’s family, converted Lamanites, etc). This gives us a pattern to use. I would suggest that Adam was a historical figure, but that others also existed, perhaps in areas far off from Eden. Having forgotten his past, it may be that Adam thought he was the only person around, or the oral history was twisted a lot by the time it reached Moses and the later authors (Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie believed Eve being made from Adam’s rib as figurative, not literal, for example). In the Book of Moses, we find that Adam and Eve were out of the Garden for decades/centuries, before hearing the fullness of the gospel and received baptism (Book of Moses, chapter 5). It may be that as with the Abrahamic Covenant, all may be children of Abraham, that through a similar covenant, all become the children of Adam and Eve (who is the mother of all living). Evolution is satisfied, in it is allowed its time to develop an earth compatible for human life, and scripture is satisfied in that it provides us the “First man and woman” within the covenant, as culturally/spiritually adoptive parents of all peoples.