Are White Supremacists Neanderthals?

neanderthal-3-spelling

White Supremacists are proud of their supposed genetic superiority, yet what sets European genetics apart is 1-4% Neanderthal DNA.

But the Neanderthals whose children survived; whose descendants are with us today; you and me if you are of European descent; those were the Neanderthals who chose cooperation rather than competition with the newcomers out of African. They made love not war.

Genetically, Yes. White supremacists are Neanderthal. But describing them that way, isn’t that an insult to ancestors far wiser than their racist children?

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Is the bible the only basis for morality?

It is a popular argument in evangelism: without an absolute moral standard handed down from God, all we ever have is an ‘anything goes’ moral relativism. ‘Good’ is simply whatever seems right to each individual. People’s idea of what is right and wrong may be exact opposites. Here is an example of this sort of argument.

While it may sound like a great argument (it’s not1) it simply isn’t what the bible teaches. It’s also pretty insulting to non-Christians too, especially with American Christians voting in such large numbers for a racist, sexual predator like Trump, an irony that isn’t lost on non-Christians.

But the bible is much more positive about other people’s moral understanding. Paul tells us that even without the Mosaic Law, Gentiles who don’t know the bible, show they have God’s law written on their hearts Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires… 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

More importantly, the bible doesn’t teach the commandments as the absolute basis of morality written in stone… well maybe written in stone, but not the absolute basis.

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Paul describes the Old Testament Law as a child’s tutor Gal 3:24. There is a deeper moral principle the commandments themselves are founded on, a deeper magic as Aslan put it. Rom 13:9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Jesus himself said all of the Old Testament commandments are based on two great commandments, to love God and love your neighbour. Matt 22:37 NLT Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’e 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”.

Since we seem to find ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ so difficult to understand, Jesus explained it another way. Matt 7:12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them… Again Jesus tells us this principle sums up all of the commandments in the Old Testament …for this is the law and the prophets. But this principle, the Golden rule, or ‘do as you would be done by’ is found in one form or another throughout the world’s major religions and in a lot of our philosophies.

Does it somehow take from Christianity that ‘do unto others…’ is found in other religions?

It shouldn’t. We are all created in God’s image, remember how Paul tells us even Gentiles without the OT Law have God’s law written on their hearts.
Jesus didn’t have a problem with it either. When a Jewish theologian asked Jesus what loving you neighbour meant, Jesus picked an example from outside Judaism, a Samaritan, motivated not by the Jewish Law, but by the gut-wrenching empathy that he felt towards the man bleeding dying on the road to Jericho.

The Golden Rule isn’t based on divine revelation, it flows from our human capacity for empathy. It is how we are made, how we evolved, how God created us. We see someone being suffering or being mistreated, the empathy centres in our brain signal to us how we would feel in the other person’s place. And it’s not just a mental response in our brain. The sensations of deep emotion are sent down the vagus nerve telling our heart to beat faster, our stomach to tighten and our intestines to feel as though they were being tied up in a knot. The way we are built, seeing the pain of a fellow human resonates through our body.

We talk of our heart going out to someone, it may be a metaphor but it is based on the human physiological response when we empathise. The word Jesus used for the Samaritan’s compassion (the tongue twister splagchnizomai) comes from the Greek word for intestines. The Samaritan felt compassion for dying man deep in his very guts.

This is how we know we should treat others as we would have them treat us, to love the as we love ourselves. When we see their suffering, we feel it deep in our gut as though we were suffering it ourselves. We know in our hearts they are a person just like us with feelings like ours to be valued as we value our own life.

Which is why a compassionate humanist or atheist can have a much deeper, much more mature moral understanding than a Christian whose moral framework simply a rule based. And as a friend point out to me when we were discussing this, that was Jesus’ point in the parable of the Good Samaritan talking about the religious people, the priest and the Levite, who walked by, while the Samaritan was the one who stopped and helped his fellow man.

Our understanding of justice and human rights is based on this. We recognise injustice because we wouldn’t want to be treated that way. We know treatment that is fair and just when we see it, and we recognise treatment we would cry out aginst ourselves. This understanding of justice and injustice is shared across all cultures by every religion and none. The only limit to our concept of justice and human rights is the limit of our empathy. For more on the limits of empathy and how it is manipulated by certain politicians to spread hate, see my blog Listening to right wing politicians can turn you psychopathic.

Another moral basis Christians use

This one is closer to the empathy based loving you neighbour as yourself. We love and value our fellow man because they are made in God’s image. Martin Luther King used this as an argument for human rights. In fact, it is used in the bible to prod religious people who are less than perfect in the way they treat others. Prov 17:5 Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker. James 3:9 With (our tongues) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. This is a pretty good basis for treating people decently, far better than simply following rules because God said so. But like rule following, this moral basis is limited to people who believe in God and believe he created and loves us.

But God wants us to go further than rule following, or loving people because God loves them. God wants us to love others as we love ourselves, because we recognise them as people like us, who have feeling like we do, and we feel it ourselves when they hurt or suffer injustice.

Is there anything that sets the bible and Christianity morality apart?

The Christian version of the Golden Rule is one of higher versions, teaching the positive side of ‘do unto others’. Most other versions only teach the negative side, don’t do what you wouldn’t like done to you. Basically, the higher version of the Golden rules say “help you neighbour when he falls because that what you’d want yourself” the lower version says “don’t kick him when he’s down, you wouldn’t like that yourself”. While the lower version is most common, the higher version can be found also in religions and philosophies like Taoism, Jainism and Islam.

One thing that sets Christianity apart is that God not only calls us to treat our neighbour with love and compassion, but he also demonstrated this love and compassion himself, by becoming human and laying down his life for us in the greatest act of sacrificial love and compassion.

Which of course leads into the biggest difference about Christianity, that our whole relationship with God is based what Christ has done, rather than our own, frankly terrible, efforts at doing the right thing. For a Christian learning to love others better and use our God-given empathy and compassion flows out of that as we walk in relationship with Jesus and are transformed by his Word and his Holy Spirt within us.

And lastly

For those who don’t believe in God the evolution of morality and a sense of justice raises the disturbing suggestion that our material universe comes prewired for it. It is not just humans who evolved it either. Empathy and an understanding fairness keep emerging in social species once they develop sufficient brain capacity. We see it in animals as distantly related as birds, dogs and capuchin monkeys.

They could try to dismiss morality and justice as random side effect of evolution, instincts that are beneficial for group survival but of no intrinsic meaning. But to do that they would have to abandon the fundamental importance of compassion justice and human rights that from the very centre of their being3 their own empathy and compassion is telling them is real.

Either that live with the cognitive dissonance that the basis for justice, morality and the rights of others seem to be written into the fabric of the materialistic universe as deeply as the laws of mathematics, just waiting for organisms sufficiently developed to recognise them.

Notes

1 A major problem with the argument for an absolute morality is, (as any well informed atheist will tell a Christian who tried to use it), it had a massive hole punched in it way back in the time of Plato. It is called the Euthyphro dilemma, where Plato pushed the problem of arbitrary morality one step further back. “Is goodness (piety) loved by the gods because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by the gods?” If God really liked when we tortured kittens, would that make torturing kittens moral? Which spins off into further philosophical questions, but it is enough to show that this popular evangelistic argument doesn’t work.

How to pronounce splagchnizomai

3 Via the vagus nerve.

26 reasons to interpret Genesis figuratively

With the debate on Evolution and Creation between Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) and Bill Nye (the Science Guy) I though it time to dust off something I wrote a few years ago over on Christian Forums:

Here are a couple of indications the Genesis creation accounts should be understood as a metaphor.

(1) Genesis 2 describes a completely different order of creation to Genesis 1.
(2) Adam is Hebrew for Man or Mankind, which make perfect sense as an Everyman character in a parable describing the creation and fall of the human race.
(3) It is not just Adam’s name being ‘Man’, his wife is called ‘Woman’.
(4) Adam is referred to as ‘them’ Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:2 Male and female he created them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam.
(5) Eve being made from Adam’s rib ‘flesh of his flesh’ is describe as the reason the sexual union makes husband and wife ‘one flesh’ Genesis 2:24. This is an allegorical interpretation of the rib, which is found in the text of Genesis itself.
(6) We have Adam being told to check out the animals to look for a life partner. A wonderful allegorical description of how a man needs a good women to love cherish, but as a literal preparation for adult life and relationships it is pretty weird, not to say unscriptural.
(7) Being made of dust, or God forming us from clay, is a common biblical metaphor everywhere else in scripture.
(8) There is a talking snake described as a literal snake in Genesis 3 but we are told we are told in Revelation 12:9 & 20:2 the snake was not a beast of the field, but Satan.
(9) Our redemption is describe in terms of the redeemer stepping on this snake’s head which never happened in the gospel, not literally anyway.
(10) Adam and Eve could have lived forever by from eating from a fruit tree, while Jesus said perishable food cannot give eternal life.
(11) If the Tree of Life was literal it would mean there is another source of everlasting life other than through Jesus and the cross. This does not make sense theologically.
(12) Alternatively, if the Tree of life was allegorical, it would be a beautiful picture of the Cross, 1Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, and of Jesus himself who said he was the true Vine John 15:1,
(13) Paul tells us he sees Adam as a figure of Christ in Romans 5:14 and through out his epistles interprets Adam and Eve as a picture of marriage or a picture of Christ and the Church.
(14) People back then were very used to parables and metaphors and would launch into extended metaphors without any explanation, the talking trees in Judges 9 or Genesis 49:9 Judah is a lion’s cub… 14 Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds… 27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf…
(15) Genesis 6 uses a figurative interpretation of the creation of Adam to describe the flood Genesis 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out Adam whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Adam, if he was literal, would have been dead by the time of the flood.
(16) We have cherubim with a supernatural sword guarding paradise, elsewhere in the bible cherubim are seen around the throne of God, or the holy of holies in the temple, which makes perfect sense if the garden of Eden is actually talking about heaven or is an allegory for the temple (or both since the temple was a picture of heaven).
(17) You find all the imagery from Genesis coming together again in another highly allegorical book, the book of Revelation where you have another husband and wife, the same talking snake, the tree of life planted by a river in the paradise of God (paradise is how the LXX translates ‘garden’ of Eden).
(18) Nowhere in the bible are the days of Genesis interpreted as literal days.
(19) Genesis 2:4 describes all of creation taking place in a single day.
(20) Genesis 2:17 says Adam would surely die the day he ate the fruit, which did not happen, so either day did not mean a literal day, or the death did not refer to literal physical death.
(21) Exodus 20:11 uses the days of Genesis not to teach a literal six day creation, but as a lesson in Sabbath observance, while Paul goes on to tell us the Sabbath is simply a shadow, an allegorical picture of Christ Colossians 2:16&17.
(22) In Exodus 31:17 God’s seventh day rest is expanded: on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.
This cannot literally mean the God of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps was refreshed after a day’s rest, however as an anthropomorphism, it is a beautiful metaphor describing God’s identification with down trodden workers in the field, the child labourers and migrants workers who are also refreshed after their Sabbath rest Exodus 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. Refreshed literally refers to people who are exhausted getting their breath back. It is not a common word in the bible occurring only three times in the bible, so its occurrence referring to God’s rest in Exodus 31:17 a few chapters after it refers to exhausted field workers is not coincidental.
(23) Days in the OT Law began in the evening Leviticus 23:32 from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath. Yet the sabbath, if it is based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, was because God set this particular day of the week aside as holy because it is the day he rested during the creation week. The problem is, the days in Genesis, if you take it as seven literal days, all begin in the morning Genesis 1:13. And there was morning and there was evening the third day – then you go on to the fourth day. So the Sabbath, if it is literally marking the day God set aside as holy at the creation, is out by 12 hours.
(24) Psalm 90:4, a psalm describing the creation, interprets God’s days as like a thousand years, which hardly sounds like a literal interpretation of Genesis.
(25) The psalm goes on to interpret key imagery from Genesis Adam being returned to the dust, the flood, in terms of the fleetingness of human life, an allegorical interpretation.
(26) In Hebrews 3&4 God’s seventh day rest is interpreted, not as a single day’s break at the end of a six day creation, but as an ongoing rest we are to enter ‘today’ through the gospel.

Now while some of these points show the problems with a literal interpretation, others simply show how Genesis fits better if it is interpreted metaphorically, they are evidence it is a metaphor rather than evidence that it isn’t literal.

Theodicy, why suffering exists in a good creation, Part 1

If a loving God created the world, why is there suffering and death?

If you have hung around Christians for any length of time you will probably know the story. God created Adam and Eve physically and morally perfect. They lived in a perfect world free from pain and death. When Adam and Eve used the free will God gave them to rebel and sin, all of life on earth, people and animals, lost the gift of immortality and became subject to sickness, old age and death. The natural world was changed and broken too, subject to earthquakes storms and floods. Adam and Eve’s sin changed and corrupted human nature and this sin nature that has been passed down through the human race explaining our own tendency to sin as well as monsters like Hitler and Stalin.

This explanation goes back to Augustine. It is certainly a handy answer to why there is suffering in the world God created, God didn’t cause the problems he created a perfect world, it was humans who messed it up. The explanation has its problems though. There are serious questions about the justice of punishing future generations for a sin they didn’t commit, not to mention punishing animals who had nothing to do with it at all (except for the snake). There is also the problem that God knew very well what would happen and still went ahead. But in its various forms, this has been the main understanding of the western church, both Catholic and Protestants since Augustine.

The real big problem with Augustine’s explanation today, is that we now know that suffering and death have been around for billions of years, and that big toothed predators roamed the earth long before mankind.

This kind of argument explaining suffering and justifying God is called a theodicy (from the Greek words for God and justice). While Augustine may have based his theodicy on his understanding of Genesis, it is not how the bible explains the problem of suffering. The bible takes a different approach, not so much addressing ‘why does suffering exist?’ but the addressing much more personal question ‘why are we, the people of God, suffering?’. While Augustine’s theodicy is most familiar to us in the western church, the Eastern Orthodox follow the theodicy of an earlier church father Irenaeus and is based much more closely on how the bible explains suffering.

Irenaean theodicy
While Augustine though Adam and Eve were created morally perfect, Irenaeus, writing in the second century, didn’t think that this was possible. Good character only comes through the discipline of learning to make right choices and choosing what is right even when it huts. We see the this idea in the letters of Paul and James. Romans 5:3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
James 1:2  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Even Jesus went through this, as we are told in one of the strangest verses in the bible Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

For Irenaeus, there was a purpose for this world of suffering. We need it to become truly human. He believed the process of creation still going on. God is using the suffering we go through and in it he continues to create us in his likeness1. John Hick in his book Evil and the God of Love, describes this idea as a ‘vale of soul making’, The phrase ‘vale (or valley) of soul making’ comes from the poet John Keats, who adapted an older phrase lamenting life on earth as a ‘vale of tears’. For Keats (and before him Irenaeus) this was missing the point.

Augustine assumed God could and would create Adam and Eve mature and morally perfect. But for Irenaeus it wasn’t a question of God’s ability to create that way, but of the creature being able to receive these gifts from God. While God could give the gift of moral perfection, we would not be able to receive it. Character was something we can only slowly grow into through the discipline of choosing to do what is right and turning away from what is wrong, day after day, not matter what it costs us.

Irenaeus, a theodicy for today…
While the Augustinian theodicy is tied in to a literal Adam and Eve, the Irenaean theodicy is much more flexible since it is based on God’s purpose for suffering and death now. Suffering is ultimately good and part of God’s plan rather than a failure that need to be explained away. Irenaeus himself saw Adam and Eve as immature children who need to grow through experience into the image of God, which is the view still held by the Orthodox church. But the theodicy does not even require a literal Adam and Eve. A century or so after Irenaeus, we find Origen who did not take Adam and Eve literally, had a similar view to Irenaeus. The world is a schoolroom where God employs suffering for our education and healing2.

You find a wide range of different views about Adam and Eve among Christians who accept Evolutionary Creation (aka Theistic Evolution). These range from belief in Adam and Eve as historical individuals, through interpreting them as parables, to thinking they simply reflect an ancient prescientific views of the writers. An Irenaean theodicy, which doesn’t need Adam, Eve or the Fall to explain suffering and death, fits very nicely.

Job: a study on theodicy
The whole book of Job was written to explore the question of suffering by looking all the problems Job had. In fact the book of Job presents us with a number of theodicies. Most of the book is taken up by the most popular theodicy of all, helpfully offered to Job again and again by his religious friends. Job is suffering because he sinned and God was punishing him. You would think seeing this theodicy being rebuked by God would be enough to squash it once and for all. Yet we see the same self satisfied assumptions behind the disciples questions to Jesus John 9:2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. Thankfully with Jesus rejecting this smug theodicy it hasn’t been a problem among Christians since, has it?

Now my first though when I heard the term theodicy was that God doesn’t need justification. Who are we to question God? In fact this was one of the main points of the book Job 38:2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? … 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Yet we find the same question being asked again and again in the bible in the Book of Psalms and in the prophets. In fact the book of Job itself was written to explore the problem of suffering and injustice, which gives us some grounds to keep searching for answers. What Job it telling us is that when we face the problem of suffering, when we go though it ourselves, that even though we do not understand what is going on or why it is happening, God who created the heavens and the earth knows what he is doing and we can trust him. We can cry out to God for answers like the psalmists but like them we also have to keep trusting God.

The theodicy in Job goes beyond saying the God created the universe, who are we to question him. It also shows that in the end God worked it all out for Job. Job 42:12 And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13  He had also seven sons and three daughters… 15  And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. As Paul said in Romans 8:28 (NASB) God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

The most important lesson Job teaches us is that God’s ways are higher than ours and he knows what he is doing. Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. When we face suffering and trials we simply cannot explain, we need as to leave room for mystery3, that God is God and that he know what he is doing, and we can keep trusting him through the darkness.

The uselessness of theodicy

While these are important questions for someone wanting to understand the character of God, or questioning his existence in a troubled world, they can be pretty useless for someone facing pain or tragedy themselves. What they need is for us to be there with them and for them. We need to understand, to share as far as we can, what they are going through.

Which, if you think about it, this is what God did for us. That is why the heart of the bible is not a lecture on theology, but the incarnation. God comes to share our humanity, share our pain and rejection and ultimately share the suffering and humiliation of death.

A problem we have with our understanding of God is that our theology is so tied up in Greek philosophy. God is all powerful, all knowing and he is everywhere. He is. But the God who reveals himself to us in the bible is not the distant and impassive God of philosophy. He know what we are going through, not just because God knows everything, but because he chose in Christ to share our humanity with us. He wants to be with us as we go through it all. This goes far beyond, far deeper, than simply knowing everything about our pains and troubles. Hebrews 2:18 (NLT) Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

As we face trials and griefs we can meet Christ at the cross where he not only carried our sin, he also bore our pain and suffering. Isaiah 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. There is a transforming power there through Christ’s death and resurrection. We can know the comfort and love of God holding us and upholding, and in turn, we ourselves are transformed deeper into the likeness and love of Jesus Christ.

Biblical imagery of theodicy

A crucible for silver
The most vivid image used to describe and to explain suffering for believers is the refiners fire, burning away the dross in our lives and leaving pure gold.
Isaiah 48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
Proverbs 17:3 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.
Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
We find this imagery being repeated in the NT by Peter. 1Peter 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The potter’s wheel
A common metaphor in the bible is God the potter, with us as the clay. Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. The meaning is pretty clear, we are God’s workmanship, he is one who made us he is working in our lives forming us into the sort of pot he sees fit. But sometimes we see the other side of this, how this process feels for the lump of clay being moulded and squeezed by the hands of the potter. Jeremiah uses the metaphor of a potter reworking a marred clay pot to explain the approaching Babylonian invasion Jeremiah 18:6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. Though invasion and exile brought hardship and death, the promise of the potter metaphor was that all was not lost. God was in control that he was still working among his people producing something real value and worth.

Breaking waters
The other great metaphor showing the pain and utter helplessness in suffering, as well the promise it holds, is the imagery of labour pains and childbirth. It was used of the suddenness of suffering or the helplessness of people caught up in it. Psalm 48:5  As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight. 6  Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labour.
Jeremiah 6:24 We have heard the report of it; our hands fall helpless; anguish has taken hold of us, pain as of a woman in labour. We also see it used in frustration, and with a certain amount of schoolboy humour, in Isaiah 26:17 Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O LORD; 18 we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. Yet for all the frustration and seeming failure there is a promise that God would bring his work to completion. Isaiah 66:9 Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?

We see the same metaphor being used by Jesus to his disciples, really emphasising how much greater their joy would be than the suffering they went through. John 16:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21  When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Jesus was speaking this the night before his death. In spite of the agony he faced and was already doing through in anticipation, Jesus took time to sit with his disciples and comfort them in the sorrow they were about to go through. And he was able to do this because he was distressed himself that evening as he faced the cross. We see Jesus’ pain and distress later that evening in the garden Mark 14:33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. This had been building during the final week. John 12:27 Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. The writer of Hebrews tells us that what Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:20 about the joy that come through childbirth is how Jesus himself endured the cross. Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame. We are seeing something deeply incarnational here. Jesus was able to reach out and comfort the disciples about to face utter loss and despondency because he shared the suffering with them. And because he was going through this suffering, he was able to comfort his friends with the comfort he was holding onto himself.

This is one of the deepest reasons God allows suffering and hardship in our lives. 2Corinthians 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. God allows pain and suffering in our lives, so we can reach out to broken and suffering people too.

Only in a world of suffering and death that people can truly learn how to love. It is not just that God allows people to suffer so we can practice being loving to them. It is when love demands sacrifice that we really learn how to love, the sick child throwing up all night, the friend in trouble, caring for a partner with long term illness. Jesus told us John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. This would never have been possible in Augustine’s idea of a perfect Eden. If Adam and Eve had never sinned and never left the garden, they could never have learned how to love beyond emotion and sentimentality, never have become truly human, never have grown into the full expression of the image of God.

Only in a world of suffering a death could we become truly human, made in the image of God whose very nature is love, And only in a world with suffering and death could Christ die to redeem us from all the times we have fallen so far short of what God has called us to be.

In Part 2 I hope to look at theodicy and creation, God using evolution to create life on earth.

Notes
1 Irenaeus distinguished between image and likeness in Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’. The image is what we are created with, the likeness is the character God produces in us. That is probably pushing the text and any distinction between image and likeness too far. But there is a very good basis for seeing God work of creation in us as ongoing, that he is still making us in his image and likeness. Paul says that we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another 2Cor 3:18.

2 Mark S. M. Scott, Suffering and Soul-Making: Rethinking John Hick’s Theodicy
Scott sees John Hick’s ‘Irenaean theodicy’ as being closer to Origen than Irenaeus. However Irenaeus was the first Church Father to argue that the purpose of suffering is to form us in God’s likeness.

Web resources on Theodicy
3 Denis Lamoureux’s Web lectures on Science and Religion Episodes 193 -201 The Problem of Evil

Bethany Sollereder 3 part blog in Biologos How Could God Create Through Evolution? A Look at Theodicy

How was Genesis 1 understood by the writers of the OT?

How was the creation account in Genesis 1 written? Was it meant as literal history to be understood as God’s timetable of creation, or was it a parable or poetic framework whose purpose was to teach truths other than a literal six day creation? While there is much to be learned by studying Ancient Near East (ANE) culture that the writers and audience shared, we have a closer perspective we can look at too, how other writers and other creation accounts in the bible interpreted Genesis.

Does Genesis 1 contradict Genesis 2?
If you look at Genesis 2, it presents a completely different sequence of creation events to Genesis 1.
In Genesis 1, God created plants first, then sea creatures and birds, the land animals, then finally man and woman.
Genesis 2 starts off with the creation of a man before there were any plants created, then land animals and birds created together, then finally creating a woman.

Creationists go to great lengths to try to avoid the plain straightforward meaning of the narrative, but it is there, both in the storyline, and in the use of the waw consecutive, a syntactical construction used in Hebrew to indicate consecutive events in a narrative. Genesis 2 portrays the creation as a series of event in a narrative, but it gives a different series of events to a literal reading of Genesis 1. We can try to make them fit if we change the meaning of Genesis 2 to fit what we think it should say, how can scripture ever challenge our view point so we can learn what it does say and how God is speaking to us though it?

It is worth pointing out that while the waw consecutive shows Genesis 2 is a narrative it does not mean it is a historical narrative as waw consecutives were also used in non literal narratives like Nathan’s parable of the lamb 1Samuel 12.

But if Genesis presents two contradictory sequences of Creation, does that mean the bible is wrong and contradicts itself in the very first pages? It is only contradictory if you read the two accounts of creation literally. Whatever your ideas of how Genesis was written and compiled, whether by one writer or were written by different people over time and compiled by an editor, the person who put these two stories together cannot have been concerned by the literal sequences of creation they present or they would not have put two contradictory timetables together. The point of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, at least when they were compiled together as the book of Genesis, was not as literal history, but the deeper lessons the stories taught.

The accommodation explanation assumes that both creation accounts were written and understood as literal history, but that contradictions between the creation accounts and science, and between the two accounts themselves don’t matter since it is the spiritual and theological teachings that are important part, what God was inspiring in Genesis accommodated to the Ancient Near East world views of the Israelites. But it is one thing to say the writers didn’t understand modern science and it wasn’t God’s intention to teach them, but I would think if the writers or editor put together two contradictory creation stories, they weren’t thinking of them as literal history to start with.

Did Moses interpret Genesis 1 literally?
There are plenty of creation accounts in the bible, Genesis 1:1-2:3, the rest of Genesis 2, Job 38, Psalm 104 and Proverbs 8. But only the first account in Genesis mentions the six day creation followed by God resting on the seventh day in Genesis 2:1-3. We find the reason for the seven day description in the Ten Commandments in Exodus where it is used to teach Sabbath observance. Exodus 20:9  Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Creationists often take this as proof Moses interpreted the six days literally. It is the Ten Commandments of course they are meant literally. But while the commands themselves were to be observed to the letter, the explanations of the commandments could use metaphors. Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. Did the whole nation live in one big house? The house of slavery wasn’t a literal house, even if the command not to worship any other gods meant exactly what it said.

Or look at the Sabbath command when we are given the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day Deuteronomy 5:15. This isn’t literal either, God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm is a another metaphor, an anthropomorphism describing God in human terms. Clearly Moses had no problem using metaphors in illustrations and explanation of the Ten Commandments. He had no problem describing history in metaphor either, we see this in Deuteronomy in the song of Jeshurun where the history of Israel is described in the metaphor of a small child the Lord finds in the wilderness. There is nothing in Moses’ use of a six day creation in Exodus 20 that say he interpreted the six day creation literally.

In fact is we look at the Sabbath pattern in the OT law, it wasn’t tied to a literal seven day week. Instead it is repeated on bigger and bigger scales, a weeks of weeks from the Passover to the feast of first fruits (Pentecost), every seventh year was a sabbatical year and a week of weeks of years was the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).

Psalm 90
In Psalm 90, we find highly allegorical interpretations of Genesis ascribed to Moses, the man of God verse 1. Psalm 90 is a meditation on the creation and Genesis. Unlike the literal six day interpretation of Young Earth Creationists, in Psalm 90 Moses throws us into God’s deep time, Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

In the context of a Psalm on the creation and Genesis we are warned against thinking God’s view of time is anything like our own verse 4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past [Lit: a day gone by], or as a watch in the night. We see time scale of evening and morning stretched out into human life span. Verse 5b they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

It is not just the timescale the writer doesn’t take literally. The Psalm is full of allusions to Genesis interpreted allegorically to apply to the human race. God’s judgement on Adam in Genesis 3:19 is spoken to all mankind. Psalm 90:3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” From God’s perspective of time, each generation is swept away by the flood. Verse 4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away as with a flood. With all this other imagery being taken from Genesis, it is possible the evening and morning imagery in verses 5&6 may also be drawn from the evening and mornings of Genesis 1. In trying to understand the Creation account in Genesis we should not underestimate the how comfortable and familiar biblical writers, and Moses himself, were with metaphor and allegory.

Did six day’s creating tire God out?
Coming back to Exodus and the Sabbath command, it is not just that God rested after the six days creating the world, Moses tells us he was refreshed after his rest. Exodus 31:17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. Refreshed is a very strong word, used only three times in the OT. It literally means to get your breath back and was used of David and his men stopping at the Jordan to catch their breath after fleeing Absolom. 2Samuel 16:14 And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself. Was God exhausted by the effort of creating the universe in six days? Was the Israelites’ concept of God no better than the prophets of Ba’al whom Elijah mocked perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened 1Kings 18:27?

I said the word refreshed was used three times in the OT. The other time it is used is back in Exodus and it is also used discussing the Sabbath, only this time it is weary labourers in the field who can rest and be refreshed by the Sabbath. Exodus 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.

In Genesis 1 creation is described in terms of God as a labourer creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh to teach the Sabbath rest. We usually look no further than Exodus 23 to understand the Sabbath, it is holy because God made it holy. But as we read through Exodus, and look at the Sabbath command in Deuteronomy, we see the reason God set this day aside, it wasn’t because he needed the rest to catch his breath, there was a deeper reason than commemorating creation. God ordained the  Sabbath out of his compassion for weary workers, for child labourers and migrants out in the field under the hot sun. We know God does not grow weary. Psalm 121:4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Moses, who met the unchanging I AM in the burning bush and wrote in awe of the God of eternity in Psalm 90, would hardly think God was worn out by creation or would be refreshed after a day’s rest.

The other option is that the picture in Genesis of God working for six days and resting on the seventh is a metaphor, an anthropomorphism, to show God’s identification with humanity, especially the downtrodden weary labourers. Instead of showing us God’s work schedule, it show us God’s heart. We see the fulfilment of God’s identification with humanity in the incarnation, where God became man and shared our weakness, bearing our sin and suffering on the cross. If you really want to follow this picture the only time God rested and was refreshed, where God literally got his breath back, was when God the Son lay dead in the tomb and then rose from the dead. Interestingly, in the NT, God’s seventh day rest is interpreted not as a 24 hour rest at the end of creation, but as the rest we are commanded to enter into through the Gospel in Hebrews 3&4. It is a picture in shadows of the rest we will share in Christ in eternity Col 2:17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

God the builder in other creation accounts
This picture of God as a workman making the heavens and the earth is taken and expanded in other creation accounts in the bible. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is the master craftsman working alongside God, Proverbs 8:30 then I was beside him as a master craftsman (NET),
when he marked out the foundations of the earth (like a building site) verse 29, and
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep verse 27 (with a compass according to the AV).

In Psalm 104 God set the earth on foundations verse 4 and builds his own chambers by laying down beams (of timber elsewhere in scripture) on the waters Psalm 104:3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters.

In Job 38 God the master builder calculates the measurements for the earth and checks them with a measuring line. He lays a foundation for the earth, and builds it with a corner stone and bases (for the pillars of the earth) Job 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5  Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,

All of these creation accounts take the Genesis description of God creating the earth in six days and resting on the seventh, the imagery God as a labourer, and they run with it. They show God as a builder building a house, His house, complete with tools and building material. But according to John Walton that is how ancient Hebrew would have understood Genesis 1, not as a six day work schedule but as a picture of God building temple, to rest and ruling from it.

Psalm 104 where lions work the night shift.
Psalm 104 is the nearest we have in scripture to a Framework Interpretation of Genesis 1. While the modern Framework Interpretation concentrate on the structural patterns Genesis 1, the Psalmist takes the structure of the days of Genesis and reads it as a meditation on God’s work of creation that he sees in the world around him. The psalmist does not interpret the days as a chronological timetable but as a framework to describe the different aspects of creation.

Look at the structure of Psalm 104 compared to order of the days in Genesis 1.
Verses 1-6 describe the creation of the heavens and the earth: Genesis 1 Days 1&2.
Verses 7-18 look at God separating dry land from seas and creating grass, plants and trees: Day 3.
Verses 19-23 God creates the sun and moon day and night: Day 4.
Verses 24-26 God makes all the swarming sea creatures and whales: Day 5.

But instead of the creation of man and animals on Day 6 we see animals and people throughout Days 3, 4 and 5. On Day 3 we see wild goats living in the mountains created, along with storks nesting in the fir trees, livestock eating grass, man growing plants and making wine. On Day 4 when the sun goes down young lions come out looking for the prey God provides. When the sun rises, the shift changes, lions go back to bed and man (or should the Hebrew adm be translated Adam?) comes out to work until evening. Day 6, and the whales and sea creatures aren’t alone in the sea, there are people in ships there too.

Instead of reading the days of creation in Genesis 1 as a chronological sequence of events before God created man, the Psalmist reads them as a framework to describe the wonders of creation he sees around him today.

Ancient New East worldviews
We do see God speaking through people in terms of their understanding of ancient cosmology, in Job 38:6 On what were its bases sunk?, the word base meant the plinth on which the a pillar stood. This is an ANE view of the world where the earth was supported on pillars. 1Sam 2:8 For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world. In Genesis we see the waters above the earth supported and separated form the sea water by a solid firmament. Genesis 1:7 RSV 6 And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.

But while there are aspect of Ancient New East in the biblical creation accounts, and I agree with the Accommodation view that God was speaking through his people in terms they understood teaching them deeper more important truths than ANE cosmology, I don’t think the writers intended to present a scientific description of creation, ANE or otherwise. These were people who knew and understood the richness of metaphor and parable. They described the truth of God’s amazing work of creation in a metaphor of God as a builder, a master workman constructing a temple where he would rule and be worshipped by his creation, where God identified in the deepest ways with the weariness, griefs and sorrows of the humblest and weakest of his people. Isn’t this the heart of God we see revealed through his Son? Matt 25:40 HCSB Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’

Adam in the age of Science. Part 2, Adam in the NT

Literalism
The only problem with evolution in the Old Testament is if we insist on a literal interpretation of Genesis. But literalism isn’t a biblical doctrine. Creationist think that it is the world’s influence creeping into the church when other Christians accept evolution. But literalism itself is a modern assumption that is projected onto the bible, a bible that shows us that God loves to speak to us both through literal and figurative passages. Jesus Christ did most of his teaching through stories. Literalism is a modern worldview that devalues story as a mean of teaching truth and places the highest value on fact and data. This seems an odd attitude for disciples of the parable teller. Christianity values truth which can come to us through literal passages in scripture and through figurative, and we should not fear it when it come to us through science. Learning about the history of the earth through geology and evolution simply means our literal interpretation of Genesis was mistaken and we need to go back to scripture and find better ways to understand the text.

Adam in the New Testament

While there are no theological issues with evolution in the Old Testament, it is another matter when you get to the New Testament. Although there is no mention of a six day creation, Adam comes up frequently, and much of our theology and understanding of human nature and of redemption is built around these passages. Does an understanding of evolution affect NT theology?

An Evolved Adam

You can have evolution and a literal Adam called by God to be federal head of the human race and most of the traditional understanding of the Fall and Original Sin can still remain unchanged. Obviously you can no longer have the idea animals were originally immortal. But the bible never say this and the only passage that talks of the spread of death after Adam’s sin, talks of death spreading through the human race. Romans 5:12 and so death spread to all men because all sinned. But if death spread through the human race because we sin, how could it spread through animals who don’t sin?

There are a number of options for Adam and Eve having immortality, that it was a special gift of God when he called them or when he gave them a soul, that it came from living in the garden with access to the Tree of Life. Remember, when they sinned they were thrown out of the garden to keep them from the Tree of Life so they couldn’t eat from it and live forever. Or you could simply point out the bible never says they were immortal. When we see the term death in the bible it can be used for physical death or for spiritual death. In fact, Adam was warned he would surely die the day he ate the fruit. Yet he didn’t die physically until many years later. His death on that day was spiritual and immediate, his sin breaking his relationship with God.

Where Adam and Eve, and our understanding of them, has had the greatest impact on our theology, is not dust and ribs and how Adam and Eve were made, but the affect their sin had on the human race, leaving us with Original Sin and corrupt a sin nature. None of the passage in the NT that are used to talk about the fall and Original Sin mention Adam being made from dust, so the idea God might have used evolution to form Adam really doesn’t have affect on the doctrine of Original Sin

Man of dust

There is one passage in the New Testament which talks of Adam being formed from dust. 1Corinthians 15:47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.
48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.
49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. However, it doesn’t mention the fall and doesn’t have any impact on doctrine like Original. While the passage may seem to suggest Paul thought Adam really was formed by God from dust (and did not evolve), we will see later that it actually fits the pattern Paul uses speaking about Adam figuratively. But look at what Paul is telling us in this passage. He says that we are just like Adam, as was the man of dust, so also are we. He is not saying that we are like the fallen Adam. We are like the Adam God created from dust. Paul didn’t seem to have any concept that human nature was changed by the fall.

If the story of Adam being formed from dust isn’t literal, if the human race was never just two individuals, and if the garden and talking snake weren’t literal either, we really need to ask if Adam himself actually existed. There are two main approaches among evangelicals here.

If Adam wasn’t real what do we make of Paul’s statements about him?

(1) It doesn’t matter if Paul was wrong

To understand the background to this approach you need to understand how God speak to us through his word and the relationship between the bible and the surrounding cultures. For many Christians it come as a shock, but the bible is full of ancient cosmology that doesn’t fit what we know from modern science. The earth rests on pillars (1Samuel 2:8, Psalm 75:3) there is a dome above the earth holding back the waters up there (Genesis 1:6), the sun moves across the sky (Joshua 10:12&13, Psalm 19) and when it sets, the sun hurries to the place it is going to rise (Eccl 1:5). This was a view of the universe the Israelites shared with their neighbours in the Ancient Middle East. A mistake Christians make confronted by passages like that is to rush to defend the bible, to find some way to read the text that doesn’t mean it is talking about a flat earth. But God’s word doesn’t need defending. In fact we lose out if we have to force God’s word to make it say what we think it should say. We need to understand what the text is saying before we can understand what it means and start to understand how God speaks to us in his word.

It wasn’t God’s intention to teach his people science, that was something they could learn for themselves in their own good time. Instead God spoke to his people in terms they understood. This isn’t a new idea but Goes back to Calvin and before him Augustine, that God accommodated his message:

God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children (Calvin, Institutes, 1.13.1).
The narrative of the inspired writer brings the matter down to the capacity of children.” Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 2.6

Denis Lamoureux Professor of Science & Religion at the University of Alberta is a born again evangelical Christian who takes this idea and applies it to Adam too. Paul may have thought of Adam was a historical person, but it doesn’t matter, it is the theology, the spiritual message God inspired not Paul’s ideas of history. The spiritual message we read in Paul’s description of Adam is that we are all sinners, not whether there was an original pair of humans the human race is descended from. You can see watch Lamoureux’s Web lectures on ‘The Bible & Ancient Science’, and, ‘’Was Adam a Real Person?’ here: http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/wl.html

(2) Did Paul interpret Adam literally?

Paul certainly wrote about Adam, more than anybody in the bible since Genesis, and the church has a long tradition of reading these passages literally. But is that what Paul was talking about? After all he says in Romans 5:14 (ASV) Adam…  is a figure of him that was to come. Could Paul the first century Jewish Rabbi have been talking about Adam figuratively?

He wouldn’t have been alone among first century Jewish if he did. We often assume first century Jews would all have taken Adam literally. But that is simply not the case. We don’t have many examples of first century Jewish writings, yet find Jews from very different background in very different locations interpreting Adam allegorically. Both Philo a Hellenistic Jew in Alexandria and Josephus a priest in Jerusalem thought the story of Adam and Eve was written allegorically. In fact the term Philo used for his allegorical interpretations was tupos, the same word ‘figure’ Paul uses in Romans 5:14

Was Paul’s statement that Adam was a figure of Christ just an aside, with nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the passage? Look at what he is saying in that brief comment. Paul says he has a figurative interpretation of Adam that compares Adam with Christ. But is you read Romans 5, the whole passage from verse 12 all the way to the end is comparing Adam and Christ. Instead of being an off the cuff comment, with no relevance to the rest of what he wrote, it describes the whole passage.

In fact as we read though his epistles, all of Paul’s comments about Adam and Eve are either comparing Adam to Christ (Rom 5:12-21, 1Cor 15:21-22, 45-49 & 2Cor 11:2-3) or that other allegorical interpretation of Adam and Eve as a picture of the relationship between husbands and wives. We see this in 1Cor 11:3-16 about headship and possibly also that enigmatic passage about women being saved through childbirth 1Tim 2:13-15. In Ephesians 5:31 Paul manages to combine both allegorical meanings. He expands from a discussion husbands and wives, via the one flesh quote from Genesis 2:24 to saying it is a profound mystery about Christ and the Church.

Remember Paul wasn’t a modern literalist, he was a fully trained first century Rabbi who even Peter found difficult to understand. Paul could handle a wide range of Jewish interpretations from literal to allegorical and the hidden mystery meaning in scripture. Paul even tell us he uses allegorical interpretation in Galatians 4:24 talking about Hagar and Sarah.

Now this doesn’t mean Paul didn’t also believe in a historical Adam. He believed crossing the Red Sea was literal, 1Corinthians 10:6 Now these things took place… yet he could interpret them figuratively as a picture of baptism, verse 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Paul describes this interpretation as a tupos too, verse 6 …as examples for us. However if we only have figurative interpretations of Adam and Eve from Paul, we simply don’t know if he also though there were historical. Paul may, like Philo, have though the story of Adam and Eve entirely figurative. It ceases to be an issue any more, what is really important is not the historicity of Adam but the fact that when Paul was talking about Adam he was talking figuratively.

The implications of Paul talking discussing Adam figuratively
Paul speaking figuratively when he wrote about Adam, would mean we really need to re-examine our understanding of the Adam passages in Paul’s letters. We have traditionally taken them literally and built much of our theology on a literal interpretation, when Paul wasn’t writing literally at all. Romans 5, where Paul tells us he interpret Adam figuratively, becomes, not a history of how sin began and contaminated the human, but it is talking about Adam figuratively not historically, it is not talking about Original Sin, its whole purpose is simply to tell us more about Christ. Christ came to redeem us from our own sins, not the sin of Adam

It would certainly explain why Adam, Eve and the fall don’t turn up in Acts when Peter, Stephen or Paul preach their New Testament Gospel messages.

This figurative interpretation of Adam explain Paul curious choice of tense in 1Cor 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Why does Paul use the present tense all die, if we all died in Adam back in Eden and have been dead ever since? This sounds more like an ongoing process, people sin and then they die, which is what the bible tells us again and again. It is our own sins we die in Eph 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked. Paul doesn’t say the Ephesians had been dead in Adam’s sin, they were dead in their own sins. How could people still be dying in Adam if Adam was long dead and returned to the dust of the ground. But Adam is also Hebrew for the human race. We are all in Adam because we are all part of the human race. Paul is speaking in figurative terms, the whole human race summed up in two great apocalyptic* figures, Adam with everyone in the human race, and Christ with all the redeemed who are his body.

It also means we need to re-examine the doctrine of Original Sin but that is a subject for another blog.

*John Walton in his book The Lost World of Genesis One uses the term archetype: “In the New Testament, the authors regularly treat Adam and Eve in archetypal terms.”

Adam in the Age of Science. Part 1 OT views

In an age when genetic comparisons have show our closest relative are chimpanzees and bonobos, how are Christians to understand Adam?

Initial D with a monkey eating an apple, from f.44r of MS K.30, Psalter (North Midlands, c.1190-1200).
A real Adam but created by God through evolution

Many Christians who accept evolution still see Adam and Eve as real historical people who God made through evolution and called in to a priestly covenantal role as representatives of the whole human race. When Adam and Eve sinned and broke God covenant with the human race, it affected the whole human race, the human race fell too. This isn’t a new idea thought up in response to evolution. Understanding Adam as Federal or Covenantal Head of the human race has been part of Christian theology since long before Darwin.

What do we make of the story of God taking the dust of the ground watering it with a mist and forming Adam from clay like a potter? It is not the only time the bible talks of God forming people from clay. Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. In fact the word ‘formed’ in Genesis yatsar, is same word as potter. The bible is full of metaphors of God forming people from clay and people being dust. Job 10:9 Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?  

It isn’t how God made Adam that matters to them, it what happened after he was created, disobeying God who created him that lead to the fall and Original Sin. You just need these two historical individuals created and called by God. Unfortunately, people are never content just to leave it at that.

Adam as a metaphor

If God the potter making Adam from clay is a metaphor, we need to ask ourselves how metaporical? It is simply a metaphorical description of God creating an real individual called Adam, or is it the metaphorical picture of God creating the human race. After all, that is what Adam means, Man. The early Israelites were no strangers to metaphor and parable, According to his dad, Benjamin is a ravenous wolf… Gen 49:27. You can read the parable of the Talking Trees in Judges 9:8-15 The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’... Meanwhile in Deuteronomy 32 & 33 we find the story of Jeshurun where the nation of Israel is personified as an infant God found abandoned in the wilderness.

Genesis 2&3 doesn’t tell us it is a parable, but then again, neither do the metaphors and parable I have mentioned. People back then didn’t seem to feel the need to. Genesis 2&3 does have some indications in the story it is not to be taken literally, a talking snake we discover in Revelation 12:9 was really Satan. That is a better fit with Jesus’ parable of the Sower where we are told the birds that ate up the seed were the devil. Then we have Adam being made check out all the animals to look for a suitable life partner. And how could a real tree give everlasting life? Jesus told us that food that perishes is not the food gives eternal life John 6:26. There are real theological problems with a literal tree of life, it would mean there is another source of everlasting life other than Jesus. But the tree of life is a beautiful picture of the cross Jesus died on. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree 1Peter 2:24. Jesus’ death on the cross for us was always God’s plan and purpose, from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4, 1Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8 & 17:8).

Adam treated as a metaphor in Genesis

How many is Adam?
Adam is hardly mentioned outside Genesis, the word adm comes up often enough, but it nearly always means ‘man’, ‘a man’ ‘Man’ or ‘mankind’. But if you look in the rest of Genesis we can see indications that Adam and the story of Adam was understood as a metaphorical picture of God creating the human race.

Genesis 5:1 (JPS) This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; 2  male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.
Now you may not see this in your bible because most versions translate the Hebrew adm as Man instead of the name Adam. But this is the one verse in the bible that that tells us adm is a name, Adam. Look at what it tells us about the name Adam. It say ‘their name Adam’, not that Adam was God’s name for the person he formed from dust, but that Adam was God’s name for people male and female. We see the same thing in Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man (Hebrew adm) in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion… Not as clearly the name Adam as in Genesis 5 but it is still talking about God creating adm, and adm being them.

You will find plenty of variations in different bible translations when to translate adm in Genesis as ‘Adam’ or ‘man’. In Genesis 2&3 you would expect to see adm translated as Adam, and older translations like the Authorised Version did. However modern versions translate most of the occurrences in Genesis 2&3 as ‘the man’. That is what the Hebrew seem to say. It puts the definite article ‘the’ in front of adm, and says h’adm or ‘the man’. It is only in verses like Genesis 2:20 …but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him, and Genesis 3:17  And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree… that adm is used without the article

Drowning man
But look at Genesis 6 where God is talking about bringing the flood. Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6  And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7  So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Now you would expect the writer to simply have used adm meaning mankind, but instead he uses h’adm, the man, not just the man but the man God created. This isn’t saying God would wipe out mankind from the land, but that God was going to wipe out the man he created, Adam. But if you take Adam literally and take the genealogies literally (which is a whole other blog.) Adam died long before the flood. This isn’t God saying he was going to drown Adam, not literally. The passage is interpreting Adam being formed from dust in Genesis 2 as God creating mankind and describes the flood God reversing the creation of mankind animals and birds we read about there.

One flesh
There is an interesting little editorial comment at the end of Genesis 2, it is not part of the story of Adam and Eve, but steps outside the story to comment on the meaning. We had just seen Even being made from Adam’s rib and Adam saying Eve was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh Genesis” 2:23 Then the writer or editor steps in and comments v. 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. What does that have to do with Eve being made from Adam’s rib? The commentary is reading the rib and Eve being Adam’s flesh as a picture of every marriage, every husband and wife and the deep unity and bond between them that was God’s plan from the beginning. It isn’t about how the first ever women was made unlike any other women, it is an allegorical interpretation of the rib symbolising every marriage and it is what Jesus took from the story of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:5-9).

Of course that leaves the questions how we understand the references to Adam in the New Testament, and how we fit a metaphorical Adam and Eve into our theology of the fall and Original Sin, but those are questions for another day.

Part 2, Adam in the NT.