Another Rumor of the Death of Adam

Scot McKnight’s latest book which he co-authors with Dennis Venema promises to deliver a combination “left-hook, upper cut” knockout punch to demolish the traditional doctrine which teaches Adam and Eve to be historical figures.

Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (Brazos Press, 2017)
Authors: Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema. ISBN – 9781587433948

A new post in McKnight’s popular blog Jesus Creed, Adam According to Jesus” offers several reasons to reject belief in Adam and Eve to be historical figures. While I disagree with Scot McKnight’s misreading of the Bible on grounds of theological hermeneutics, I admire his honesty in going public with his rejection of orthodoxy – unlike other scholars who portray themselves as ‘progressive’ evangelicals despite rejecting several central doctrines of the Bible. Perhaps, this only confirms my suspicion that many ‘progressive’ evangelicals are really closet liberals with no guts.

But readers may echo Mark Twain and rest assure that the report of the death of Adam has been greatly exaggerated. I refer readers to two accessible critiques of McKnight-Venema:

Hans Madueme, “Rumors of Adam’s Demise: One More and Counting.” Madueme is is assistant professor of theological studies at Covenant College, Georgia
Wayne Rossiter : “A Review of Adam and the Genome: Part 1” and “A Review of Adam and the Genome: Part 2.” Dr. Rossiter who earned his Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University is currently an assistant professor of biology at Waynesburg University, Pennsylvania.


THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE – fromRumors of Adam’s Demise.
First Madueme cites McKnight:

A contextual approach to reading Genesis 1–3 immediately establishes that the Adam and Eve of the Bible are a literary Adam and Eve. That is, Adam and Eve are part of a narrative designed to speak into a world that had similar and dissimilar narratives. Making use of this context does not mean Adam and Eve are “fictional,” and neither does it mean they are “historical.” To be as honest as we can with the text in its context, we need to begin with the undeniable: Adam and Eve are literary—are part of a narrative that is designed to reveal how God wants his people to understand who humans are and what humans are called to do in God’s creation. (118)

McKnight gives his take on Romans 5:12:

Paul neither affirms nor denies transmission of sin, a sinful nature, and death by way of procreation and birth and a life lived before God…[McKnight] maintains, “each person is Adamic in that each person sins in the way Adam sinned” (184). In fact, “Paul cannot blame Adam; he blames each person for sinning like Adam” (187). By the end we’re told that Paul’s Adam is “literary,” not “historical.”

The unusual implication of McKnight’s exegesis is that no one in church history until the last century or two really understood these early chapters of Genesis, since they allege a historical Adam that never existed. But that seems unlikely.

However following McKnight’s strategy of putting Genesis into the straightjacket of Ancient Near Eastern literature undermines hermeneutical consistency in reading the Bible. Maduene retorts,

Why not think “Yahweh” is part of a narrative designed to speak into a world that had similar and dissimilar narratives? Making use of this context doesn’t mean Yahweh is “fictional,” and neither does it mean he’s “historical.” Or again, why not think the miraculous divine activities in the Old Testament are part of a narrative designed to speak into a world that had similar and dissimilar narratives? Making use of this context doesn’t mean those miracles are “fictional,” and neither does it mean they’re “historical.” You get the idea—the literary-vs.-historical distinction is false and artificial.

Overall, McKnight’s dismissive approach to the concerns of the tradition can be contrasted with what another scholar wrote last century:

We are quite willing to grant theology cannot really be done well without exegesis, but we are not as willing, it seems to me, to grant that exegesis cannot be done without systematic theology. Exegesis, armed with the original text and modern critical tools and methodology, too frequently sees itself as autonomously self-sufficient, pouring out its arid and superficial grammatical, syntactical, and critical comments, while the deeper meaning of the texts in the light of the broader problems at issue is lost to it. (S. Lewis Johnson, “Romans 5:12—An Exercise in Exegesis and Theology,” in New Dimensions in New Testament Study, p. 299)

We shouldn’t miss the deep irony. One of the authors’ main motivations for writing this book is to remove a stumbling block for young people. McKnight goes on to tell us, repeatedly and insistently, that most lay believers consider the “historical” Adam central to the faith. As we’ve seen, his main thesis is that there is no historical Adam in the Bible and that Adam, contrary to what most Christians believe, plays no central role in Scripture’s redemptive-historical structure. But in doing so, he places a massive stumbling block to their understanding of the faith. The pastoral dilemma cuts both ways.


SCIENTIFIC CRITIQUE – “A Review of Adam and the Genome: Part 1” and “A Review of Adam and the Genome: Part 2.” 
Rossiter uncovers the philosophical presuppositions that led Venema to slant the scientific evidence to support his conclusion that there could never have been two original progenitors of humanity:

So, how is Venema wrong in the most important thesis in the book? It takes some explaining. He’s not just arguing that there was no first pair of humans created by God some 6-12K years ago. He’s arguing that, biologically speaking, there could never be a single pair that served as progenitors for any species. He insists that there could never have been fewer than about 10,000 individuals in the human population. His argument is based on the ways alleles (versions of particular genes) sort through time…

Still, it is possible that an entire population could come to be genetically incompatible by means of a variety of different mutations (coming from different mutants). That’s where the real nail in the coffin comes in. Have you ever wondered how, if Venema is correct, scientists are able to estimate how far back in time the last common ancestor to all humanity existed? For example, a recent article in Nature “Genetic Adam and Eve did not Live too far Apart in Time” (in timely manner) opens with,

“The Book of Genesis puts Adam and Eve together in the Garden of Eden, but geneticists’ version of the duo — the ancestors to whom the Y chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA of today’s humans can be traced — were thought to have lived tens of thousands of years apart. Now, two major studies of modern humans’ Y chromosomes suggest that ‘Y-chromosome Adam’ and ‘mitochondrial Eve’ may have lived around the same time after all.”

But, how can there be a last (singular) common ancestor to all humans? How can we coalesce back to one progenitor male or female?

Simple: “[T]heory predicts that all mitochondrial genomes today should be traceable to a single woman, a ‘mitochondrial Eve’. Whereas the Y chromosome is passed from father to son, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed from mother to daughter and son.”

And Venema concedes this saying, “If we all descend from one man and one woman, how is it that scientists can claim we descend from a population of thousands? Well, both are true…” (pg 62)…Of course, the real problem is that Venema needs to claim one of these stories (above) in order to make sense of his science and theology, and both have some issues.  If we are descended from ape-like ancestors, and there never was a population of ancient hominids smaller than 10,000, you still have the theological issue of figuring out which hominid individual evolved to a point where God identified it as being “made in His image,” or to a point where he/she/it was morally culpable. Presumably, God doesn’t morally judge chimps (nor their ancestors). Yet, God does hold us morally accountable. That moment of moral awareness, by their model, would have to be a product of evolution. It gets very unpleasant if the theistic evolutionist wants to then invoke God’s direct hand into the system to make that organism different from all of creation (granting it a soul, free will, moral culpability, etc.). That sounds like the ID arguments guys like Venema consider anathema.

But, my concern with this perspective is that it requires (demands) reasons for belief in the God of Christianity other than the material reality we find ourselves in (and the science that describes it). From the beginning of the universe to the biology associated with your meal at breakfast, there is nothing in Venema’s view that serves as evidence for God. More precisely, Venema can explain everything from the cosmic unfolding of the universe to the very present without invoking God at all. As all of his kin (theistic evolutionists) seem to, he assumes God first, then worries about the findings of science. He doesn’t allow for the findings of science to have any bearing on his faith claims. Nothing Venema discovers could ever be in conflict with his God, because his God is assumed a priori.

The fact is, Darwin’s theory led him to disavow faith in a personal God. The great struggle for theistic evolution is to find God where Darwin could not.

Related Post: The Historicity of Adam : A Biblical Defence (With 4 Supplementary Scientific Articles)