Theology: September 2009 Archives

Justin Taylor posted a video of Tremper Longman discussing Genesis 1 and the historicity of a real person named Adam. His main claim seems to be that we shouldn't insist on the text requiring an actual historical person to have existed and that it's an overly literalistic interpretation that requires that. I read through the comment section, and I think a lot of people are making some mistakes both in interpreting what Longman is saying and in what it implies about his view of scripture.

Several points seem to me worth emphasizing.

1.Longman has denies neither plenary inspiration of scripture nor inerrancy. What he has done is deny a view that many people here take to be implied by (a) inerrancy or the plenary inspiration of scripture together with (b) a certain view of what Genesis 1 and/or other texts of scripture, when interpreted correctly, actually teach.

2. If Longman is incorrect about the matters (b) describes, then his view is compatible with inerrancy but incompatible with the correct interpretation of scripture. But lots of people have views incompatible with the correct interpretation of scripture, and we don't claim that they are therefore denying inerrancy. Do continuationists claim that cessationists are denying inerrancy (or vice versa)? No! They simply disagree with their interpretation of scripture. It would be another thing to say that a text really means something but that what it says isn't true. The Fuller Seminary view of scripture allows for that. Longman's doesn't.

3. Longman didn't actually say that Genesis 1 should be taken in such a way that there was no single Adam. What he said is that we shouldn't insist that it must be. He also didn't say that the same is true of other passage of scripture. It's possible, for all he said, that he thinks Genesis 1 doesn't necessitate a single Adam but other parts of scripture do. I get the sense from his language that he's more interested in recognizing that people can accept inerrancy and accept the conclusion of the consensus of science than he is at arguing that we ought to take any particular view of how to interpret Genesis 1.

He does say that insisting on the traditional interpretation is overly literalistic, but he doesn't actually go as far as saying that merely taking it that way is overly literalistic. He says that insisting on taking it that way is overly literalistic. There's a difference. One is insisting on keeping the borders of inerrancy intact rather than confusing them with heremeneutical issues. The other is insisting on a certain interptretation of a certain passage. He doesn't in this video do the latter. I'd have to hear more from him to know his full view, therefore, but I see no insistence that there was no single Adam. We ought, at least, to keep that in mind.

4. There are ways to fit the non-individual approach to Adam to the other texts people are citing. It does mean a somewhat unnatural reading of a few statements (such as Paul's comparison of the one man Adam and the one man Jesus), but it's possible to take those statements as true while not referring to an actual one man Adam but to the one man Adam in the Genesis account. I don't think this is the most natural way to take either the Genesis narratives or Paul's statement, but it's possible to take the Genesis narratives as true in the sense parables are true and Paul's statement as true in the same sense that it's true that the Good Samaritan helped the man that other passersby ignored. It's true that the Good Samaritan did this. It's just truth within a story. The character in Jesus' parable did that. It's just that he was telling a parable and not implying the existence of a real person who did what the Good Samaritan did.

Someone could take Genesis' early chapters in a similar way, teaching about how we are all fallen and how we all do what Adam and Eve did, thus in NT terms taking there to be an explanation of why there's a need for a savior, without believing there was a real individual person whom the Bible calls Adam and a real individual person whom the Bible calls Eve. So the other passages that Longman doesn't discuss don't necessitate denying scripture in other places. The fact that he only mentions Genesis 1 doesn't mean he'd have to say that someone holding the view he wants to make room for (but doesn't seem to endorse) is denying some other part of scripture. It just means he didn't address those other passages, and a fuller presentation of such a view would have to do that.

So, short of further information, I'm not seeing any justification for some of the claims I've seen in the comment section of Justin's post. Longman doesn't deny inerrancy or the plenary inspiration of scripture. He doesn't endorse the view he's making room for and doesn't say the traditional view itself is overly literalistic but just says that insisting on the traditional interpretation as the only possible one is overly literalistic. He doesn't comment on other passages but presumably could, and it's not as if there are ways to fit such a view with the rest of scripture without denying inerrancy. There's plenty of room for arguing about whether such a view is the best way to take various texts, but there's no room in my mind for claiming that this approach is a denial of a high view of scripture itself. It's just a denial of common interpretations that, together with a high view of scripture, would lead to the view of a historical individual Adam.


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