Why most Protestants need Adam and Eve to be historical

by Steve Douglas

August 30th, 2011 | 20 Comments

…and why the Church in the East never did.

Listening to most Evangelical first-string leaders, you’d get the impression that apart from an historical Fall of Man that marred the souls of all the descendants of the ones who fell, you’d have no need for Jesus, and Christianity sails right out the window. So much more than inerrancy hangs on the question: original sin and total depravity hang on some sort of historical Fall, don’t they?

Perhaps they do (though not necessarily) — but the massive blind spot we have is that a rather large, ancient, and revered segment of the Christian Church rejected both of those teachings long before science came along and refuted the possibility of an historical first pair of human progenitors. And yet these believers still maintain that the work of Christ in atonement is absolutely necessary for every individual regardless.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo explains:

The Schism between the West and the East is great indeed, so much so that Protestants rarely ever hear that perspective. These sorts of surprises are why I have begun to love glancing at Christian theology through the lens of the Orthodox.

Google+ Comments

August 30th, 2011

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • Paul D.

    Archbishop Lazar is awesome.

  • Pingback: Teenager Electrocuted – Christians Rejoice « Cognitive Discopants

  • http://www.rethinkingao.com Mike Beidler

    Evangelicals need to get a serious dose of Eastern Orthodoxy, if only to save them from their own hermeneutical errors.  That’s not to say that EO “has it all together,” but I like their more thoughtful approach to a number of theological issues where they actually see the forest for the trees.  In Evangelicalism, it’s all too typical we’re viewing just a single tree.  Sadly, it’s usually lodged in our eye.

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Amen, on every point.

  • Salvatore Mazzotta

    How comforting it must be for the bishop to know that, if Adam and Eve were merely mythological, his faith would be unaffected.  Why, I’ll bet that even if it turns out the second Adam is a myth, his religion will withstand that too, and very nicely.

    That’s whats so great about having a mystical religion that is based on subjective experience.  It is dependent neither on historical events nor on the objective truth of written revelation from God.

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Um…exactly how much do you think you know about Eastern Orthodoxy, Salvatore?

  • Salvatore Mazzotta

    Steve,

    I’m no expert on Eastern Orthodoxy.  Merely responding to Puhalo’s presentation.

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Ok. Well, I didn’t get the “subjective experience” thing from the video, and I know they generally don’t put much stock in emotionalism. On the contrary, they believe their tradition is historical record leading by to Christ and his apostles themselves (take that or leave it).

  • Salvatore Mazzotta

    Steve,

    I don’t doubt that Bishop Puhalo believes that Jesus is a real historical figure.  Most people do, and with good reason.  He probably even believes in a historical Adam and Eve, although I can’t tell for sure from the video.

    But consider this:  A central theme of this video is that it is a valid hermeneutical principle to allow the theories of empirical science to determine the meaning of the historical narratives we find in scripture.  If “science” tells us that it is not possible that all humans descended from one man and one woman, then it is entirely proper for Christians to reject the historicity of Adam and Eve, even though Jesus and Paul both spoke of them as real persons.  Science knows better.

    Now, there are those–a minority among scholars, certainly–who question the historicity of Jesus Christ and many more who question the virgin birth or the resurrection.  Applying the hermeneutical principle of the priority of science, as advocated by the bishop, it follows that there is no objective historical event as recorded in Scripture which is necessary to be believed by Christians.  This makes Christianity a wholly subjective faith.

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Salvatore,

      There is no priority in science per se, but the simple fact is that many of us, the Archbishop presumably included, do not pretend that we don’t take our own observations of the world into account when interpreting Scripture: there is no magic decoder ring that allows us to by-pass our reasoning in our interpretation, and the best reasoning is that which takes the most data into account.

      So yes, there is something to the fact that we cannot know truth fully objectively. But then again, in what universe could an a priori assent to the Bible’s objective truthfulness be considered objective?

      • Salvatore Mazzotta

        Steve,

        This is exactly the problem.  In interpreting a text we ought to seek to exclude our own biases and the effect of our experiences on our understanding of that text.  Of course we cannot do this perfectly, but unless we try we cannot begin to understand the meaning that the author was trying to express.

        The goal of sound exegesis is try to get at the author’s intended meaning.  And filtering one’s understanding of a text through a theory that the author knew nothing of cannot get us there, not even close.

        • http://www.rethinkingao.com Mike Beidler

          Salvatore,

          You wrote, “In interpreting a text we ought to seek to exclude our own biases and
          the effect of our experiences on our understanding of that text.”

          It is this very approach that has FORCED me to reject the historicity of Adam and Eve.  It is my RESPECT for the text that has required me to do so.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

          The meaning intended by the author of Genesis 2-3 is quite clear to those who study ANE literature:  Being etiological in nature, it was written to explain the unexplainable to a people who did not have the advantage we have today — the advantage of possessing various fields of science, comparative literature, and comparative religion — all of which converge to reveal the truth:  there was no historical Adam, no historical Fall, and no need for one.  We now have a new etiology, written by our new stores of knowledge, that posits we are a selfish creature in need of redemption, whether it be by the grace of God, or by our own efforts.  (FWIW, I choose the former.)

          Just because you’ve discovered the author’s intended meaning doesn’t mean you must accept it as truth.  You only need accept it as what the author intended it to mean, all “truth” aside.  If you really desire to believe what the biblical authors meant, you will find yourself sitting on the disc of the earth, debating between which contradictory theology you wish to hold, and contemplating whether you can build a tower high enough to reach the heavens.  Welcome to Babel.

  • http://detheologized.wordpress.com John Anngeister

    Thanks Steve.  I have discovered more valuable theology among the Greek Fathers than I have found in the Latins, although I think the Eastern Orthodox church is institutionally as fallible and problematic as the Western Roman and Protestant varieties.

    But your post is important I think because you encourage us to get the Greek church’s views in our tool bag along with those of the West – helpful to know, for example, that Augustine’s views (and so also Calvin’s) are not unimpeachable.

    With the archbishop, I believe soteriology can make sense without Adam and Eve as first couple.  But the idea that there might have been more than one original human couple is an old idea which has been in search of hard evidence for over a century, and this new evidence does not make it logically valid for me yet. I see no way of proving that Neanderthal is not a post-African degenerate arising from later intercourse with sub-human species.

    And I am not going to leave my mind ‘at the door’ of the lecture hall simply to be able to conform to a current theoretical explanation of descent which is argued there.  Today’s genome theories are not in principle immune to the discoveries of the next 100 years and may not, after all, be found defensible 100 years from now.  They need not be joined to theology unless they justify themselves by shedding more light on the object of theology.

  • Anonymous

    Steve,

    You rock for sharing this.  Opened up another place for me to learn.

  • Pingback: I Think I Believe » Links for the weekend

  • Pingback: A not so weekly links update | A biologist's view of science & religion

  • Rick

    I’m puzzled about something. He said Adam was mortal but became subject to death? Subject to death is what mortal means.

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Hi, Rick. The full quote is, “We were mortal but we became subject to death because of the separation between us and God, and we continued to be subject to that alienation which results in death because of the consistent misuse of our energies.” He’s not referring to physical death.

  • Rick

    One more question. I follow his explanation of a problem with Protestantism with respect to original guilt. But I’m wondering whether Orthodox doctrine on sin and salvation would be adversely affected if there were no historical Adam. I read Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church, and I get the impression that something happened when Adam sinned. Although he doesn’t say explicitly that there was a historical Adam (although he does say Genesis 1 and 2 are not literal history), it seems to follow from the results of Adam’s sin that there had to be an Adam. Would that be true?

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Not being Orthodox or having enough background to speak on their behalf, I thought I’d post this response by an Orthodox friend of mine on this subject. I think it’s helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOMp_nZ0rbQ