Last week, we started a play by play through Four Views on The Historical Adam. The opening position by Denis Lamoureux denied Adam as a historical figure. The remaining three all affirm the historicity of Adam in one way or another. Today we’ll look at John Walton’s view.
Walton’s position is called the “archetypal creation view.” He believes that Adam and Eve were real people in a real past (89). But, as Walton sees it, Scripture is mostly interested in their role as the archetypal representatives of humanity. Given this view, Genesis 2 is concerned with establishing their role as archetypes and has nothing to say about their actual scientific origins (90). This makes Adam a kind of “Primeval Man” or “Everyman.”
From this vantage point, Walton then surveys the archetypal role of humanity in Genesis 1, Adam in Genesis 2, and Eve in Genesis as a whole. Then he turns to an analysis of archetypal humanity in other ancient Near East accounts. After presenting this background information, Walton offers comparisons and contrasts with the Genesis account before turning to the role of Adam and Eve in the New Testament.
With this biblical and historical survey complete, Walton then discusses some literary issues, briefly touches on scientific/genetic factors, and then offers a hypothetical scenario. This scenario is for people who are “persuaded by the modern scientific consensus that humans are the product of a process of change over time from a common ancestor” (113). It is not Walton’s personal view, but something he offers as an example of keeping biblical and theological affirmations as well as modern science.
The scenarios runs like this: you accept the evolution of hominid like creatures in the distant past. This process would have to be guided by God (i.e. not simply random mutations), but is still essentially a natural process. At some point, by a special creative act, God endows the entire human population with his image. People continue evolving (and so dying), but are in a state of innocence (because of the absence of divine law), and so are not accountable. Later, “the individuals whom the Bible designates as Adam and Eve are chosen by God as representative priests in sacred space” (114-115). They would thus be the covenant mediators who could bring the revelation of God those outside the garden as the expanded the sacred space and fulfilled the creation mandate.
Now on the one hand, this could work. It is a way to have historical human representatives and human evolution. It takes Walton some work in his essay to make the reading of Genesis plausible. But in the end, it is just that: plausible, but not entirely convincing. Likewise, his hypothesis is almost entirely conjectural. He does say it is not his view and is just an example. But, I doubt many people will be persuaded by it. I would like to see him follow up with more on this angle, and perhaps he will in a later book or full length article.
When it comes to responses, Lamoureux pushes back on Walton’s argument that Genesis is only concerned with functional origins (and not material). I think this is a legitimate point that Lamoureux makes for the wrong reasons (he still basically reads Genesis like a young earth creationist). For Lamoureux, Genesis and science can have no compatibility, so any reading that makes it possible to be compatible is off on the wrong foot from the get go.
Likewise, Collins pushes back on the “functional only” position on origins. He is more exegetically helpful in his assessment of Walton’s argument. Additionally, Collins doesn’t want to divide Genesis 1 and 2 as much as Walton does. He still sees them as complementary accounts. In the end, while he appreciates that Walton doesn’t conflate “archetype” with “nonhistorical,” he doesn’t quite follow what Walton is trying to do by establishing Adam and Eve’s archetypal role.
While Barrick is appreciative, he still holds strongly to the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (i.e. the young earth interpretation). He also pushes back on some of the comparisons with the ancient Near East background, particularly in the realm of cosmic geography. He also has problems with Walton’s reduction of the “good”-ness of creation to its ordered functional status to the exclusion of morality and/or design (138).
In general, I’ve found Walton’s work with Genesis helpful in my developing understanding. Originally, I was all on board with his functional-only view of origins, as well as his cosmic temple hypothesis concerning Genesis 1. At this point, I’m a little more cautious in my acceptance of both of those views. The same applies here. While his hypothetical scenario is intriguing, it seems more problematic than helpful in navigating some of the issues. It seems very difficult to affirm a group of humans bearing the image of God, yet not accountable for their actions in any way simply because there has been no law given.
I would see it as more plausible (if you grant evolution) that God created the first humans by a special act that interrupted the stream of evolving hominids. Doing this would make the first Adam and the last Adam parallels to each other, in that they both interrupted the normal flow of descent and brought a heightened humanity into the picture. This seems less problematic than having the image given to a group, but then later choosing two members to be representatives. Sticking to the text seems to require de novo creation of Adam and Eve even if we affirm that it as not literally from dust or ribs. The illocutionary force of the text pushes strongly in that direction.
In the end, Walton’s argument is intriguing and helpful in some areas, but I didn’t find the archetypal view that convincing. His hypothetical example does better justice to the text while affirming modern science than Lamoureux’s does. But, “better” isn’t hard to do when the comparison is to someone who simply denies in total what the text is saying (or reduces the illocution to simply “God guided creation”). Walton does much helpful work in bringing the background to reader’s attention and his careful argument is worth tracking closely.