Though I didn’t particularly plan it this way, it works out this week to offer you two reviews of books roughly covering the same subject. Today, I’ve got C. John Collins perspective in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? and tomorrow, I’ll have Peter Enns perspective in The Evolution of Adam. The two perspectives are not completely mutually exclusive, but they are not easily synthesized. In other words, you can intellectually respect both Collins’ and Enns’ positions, but you can’t fully agree with both. In my studies in Genesis, I found Collins’ commentary on Genesis 1-4 to be particularly helpful. While I was interested to see exactly how he would approach this issue, I already somewhat knew the answer he would give to the question. While Collins and I do not see eye to eye on everything concerning the early chapters of Genesis, we are more in sync than I am with Enns, as you will see tomorrow (and the next day).
Right off the bat in chapter 1, Collins gives his purpose in writing:
My goal ins this study is to show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of any pressure to abandon it. I intend to argue that the traditional position on Adam and Eve, or some variation of it, does the best job of accounting not only for the Biblical materials but also for our everyday experience as human beings – an experience that includes sin as something that must be forgiven (by God and our fellow human beings) and that must be struggled against as defiling and disrupting the good human life (p. 13).
He then continues in the introduction to set out 4 ways one can read the material in Genesis (adapted from p. 16):
- As relaying “straight” history with a minimum of figurative language
- As communicating what the author thought to be actual events, but using rhetorical and literary techniques to shape the readers’ attitudes toward those events
- As recounting an imaginary history, using recognizable literary conventions to convey “timeless truths”
- As a story/myth that is not concerned with relaying history but is intending to convey something else through the telling
Following that, he presents his thesis that the second option is the best, while noting that critical scholars usually opt for the last (which is what we’ll see in Enns tomorrow). He then frames his discussion of Adam and Eve around these questions:
- How does the person or event impact the basic story line? (or worldview)
- How have other writers, especially Biblical ones, taken this person or event?
- How does this person or even relate to ordinary human experience?
Collins then proceeds from there attempting to consider other views as much as possible, and offer what he thinks to be the best interpretation of the evidence in answering the above questions.
Starting in chapter 2, Collins sets the stage for a discussion of the biblical story. He goes into detail to distinguish “story” from “myth” and how both might relate to “history.” He draws out an interesting pointfrom noted Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchens that typically in the ancient Near East, no one historicized myths (read it as imaginary “history”), but rather the flow of thought went the other way, history was occasionally “mythologized” and relayed in heightened mythological descriptions. In this way, and because people in the ancient Near East did not convey history in the same way we do today, what is intended to be historical accounts (i.e. things that actually happened) is not necessarily presented in a strictly literal fashion (i.e. this event took place exactly like I’m describing it). “Historical” then is a category that refers to whether the events in question happened or not, and is not necessarily a genre concerned with journalistic reporting the way modern history is. The chapter then finishes out with Collins sketching the shape of the biblical story and worldview.
In chapter 3, Collins presents a survey of the particular texts that speak of Adam and Eve. The bulk of the discussion centers on Genesis 1-5 since that is where the most data is. From there Collins surveys the rest of the Old Testament as well as Second Temple Jewish literature and the Gospels. He spends a considerable amount of time in the Pauline writings (as will be Enns’ concern as well) and then closes out with noting that the author of Hebrews seems to take Abel, Enoch, and Noah as historical which suggests Adam fits the category as well. I’m not sure that’s the strongest argument, but then again Collins doesn’t present it as if it is.
Chapter 4 takes up the issue of human uniqueness and dignity. Here Collins is concerned to briefly cover the nature of man as God’s image bearer and the problems this presents for a evolutionary view of humanity. As Collins points out, the image of God “is a feature that is unique to human beings, distinguishing them from other animals; and it is also universal among human beings, appearing in all kinds of people” (p. 95). He also delves in the problem of language, noting the lack of continuity between man’s linguistic abilities and those of any animal. Lastly, he discusses man’s yearning for justice and his need for God, both of which he sees tied to Adam and woven into the fabric of humanity.
In chapter 5, Collins turns explicitly to science and asks whether or not scientific study can help us pinpoint Adam and Eve. Before getting there, he discusses the issue of concordism, which is “the effort to find some kind of agreement between two possibly conflicting accounts” (p. 106). An extreme form of this is young earth creationism, particularly Answers in Genesis, which generally seeks to find scientific explanations of a certain reading of Genesis 1. The flipside of this view is “anti-concordism” which assumes things like the biblical story in Genesis have no historical referent. Collins is attempting to navigate between these two options as he presents both archaeological and biological evidence related to the Genesis account of human origins. In both instances, while dealing with the scientific evidence, Collins cautions readers to not be too hasty to accept certain conclusions as “facts” when they may merely be “inferences” from the data. In short, Collins argues that there is not currently ironclad evidence that man and apes share a common ancestor or that archaeological evidence makes the Genesis account a priori impossible as an historical (see above) account. Collins then concludes with a short chapter summarizing his argument before offering three appendices. The first covers a brief survey of ancient Near Eastern texts related to Genesis 1-11, the second is a review of James Barr’s The Garden of Eden and The Hope of Immortality, and the third concerns the date of writing of Genesis. In the latter, Collins presents an important argument contra Enns that I’ll save for later.
Overall, I found Collins’ book to be helpful in defending a traditional account of Adam of Eve. I am perhaps more open to revising that account than Collins is, but at the moment, I would still be inclined to follow the big picture of the biblical story which suggests man as directly created by God rather than evolved from a lower life form. Collins remains very open concerning some issues regarding how we read Genesis, and with respect to those, it is possible to synthesize some of what we’ll see Enns say tomorrow with Collins’ proposal. It is hard for me to say how persuasive Collins’ case would be to someone who disagreed either on scientific grounds or on biblical grounds since I tend to agree with him generally on both.
I will say this though, while Collins and Enns’ books are roughly the same size and length (160ish pages), Collins’ bibliography is nearly twice as long. While this may not amount to much of an argument in favor of Collins’ proposal, what it does show upon examination is a much wider stream of conversation partners who both agree with Collins and who don’t, as well as a more impressive collection of scientific sources than Enns provides. Granted, Enns is primarily concerned with hermeneutical issues while Collins is dealing with a broader question that necessitates a wider stream of sources. Still, it does seem worth noting that while Collins interacts with Enns (his Inspiration and Incarnation at least), Enns does not return the favor, even though Collins authored a rather extensive commentary on Genesis 1-4, numerous journal articles, and of course this very book which came out spring of last year. Even on the hermeneutical issues, Collins dialogues more widely than Enns.
To me, Collins comes across as a scholar who is endeavoring to evaluate the evidence from as many angles as possible, and his work benefits from that underlying attitude. To borrow an example from Alvin Plantinga (in the book of the week), someone uncommitted on the question of evolution has more available explanatory options. Collins has not committed himself to a position on the scientific question, so he is more free to follow the evidence wherever it may go. Enns on the other hand has already assumed that an evolutionary origin of man is true and now must revise the traditional reading of Scripture. This is not to say Collins is right and Enns is wrong. Its just to point out that Collins seems more open-minded in his investigation than Enns does, and that may be because he doesn’t seem to have a final conclusion that the text must fit with to some degree. So see that more clearly, tomorrow we’ll set out some preliminaries before looking at Enns book in more detail on Friday.
- Author: C. John Collins
- Title: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?
- Publisher: Crossway (May 4, 2011)
- Paperback: 192pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader/Bible School
- Audience Appeal: Christians interested in the questions surrounding the historicity of Adam and E
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Crossway)
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