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I’ve read a lot of responses to my book Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins and nearly all, supportive, critical, and in between, have something to say that is worth listening to.

But few are nailing the problem that a non-historical reading, or at least a non-first man reading, of the Adam story poses for Christian theology. Some have circled around it, but I am surprised no one (that I can recall) has simply came out and said it.

The problem isn’t that it threatens inerrancy. (There are plenty of other problems in the Bible that threaten inerrancy.)

The problem isn’t that it threatens theology by divorcing it from history. (The problem of history and theology is a staple of modern interpretation and isn’t caused by this particular instance.)

The problem isn’t that it threatens the sanctity of humanity, since God created humanity in his image. (The image of God is not an issue with Adam in Genesis 2 but humanity as a whole in Genesis 1.)

The problem isn’t that it threatens Paul’s integrity, since he read Adam historically. (Paul typically reads the Old Testament at a creative hermeneutical distance from what the Old Testament authors were saying.)

The problem isn’t that it threatens our continuity with the history of the church, since the church has taken Adam as historical. (The wouldn’t be the first time Christians have reversed earlier church belief–remember Galileo.)

The problem for Christian theology is God’s wrath.

A historical Adam, who is first human created without evolutionary predecessor, whose disobedience is somehow put on the shoulders of all humans, gives some rationale for why God is so angry and why that anger needs to be dealt with.

If there is no first man who fell, why is God so mad at everyone?

This is not a minor problem, for God is mad an awful lot in the Old Testament. Typically he is mad at Israel for disobedience to the law. He is also angry with the nations, typically for how they treat the Israelites but also for failing to act justly.

For whatever reason, God is mad–and he demands something be done about it.

You can chalk up all of the wrath business in the Old Testament to Israel reflecting its tribal cultural context. Every nation had gods who needed to appeased, gods who were angry at the drop of a hat for a myriad of reasons. It’s possible, perhaps, to dull the wrath theme in the Old Testament by saying that Israel was stuck in its cultural moment.

But wrath shows up in the New Testament–not as much, I would say, but it’s there.

Jesus is plenty angry, though the object of his wrath is Jewish infidelity to God, much like the Old Testament prophets were angry with Israel (and it seems that Jesus’ hell-talk was largely, if not entirely, aimed at his fellow Jews.)

But still, if you want wrath in the New Testament, one simply need point to the gospels and Paul: Jesus died for the sins of the world.

He had to. God said. Failure to have one’s sins dealt with means to be on the wrong side of the dividing line between God’s wrath and God’s good pleasure.

Take away an Adam as the cause of all of it, and you have to account for why God is so mad at us.

Actually, even with an Adam it’s not exactly clear in the Bible whether Adam is actually the cause of it all (including Paul’s words in Romans–read some commentaries if you don’t believe me). And it’s not at all clear in Genesis itself that Adam’s disobedience caused the universal problem of wrathful alienation from God (since that is not what the Adam story or the Old Testament as a whole say.)

So, maybe God’s wrath has to be explained with or without an Adam. But the view that lays the problem on Adam’s shoulders is the traditional Christian way of looking at it.

It is no good fighting the fact that the problem of wrath is at the very least exacerbated without an Adam.

I’m hardly the first person to point this out, but it’s worth stating plainly. Take away an Adam and you have a theological problem. But….as I never grow tired saying…the fact that no-Adam causes a theological problem does not mean there must have been a first man. It means we have a theological issue to deal with.

As I said toward the end of my book, that is where I would like to see our energies focused. I’m open to suggestions. I think we all should be.




Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.