Book Review: The Quest for the Historical Adam

The Quest for the Historical Adam Genesis Hermeneutics and HumanThe Quest for the Historical Adam Genesis Hermeneutics and Human by William VanDoodewaard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful book, blending history, theology, and cultural analysis. The author begins in the Patristic era and works through 2013 showing what different theologians believed about the existence of Adam and Eve as the first humans created by God, as well as the age of the earth. The value of the book lies in its extensive scope, covering 2,000 years of church history and touching on all major figures. He stops discussing Roman Catholics after the Reformation. But he does discuss all branches of Protestantism, including Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Dutch Reformed from the Reformation onward.

This book is not an exegetical examination of Genesis 1-2, but rather a collating of various interpretations of Genesis 1-2. The author spends the bulk of the pages on the time since the Enlightenment because there is little if any disagreement on Adam and Eve prior to that time. The wealth of primary sources quoted from is overwhelming and opens numerous avenues of research for those who want more information. There are several article and books listed that I want to read. Several thoughts emerged as I read:

First, superficial appeals to church history by old earth proponents should be challenged. The author does not focus on the age of the earth, but there are enough quotes to let the reader know that simply saying “Augustine did not believe in a literal 24 hour days either” is not sufficient. Force old earth men to say how their system compares to those that came before. Doing that will help one see there are not many connections between old earth today and the more figurative approaches of the early church and even men like Bavinck and Kuyper.

Second, one question that must be answered by old earth proponents is when does the Genesis text become literal and why? Many want Genesis to become literal in 2:4 or later, but before that it is symbolic, analogical, etc. Why? Why is 2:4 literal and 1:24 not?

Third, while many old earth men still hold to a literal Adam and Eve they have no reason to in the text of Genesis. In other words, their hermeneutic of Genesis 1-2 has no brakes. If the days are not 24 hour days then why does Adam have to be a real man? And while their interpretation does not necessitate a non-literal Adam, it also does not require a literal one, which leaves the door open to some of the recent denials that Adam existed at all.

Fourth, the adoption of evolutionary theory for the origins of man is devastating to historic Christianity’s view of man, sin, God, Christ, and salvation. This does not mean that all who adopt evolutionary theory take it this far. But a hermeneutic which allows evolution to squeeze into Genesis 1-2 can, and some would say logically does, lead to the denial of key tenets of the Christian faith.

Fifth, appeals to Ancient Near Eastern cosmologies must be challenged. Men like Walton, Collins, and Enns to varying degrees allow ANE literature to greatly influence their reading of Genesis 1-3 (and even beyond). Why? Why is there the implicit assumption in many discussions that Scripture is downstream from ANE literature instead of the other way around? Why does ANE literature and the Scriptures “share” their context instead of ANE literature being a godless twisting of the Genesis record?

Finally, seminaries and pastors have a duty to be clear on these issues. What is within the bounds of orthodoxy and what is not? The answer to this question is not easy, but it must be found and boldly proclaimed.

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