The Historical Adam Debate

Richard has posted a link to an article written by Robert B. Strimple of Westminster Seminary California on Was Adam an Historical Person? What Difference Does it Make? originally published in Christian Renewal June 20, 1989. There is nothing remarkable about Strimple’s essay per se; I thought it was worthy of a response because the fundamental flaws in Strimple’s approach to the subject are so pervasive and constantly in need of being critically assessed.

After introducing those biblical scholars who have challenged the historicity of the man Adam we read about in the early portions of Genesis, Strimple begins his analysis of the issue: “I want first to cut right to the bottom line and examine the theological consequences of denying the historicity of Adam.” Beginning with the theological implications of a discussion is not inherently problematic. For example, someone could legitimately discuss the theological implications of denying the historicity of Jesus at the beginning of a book on the historical Jesus, but then go on to evaluate the historical evidence for or against the historicity of the man Jesus without assuming the theological implications are a part of that historical data. Jesus lived, breathed, died, and resurrected because he lived, breathed, died and resurrected, not because we need him to in order for our theology to be valid. If he didn’t live, breath, die, and raise from the dead, no amount of needing a Jesus who did to make our theology valid will bring that to pass.

Strimple is not, however, simply framing the discussion by addressing theological implications. The theological implications become the entire crux of his argument. There is absolutely no discussion of historical evidence that would lead us to conclude that the chapters in Genesis that discuss Adam are historical in nature, or to what degree they can be understood as historical. Strimple has claimed to write about an historical question, but he has failed to approach the task as an historian. For the historian’s task, I want to point you to one of Mark Goodacre’s recent NTPodcasts, A Historical Approach to the New Testament. While Mark has catered his discussion to New Testament studies, I think his principles will be helpful for approaching the Hebrew Bible as well.

Strimple operates under the assumption that the Bible can be considered a “special kind of evidence,” to use Mark Goodacre’s words. He appeals to Paul and to the theological traditions concerning scripture that he has inherited, but he fails to address the very things that could establish historicity. His argument is applicable only in so far as his presuppositions are shared by others. There is no sense in which this could be qualified an inquiry into the quest for an historical Adam.


5 thoughts on “The Historical Adam Debate

  1. Umm..I have reread the first couple of chapters Genesis and can’t find where man was perfect and that sin caused them to fall from perfection. Couldn’t we need a redeemer because well we were never perfect? I’m probably missing some big theological argument somewhere, but I’m am not a scholar, I don’t I play one on the internet either, just a regular guy.

    1. Perfection is gleaned from God’s observation that what he created was “very good.” I would agree that there are moral connotations to that statement, but I do find it problematic to suggest things were perfect, particularly when that word is understood in light of typical systematic usage. Check out Steve Wiggans post Eager for Eden for a more reasonable perspective, in my opinion.

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