What’s Wrong with Theological Exegesis

… or, what’s right with it, depending on who you are.

This week, James K. A. Smith posted a review of Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam at The Colossian Forum. Although Enns is a friend, I am not an apologist for this particular book, which is amenable to, perhaps significant, critique from a number of angles.

However, I am an apologist for people wrestling with the critical issues about what the Bible is, what it actually communicates, and what the impact of this might be for Christian theology.

And this is precisely the sort of challenge that Smith’s critique of the book seeks to circumvent. Smith’s critique of Enns’ methodology (it’s not a book review in the typical sense) is an almost stereotypical move by a theologian to keep the church from having to wrestle with what the Bible actually is, what it actually says, and how this might challenge what we think we know about ourselves and God.

You’ll notice I said “actually.” And here, no doubt, I can hear Smith jumping up and down and screaming, “‘Actually’ is precisely the point! Enns tries to define ‘actually’ as what the human authors meant, but that’s never been the full extent of what the church has believed.”

I know this. And so does Enns–more so than Smith gives him credit for.

Smith wrongly critiques Enns on two points.

First, he says that Enns’ paradigm is one in which the true meaning lies “behind” the text. This is a mischaracterization. For Enns, as for most scholars who turn to historical context to understand the text, the world “behind” the text does not determine what the text means, but helps us understand with greater plausibility the particular connotations this text would have had to a first audience.

This is not getting behind the text, it’s better understanding the text we actually have.

Second, for some reason Smith thinks that Richard B. Hays is his ally while Enns is dubious company. But both Hays and Enns argue that Paul reads the OT with a revisionist hermeneutic in light of the person and work of Christ (Enns) or the formation of the church in Christ (Hays).

This is where Smith’s critique was peculiar, to say the least. After chastising Enns for claiming an ultimate meaning in Genesis and not allowing a reframing of it in canonical context, he quotes Enns as saying:

what Genesis says about Adam and the consequences of his actions does not seem to line up with the universal picture that Paul paints in Romans and 1 Corinthians […]. I do not think the gospel stands on whether we can read Paul’s Adam in the pages of Genesis.

That sounds a lot like Enns is arguing for a revisionist reading of Genesis in light of the Christ event–a canonical reassessment that says, “How Paul reads Adam is not determined by the Ancient Near Eastern context.”

If Smith were in the mood to give Enns’ book a charitable reading, he might even say that Enns has demonstrated that these later meanings unfolded “in front of the text.”

But the real crux is that Smith wants to iron out all the wrinkles through an appeal to divine authorship. The problem, of course, is that this convenient appeal is so powerful that it can substantiate every claim while proving none.

Such appeals to divine intention have too long disallowed careful investigation into the plausibility of evolution and what the impact might be for how Christians read the Bible and understand human origins.

While I disagree with Enns on numerous points, his book is more valuable than Smith’s critique for two reasons: (1) It owns up to the Bible we actually have rather than the Bible Smith seems to wish God had given us. (No, appeals to God cannot make the critical issues of the Bible go away.) But perhaps more importantly, (2) It moves Christianity in the right direction by freeing evangelicals to wrestle with the questions of evolution and theology with integrity rather than calling us back again to the comfort of divine approbation for our closed-eyed denial of the problems facing our theological tradition.

Peter Enns

Smith closes his critique by suggest we return to ask the unasked foundational questions. This is a red herring. We can keep retreating to our theological reading rooms and having comfortable conversations about how important it is that God wrote the Bible. Or, we can continue the conversation that Enns has helped move along by (a) wrestling with the meaning of the Bible we actually have as both a historical and a theological document–God, if God be author, actually authored this and not some other book!–and (b) figuring out what we’re going to say about human origins now that we know humanity came to be in a much different way than we’d think from a literal reading of Genesis 1 or even the almost opposite way we’d think from a literal reading of Genesis 2.

Theological interpretation is at its best when it is drawing on what we know historically about the contexts of scripture to enrich and challenge the theology of the church. It is at its worst when it strives to use the power of God to keep us from recognizing either the Bible we actually have or the world we actually live in. Smith’s review is guilty of both of the latter.

69 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Theological Exegesis”

  1. Daniel, have you reviewed “The evolution of Adam” on your blog? I’d be interested in the essence of your critique.

  2. I was a bit surprised by the claim that Enns ignored what was “before” the text as well, especially since it assumes that Scripture retains an authoritative voice even in the face of continual change in our understanding of human origins.

  3. The challenge for all of us, whatever our fields, whatever our positions and relations to others in life, is to hear the wisdom and insight of others, and the corrections of real world observations. It’s so much easier for us to hunker down in our fortress of rectitude which assumes an infinite # of names, and avoid the challenges by building walls between us. Thanks to Pete Enns for receiving the challenge to engage our faith, scripture and the world in which we live and interact. Thank you, Daniel, for your insight and thoughtful review. (One note: I don’t know whether JKA Smith might truly be “jumping up and down and screaming”, though, and I would recommend cutting him some rhetorical slack, here. :) …whether or not he gave such grace to Pete.)

    1. I meant that what I was saying was in direct line of fire of his claims, so that it seems like I’ve not heard him. Maybe I was projecting what my reaction would have been if someone reasserted what I had been in the process of attempting to deconstruct!

  4. I think your line “now that we know humanity came to be in a much different way” is the essence of where you and Enns are coming from. You accept the dominant paradigm as a proven fact rather than a credible theory with a lot of holes in it. There are thoughtful, believing scientists and even one or two non-believing ones who have not bought-into macro-evolutionary theory the way you have. Their writings are available if you wanted to investigate the contrary view.

    1. GC, every scientific theory has holes in it. In fact, I’d argue that evolution is better understood than gravity. Sure gravity is caused by mass warping space, but WHY does that happen and what is the mechanism? We still have no idea.

      The processes by which evolution occurs, OTOH, are well understood: genetic mutation, natural selection. The debate has always been can these two mechanisms create the diversity of life on earth that we see. In 6000 years? Absolutely not. In 2.5 billion years? Certainly.

      Calvin and Luther both railed against the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe and that there was no firmament holding back the water in the sky because the Bible stated these things. No Christians I know believe those things anymore. In another century, Christians will look back at the evangelical community arguing against evolution in much the same way.

      1. Macro evolution and agent-less abiogenesis remain undemonstrated. In the last hundred years no-one has managed to get a fruit fly to evolve into anything other than fruit fly, nor has anyone been able to generate life from non-life in a petri dish. (Not for lack of trying). Yet the scientific establishment gets hot flushes anytime a planet with water is found because, y’know, it probably has life on it!

        1. I suggest you look into the topic of Evo Devo (evolutionary developemental biology). This is the study of how evolution is demonstrated in embryos. In the lab, scientists have demonstrated that simply by denying or adding a protein at a given stage of embryonic development can cause drastic changes to occur in the span of just one generation. For instance, they were able to double the beak length of control chick embryos simply by adding higher levels of a particular protein at a given stage of development. This turns on (or off) certain genes which can result in large changes. Isolate a population for several generations and you can have an entirely new species. It’s not too big of a jump to say that a fin could have become a rudimentary hand at some point in the same way. See this page: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/what-evo-devo.html

          BTW, scientists have also synthesized the building blocks of RNA in the lab, or rather the molecules synthesized themselves given the correct conditions. we’re not far from creating full chains of DNA in th lab. From there, you only need a cell membrane and you have life: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/05/ribonucleotides/

          It is a losing battle for you and other evangelicals who continue to deny evolution. In time, it will be as self-evident as any other scientific phenomenon.

  5. I’m not in the habit of responding to blog posts, but hey, if Tom Wright can do it, maybe it’s not all bad. Plus, I appreciate your critique and wanted to try to clarify some misperceptions–or at least caution you (and others) from drawing to hasty conclusions from one review essay of one book.

    First, anybody who knows me more closely would be surprised to hear that I’m trying to “keep the church from having to wrestle with” the difficult challenges and issues you’ve described. In fact, I’ve just co-authored a document for my own institution that grapples with the thorniest of questions at the intersection of Scripture and human origins–and I can assure you it won’t win me any friends among those who were looking to simply repristinate their “traditional” views. Of course, you couldn’t know this, but I do want to caution against drawing conclusions about what you think I want. I do hope some of this constructive work will appear under my own name in more public venues over the rest of this year.

    Second, and more specifically, I certainly don’t think appeals to divine authorship and canon “iron out all the wrinkles.” Hardly. I just think unless we have a robust sense of this, we won’t even properly identify what counts AS “wrinkles.” Again, you seem to hazard guess as to what conclusions I would want to draw from this when there is no indication in the review itself as to what those might be. (You seem to assume I would defend a literalist reading? Really?) It seems to me you’re working with a bit of a false dichotomy, as if anyone who criticizes Enns simply must be an apologist for what Enns is rejecting. But that’s simply not true.

    I can assure you that appeals to divine intention do NOT “disallow careful investigation into the plausibility of evolution.” I could cite evidence to the explicit contrary, but won’t bore you with that. I’m more worried that you assume anyone who criticizes Enns must hold a specific material position on these matters. That’s simply fallacious; indeed, it is this sort of binary imagination that I’m trying to push back against.

    Third–quickly–re: Paul’s creative exegesis. You’re right, Enns recognizes the creative generation of Paul’s reading “in front of the text.” But then doesn’t Enns focus on _rejecting_ that reading?

    Trust me, I’m all for furthering conversation. But I don’t think we’ll get very far if we stay locked in these binary responses.

    1. Thanks for responding here.

      I’m certainly not working with the dichotomy that criticizing Enns means being an apologist for what Enns is rejecting–hence my own statement of disagreements with Enns in this blog post.

      What I am concerned about is the kind of critique on offer. Appeals to prolegommena have not, in fact, served the church well when it has been confronted with new scientific or historical data. I find the appeal to divine authorship problematic, as though it solves a problem that cannot be so solved.

      Put differently, where we disagree is the extent to which divine authorship helps us see the wrinkles. I have not found, ever I think, that appeal to divine authorship helps in this regard.

      If we want to discuss evolution, we have a text in front of us that says things about Adam. We need to read that text well as it says different things about Adam at different times.

      Another commenter asks, “What difference does divine inspiration make? Neither you nor Enns ever says.” The difference it makes is that we must, after we have done our exegetical work and recognized all the surprises and challenges, confess that this Bible we actually have is the one God wanted us to have, even when it doesn’t say as we would like it to say or mean what we would like it to mean. Even when we disagree with it.

      The concerns your review generated for me were largely about how such appeals to prolegommena function in our evangelical world. Whatever you may or may not go on to say, your essay will be further proof for those who want to say that it’s only by excluding considerations of God that we can create such room for evolution.

      No, say some of us. The fact that God inspired this Bible with its multiple, different tellings of the Adam story, means that these exegetical difficulties are the stuff of the Bible that God actually wanted us to have. And recognizing those differences and tensions and revisionist readings helps us understand how we are supposed to tell the Adam story as part of the Christ story that finally redefines it.

      1. Daniel -

        I think this is probably your most helpful statement of critique: Whatever you may or may not go on to say, your essay will be further proof for those who want to say that it’s only by excluding considerations of God that we can create such room for evolution.

        Having said that, I think Jamie would probably understand that sentiment. I am going to guess that Jamie doesn’t want people constantly pulling the “divine card” to trump any dealings with the questions of science and evolution.

        So, then, this other statement in your comment addresses this well, which again, I think Jamie might agree with: The difference it makes is that we must, after we have done our exegetical work and recognized all the surprises and challenges, confess that this Bible we actually have is the one God wanted us to have, even when it doesn’t say as we would like it to say or mean what we would like it to mean. Even when we disagree with it.

        I’m gonna take a stab that you and Jamie actually agree on way more than you disagree. Jamie just felt it was worth emphasising how the divine nature of Scripture can work out some of those ‘wrinkles’. And the biggest wrinkle it can work out is what you suggest – We can take great solace in the fact that, even after all the dealings with critical scholarship and exegesis, etc, we can rest in the fact that this is the God-breathed Scripture that God so designed us to have.

        Thanks for both of your interactions.

      2. Just a few points in reply, before my day job kicks in:

        1) I would note that you do seem to have a habit of discussing what you think it is legitimate for me to say, rather than engage what I have said about the book. So there’s a certain amount of deflection going on here and I think anyone who ONLY read your post wouldn’t have gotten the core of my review, which is here: http://bit.ly/IfLaP5

        2) NOWHERE do I ask for a “theory” of inspiration, NOR do I suggest that emphasizing divine authorship requires a de jure rejection of evolutionary accounts.

        3) The “prolegomenal” concerns in my review are proportionate to what Enns writes about in the book. Can you honestly say that Enns isn’t spending a good chunk of the book on prolegomenal, hermeneutical issues–reframing HOW to read Genesis, etc? Dealing with such hermeneutical issues is not a punt–it is precisely what we need to do in order to make any progress in this conversation.

        4) Appeals to divine authorship are NOT meant to be a magical appeal that easily solves everything. The point about divine authorship is just to underwrite the canonical expectation that the meaning of Scripture in the context of the canon can exceed what “the Israelites” might have meant in the post-exilic period.

        5) I explicitly say that Enns DOES have a theory of divine inspiration that he has articulated elsewhere. But that understanding of Scripture has no FUNCTIONAL role to play “The Evolution of Adam.”

        As I say at the beginning of my review: I’m not writing (yet) to contest the specific position on origins–which means that I’m also not defending an alternative “position” on origins. I’m encouraging us to think longer and harder about just HOW to explore these questions. To that end, I’m grateful for your critique as it helps me better understand what the touchpoints are. Thanks.

        1. Re: #3: Two things: (1) How much more contextual information do you think Enns needs to supply? What does he leave out that is of significant import for the points he makes? (2) The reason Enns doesn’t talk about the deeper hermeneutical issues about the relationship between inspiration, hermeneutics, and context, is that he wrote about it in his previous book, which he encourages his readers to examine. He doesn’t intend to regurgitate that. He couldn’t.

          Re: #4: I think you’re missing Daniel’s point. The point is that, at least from the perspective of historians and specialists of ancient literature, there is a tendency to jump to “theological” solutions to problems in our texts, when if we understood texts better on their own terms or in their own contexts or if we reconsider some of our underlying assumptions, the problems might evaporate. Secondly, the problem I have with your appeal to divine authorship is that it gets the cart before the horse. You seem to assume divine and human intentions are extricable; if so, how do you know, by what methodology do you propose to uncover them, and *specifically* how does this impact Enns’ thesis?

          Re: #5: Yes he does, though I suspect it may not be the way you’re used to thinking about it. For Enns, the divine and human elements of scripture are intertwined such that God chooses to use human language, assumptions, worldviews, theologies, etc. as the architechtonic medium for communicated what he wants to communicate to his people given their location in history. As such, understanding how a text functions in its own right, in its own moment, is part and parcel with understanding divine message and intentionality. In short, inspiration and understanding a divine message are FUNCTIONS of engaging the text in its milieu. This isn’t to say necessarily that canonical role isn’t relevant, but it is to say that you have to start with the texts first before you can proceed to broader global conclusions about theological unity, the message of the whole, etc. I trust that is unobjectionable.

  6. Dead on, Daniel. Could not agree more. There is a real lack of integrity – a kind of burying our heads in the sand – over what the Bible actually is that we have in our hands (and how it came to us). If we willfully ignore this we are doing ourselves and others a serious disservice. Let’s read the Bible as God chose to give it – not in a docetic, fell-out-of-the-sky, way we think it should be read. That is ultimately being dishonest.

  7. My review of your review of Smith’s review is as follows: 1) people appeal to divine authorship to avoid wrestling with the real issues, 2) Smith appeals to divine authorship, 3) Hence, Smith is avoiding the real issues. May be that’s not what you are saying but that is how it came across. I have yet to come across a clear articulation by Enns of the importance and significance of divine authorship. Like your post, he mentions but rushes past it to get to the “real” stuff.

    1. Yes, that’s basically right, Andy. I believe I used the phrase “red herring” for bringing in God to help rescue us from the all-too-human and historical texts we have. The point of divine authorship is that God has chosen to participate in and inspire texts that embody our human situations in just these ways.

  8. It seems to me that Smith poses significant questions — What do we mean when we say (if we say) that God is the author of Scripture? How, if we do not hold a dictation theory of inspiration, are we to understand the relationship between the divine author and the human authors? — and claims that Enns does not address those questions.

    Your response is to continue to ignore the questions and speculate on the bad motives of the questioner. Apparently even to ask these questions is to “wish God had given us” some other Bible, to try to “make the critical issues of the Bible go away,” to “use the power of God to keep us from recognizing either the Bible we actually have or the world we actually live in.” Leaving aside the question of how you arrive at your confident assessment of Smith’s motives and purposes, I think the questions deserve answering. In changing the subject to make this a conversation about what Smith wants to do, are you indicating that you have no answers to the questions?

    1. See Alan, admitting you have no answers to questions is following the anti-power polemic of Jesus against the powers that demand answers.

      If you ask for answers like that, that juts makes you a person who doesn’t understand the radical cross-shaped life of not answering difficult questions.

    2. That is an interesting question, but it’s a complete change of subject. We have all this scientific data; we have a creation story in Gen 1, we have a creation story in Gen 2, we have Adam discussed in Rom 5, we have Adam discussed in 1 Cor 15. The question of God’s hand in all this is relevant how? God has given us the Bible we actually have. To turn our attention to studying that Bible is an affirmation of God’s hand at work. Theories of inspiration aren’t going to help us deal with the actual data that we have to work with, which is the somewhat desperate need of the hour.

      1. Complete change of subject? It’s precisely the subject that Smith raised and that you deride him for raising.

        Moreover, if God-as-divine-author can have meanings and purposes beyond those of the Bible’s human authors — if he has things to say through their words that they did not (and perhaps could not) think — then that has enormous implications for the study of “the Bible that we actually have,” doesn’t it? And as you know, for almost the whole history of the Church it has been almost universally held that God can and does have such transcendent meanings. It may well be, of course, that earlier Christians were completely wrong about this. (It wouldn’t be the only thing that they were wrong about.) But the text doesn’t tell you that they were wrong: you’ll need a theory of inspiration to tell you that.

        So whatever answer you give to the question of what God-as-divine-author can and does mean through the human authors, it’s immensely relevant to the understanding of the Creation account, and indeed of anything else in Scripture. You have a position on this whether you can articulate it or not; so, for the sake of good scholarship, it’s best to be able to articulate it.

        1. (And, I would add, it’s best not to respond to people like Smith who ask questions about such issues by reading their minds and asserting that you know what they “really want.” People who ask questions you’s prefer not to answer, or feel you have already answered, aren’t thereby inferior to you in courage. Surely we owe it to one another to take sincere questions a little more seriously.)

        2. You don’t even have to necessarily go Divine Author to get more meanings.

          There can just be logical entailments of claims made by various biblical authors that are also true, though perhaps the author didn’t think them all the way through.

      2. We should take care to remember that not even scientific data can be seen as a neutral category in this debate. Therefore, acting as if it’s just there is simply continuing to beg the question.

  9. When you teach physics, or some scienes, you teach approximations to what will later be revealed when you get down to quantum or other layers of reality. That doesn’t mean that student of the teacher should loudly object that those first lessons are completely different and irreconcilable with the later lessons of the teacher.

    “appeal is so powerful that it can substantiate every claim while proving none.”

    While it gives us a reason and rationalle to look twice at genesis and not dismiss the idea that what Paul sees there is seeable I doubt it can substantiate every claim.

  10. “Christians too quickly rush ahead to settled “positions” before reflecting theologically on just how we should proceed.”

    Boy howdy to that. As an account of human origins … well, why does the person in the modern street or the neolithic landscape even care? I think Smith is right that the useful part of the Adam and Eve story is in the origin of human sinfulness; I think he’s wrong that evolutionary origins make God responsible for evil in any new and different way.

    “[Enns] speaks as if the doctrine of original sin was just an account of the cause of our universal human sinfulness (124)—and it is just this sort of causal claim that he thinks is untenable in light of evolutionary evidence for human origins.  But Enns thinks we are free to abandon this causal claim associated with original sin and instead simply affirm universal sinful humanness.”

    I don’t get this. Isn’t Enns saying or implying that evolution gives a more richly detailed explanation of human sinfulness, expanding the outline given in Genesis?

    1. Maybe he is, but is he doing so in a way that allows for the goodness of God, and sin as privation of a good, instead of inescapable.

  11. I’m not sure I agree with all of Smith’s critiques of Enns or yours of him (<– see what I did there :), but in reading Smith's review, I kept hoping he would have incorporated the way Enns framed the role of the divine in his earlier 'Inspiration and Incarnation.' I don't have that book in front of me today so I can't verify how much it would have helped, but if I remember right Enns spent a bit more time talking about the graciousness of God in revealing his thoughts through the viewpoint of the human author.

    1. And I kept hoping Enns himself would do that in “Evolution of Adam.” As I said above, I nowhere deny that Enns has an account of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. I’m only noting that it doesn’t seem to do any work in this new book, which is why we get a more “flattened” hermeneutic.

  12. “[Theology] needs to be on its guard against making premature concessions to, and to seek agreement with, the so-called scientific results that can at any time be knocked down and exposed in their untenability by more thorough research. As the science of divine and eternal things, theology must be patient until the science that contradicts it has made a deeper and broader study of its field and, as happens in most cases, corrects itself. In that manner theology upholds its dignity and honor more effectively than by constantly yielding and adapting itself to the opinions of the day.” – Herman Bavinck

      1. LOL. That only makes his opinion more important in my view. Never mind that you haven’t actually dealt with his position but instead simply dismiss it unnecessarily.

        But, regardless, the real problem here is that advocates in science (and academics interpreting Scripture that follow them) speak with a level of certainty that doesn’t belong to their field no matter how far we’ve supposedly advanced. I don’t mind reviewing the biblical text in light of current science, but we’re not really as limited in our perspective as Kirk or Enns would suggest.

        1. Exactly. When prevailing scientific theory contradicts scripture, certain folks decide the bible must be “read differently”, a euphemism for (a)”attribute human ignorance to the parts that make me uncomfortable” or (b) “God said false things to patronize ancient peoples”. The idea that current scientific theory may be flawed is apparently unthinkable, because these folks do not investigate any of the literature on that side.

          1. “… because these folks do not investigate any of the literature on that side.”

            I’m sure we (Christian proponents of evolution) have investigated the literature on the other side. The fact is that we HAVE investigated it and found it wanting. The problem is not that we are misinformed; it’s just that the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that a non-biased and educated observer of the debate cannot deny that evolution is a fact.

            Here’s another data point for you: human chromosome #2. It is a fusion of two virtually identical chromosomes in chimpanzees and other apes. This indicates common descent. There is no other explanation except perhaps that God wanted to play a trick on us. My God is not a deceiver.

            1. >>>a non-biased and educated observer of the debate cannot deny that evolution is a fact

              This is just incredulous and frankly as intolerant as any fundamentalist rant on the other side. In my view, such extremes are pretty much different sides of the same coin. Much as Enns and others would like to escape their fundamentalist heritage, they merely wind up reframing it in a new context with statements like the one above.

            2. Your God is not a designer either, apparently. Common genetic building-blocks could indicate a common creator without necessarily indicating common descent. Secular science will always default to explanations that (a) exclude an intelligent cause/agent and (b) prop-up the popular theory.

              1. So God designed a chromosome with a two centromeres and a vestigal telomere pair in the middle of the chromosome AND he made the two chromosomes that were obviously fused identical to two other chromosomes found in chimpanzees?

                If you say so.

            3. James, I’m pretty sure the VAST majority of Christians who are proponents of evolution have not read any actual “literature” on either side. They’ve read mass media and watched shows on the Discovery channel. To me, this is not being properly informed.

  13. I have a question for Alan Jacobs and James K.A. Smith: what specifically is gained or changed by appealing to God as author in the case of the historical Adam? Or one could say it this way, in what ways is the divine meaning different, in this specific case, than the human meaning?

    1. My point is only that it impacts interpretive possibilities in such a way that the meaning of Scripture is not defined or determined by what the original human authors intended. I’m not presuming or prejudging that divine authorship simply settles the question of a historical couple. I’m addressing the parameters within which we can determine what Scripture means on that point.

      FYI, I discuss this is in more detail in chapter 7 of the new, 2nd edition of my book, The Fall of Interpretation. See http://amzn.to/IZu2dP

      1. One can talk about interpretive parameters all day, but on this issue until you explain exactly what difference it makes in this specific case; from my perspective you are side stepping the issues.

        I agree that your “point is only that it impacts interpretive possibilities in such a way that the meaning of Scripture is not defined or determined by what the original human authors intended” but has not this same point been made a hundred times. The more fundamental question is how does this impact one’s reading of Genesis 1-4 and the question of the historical Adam.

  14. Pete’s Child: Dad, you told me children were gifts from God. Today I learned about sex. What gives?

    Pete: Son, as you grow you will learn more about the world. What I told you was true, but now you’re ready to know about the science involved. You’re also ready to learn more about the great pleasures of sex and the great dangers. As a result of learning from these areas of common grace, you will have a fuller-orbed understanding of what God is doing in this world.

    Jamie’s Child: Dad, you told me children were gifts from God. Today I learned about sex. What gives?

    Jamie: I often communicate meaning beyond my words. Go to bed.

    1. TFR,

      I think the picture from Jamie’s side might be better expressed:

      Jamie’s Child: Dad, since you didn’t outsource my sex ed. to the public school I already know there is more to sex than physical interactions and that life, however it comes, is always a gift from God.

      Jamie: Wow, I didn’t know you were listening so close.

      The idea that the public schools or science is the authority we must respond to is what’s in question.

      But I’m glad you brought sex because it seems an apt illustration. Sex is a physical act (certainly, and joyfully), but it is equally social and spiritual. The question seems to be in what sense is scripture more than just physical (i.e. historical) but also spiritual (divine authorship).

  15. Really? –
    “Such appeals to divine intention have too long disallowed careful investigation into the plausibility of evolution.” In addition to embodying the consequentialist fallacy, the statement seems to entail a historical oversimplification. An emphasis on divine intention and the concomitant distinction between it and the understanding of human authors has just as often been instrumental in making room for scientific accounts of nature that appear discordant with the latter.

  16. Well I started reading Smiths review and when he presented his “divine” premise qualifier I realized we had an investigative show stopper there.

    I can empathize with Smith when it comes to Pete’s own premise toward Paul and Genesis to some extend as I also believe it is not yet the most robust approach. However unlike Smith who reverts to “Divine” authorship I believe Pete hasn’t quite explored fully the intent of the authors yet which may yield more depth to Paul’s understanding.

    I follow Pete in his new EBook concerning the exilic background of Genesis but I believe Pete stops short in fully exploring the possible implications that can be derived from that understanding. When scholars point out the exilic background it seems they don’t pursue some of the masked agenda that the authors are propagating ultimately toward Judaism in its present dysfunctional state. I believe Genesis reflects unhappiness with the status quo of Israel as reflected throughout the entire mini series of stories found therein; and I would state especially the flood account. I don’t think it’s their ancient history necessarily the authors are interested in but IMO it’s sowing the seeds of the coming messianic revolution by presenting justifiable history as a precedent. Indeed this revolutionary theme is what most of the second Temple literature along with Ezekiel and Daniel picks upon and is constantly presenting as a coming climax in history in which things are going to change. Genesis is no different when analyzed from this perspective, especially in the manner that 2T literature builds upon its foundational messianic coming and judgment stories. This story is not as much a mystery to the Jews when Christ arrives as we like to think sometimes as the details were already being sketched for them.

    Smith appears to underscore this finality as illustrated in the NT as Divine authorship. In a way he’s correct but he just cut the wheels out from under this investigation by laying his premise out in the manner he did. I would hope most interested parties would recognize the Divine accompanying that guided these authors; but ultimately these writers appear to understand the end game much better than we give them credit for. If one doesn’t limit themselves to just the OT canon as we Protestants have before us but go back and read the second Temple literature it becomes much clearer that revolution was always undergirding these OT writings. This idea of revolution adds much to the investigation rather than stating the authors didn’t know what they were positing; but realize that indeed they did and so did Paul. History was important to the exilic Jews but revolution was the game IMO.

    I believe we all hold to Divine oversight because the actual event of revolution occurred, but IMO it wasn’t authors necessarily writing down things they didn’t understand. So there seems to be room for both Pete and Smiths and others investigations to continue exploring Paul and Adam.
    Paul says he preached nothing but the Law and the Prophets and therefore I don’t think he was a revisionist.

  17. Hi folks. I thought I’d chime in relatively briefly, since my ears were ringing so much they were beginning to bleed. Jamie and I are planning on having a conversation on his new site sometime soon, but let me say a few words here in the meantime.

    Generally I agree with Daniel’s original post, at least in this sense: I do not see what Theological Interpretation can add to this discussion. I have had this very same conversation with other practitioners and sooner or later it comes down to some variation on the following: the witness of the church and of scripture requires an Adam and extrabiblical information cannot trump that. In other words, we are back to the critique of Child’s Exodus commentary, where critical scholarship is only acknowledged but not integrated into theological reflection. We are still in the same problem, it seems to me. Show me HOW Theological Interpretation takes history seriously by showing me how it affects theological formulations.

    Ironically, perhaps, that is the very integrative work I am trying to achieve. I just use different theological language to do that. Justin D (4/28 12:13) has understood me correctly, for what that’s worth. I think I am actually doing the work I would like to see others do: have a conversation between biblical studie and theology. jamie, you should be thanking me :-)

    In that respect, I think the brief exchange between Tim Stone and Jamie is the proper path of exploration: how, precisely, does Theological Interpretation help in this issue of Adam vis-a-vis scripture, tradition, and the relatively recently unearthed archaeological and scientific evidence. I would want to see genuine integration, and no one has been able to articulate that for me yet, try as I might. (Though Jamie speaks of a book he has coming out.)

    Also, at a number of points above a comment was made about how the church has always seen in scripture more than the human author intended. To be sure that is correct, although I might add a couple of observations.

    (1) The history of Xian exegesis is actually one long argument between views that are aptly summarized in the distinctions between the schools of Alexandria and Antioch–simply put (without wanting to derail the post further), between “allegorical” and “literal” interpretation respectively. The discussion here is one that the church has had many times, and to suggest (which I think someone did) that multiple divine meaning extending beyond human intention was more or less a given until I wrote The Evolution of Adam (I kid) is wrong. There has always been a conversation, sometimes quite heated.

    (2) We must try to come to terms with WHY the church began to read the OT in ways that transcended the literal meaning of the human author. Simply put, they had to, because a surface reading of the OT does not serve the church’s Christological focus but needs to be brought into the life of the church through creative means.

    This is why, if I may get on my hobby horse, a study of the NT’s use of the OT is so influential in my thinking. How can one discern, for example, the transhuman “divine intention” as jamie asks when, for example, Paul PITS torah against torah in Romans 10:5-6 (Lev 18:5 and Deut 30:13-14—also in Gal 3:10-14)? What does this tell us about what God intended? Did he intend for torah to be used against itslef? That would be a very awkward argument to make for a number of reasons, and there are historical/contextual factors that explain this hermeneutical maneuver quite directly.

    Paul himself saw the need to transform and utterly reframe the OT in order to speak of Christ. That transformation is difficult to incorporate into a paradigm that asserts that the divine meaning expands or adds some layers to what the human authors thought.

    If I had the time here, we could go on to look at how these hermeneutical trajectories were developed in the 2nd-4th centuries to address apologetic concerns against Jews. Once it was clear they had to begin fighting over who was right about how to interpret the Bible, early Christians had to develop a spiritual/theological hermeneutic that justified a Christian reading of the OT in the face of Jewish apologetics and Marcion’s radical agenda. They had to find a way of keeping the OT and bringing it into conversation with the Gospel in a way that satisfied thinking Christians at the time and also held at bay the counter arguments of Jewish apologists. Enter Irenaeus’s Rule fo Faith followed later by Clement and Origin and allegorical method, a better way, they thought, of bridging the gap, followed by the reaction of the school of Antioch by such figures as Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret and Cyprus (who had their own internal disagreements on just how the historical meaning of the OT should anchor one’s reading).

    So, in summary, I would like to see Theological Interpretation give some account for how they can discern the divine intention that can also account for all of this and more. For me, I find a study rooted in historical context–where I am told the Christian God walked among us as a man–to be a more fruitful avenue of approach than others–which is why I spil so much ink talking about an incarnational analogy of Scripture to give people language to use while doing that.

    Ok, this was too long.

    1. Actually, I appreciate your chiming in so thoroughly, Pete.

      Thanks for highlighting Justin D’s comment which was written clearly, and Tim Stone’s exchange w/ James KA Smith.

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