Daniel Kirk, associate professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, recently wrote an article titled, “Does Paul’s Christ Require a Historical Adam?” (It Would be helpful if you followed the link and read the entire article). To date, the article has been shared over 1700 times through social media. Kirk is coming against the notion that a person must affirm a historical Adam before he can affirm 1) the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture, 2) a good world gone wrong, 3) the sinfulness of all humanity, and 4) a historical Christ. Kirk agrees that the Apostle Paul assumed there was a historical Adam (In Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15), but he argues that the Apostle was reimagining the Genesis creation account in light of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Kirk argues, “the gospel does not, in fact, depend on a historical Adam or historical Fall in large part because what Paul says about Adam stems from his prior conviction about the saving work of Christ.” Kirk believes Paul’s account in Romans 5 leaves room, “for a person who was chosen by God from a developing or, at any rate, numerically numerous, human race to play the role of representative in obedience and disobedience.” Make no mistake, Kirk affirms Paul’s main point in Romans 5, “that God’s grace, righteousness, and life abound to the many because of Christ.” Yet, he rejects the assumptions with which Paul “illustrated these things to be true” [a historical Adam]. Paul’s emphasis is that God has one worldwide people in Christ. Thus, according to Kirk, Paul does not ask or answer the question of whether an evolutionary account of human origins might stand within the story of God’s new creation work in Christ.
I Disagree with Kirk’s Conclusions for Several Reasons:
1. If we cannot trust what the Apostle Paul said about Adam, why should we trust what he said about Christ? What consistent hermeneutic can be applied to Scripture if we pick and choose which texts we’ll believe and which ones we’ll reject? Kirk encourages Christians to abandon Paul’s assumptions about a historical Adam while simultaneously encouraging Christians to embrace Paul’s assumptions about a historical Christ. Moreover, Kirk encourages his readers to embrace Scientific theories over the historicity of Genesis 1-3, and Paul’s interpretation of these chapters, while also encouraging his readers to reject Scientific eschatological assumptions in favor of Paul’s eschatological assumptions concerning Christ.
My question for Kirk is, “If We can reimagine Paul’s assumptions about anything, why can’t we reimagine Paul’s assumptions about everything? If we can reimagine Paul’s words concerning a historical Adam, why can’t we also reimagine Paul’s words concerning a historical Christ?” After all, Scientifically speaking, humans do not stay dead for three days, then physically rise from the dead. Yet, Jesus did!
2. Even if we grant Kirk’s hermeneutic, he is not doing what he claims Paul did. Kirk argues,
Where, then, are we left, if the pressures of scientific inquiry lead us to take down the spire of a literal, historical Adam? What might it look like for us to faithfully receive Paul’s testimony not merely by saying what he said, but by doing what he did? Might it be possible that we could retell the stories of both Adam and evolutionary sciences such that they continued to reflect our conviction that the endpoint of God’s great story is nothing else than new creation in the crucified and risen Christ?
Paul, according to Kirk, read the Adam story based on what God did at a later point in history (Christ’s death and resurrection). I’m curious what has happened in recent history that justifies Kirk’s reimagining of the Genesis story. If we grant that Moses (a prophet) wrote the story of Adam with the later story of Israel in mind, and Paul (an apostle) reimagined the Genesis story in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, what has God done in recent history that justifies Kirk’s reimagining of the Genesis story in the likeness of Paul? Kirk is neither a prophet nor an apostle. His writings are not on the same level as Moses or Paul from an inerrantist or even an infallibilist point of view. Furthermore, Paul’s reimagining was due to his understanding of a later story that was essential to redemptive history. What does Kirk think God has done in recent history that justifies his reimagining of the Creation story in a different way than Moses and Paul? Scientific discovery? If that’s the case, then why not reimagine the resurrection of Christ as well. . . if scientific discovery has historic-redemptive significance?
3. Kirk ignores the reality of progressive revelation. He agrees with Sanders and Ridderbos that Paul’s “given” is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” Kirk writes, “The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.” The reality, however, is that Paul wasn’t merely “assuming” a historical Adam, he was affirming a historical Adam and further revealing various truths about Adam. Kirk lists these truths (Rom. 5):
- Sin entered the world through one person (Rom. 5:12).
- Many people died through what one person did wrong (Rom. 5:15).
- The judgment that came through one person’s sin led to punishment (Rom. 5:16).
- Death ruled because of one person’s failure (Rom. 5:17).
- Judgment fell on everyone through the failure of one person (Rom. 5:18).
- Many people were made sinners through the disobedience of one person (Rom. 5:19).
Paul is not reimagining here. He’s further revealing the condition of all humanity due to Adam’s sin. This is progressive revelation, not “reimagining.” After all, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:21).
4. Kirk is unwilling to treat all events in Scripture as equally susceptible to reimagining. Readers must wonder why Kirk is willing to reimagine the Genesis story and Paul’s understanding of this story in light of science, but is unwilling to reimagine the historical life, death, resurrection, and future reign of Christ in light of science as well. Kirk is listening to science arbitrarily. He writes,
Where, then, are we left, if the pressures of scientific inquiry lead us to take down the spire of a literal, historical Adam? What might it look like for us to faithfully receive Paul’s testimony not merely by saying what he said, but by doing what he did? Might it be possible that we could retell the stories of both Adam and evolutionary sciences such that they continued to reflect our conviction that the endpoint of God’s great story is nothing else than new creation in the crucified and risen Christ? For many, the cognitive dissonance between the sciences and a historical Adam has already become too great to continue holding both. We therefore have to carefully determine whether the cause of Christ, and of truth, is better served by indicating that a choice must be made between the two, or by retelling the narrative about the origins of humanity as we now understand it in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.
My question is if Kirk is ready to reimagine the creation account due to science, is he willing to reimagine the resurrection of Christ in light of science as well? Kirk answers with a stern NO:
Perhaps most importantly, we must not allow biology or physics or chemistry to have the last word about the destiny of humanity. The reality of our lives as creatures limited by death and decay must stand in subordinate relationship to the eschatological reality of new creation that God has granted us in Christ.
To Kirk, the beginning is not important; only the ending. This begs the question concerning why Kirk will listen to science arbitrarily. The only testimonies we have in Scripture are from those who have the same authority as Moses and the Apostle Paul. There’s nothing written by Christ’s own hand in Scripture. Thus, if we can reimagine the previous writings of the prophets and apostles, why can’t we also reimagine the words of Christ they recorded? In other words, I believe Kirk undercuts his own theology by arbitrarily arguing we should reimagine the words of Scripture writers in light of science, for science also says, “Those who are dead three days do not rise from the dead.”
5. Kirk is not abandoning the Christian faith, but if he applies his hermeneutic consistently, he will. To conclude his article, Kirk writes,
To accompany Paul on the task of telling the story of the beginning in light of Christ, while parting ways with his first-century understanding of science and history, is not to abandon the Christian faith in favor of science. Instead, it demands a fresh act of faith in which we continue to hold fast to the truth that has always defined Christianity: the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all. Belief in Christ’s resurrection was a stumbling block for the ancients, and it is a stumbling block for us moderns as well—and increasingly so as we learn more about our human story and the biological processes entailed in life on this Earth. We do not give up on the central article of Christian faith when we use it to tell a renewed story of where we came from. On the contrary, we thereby give it the honor which is its due.
Where does divine inspiration factor into Kirk’s understanding of Paul’s writings? Notice that Kirk believes Paul had a limited understanding of science and history. Kirk believes we should listen to science instead of Paul concerning a historic Adam. Yet, when it comes to the historic Christ, Kirk tells us to listen to Paul, not science. My question is, “Why only listen to Paul half the time.” After all, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Moreover, the Apostle Peter called Paul’s writings “Scripture” (2 Pet. 3:16).
In conclusion, the question for evangelicals is if you will listen to the Apostle Paul or Daniel Kirk concerning the historical Adam. The Apostle Paul believed in a historical Adam and a historical Christ. I choose to merely agree with Paul consistently. Will you?