[K:JNWTS 27/3 (2012): 44-56]

Book Review

Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012.  172pp.  Paper.  ISBN: 978-1-58743-315-3. $17.99

Peter Enns’ latest book represents a significant systematic and biblical-theological challenge to traditional Christian orthodoxy.  The fact that it comes from the hand of a former professor of a conservative Reformed seminary makes it even more dangerous and alarming.  Readers should be careful of being exclusively focused on Enns’ denial of the historicity of Adam and Eve.  As important as that doctrine is, it is but one piece of the Christian system of doctrine and philosophy of revelation that is holistically undermined in this book.  Readers should also resist Enns’ repeated characterization of his detractors as simply “American fundamentalists.”  At stake is the consistency and integrity of the Biblical witness to the orthodox Christian faith.[1]

In this review, our summary and engagement of Enns’ position will be necessarily selective.  We propose to review Enns’ position in three main areas: (1) hermeneutics and biblical theology; (2) systematic theology (particularly hamartiology); (3) ancient Jewish interpretations of Adam. 

Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology

The first two chapters lay much of the hermeneutical groundwork for the rest of the book.  Chapter one is largely an extended apology for the results of source criticism with respect to the formation of the Pentateuch.  Enns begins by identifying three forces that challenged the historical reliability of Genesis: (1) natural science (geology, Darwinian evolution); (2) source criticism (Wellhausen); (3) biblical archeology (especially the discoveries of other Ancient Near Eastern [ANE] creation and flood myths).  The study of ANE myths took the form of “comparative religions criticism.”  These three forces, Enns argues, “converged to produce powerfully coherent and persuasive explanations for what Genesis is and how it should be understood” (7).  Darwinian evolution challenged the biblical idea of common descent from a single human pair; higher criticism challenged the idea that the Pentateuch as we know it is the product of the Mosaic period; and biblical archaeology showed that Genesis contained stories that were very similar to the non-historical creation myths of Israel’s ANE neighbors.  Rather than the “separatist” reaction and “deep conflict” that characterized conservative reaction to these forces, the challenge they posed actually “demanded a fresh synthesis of old and new” (7).  He laments the fact that “neutrality is rare” among fundamentalists and evangelicals (ibid). 

It seems that it is this kind of sober, objective, neutral, and scientific synthesis of these issues that Enns seems prepared to provide.  This points us to a glaring weakness in Enns’ presentation.  Simply put, the critical axe with which he chops down “American fundamentalism” is not applied with anywhere near equal rigor to either himself or the program of modern science. He is quick and brash in his dismissal of conservative defenses of the historic Christian view of Scripture as reactionary and insular.  Very little time is spent actually engaging the formative responses of orthodox Christian scholars to higher criticism.[2] His interaction is largely limited to a weak attempt at “sociologizing” these “many Christians” who oppose higher criticism and Darwinian evolution.  Their opposition, according to Enns, is merely the manifestation of their angst and fear over the loss of their particular “group identity” (145-46) contextualized in a uniquely “American” context (x).  However, very little emphasis is given to sociological (“group identity”) forces that may affect the guild of higher criticism.

The irony here is that Enns seems eager to explain both “American fundamentalism” and the content of OT revelation in terms of the same sociological paradigm.  Just as OT Israel faced a crisis that led to the need for self-redefinition, so does “American fundamentalism.”  For Israel, the crisis was the exile.  Prior to the exile, Israel thought of itself as “God’s chosen people” in perpetual possession of all the attendant benefits of such a status (27).  This was their collective “group identity.”  The loss of this self-consciousness in the exile led to the necessity of a national self-redefinition (28).  This redefinition came in the creation (not merely organic expansion) of what we presently know as the Hebrew Bible.  Older records of Israel’s history (not previously regarded as canonical Scripture) are creatively rewritten in light of the exile, and some new documents are added.

Ironically, Enns sees a parallel phenomena at work in what he prefers to call “American fundamentalism,” but equally includes elements of Patristic, Medieval, and Protestant Christian orthodoxy.  Prior to the nineteenth century, “American fundamentalism” (together with Christian orthodoxy) believed that their faith was in essential harmony with the evidence of science.  This group identity reached a crisis point with the gradual rise of natural science, source criticism, and biblical archeology.  Rather than embrace the necessity for a creative self-redefinition, “American Fundamentalism” tended to resist such an exercise.  This has left it reactionary, insular, intolerant, lacking neutrality and academic integrity.  Just as Ezra the scribe pursued a redefinition of Scripture through the rewriting of Israel’s history and self-definition in response to the exile, so Peter Enns would lead “American fundamentalism” down a parallel path.

Interestingly, Enns tends to present his own position as it if hovered far above these forces, relatively immune from the effects of historic contextualization.  He is objective, neutral, embracing a posture of conservation rather than confrontation, etc.  His approach to the philosophy of modern science is similar.  Its conclusions are to be taken at face value and the Bible is to be re-interpreted in the light of them.  Throughout this work, Enns invests what he calls “the consensus of modern scholars” (23, 24, 26, 29, 32, 38, 159 [note 6]) with an authority equivalent to the Romanist magisterium.  If we are to address the place of sociological forces in theology and biblical interpretation, it seems fair to ask that these be addressed as they affect all sides in the debate.

Beyond these (rather predictable) accusations against conservative scholarship, Enns also points to ways modern critical scholars have more consistently carried forward the previous Christian tradition (note the rewriting and re-definition of the church’s history!).  He writes: “…modern biblical scholars, beginning especially in the eighteenth century, did not create a problem where there had been none.  They were heirs to a long-standing history for probing the meaning of Genesis, because Genesis itself demands close inspection.  Genesis generates his own questions” (13).  Thus Enns and his higher critical forbears believe themselves to be carrying forward a key aspect of a traditional approach to Scripture by asking such “tough questions.”  More than that, Genesis itself leads one, even beckons one to subject it to questionable critical analysis.  Ignorant conservative fundamentalists, however, do not seem to have been faithful stewards of this aspect of the interpretation of Scripture.

The next three chapters are taken up expanding upon the last two forces allied against the historical reliability of Genesis: source criticism and comparative religions criticism.   As to source criticism, Enns argues that although pre-modern interpreters raised questions about apparent inconsistencies in Genesis, it was only in the modern period these were used to address questions of authorship and date.  Enns applies this to the question of the authorship of Deuteronomy.  Citing the third person character of the first five verses, as well as the use of the phrase “beyond the Jordan,” he concludes that Deut. 1:1-5 “are indisputably written by someone who made it into the Promised Land after Moses died,” i.e., not by Moses.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not Enns’ epistemology allows him to affirm anything “indisputably” (14), we must note that we are struck with the paucity of Enns’ presentation of the evidence for his position.  The formal use of the third person hardly excludes first person authorship.  While in some modern contexts, this may sound out of place, it can hardly be said that the third person is never utilized by first person narrators.  Even if this use of the third person sounds “odd” (14) to modern ears, Enns provides no conclusive evidence that it must necessarily sound that way to older ones.

He then turns to the account of Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34. Enns cites verses 6 and 10 as proof that a lengthy time must have transpired between Moses’ death and the authorship of the passages (thus excluding Moses as a candidate).  But even if we grant (for the sake of argument) that these particular verses, or the introduction and conclusion as a whole are post-Mosaic, this hardly provides proof that “the book of Deuteronomy [as a whole—BWS] comes to us from someone who lived a long time after Moses” (15).  The question is well-stated by Enns himself on page 17: “is the Pentateuch an essentially Mosaic document that as merely updated here and there, or do these examples indicate when Genesis and the Pentateuch as a whole were written (no earlier than the time of David)?” The former is hardly a threat to a “traditional” view of the organic unity and inspiration of Scripture.  Enns, in fact, cites Jerome and Ibn Ezra who wrestled with such questions.  The latter, however, is a categorically different alternative.

While non-committal about the precise details (again, does Enns’ epistemology allow him to be “committal” about much of anything?), he believes that the best explanation of the data is that “the Pentateuch as we know it was shaped in the post-exilic period” (26).  Enns does not deny the possibility of pre-exilic sources for the Pentateuch (or the rest of the OT, for that matter), but does assert that it is “unlikely” that “these early records of ancient deeds, court politics, and temple liturgies were thought of as sacred Scripture at the time” (26).

But we must note here an oddity in Enns’ presentation.  For him, the exile was a “traumatic event in Israel’s ancient national history,” as the knowledge that they were “promised the perpetual possession of the land, the glorious temple as a house of worship, and a son of David perpetually sitting on the throne”—all of which came to an apparent end in the exile.  But if the OT is wholly the product of post-exilic Israel, on what basis do we conclude that they were disappointed at the failure of God’s promise?  Without access to the original sources that underlay the creatively written or rewritten post-exilic Pentateuch, how do we know for certain what their original hopes were?  The question is hardly a superfluous one.  When applying a very similar method to the NT, source and form critics have come to a variety of explanations as to the original theology that lie beneath the current text of the NT.  Without a clear consensus on the theology of the source material, it is difficult to say anything confidently about the original thought-conceptions of the original community or individual in which it originated.

The same can be said about Enns’ comments about the addition of Chronicles to the canon in the post-exilic period.  If the exile brought about a process by which the biblical text was “collected and edited…with additions and thorough updating,” why add another book that supposedly “tells Israel’s story quite differently” in the books of Chronicles (28)?  If the point was to rewrite Israel’s story to address contemporary circumstances, why not just rewrite Samuel and/or Kings and leave it at that (as was done with Deuteronomy)? 

Conservatives who embrace a traditional view of the authorship of the Pentateuch have no problem in principle with the idea that Ezra or a later exilic figure, under the inspirational guidance of the Holy Spirit, made some final editorial additions or explanatory comments that put the Pentateuch in its final form. However, without access to this hypothetical “Ur-Pentateuch,” it is impossible to determine with certainty how the final form differs from the original Mosaic document (if one so existed).  In other words, it is certainly possible that a later author (even an exilic author) made a few explanatory comments in order to allow some portions to be more intelligible to a later audience.

Such an editorial event could also be integrated into a traditional biblical-theological conception of revelation and redemption, which views both of these activities as proceeding in epochal and organic fashion.  It is only at the great transitional moments of redemptive history that revelation is brought forth to God’s people.  It is certainly possible to integrate a Holy Spirit-guided editorial activity into this paradigm.

But this is something wholly and categorically different from what Enns proposes (or at least permits).  In his view, the Pentateuch is not just in a few isolated editorial comments a post-exilic product, but is in both the whole and the parts a creatively re-written account of Israel’s history.  Israel’s “historical moment” of exile “drove their theologians to engage their past creatively” (33).  The “Old Testament as a whole” “was fundamentally a postexilic document” (32).  While the OT does have a literary prehistory, it is doubtful whether those pre-exilic documents were actually considered to be Scripture by the earlier Israelites.  As he puts it:

There is little serious question that Israel documented, recorded, told, and retold its own story—orally and in writing—long before the exile.  Few would dispute this.  It is unlikely, however, that these early records of ancient deeds, court politics, and temple liturgies were thought of as sacred Scripture at the time.  That is a later development, and the motivation for it was Israel’s national crisis (26).   

Enns’ position, therefore, is not simply that Scripture in its final form comes to us from the period of the exile.  Rather, he maintains that it is very likely that the idea of sacred Scripture itself does not originate until after the exile.

At this point, it should be clear that Enns embraces a doctrine of Scripture and philosophy of revelation that stands fundamentally at odds with historic Christianity, let alone Reformed biblical theology.  This will become clearer when we examine the systematic-theological implications drawn out elsewhere in his book. 

Systematic Theology

Enns’ book constitutes an all-out assault on the pillars of an orthodox doctrine of Scripture and an orthodox (Augustinian) system of doctrine in particular. Nearly every locus of theology is dramatically affected in Enns’ presentation. In terms of theology proper, Enns informs us that the OT actually teaches Monolatry rather than Monotheism (although not uniformly so!) (45). In other words, the Israelites “worshipped only one God, Yahweh, but without denying the existence of other gods’ (43).  In the field of anthropology, the assault is self-evident.  The book as a whole is occupied primarily with arguing against an historical Adam.  We could also add his holistic redefinition of the doctrine of the image of God as purely functional as opposed to ontological (xiv-xv).  In the area of hamartiology (the doctrine of sin), this book raises serious questions of the consistency of the Bible regarding the question of Augustinianism and Pelagianism.  This in turn has obvious and serious implications for soteriology. We quickly find that a rejection of the Augustinian principle of biblical interpretation (“what is latent in the old is patent in the new”) somehow also leads to rejection of the Augustinian principle of original sin.  

To be clear, we must point out that Enns formally denies he is arguing for a Pelagian reading of Genesis 3 (91).  However, in our estimation, those denials are of little comfort in view of his substantive exegetical positions on the passage.  Enns’ attempted escape from the charge is through an insistence on the fact that questions about whether all mankind “are born in a state of sinfulness” or “born in a state of sin and condemnation” “go beyond the parameters of the story” (85).  In our judgment, this evasion is exegetically and theologically unsatisfactory.  As far as what Genesis itself teaches, Enns clearly and substantially defends a Pelagian reading of the passage (in spite of his assertion to the contrary).  Consider the following quotation:

Cain’s choice seems to be that either he can take hold of (“master”) his anger or follow in his parents’ footsteps…The picture drawn for us is that Cain is fully capable of making a different choice, not that his sin is due to an inescapable inheritance (85)

Assumed in this line of reasoning is the classic Pelagian principle that “ought” implies “can.”  Because it is stated that Cain ought to resist (“master”) sin, it is assumed that he is therefore able to avoid it. Enns doesn’t even temper Cain’s supposed ability with semi-Pelagian dross—he is depicted as being “fully capable” of avoiding sin.  Furthermore, not only does he positively affirm the Pelagian reading, he explicitly rejects the Augustinian one: “…not that his sin is due to an inescapable inheritance.” Putting these together, we are inescapably left with the substance of full-blown Pelagianism with regard to sinful man’s ability.[3]  The mere assertion of Enns to the contrary is simply that—mere assertion.

Enns later returns to the Pelagian objection and attempts to distinguish his position from that of Pelagius. 

Pelagius (354-420/440) argued that Adam was literally the first human but was nevertheless only responsible for his own sin.  Adam was simply a bad example, which humans may or may not choose to follow, and so humans can theoretically live sinless lives.  I, however, read the Adam story not as a universal story to explain human sinfulness at all but as a proto-Israel story.  A wisdom reading of the garden story does not address, and in no way negates, the universal and inescapable reality of sin and death and the need for a Savior to die and rise (91).

Enns seems to make three basic points in this quotation as to how his position differs from Pelagius.  First, Pelagius viewed Adam as the literal first human, while Enns does not.  Second, Pelagius viewed the Adam story as a universal story to explain human sinfulness, while Enns views it as a proto-Israel story.  Third, while Pelagius felt that humans could live theoretically sinless lives, Enns denies that contention. 

It is true that the first two points distinguish Enns and Pelagius.  But they have the net effect of making Pelagius more orthodox than Enns on these counts.  The third point regarding the universal reality of sin and death, however, is not one that Pelagius necessarily denied.  The crux of the issue with Pelagius was not merely whether a human being was capable of theoretically living a sinless life.  One might deny that point, and still be a Pelagian. The crux of the debate concerned the link between Adam’s sin and that of his descendants: was it causal or merely exemplary?  How is the universality of sin to be explained? Is it by the fact that all men inherit a corrupt nature making them fully incapable of practicing true righteousness, or only because they are universally surrounded by an environment of bad examples? Augustinians maintain the former and deny the latter.  Both Enns and Pelagius emphatically deny the former and vigorously affirm the latter.  As Enns states: “The picture drawn for us is that Cain is fully capable of making a different choice, not that his sin is due to an inescapable sinful inheritance” (85).

This point is especially relevant to the current debate on the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant.  In addition to these parallels between Adam and the Cain and Abel story, Enns also sees strong parallels between Adam and Israel (65ff.).  In the most recent literature on the subject, the doctrine of republication is articulated in terms of the fact that both Adam and Israel undergo a fundamentally analogous works-merit probation, albeit on different “levels.”  Just as Adam had to obey God to merit eternal life, so Israel has to obey God to merit temporal life in Canaan.

Bryan D. Estelle, a modern proponent of this “Klinean” version of the doctrine of republication has noted the similarities between his position and that of Enns.  He writes:  “I applaud[s] Enns for noticing significant connections between Adam and Israel and between the Garden of Eden and Canaan.”  However, he views as “problematic” Enns denial of Adam’s historicity and intertextual reversal of Israel and Adam.[4] Estelle also goes on to critique Enns’ rejection of the historical Adam as leading to viewing God as the cause and author of sin, as well as requiring serious modifications of the doctrine of original sin.  We applaud Estelle for noting these problematic connections.  We would also encourage him to consider more seriously other ways the doctrine of republication might be inconsistent with the doctrine of original sin.  One might also compromise it by formulating an Adam-Israel parallel in a way that violates the fundamental principle of Augustinianism on the typological level.  A key element of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin is the universally disqualification of sinful man from any possible meritorious accomplishment.  God’s justice demands that a work be perfect and spotless.  Therefore, no deed of any sinner or group of sinners can function as the meritorious ground of reward before God.

Indeed, one cannot abstract Enns’ essential Pelagianism from his view of Israel as a reenactment of Adam.  On his view, sinners after the fall (like Cain and Israel) are presented in Scripture as being “fully able” to avoid sin and perform works of righteousness.  They are in a fundamentally analogous situation as Adam figures. Estelle clearly (and laudably) rejects soteriological Pelagianism.  But we cannot refuse to ask whether a formulation of the parallel between Adam and Israel, in which both are capable of performing works that can be accepted by God as a meritorious ground of (typological) blessing, does not yield to it to some degree.  Simply reiterating soteriological Augustinianism does not answer this concern.

The result is an unstable fusion of a consistent Augustinianism on the soteriological level, and an inconsistent Augustinianism on the typological level.  Much better (in our judgment) is the view of John Murray, who insisted that any formulation of the Mosaic covenant must do justice to “the uniqueness of the Adamic administration.”[5] Murray’s view clearly preserves the Augustinian emphasis on the categorical differences between the states of nature, sin, and grace.  Whatever legitimate parallels we might find between the Adamic and Mosaic situations, they must be theologically formulated in such a way as to reflect a pure and consistent Augustinianism on every level of human activity in relationship to the God who is so holy that his eyes cannot even look upon iniquity (Hab. 1:13).

Enns’ point, however, is even more subtle than this.  Rather than openly siding with Pelagius or Augustine, his stated attempt is simply to transcend this old debate—much like he desires to transcend the modernist-fundamentalist, liberal-conservative divide in theology.  His key argument resides in the alleged silence of the Genesis 3-4 narrative with regard to the transmission of inherent corruption through mankind.  With regard to such a question, Enns asserts that the text is “entirely silent on this important matter” (85).  This, of course, is a serious overstatement.  While it is true that while the doctrine is present largely only in “seed” form, that does not mean it fails to appear. Or shall the full bloom say to the theological seed, “I have no need of you?” The organic process of revelation in an orthodox biblical-theological paradigm easily explains the relative clarity and emphasis early revelation provides for the doctrine.

Enns’ arguments compel us to review the biblical theology of the early chapters of Genesis on the doctrine of sin.  One of the traditional “proof-texts” for the transmission of the corruption of original sin is Genesis 5:3.  Enns admits that this passage is “the closest Genesis comes to the idea of Adam’s handing down something to his offspring.”  Rather than a statement on “Seth’s inherited sinfulness,” Enns argues that it “stresses Seth’s privileged role as continuing Adam’s line in view of Abel’s death and Cain’s banishment” (92).[6]  However, read as a single narrative unit, the genealogy of Genesis 5 gives only one reason for the reality of death over Adam’s children, namely, their descent from his loins.  The sentence of death is the refrain that punctuates the end of every son of Adam’s life: “and he died…and he died…and he died” (5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 24, 27, 31). No reference is made to the personal actions (actual sins) of any individual as the cause of his personal death.  The source of death is tied to one person—Adam—and descent from him by ordinary generation: person “x” fathered person “y”…and had other sons and daughters, etc.).  Surely Paul had a strong exegetical basis (no creative rereading of the OT here!) when he stated quite succinctly: “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Rom. 5:14).  Along with inheriting Adam’s status as “image of God” (however marred by the fall), mankind also inherits death from their first father—which Genesis has already presented as the punishment for sin.  There can be no stronger inductive argument for the fact that all men are born under the condemnation of sin than the fact that all men die.  Granted, this is not presented in its Pauline fullness (a la Romans 5:12ff, and 1 Cor. 15), but surely it is present, albeit in seed form.  In other words, Paul’s reading of Genesis brings forth an underlying assumption latent in the Genesis narrative—that all men are born under the guilt of Adam’s first sin.  They are all liable to death merely through the fact that they are descended from him. This is the unspoken assumption apart from which the death of all from Adam to Noah cannot be explained.

Very few, if any, Augustinian interpreters have argued that a fully formed doctrine of imputed guilt and inherited depravity is present in Genesis.  They have argued, rather, that later biblical writers have given us an authoritative interpretation of these passages.  The organic strands of the doctrine may not yet be fully mature, yet they are all there in the text.  The only difference is that whereas Enns believes they were reading their views onto the text of Genesis which otherwise does not address the subject, traditional Augustinians believed that they were giving an authoritative interpretation and explanation of what was organically latent in the text.  The doctrine may be relatively less clear in earlier phases of revelation, but it is nevertheless present, albeit in seed form.  It should be patently evident that the issue here is not just the relative clarity of Scripture in its embryonic stages as to the precise nature of human sin and death in relationship to Adam, but the organic unity of Scripture itself.  Ironically, here the hermeneutic of Augustine (“What is latent in the old is patent in the new”) and the soteriology of Augustine stand and fall together!

Indeed, the fact of the reign of death is immediately followed in Genesis 6:5 with the statement that “every intention of the thoughts of men’s heart was only evil continually.”  Genesis 8:21 adds that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from childhood.” This only makes patent what is latent in the previous verse. What we have, then, is a gradual revelation of the nature and effects of sin from Genesis 3-8.  While the fact that both the legal guilt and transformative corruption of Adam’s sin are imputed/conferred upon his descendants remains in the background, this is in keeping with Moses’ narrative strategy[7]: first present the development of the effects of sin in the history of mankind, then make a definitive pronouncement about its nature, origins, and the extent of its effect upon mankind.[8]

But this overview of the biblical theology of sin presupposes the traditional Christian principle of interpretation that “Scripture interprets Scripture,” as enriched through an orthodox biblical-theological philosophy of revelation.  It would have been bad enough for Enns simply to state that the Bible does not teach original sin. The situation, however, is even worse.  On Enns’ paradigm, Scripture does not manifest the beauty and splendor of a blossoming flower’s organic growth. Rather, the Bible is more like a disorganized garden full of theological weeds and dead plants half-consumed by worms.  Thus, it is possible that one book of the Bible teaches Pelagianism, another semi-Pelagianism, and yet another Augustinianism.  On his view, we do not have one coherent, organically unfolding revelation of God in Scripture, but several competing theologies which can only be meaningful for the church on the basis of Enns’ paradigm. 

Enns’ presentation must therefore be read as a wholesale rejection of traditional Christian, Augustinian, and Reformed orthodoxy with respect to man’s sinfulness.  The fact that Enns believes the Scriptures (or at least some of them) to be disinterested in this question is irrelevant.  It is a fact of history (not creatively rewritten in terms of our contemporary self-definition) that Augustine’s view that men are sinners due to an innate depravity inherited from their first parents is a staple of Christian orthodoxy since the Second Council of Orange (529).  Note especially its second canon:

If anyone asserts that Adam’s sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

His quibble here is not just with what he decries as a contextualized “American fundamentalism” facing an identity crisis, rather his quibble is with historic Christian orthodoxy. 

Paul in his First Century Context: Jewish Understandings of Adam

Part of Enns’ argument regarding Paul’s understanding of Adam involves his attempt to contextualize him among other various Jewish interpretations.  His basic point seems to be that “just as we calibrate [read: comparative religions criticism, BWS] the genre of Genesis by looking to the surrounding religious cultures, we can calibrate the interpretive approach of Paul and any New Testament writer by paying close attention to the interpretive culture surrounding them” (98).  When this is done, Enns believes that “the handling of Scripture by the New Testament authors fits nicely into the Jewish world of the time” (ibid). More specifically, when viewed in this context, Paul’s interpretation has “nothing to commend to it as being necessarily more faithful to the original” (99).  Again: “Paul’s handling of Adam is hermeneutically no different from what others were doing at the time: appropriating an ancient story to address pressing concerns of the moment” (102).  As he concludes on p. 103: “What makes Paul stand out is not his exegetical fidelity to the Old Testament…”

But his attempt to pigeonhole a number of Jewish interpretations of Adam as disinterested in the doctrine of original sin is unconvincing.  We are not surprised, of course, to find among first century BC-AD interpreters what amounts to a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian reading of the Adam story.  Nor are we surprised to find a great diversity of interpretation in non-inspired apocryphal works.  But we are surprised to find Enns’ resisting so strongly the teaching found among some apocryphal Jewish texts that Adam is the source of mankind’s corruption. 

For example, Enns argues that “what is clear” about 2 Esdras is that “Adam’s transgression does not result in a ‘sinful state’ handed down to his offspring,” that there is a “causal link from Adam to his descendants,” or that “the sinful behavior of subsequent humans was inherited from Adam” (101-02). This does not do justice to the primary documents.  Not only does 2 Esdras affirm that Adam’s sin leads to death for all his descendants (2 Esdras 3:7, 7:48), but it also argues that this death was appointed “immediately” (statim) upon his transgression.  The legal sentence of death—the punishment for sin—is thus presented as being pronounced upon Adam and all his descendants (in eum mortem et nationibus eius) simultaneously.  While the legal ground of this punishment is not spelled out in terms of precise nature of the relationship between Adam and his descendants, this passage hardly rules out the idea that Adam is the source of both their guilt and corruption.

Such a conception is, in fact, strongly confirmed in 2 Esdras 3:20-22.  This passage presents Adam’s sin as stemming from “an evil heart” (cor malignum).  No Augustinian has ever denied that Adam produced “a pattern of conduct that later subsequent generations followed” (101), and 2 Esdras clearly presents this idea.  But he also affirms (as did later Augustinians) that Adam’s sinful heart was “the evil root” (malignitate radicis) which infected all of his descendants.

This is the way 2 Esdras 4:30 presents the reality of sin in mankind.  Adam and his descendants are presented as being in an organic relationship of solidarity:

For a grain of evil seed was sown in Adam’s heart from the beginning, and how much ungodliness it has produced until now, and will produce until the time of threshing comes!

This presentation is not one that can be explained in terms of the principle of imitation alone.  2 Esdras presents the rise of sin among mankind in history using an organic-agricultural metaphor.  It is a single force that has begun in Adam and has grown throughout history through his descendants as is manifested in their ungodliness.  The concern of 2 Esdras lies not only in the origin, but also the gradual sowing and growth of sin from Adam to the final judgment-harvest at the end of the age.  Enns’ assertion that this statement “does not suggest a causal link from Adam to his descendants” (102) ignores the obvious biological causality inherent in the process of organic growth, and thus bears the marks of special pleading. 


In his concluding chapter, Enns argues that “The root of the conflict for many Christians is not scientific or even theological, but group identity and fear of losing what it offers” (145).  In this Enns has touched upon the heart of the matter, only not in the way Enns suggests.  Of course, Enns intended this statement to apply to the dilemma of “Protestant evangelical and fundamentalist consciousness,” especially as evolutionary theory has been forcing it to rewrite its own narrative.  What is truly at stake is our group-identity as orthodox Christians—blessed possessors of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” and faithfully maintained in the Patristic, Medieval, and Protestant eras. 

 We might further ask whether this angst over the loss of a particular “group identity” applies equally to Enns.  Will he deny that the allure of the academy with all its prestige beckons a scholar like Enns to reject “fundamentalism” in order to be better accepted into its guild?  Will he reject the notion that after years of labor within the academy of higher critical scholarship, it might seem like a waste to receive no commendation or recognition from them for his labors?  Or even more pointedly: will he contest that potentially playing the martyr for higher criticism in the context of “fundamentalism” will not make him a kind of hero in these progressive circles?  Is there not an equal “fear of losing” what this “group identity…offers” to him?

 This book is a sober reminder of the utter incompatibility of the principles of evolutionary philosophy and traditional Biblical Christianity.  As Geerhardus Vos put it over 110 years ago: “the principles of supernatural redemption and natural evolution are mutually exclusive” (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 16).  Enns has clearly abandoned any attempt to harmonize the biblical teaching regarding the historicity of Adam with modern evolutionary science.  In this, he is being consistent with his embrace of the latter.  However, he still believes he can retain the “husk” of ancient Pauline Christianity while retaining the essential “kernels” of “the Gospel.”  Enns’ 21st century avant-garde evangelical attempt at this will be no more successful than the late 19th century liberal one (see Albert Schweitzer).

Yet Enns still clings to his faith in this stripped down “Gospel.”  Why?  If the modern scientific consensus in evolutionary biology and biblical scholarship compel us to modify Christianity in the way he has suggested, why not the “consensus” of other scientific fields like psychology, which explains all human activity in terms of natural factors?  Even religious faith is so explained by merely natural (as opposed to supernatural) factors.  Enns’ answer falls flat:

Likewise, abandoning all faith in view of our current state of knowledge is hardly an attractive—or compelling—option.  Despite the New Atheist protestations of the bankruptcy of any faith in God in the face of science, most world citizens are not ready to toss away what has been the central element of the human drama since the beginning of recorded civilization.  Neither am I, not because I refuse to see the light, but because the light of science does not shine with equal brightness in every corner.  There is mystery, there is transcendence. By faith I believe that the Christian story has deep access to a reality that materialism cannot provide and cannot be expected to know.  That is a confession of faith, I readily admit, but when it comes to accessing ultimate reality, we are all in the same boat, materialistic atheists included: at some point we must trust in something or someone beyond logic and evidence, even if it is to declare that there is nothing beyond what we see (148)

Enns will not reject “all faith” because “most world citizens” are not yet ready to toss it way.  But is this not a point acknowledged by the New Atheists, yet one that still fails to compel them to belief in God?  What happens when/if most world citizens do toss all faith in any deity away, and “religious believers” are in a minority?  Does epistemic certainty disappear with majority opinion? Enns insists that the “light of science does not shine with equal brightness in every corner.”  Who is to decide which corners are enlightened and which ones “endarkened” by the shining face of science?  Enns insists there is “deep access to a reality” beyond materialism, and an “ultimate reality” to which everyone must appeal that is “beyond logic and evidence.”  But is this deep and ultimate reality really anything different than a person of nearly any religious profession might maintain, let alone the distinctives of the biblical “Gospel?”  These statements might equally compel one (albeit barely) to be a Muslim, Jew, or a Buddhist.  In fact, given that (in Enns’ view) there is so much wrong with American fundamentalism (even traditional Christian orthodoxy), why wouldn’t those religions present a better option for the expression of belief in this transcendent mystery in the universe? 

Enns wants to reject American fundamentalism (even Paul’s Adam) and its “failed” attempt to keep the kernel of the mythical ANE worldview, yet retain the “kernel” of the “Gospel.”   But after surveying Enns’ work, it is hard to see what kind of “Gospel” we are left with.  Enns’ is a “Gospel” that theoretically acknowledges the existence of other gods, denies that Genesis 1 teaches creation ex nihilo, rejects man’s status as bearer of the ontological image of God, affirms the full ability of sinners to perform works of righteousness, denies the total depravity of man by virtue of original sin, not to mention the historicity of Adam and Eve.  This is not just a rejection of what Enns derisively dubs “American fundamentalism,” but a rejection of orthodox Christianity.  We either stand with Moses, Jesus, Paul, and Augustine, or we stand with Peter Enns, Charles Darwin, Julius Wellhausen, and Pelagius. Their view of the “plight” of man significantly changes the “solution” graciously provided by God through the death and resurrection of Christ, received by grace through faith alone.  Enns clearly understands that we cannot accept the Adam that Paul preached.  But it is hard to see how the “Gospel” he leaves us with is any Gospel at all.  Even as Enns’ “Adam” is not Paul’s Adam, so neither is Enns’ “Gospel” Paul’s Gospel—not the one Paul preached, which we also have received, wherein we stand, and by which we are saved (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

—Benjamin W. Swinburnson

[1] Enns maintains that his faith is “summed up in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which are expressions of broad Christian orthodoxy” (x-xi).  While this may indicate a commitment to Christian Trinitarianism, his later assertion that the Bible acknowledges the existence of more than one god significantly compromises that claim. 

[2] Many of these names will be familiar to Reformed readers: William Henry Green, Geerhardus Vos, O. T. Allis, E. J. Young, not to mention evangelicals such as Gleason Archer and R. K. Harrison.  Green (together with Umberto Cassuto) is only briefly referenced on p. 153 (note 22).  Interestingly, Cassuto’s views do not appear to have been forged in the context of American fundamentalism, but that of Italian fascism.  Enns is certainly free to dismiss these arguments in whatever fashion he pleases.  But if his aim is to present an argument that is remotely persuasive to those still committed to the defense of an orthodox Christian view of Scripture, he would have done well to engage their presentations more thoroughly. 

[3] It must be remembered that wherever it is argued that post-Adamic man has any ability to obey God from his own natural powers, or when it is asserted that he is able to merit or earn a reward on the ground of his obedience, the root principle of Pelagianism is at work. 

[4] http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=740

[5] John Murray, “The Adamic Administration,” available online at: http://www.the-highway.com/adamic-admin_Murray.html

[6] This seems inconsistent with Enns earlier attempt to interpret the “Image of God” concept in purely functional (as opposed to ontological) terms.  If physical-ontological generation from Adam entails the transmission of the image of God to Seth, then it appears that one cannot wholly abstract the meaning of the image of God from ontological considerations. 

[7] Yes, we still believe (with the Lord Jesus) that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

[8] I am dependent on Geerhardus Vos for this general observation.  He argues that this part of the narrative “was intended to bring out the consequences of sin when left so far as possible to itself” (Biblical Theology, 45).  “We here have a story of rapid degeneration, so guided by God as to bring out the inherent tendency of sin to lead to ruin, and its power to corrupt and debase whatever of good might still develop” (46).  Had God permitted grace freely to flow out into the world and to gather great strength within a short period, then the true nature and consequences of sin would have been very imperfectly disclosed.