Sunday, 10 November 2013

New Testament references to Adam and Eve by Paul and Jesus do not disprove evolution.

One reader has contacted me, citing a list of NT quotations that refer to Genesis and quite reasonably asking me:
How, in the context of man being on earth as a result of an evolutionary process (as taught on your website) do you view these many NT quotations, made by the Son of God and his inspired apostles from the early chapters of the book of Genesis?

I will expand on this in some detail, but in short:
  • None of the quotes show that Jesus taught as essential to salvation the belief that the universe was created in six literal consecutive day
  • Most of these quotes affirm God as creator, which holds irrespective of the mechanism of creation employed
  • The references to Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15 refer to death as a punishment for sin, and not mortality. Early Christadelphian writers were quite happy to regard mortality and corruption as natural part of the created world, and saw death as the ‘second death’, the punishment for sin which lasts forever.
  • I maintain that Adam and Eve were historical, created people who were the first people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship, and who were the first to sin. Therefore, I regard Genesis 2 onwards as being historical.
  • However, as Genesis 4 implies, they were not alone. Other people outside the Garden existed. From a theological point of view, their origins are very much in the domain of ‘uncertain details’, to invoke the Robertsian phrase from his 1898 article.[1]
  • Adam’s example of disobedience has been followed by all men, and because of that, death as a punishment for sin has spread to all the human race.

In Detail…

I work on the principle that when properly interpreted, the witness of creation and the Bible are not in conflict. Any contradiction therefore comes about from a flawed reading of either of the books of revelation. The fossil record is an unimpeachable witness of death in the natural world that stretches back 3800 million years. Furthermore, anatomically modern human beings can be found in the fossil record up to 200,000 years ago. Given these facts, any interpretation of the Bible which ignores these facts is in serious trouble.

This principle is hardly foreign to our community. As long ago as 1864, brother W.D. Jardine wrote:

The inconsistency spoken of between nature and scripture, arises not from antagonism, but from the misinterpretations of both. It is man’s interpretation of the one set against man’s interpretations of the other. It is not nature versus scripture, but false science against true theology, or false theology against scientific fact. Some scientific men, we believe, view the Scriptures through the distorted medium of “confessions of faith” and doubt them, and theologians view science and call it false, because it does not take to their turn-pike road.[2]

I cannot emphasise the importance of this exegetical principle. The moment any interpretation of the Bible brings us into conflict with well-established facts about the natural world, we should take this as a sign that our interpretation needs to be revised.

An excellent example comes from bro C.C. Walker’s response to a brother T. Griffiths who argued, based on a literal reading of the Bible, that the Earth was flat, and that any concession to modern science was wrong. Bold emphasis is mine:

Seeing that the veracity and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures are denied by many on the basis of the revolving globe-earth theory, even to the extent of rejecting the ascension of Jesus into the heaven of heavens as a “geometrical impossibility.” the matter surely cannot be set aside as of no importance, and beyond the province of a magazine devoted to the defence of Biblical teaching and the overthrow of pagan and papal dogmas.

The globe-earth theory is essentially pagan in its origin, and no amount of ingenuity has yet succeeded in harmonizing it with the cosmogony of the Bible.

It is supposed that the theory was first introduced into Europe by Pythagoras, in the sixth century b.c., and he was a rank pagan. It was afterwards adopted by Plato, and latterly modified to its present form by Aristarchus of Samos, “who went to the length of ranking our green world as a planet revolving yearly round the sun.” Through Copernicus and Galileo the theory has acquired a distinct Romish taint.

We may blame the author of “Lead Kindly Light” for following the glimmer of Rome’s magic lantern, instead of bringing his mental difficulties to be solved in the light of the word of God; but what about those who allow themselves to be led by the vapourings of scientific theorists while pondering over the plainly worded inspired narrative of creation? . . .

There may not be much danger of a brother being led astray by the perusal of modern rationalistic literature, for in that case he is prepared to antagonize the fallacies of modern thought, but morsels of error, in the form of “scientific” tit-bits, daintily wrapped up within the covers of a Biblical magazine, devoted to the defence and advocacy of Scripture doctrine, may not give rise to suspicion that there is anything wrong. The wrong is there all the same, and its effects become manifest when he who has swallowed the morsel finds, as the logical outcome of an adopted bastard theory, that the Bible and modern science are at variance, and verbal inspiration a farce. . . .

The late Prof. Woodhouse, of Cambridge University, once wrote, in reference to the globe-earth theory—“We shall never arrive at a time when we shall be able to pronounce it absolutely proved to be true. The nature of the subject excludes such a possibility” (Astronomy, Vol. 1, p. 13).

The “great astronomer,” Sir Robert Ball — wherein does his greatness lie? Certainly not in his discovery or advocacy of scientific truth. He is an evolutionist of the first order, and a pronounced anti-creationist. He is just the type of unbeliever that so-called modern science is producing; the old Scripture - revering type of astronomers, such as Ferguson, Woodhouse, and Herschell, is fast dying out as the natural effect of an anti-Scriptural theory.

But here I must submit my queries:—

1.—Is it not a fact that the Bible teaches that there are but two great lights and but one sun?

2.—Is it not a pure speculation, unsupported by any natural fact, the theory that the “dots in the heavens” are great suns?

3.—Is it not a fact that the enormously extravagant distances and magnitudes of the so-called “dots” have for their bases, the unproved assumption that the earth is a revolving globe, speeding through space at 68,000 miles an hour, and with an orbit of 190 millions of miles?

4.—Is it not a fact, as Prof. Robert Main, of Greenwich, candidly affirmed, that the theories “respecting the distances of the fixed stars and other cosmical problems” are based upon the “refined speculations of modern astronomy?”

5.—Is it not the teaching of Scripture that the earth, that is, the dry land, is a stationary body, founded upon the seas, and established upon the floods, and with its foundations in the deep?

6.—Is it not the plain testimony of Moses that sun, moon, and stars, were made and set in the heavens on the fourth day of Creation week?

Believing, as I do, with you, that it is “necessary to bring everything to the test of the Word of God,” I present these questions in all good faith for your serious consideration.[3]

The relevance of this letter to the current question about how to reconcile a conservative reading of the Bible with the fact of evolution is striking. We have:

  • A linking of a literal reading of the Bible with orthodoxy, and any deviation tantamount to denial of inspiration
  • Disparaging references to scientific facts as ‘pagan’ in origin
  • Privileging a literal reading of the Bible over scientific facts, and a derogatory view of modern science
  • Quoting scientists out of context
  • Ad hominem attacks on scientists - ‘he is an evolutionist of the first order’.
 I should note that while brother Griffiths’ rejection of a spherical Earth may seem quaint to us, he needs to be commended for his consistent adherence to a literal reading of the Bible. Brother Griffiths. When read literally and consistently, the Bible does reflect the belief that the Earth is flat, with a solid firmament overhead in which the sun, moon and stars are fixed.[4] As brother Griffiths noted, it is impossible to harmonise the cosmology of the Bible with what modern astronomy has revealed to us. However, as brother C.C. Walker noted in his reply (emphasis mine):

Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history. [5]

To this can be added his observation that “Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood” which highlights two facts which if ignored will lead to exegetical blunders such as Young Earth Creationism:

  1. A flat literal reading is not the default exegetical option
  2. God can accommodate human limitations if it means the theological message can be more readily understood.
There is no little inconsistency in implying that the ‘plain sense’ of the words is the default exegetical option, only to assert when trying to rebut mainstream Christian doctrine that references to demons should not be interpreted literally, but read as mental illness. The plain reading of the NT references to demons is constantly appealed to by those who believe in supernatural demons who possess humans and cause disease. Needless to say, I do not believe in the ontological reality of demons, but there is no little inconsistency in arbitrarily using a flat literal hermeneutic.

The reference to demons was deliberately chosen, as this is a classic example of how human limitations were accommodated, rather than wasting time and effort in trying to give the target audience a scientifically accurate understanding of the subject. Jesus’ healing of the paralysed man in Luke 5 illustrates this point remarkably:

“Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  “But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.”

For anyone who thought that personal sin caused disease, accommodating that belief rather than disabuse them of that idea would be the easier option, and achieved the same end result. For those who genuinely believed demons caused disease, contemporary medical explanations for disease would be simply incomprehensible. Rather than waste time trying to bring them up to a modern 21st century understanding, the easier option was to accommodate that viewpoint. Accommodation however does not equal endorsement, and that is a critical point that needs to be remembered.

Before I go any further, I need to emphasise once again that I regard Adam and Eve as historical figures, but not the ancestors of the entire human race. The evidence from human genetics shows without doubt that it is impossible for the entire human race to have descended exclusively from two people living a few thousand years ago. As the Evangelical geneticist Dennis Venema notes:

Taken individually and collectively, population genomics studies strongly suggest that our lineage has not experienced an extreme population bottleneck in the last nine million years or more (and thus not in any hominid, nor even an australopithecine species), and that any bottlenecks our lineage did experience were a reduction only to a population of several thousand breeding individuals. As such, the hypothesis that humans are genetically derived from a single ancestral pair in the recent past has no support from a genomics perspective, and, indeed, is counter to a large body of evidence. [6]

In addition, the fossil evidence detailing the existence of anatomically modern human fossils as long ago as 200,000 years (let alone the evidence showing large-scale evolutionary change in the human lineage) is unarguable [7]. Any discussion of the Bible-Science interface which ignores these facts is as I have said before in serious trouble. I am not trying to be polemical, but the blunt truth is that we’re talking about facts as incontrovertible as heliocentrism, and privileging a literal reading of a few Bible verses, particularly when no attempt is made to justify this hermeneutic will not make those facts vanish.

Anyway, on to the verses. All my quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise stated.

 Acts 14:15-17 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.  In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.”

Well, there’s no reference here to the age of the earth or the specific mechanism of creation. It refers to God as creator, and that’s it. As someone who regards the witness of geology, astronomy, palaeontology and comparative genomics as faithful and reliable, this means that the mechanism by which God created is more or less the mechanism elucidated by modern science. Again, remember that the Bible is not a science text, and is more concerned with inculcating theology, even if it means accommodating existing human ideas on how this occurred.

Acts 17:24-27 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

The first thing that needs to be recognized is that the Greek text does not say “from one man”. What it does say is:

ἐποίησέν τε ἐξ ἑνὸς πᾶν ἔθνος ἀνθρώπων κατοικεῖν ἐπὶ παντὸς προσώπου τῆς γῆς

Note that it actually says ‘from one he made all nations to inhabit the earth’. That leaves open the question of whether it is one ancestral group, or one person. Again, it’s critical to avoid reading into dated translations preconceived meanings, otherwise we won’t be rightly dividing the word of truth.

Paul is speaking to Greeks who did not share his understanding of Old Testament writings, therefore we need to avoid reading this exchange with the Genesis narrative in mind. Paul not infrequently used the writings of the Greek poets and philosophers to make a point, and this is where we will make progress:

Acts 17
Greek / Roman Parallels
he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live. – v 26
‘For you have thought it over while paying very little attention to this, namely, that a portion of land has been properly set aside for human habitation as well as for space for use relating to the sentient gods.’[8]

so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – v27
‘For nothing is better than to search for the true God, even if the discovery of him eludes human capacity.[9]

though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
‘With him, with Zeus, are filled all paths we tread, and all the marts of men; Filled, too, the sea, and every creek and bay’,[10] ‘God is near you, he is with you, he is within you[11]

For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’
‘For in him we live and move and have our being,[12] ‘since from you we have our being[13]

‘For we too are his offspring.’
‘And we are his offspring[14]

we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
a god is not made with stone, don't you know that God is not made with hands?'[15]

Note that Paul is not afraid to quote mythology in order to make a theological point. Citation of, or reference to a text does not automatically mean that one is also endorsing the world-view associated with it. The Greek audience would have in mind their myths in which humans were descendants of the gods. Needless to say, Paul is not endorsing this idea!

So, when Paul says ‘of one he made all nations’, this is not a reference to Adam, since Genesis was unknown to the audience. That interpretation needs to be abandoned right now. We need to interpret it in the Hellenistic worldview of the Greek audience, who did not think that humanity descended exclusively from one person.

The Greeks tended to view the world in terms of Greeks, and non-Greeks (barbarian). Inherent in this worldview needless to say is an element of racial superiority, with Greeks seeing themselves as superior to other races. Not all Greeks thought this way, with some arguing that all humans, be they Greek, Roman, Jew or whatever, were all members of the same human family, and it is this which Paul is appealing to.

The theological point Paul makes here can be seen clearly in Galatians 3:27-29:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

This unity is not dependent on universal human descent exclusively from Adam, needless to say. Any reading of Acts 17 which is contingent on this has missed Paul’s point.

1 Tim 2:11-14:  Let a woman learn in silence with full submission.  I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

I have no problem integrating these verses into an evolutionary creationist worldview. As I said before, I believe that Adam and Eve were historical figures specially created by God. I regard Gen 2-3 as being essentially historical. I do not regard Adam and Eve as being the sole exclusive ancestors of the entire human race, and note that this view is not explicitly taught in these verses, nor is the point made by the author of 1 Timothy contingent on this fact. These verses are not teaching anthropology. They are teaching theology.

Matt 19:3-6:  Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”  He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Once again, Jesus is not teaching anthropology. He is reminding the Pharisees that God hates divorce, and in so doing, he is referring back to the creation of Adam and Eve. What Jesus is not saying is that the entire human race is exclusively descended from Adam and Eve. What he is saying is that marriage is a sacred union of man and woman, which humans violate at their peril. His point is not contingent on Adam and Eve being the sole, exclusive ancestors of the entire human race, and does not preclude the existence of non-covenant human beings outside the Garden. This is my view – Adam and Eve were historical figures, though not the first human beings to walk the planet, and not the sole ancestors of the human race. They were however the first people with whom God entered into a covenant-relationship, the first sinners, and the first people to be married. (I am of course differentiating between pair-bonding which took place among the non-covenant humans outside the Garden, and the institution of marriage which was first ordained in Eden.)

Hebrews 4:1-11: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.  For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ”

though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”  And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,  again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day.  So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God;  for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.  Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

This has been cited as ‘proof’ of a literal creation in six consecutive days. My correspondent says:

If the days are literal Heb.4 is straightforward – but how is it to be understood in the context of, say, the Framework Hypothesis?

Needless to say, the bald scientific facts rule out a young earth created in six consecutive days. Early Christadelphians such as CC Walker recognized that the creation of the entire universe did not take place in six days six thousand years ago. Emphasis again is mine:

“We can only legitimately glean from the very brief allusion of Moses that at some time anterior to the creation he is about to describe, the world was in existence, but in a waste and void condition by comparison with what it afterwards became under the creative energy of the Almighty. The conclusions of geology, and the undoubted existence of fossil remains of incalculable antiquity are quite in harmony with this view, whereas the view that the earth itself was created some 6,000 years ago is hopelessly irreconcilable with facts.[16]

‘The term “day” obviously signifies an indefinite period in Gen. 2:4. “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Truly there is no mention of evening and morning in this case; but for the reasons given in the notes above-named we do not feel shut up to the conclusion that the Lord God occupied only twenty-four hours in making the firmament. It has been thought that the law of the Sabbath necessitates six literal days in creation; but on second thoughts this does not seem conclusive, since the millennium is a “Sabbath” of a thousand years duration, and “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:9).”[17]

Yet it does not seem necessary to confine the allusions of this first chapter of Genesis to six literal days on the last of which man appeared.”[18]

Nothing has changed in the intervening years to make bro. Walker’s observations out of date.

Mind you, the assertion that interpretation of Hebrews 4v4 is conditional on the days of creation being literal days of creation needs to justified, rather than simply asserted. Without any supporting evidence, the assertion cannot be regarded as normative.

It is important to understand what the idea of creation in six days with a day of rest afterwards meant to the original Hebrew audience. We need to enter their world and leave behind all our presuppositions, which are based on the creation-evolution conflict which meant nothing to the original audience.

Old Testament scholars such as John Walton – a theological conservative – have reminded us of the need to avoid reading 21st century concepts of creation into the creation narratives:

In the post-Enlightenment Western world, the framework of cosmic ontology has become strictly material—that is, the cosmos is perceived to exist because it has material properties that can be detected by the senses. The functioning of the cosmos is consequently understood as resulting from its material properties, and its origins are described in material terms. In a material ontology, something is created when it is given or otherwise gains its material properties. In material ontology, there is great interest in investigating and understanding the physical nature of reality, especially in terms of its building blocks, from the smallest constituents, including molecules, atoms, cells, quarks, and so on (the constituent parts), to the largest agglomerations of constituents, including planets, solar systems, and galaxies. In a material ontology, material origins are of ultimate importance and of central concern.

However, we have no reason to think that cosmic ontology in the ancient world was conceived as having a material basis. Though an ancient material cosmic ontology cannot be ruled out, it certainly should not be assumed as the starting point for our consideration. Good methodology demands that we take our lead from the texts themselves when thinking about how the ancients framed their own ontological perspectives. If their ontology was not material, then they likely would have had little interest in material origins. The focus of their ontology would also naturally be reflected in their accounts of origins.[19]

In other words, when the ancient world referred to creation, they were not necessarily referring to material origins. Rather, as Walton notes:

…the precosmic world was understood not as a world absent of matter but as a world absent of function, order, diversity, and identity… Reality and existence in the cognitive environment of ancient peoples can be understood as predominantly comprising function and order, not matter and objects. The acts of creation involved naming, separating, and temple building…Modern material ontology offers no secure understanding of the meaning of life, but the functional ontology of ancient Near Eastern peoples gave meaning to the reality that they experienced in the way the world worked.

In the ancient cognitive environment, it was more important to determine who controlled functions than who or what gave something its physical form. We could therefore conclude that in the ancient world something was created when it was given a function
The idea that the ancients did not have a material ontology of course does not mean that they had no interest in or awareness of the physical world around them. That is, it is not as if they had a mystical view of the world rather than paying attention to the real world they experienced every day. The point is, however, that to them the “real” world was a world of divine presence and activity. Their cosmological ontology reflects that it is the functioning of that ordered, real world that is of importance, not its physical makeup or the physical origins of the material objects. The “hardware” is incidental; it is the “software” that counts. (Emphasis in the original) [20]

The days of creation then in a function-oriented ontology therefore can be seen not as the literal creation of the entire universe in six consecutive days, but the assigning of function and purpose to the universe in six consecutive days.

The significance of what ‘rest’ means in Genesis becomes clear when we look at the ancient Near Eastern views on the significance of the cosmos, temples, and divine rest. Walton notes that the:

…building of temples was described in cosmic terms, that the temples were described as having cosmic functions, that temples were understood as models in miniature of the cosmos and were replete with cosmic symbolism, that cosmic origins were sometimes associated with temple building, that temples were sometimes thought to represent the world, and that deities rested in temples that had been constructed for precisely this purpose…The temple was the hub of the cosmos and the rest of the deity in the temple was essential to his rule of the cosmos.[21]

The idea of ‘divine rest’ in the ancient world did not necessarily refer exclusively to sleeping or reposing, but would often refer to the deity entering into his temple to rule. Critically, this view can be seen in Psalm 132:

      Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
9     Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your faithful shout for joy.
10    For your servant David’s sake
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
11    The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12    If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, forevermore,
shall sit on your throne.”
13    For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
14    “This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it. [22]

Our confidence in the temple-cosmos-rest motif is reinforced, as Walton notes by the fact that resting takes place on the seventh day:

“This connection is further substantiated by the fact that the rest takes place on the seventh day. Several examples of temple inaugurations from ancient Near Eastern literature, cited above, show that these rites took place in the course of seven days and that the deity entered the temple to take up his rest on the seventh day. Mark Smith, in his discussion of the motif of seven days in Genesis 1, concludes, with Hurowitz, that “creation in Genesis 1 uses the language of temple-building.” Regardless of whether Genesis 1 is understood as reflecting a temple-building account (like the building of Baal’s Temple in seven days) or a temple-inauguration account (like the temple inauguration in Gudea Cylinder B), the connection between Genesis 1 and temple imagery is confirmed.

“Seven-day temple inaugurations are the norm in biblical temple-building accounts. In the account of the construction of Solomon’s temple, a seven-day dedication, to which was added a seven-day feast/banquet (2 Chr 7:9; 1 Kgs 8:65), followed the completion of construction. Levenson observes the repeated use of the number seven in the account and concludes that the account is modeled on the seven days of creation.[23]

A full elaboration is beyond the scope of this reply, but it should suffice to show that:

  • The ancient world was more concerned with the origin of function and order than in material origins, and Israel was no different
  • The motif of ‘cosmos as temple’ which after being brought into existence was followed by divine rule / rest in the cosmos-temple (the seat of power) is seen in the creation account
 Needless to say, literal days are being referred to here, but one is completely misunderstanding the creation narrative – as well as destroying the temple-cosmos motif – by seeing it as a mechanical literal creation of the entire universe in six consecutive days. More to the point, the significance of divine rest on the seventh day is lost.

So, when the author of Hebrews says that:

“a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.”

we can see that if we do not fall away, then in the millennial age, when the Earth finally is redeemed and becomes the Temple of God, then we too will have the privilege of ruling as kings and priests when we enter into God’s rest and rule.

2 Cor 11:3 “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

Again, as I do not deny the historicity of Adam and Eve, and regard the events in the Garden of Eden as historical, this poses no problem for me. The assertion by my correspondent that “Rom.5v12 & 1 Cor.15v21-22 teach that death in the world is a result of the sin in Eden” is not maintained by a detailed reading of the verses. The first point that needs to be stressed is that death, not mortality is the consequence of Adam’s sin. I do not die because I sin. I die because I am made of corruptible material. I remain dead as a punishment for sin if I choose to reject the offer of salvation, and that is the point Paul is making here – death as a punishment for sin was introduced into the world when the first sin was committed. Prior to Adam’s sin, humans lived and died as the ‘beasts that perish’ but as God’s law was unknown, sin as a concept did not exist and therefore death as a punishment for sin simply did not apply. 

The terms ‘death’ and mortality’ are expressed by two different Greek words (thanatos, and thnētos, respectively) and theological confusion results if these terms are confused. Paul meant death, not mortality when he used thanatos (Romans 5:21; 6:16, 21, 23 and 1 Corinthians 15:21) and these verses show that death, and not mortality, is the inevitable consequence of sin.

The argument that ‘death’ in these verses is not physical mortality but eternal death as a punishment for sin has strong Christadelphian support. Emphasis again is mine:

The wages of sin is death. Wages are paid only to those who labour: those who in their toil sow to the flesh, will be paid for the labour they perform; and the pay for this kind of labour is corruption, or death unto death ending in corruption, as the apostle saith, shall of the flesh reap corruption, and of such he says, in another place, whose end is destruction; so that death, corruption, and destruction are the wages of sin, which everyone is fairly entitled to who loves darkness rather than light, and refuses to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.” [24]

“True; no wicked man can claim to be made alive in Christ that he may live for ever; but he will certainly be made alive that he may be judged and consigned to the dire severities of the Second Death, which is the wages of sin, the first death being the common lot of all, both saints and sinners.”[25]

“By a simpler set of terms, it is said, they shall die (Rom. 8:13); the end of these things is DEATH (Rom. 6:21); the wages of sin is death. (Ibid. 6:23.) The wicked rise, are confronted by the Judge, condemned, and put to shame (Dan 12:2; 1 Jno. 2:28); they receive in body according to their deeds(1 Cor. 5:10); having sown to the flesh, they reap corruption(Gal. 6:8).” [26]

Therefore, there is a death not realised by the wicked in their lifetime, and how can there be any argument from present experience to a result not yet experienced? Is this death (which is the wages of sin) destruction or torment? Dr. Angus says it cannot be destruction.”[27]

Death as the wages of sin is a definition used by Paul in contrast with everlasting life as the gift of God. Therefore it means death, under the divine anger, inflicted for the extinction of the sinner.”[28]

“Our friend imagines there was a change in the nature of Adam when he became disobedient. There is no evidence of this whatever, and the presumption and evidence are entirely the contrary way.
“There was a change in Adam’s relation to his maker, but not in the nature of his organization. What are the facts? He was formed from the dust a “living soul,” or natural body. His mental constitution gave him moral relation to God.”[29]

“Death and corruption, then, with reproduction, the characteristic of spring and summer, is the fundamental law of the physical system of the Six Days. Adam and Eve, and all the other animals born of the earth with themselves, would have died and gone to corruption, if there had been no transgression, provided that there had been no further interference with the physical system than Moses records in his history of the Sixth Day…

“It is certain, therefore, that the animal nature they possessed was essentially a mortal nature, and required to be physically operated upon by the power transmissible through contact with the tree of lives to change it into a nature constitutionally capable of enduring forever; which the animal nature is not.

“From these premises it will be seen, that we dissent from our correspondent's “notion" that all creation became corrupt (by which we understand him to mean, constitutionally impregnated with corruptibility) at the Fall. We believe that the change consequent upon that calamity was moral, not physical. The natural system was the same the day before the Fall as the day after.”[30]  

While one can find early Christadelphian writers whose views on this subject stray dangerously close to Original Sin, the presence of a solid, well-argued view on the subject shows that the view you are advancing was hardly normative for the early generation of Christadelphians.

Romans 5v12 has traditionally been read as proof that all humanity sinned in Adam, and therefore genetically inherited the consequences of Adam’s sin. This cannot be sustained as this reading stems from the Old Latin text, which is regarded as inferior. A comparison of a representative modern version with the Douay-Rheims, which follows the Vulgate, makes this clear:

  • NRSV: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.  
  • Douay-Rheims: Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.
 The flawed nature of the Old Latin rendering of Romans 5v12 was recognised around half a millennium ago by the Dutch Biblical scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) who acknowledged that the Greek was better translated “because all have sinned.” The Council of Trent, the official Catholic response to the Reformation was aware of this, but still used the Latin!

 Tellingly, contemporary Catholic theologians acknowledge Erasmus’ point. Jack Mahoney, in a recent book on Original Sin notes:

“The formal teaching of the Council of Trent, then, is that Adam’s original sin is inherited by everyone through procreation and that its guilt is forgiven by the conferring of baptism, yet something of its results remains even in the baptized, experienced as concupiscence or sinful desires, fomenting or fueling sin in each of us. On this several comments can be offered, the first crucially relating to where it all starts, namely, to what Paul meant in Romans 5:12 when he used the Greek phrase eph’ hō relating to Adam’s action. Augustine and others, including the council fathers at Trent, relying on the Old Latin translation, took this to mean in Latin in quo, or “in whom,” with the clear implication that everyone had sinned in Adam. Most exegetes today understand this phrase as using the common Greek preposition epi to imply succession rather than inclusion, thus giving the meaning “since when” all have sinned rather than “in whom” all have sinned. We must conclude that if this is the original Pauline meaning, it removes from divine revelation any reference to Adam’s descendants being incorporated in solidarity “in him” (in quo), and as a result it dispenses with the conclusion that the whole of succeeding humanity has been condemned en masse as a sort of “condemned mass in Adam,” as Augustine and others explained. J. N. D. Kelly delivers his considered verdict in explaining how the Old Latin version of the New Testament (which had influence only in the West) gave “an exegesis of Rom 5:12 which, though mistaken and based on a false reading, was to become the pivot of the doctrine of original sin.”

“As a consequence of this reflection, it follows that there is now no need for theology to find a method by which to explain how all Adam’s offspring inherit his original sin. Trent’s insistence that Adam’s original sin was transmitted among all subsequent human beings by propagation, or by generation, rather than simply by imitation (which Pelagius was considered to have maintained) was clearly due more to the theological polemic of Saint Augustine against Pelagius and his supporters than to Paul’s writing centuries earlier.” - Mahoney J Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration (2011: Georgetown University Press) p 55
Support for the view that physical death not only was unknown prior to Adam’s sin, but was genetically transmitted to his descendants as a punishment for sin is alien to the Bible.

1 Cor 15:21-22:For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

Note that it is death, and not mortality that comes through human sin. Failure to properly differentiate between these terms results in a confused understanding of the verses. It is nonsensical to read 1 Cor 15 as saying that mortality came through human action. Humans were created mortal – as bro. Thomas said earlier, ““Death and corruption, then, with reproduction, the characteristic of spring and summer, is the fundamental law of the physical system of the Six Days.” What came though human action was the introduction of eternal death as a punishment for sin, which is effected by letting people die, and not raising them from the dead. Needless to say, this answers perfectly with the second part of the verse – resurrection from death comes through human action.

The reference in verse 22 to dying ‘in Adam’ needs to be read in parallel to being made alive ‘in Christ’. Being ‘in Adam’ has nothing to do with being physically descended from Adam, and remember, the genomic data rules out universal human descent from Adam, so this interpretation is impossible. Rather, being in Adam refers to following his example of disobedience. The way in which we are made alive in Christ gives us the context to properly interpret the reference to being in Adam. Put simply, we are dealing with two different paths to follow. One leads to eternal death. The other leads to eternal life. Confusing death as a punishment for sin with mortality, which as bro Thomas noted was part of the original ‘very good’ creation results in confused exegesis, and sets us up for a pointless conflict between religion and science.


[1] Roberts R “True Principles and Uncertain Details” The Christadelphian (1898) 35:182-189
[2] Jardine W.D “The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality” The Ambassador of the Coming Age (1864) 1:93-94
[3] Walker C.C “Is it Wrong to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913) (Birmingham: Christadelphian Magazine & Publishing Association, 1913), 346–347.
[4] Enns P “The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid, but That’s Not the Point” Science and the Sacred Jan 14 2010
[5] Walker, op cit, p 348
[6] Venema D “Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2010) 62:166-178
[7] Cartmill, Matt; Smith, Fred H. The Human Lineage (Foundation of Human Biology) (2009: Wiley)
[8] Philo (Greecian Jew), ‘On Abraham’ (2.74), 1st century CE. 
[9] Philo, ‘The Special Laws’, 1st century CE 
[10] Aratus (Greek poet), ‘Phaenomena’, 3rd century BCE
[11] Seneca the Younger (Roman philosopher), ‘Letters’, 1st century CE. 
[12] Epimenides of Knossos (Greek philosopher), ‘Cretica’, 6th century BCE. 
[13] Cleanthes of Assos (Greek philosopher), ‘Hymn to Zeus’, 4th century BCE. 
[14] Aratus (Greek poet), ‘Phaenomena’, 3rd century BCE. 
[15] Pseudo-Heraclitus, ‘Letters’, c. 5th century BCE. 
[16] Walker CC “Genesis” The Christadelphian (1910) 47:223
[17] Walker CC, “Genesis” The Christadelphian (1910)  47:361
[18] ibid, p 362
[19] Walton J “Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology” (2011: Eisenbrauns) p 23–24.
[20] ibid, p 42–44
[21] ibid, p 178.
[22] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ps 132:8–14.
[23] ibid, p 181–182.
[24] Thomas J “Immortality, Heaven, and Hell the Unscriptural Character and Heathen Origin of Popular Dogmas Demonstrated; and the Truth Concerning These Things Exhibited by Dr Thomas” The Christadelphian (1870) 7: 228
[25] Thomas J “The Wicked In the Resurrection” The Christadelphian (1881) 18:197
[26] Roberts R “Future Punishment not Eternal Torments” The Christadelphian (1870) 7:368
[27] Roberts R “Future Punishment not Eternal Torments” The Christadelphian (1871) 8:15
[28] Roberts R “Answers to Correspondents” The Christadelphian  (1874) 11:526
[29] Roberts R ‘The Relation of Jesus to the Law of Sin and Death” The Christadelphian (1869) 6: 85
[30] . Thomas J “Our Terrestrial System Before the Fall’, The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come (1855) 5:159