Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Adam in Innocence

The dogmatic assertion that human death was unknown prior to Adam’s sin is of course incorrect. The fossil record shows that Homo sapiens has been living and dying on this planet for at least 300,000 years, with the genus Homo stretching back at least two million years ago. Add to that the fact that the human genetic evidence confirms the human race has never been smaller than a few thousand, and the belief that the entire human race descended exclusively from two people living six thousand years ago is one that can only be maintained in defiance of the overwhelming evidence against it.

Given this, it is disappointing to see conservative Christians more concerned with privileging their traditional interpretations of the Bible and their credal statements than in honestly engaging with this evidence. This is particularly the case when attempts are made to make one particular interpretation normative for an entire faith tradition. As anyone familiar with Christian theology would be aware, the number of interpretations of contested passages such as Romans 5:12 and the diversity of opinion on what happened to Adam after his sin show that caution and humility, rather than bold assertion and sanctioning of alternative views are definitely advisable.

The claim that Adam prior to his sin was neither mortal nor immortal, but in an intermediate ‘very good’ state is one that despite the paucity of substantive scriptural support and intrinsic incoherence has achieved the level of dogma among some Christadelphians. What is even more curious is the attempt to define this view as the only acceptable Christaelphian position despite the fact that even a cursory review of our history will show that this is not the case.

L.G. Sargent, the fourth editor of The Christadelphian, as I have pointed out on more than one occasion regarded the concept of being neither mortal nor immortal incoherent, and regarded the concept of Adam being created mortal as anything but heterodox. In 1941 he wrote:
“The bare terms, stripped of the qualifying and amplifying phrases with which Dr. Thomas defines his meaning, have sometimes been thrown into the bald proposition that “Adam before the fall was neither mortal nor immortal”; which (to quote Euclid and Dr. Thomas) is absurd. A thing is either X or not-X: there can be no “neutral” position between. A man cannot be neither mortal nor not-mortal; and he cannot be neither not-mortal nor not-not-mortal. A thing is either black or not black, white or not white; it is either in the class of objects which have in common the quality of blackness, or it is in the class “not-black” which includes every other kind of colour, shade or tone. But it must come in one class or the other: there can be no neutral position between those two classes.

“If, then, we take “immortal” to mean “incapable of dying” (as Dr. Thomas does in the passage quoted), we must say that Adam in his novitiate was not incapable of dying, therefore capable of dying, and therefore “mortal” as a simple antithesis to immortal, and using the widest sense of an ambiguous term.” [1] (Emphasis mine)
It is important to stress that elsewhere in the article he stated that “[p]reviously there had not been death in the world, not because it could not come, but that as a matter of historical fact it did not”, and referred to “the first pair and all their posterity”. Sargent’s unambiguous rejection of a neither mortal nor immortal state in calling it ‘absurd’ owed nothing to any desire to accommodate human evolution.

Much later, Alan Fowler, another respected Christadelphian writer likewise wrote endorsing the concept of Adam being created mortal. In chapter two of “Twenty Essays in a Search for Truth”, Fowler rejected the idea that the Tree of Life conferred immortality, instead arguing by analogy with the tree of life in Revelation 22 that “the tree of life in Eden gave ongoing health and incorruption” and that “the Hebrew tense of the verb ‘eat’ can mean ‘continue to eat’ ”, concluding that “the death sentence was activated by their being expelled from the garden and so being denied access to the tree of life and subject to the mortality of all living things”. [2]

Later, Fowler explicitly rejects the idea that we all die because of Adam’s sin, lining it with the mainstream Christian doctrine of Original Sin. It is worth quoting him in full:
“The concept that we all die because of Adam’s sin arises from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Augustine who believed that following the ‘fall’ Adam’s body became corrupt and that this corruption was transmitted through his sperm to his offspring, and thence from generation to generation. This so-called doctrine of original sin is contrary to the scripture teaching that the sins of the fathers are not visited on the children. This principle of Divine justice is enunciated in Deuteronomy 24:16, and the whole of Ezekiel 18 is devoted to establishing the principle that we die because of our own sins.” [3] (Emphasis mine)
I cite both Fowler and Sargent, not as an appeal to authority but rather to point out what is well-known among many Christadelphians, namely that the belief Adam was created mortal and the rejection as incoherent and illogical the belief that Adam prior to sin was neither mortal nor mortal are both maintained by many Christadelphians past and present, including those who definitely reject evolution. To argue otherwise is to engage in historical revisionism. More to the point, any attempt to mandate rejection of these beliefs not only retrospectively anathematises respected Christadelphians, but runs the risk of forcing those who are well aware of the overwhelming evidence for human death predating the earliest possible date for Adam to choose between their faith and well-attested facts of nature. One trusts that those who would attempt to mandate rejection of these views would reconsider such ill-advised and divisive actions.


1. Sargent L.G. “Adam in Innocence” The Christadelphian (1941) 78:14
2. Fowler A Twenty Essays in a Search for Truth (2011: Ortho Books). 13
3. ibid, p 16.