Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Collins's Adam and Eve as Historical People

PSCF's recent series on human origins begins with C. John Collins's paper Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters. As I read, I realized that Collins and I would probably disagree on a lot of things - a LOT of things. But I still tremendously enjoyed his paper.

I could go through and summarize the whole paper, but since you can read it for yourself at the link above, that would be superfluous. Instead, let me highlight some points of agreement.

First, I found his distinction between history and literalism extremely helpful and important. He summarizes,
...we should think of "history" less as a literary genre (another word that has multiple, and unregulated, meanings), and more as a way of referring to events. That is, if we say that something is (or is not) historical, we are describing, not the kind of literature it is, but the way it talks about (or does not talk about) real events.
That really crystallizes some ideas that have been floating around in my head for a long, long time. I used to say, history can written in any genre. Debates about the genre of Genesis (which are so fashionable now) do not say anything about whether it is supposed to be a historical document or not.

Second, his primary point throughout the entire paper is the same point I have also tried to make time and again. We may quibble about what this term or that means (nephilim for example) but at the end of the day, the story of Adam and Eve sets the stage for everything that comes after in the Bible. Their fall into sin renders the human race in need of redemption. The death and resurrection of Christ provides that redemption. Because of that, we Christians can look forward to a future redemption of all creation. Collins says it like this:
...the notions of sin as an alien invader that affects all people, and of atonement as God's way of dealing with the guilt and pollution that come from this defiling influence, depend on the story of the original family and their original disobedience. The biblical terms for atonement, which have the associated ideas of propitiation, expiation, and cleansing, become meaningless without this part of the story. If this is so, then the death of Jesus loses a crucial aspect of its meaning as well.
I thoroughly concur.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.