If Christianity loses Adam we lose Jesus as well. The dream of keeping Jesus in the absence of an historical Adam is a hopeful monster. There is no historical Jesus without an Adam of history. An Adam of faith or myth or “spiritual language” that isn’t the Adam of history undercuts the intent of the Bible so deeply as to leave no Jesus worthy of divine prerogatives – much less one that can save his people from their sins.
The stakes are high. Last year at Bryan College, notable for being named after William Jennings Bryan, the attorney that successfully argued the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial“, the Trustees adopted a rule that professors must hold to the immediate creation of a literal Adam and Eve as a condition of employment. The reaction from the local and national press, the religious community and particularly from the scientific community was thunderous. The move struck at the heart of a division deep in the heart of the Evangelical conscience that most hadn’t known was there.
When theologies, careers and the fate of institutions are on the line these things get very serious:
Last month, a chapel talk at Bryan featured a discussion with Wood and well-known evolutionary creationist Darrel Falk. At the end of their conversation, Livesay said he wanted to make a statement about Bryan College’s stance on origins. He said he did not agree with the views of “BioLogos” [a think tank that promotes evolution to specifically Christian audiences].
“Scripture always rises above anything else. Scripture rises above science. … Science at some point will catch up with the scripture,” Livesay said, according to an online podcast of the event.
Haynes, the trustee, said Livesay has brought up the need for clarification several times to the board. Christians have increasingly begun to question traditional interpretations of Genesis, though he believes the Bible is clear on the matter.
“When you review these things, the first thing you must do is go back to the scripture and make sure what you’re saying is compatible with scripture,” he said. “Scripture judges you.”
To those who see the board’s clarification as a substantive change, Haynes again pointed to scripture.
“That’s the question I have to ask them: Who moved?” he said. “Did scripture move or did you move?”1
Four professors at historically conservative Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia have been retired in relation to teaching views of human origins or hermeneutical approaches (hermeneutics is the study of what the Bible is supposed to be and how it should be read) thought irreconcilable with historic orthodoxy: including Peter Enns, Douglas Green, Christopher Fantuzzo and Tremper Longman III. This school had an especially important place in the American conversation between “liberal” vs. “conservative” theologies being the house of Gresham Machen and the presumed home of American Presbyterianism after the fall of Princeton. Ongoing conversations are also live at Wheaton, BIOLA, Yale, Harvard, Duke, Trinity (TEDS, TGS), Fuller and many others.
We might agree that if one is going to affirm the evolution of the human species and deny the historicity of Adam it will require a new way of reading the Bible. Whatever hints to the contrary through the history of the church, no one has ever done origins quite like this and no one has ever read scripture quite this way. There is a new thing happening and it’s impossible to predict how it will all turn out.
The denial of Adam has always been an important doctrine of Christian Liberalism. Here, we need to distinguish between political, social, economic and theological liberalism. A person that is a social conservative can be a theological liberal (Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh,) but one could also be a theological conservative and a social or economic liberal. It depends on how much one feels the need for ideological consistency.
But here, we’re talking about Theological Liberalism which is an identifiable theological tradition growing along side and in competition with theologically conservative views. This kind of liberalism is usually identified with esoteric or mythic readings of scripture, holding the Bible as spiritually or ethically “true” but not true (or at least with various errors) as to persons, events and descriptions of the world, that the study of the sciences and other religions is necessary to the proper reading of the Bible, and that the scriptures are best interpreted as human works about the spiritual experiences of the authors – and not as a message from God communicated through human writers.
Roger Olson, Professor of Christian Theology at Baylor and self described post-conservative explains:
“…liberal theology makes modern thought in general a norming norm for theology–alongside if not above Scripture. If we do not stick to this historical-theological definition of liberal theology (along with prototypes such as Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Harnack, et al.) we end up filling the category so full it becomes empty.” 2
In this, the Bible is a source about God (perhaps even unique in some sense) but incomplete and given to the errors of its authors. Some would say that though the Bible itself is not immediately the word of God we do receive the word of God through the Bible (Barth). There are many different ways that theological liberalism can come to self expression but the main traits are myth, errancy and mysticism.
Some are more careful with the wording and so say that the Bible is true in all that intends to teach supposing that we might preserve the spirit of a Bible without errors (inerrancy) in the presence of a Bible of doubtful content.
With the rise of “myth” as a genre for reading the Bible and the advent of theistic evolution within Roman Catholicism and Liberal Protestantism it might have been inevitable that certain questions would be asked within areas of traditionally conservative Christian thought.
The questions might be, “What if the writers of the Bible never intended for the first three chapters to be read literally?” Or, “What if when we read Ancient Near East literature we find similarities between the stories in the Bible and those works that we already consider “myth” – not themselves “true” in historical, scientific or even religious reference?” Or perhaps, “Now that we are men of science more than men of superstition can we read the Bible in a way that preserves its value – now that we know its claims about the world are indeed false?” This is another way of asking has Christianity outgrown the Bible.
The questions asked in this way have lead to a re-paganization of contemporary religion and perhaps of Christian theology. We might say it’s because they are the wrong questions. This idea is not something deeply hidden in the works of Wright and his contemporaries in the New Perspective on Paul. That we use the pagan works of the ancient world as the measure of what the Bible can mean is the intended method.
Dr. Michael Heiser writes on this showing how the application of the pagan works of the Ancient Near East (ANE) leads to a new and different reading of the Bible than the Christian has ever known:
Biblical writers didn’t just use the forms of contemporary non-inspired literature, they were also influenced by the literature itself. Just as preachers today quote commentaries, journals, news periodicals, or even television shows to drive home or illustrate a point, so the biblical writers used external material to draw attention and make a statement. Paul quotes from pagan Greek poets. The psalmists and prophets borrow vocabulary and paraphrase material from ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Syrian literature. Jude quotes a book from the Pseudepigrapha (ancient writings that falsely claim authorship by a biblical character). The people of biblical times knew the quoted material wasn’t inspired, but it had meaning for them and their audience.
Religious Context. The religion of Ugarit and the religion of ancient Israel were not the same, but there were some striking overlaps…. We know this was the case, since certain Old Testament books actually quote from the Ugaritic religious texts, most notably the one that modern scholars have called the Baal Cycle. Whereas the Baal Cycle would give Baal credit for things like sending rain and making the crops grow, the prophets would credit those things to Yahweh….The Bible can only be fully understood when properly situated within its ancient context. That is not to say that the Bible is no longer relevant for our modern world. The Bible is certainly written for our benefit, as well as the benefit of future generations. Still, the Bible was neither written by this generation nor for this generation as the immediately intended audience. It’s an ancient (wonderful!) record from God, which must be understood on its own terms. Putting the Bible into its ancient social, historical, and yes, even religious context doesn’t harm it; rather, the text is illuminated for people like us who are culturally removed from their origin.3
Dr. Michael S. Heiser, Academic Editor, Logos Bible Software
Admittedly, we will read the Bible differently if we read it through the lens of the old gods of the Canaanites. If the Enuma elish or the Gilgamesh epic are taken as a valid source of religious knowledge of equal authority to Genesis (something to measure it by) it will fundamentally transform our reading of Genesis itself. The shift takes place when we are taught that our understanding of the worship of the ancient gods is necessary to the proper interpretation of the word of God.
If we simply read the Bible we might get meaning ‘A. But if we read the Bible through the lenses of the Egyptians, the Hittites, or sub-jewish cults we might get meanings ‘B, ‘C or ‘D, but reading ‘A will be precluded. A view of scripture that holds that it is the sole infallible rule that judges all others will lead to a different reading than the subjection of the Bible to comparative religion and the critical methodology.
Reading through the Bible the Christian sees interactions between the God of the Bible and the gods of the nations. Denying that those other religions are valid expressions of the true God or helpful for understanding true religion is often the very heart of the story. At this strange time in history, academic theologians have the strong temptation to tell us that the only way to properly read the Bible is by alignment with the books of worship for the ancient pagan deities.
To get this part of the puzzle requires a bit of heavy lifting, not much but detail work. There is no understanding Wright and the New Perspective on Paul without grasping a little of the Search for the Historical Jesus. Re–paganization is the handmaiden to Re–mythologization. As background, the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is a lesser variant of the Search for the Historical Jesus. The Search for the Historical Jesus has been a long standing discussion among non-Christian scholars about what the Jesus of history might have been like once we move back a few steps from the Jesus of faith. So here there are supposedly two competing Jesus’ – the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history, and these two are thought to be irreconcilable.
Some of the most common ways of talking about Jesus, Genesis and the Bible today carry a more serious paganization that is easier to miss, that being the presumption of finding a “Jewish Jesus”. Plainly, the idea of finding a Jewish Jesus sounds great since Jesus was Jewish – but it looses its luster when we find that the presumption of the Jewishness of Jesus can be a groundwork for the repudiation of the Jesus of Christianity.
In the literature, there are different Jesus’. In reading the Bible through ancient works categorized as of “Second Temple Judaism” we find that some could not have been less Jewish. Many seem at best the writings of sub-jewish cultists and at worst the frightening ramblings religious madmen (4QMMT, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Gnostic writings). The presumption of the equal value of all of these texts seems indefensible. These are the lenses through which the Bible is read by many scholars these days; these very strange days. As far as a Christian reading of the Bible goes (which is very much a reading of Judaism) Jesus and Paul’s Judaism is not the Judaism of the Essenes, the Pharisees or the Sadducees.
The Prophet Jeremiah wrote on this method of interpreting the word of God through the words and worlds of the pagan religions: “In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray.” and “16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” Jer. 23
Albert Schweitzer denied the deity of Christ, the trinity and perhaps the existence of a Christian kind of God but was popularly held to be the greatest Christian ethicist of the Early 1900s. He received the Nobel Peace prize, became a great humanitarian, unitarian, and biblical skeptic while maintaining his reputation as a biblical scholar and theologian. He entered the first Quest for the Historical Jesus with great success, writing “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” in which he interpreted Jesus through Second Temple Judaism and less so through the Bible and the Christian religion. He created a new and until then unheard of Jesus that was in his estimation the real Jesus of history but not the Jesus of Christianity, not the myth of Jesus, not God, not the Messiah, and certainly not one that rose from the dead; but he does rise in our religious experience.
Rudolf Bultmann is the second most important figure in the shaping of the New Perspective and the Quest and is commonly thought to be the most important New Testament scholar of the last century. He denied the resurrection, the supernatural events, miracles and acts of God as Myth. In the second Quest for the historical Jesus he reinterpreted the Bible removing “myth” for the sake of seeing the true religion behind it all. Re-mythologization sees room in the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus to read the Bible as myth again because it is supposed to be read as myth and not because we should be in the business of removing the myth for the sake of something else. (See Christian Theology, “The Jewish Jesus, The Quest and the New Perspective of Paul” and “Rudolph Bultmann and the invention of “myth”)
From Bultmann, “The Message of Jesus and the Problem of Mythology“:
It is often said that mythology is a primitive science, the intention of which is to explain phenomena and incidents which are strange, curious, surprising, or frightening, by attributing them to supernatural causes, to gods or to demons…. Myths speak about gods and demons as powers on which man knows himself to be dependent, powers whose favor he needs, powers whose wrath he fears…. Mythology speaks about this power inadequately and insufficiently because it speaks about it as if it were a worldly power. It speaks of gods who represent the power beyond the visible, comprehensible world. It speaks of gods as if they were men and of their actions as human actions, although it conceives of the gods as endowed with superhuman power and of their actions as incalculable, as capable of breaking the normal, ordinary order of events…. All this holds true also of the mythological conceptions found in the Bible. Bultmann
A good statement on this from James D.G. Dunn, one of the primary architects of the New Perspective with Wright, “For Bultmann the kerygma is expressed through myth, not alongside it or inside it. The gospel is not somehow separate and distinct from myth; rather it is embodied in the mythical language of the NT. To discard the myth is to discard the gospel.“4
This way of talking about the Bible has raised a new interpretation of “myth” as a valid biblical genre. Here, Genre has become a way to interpret writings that seem to be telling history as not intending history. In this, “myth” has become the default interpretation until it can be shown that the text demands some other reading (though there is no commonly accepted method of proving this kind of thing). History, has become perhaps a reading of last resort. In this we might expect to end up with a very different Bible.
When Wright speaks to this issue of the historical Adam genre analysis is raised immediately. Without creating a field for parts of the Bible to be taken as ethically true (or spiritually true) while historically false (or not intended to be read as true) the bottom would fall out of the enterprise:
“The question of Genesis, history or myth, these words are hooked in to whole great lists of other things. People are afraid that if you start wobbling about there, then oh, my goodness, you’re going to be denying this, you’re going to be affirming that.
We need to lighten up. We need to uncouple those issues. And we need to say, okay, Genesis is one of those books like a Shakespeare play, or like a Beethoven symphony, where you can describe what it sort of literally says. Here’s a Beethoven symphony, here are the notes. Da, da, da, dum. And you think, “Well, that doesn’t actually catch what’s going on in this.”
You want to use bigger language about the opening of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, or say this is an amazing statement about the power of empire and the faith of man, and goodness knows what.
You’ve still got to play the notes, and in the same way I want to say Genesis 1, 2, and 3 are some of the most explosive Chapters. When anthropologists talk about myth, what they mean is not an untrue story. What they mean is a story which is full of power for how we understand ourselves individually, for how we understand ourselves as a community, for how we understand what the human project is all about, and some of its paradoxes and tragedies and so on.” 3
It’s important to say that when Wright says that Genesis 1, 2 and 3 are myth he does not intend lies or fairy tales though he might use the term legend. For Wright there is the creation of a new category of biblical reading and a passing by the traditional distinctions between myth and history. Myth as he is using it is not merely false even though what it says is not merely true. A story, scripture, must be mined for a deeper spiritual teaching that is not immediately apparent from the words, phrases or story itself. It would be a mistake to then interpret this as analogy or parable since the readings of those kinds of genre are not what is happening with the text.
The mythological element, however, has gotten misunderstood to be that if it’s myth, therefore it isn’t history, and vice versa. That’s just for starters.4
To understand Wright here we need to have a mind toward his broad program for the re-mythologization of the Christian faith. It might be that theological conservatives erred by taking the Bible as facts and history while theological liberals have discarded the story and the supernatural entirely but Wright is arguing a third way, taking the Bible as myth informed by history. These are not to be read as facts or historical in themselves but also not completely divorced from historical considerations.
Let’s name them even more clearly and, to some extent, shame them, so we can be clear about the present confusions before we turn to the equally confusing world of the first century. We’ll take them in the reverse order this time. First, the high-pressure system of conservative Christianity.
Here we find the classic Western Christian myth about Jesus, which is still believed by millions around the world. In this myth, a supernatural being called “God” has a supernatural “son” whom he sends, virgin-born, into our world, despite the fact that it’s not his natural habitat, so that he can rescue people out of this world by dying in their place. As a sign of his otherwise secret divine identity, this “son” does all kinds of extraordinary and otherwise impossible “miracles,” crowning them all by rising from the dead and returning to “heaven,” where he waits to welcome his faithful followers after their deaths….In the Protestant version, Jesus commissions his followers to write the New Testament, which reveals the absolute truth about Jesus and, once more, how to get to heaven. Wright, “Simply Jesus” P. 20
He’s right about this, traditional Protestants (those he intends to “shame”) be they Baptist, Presbyterian or non-denominational have a different way of approaching the Bible. We read it with our minds in an already established submission to its truth, not because we are irrational or fideists but for reasons that are themselves complicated. Scripture is said to be authoritative in and of itself without the need for external verification. More, the scriptures interpret themselves in such a way as to be their own rule for the apprehension of their meaning. This is different than Wright’s intention, “So what are we doing now, talking about the historical Jesus and Christian theology? We are taking Hermann Reimarus’s challenge seriously: investigate Jesus and see whether Christianity is not based on a mistake.”5
Readers, even academics, can get the wrong idea from Wright through his famous debate with Marcus Borg over the resurrection or early arguments that used and applied the Biblical stories of Adam as though such a man did actually exist, without taking into account that there are two languages: the language of faith and the language of science and he often reaches back and forth between the two without sufficient notice.
In a sense, Wright is open to being convinced of an Adam like person referred to in Genesis. We can talk about Adam, his creation from the clay, the tree of good and evil and the fall into sin all day long with careful attention to the subtleties of the Hebrew and Greek texts, and arguments about the application of such by Jesus and Paul – but that doesn’t mean that we intend that such an Adam did actually exist. There might have been some kind of an Adamic personage with some kind of light historicity but the one we receive through the Genesis account has supposedly no interest in origins.
(Now here, Wright’s common way of teaching and convincing doubtful readers, which some find persuasive, is through insulting their intelligence and moral integrity. This is the method that he uses through much of his writing and the most unpleasant aspect of his works so please forgo being offended for the sake of understanding of the man and his thought. Wright is perhaps the most aggressive, insulting apologist for liberalism in the recent history of the church. Perhaps the worst effect of those traits is what they seem to produce like effects in his disciples. Let’s just agree that name calling is not a reliable method for proving an argument.)
He first explains which moral and intellectual errors are being committed by those that read the first few chapters of the Bible as a communication intended to convey historical information:
1. You’re flattening out the story.
2. You are almost perverse in your avoidance of the real thrust of the narrative.
3. You have a dualistic view of the world (dualism is a heresy; you’re a heretic).
4. You have a delusional and simplistic eschatology that involves clouds and harps.
5. You have not been reading the same Bible as N.T. Wright, clearly.
6. You are not reading Genesis for all it is worth.
7. You do not have the simple ability to distinguish between your own culture and what the Bible says.
8. You are being unfaithful to the text. (You are unfaithful)
First, how Wright reads the story in accord with the book he co-authored with John Walton:
I think, for instance, that the six days of Genesis, and I’m with John Walton from Wheaten College on this, would be interpreted in terms of this describing how people make a temple or a tabernacle.
This is a way of saying that when the good creator God made the world, He made heaven and earth as the space in which He, Himself, was going to dwell. And He shared the earth bit with human creatures.
“To flatten that out into this is simply telling us that the world was made in six days is almost perversely to avoid the real thrust of the narrative. When I then find is that people who say, “Oh, it must have been made in six days,” etcetera, also have a very dualistic view about how one day God is going to throw the present space/time universe in the trash can and leave us all sitting on a cloud playing a harp.
I say, “Clearly you just haven’t been reading the same Bible. The meaning of Genesis is that this world was made to be God’s abode, God’s home, God’s dwelling. He shared it with us and He now wants to rescue it and redeem it.” We have to read Genesis for all it’s worth. To say either history or myth is a way of saying, “I’m not going to study this text for all it’s worth. I’m just going to flatten it out so that it conforms to the cultural questions that my culture today is telling me to ask.” I think that’s actually a form of being unfaithful to the text itself.”5 N.T. Wright
Walton and Wright wrote a recent and very controversial book on the subject presenting their view of the reconcilability of myth and genesis. Westminster Theological Seminary Professor Vern Poythress (the same school referred to earlier in this post) responded with some reasonable criticism about the claims being made, “Walton has read Genesis with a false contrast between material and functional, and with equivocal meanings for the two terms. As a result he artificially detaches Genesis 1 from questions of physical appearance and produces an unsustainable interpretation.World Magazine ”
Walton powerfully disagreed with Poythress’ critique, arguing, “…the material description (I would contend) must be understood as a description coming out of Old World thinking (thus the similarities in ANE) and therefore not subject to concordist explanation…. My contention is that those material aspects are heuristic, not essential or revelatory…. Did the Israelites believe their Old World Science? Undoubtedly they did. Did they ever think about the material aspect itself? Again, undoubtedly. Does this mean the Bible is offering an authoritative revelation of material origins? Not at all.” Walton, Biologos
We need to see that for Wright, the Biblical Adam is not an independent question separable from the broader question of the myth of Western Christianity as a whole. This approach to reading Genesis isn’t unique but it does seem to carry unique problems.
“The way I see it is that there were many hominids or similar creatures, part of the long slow process of God’s good creation. And at a particular time God called a particular pair for a particular task: to look after his creation and make it flourish in a whole new way.
Actually, this fits with the scientific evidence according to which there were some significant changes in the hominid population and lifestyle around 6000 years ago, though I wouldn’t myself put too much weight on that.”11
This isn’t a tempest in a tea pot; there’s a real issue with hominid theism. Here, one can make the claim that one believes in a kind of historical Adam with the unexamined implication that one means the Adam of scripture, the Adam described in the narrative of Genesis, while one believes almost nothing of that record.
Wright’s Adam and Eve, perhaps a chosen pair, aren’t related to the Adam and Eve of scripture. The speculative posit of a mythical pair has little to do with the scope and intent of the passages at hand. Those passages teach about creation and relationship with miraculous interventions and the personal acts of the deity. To say that Adam was perhaps a real person, but that the record of Adam that we have in Genesis is false, when the only record that we have of Adam is in Genesis is at least very confusing.
Walton and Wright do at times reword the interpretation of Genesis as myth though not in a way contrary to the program. If their explanation landed at scriptural infallibility or descriptions of persons and things being what the Bible says they are it would invalidate the project. At times, they might seem to be backpedalling into the art of “demythologization” they intended to reverse. In any case myth is not history.
There are those that thoughtfully disagree even under the weight of accusations. Albert Mohler, the President Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the world’s foremost teachers of theology says:
“The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel. If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.”9
Wright responds to this Mohler’s reading of the Bible:
“I don’t know what logic Mr. Mohler is applying in the quote you give. I think it’s probably that of the “covenant of works,” found in the Westminster Confession and elsewhere, according to which God gives Adam a kind of moral test which he fails. Then he runs the test again with Jesus and he gets it right, so his “getting-it-right” (aka “righteousness”) is available for the rest of us. Obviously if you take Adam out of that equation it falls apart.”10 Wright
He is right, it does fall apart if you take Adam out. The Bible presumes itself to be a coherent whole (As Jesus said, “The scriptures cannot be broken…“) with a meaningful story that starts in the beginning and completes its hope at the end. If we change the beginning we change the end; our eschatology is a function of our reading of the whole. One of the reasons that N.T. Wright reads such a different Bible than most of us feel acquainted with is that he does so without Adam or Eve, serpent or Satan, or death or dying, or walking in the garden with God in the cool of the day, without Heaven or Hell in the balance.
And here we arrive at what has for a century or more been perhaps the most controversial part of Schweitzer, Bultmann, Wright and the NPP’s program for theology, the denial of the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness to those who have faith in him. Plainly (and Wright does not disagree) if there was no Adam there was no moral test for the man created in the image of God.
Wright explains some of his disagreement with the historic view:
The point is that if you start, not with Adam and a “moral test,” but with Adam and Eve and a vocation (see Psalm 8), then a lot of things in Paul look significantly different. There is more to Paul—and to Genesis—than you might have thought. It all works, it’s all good, it’s all about God’s grace—and it’s about a justification through which humans are “put right” in order to get the original project back on track, so that we might be “putting-right” people for the world. That’s something that’s often been strangely absent from a Westminster Confession type of theology.”11 Tom Wright
We should be careful with Wright’s transformation from the moral test that occurs in the story to the “vocation” that happened somewhere else. If there was no moral test there was no fall into sin. If there was no fall into sin there was no imputation of the sin of Adam to his children through ordinary generation. And of course this would demand a change in our reading of texts like 1st Corinthians 15:21, “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” In short, the absence of Adam requires a redirection of Christ. Jesus might have “died for his people” as a representative but not as a vicarious and substitutionary sacrifice. Adam did not bring us in to sin and for Wright Jesus did not give us his righteousness. (See C.E. Hill on “Justification“)
This becomes very important when we read Wright saying that Jesus was an embodiment of Yahweh due to his vocation, and not because he was ontologically identical to God. “Let me be clear, also, what I am not saying. I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself “Well I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!” Rather, “as part of his human vocation grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.” I commend to you this category of “vocation” as the appropriate way forward for talking about what Jesus knew and believed about himself.” Wright Ex Auditu 1998, 14, 42–56
The denial of the “moral test” (sometimes called the “covenant of life” or the “covenant of works“) and the historicity of Adam of come into full flower in the denial of the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness to the Christian created in the image and likeness of God. No Adam implies a drastic revision to the imago dei, human nature, the nature of Christ, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the nature of “heaven” and final rewards and punishments. Wright for example denies that there is any Heaven at all – and claims that Heaven is instead a word for our present intermediate state. Heaven is for Wright, now and not any thing or any place that might come later. “Salvation, then, is not “going to heaven but being raised to life in God’s new heaven and new earth. Jesus himself didn’t actually say much about heaven in the sense we normally mean it. When he spoke of heaven’s kingdom, he wasn’t talking about a place called heaven to which people might or might not go after they die.” Wright, P.6 “Surprised by Hope”. (related time article) Without the moral test, the creation from the earth, the breath of God, the temptation and the fall, the promise of the coming of the Savior has little place in real history and so neither Heaven nor Hell.
This move does not take place in a vacuum. Once Adam is erased the life of Christ is changed from a reflection of Adam’s failed obedience to an ’embodiment’ of God returning, the law itself, the presumptive foundation for human ethics suffers great harm:
“It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus ‘obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believe in him.” Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 232
The earlier mentioned Gresham Machen, Professor of Theology at Princeton wrote against Wright’s interpretation generations ago:
That covenant of works was a probation. If Adam kept the law of God for a certain period, he was to have eternal life. If he disobeyed he was to have death. Well, he disobeyed and the penalty of death was inflicted on him and his posterity. Then Christ by His death on the cross paid that penalty for those whom God had chosen.
Well and good. But if that were all that Christ did for us, do you not see that we should be back in just the situation in which Adam was before he sinned? The penalty of his sinning would have been removed from us because it had all been paid by Christ. But for the future the attainment of eternal life would have been dependent upon our perfect obedience to the law of God. We should simply have been back in the probation again.
Here we begin to understand why Jesus’ passive obedience is not enough – if divorced from his active obedience. The passive sufferings of Christ discharged the enormous debt we owe, due to our sins and the sin of Adam. In effect, Jesus’ passive obedience alone would bring our account from hopelessly overdrawn back to a zero balance – our debt would be retired. But having our debt retired and our sins forgiven does not get us into heaven; it simply returns us to the starting point. More must be done if we are to gain heaven. Righteousness must be completely fulfilled, either by us or by a representative acting on our behalf. 12 Machen
What to do with God’s law is one of the most persistent problems for adherents to the New Perspective on Paul but for Wright in particular. The interpretation of what it is and what it does (leading to many of the famous re-interpretations of passages in Romans and Galatians) require redefinitions far from historic Christian thought. The definition of ‘righteousness’ as being obedience to the moral laws of God is lost, as is the law as a means of drawing one to salvation, and as a rule of righteousness after conversion (the traditional “three uses of the law”).
Perhaps most importantly, the law loses its status as the eternal and unchanging moral nature of God. Biblical Law is swept away with the end of the exile and inclusion of the Gentiles. It’s ironic that Wright ends in a view of Christian ethics that has perhaps been held only by extremes of fundamentalist dispensationalism. The law of God as the standard is replaced with the repeated claim that, “God has become King in a whole new way” and the affirmation of the lordship of Christ.
Again, as Machen writes:
“According to modern liberalism, faith is essentially the same as “making Christ Master” in one’s life; at least it is by making Christ Master in the life that the welfare of men is sought. But that simply means that salvation is thought to be obtained by our own obedience to the commands of Christ. Such teaching is just a sublimated form of legalism. Not the sacrifice of Christ, on this view, but our own obedience to God’s law, is the ground of hope.” Christianity and Liberalism
So what then did Jesus accomplish in Wright’s thought? Jesus came to announce that God was becoming king in a whole new way and the end of the exile of the Jewish people. He himself was perhaps unique as a teacher and prophet of Israel – and for that time and place an “embodiment of YHWH” the God of Israel. In the end for Schweitzer and Bultmann an embodiment does not imply the Trinity or the Hypostatic union; these are the trademarks of the Old Perspective on Paul. Embodiment of God language, representation of God language and God forbid, “God to and for us” language abound in Biblical studies but the reader will need to get past the idea that this means that the writer is saying that Jesus was God. That Jesus was God in a way reconcilable with the thought of traditional, orthodox Christianity is almost certainly, for Wright, false:
To say that someone would share God’s throne was to say that, through this one, Israel’s God would win the great decisive victory. This is what, after all, the great Rabbi Akiba seems to have believed about bar-Kochba. And Jesus seems to have believed it about himself. The language was deeply coded, but the symbolic action was not. He was coming to Zion, doing what YHWH had promised to do. He explained his action with riddles all pointing in the same direction. Recognize this, and you start to see it all over the place, especially in parables and actions whose other layers have preoccupied us…. interpreted as stories of YHWH returning to Zion, then you have reached. I believe, the deep heart of Jesus’ own sense of vocation. He believed himself called to do and be what in the scriptures only Israel’s God did and was. What are we therefore saying about the earthly Jesus? In Jesus himself, I suggest we see the biblical portrait of YHWH come to life: the loving God, rolling up his sleeves (Isa 52:10) to do in person the job that no one else could do, the creator God giving new life the God who works through his created world and supremely through his human creatures…. This Jesus is both thoroughly credible as a first century Jew and thoroughly comprehensible as the one to whom early, high, Jewish christology looked back.” 12 Wright
That does not mean that Wright denies the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, even bodily. We should remember that a bodily resurrection and life after death are common features of religion in general and while a requirement of a Christian orthodoxy they do nothing to ensure it. There are religions all over the world and though all of them may have some faint signs of the Creator that Jesus is “very God of very God” is essential to a true and lively faith.13
Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY, understands the stakes though they often work together on these matters:
“[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority. . . .If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”14
Now Keller does affirm evolution, or perhaps some form of Theistic Evolution as the means through which God created and sustains the world but the temper of his approach is very different. We might say that Wright takes scripture very seriously but Keller believes that it presents the real world to the hearer in the words that it says. It is not to Keller, myth or analogy, even if his reading is intensely complicated by his understanding of the sciences. These two things do not preclude one another.
Kevin Deyoung also writes on this:
“There is a seamless strand of history from Adam in Genesis 2 to Abraham in Genesis 12. You can’t set Genesis 1-11 aside as prehistory, not in the sense of being less than historically true as we normally understand those terms.
Moses deliberately connects Abram with all the history that comes before him, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden.
The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as historical.
Paul believed in a historical Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-49). Even some revisionists are honest enough to admit this; they simply maintain that Paul (and Luke) were wrong.
The weight of the history of interpretation points to the historicity of Adam. The literature of second temple Judaism affirmed an historical Adam. The history of the church’s interpretation also assumes it.”15 Kevin Deyoung, The Gospel Coalition
Marvin Olasky, the Editor of World Magazine speaks to the hominidization of Adam here:
I like Wright and am glad that God called him to speak to his British countrymen about the truth of the resurrection. I appreciate his ingenuity in paralleling Adam’s exile from the Garden with Israel and Judah’s exile from their garden land in 722 and 586 B.C. But here’s the problem:
The Bible speaks in prose, not poetry, about God making Adam from the dust, and Eve from Adam. I don’t disbelieve the testimonies of theistic evolutionists who claim belief in God (although most should be called deistic evolutionists). I do wonder how strong their faith in the Bible is, since most propound a view of the creation of Adam and Eve very different from what the Bible teaches.
If we take God at His word, hominid theism—convenient though it is in making Christians evolutionarily correct—bites the dust.”16 Olasky
Dr. Fuzale Rana of “Reasons to Believe” writes on the facial acceptability of the historicity of Adam here:
Did humanity originate from a single pair? …. it is important to note that an origin of humanity from a small population is consistent with the existence of a historical Adam and Eve who gave rise to all of humanity. After their creation the biblical text teaches that they procreated––having many sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4). Given the limitations of the methods, could it be that the population estimates are reporting on the population structure of humans some time after their creation, when the population would have been small, on the order of a few thousand? Additionally, skeptics who claim that humanity came from thousands of individuals and not two assume that Adam and Eve were genetically identical. Yet, there is no hint of that idea in Scripture. When Eve is created, God takes material from Adam’s side and rebuilds (bānâ in the original Hebrew) it. Part of this process could have involved the introduction of genetic differences into Eve’s genome that made Adam and Eve genetically heterogeneous.17 Rana, RTB
But we have to do something with Adam. He is held out in scripture so frequently as to demand a coherent answer. In the thought of the historic Church the cause of our suffering has a name. Reducing the history of human suffering to the level of a myth or an abstract notion seems to add great insult to our injury. We could say that we require a real fall to explain real sin. And maybe this is one of the reasons that so many deny the necessity of the atonement these days (a lesser atonement might imply a lesser fall or none at all).
Still, the Christian needs to be asked do you believe this?:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3
Verses that would be used to bolster the idea that scripture is a coherent whole and the very words of the very God might be as follows:
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1 ESV
Here as in other places, the scriptures seem contrary to Wright’s interpretation of the Bible as myth and the inspiration of a fallible text. Jesus, when he used scriptures used them as infallible truth, not just in what was intended but in the very words that were used even going so far as to answer Satan by saying, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matt.4
It’s not as through Wright hasn’t thought about these things, deeply – but when considering the claims of inerrancy he generally accuses those affirming the traditional view as having fallen under some kind of a philosophical delusion of modernism:
“I take the whole of scripture utterly seriously, and I regret that many who call themselves “inerrantists” manage to avoid the real challenge at its heart, that is, Jesus’ announcing that in and through his work God really was “becoming king” over the world in a whole new way. So I don’t call myself an “inerrantist” (a) because that word means what it means within a modernist rationalism, which I reject and (b) because it seems to me to have failed in delivering a full-blooded reading and living of what the Bible actually says. It may have had a limited usefulness as a label against certain types of “modernist” denial, but it buys into at least half of the rationalist worldview which was the real problem all along.” 18 Wright
Wright is saying that thinking the Bible doesn’t have any errors is a philosophical effect of holding to “modernist rationalism”. This is a common claim made by post-modernists, irrationalists, mystics, kantians, marxists, hegelians and adherents to an assortment of Eastern religious, philosophical and hermeneutical systems. Against this, holding to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible has been the default position of Christians for thousands of years. We see it in Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin. To say that it is an effect of the last three hundred years of philosophy seems to claim a false cause and effect relationship but also an undeveloped understanding of Rationalism and its relationship to theology. If there is a causal relationship between the Enlightenment and theology most readings identify that relationship as being tied to liberal theology. Thinking the Bible doesn’t have any errors does not have a special relationship to modern philosophy or the sciences. Thinking the Bible is a fallible book full of mistakes about God, man and the world, that does.
Another example that might verge on abuse comes from E.P. Sanders, one of the most important voices of the New Perspective (not that N.T. Wright is guilty of every thought of every thinker of the NPP but on this issue Wright and Sanders agree):
Fundamentalism, Protestant Christian fundamentalism, is of course a definite social phenomenon. It has a point of origin: the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, in the Midwestern U.S. And it was deliberately and consciously opposed to biblical criticism, …. They hated it, so they formulated against that the specific idea that the entire Bible agrees with itself, which will get you into this horrible problem of making Paul and the author of James agree with each other when the author of James says, “No, I’m opposing him.” How is this at all coherent? It’s a dogma—that all the parts of the Bible agree with each other—that simply kills study.19 Sanders
About this, we see that Wright again picks out for special abuse Reformed Theology and particularly the Westminster Confession of Faith. The opponent is that “Westminster Confession type of theology”. At the end of the day, even for the prominent Baptists that contest the theology of myth and liberal evangelicalism, Westminster is the background for the theologically conservative world. Wright knows the name of his enemy. He is not wrong. Great Baptist Christian thinkers such as Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Alister Begg and John Piper all see these issues within the context of the forum created by the success of the Reformation and guided by those principles of Sola Scriptura, the Analogie of Faith, Covenant Theology and the Doctrines of Grace. The “London Baptist Confession of Faith” and the Westminster Confession of Faith are in most areas almost identical.
As an example of how far apart traditional orthodoxy is from the NNP, the Westminster Confession chapter 4 says:
I. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.
II. After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures. WCF 4
But more, Wright sees the Reformation either by ignorance or outright error as being at the storm center of most present errors in the interpretation of the Bible.
“The same phenomenon occurs, at a rather different level, when People treat it [the Bible] as an unsorted edition of Calvin’s Institutes, the Westminster Confession, the UCCF Basis of Faith, or the so-called ‘Four Spiritual Laws’. But to treat the Bible like that is, in fact, simply to take your place in a very long tradition of Christians who have tried to make the Bible into a set of abstract truths and rules—abstract devotional doctrinal, or evangelistic snippets here and there. 20 Wright
Now here, don’t miss the intent. The criticism is not just of the tradition, or the theologies, or the people themselves because it is all of that but even more of the idea that we should or could read the Bible with a mind toward deriving from the writing answers to specific questions. More clearly, he is rejecting the project of doing “Systematic Theology“. Wright is speaking to the difference between doing what the theologians call “Biblical Theology” rather than “Systematic Theology”. We might think that these two would be mutually dependent and valid expressions of one another when really, the theologians have been at war about the irreconcilability for more than a century.
Theologian R.C. Sproul writes a thoughtful response to this angle towards theology:
In our day there seems to be an ongoing battle between advocates of systematic theology and advocates of biblical theology. We are living in a time of unprecedented antipathy toward rationality and logic. Where systematic theology used to reign supreme in theological seminaries, it has all but vanished, exiled to the perimeter of academic studies. This antipathy toward rationality and logic finds its nadir in the modern allergy against systematic theology, with nothing to fill its place except the expansion of biblical theology. A possible tendency exists in biblical theology to interpret the Bible atomistically without a concern for coherency and unity. This dichotomy between biblical theology and systematic theology is a classic example of the fallacy of the false dilemma, sometimes called the either-or fallacy.21 Sproul
Though Wright’s arguments seem pointed toward systematic theology being itself the approach denying reason and logic – it is for a very different reason. When Sproul argues against the inflation of Biblical Theology to the exclusion of Systematic Theology he means that the idea that one should not bring the scriptures into some kind of reconciliation of the parts with the whole – that Genesis and James should not in some way be rationally reconcilable with Romans and John – implies that the parts are themselves false or that there is no coherent whole to which all of the parts belong. Sproul is claiming that the Bible as a whole makes sense. Wright on the other hand is arguing that it does not and that to read the Bible as if the parts will make sense in relation one another is wrong. This for Wright is the key to why conservatives misread the Bible the way they do.
But here, Wright begins to uncover why his ideas in relation to the authority of the Bible are rooted in his liberal hermeneutic:
This problem goes back ultimately, I think, to a failure on the part of the Reformers to work out fully their proper insistence on the literal sense of scripture as the real locus of God’s revelation, the place where God was really speaking in scripture. The literal sense seems fine when it comes to saying, and working with, what (for instance) Paul actually meant in Romans. (This itself can actually be misleading too, but we let it pass for the moment.) It’s fine when you’re attacking mediaeval allegorizing of one sort or another. But the Reformers, I think, never worked out a satisfactory answer to the question, how can the literal sense of stories—which purport to describe events in (say) first century Palestine—how can that be authoritative? If we are not careful, the appeal to ‘timeless truths’ not only distorts the Bible itself, making it into the sort of book it manifestly is not, but also creeps back, behind the Reformers’ polemic against allegory, into a neo-allegorization which is all the more dangerous for being unrecognised.22 Wright
Here, because the Reformers rejected the hermeneutical method of allegory in which the scriptures were not taken literally Wright accuses them of unintentionally affirming allegory. They have created an allegory (a mythical reading of the Bible) through the very act of trying to read it literally. The Christian religion, the Western one that we call historic orthodoxy, is to Wright, the allegorical myth. He then argues that he is taking the scriptures at their true meaning, or literally, because he reads them as allegory and not literally. I know, it is dizzying – but we need to grasp it even if we only hope to disagree.
What it means is that Wright is saying that traditional Protestants end up with a false reading of the Bible because they take what it says as true in itself. That a better reading of the text must take it as a device that does not intend to communicate truth in propositional sentences but only in lightly historical figure and myth and that to read it any other way is sinful.
To the reader, I’m not importing a fear of ecclesiocracy here and the intimation of the priesthood as our hope for ferreting out the hidden meaning of the scriptures is explicitly Wright’s. He will say that we of the Protestant and Evangelical traditions holding to the authority of scripture “belittle the Bible”, “exalt something else”, “lurch away from scripture” and “offer a low view of scripture”. Here again, name calling is not rational argument but he knows there are traditional criticisms of his view of the scriptures from Evangelical thinkers. He accuses the Reformation of its own accusation which is that Wright and those similarly situated have a low view of scripture:
The problem with all such solutions as to how to use the Bible is that they belittle the Bible and exalt something else. Basically they imply—and this is what I mean when I say that they offer too low a view of scripture—that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book and it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book by engaging in these hermeneutical moves, translation procedures or whatever…. And such views, I suggest, rely very heavily on either tradition (including evangelical tradition) or reason, often playing off one against the other, and lurching away from scripture into something else. I have a suspicion that most of you are as familiar with this whole process as I am. If you are not, you would be within a very short time of beginning to study theology at any serious level.
My conclusion, then, is this: that the regular views of scripture and its authority which we find not only outside but also inside evangelicalism fail to do justice to what the Bible actually is—a book, an ancient book, an ancient narrative book. They function by tuning that book into something else, and by implying thereby that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book. This is a low doctrine of inspiration, whatever heights are claimed for it and whatever words beginning with ‘in-’ are used to label it. I propose that what we need to do is to re-examine the concept of authority itself and see if we cannot do a bit better.23 Wright
Here, Wright argued that Luther and Calvin were perhaps not engaged in the “study of theology at any serious level” whose reading of the Bible implies that God has given us the wrong kind of book. What kind? One that can be read by ordinary people toward the end of finding answers to their concerns; that the narrative genre of much of scripture precludes the kind of a reading that evangelicals and Protestants have managed till now. He then accuses them of holding a “low doctrine of inspiration” – meaning, that the doctrine that all of the words, that every word, sentence and teaching of scripture is of the direct inspiration of God toward the manifestation of the Bible that we have is “low“. More, and this in line with other failed theories of inspiration from the last century (Barth, Brunner, Neibuhr, Bonhoeffer, Tillich) a view that the Bible is a more vague and fallible human text – perhaps encouraged by God in some mystical sense but open to the misunderstandings of the authors, is high.
There is a very real intimation of mysticism and a falling back into the magisterial authority of the church coming to the rescue of an impenetrable work of dense fantasy. If the Bible is a book that no man can read by what is written then the historical church, and the authoritative figures are our only hope toward knowing the will of God.
Then, we have to ask, if we are to get to the authority of scripture. How does God exercise that authority? Again and again, in the biblical story itself we see that he does so through human agents anointed and equipped by the Holy Spirit. 24 Wright
And this is where Wright’s rejections of not only sola scripture and the doctrine of the authority of scripture end but where his arguments for the validity of the priestly prerogatives and the rejection of the common reader begin.
Wright does have an answer to an otherwise intractable problem of having a Bible that is for the most part unreadable. If the Bible is for the most part myth how then can it have authority over our lives? We need, he says, to revise our understanding of the “authority of scripture” and replace it with the authority of the church by way of the authority of the clergy. As in the earlier quote, the authority of scripture is really the authority of God and the authority of God is mediated through special human agents; i.e. the authority of scripture is essentially the authority of the human agents, not of scripture alone, or scripture over or distinguishable from the agents themselves:
“When we take the phrase ‘the authority of Scripture’ out of its suitcase, then, we recognize that it can have Christian meaning only if we are referring to scripture’s authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses and that which Jesus possesses as the risen Lord and Son of God, the Immanuel. It must mean, if it means anything Christian, ‘the authority of God exercised through scripture.’” 8 Pg.24 Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, Wright
It’s then, not surprising to find an Anglo-Catholic teaching Anglo-Catholicism, he being a Bishop in the Anglican Church? I don’t write this to find fault but to state the obvious. What did you expect him to write other than an affirmation of the theology of his own denomination and theological tradition? At the end of the day, all of us, we are what we are. Wright (like anyone else despite pretensions to the contrary) is not a neutral christian reading scripture without the lenses of personal bias and commitment to an ethnictradition: Wright is an apologist for contemporary, liberal Anglo-Catholicism through the lens of modernist textual and historical criticism with a mystic postmodern read of the Bible toward moralism, legalism, sacerdotalism, the social gospel, scientistic rationalism, evolutionary communitarianism and liberation theologies. This is with only slight variation most that is the norm in European academic theology. Here, this is not reading the Bible in a whole new way but it is re-packaging the model for export overseas. It’s a model that I don’t think many would buy once they understand what it is they’re buying.
11 thoughts on “Erasing Adam: N.T. Wright and the denial of the historical Adam”
I am undertaking a study of Wright’s teaching, having come across a devotee through a friend. I deeply appreciate your insight into his dense, sometimes hilarious reproach toward we terrible Western Christians and other names that we are referred to in his rantings. I have found his comments on the cross for example, almost physically painful! Thank you for understanding with me , the effect of the caustic, harsh tone of his remarks . You explained how these worked in a brilliant manner! I had been wandering about for a while with little help. God sent you my way. I am encouraged, and inspired! God bless you!
Misrepresentation of N.T. Wright in many ways, I’m hoping it’s not intentional. At no time does he say the historical Adam is not the Adam we read in Genesis. You are either twisting his words purposely or just not understanding what he is truly saying. At no time did I get that when reading N.T. Wright and what he says about the issue. And you seem to really be offended by the way he addressed readers in opposition that you made it seem harsher than what it was.
“Still, the Bible was neither written by this generation nor for this generation as the immediately intended audience.”
This is exactly the root problem with so many errors the church is being swamped with today. The fact is that Jesus is God’s appointed Savior for his people, and that the ENTIRE Bible is God’sfull testimony of the Savior for his people; and so the ENTIRE Bible was authored by the Holy Spirit with all God’s people in mind. Every word is for each believer today; who else did God have in mind for authoring the scriptures but the church??
Satan by all his servants and devices would seek to insert any interpretive authority between us and our God breathed scriptures; to draw our eyes from Christ; but he shall find no success, praise be to God!
And thank you for your work on this piece, you really need to scan a lot of Wright’s material to get a good picture of what’s going on beneath the veneer. Lots of good tidbits; but a crack here; a crack there are revealing when you get a look at them together.
Grace and Peace
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Good information, well done
Im 53…and was always as conservative as one can be, arguing till blue in the face that Adam lived a thousand years, the earth is 6000 years old etc..
But now I think we need to be so utterly blind to believe that this is a young Earth that THAT is the real lack of faith.
Although I think there was a real person Adam, even a future realization(one I think will never come though) that he wasn’t real wouldn’t shake my faith a millimeter. These people have what Paul calls in Romans weak faith. God has placed the irrefutable truth that Jesus Christ is exactly who he claimed to be in my mind. That fact is not dependent on any theoretical construct. NOthing can separate me from Christ
I enjoyed your post. I am not a theologian, and although I taught Bible College on the mission field, I am limited to a Bachelors Degree in Bible. I accept the Scriptures as the truth by which we measure all things and therefore I accept the historicity of Adam.
I have, over the last couple of years, done considerable study on the extra-biblical books and the ancient myths of the gods. While being sure to measure the extra-biblical material by Scripture and not vice versa, this study has helped me tremendously in my understanding of the Scripture. For instance, understanding that the stories of Gilgamesh, Osiris, Apollo and the like, go back to Nimrod, has helped me to understand what happened at the Tower of Babel.
I decided to try to understand the end times prophecy concerning Abaddon/Apollyon who traces back to Nimrod. I began to take Genesis 6 in a more literal sense, understanding that the sons of God in that passage were the same sons of God found in Job and elsewhere. Those things have opened up End Times Prophecy for me in a great way, suddenly things that were hidden to me are plain and simple to understand. Scripture, in a vacuum, is almost impossible to comprehend. An understanding of the times that are upon us requires that we understand the culture and beliefs of the contemporaries of the Prophets and that we understand the New Testament as a very Jewish book; a book that must be understood in the light of both the Old Testament and the current religious beliefs and understanding of the Jews in the first century.
I have not lost my faith. I am a conservative in every way one could judge conservatism. I have, however, gained considerable insight into the Scripture through an understanding of extra-biblical sources. I guess that I am saying that while a word of caution is in order, we should never be seen as discouraging Christians from studies that are outside the boundaries of the Book.
GREAT article. I am sending it to family members and friends. But, there is a small typo in the line: “Wright again picks out for special approbation Reformed Theology and particularly the Westminster Confession of Faith.” It should be disapprobation to refer to Wright’s disagreement with Reformed theology.
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Mr. Neiswonger, thank you very much for the labor you put into this piece! It raises the consciousness as to the danger very intelligent thinkers—having the appearance of lambs, but talking like dragons—pose to the historic Christian faith. Thank you for being on guard.
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Of course, and that’s why I’m quoting Wright and his contemporaries at great length. I have no interest in misrepresentation and quoting a person at great length is the best way to assure that one get’s their intended meaning. At the same time what I think of as serious misrepresentations of Wright that are slanted toward making his views appear orthodox are overwhelmingly common. And so the interest is in simply making his truth, his actual point of view, what he is really saying, available to the reader. Frankly, getting people to read enough of his work for them to understand his new interpretation of Christianity (if not reality) is hard. So we work to make that information available in perhaps a more accessible form.
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