The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Meaning of Genesis - Peter Enns

I’m attaching my 6 page summary of Peter Enns’ new book, Genesis for Normal People: Enns on Genesis.doc (55.5 KB) Dr. Enns attempts to simply explain for average Christians how many scholars read Genesis. He was dismissed as O.T. prof at Westminster Seminary for his progressive evangelicalism, and has not identified himself as a universalist. But I think his emphasis on Scripture as a narrative that is headed toward a conclusion is consistent with a universalist reading of the Biblical story. I welcome your reflections on this interpretation with which I resonate.

Thank you - I look forward to reading this tomorrow afternoon.

I did read it - excellent summary, thanks a lot. And Happy New Year to ya!

Thanks, Bob! :smiley: Excellent summary, I might have to read the book itself. :wink:

I really enjoyed it too Bob :smiley: - it’s the sort of thing I want to unpack one bit at a time. :smiley: Can we do that at some point - look at it a bit at a time with you?

I agree with Dick!!

There’s more good stuff right HERE.

Guys, thanks for your interest in Enns and Genesis. Davo, thanks for the great link that nicely builds on what Enns says in the book. Sobornost and all, Yes, I would welcome unpacking some of these ideas a bit at a time! I may not be able to do justice to all the issues involved here, but I would love to explore any of them together. Perhaps you could set forth one bit that we could begin with.

The essay on Adam//Paul is one that nailed me. That essay has big implications. I hope you take that up for discussion here, if not now then perhaps down the road a bit.

I agree, Dave.
The Adam/Paul posts are a very interesting and important subject and worth digging into. It’s probably the greatest sticking point in a non-literal view of Genesis for many christians. That being said, in Bob’s outline of the book, though, I fixated on this:

This ties in well with the ‘Irenaean’ view of Adam, Hick’s ‘Irenaean’ theodicy and the views of Tom Talbott.

Though Enns’ Genesis book doesn’t address the issue of the implications of his view of Adam for Paul (and especially the difficulty of Romans 5), I agree that this is the obvious and fascinating issue that it will raise for many. For many others, similar questions are raised by evolution and the growing consensus that there was no first human or couple. Christianity Today about two months ago ran a cover on the issue of Adam, with one writer I’m not recalling surprising me by arguing there doesn’t need to be a literal Adam. It reminded me of Fuller’s J. R. Daniel Kirk’s article, “Does Paul’s Christ require a Historical Adam?” in the Spring 2013 issue of “Theology, News & Notes” ( Kirk also wrote “Jesus Have I loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity.”

In brief, I recall understanding them to argue that while Paul may well have believed Adam was the first man, and responsible for our sin, this is not what he is seeking to proclaim in Romans 5, nor does it depend on such a reality. He emphasizes that Paul’s encounter with Christ as risen transforms his whole understanding, such that he read the O.T. through eyes transformed by Christ (and not vice versa). Thus Jesus provided Paul with the vision to see and be proclaiming that He was the solution to humankind’s sinful predicament. Then, it’s not necessary to worry about the age-old mystery of how Adam’s original sin gets transmitted to everyone, etc. The only thing significant about his reference to Adam is the assumption that this story is consistent with the reality of our universal predicament as sinners. But proclaiming Christ as the solution for this doesn’t need any view of Adam or original sin. It need only rest on our empirical observation (everyone we know sins!) a reality quite consistent with even Enns and the Jewish interpretations of Genesis.

And I’d agree with Steve that this makes room for more of a soul-making theodicy such as John Hick proposes. For if the story is not so much about regaining Adam’s clean slate and perfection, but about addressing to the universal struggle with our self centered nature that Adam pictures, then our theology of the human need may change. I suspect it may influence our wider interpretations of the atonement and the nature of salvation. It then won’t do to simply have a penal substitute who cancels the consequences of sin and somehow amazingly restores us to Adam’s original righteousness. Rather, the mission of Jesus and his cross may be to actually change how we live, and to enable in some sense what Enns sees as Israel’s concern of becoming a righteous and obedient people. Or, have I confused you and your concerns in this area?

That’s well put and on target for things I’d like to discuss. $.02

I agree and have for some time, Bob. Adam wasn’t the pinnacle of perfection. He was an innocent perhaps – maybe a semi-blank slate – but not a mature son such as Father intends us all to become. Based on that, the cross doesn’t bring us back to the finished and unblemished state of Adam, but puts us back on the right track in Adam’s journey from innocence to perfection/maturity. There was always going to be a need to “grow out of” the beast/animal/flesh nature and into the image of Jesus. I’m looking forward to this discussion and hearing more of your insights. :smiley:

Thanks so much, Bob! :smiley:
This makes so much sense to me and it seems to me from what you’re saying that there may be the start of a ‘paradigm shift’ in the views of relatively conservative christians in their views of ‘Adam’ and Genesis.

The Christocentric view of Genesis and Adam (and Paul’s views of Adam) is something I’ve come to by default, but it’s nice to see a coherent, plausible and scriptural exposition that I can believe without a great deal of ‘cognitive dissonance’ as Enns described.

I do think this “makes room for more of a soul-making theodicy” as per John Hick, but my point was more to link Enns’s views with those of Hick, Talbott and John Schneider per this ongoing thread:[Fascinating paper on “Augustinian Adam” vs “Irenaean Adam”)

All the best,


Hi Bob :smiley:
Here’ another sub topic (right from the beginning of your paper)

I found this very interesting (although I may well have misunderstood). So is the current consensus that the Torah was written down in Babylon by the Exiles and that their experience of exile reshaped earlier narrative traditions?

How does this fit with the hypothesis about the narrative traditions J, P,D and E. Is this still a widely held hypothesis and is the idea that the exiled redactors wove these traditions together and gave them a particular ‘exile perspective’ narrative slant?

Thank you



I won’t answer for Bob, of course, but I will say that Brueggemann takes a view like the one you laid out.

Aha :bulb: – so it means that the writers of the Torah were reading their experience of exile back into their traditions just as Christians read back their experience of redemption/end of exile by Christ into the Hebrew Scriptures (a point that I think you imply Bob). It calls into question the whole idea of reading the Bible as a flat chronological text – which I think is a fairly recent idea anyway). And it also seems to suggest when some see different voices giving different perspective sin the Hebrew Bible it’s not necessarily a case of later voices criticising earlier ones. What we are seeing is a debate going on perhaps sometimes y contemporaneous voices. Is it no true that if the Torah was given its final form by the Exiles these editors loved at roughly the same time as some of the great Prophets? Just a thought – but an intriguing thought for me.


That’s a good question that grabbed my attention too. I’m not widely enough read to know how widely this thesis of exilic origins is held. But Enns does seem to imply that most ‘studious’ folk recognize this, and certainly that he himself sees much textual data to support it. Enns makes clear that he sees Genesis 1 and 2 as coming from very different sources. But in this simple book for laymen, He doesn’t comment directly on JEPD etc (which I perceive as still widely held, at least in modified forms, and in less fundamentalist quarters), but consistent with the documentary hypothesis, Enns emphasizes that these narratives had precursors that existed before exilic times, but as you suggest, were importantly re-shaped and edited during exilic times in order to address their current exilic concerns.

Thus, yes, it would appear that these ‘earlier’ parts of the Biblical narrative were shaped during the same period as the prophets who were also strongly colored by the issue of the exile, either giving early warning of it, addressing it while in the midst of it, or reflecting on it afterward and addressing what is yet to be expected. Thus, indeed Dick, the implication is that we should not be reading these accounts as a “flat chronological text,” as if they are simply contemporary journalistic accounts of what happened. Rather, just as is often observed about the Gospel writers, accounts are written by selective ‘theologians’ who are seeking to reinforce the message that they believe their readers need to see.

Most of my studies the last few years have been on the Gospel accounts of Jesus, wherein I am especially influenced by N.T. Wright. So what especially struck me about Enns’ view of the Torah pivoting on the Babylonian exile is that Wright sees the Jewish background into which Jesus speaks as also being angst about the continuing residue of the exile. He argues that despite being back in Jerusalem, the Roman occupation was felt to be more of the experience of being ‘exiled’ under pagan powers, and thus again the live questions revolved around what one could trust that God would do about it, and what were the conditions God’s people must meet in order to see God deliver them again. Thus, even as we are inclined to read into Scripture our own traditional agendas and ideas, it’s possible that much of the whole Biblical narrative is shaped by concerns about the experience of exile.

Thanks Bob - great reply :smiley: I’ve got plenty of other questions but will space 'em out.

As far as I know (which isn’t that far) don’t most people hold that Ezra edited the “OT” at the very least? Updated place names and transferred to the square script from the paleo script. If that’s the case I don’t see a big jump from accepting that to accepting what Enns is describing.