The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Meaning of Genesis - Peter Enns

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.

A Pastor once told me that, were he to tell his congregation how the OT was developed, redacted, changed to suit the needs of believers in exile or other situations, half the congregation would leave. :smiley:
The technical term ‘inspiration’ needs to be fleshed out a bit, perhaps someone will take that on.


Interesting observation. I think it is precisely this reality that many pastors feel that they can’t share what they’ve been taught and come to believe about the nature of the Bible and how it it was shaped that motivated Enns to try to put in simple terms for typical ‘normal’ lay people what many scholars see in the Scripture (of Genesis). I often found my dilemma as a pastor was that succeeding in my profession required being careful about challenging my congregation’s views, rather than thriving by simply reinforcing what they already thought.

I can’t do any justice here to the subject of inspiration. But my old professor of N.T., Everett Harrison, grabbed my attention when he said that we can’t determine what kind of Book inspiration produces if we avoid examining what kind of book the Bible actually is (for him who remained an inerrantist, this meant that ‘inerrancy’ must be far more broadly defined than his former teaching post at Dallas Seminary allowed). Also, Enns most (in)famous book is probably the one he wrote on Inspiration and Incarnation. I haven’t read it, but I gather that he discusses the nature of inspiration in light of the reality of the text that appears to show a combination of both human and divine elements.

Bob - thank you for that response. Pastors are really the ones that weigh this and other subjects in light of their flock’s needs. And making some subjects ‘pastoral’ has got to be a challenge.

I don’t have time for another book, so I&I is not in my near future. i would really like to know your thoughts on the question I’ve been struggling with: well, basically: 2 Tim 3:16. Would a study of the speculations of Enns (as far as you know) or other authors be necessary to equip members of, say, your church, to accomplish the purposes Paul is talking about? (I’m not a ‘naive’ reader of scripture by any means, and I fall along the lines of ‘critical realism’ that N.T. Wright develops) Or, put another way, is the Enns approach intended to be a ‘sword to the heart’ of those who hold to inspiration in some form? Are the speculations intended, do you know, to build up the church, or mainly aimed at scholars?

You can pm to me if you don’t feel this is the appropriate place to discuss these things.

Thanks Bob



I sympathize, feeling there’s too much else on my plate to tackle I & I myself (you notice I only invested time in his easiest book for ‘normal’ folk)! While I love intellectual depth and would love others to have a more ‘scholarly’ appreciation for the Bible, I suspect this is way down the list for letting Scripture equip us in the way 2 Timothy desires. This seems to me to reflect a practical concern for Scripture strengthening us in our trust in God and in the course we take in our life. For me, a central concern of Scripture’s trajectory is to equip us to fulfill the great commandment, and my wife who has no interest in these scholarly questions, often puts me to shame in processing God’s concern to lead us toward a life of love. 2 Timothy leads me to think that a lot of our controversial questions are not really central to the Bible’s focus of concern, and that a ‘naive’ Bible reader with a good heart will be able to pick up on what God cares about.

I don’t think Enns desires to attack the heart of those who hold inspiration. I sense his desire is to defend inspiration for those whose intellectual nature may be tempted to reject it because of difficulties they see. When Westminster was considering releasing him because of I & I, I read several letters from students pleading that he was the one who had enabled their faith in Scripture to be sustained. I suspect Enn’s interest in tweaking our conception of inspiration arises especially from his own need as an evangelical with a Harvard Ph.D. to reaffirm how he can remain ‘evangelical.’ And being a professor, it is that more studious side of the “church” in the modern world for which his heart is naturally burdened.

Despite paragraph one, I do worry that conservatives can get so involved reading the Bible apologetically to defend their modern dogmas and concerns (e.g. age of the earth, justification by faith in substitutionary atonement as encompassing the Bible’s main concern, the nature of hell as endless, etc) that what even a naive reader could gain from Scripture sometimes gets buried. So for me, as an intellectual, Enns’ look at its’ views in light of an historical analysis actually helps uncover what is refreshing for my walk with God. For example, reading Genesis in light of struggling with exile, brought it alive for me, because I sensed that the Biblical writers were doing much of what I need to do as a contemporary person of faith. Like them, I experience life as often short of being what it seems God ought to be making it, and I have to ask whether I can trust in God, and how to approach my plight. I think these are ultimately not questions which have answers that are scientifically 'provable." They ultimately call for faith as we respond to the message of the Good News. And I hear Enns saying that despite our difficult experiences and questions, we too, like Israel, are to affirm that God embodies a righteous goodness and is committed to our good, is at work bringing value out of chaos, even as He lets us suffer consequences of our choices, and calls us toward the blessings of being more faithful.

Grace be with you,


Well said Bob.

On inspiration… I believe in it with regards to “the originals” it’s just that we have none and what is extant are “copies” and translations wherein the variations lie etc.

Thanks again Bob. It sounds like many of the points Enns wants to reinforce are points that have been around for some time. And I totally dig what you are saying about naive readers - I’ve know a number of remarkable servants of God, filled with wisdom and good works and love, who have never heard of JE?D. God isn’t limited.

Davo - could it be that God, having inspired the scriptures and the whole process of their coming about, could also providentially provide that the copies, even with minor mistakes and such, still are able to do the work He had designed them for? That’s one way I deal with not having the originals.

Yep I guess that is possible, but for mine… “inspiration” and “mistakes” don’t go so well on the same page, hence my way of handling with it.

Well I did not mean the mistakes were inspired, just that, in spite of copyists errors etc, the inspired teaching still shines through clearly. That’s all I meant.