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The quest for the historical Adam: Genesis, hermeneutics and human origins

By William VanDoodewaard
May 2016 | Review by Paul Wells
  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
  • ISBN: 978-1601783776
  • Pages: 346
  • Price: 21.74
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Book Review

The quest for the historical Adam: Genesis, hermeneutics and human origins.
William VanDoodewaard
Reformation Heritage Books
346 pages, £19.50
ISBN: 978-1601783776

This book defends the literal approach to the first chapters of Genesis, including the six days and the creation of the first human beings, and provides a readable history of the interpretation of the creation accounts, down to the present.

The author’s conviction is that the most natural reading of these sections of Scripture is to take them at face value, rather than resorting to gap, day-age, framework or poetic approaches.

More recently, things have gone even further in some ‘evangelical’ circles, particularly transatlantic ones, with certain scholars dabbling in theistic evolution or even treating the creation narratives and Adam as myth.

In spite of the complexity of the subject and certain of the ideas presented, this is not a difficult book to read, but clear and well documented. Seven chapters present the foundations in the biblical texts; the interpretation of these texts in patristic and medieval times; the Reformation; the Enlightenment; the nineteenth century; and the quest for Adam from the 1950s to the present.

Although all of it is interesting, the chase really hots up with the impact of the development of the natural sciences, and with the influence of Hutton, Lyell and Darwin and the idea of a pre-Adamic or co-Adamic humanity, or the idea that Adam was one of a tribe.

Until that point, interpretation of the creation accounts had, with a few eccentric exceptions, been taken literally, both in terms of the days, and of the special creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans, followed by an historic Fall.

This situation prevailed until about the mid-nineteenth century, when the pressure to harmonise with new ‘accepted wisdom’ became a reason to abandon the traditional view and seek new explanations.

VanDoodewaard examines how the Reformed reacted to these challenges, examining the likes of Warfield, Kuyper and Bavinck; and how non-literal approaches were promoted in theological seminaries.

This detailed account shows that: ‘The Genesis 1 and 2 account of a special, direct creation of Adam and Eve as the first man and woman, without any ancestry, has seen very few exceptions in the history of Christianity.

‘Alternatives to that account include only one or two in the patristic and medieval eras, a scattered fringe during the post-Reformation and Enlightenment eras, and more in the post-Darwinian era of the last 150 years. In each case, the pressure to take up an alternative interpretation of human origins has come from sources external to Scripture and Christian theology’(p.277).

In a final chapter, the author faces the question as to whether new theistic evolutionary views modify what is essential to biblical faith. He indicates internal difficulties in these theories, but also the compromises required, with regard to the central doctrines of the grand biblical narrative of creation, Fall and redemption, and a biblical worldview rooted in these essentials.

The question I came away with is this: is it not inevitable that on the theistic evolutionistic road that, at some point, evolutionism will eat up theism and leave us simply with a humanistic naturalism?

This is a ‘must read’ for evangelical pastors and teachers, whatever their opinion about these issues may be, and for anyone interested in finding the historical Adam.

Paul Wells

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