4 Views on Historical Adam – View 4 (Barrick – Adam+Young Earth)

The last view in the book Four Views on the Historical Adam is that of William Barrick (The Master’s Seminary), and he represents the “Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation.” (see here for earlier posts). Here is Barrick’s view in his own words:

In my view Adam is the originating head of the entire human race. Adam’s historicity is foundational to a number of biblical doctrines and is related to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This traditional view of Adam rejects accommodation to evolutionary science, upholding instead that the Holy Spirit superintended the author of Genesis so that he wrote an objective description of God’s creative activities in six consecutive literal days.

The biblical account represents Adam as a single individual rather than an archetype or the product of biological evolution, and a number of New Testament texts rely on Adam’s historicity. More importantly, without a historical first Adam there is no need for Jesus, the second Adam, to undo the uniqueness of the Genesis record and give it priority over ancient Near Eastern materials and modern science in all discussions of primeval history and the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Barrick’s essay does a fair job at fleshing out (!) this view with further thoughts and considerations. Let me start with what I appreciated about this perspective – it tries to take Scripture seriously, and is cautious about setting any standard up against the truth of Scripture. Yes, and I think all the other views in the book have the same attitude towards the supremacy of Scripture.

However, I found in Barrick’s view some logical leaps and false dichotomies. Here I want to voice several questions in view of Barrick’s approach.

(1) What do we do about the scientific evidence? Barrick focuses on Scripture and says, if Adam is treated as a historical figure in Scripture, so he must be, despite whatever “science” has to say (not a direct quote). However, Barrick doesn’t really engage with the scientific challenges we face – is not some of the evidence for an old earth and evolution and genetics issues compelling and worthy of rethinking? This is where Barrick seems to have set up an either-or framework. Either evolutionary science is right, or Genesis is right. But all three of the other (evangelical) views feel that it we must be careful not to make science the enemy of Scripture/faith.

(2) Where do we put “reason” in the revelation equation? Related to above, Barrick does not see scientific study as having a significant role in helping us understand Scripture. However, we know from history that the Church was wrong about the earth being the center of the universe, and now we say, “Oops, well we now need to read those parts differently.” Reason did not contradict Scripture, but it helped us better read Scripture (if we believe God knew what he was doing, which we do).

(3) Was the Genesis author really omniscient and objective? (Barrick uses the word “omniscient” on pp. 200). Given this is narrative, and narrative chocked full of poetry and symbolism, is this true? Is this necessary for a doctrine of inspiration? I would much prefer the view that God used the ancient perspectives native to their cultures to teach them life-truth. For example, when I was teaching my kids why they brush their teeth, I said that food had “sugar monsters” in them. So, the toothpaste kills them, and the brush brushes them off (and if they are not dead they drown in the lava pit in your stomach). This is actually not true. But giving them the technical “truth” would be nonsensical to them. What I did was translate the importance of what they need to know into an idiom and framework sensible to them. In that sense, is objectivity and literal-correspondence helpful? Barrick has no place for a healthy idea of “accommodation” of truth in Scripture.

(4) How do we string the theological beads? Barrick is insistent that you must have a historical Adam to make sense of a historical Jesus. Actually, this is a fair point and probably his best point (also articulated strongly by Collins, and discussed by Walton). But I would raise the question, who decides what is logical in this regard? If we have folks like Lamoureux out there who say “the gospel of JC still makes sense, sin still exists, and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” then who gets to decide the theological points don’t match up without a historical Adam? (I think Greg Boyd’s pastoral essay is very helpful on this very point).

A second point on this matter is – at what point are there enough evangelical detractors from a traditional view that we stop condemning them as heretics? Barrick writes, “Denial of the historicity of Adam, like denial of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, destroys the foundations of the Christian faith” (223). So much, I think, Luther said of Copernicus’ theories. I wonder what that one random  “flat earth” person today is thinking – those liberal, weak-in-faith “sphere-earthists! They are literally eroding the foundations of Christian faith!” (this is a joke, please don’t send hate mail). I am not saying the balance of the scales of popular evangelical thought are tipping towards no Adam (they are not). But on the question of “old earth/new earth,” I think so. I think (as with the issue of women in ministry), we must say – when enough wise, respected, well-educated, godly evangelical men and women disagree on this issue, we must not make this a debate over which we will break fellowship (i.e., finger off the heresy-gun trigger).

Again, this is not happening with a “no Adam” view, but I think it is worth asking the question, is it ever appropriate to say enough wise people seem to put stock in such-and-such an idea – maybe I have to think about this some more? Maybe I need to respect that I could be wrong or the truth about this is not as clear enough to establish a firm and indelible doctrinal point? This is not “truth by a vote,” but it is a way of respecting a community of faith where we acknowledge that no one has cornered the market on doctrinal truth.

(5) Is appealing to genre a “red herring”? In the interpretation of Genesis (and even with the Gospels and Acts), I have always told students to reflect carefully on genre. Barrick refers to appeals to genre as a “red herring.” He says that the text points to a real historical Adam, no matter what genre we place Genesis into. I just don’t see how this can be true. I think genre is critically important. I think Genesis 1-11 is uniquely primeval and highly symbolic in a way not true of Gen 12+. I think that means something in how we read the text, though it does not rule out a historical Adam (though I think a historical Adam is better argued for in view of the sweep of Scripture, more than simply Gen 1-2).

(6) Shouldn’t we listen to those most well-trained in the sciences (as well as theology)? How many stories have we heard where a person is against a position, and then when they get into the messy details he or she sees the reason for complex and plural views? This is the case with Lamoureux, and I suspect with many others (like Joel Green and the study of the soul and the brain).

This works for other areas as well. I consider myself something of an armchair expert on the subject of pseudonymity and the NT. I am quite serious about arguing against facile views that label Ephesians and Colossians “pseudonymous.” But when it comes to the Pastorals and 2 Peter, I recognize it gets really messy (esp from a canonical perspective). I didn’t see or understand that mess until I really dug into the details, and I had a willingness to hear each view from the perspective of their best arguments. (BTW – I am still quite open to Pastorals and 2 Peter being linked closely to their traditional authors, but I encourage my students to be cautious and tentative as we continue to learn).


At the end of the day, I think we are presently stuck with the tension of accepting the overwhelming evidence from evolutionary science and genetics that the human race is very old, but that (with Walton and Collins) Scripture points to a particular “occasion” where humanity disobeyed God rebelliously and directly in light of divine relationship and responsibility. We still do not have a good solution as to how we put these two things together, but we must continue to try.

Next (and lastly) I will have a post on the two pastoral reflections by Greg Boyd and Philip Ryken.


4 thoughts on “4 Views on Historical Adam – View 4 (Barrick – Adam+Young Earth)

  1. Another excellent review . . . I’ve particularly enjoyed your interaction with this 4-views volume.

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with Augustine’s view on the relation between the Christian faith and science, so I’ll quote him at length below because I’ve found it to be helpful, relevant, and full of wisdom.

    “There is knowledge to be had, after all, about the earth, about the sky, about the other elements of this world, about the movements and revolutions or even magnitude and distances of the constellations, about the predictable eclipses of the moon and sun, about the cycles of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, fruits, stones and everything else of this kind. And it frequently happens that even non-Christians will have knowledge of this sort in a way that they can substantiate with scientific arguments and experiments. Now it is quite disgraceful and disastrous, something to be on one’s guard against at all costs, that they should ever hear Christians spouting what they claim our Christian literature has to say on these topics, and talking such nonsense that they can scarcely contain their laughter when they see them to be toto caelo, as the saying goes, wide of the mark . . . Whenever, you see, they catch out some members of the Christian community making mistakes on a subject which they know inside and out, and defending their hollow opinions on the authority of our books, on what grounds are they going to trust those books on the resurrection of the dead and the hope of eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, when they suppose they include any number of mistakes and fallacies on matters which they themselves have been able to master either by experiment or by the surest of calculations? It is impossible to say what trouble and grief such rash, self-assured know-alls cause the more cautious and experienced brothers and sisters. Whenever they find themselves challenged and taken to task for some shaky and false theory of theirs by people who do not recognize the authority of our books, they try to defend what they have aired with the most frivolous temerity and patent falsehood by bringing forward these same sacred books to justify it. Or they even quote from memory many things said in them which they imagine will provide them with valid evidence, not understanding either what they are saying, or the matters on which they are asserting themselves.”

    “The Literal Meaning of Genesis,” I, 19, 39.

    • Thanks, Benji. Calvin says some interesting things as well. I learned much of this fascinating history-of-reception stuff from the book Seven Days That Divide the World by John Lennox. Good stuff!

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