Was Paul Wrong About Adam? So Says Dr. Peter Enns...

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Enns says that the Adam of whom Paul speaks in Romans 5:14-20 and 1st Corinthians 15:20-58 never existed.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Former Westminster Seminary professor Peter Enns says that the Adam of whom Paul speaks in Romans 5:14-20 and 1st Corinthians 15:20-58 never existed.

A "Messy" Bible?

My 2005 book, Christianity and Neo-Liberalism,1 was the first volume to include an expos√???????√??????√?????√????√???√??√?¬© of Dr. Peter Enns' open denial of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. At that time Enns was Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Enns' controversial book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament,2 was released just as Christianity and Neo-Liberalism was about to go to press. The Trinity Foundation kindly agreed to delay publication one month so that I could incorporate a critique of Enns' book.

In Inspiration and Incarnation, Enns asserted the following falsehoods about the Word of God: 1.) the Old Testament contains myths, particularly in its earliest chapters; 2.) there is theological diversity, even contradiction, in the Old Testament; and 3.) New Testament writers handled Old Testament passages in inconsistent ways, and offered different and conflicting opinions about Old Testament teachings.3

My critique can be summarized thus: The doctrine of Scripture as the univocal, self-attesting Word of God is completely absent from Peter Enns' thinking. He insists that Evangelicals must adjust their thinking about the Bible to conform to the anti-supernaturalism of unbelieving scholars. We must, he says, dialectically synthesize conservative and liberal positions to arrive at a new doctrine of Scripture that embraces the Bible's "messiness" (his term) and its alleged inherent contradictions. In a book that is supposedly about "inspiration", Enns includes an extensive glossary of key terms and concepts that he employs. Three are conspicuous by their absence: inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility.

The "new" doctrine of Scripture he espouses looks very much like the anti-supernaturalism embraced and defended by the signers of the Auburn Affirmation of 1924.4 When it comes to heresy, there is nothing new under the sun.

Enns Leaves Westminster Seminary

Other critiques of Enns' book followed, as well as supportive articles by Evangelicals. The resulting furor ultimately led to his departure from Westminster Theological Seminary. I wish this said good things about WTS, but nothing could be farther from the truth. During the controversy the WTS faculty voted 60% to 40% to support Enns' position. Men who wholeheartedly agreed with Enns remained on the faculty in good standing after his dismissal. The central problem at WTS, which I detailed in Christianity and Neo-Liberalism, remains: The seminary is a fountainhead of the poison of the postmodern Biblical theology movement. Dozens of theological aberrations flow from that polluted well. They include not only the denial of Biblical inerrancy and the historicity of the Old Testament, but also the heresies of saving union with Christ through water baptism, and justification by faith plus works.

Enns Joins the BioLogos Foundation

Since leaving Westminster Seminary, Peter Enns has gone from bad to worse, in both his public theological pronouncements and his associations. He is now Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies at the BioLogos Foundation, a theistic evolution think-tank. BioLogos is funded principally by the John Templeton Foundation. The Templeton Foundation was established by the late liberal Presbyterian elder and world-renowned financier Sir John Templeton, who asserted that "relatively little is known about the divine through Scripture" and that the solution to mankind's spiritual problems lies not in Scripture but in the realm of science.5

"Creating Adam"

Typical of Peter Enns' work for BioLogos is his recent series of articles denying the historicity of Adam, the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, and by implication much more. The quotations that follow are from his April 2010 essay, "Creating Adam,"6 with our comments interspersed.

Understanding the Adam story in Genesis and Paul's use of the Adam story in Romans and 1 Corinthians is important and challenging. An informed discussion engages topics such as Old Testament views of creation and challenges in understanding Paul.

For Enns, the Genesis account of Adam is a "story." Elsewhere in his writings, he uses a less disingenuous term to describe his opinion of the historicity of Adam - it is a "myth." Anyone who approaches the Bible with that mindset of spiritual blindness would indeed find "challenges" in understanding what Paul says, in Romans 5:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, about sin and death coming through Adam, and redemption and life coming through Jesus Christ. Enns continues:

For Paul, Adam and Eve were the parents of the human race. Do all Christians have to accept Paul's interpretation of the Adam story?

...What if we allow Paul (and other biblical writers) to settle for us the question of human origins? This is an option for many Christians today. In fact, groups like Answers in Genesis consider it the only truly Christian option.

And, we would add, so does TeachingTheWord Ministries. But it is not an "option" - it is an imperative because God commands it.

A Logical Outcome of Postmodern Biblical Theology

Notice that Enns, following the philosophy and logical outcomes of the postmodern Biblical theology movement: 1.) posits contradictions between "Old Testament views of creation" and "Paul's interpretation of the Adam story"; 2.) views the Bible as a human book that, as Enns proclaims in Inspiration and Incarnation, is divinely "inspired" only in some nebulous sense; 3.) places man in authority over the Bible - he decides whether or not to choose the "option" to "allow" Scripture to settle the question of the origin of man. But the truth is that for Peter Enns, all options are on the table except one - "allowing" Scripture to be the authority:

Accepting Paul's assumptions about human origins means the scientific and archaeological evidence must be ignored or mainstream theories [i.e., theories of evolution by whatever name] must be replaced with better ones.

I speak as a biblical scholar, not a scientist. But ignoring evidence is not a reasonable option. And reconfiguring the evidence to support Paul's assumptions of a 6000 year-old earth and two humans as parents of the entire human race is, quite simply, impossible.

In other words, Peter Enns is the authority, and this "biblical scholar" has chosen to view evidences through the thoroughly-discredited lens of the Darwinian view of human origins, rather than take the God he claims to serve at His Word. Evolutionists are constantly replacing their theories with "better ones" as Biblical creationists (and even their own evolutionist colleagues) punch gaping holes in existing models. But each iteration takes them stubbornly farther from the truth and deeper into sheer speculation.

The Bible is in Error, Man is the Authority

Note carefully what Peter Enns is saying: The Bible is in error. Man is the authority. Therefore, each of us must come up with a version of "Adam" that satisfies his own intellect:

...What if we affirm that Paul's view of human origins does not settle the matter for us today? Of course, this leaves us with a pressing question: how do we think about Adam today?

This is where the conversation begins for those wishing to maintain a biblical faith in a modern world. And whatever way forward is chosen, we must be clear on one thing: we have all left "Paul's Adam." We are all "creating Adam," as it were, in an effort to reconcile Scripture and the modern understanding of human origins.

The response of Bible-believing Christians to the apostate Peter Enns is a resounding, "Speak for yourself!" We have not "all left 'Paul's Adam' " as Enns has. We do not "all" believe that "biblical faith in a modern world" means abandoning the Bible.

The fact is that Peter Enns has "left Paul's Adam" in more ways than one. Yes, he has abandoned the Bible's clear teaching about man's origin. But in so doing he has also effectively "left behind" the doctrine of man's fall into sin and total depravity - the Holy Spirit's inspired teaching about the literal Adam, and about us as his physical descendants, that is communicated through the pen of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-58.

"Thoughtful Christians" Deny God's Word?

In Peter Enns' view, the human mind is not so depraved that it cannot stand in judgment over the Word of God:

Thoughtful Christians today achieve this reconciliation in several ways.

Notice that you are only a "thoughtful Christian" if you deny the plain teaching of the Word of God. For Enns, any answer but that one might be acceptable:

Some say Adam and Eve were not individuals but representatives of humanity as a whole. Alister McGrath calls these "stereotypes." John Walton uses the term "archetypes."

Others emphasize that Adam and Eve may not be our biological first parents, but rather our spiritual first parents. This is often reconciled with evolution by supposed [sic] that God endowed two hominids with his image at some point in natural history. In other words, God "created" Adam and Eve several thousand years ago out of a larger population.

Is a "Conversation" the Answer?

The answer to the "problem" of understanding man's origin, says Peter Enns, lies in what the postmodernist Hans Georg Gadamer called a "fusion of horizons" - fallen human beings bringing all of their differing perspectives to a "conversation" on the subject, a "group effort," as Enns calls it, that he is confident will produce a subjective "truth" -

I will not comment here on the viability of these reconciliations. That question is far too large to be answered by any one person. It is a group effort, and BioLogos is bringing these issues into general conversation among Christians, working to preserve the integrity of both science and the Christian tradition.

Any version of #1 above [the literal interpretation of Genesis chapters one and two] is, at the end of the day, or even the beginning for that matter, unrealistic and wrong. But once you move to option #2 [man, not God's Word, as the authority], you have left Paul's Adam and are now working with an Adam that is partially and even largely shaped by your own understanding and worldview. You are in an entirely different discussion. The question is: What solution to the problem best respects both theology and science?

That is the conversation encouraged by BioLogos. Indeed, it is a conversation that is both desperately needed and, in this modern age of science, inevitable.

Peter Enns is right when he says that the question of man's origin "is far too large to be answered by any one person" - or even by Enn's proposed "group effort." That is why God has answered the question once and for all in His Word. There He gives man an eyewitness account of what He Himself did. That account is the only one that makes sense of the data we observe in the universe around us. What is "desperately needed" is not a "conversation" to arrive at a consensus view of "truth," but for Peter Enns and his ilk is to stop insisting that they know better than God, and to bow the knee in submission to His Word.

But What About the "Evidence for Evolution"?

Some who are reading this will say, "But what about the evidence? Doesn't it contradict the literal interpretation of Genesis?" Both those who believe in six-literal-day creation and those who do not - whether they believe in theistic evolution or in some atheistic theory - have the same body of evidence before them. All have the same physical data of the universe, gathered through the experimental sciences of astronomy, biology, geology, hydrology, oceanography, and so on.

But evidence does not speak for itself - it must be interpreted. And all interpretation of evidence is based upon presuppositions. No one examines the evidence as a neutral party. As Romans chapter one makes clear, no one examines the evidence without presuppositions - beliefs - about the way the evidence should be viewed.

The Christian who presupposes a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis believes in the existence of a Creator who gave mankind an eyewitness account of the origin of man and the universe in the Bible. The Christian's starting point for interpreting the scientific evidence is that the Genesis account is accurate and trustworthy.

The evolutionist, on the other hand (whether theistic or atheistic), presupposes that the Genesis account is not accurate and trustworthy, and that the scientific evidence must be explained in some other way. He comes to the same evidence not as a neutral - not without beliefs - but with a different set of beliefs.

The question, then, is this: Since we are all looking at the same body of evidence, which interpretation of that evidence, based on which set of presuppositions, truly makes sense of it? We at TeachingtheWord are convinced that the Genesis account, which says that God created a perfect universe, out of nothing, in six literal and contiguous days, is the only one that makes sense of the evidence. It is the only one that explains how the universe and mankind originated, and how they came to be in their present condition.






1. Paul M. Elliott, Christianity and Neo-Liberalism: The Spiritual Crisis in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Beyond (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2005). Available in our Resource Store.

2. Peter E. Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005).

3. See Christianity and Neo-Liberalism, pages 97-106, 272-275, 285.

4. The Auburn Affirmation, published in 1924 and signed by nearly 1300 Presbyterian ministers and ruling elders, denied the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, His miracles, and the propitiatory nature of His atoning sacrifice of Himself on the cross. It is reproduced in full as an appendix in Christianity and Neo-Liberalism.

5. "Sir John Templeton, 1912-2008," as viewed on 4/23/2010 at the John Templeton Foundation Website,

6. Peter Enns, "Creating Adam," as viewed on 4/23/2010 at the BioLogos Foundation website,


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