Every now and then some evangelical scholar creates a stir by disclosing what he really believes about the Bible. Peter Enns revealed his opinion that the ancient Israelites entertained the same cock-and-bull worldview as their pagan neighbors. A. T. B. McGowan has launched a more subtle attack on biblical inerrancy by recommending a kind of fallible infalliblism. Now another evangelical scholar has disclosed his difficulties with simple belief in the Bible. Tremper Longman is a distinguished OT scholar teaching at snazzy Westmont College. He has written and edited a number of notable commentaries and reference books.
Now Longman has revealed that he is not sure whether Adam (and so Eve) really existed. Justin Taylor has posted the clip of Longman expressing his reservations.
He speaks about “a little historical Adam” who some believe was created by God. According to Longman, one would have to be guilty of “a highly literalistic reading” of Genesis 1 and 2 to believe that Adam was a real individual. He has not yet resolved whether or not God actually fashioned the first man at some point in evolutionary time, or whether He just guided evolution in doing its thing.
Now, Longman used to teach at Westminster Seminary, which has a poor record of teaching a literal account of the Six Days of Creation. J. Gresham Machen himself believed in theistic evolution, as did his mentor B. B. Warfield. And it should not be forgotten that many (probably most) biblical scholars reject a literal six day creation in favor of some form of progressive creationism. So Longman is not far out in left field when compared with the scholarly crowd – even within evangelicalism.
What sets him off a little from his peers are his doubts (which appear to be solidified) about the historicity of Adam. What about it all? Here are some of thoughts:
1. Once Christians contrive non-literal interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2 (and Exod. 20:11) it becomes hard to rein in anyone who, like Longman, steps over the imaginary line of what is acceptable and starts denying that Adam ever lived. The issue resolves itself around whether Genesis or the Gospels have priority in their reports of history. As it obviously does not strain the imagination of some to conclude that Genesis 1 is unhistorical, why should Longman’s statements be surprising? All he has to do is devise a plausible explanation of, for example, Jesus’ statement in Matt. 19:4 or Luke’s inclusion of Adam in his geneaology in Lk. 3:38. It boils down to using the same sort of language of “accommodation” that began the process, only Jesus, Luke, and Paul are welcomed into the circle of accommodationists which already includes Moses, or whoever wrote the Book of Genesis.
2. Since evangelicals are not averse to crossing the line when it comes to abandoning certain long-held beliefs of our forebears Longman is probably voicing opinions that are held by a good many seminary professors teaching in evangelical institutions. For example, once it became clear that it was alright to believe and teach the ‘Q’ hypothesis and reject Matthean priority it did not take long for conservative scholars to start teaching that Jesus never actually spoke the Sermon on the Mount the way Matthew recorded it.
3. This again shows that exegesis seldom resolves an issue. This is because exegesis is a tool which is used by the scholar to enable him or her to come to conclusions that are often already formed through listening to other ideas in the scholarly world. Exegesis serves up options, not rock-solid certainties. Also, exegesis, especially as it is understood and defined today, is often pre-formed by ones hermeneutics. The theological outcomes are not totalled until the conclusion is in hand; and often not at all. There are several reasons for this, including the derogation of proper biblical exposition; a neglect of the Analogy of Faith; a distrust and ignorance of Systematic Theology among some teaching in Old and New Testament departments; and the present hermeneutical morass .
4. Evangelical institutions need to be reminded of the reasons why they exist. It is not to make the world think well of them or their students. It is not to prove to unbelieving Bible scholars that they are “with it” and trendy. It is not to maintain accreditation. It is not to spew out hundreds of vacillating students who do not value Bible doctrine and who have only gone to seminary to get a good job in a church or parachurch ministry. It is to equip God-called Christians to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once committed to the saints.” When scholars and institutions start teaching things which would never come from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ it is time to repent and do the former works, or to close the doors so as to avoid poluting the church and bringing erring faculty into judgment (1 Cor. 3:11f.). We forget, “we shall all have to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Then we shall see how “literal” He expected us to take His Word.