In a recent blog post, Old-Testament scholar Dr. Peter Enns strongly accused Ken Ham of teaching obvious error and misleading Christians into believing in a literal Adam.1 But do Enns’s criticisms stand up to scrutiny? Let’s see. I will intersperse my comments throughout his December 7, 2012, blog post. In Enns’s text, all bold and italics are his emphases.
Bilbo–I Mean, Adam–Was a Historical Person (and Ken Ham has a poster to prove it)
Before I get going here, I want to be crystal clear about something. I am not remotely interested in trying to change Ken Ham’s mind about Genesis. Nor am I trying to raid his flock and steal his sheep.
Note that the first word in his title is “Bilbo.” Who is Bilbo? Well, he is the primary fictional character in The Hobbit and a supporting character in The Lord of the Rings. These are two of the most well-known of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy stories. So right from the start, Enns has a mocking tone, indicating that in his mind the “Adam” in Genesis is no more historical than the “Bilbo” in Tolkien’s fictional books! Does this mean that Enns thinks the Bible is fiction?
But quite often he says things that are transparently wrong and highly misleading. My concern is for those who are being mislead [sic] and have perhaps begun to sense it, and might be looking for voices to confirm their suspicions and finding a way forward.
As I proceed with my comments below, the reader can decide who really is “transparently wrong and highly misleading.”
Which brings me to today’s topic, the “wall chart” (a.k.a., poster) you see below.
On the Answers in Genesis website, you can purchase this 11 x 17 poster for $1.99 or download it for 99 cents. It is recommend for ages 12 and up, and its “technicality” level is described for the discerning customer as “adult.”
The poster is further described as follows:
Attempting to bridge the gap between evolution and the Bible’s clear teaching about creation, some Christian leaders have tried many creative ways to reinterpret Scripture. Today a new focus is upon Adam as a real, historical person. Did God create the first human being from nonliving matter and breathe life into him, or is another interpretation possible? Scripture doesn’t leave room for doubt. This exclusive wall chart shows that the Bible is clear: Adam was a historical person.
So, to sum up: Ham (or, to be fair, likely Ham’s biblical advisors) feels this poster summarizes an adult-level argument for why his position on Adam is the only one worthy of Christian consideration, and any resistance to the plain truth of Scripture futile.
Well, let’s get some facts on the table. First, this is a poster, not an in-depth, technical theological paper or book under discussion. It seems amazing that a man who obviously prides himself on his scholarship and academic credentials would critique a small poster summarizing certain material as a basis for supposedly critiquing the theology of Ken Ham and AiG! The poster is understandably brief and can’t say many things that could be said in further support of the statements in the chart.
Second, neither Ken Ham nor his “biblical advisors” made this poster. It was prepared by an AiG staff member on the Answers magazine team who has no special Bible training. However, the content of this chart was reviewed by me. Enns says “to be fair, likely” someone other than Ken Ham wrote the poster, but then proceeds in the rest of the article to criticize Ken. That’s a strange way to be fair.
Third, the chart doesn’t summarize “Ham’s position on Adam” as if Ken is the originator of these truths. This position that Adam was a literal, historical person and the events of his life described in Genesis are literally true is historic Christian orthodoxy. The church took Genesis 1–11 (including what it says about Adam) as literal history for the first 1800 years, as the first two chapters of Coming to Grips with Genesis show, and much of the church still believes this today. Enns is seriously unorthodox in treating Genesis as fiction and in denying the Genesis accounts of Adam and the Fall as literal history.
Leaving this sales pitch to the side, I am more interested in the substance of the five points:
This “sales pitch” comment is hypocritical because, of course, Enns’s books are sold for a price and potential readers are informed of this fact, though unlike the poster his books attempt to dissuade Christians from believing their Bibles.
- Genesis 1-3 is written as literal history.
- Adam’s activities require a physical body.
- Adam is the first man in Christ’s unbroken genealogy.
- The rest of the Bible references Adam as a literal person.
- The Gospel depends on a literal Adam.
Putting on my Old Testament scholar hat–and in the interest of space–I am only going to make some remarks here about the first two points. I may decide to come back to the other three in the future.
The five points are a collective case in defense of the statement that headlines the poster: “Adam was a historical person.” The first two points cannot be divorced from the last three without misrepresenting the argument. And points 3, 4, and 5 powerfully confirm that Genesis 1–3 is literal history. Of course, by “literal person” the chart means in context “literal historical person,” as any fair-minded reader would understand.
We can already anticipate what Enns will say on points 3–5 based on his recent book, The Evolution of Adam. There he wrote, “Still, as I see it, the scientific evidence we have for human origins and the literary evidence we have for the nature of ancient stories of origins are so overwhelmingly persuasive that belief in a first human, such as Paul understood him, is not a viable option.”2 Enns further says in his book, “Evolution demands that the special creation of the first Adam as described in the Bible is not literally historical.”3 So we know clearly what Enns’s final authority is: the majority view among contemporary scientists.
Sadly, Enns is deceived in thinking that scientists have proven that man evolved from ape-like creatures, as I demonstrate in my illustrated lecture, “Ape-men: the Grand Illusion.” See also a thorough creationist refutation of the myth of human evolution in Marvin Lubenow’s Bones of Contention. Regarding why we should not use ancient Near Eastern creation and flood myths from pagan, idolatrous nations to interpret Genesis 1–11, see Dr. Todd Beall’s chapter in Coming to Grips with Genesis and Steve Ham’s layman article.4
The arguments given under each of these two main points are hard to see on the picture I’ve posted, likewise on the website–even if you enlarge it. But I was able to squint a bit and see exactly what Ham is getting at.
Simply put, the “arguments” made here are standard ones from Answers in Genesis, and they are utter nonsense. Rather than offering sound reasons for the historicity of Adam, Ham is displaying his own misinformed opinions.
No one with any background in biblical Hebrew or who is minimally conversant with the nature of biblical narrative–or just narrative in general–would tolerate this type of confused reasoning.
I know that sounds harsh, but no one should interpret this as a personal attack. We are discussing ideas and Ham enterains [sic] bad ones in a very public venue. To accuse someone of having glaring gaps in their knowledge is not a personal attack. We all have such gaps about a good many things, but the wise man or woman will know what those areas are, tread carefully, and be open to wise counsel (Proverbs 1:5).
“No one should interpret this as a personal attack”? Really? He’s assumed that Ken Ham wrote the chart. He’s clearly implied that Ken’s statements are “utter nonsense” and reflect that Ken is not even “minimally conversant with the nature of biblical narrative, or just narrative in general.”
But what shall we make of his statement that “No one with any background in biblical Hebrew or who is minimally conversant with the nature of biblical narrative–or just narrative in general–would tolerate this type of confused reasoning”? I took the required courses in Hebrew in my seminary training (under Old Testament professors who were not young-earth creationists) and find the reasoning in the chart neither confused nor nonsensical, but logically and biblically sound. But I’m not Hebrew scholar, so my opinion is apparently worthless.
One of my OT professors and the former president of Gordon-Conwell Seminary certainly does not think it is utter nonsense to say that Genesis 1–3 is historical narrative, for he argues for just such a conclusion.5 And Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Robert Chisholm, Dr. Nathan Holsteen, and Dr. Elliot Johnson certainly are very competent in biblical Hebrew and quite conversant with the nature of biblical narrative. Like many other similarly informed Bible scholars, they believe in a literal, historical Adam and Fall because they understand Genesis 1–3 to be historical narrative, as they explained in a recent panel discussion at Dallas Theological Seminary.6
Anyway, we are told in this poster that (1) Genesis 1-3 is written as literal history. How does Ham know this? Because:
- These chapters show no poetic parallelism, but are narrative–just like the narratives of the rest of the OT, which are historical. Therefore Genesis 1-3 is historical, too.
- All of Genesis is one seamless history, and since the rest of Genesis is historical, so are the first 3 chapters.
- Genesis is united by the recurring refrain “these are the accounts of.” Hence, all of Genesis is historical.
- Since Genesis 1-11 refers to things like day and night and mentions locations like Mt. Ararat where the ark rested, it is therefore historical.
Ham’s second point argues in a similar vein:
- Since Adam did things like name the animals, slept, tended a garden, and had a lifespan, he must be human.
“Historical”? Bilbo is complete fiction. Nothing in The Hobbit is historical.
If I may be blunt, it does not take much effort to see a crippling problem with Ham’s reasoning, especially with respect to d and e, but also indirectly a-c: Fictional stories also have characters who do physical things and recount the flow of time.
Pick your favorite completely made up, fictional story, and you will see (1) characters who do things that require a physical body, (2) characters doing things that require the passage of time (i.e., “history”), and (3) a world with day and night and places that have names.
The fact that Genesis does these things does not make Genesis historical anymore than the characters in The Hobbit or the Epic of Gilgamesh ”must” be historical.
To be equally blunt, Enns should have put more effort and care into reading what the poster said. It says the following on this point:
This portion of the Hebrew Bible is written in the same style as other historical narratives, without the parallelism, figurative language, and word play of Hebrew poetry.
The contrast being made is not between history and modern or ancient fiction. Rather, the poster contrasts Hebrew narrative and Hebrew poetry. But Enns evidently thinks Genesis is fiction, like The Hobbit and the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is certainly not an orthodox view of Genesis.
But also, Enns is cherry-picking the chart’s argument. The first four points (a–d) don’t stand alone but collectively serve as evidence that Genesis 1–3 is literal history.
Ham’s poster is not an argument for why Adam and Genesis as a whole must be historical. It is only telling us how Ham reads Genesis having already assumed the point that has to be argued.
These “historical” characters in pagan mythological literature are categorically different from the truly historical Adam in the inspired, inerrant Word of God. These pagan characters didn’t really exist; Adam did.
In other words, we do not see here an argument but an exertion of the will that relies wholly on rhetoric to be effective, with no substance whatsoever.
This poster most certainly is presenting an argument. The statement is made: “Genesis 1–3 is written as literal history.” Then four paragraphs follow, which provide supporting evidence for that conclusion. Enns is the one who is exerting his will to rely solely on rhetoric.
The poster tells us more about Ham than it does Adam or Genesis.
Of course, this is not true. The poster doesn’t tell more about Ken Ham than it does Adam and Genesis, as Ken is not mentioned and didn’t write the poster. What it does tell the readers is what all the Answers in Genesis staff and many, many other Bible-believing Christians believe about Genesis and Adam.
Similarly, look at point “a” about the alleged absence of poetry in Genesis 1-3. One [sic] one level I have no major quarrel with this observation, but more with how Ham manipulates this information.
First, “no poetry in Genesis 1-3? is an overstatement, and therefore incorrect. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3 are widely understood to display different literary styles.
It would be helpful for Enns to quote accurately before he condemns. It would save him from making the false accusation that “Ham manipulates this information,” which deceives unwary readers. The chart doesn’t say what Enns has in quotation marks in the sentence above (“no poetry in Genesis 1-3”). Once again, it says the following:
This portion of the Hebrew Bible is written in the same style as other historical narratives, without the parallelism, figurative language, and word play of Hebrew poetry.
That is no overstatement but is perfectly accurate, as Enns’s admission in next sentence below implies. However, the statement that Enns erroneously claimed is on the chart would indeed be an overstatement (since Adam is understandably quite poetic after waking up to discover Eve in Genesis 2:23).
Genesis 1 is not poetic as one might see in, say Proverbs or Psalms, but it clearly has a more “poetic” structure than Genesis 2-3 or biblical narrative in general, as we can see by the six-day pattern. On Days 1-3 God provides the space for what he will create on Days 4-6. Days 1 (light) corresponds to Day 4 (sun, moon, and stars), Day 2 (division of waters above and below to create sky) corresponds to air and sea creatures created on Day 5, and Day 3 (dry land) corresponds to Day 6 where and creature [sic], and humans, are created.
Genesis 1 is not “normal” biblical narrative. It certainly can’t be lumped into the same category as Genesis 2-3 (in part also because of how these stories describe differently proto-history, but that is another topic) or the rest of Genesis.
This faulty claim has been made by many others who don’t believe all of God’s Word in Genesis regarding creation, the Flood and the age of the earth and like Enns don’t pay careful enough attention to some of the details of the biblical text. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2–3 are not “stories” and they don’t differently describe “proto-history.”7 First, Enns has lumped the wrong chapters together. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 deal with creation, but Genesis 3 describes the fall of man in sin. Furthermore, Genesis 1 is the “wide-angle lens” view of the whole Creation Week, whereas Genesis 2 is the “telephoto-zoom lens” view of some events on Day Six.
Genesis 1 is the “wide-angle lens” view of the whole Creation Week, whereas Genesis 2 is the “telephoto-zoom lens” view of some events on Day Six.
Genesis 2 does not describe the creation of the earth, the firmament (expanse), the seas and dry land, the sun and moon and stars, sea creatures, or creeping things. These two chapters are not two different (conflicting) accounts of creation.8 In Genesis 10 and 11, we see a similar historical overview followed by a focus on some details not revealed in the overview. In Genesis 10 we read a description of the division of the descendants of Noah and his family, eventually into various tribes that spoke different languages. Then in Genesis 11:1–9 God tells us the details of how those languages arose supernaturally, thereby scattering the tribes into different regions of the world.
As for Enns’s claim of “poetic” parallelism in Genesis 1, it too collapses when we study the details of the text. The first three days are not parallel to the last three days. Day Four does not go with Day One because three times on Day Four God says He put the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament (expanse), which was made on Day Two, not Day One. God made the sea creatures on Day Five, but He made the water on Day One and He made “the seas” for the sea creatures to fill (Genesis 1:22) on Day Three. Also, Adam and Eve were created on Day Six to rule over the creatures made on Day Five and Day Six, but to eat the things made on Day Three (Genesis 1:26, 28–29).
Furthermore, the birds created on Day Five did not fill the firmament made on Day Two. The New King James Version is the only English translation that I am aware of that translates the Hebrew literally in Genesis 1:20. That verse does not say that the birds were to fly “
in the open expanse (firmament) of the heavens” (NASB, KJV). The word “in” is not a good translation of the Hebrew preposition used here and while “open” is a possible translation it changes the Hebrew noun into an adjective. The translations “
across the expanse of the heavens” (ESV) and “
across the expanse of the sky” (NET, NIV, HCSB) reflect the Hebrew preposition accurately (rendered as “across”), but they fail to translate one of the Hebrew words in this phrase. The NKJV, on the other hand, renders the Hebrew accurately by saying that the birds were created to “
fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens” (emphasis mine).9
The phrase “across the face” is a literal translation of the Hebrew al pani (al being the preposition translated as “across” and pani being the noun translated as “face”). The identical Hebrew phrase appears in Genesis 1:2, where all the above translations render it variously as “
on (over) the face (surface)” of the deep and “
on (over) the face (surface)” of the waters. The phrase appears again in Genesis 1:29 where it is variously translated as “
on the face (surface) of all the (the whole) earth.” The phrase is similarly translated in Genesis 7:3, 7:18, 7:23, 11:4, 11:8–9 and many other places. So Genesis 1:14–17 clearly says three times that the sun, moon and stars are “
in the firmament” (emphasis mine) whereas in notable contrast Genesis 1:20 clearly says that the birds fly across/on the face/surface of the firmament. The birds do not fly in the firmament, which today we call “outer space,” where the sun, moon and stars are.
We might add that the repetition in Genesis 1—phrases like “
and God said,” “
and God saw,” “
it was good,” “
the evening and the morning were”—is not poetic either but rather descriptive of what actually happened during six literal days of creation. The even more exact repetition of wording in Numbers 7:10–84 is not poetic either but an accurately descriptive historical narrative about what the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel offered and sacrificed on twelve literal, consecutive days during the dedication of the tabernacle.
But I digress, since the main issue here is chapters 2 and 3, and here the point Ham is aiming for collapses under the slightest scrutiny. Ham seems quite intent to claim that Genesis 1-3 is narrative. Why? Because Ham mistakenly thinks that narrative is the proper vehicle for communicating history, whereas poetry is open to things like metaphor, imagery, and hyperbole. Narrative is what lets you get the “facts” across, whereas poetry may not.
But here the same point holds as above. A narrative presentation has no necessary correlation–none, zip–with historicity. Again, stories of various degrees of historical value–from zero t0 [sic] 100%–are presented as narratives.
(I would add that poetic expressions can also be the vehicle for story/history. One example is Psalm 78, which rehearses Israel’s redemptive history, but again that is another topic.)
This is a very deceptive argument. Yes, Psalm 78, like Psalm 136, rehearses key events from the history of Israel in poetic form. And everyone agrees that these psalms are poetry. So, neither Ken Ham nor anyone else at Answers in Genesis nor any other young-earth creationist denies that poetry can teach historical facts.
However, much of the Old Testament and a good portion of the New Testament is historical narrative, and because it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, it is 100 percent true history, unlike The Hobbit (which is zero percent history) and Epic of Gilgamesh (a pagan myth that is probably less that 50 percent historically true since it is a perversion of some of the true history recorded in Genesis 1–11). So, God clearly indicates in the Bible that He thinks narrative is the proper and primary way to communicate history. And that history is 100 percent true. Of course, Ken Ham, and all of us at AiG, and millions of other Christian scholars and laypeople over the past 2,000 years agree with God on this point.
Enns insinuates that Ken Ham thinks narrative is what lets you get the “facts” across, whereas poetry may not. But the chart (not written by Ken) doesn’t say or even imply this, and Ken nowhere says this in any of his writings, for the simple fact that he does not believe this. Like all of us at AiG, Ken believes some wonderful facts (truths) are taught in, for example, Psalm 18:2. But those truths are not that God is literally a rock, a fortress, a shield and a horn. That is metaphorical poetry to teach us how trustworthy and praiseworthy God is. But because Genesis 1–2 is literal history (a conclusion derived from the reasons given in the chart to which many more reasons could be added), we believe that what God says He did in those chapters to create the world, and particularly Adam and Eve, is literally true history.
Bottom line, Ham mistakes his opinion for biblical argument, which is a recurring problem in his apologetic. What lies behind Ham’s alleged open and shut case for Adam is not what the Bible says, but what he presumes it to mean–what he needs it to mean. He assumes the very thing that has to be proved, and then unleashes himself on an unsuspecting text and–surprise–finds it.
Frankly, I’m really not sure why we are even discussing this. As an argument, the poster is useless. As propaganda, it is quite clever indeed.
Dr. Enns accuses Ken and AiG of “quite often” saying things “that are transparently wrong and highly misleading.” He says the poster under discussion is “useless propaganda.” He says that he is concerned “for those who are being misled.” It is our contention that the accuser is the guilty one here. We are deeply concerned for those who are being misled by Old Testament scholars and other theologians, who like Dr. Enns don’t believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. They utterly abandon their critical thinking abilities as they gullibly swallow (and are so misled by) the myths of evolution and millions of years, and then they teach other Christians to do the same.
We urge Dr. Enns and other similar theologians to humbly repent of their arrogant mishandling of the Word of Almighty God and to do their homework in reading the scientific criticisms of the naturalistic (i.e., atheistic) story of evolution and millions of years that have been written by qualified PhD creationists. A good series of DVD lectures by Andrew Snelling presents with abundant visual aids some of the geological evidence in his two-volume work Earth’s Catastrophic Past. At an introductory level, John Morris’s The Young Earth will be enlightening to those not trained in geology. The old-earth theologians also need to deal with the careful biblical scholarship defending young-earth creation, such as found in Coming to Grips with Genesis.
At the top of Dr. Enns’s blog page he says that he is “rethinking biblical Christianity.” He is doing no such thing. Because he has totally capitulated to the secular beliefs of molecules–to-man evolution and millions of years, he is mutilating the inerrant Word of God by forcing these pagan beliefs on the text. He is thereby destroying biblical Christianity. Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians must reject his views. It is his writings that are the useless, but clever, propaganda deceiving Christians.