Quest for the Historical Adam“If we do not know how the story of the gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the gospel.”

Much of the current debate surrounding Genesis, origins, and evolution has focused on how to read the early chapters of Genesis and the creation itself in the world around us and the universe beyond. While the playing field of options might have been pretty small not even 50 years ago, today it is a much different story. Opinions as to how to read Genesis and science together, whether they can be reconciled, or even if they should be, abound.

In all of the heat produced in the discussion, what has been largely left out is the history of the discussion itself within the church. Historical theology has always played a role in the how the contemporary church deals with and addresses the issues of the day. When we look to the church of the past, we avail ourselves to the wisdom of the ages of those who have walked the road we are walking; sometimes before we even knew it existed. We stand on the shoulders of the past so we are in a better position to see the road ahead.

In regards to Genesis, origins, and evolution, it is the historical position of the church that William VanDoodewaard believes has been largely left out of the conversation. A professor of church history, VanDooewaard has written The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins (RHB, 2015), which seeks to bring to the forefront of the contemporary churches mind how the church has viewed the relationship between Genesis and science. VanDoodewaard is writing to fill in this historical hole because “scant attention is paid to the historical understanding of Genesis and human origins within Christianity.” (7)

“The crux of the current division,” VanDoodewaard says, “on creation and human origins is found where evolutionary theory stands in conflict with the traditional, literalistic reading of Genesis 1 through 5 common to the history of Christianity.” (3) This “literal” reading is the “nonfigurative, detailed, historical record of events and existence narrated as they actually were.” (6) VanDoodewaard’s position on these matters is the position that he believes is the majority position of the church.

As the subtitle indicates, this book addresses how the church has understood Genesis exegetically and theologically, the hermeneutical principles employed in that en-devour, and how theologians and pastors handled the secular scientific consensus concerning origins. VanDoodewaard addresses all three of these issues within five historical eras, starting with the Patristic and Medieval era and ending with the present. His aim is to show that “despite some ebb and flow in the past century, there remains a substantial commitment to the literal understanding of the entire Genesis 1-2 creation narrative.” (281) History is on the side of the traditional view.

As to the title of the book, this all matters because it effects how we understand where humanity and sin (just to name a few things) came from, which hing on Adam. Was he a real person? Was he the first person? Can we trust the Bible’s presentation of Adam? If not, how does that change the way we read the rest of the story of God’s interaction with mankind in redemptive history. If we change how we understand the beginning of the story of redemption then how much of the rest of the story do we have to change?

The Quest for the Historical Adam accomplishes its purpose to shed the light of historical theology on the darkness that pervades so much of the current discussion on these issues. VanDoodewaard has written a book that needs to be widely read an widely dealt with. Those who ignore this book will do so to their detriment. This is a serious walk through church history and the Adam and Genesis question. VanDoodewaard is fair in his presentation of the variety of views throughout church history on Adam, and the acceptance and resistance detractors were given.

I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


While the general definition of hermeneutics as the art and science of biblical interpretation may be given a casual head nod in the affirmative by most interpreters, it should not be assumed that those doing so agree on the mechanics of the of the art and science of hermeneutics. That is, there is general agreement that hermeneutics has an art and science to it but not what they look like in practice. So while many may look to hermeneutics to provide guidance and constraints for responsible biblical interpretation, one quickly finds out that there are plenty of options to consider, some of which take the interpreter down seemingly very different paths.

In order to help us sketch the hermeneutical landscape, Stanley Porter and Beth Stovell have brought together representatives of five different hermeneutical methods in the new book Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views. The contributors are as follows: Craig L. Blomberg presents the Historical-Critical/Grammatical method, F. Scott Spencer the Literary/Postmodern method, Merold Westphal the Philosophical/Theological method, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. the Redemptive-Historical method and Robert W. Wall with the Canonical method.

The aim of this book is to allow each contributor to present their hermeneutical view and then apply it to Matthew 2:7-15. Instead of listing the responses to each contributor after each chapter, all of the views are presented first and then each contributor has a separate response chapter in which they successively respond to the other views. The conclusion of the book wraps up with a look at how each view presented contributes to the hermeneutical task.

There are several things that stand out about the contents of the book. First, while each contributor takes a different view, each is committed to taking the authority of Scripture seriously on its own terms, though they end up in different places at times. There is general agreement that the approaches presented are not mutually exclusive.

Second, though each contributor I committed to the validity of their view, all recognize value of the other views. Blomberg is perhaps the most vocal about this fact but contends “that all of the other approaches must build on the historical-critical/grammatical approach in order to function legitimately. (p. 28)” He further states, “It is the necessary foundation on which all other approaches must build. (p. 47; see also pg. 145)”

Third, because each view makes a contribution to the hermeneutical process (some more than others), one can see a clearer picture of the text as each method is employed. One question might be, “Would it be possible to eventually get to all of the hermeneutical insights presented through the lens of one view?” Another question might be, “Is each method presented truly a distinguishable method?” In other words, do some methods just merely ask questions and ways looking at the text that can be legitimately used by any of the other methods, thus enveloping the method into another? I am personally partial the Historical-Critical/Grammatical and Redemptive-Historical approaches. However, in reading the other three views, I find that I have always asked some of the questions they do about the text, author and reader.

Finally, all of the contributors rightly recognize that hermeneutics involves understanding something about the world behind, in and in front of the text. The meaning of the text does not just fly off the pages and into the mind of the reader. Neither does, nor can, the text mean anything we want it to mean. The text has limits and hermeneutics is the guardrails protecting the interpreter from misusing and abusing the text for their own purposes.

Biblical Hermeneutics is a great introduction to five of the most used hermeneutical methods employed. I wonder if time will tell as to the longevity of the Literary/Postmodern and Philosophical/Theological views as they are newer to the scene. The methods with the greatest influence and deepest history are the Historical-Critical/Grammatical and Redemptive-Historical and I believe that will do nothing but continue despite the criticism leveled against them.

NOTE: I received this book for free from IVP and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The words and thoughts expressed in this review are mine.

Interpretation of Scripture, followed by right application, is the primary way that we are to be like God. This is not an issue of education. It’s an issue of imitation. (p. 23)

It has been the concern of many that the church has abandoned the task of serious Bible interpretation to the “ivory towers” of the academy and the PhD’s that dwell therein. This has resulted in an unhealthy and shallow church as well as a look of suspicion of the church upon the academy. For too long the church has relegated the task of interpreting Scripture to those with formal education while the church goes along reading their Bible’s simply at “face value”.

This is the current model of thinking for many Christians. But according to Curtis Allen, this should not be the case. To combat this wrongheaded thinking he has written Education or Imitation?: Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me. This is a challenging and thought provoking book that will shed new light on what it means for Christians to faithfully and fully imitate Jesus.

Allen’s central thesis is simple: the primary way in which Christians imitate Christ is by being faithful interpreters of Scripture. Initially, to many who read that statement, it will come across very odd, out of place and, well, seemingly down right wrong. After all, aren’t the churches two main responsibilities to evangelize and disciple the nations to the glory of God (Matt. 28:19-20)? For Allen, those two commands may be the beginning and end of the mission of the church but there is the middle to consider as well. Allen asks, “What are the means that produced the end?” (p. 19). The answer – “Interpretation of the Word of God, spoken and applied, is the primary means that Jesus used.” (p. 19)

If interpretation of God’s Words is the primary means of imitating Christ then there is a lot of bad imitation because there is a lot of bad interpretation going on within the world and the church. “Bad interpretation of one kind or another can be seen in all acts of disobedience to the Word of God. And like anything else in creation, bad interpretation had a beginning.” (p. 25) Starting with Adam and Eve, mankind has been an interpreter of God’s Word. In the garden, Adam and Eve had to interpret God’s instructions to them regarding the fruit on the various trees and the consequences for eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As we know from Genesis 3, Satan challenged both God’s Word and their interpretation of it. In the end, Adam & Eve accepted Satan’s misinterpretation of God’s word and correction of their interpretation resulting in their sin.

But Adam and Eve were just the beginning of a long line of bad interpreters of God’s Word. Some notable examples that Allen points out are Saul and Satan. In 1 Samuel 10-15 Saul misinterprets Samuel’s words to him concerning how God would mediate His blessing on Saul as king. Later, Satan enters the scene to tempt the 2nd Adam, Christ, while He is in the desert and misinterprets Scripture three times (Matt. 4). But not only does Christ have to correct the misinterpretation of Scripture by Saul and Satan, he has to with the Pharisees as well – the religious leaders of the day! Most of Christ’s interaction with these kinds of religious leaders was correcting their bad interpretations of Scripture.

Thankfully there is hope for bad interpreters like all of us. Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the answer to our bad interpretations of Scripture. Jesus is “the primary interpreter of Scripture because He is the primary object of Scripture.” (p. 43) So often we focus so much imitating Jesus in word and deed that we miss out on an equally important way in which Jesus lived out His ministry among people on earth – as the perfect interpreter of Scripture. Allen points out that “some of the most amazing things recorded in Scripture are not actually miracles but the instances when God explains His own Word to people and then shows them how to apply it….Interpretation and application of God’s Word is of the highest importance to Jesus.” (p. 43-44) Time and time again, Jesus was challenging the bad interpretations of the religious leaders of the day. Then moving from correcting their bad interpretations He corrects their bad applications stemming from their bad interpretations. This is what Jesus wants to do for us. He corrects our bad interpretations and applications so that we can better live for Him.

By following the example of the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the words of the apostles were true (Acts 17:11), Christians are to be actively involved in interpreting Scripture for themselves and not just leaving it up to those educated in biblical studies. Allen is not saying we cannot learn from others. After all, God speaks through His Word to all believers. However, we are not to entirely depend on the interpretations of others (p. 69). Allen’s words are bold, “All believers should be able to interpret the Bible with little to no theological education.” (p. 72) Again, Allen is no discouraging formal theological education. In fact he encourages it for those who are able and gifted to do so. Rather, he is encouraging all Christians to realize that intentional, active and faithful interpretation on Scripture is a necessary part of imitating Christ. Therefore, all Christians need to take it seriously.

Allen’s proposal is right on the money and he should be applauded for his work here. There is only one thing I felt was missing from the book. Besides a few passing references to the Holy Spirit, there was no extended discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit as the believers helper in imitating Jesus as an interpreter of Scripture. In John 14, as Jesus tells the disciples that He will be leaving them soon, He encourages them with the coming of the Holy Spirit. In 14:26 He tells them that the Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It seems that the Holy Spirit would be the primary way in which believer can imitate Jesus as a Spirit led interpreter of Scripture.

Nevertheless, Education or Imitation? is definitely a challenge to much of the contemporary churches thinking on education as a requirement for interpretation and the, quite frankly, lackadaisical attitude that too many believers have towards interpreting Scripture for themselves. This is the kind of book I would want to put into the hands of everyone in my church and would pray that every Christian reads it. Allen’s book is spot on and his words need a wide hearing.