Kuitert in the United States and Canada (3)

“If Adam and Eve never existed .and thus are no historical persons, then, Dr. Kuitert, how do you explain Romans 5:12, where we read, ‘Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin…Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come’?”

The question which was asked intended to show that Scripture is a unit and does not contradict itself. If Dr. Kuitert of the Free University wishes to teach that Adam and Eve never existed, then what does he do with the evidence we find in the New Testament? Docs not the New Testament make clear that Adam and Eve were historical figures, in fact, did they not bring sin into this world? If then the New Testament is so explicit in referring to these historical persons, how can Dr. Kuitert maintain his pOSition that Adam and Eve never existed?

The answer which professor Kuitert gives to the question how he interprets Romans 5 is that Paul proclaimed truth from his point of view; Paul was educated in Rabbinic theology and therefore he reasons like a typical Jewish rabbi of his day. And, says Kuitert, the rabbis did not always explain the Old Testament as we explain it. Let me give you an example; if you read the Talmud (a compilation of Jewish teachings), you will find that the question is asked, “What does God do every day?” The answer to this question is; “God is busy feeding man and beast; He opens His hand and provides for His creatures. And he settles disputes among men and ends wars between nations. If there is any time left, God plays with the leviathan (see Job 41:5).” In this way, continues the professor, Paul explained the Old Testament, for notice that in Romans 5 the person who brought sin into this world is Adam. But now turn to I Timothy 2:14 and you read, “and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression.” This contradicts Paul’s earlier teaching that Adam was the transgressor. However, Paul does not intend to teach contradictions, for he is merely referring to Genesis 3 as a figurative account of man and sin. Paul did not understand Genesis 3 historically but figuratively. Take for example the reference to Christ in I Corinthians 10:1–4, “For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ.” Certainly no one will say that a rock accompanied the children of Israel travelling, because everyone understands that the text implies symbolism. So also Paul understood the account recorded in the first chapters of Genesis.

Somehow this answer does not satisfy the questioner. It is not at all said that Paul or any of the other writers of the New Testament thought of Adam and Eve symbolically. To remain with Paul for a moment, in I Corinthians 15:45 Paul quotes Genesis 2:7 and says, “The first man Adam became a living soul”; and in verse 47, “The first man is of the earth, earthly.” Why does Paul stress here the numerical adjective first and that in the context of a commentary on creation? So likewise in I Timothy 2:13, Paul stresses the word first, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” In these passages there is no indication that Paul thought or spoke in symbolical terms; rather we arc forced to read the words of Paul literally and seriously. The context compels us to believe that Paul refers in his epistles to a historical Adam and Eve. Convincingly he speaks to the Corinthians by referring to the historical incident in the Garden of Eden, “But, I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds would be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ” (II Corinthians 11:3). How could Paul teach the Church at Corinth effectively, when he related Adam and Eve to Christ, by denying the historicity of the first man and woman and asserting the historical reality of Christ? But the case in point is that Paul fails to give us any indication that he did not take the 6rst chapters of Genesis as history.

The other writers of the New Testament do not speak symbolically either when they refer to Adam and his descendants. Jude writes in his Epistle about Enoch, “the seventh from Adam” (verse 14). And in the Gospels as well as in the Epistles the references to Abel are rather frequent. I will only quote the familiar verse of Hebrews 11 where the writer says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” These words are found in the list of the believers saved by faith. If Abel is a historical person, then the question arises: “Whose son is he?” And with that remark we turn to the genealogy of Christ as recorded in the third chapter of Luke, which relates Christ through David, Abraham, Enoch, to Adam, the son of God. That is history.

“Professor Kuitert, how do you explain original sin if you deny the historicity of Adam and Eve?” That question was inevitable once the historicity of the first chapter of Genesis was denied. And the professor of the Free University could expect that this question would be asked in the course of the discussion period.

Kuitert looks upon the creation and paradise stories as teaching models which teach us something about the universality of sin. Says Kuiter!, “Sin is a contrast; it is the negative; it is regression. Sin is a reversion to that what it ought not to be. Sin is a power which holds all people in its grip. Only in Christ can one be redeemed from sin.”

Such an answer however evoked another question, namely, “If sin is regression, then from what position have we progressed?” When terms such as regression and progression are bcing used, they have a ring which is foreign to the Biblical creation account. The answer to the question was that life is a process of development and differentiation. We look at 1968 in comparison to the year 1900 and we conclude that the evidences of development are all around us.

The art of answering questions satisfactorily is difficult and at times frustrating. Dr. Kuitert was very frank and candid in his answers, for he was not afraid to say to his audience, “I know the traditional answer to this question, but I am still searching for a new answer.”

However, a wise man does not discard old clothing until he is dressed in new garments; otherwise he must go naked. Furthermore, whenever he accepts something new it must have come forth out of the old; the old must give birth to the new, and the new must find its origin in the old. The Old Testament brought forth the New Testament, for the Old is the bud and the New the flower.

In Reformed theology, thc doctrine of original sin has always been understood in relation to the first man Adam, in whom we find the cause. Says H. Bavinck in his third volume of Gerej. Dogmatiek, “And this cause is according to Holy Scripture and for the Christian mind it cannot be anything else than that sin and death came into the world by the first transgression of the first man. The disobedience of Adam is original sin, for Scripture indicates that clearly in Rom. 5:12 and I Cor. 15:22; also experience confirms this every moment: all people are conceived and born in sin and unrighteousness. It cannot be understood differently than that the transgression of Adam concerns all of us in some way or other. If there were no connection between Adam and us, it would be impossible for us to be born in sin, because he transgressed God’s commandment. Scripture and history together point to the original, communal guilt of the human race” (page 79).

Somehow we fail to see why this Biblical answer is no longer acceptable and why we are forced to find a new answer. If a new answer comes forth out of Scripture itself, the Christian Church must take note and thank the scholar of the Bible for the new insights he has given the believer. But nowhere do we hear or read about an answer to original sin which is better than the one given in Reformed theology.

In the next article, I intend to look at the structure of the book of Genesis and deal with such questions as comparative religious accounts of creation. The question will be asked whether the first chapters of Genesis contain some special kind of history writing.

Dr. Simon Kistemaker is Professor of Bible at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.