Cliff's Edge

The Dead in Romans 5 (A Modest Proposal)

Attempts to harmonize theistic evolution with scripture always end in farce.

Clifford Goldstein

In an attempt to harmonize Darwin (or some version thereof) with Scripture, a theistic evolutionist bandied about the following argument: when Paul said that Adam’s sin brought death, he meant only human death. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). This text referred, he argued, to humans, not animals, dying as a result of the Fall.

Of course, one could argue that Paul meant that all death, animal and human, originated with Adam’s first transgression. However, given the context of Romans, salvation by faith, Paul emphasized the human aspect alone because this was his immediate concern: what Adam’s fall did to humanity and what Christ did to reverse it. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (verse 19).

Let’s, however, do a theological thought experiment. Let’s give our theistic evolutionist his interpretation of Romans 5, which is that only humans faced death after Adam’s fall, and that animals had been dying for eons as part of evolution, which in his argument is how Jesus created humanity. What scenario unfolds under this model, and how well does it harmonize with Scripture?

Well, God used billions of years of violence, predation, extinction, disease, suffering, and animal death to, finally, create the first homo sapiens, Adam. The baby Adam (after all, in an evolutionary model he couldn’t start out as an adult, could he?) matures, without sin, into a holy adult. And if this holy adult stayed away from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and ate only from the “tree of life” (Gen. 2:9, 17)—both of which, I assume, evolved (though how does a tree evolve so that if one eats from it one will never die?)—Adam would have lived forever, in contrast to billions of previous deaths part and parcel to the process God used to make Adam to begin with.

Meanwhile, simultaneously, Jesus evolved a female version of the species, Eve, built and equipped quite differently from Adam, but who grows from infancy into a holy and sinless adult destined for immortality as long as she, like her male counterpart, obeys.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

I’d like to offer my theistic evolutionary friends a modest proposal, an escape from the obvious absurdity of trying to jam evolution into any reasonable interpretation of the Bible. Why don’t they just state what must seem obvious to them, perhaps something like this? While we respect the Bible as the Word of God, because of the latest teachings of modern science we now know that Genesis 1-11 does not depict historical events and, as such, teaches us nothing useful or truthful about origins in general, and about human origins in particular.

Wouldn’t that be the more honest approach? Instead they move from one failed argument to another (such as the one that Romans 5 refers only to human death), illustrating why attempts to harmonize theistic evolution with Scripture always end in farce.

Clifford Goldstein is editor the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.

Clifford Goldstein