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Guy Prentiss Waters

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Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 5: Theistic Evolution and the New Testament

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on the New Testament.

The New Testament and Theistic Evolution

Guy Prentiss Waters wrote the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the New Testament.” As with John D. Currid’s chapter on the Old Testament, the implication is that the author will demonstrate not just that the New Testament works better with rival theories, but that theistic evolution (hereafter “TE”) and the New Testament cannot both be true. Whereas Currid focused on attempting to rebut the ways TEs read the Old Testament–launching a hermeneutic attack on TE, Waters instead tries to show specific passages from the New Testament  contradict teachings of TE. We’ll focus on a selection of these passages.

Waters’ first move is to argue that the use of Adam in the New Testament demonstrates that TEs are mistaken in their beliefs about Adam and Eve.[1] The first line of evidence Waters uses is the genealogy in Luke 3. After blithely “setting aside the exegetical questions attending this passage, and the challenges of harmonizing this genealogy with that of Matthew…”–things that would clearly be highly relevant in one’s interpretation of this passage–Waters states that “Adam appears among dozens of figures whom the biblical writers regard as fully historical…” (882). Adam is “at the head of a linear genealogical sequence” and “Adam… is the first man” which we can tell because it simply says he is the “‘son of God,’ a reference to his special creation in Genesis 1-2.” (882-883). Waters insists that these mean that if TEs say Adam is not the first human, Jesus as “Redeemer of all human beings is void” (884).

Waters’ choosing to set aside the exegetical questions about this passage is quite strange, given that he then challenges TEs to account for it exegetically. Biblical genealogies, as argued, for example, by Robert McLachlan Wilson in his book “Genealogy and History in the Biblical World,” are grounded in ANE thought, which saw genealogies less as linear historical accounts tracing one ancestor to the next (as we think of them in the 21st century) than as legitimizing familial relationships, a view of genealogies which persists in some cultures to this day. If this is even remotely accurate given the biblical genealogies, then Waters using Adam as “head of a linear genealogical sequence” is hardly of consequence; after all, he has already read in his own modern sense of “genealogy” into the meaning of the text. Moreover, Waters’ interaction with John Walton on this point amounts to begging the question, as he simply asserts that because Adam is historical (in the sense Waters prefers, of course–as once again we have an author fail to give any definition of or reflection upon the meaning of “history” in the biblical or modern context), Walton is mistaken for making Adam a theological point (884).

Turning to 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Waters claims that Paul must be using Adam and Eve as historical persons rather than mere illustrations. But in the very same section, Waters goes on to make the complementarian argument that the “creation of Adam prior to Eve” is somehow the basis for the complementarian reading of the passage. Setting aside how poorly complementarians read this and many other passages of Scripture, it is surprising to then see Waters turn around and criticize Walton and other TEs for claiming Paul is using this passage illustratively. After all, that is exactly what Waters does: he uses the passage as an illustration for why the complementarian perspective is correct. Sure, he could object by saying he takes the original, Old Testament passage “historically” (again, without defining what that term means), but that doesn’t show that his reading isn’t doing exactly what he objects to others doing.

Remarkably, Waters then turns to the book of Jude–the same book which clearly uses a contemporary story about Satan trying to take Moses’ body–to say that Adam must be historical. Because Jude 14 states that Enoch was the seventh from Adam, Waters takes this to affirm that Jude explicitly views Adam historically. Then, because the book has passages that quote the pseudepigraphical book 1 Enoch, Waters must also make the argument that Jude does not take 1 Enoch historically. That is, according to Waters, Jude explicitly means to affirm the historicity of Adam but not the historicity of 1  Enoch despite the fact that the same author uses both in the same context! So readers are expected to agree that Jude moves from historical narrative to using a non-historical book that has perhaps some historically accurate parts. It gets even more confusing, because Waters goes on to hypothesize that perhaps the statement about Adam being seventh from Enoch was historically accurate and spoken by Enoch, but that the rest of the book (or parts of it) were invented. What is the criterion for seperating fact from historical fiction here? Quite simply, it seems to be that whatever Waters wants to affirm as historical is that which is historical, and what he feels uncomfortable about affirming as historical is not historical.

Waters asserts that Jesus would see the entire book of Genesis as historical because he mentions a range of prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. His only support for saying Jesus was 100% intending all of this historically is to say “We have no reason to doubt, then, that Jesus regarded the entirety of the events of Genesis to be fully historical” (895). This, despite the fact that this is exactly what is at question. Time and again (see 896 for an example related to Noah), Waters seems to think that having select references to events in the Old Testament entails that every aspect of it–or at least Genesis–is “fully historical” in whatever sense he desires it to be.

The faith list in Hebrews is taken to mean that every single figure on it is historical. Why? “Nonhistorical figures could not persuasively model persevering faith for historical people” (898-899). While I tend to agree that the faith list in Hebrews is full of people who did exist, Waters’ point is mistaken. What about the example, say, of Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings? Today, he is seen by many as a great example of persevering faith and friendship. This, despite the fact that the people who see him as such (myself included) clearly know that he is nonhistorical and explicitly fictional. Examples like this could easily be multiplied ad infinitum. As such, Waters’ point that people must be historical to be seen as models for persevering faith for “historical people” is wrong, and deeply so. Because this is his central point regarding the Hebrews faith list, we see once again that TEs has no difficulty here, regardless of the position they hold.

Waters then briefly surveys a few TE readings of Paul. This survey is grounded upon his analysis that preceded it, so the comments already written apply.

Waters’ method was quite different from Currid’s. Nevertheless, his analysis, like Currid’s, fails to demonstrate the thesis of his chapter. Do TEs have a lot of exegetical work to do regarding the New Testament? Absolutely, and they have done much. But Waters’ analysis fails on a number of points: he selectively assigns historical reality where he sees fit–even in the same chapter and verse of Scripture; he sets aside exegesis or historical context when necessary to carry his view; and he makes other specific arguments that fall apart on examination.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

[1] It’s worth pointing out that not only do many TEs affirm an historical Adam and Eve, but that the book’s own definition of TE does not entail that TEs cannot affirm an historical Adam and Eve. See the post on definitions.

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SDG.

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