Jeff Dunn at iMonk replies to Pastor Wedgeworth with an exegetical argument and a theological one. His exegetical argument is that in Romans 5:14, Paul calls Adam a “symbol,” and thus, according to Mr Dunn, Adam’s significance is allegorical: he represents Christ, and Mr Dunn’s theological argument is that Christ alone matters, so there. It seems almost unnecessary to point out the manifest silliness of taking tupos to mean symbol in modern sense; in fact Paul’s type/antitype exegesis demands that the type be as historical as the antitype. Mr Dunn’s reading of tupos in Romans 5:14 shows that you can take the boy out of old fashioned American evangelicalism, far enough out to deny the historicity of Adam, but you can’t take the old fashioned American evangelical out of the boy; bad one-word prooftexting from bad translations remains a preferred mode of argument. His reading of Romans is as hasty as his reading of Pr Wedgeworth.
That aside, Mr Dunn’s reply simply fails to answer Pr Wedgeworth’s point. The question is why Christ at all, if the history of man Christ Himself presupposed– his creation, covenant, fall, and progressive redemption– are not actually historical? Christ Himself certainly seemed to believe and presuppose an historical Adam as indispensable to his self-understanding. But perhaps Mr Dunn thinks that Christ’s significance doesn’t depend on His own self-understanding. In any case, Pr Wedgeworth’s point is a very simple one. If the historical condition of man presupposed by Christ (and Paul) is not really historical, then historical redemption, the rectification of that condition, is unnecessary; the historical register is clearly continuous in the sacred text from Genesis to Romans, and the historicity of one falls with that of the other. And why is only Adam and original sin made symbolical? Why not Adam’s interlocutor too? I don’t mean the snake. If one makes the origin narrative symbolic –and once one commits to the symbolization of origins, nothing keeps one from regarding the “historical Elohim” as also actually symbolical, of Tillich’s “Ground of Being” perhaps– one makes the destination narrative symbolic as well, and finally, the historicity of Christ doesn’t matter either. He too can be a “symbol,” a symbol of “redemption,” redefined to mean the transition from feeling bad to feeling good, or something like Jung’s “Self.” It is purely arbitrary to make Christ the literal historic referent of all these non-historical non-literal Old Testament symbols; if historicity is not the register, then nothing keeps Christ, as Second Adam (and not as Judaean man Jesus) from being as merely symbolic as Adam. Of course all this symbolization would indeed have to stop somewhere, and where it would have to stop, of course, is with us; in order to do all this symbolizing, the symbolizers at least have to be historically real. Christ then would be a symbol of us, the “new creation” (where “old creation” is understood to be symbolical, of course) consisting of those who feel themselves made personally at one with the Ground of Being through an emotionally supercharged traditional symbol loosely identified with an ancient Judaean teacher, but not with his own self-understanding. In all this we see perhaps the end result of American evangelical fideism, which has long since devoided the Bible of history by turning it into a collection of moralistic exempla and dicta, and by making feelings the measure of faith.
One is free of course to read the Biblical history as mostly allegorical of what can be empirically known of man’s condition, and “redemption” can be used to symbolize maturation or self-fulfilment or union with the One or whatever it might be, but at that point, only a kind of conservative sentimentality, or sheer taste, would dispose one to retain the name of Christian. More tough-minded persons might just dispense with the allegory altogether, and adopt a Lacanian rather than Bronze Age ensemble of terms for its analysis of humanity. Or one might find answers to the human condition in Buddhism, for which the historicity of its Buddhas really is immaterial to the Dharma, a better choice. We fully sympathize with those who wrestle with the Word or struggle with faith. We simply ask that people be clear and consistent, understand the principles of hermeneutics, and be courageous enough to own up to the implications of consistency one way or the other. And the Bible’s claims are consistently historical throughout, that is, pace Mr Dunn, consistently about the “really real.”
Peter Escalante is a founder and editor of The Calvinist International. He holds a MA in Philosophy.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.