Covenant Seminary's Scripture Problem (No. 1): Doing the numbers with Jack Collins...

C. John "Jack" Collins is a prof at the Presbyterian Church in America's Covenant Theological Seminary. Recently, Jack published a book and article purporting to defend the historicity of Adam. Jack's work is dangerous because he is carefully wrong in a very soft and seductive way. Happily, though, if we follow the first rule of journalism—follow the numbers—we will not be misled. The numbers don't lie.

Collins writes:

The story of Adam and Eve, and their first disobedience, explains how sin, the alien intruder, first came into human experience, though it hardly pretends to explain how rebellion against God (as expressed in the serpent’s speech) originated to begin with.

Note that Collins speaks of the Fall as the responsibility of both "Adam and Eve." He uses the plural: "their first disobedience." This is directly contrary to the Word of God which explicitly declares the Fall and Original Sin to be solely the responsibility of...Adam:

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.(1Corinthians 15:21, 22)

And:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19) 

So Collins is wrong. The Fall and Original Sin are not the responsibility of "Adam and Eve." It was not "their" disobedience.

Other places in Collins's article repeat this error, speaking of "how the sin of Adam and Eve comes to affect us," "the first sin of Adam and Eve," "their first disobedience," "the defilement that came into the world through the sin of Adam and Eve," and so on to the end where, summarizing, he says:

I trust I have shown why the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve, as our first parents who brought sin into human experience, is worthy of our confidence and adherence.

There are a couple places where Collins leaves Eve's name off in speaking of Adam, most notably in his discussion of C. S. Lewis's view of the Fall where he quotes Lewis whose statements are more faithful to Scripture than his own. But Collins's error of attributing the Fall and Original Sin to two "humans" rather than one "man" is everywhere throughout his writing.

Why does this matter? Two reasons:

First, since Collins here directly contradicts two texts of Scripture which explain and apply the first chapters of Genesis concerning Adam and the Fall, every reader of Collins should be on high alert from this point forward, that he's likely dealing with a man who has a defective doctrine of Scripture. If a man holds to the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture, he pays attention to an explicit numerical declaration of the New Testament explaining the first chapters of Genesis. Yet here is a man holding a Ph.D. whose life's work is training future pastors at the PCA's denominational seminary and yet contradicts the Holy Spirit's statements in Romans and 1Corinthians that the Fall is the sole responsibility of Adam—not Eve (who ate first) and not Adam and Eve (who both ate).

It may be that Collins is clueless concerning God's exegesis of Genesis 2 and 3 in Romans 12 and 1Corinthians 5, but likely not. Rather, it's almost certain Collins could quote 1Corinthians 15:21,22 and parts of Romans 5:12-19 from memory, but he views the numerical specificity of 1Corinthians 12 and Romans 5 with the same superiority and conceit he views Genesis 1 and 2—which also speak with numerical specificity in declaring God created in "six" days," He rested "the seventh day," and those "days" consisted of "evening" and "morning."

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. (Genesis 1:31; 2:1)

But then, Collins is also willing to cast off the numerical specificity of Adam in defending the possibility the one man, Adam, was actually "an existing population of hominids." Far into his article, Collins gives four points he says answer the questions "how do we stay within the bounds of sound thinking (and) what criteria do all our reflections so far lead us to?" Here is his point 4:

If someone should decide that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of humankind, then, in order to maintain good sense, he or she should envision these humans as a single tribe. Adam would then be the chieftain of this tribe (preferably produced before the others), and Eve would be his wife. This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve. 

Oh my, here we have replaced the one man, Adam, with a "tribe" which "fell under the leadership of Adam and Eve." Again, good professor, which is it? 

God created Adam from the ground or God created a tribe from the ground?

God put all Adam's descendants, including Eve, under Adams' federal headship, or God put all Adam and Eve's descendants under Adam and Eve's federal headships?

The one or the many; which is it, good professor?

Collins answers: "Details; mere details. Let's open up the bottle and let the genius of Science out. Trust me. He's helpful!"

No, I will not trust him, nor do I trust you, dear sir.

Those who teach must be judged more strictly, particularly if they teach those who will assume the office of pastor over Christ's Church. "One," "one," "one," "one," "a man," "the one man," "Adam," "Adam," and "Adam" can't be changed into "they" and "Adam and Eve" by Collins in an article in which he also argues that the "six days" of Scripture could actually be 6,000,000,000,000 days and "Adam" could actually be a tribe of "hominids" without somebody somewhere hitting the gong, blowing the fire alarm, or giving him the red card and ejecting him from the pitch.

What does the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture mean if a man is able to subscribe to it while playing footloose and fancy-free with Scripture's numbers; and not just concerning Adam being one man as opposed to a tribe of "hominids," but also concerning Adam being the "one man" responsible for the Fall?

But I said Collins's error concerning Adam alone or Adam and Eve together had two problems. We've seen the first; now on to the second. Beyond the battle over whether Scripture's numbers are meaningless is another battle within the Church today against the Egalitarian Feminist heresy, and here we see that Collins not only likes to play with the numbers; he's culturally clueless, to boot.

Attributing the Fall to Eve as well as Adam gives Eve a dignity of office as woman that feminists call for, but is (again) directly contrary to God's Word. Eve did not seize her destiny and assert her individuality or autonomy when she ate. And by eating, she didn't cause the Fall, despite the best efforts of feminist heretics to make it so. When Eve ate, the Fall didn't occur. This is the plain teaching of Scripture.

The Fall didn't occur because Eve listened to the voice of Satan in the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit.

The Fall occurred because Adam listened to the voice of his wife, Eve, and ate the forbidden fruit.

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life." (Genesis 3:17)

So records Scripture. So says God.

Collins disagrees.

What about you—what do you say?

Some readers may think Collins should be allowed to play with the numbers and to appease the feminists. "Don't be so rigid, Tim. Lean back, drink a cold one, and relax. Stop and smell the roses. Take a chill pill!"

Sorry, but no; I will not give up or chill out or go soft and lazy on the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Scripture is sweeter to me than honey; more precious to me than gold—than much fine gold. Every last word and number in it is "God-breathed" and infinitely helpful:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:16, 17)

Then, immediately following the above statement of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, this:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2Timothy 4:1-4)

As a pastor I have been charged to "preach the Word" to those who "turn aside to myths."

Central to Collin's writing concerning Adam is his effort to restore "myth" as a respectable label for Genesis 1-3. Thus in a section titled "History, Myth, and Worldview Story," Collins softens his readers up by jabbing at them with this question:

Could it be that “myth” is the right category for the kind of stories we find in the ancient world, whether from the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, or even the Hebrews?

Professor Collins is seducing his readers to turn aside to myths and I warn you, dear readers, to flee his enticing arguments so perfectly suited to the itching ears of our time.

Run!

Some may be disinclined to run because of their sloth and laziness. Reading this post, they may think it's not necessary to make a big deal out of Scripture's names and numbers. If you're one of these souls, here's a helpful warning from God's Word:

He also who is slack in his work Is brother to him who destroys. (Proverbs 18:9)

Whether in our preaching or our examination of fellow presbyters, we must not be slack in our work. Professor Collins's book is out there for everyone to see and many are giggling with excitement over his fashionable foray into the world of origins. They hope he may provide a way for them to keep one foot on the dock of conservative Reformed churchmanship with the other in the boat of Scientific respectability and cultural appeasement.

For instance, Tim Keller likes Collins a whole lot. And why? Check out the part of Collins Tim quotes in his piece "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople" distributed through the web site of their lobbying organization, BioLogos:

On the other hand, as many have noted, Genesis 1’s prose is extremely unusual. It has refrains, repeated statements that continually return as they do in a hymn or song. There are many examples, including the seven-time refrain, “and God saw that it was good” as well as ten repetitions of “God said”, ten of “let there be”, seven repetitions of “and it was so,” as well as others. Obviously, this is not the way someone writes in response to a simple request to tell what happened.

In addition, the terms for the sun (“greater light”) and moon (“lesser light”) are highly unusual and poetic, never being used anywhere else in the Bible, and “beast of the field” is a term for animal that is ordinarily confined to poetic discourse.6

All this leads Collins to conclude that the genre is:

“...what we may call exalted prose narrative. This name for the genre will serve us in several ways. First, it acknowledges that we are dealing with prose narrative…which will include the making of truth claims about the world in which we live. Second, by calling it exalted, we are recognizing that… we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.”

Yeah, yeah; "we must not impose a 'literalistic' hermeneutic on the text." Genesis 1 is "what we may call exalted prose narrative," so "we must not impose a 'literalistic' hermeneutic on the text."

Good readers, we would have to be brain-dead not to see what motivates all this gobbledigook-talk by men who use big words, talk loudly in Manhattan restaurants, and make a big show out there in public of patting one another on the back and calling each other "my esteemed colleague."

Men who discipline themselves not to scratch their ears need to hear no more. The evidence is clear that today's self-styled "conservative Reformed men" no longer hold to two-thousand years of orthodoxy concerning the doctrine of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Many will deny it, but then many have itching ears and have turned aside to what they themselves call "myths." 

Pastors have been set apart to guard the good deposit, to shepherd God's Flock guarding His precious ones against the wolves who will arise among us, and so, as a pastor, I warn you to flee such men. Time is short and the judgment approaches quickly.

* * *

NOTE FROM TB: This is an update to the post of mostly the same content that ran on Baylyblog a week ago.

C. John "Jack" Collins is an Old Testament prof at Covenant Theological Seminary who served as the Old Testament "chair" of the English Standard Version's Translation Committee. Collins did his undergrad work at MIT, his doctoral work at Liverpool, and has been given money by the Center for Science and Culture and the John Templeton Foundation to write on "faith and science."

Recently, Collins did a book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care, enlarging upon a talk he gave at the 2009 meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation in Waco, Texas. Before releasing the book, Collins compressed the talk into a paper titled, "Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters," and it's from that compressed version of Collin's book that quotes are taken for this critique of Collins.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

Comments

A very disturbing article. I want to pursue pastoral ministry but the thought of finding a reliable reformed seminary is daunting. Dr Collins should be examined before a board of elders and then removed from teaching. He violates scripture and the confession I thought CTS has subscribed to. 

Dr. Collins would never deny that as the federal head, Adam is the covenant representative through whom covenant disobedience is reckoned to all of mankind. At the same time, it is unmistakable that God himself faults both Adam and Eve for falling to the temptation of the Serpent and holds them both accountable for their actions and choices: 

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the LordGod called to the man and said to him, “Where are you? And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

cursed are you above all livestock

and above all beasts of the field;

on your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.”

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;

in pain you shall bring forth children.

Your desire shall be for your husband,

and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife

and have eaten of the tree

of which I commanded you,

‘You shall not eat of it,’

cursed is the ground because of you;

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face

you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,

for out of it you were taken;

for you are dust,

and to dust you shall return.”

In your estimation then the examination is merely a formality, much like the trial of Jesus. Dr. Collins is highly respected in the field of Old Testament Studies and is seeking (in this book and other works related to science) to examine how the natural sciences support and reinforce Scripture. Men like Tim Bayly would rather just put their fingers in their ears and pretend like none of it exists, Dr. Collins doesn't have that luxury because he recognizes the call for Christians to interact with and engage in the world around them for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God. If you are looking for a Reformed seminary that already matches up to everything you believe and agree with, then why go to seminary, clearly you have nothing to learn (sarcasm). 

I spoke rashly and retract my statements. My apologies to Dr Collins and others.

Hi, - While I I think you a very much on target with respect to Collins and creation and the hermeneutic trouble that produces, the point regarding the fall and the objection to the the inclusion of Eve does have confessional support. 

WCF  6.1 " Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory"

NB plural "parents", "their".

Unless you're willing to extend your charge of Collins to all Presbyterians I don't think it helps your overall argument.

Andrew,

Of course. Tim isn't arguing that Eve wasn't seduced by Satan, did not sin or isn't our first mother.

Sincerely,

Interested what your take is on the Divines' preference for PARENTS, not Adam:

Q. 13. Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?

A. Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.

And...

15. What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A. The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.

In the latter answer, particularly, the Divines say that our parents fell (not Adam as the head, then the rest...) and that *their* sin was eating the forbidden fruit.  Parents didn't eat... Adam did.  So why didn't they say *Adam* instead of parents?

What do you think? 

Adam,

I understand that, but the part to which I was referring was ...

"Attributing the Fall to Eve as well as Adam gives Eve a dignity of office as woman that feminists call for, but is (again) directly contrary to God's Word."  

Compare WCF 6 (Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the Punishment thereof) sections 1-3  "Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed;  and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. "

Notice the continuity of "this sin" and in section 3 "they being the root...the guilt of this sin".

WCF uses the plural, and it's continuing use of "this sin" carries the plurality of guilt to both Adam and Eve  It attributes it (the fall) to both, cf the title of chapter 6. His charge must be applied to all presbyterians (those who at least give lip-service to subscribing to the WCF) and to the Westminster Assembly itself.

The way he presents it does not help the argument against Collins because of the way WCF 6 is written, despite what might be motivating Collins.

I know it comes across as a "picky" point, but never the less... 

Thanks

Dear Andrew,

We need to keep in mind that the Westminster Standards were written in one context and we live in another. Our divines were sloppy at this point and contradicted Scripture which is the reason I've said for years that the Standards should be amended to conform to God's Word at ths point. They're "subordinate standards," after all.

Numbers matter, especially when those numbers are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

More on this subject in the comments here.

As to why the numbers matter with our federal head Adam, this old post will be helpful, I hope.

Love,

Dear Andrew,

I see your point better, but Tim beat me to the punch in answering it. I don't really have anything to add. Good question and good answer.

Sincerely,

Lest anyone think the subordinate standards got it wrong all over the place, the shorter catechism does say this (#16) when it comes to the point of the universal fall of man:

"The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him, in his first transgression."

And the catechism is what we've been memorizing all these years and teaching our children from.

Dear Michial,

Since it seems no one else has mentioned it yet, allow me to recommend the Clearnote Pastors' College here in Bloomington.  It's reformed, reforming and, more importantly, Scriptural.

Seems Adam chose to listen to another voice over the voice/word of his Creator. Lesson, obey the word of God.

Now we have others saying, I know better than the word of God, listen to me , I am so wise. I think I will stick with the word of God. His yoke is easy.

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