The New Gnostic High Priests of Higher Criticism

In the last two years, few issues in biblical studies have been discussed more than the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve. More and more high profile evangelical scholars have made what would have been an unthinkable pronouncement just a few years ago—that Adam and Eve were probably not, or in some cases, definitely not genuine historical figures. Almost all the scholars who have surrendered to the tenets of higher criticism have done so because some “evidence” in science or history was found to be more convincing than the clear words of Genesis 1-3.

The problems with this popular theological shift are myriad. The focus of this post, however, is on the historical pedigree of the heresy that is introduced by well-meaning Christians who try to do exactly what the Gnostics did in the early church. Bruce Shelley describes the gnostic practice of disentangling the gospel from its involvement with “barbaric and outmoded” Jewish notions about God and history (Church History in Plain Language, 52). That is, Gnostics sought to separate the message of Jesus from the historic event of his incarnation, death and resurrection. In doing so they serve as a warning to all who “try to raise Christianity from the level of faith to a higher realm of intelligent knowledge and so increase its attractiveness to important people.”

Shelley explains:

In his effort to reconcile Christ and the gospel with the science and philosophy of the day, the gnostic denied the event and lost the gospel. Just as nineteenth-century defenders of the faith tried to present Jesus Christ in terms of evolution, so the gnostic interpreted the Savior in light of the fascinating ideas of the enlightened men of his day. But the attempt to tie the gospel to the latest theories of men is self-defeating. Nothing is as fleeting in history as the latest theories that flourish among the enlightened, and nothing can be more quickly dismissed by later generations (p. 52).

If the “evidence” of science and history is allowed to rule out the historicity of Adam based on the genre of Genesis 1-3, or the supposed incompatibility of the Genesis account with reigning scientific paradigms, why not apply the same criteria to the miracles of Jesus or his resurrection? Scholars who are denying the historical Adam are increasingly telling us that one has to be an expert in the Ancient Near East (ANE) to understand the Old Testament and in Second Temple Judaism (STJ) to understand the New Testament. Such scholars have become the new high priests who serve as intermediaries between the text of Scripture and the common man.

The relatively new fields of ANE and STJ (only a century or so old) allow a few “qualified” individuals to feel that they alone can interpret the milieu of Scripture for the rest of us. We are told to simply trust them, despite the weight of church history and the perspicuity of Scripture. Almost invariably these scholars over time find less and less in Scripture to be historically accurate or scientifically verifiable. The trajectory is almost always away from belief in the historicity of biblical events and people. What these scholars perceive to be the rescue of the faith from literalistic readings of Scripture is actually the wholesale undermining of any confidence in God’s Word.

The accommodation of higher criticism by evangelicals is ultimately nothing more than a new Gnosticism that privileges a few experts, and will finally eviscerate the faith of many. The historicity of Adam may not seem like a major issue to some, but I believe it is foundational to the reliability of Scripture, and indicative of the sort of doctrines that need to be retained purely on the testimony of Scripture, regardless of what science or history “prove.”


About Mark Farnham
Professor of Apologetics and Director of the Pre-Seminary Major at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church ( PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

6 Responses to The New Gnostic High Priests of Higher Criticism

  1. Jim E says:

    Good post…one of the problems we have as humans…is we don’t live long enough!!!…as I push 70, I can attest to many a theory has come and gone in my lifetime (and returned again and sometime, again)…and the fact that not a lot of people know what a Gnostic is, let alone what they believed…so “new” theories that model their beliefs do not make a connection to most today…and so most people just accept what “experts” say they have found…let me just say, “Balderdash”…(that word itself is worth looking up)…most can’t believe that “this new theory” has been around for hundreds of years…just reconstituted itself!!!…for about the 3 or 4th time…

    So in my lifetime I have seen theories come and go…and I have found that the decision I made almost 50 years ago on my knees beside my bed…where I told the Lord of Glory…I would believe His Word no matter “IF” they could “Prove” to me that it was wrong…I would still believe…that decision I made so long ago has “kept me” out of more trouble (including personal, ethical and theological)…knowing that I could trust His Word when attacks would come and go…that decision remains the touchstone of my life…I’m still comfortable with it…it is “the Word of truth” (James 1:18)…

  2. Jim E says:

    Knowing that the term, “Balderdash” may not stand as an argument in seminary circles, for the veracity of the scriptures…yet it is a term that most of us would accept as our response to the tripe that is bantered about in most of the “higher criticism” (what does that mean) of today…

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on the latest…it does my heart good to see the foolishness of man up close and personal…

  3. craighurst says:

    When I taught a Sunday School elective class at my church on the Christian Worldview I had a discussion afterwords with a man about this very thing. He believes that they are historical figures but were not the first people on the earth. Rather, they were two people that God choose out of everyone. He has been heavily influenced by Calvin College in GR, MI (near where I live) and how their scientific understandings have reinterpreted Scripture (Gen. 1-3 particularly). Some of the teachers there have publicly admitted that their current views on science and Scripture do not support the doctrine of inerrancy.

  4. Jonathan Bach says:

    Thanks Mark. Great article. It seems so strange to me that mere humans – who have evidently put their trust in Jesus as their saviour – can get to the point that they think HE was mistaken in HIS views of Adam, Eve, and the Scriptures. And now THEY have better understanding than their Lord and Saviour, yes, their GOD.

    Though Martin Luther’s “creation science” knowledge had its shortcomings at his point in history (as did Spurgeon, Scofield, etc.), I still love what he had to say on the matter:

    “When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, … But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.”

  5. Christop Booth says:

    Hey, thanks for blogging about this. I don’t personally believe that Adam and Eve were historical figures. But just because I believe their story isn’t meant to be historical or scientific doesn’t mean I want to throw it out. I see it as a story about who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to relate to each other, to the creation and to our Creator. It doesn’t necessarily need to be scientific or historical to be helpful to me in that way.
    Have peace,

  6. Steve P says:

    Having come from an institution that focuses on higher criticism in its religion department, I wholeheartedly agree with this post. Even within the Christian fellowship this was widespread. The acceptance of science, that is to say evolution, was encouraged by the faculty adviser. Though the adviser did not deny the historicity of Adam and Eve, many within the fellowship did.

    Inerrancy isn’t accepted, and the natural question becomes “What about Christ?” When you push the antithesis, that is to say, show them the cracks in their worldview, conversation often shuts down. Even more frustrating, in these cases, is that an “educated” person would take the Bible literally.

    It seems that many in the church are becoming unwitting naturalists. As Francis Shaffer said, “Presuppositional apologetics wouls have stopped the decay!”

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