Mars Hill Forum at Unitarian Church: The Bible and Verifiable History

John C. Rankin

In Chapter Eight of Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions (see, I focus on how the Bible is rooted in verifiable eye-witness history across all its pages.

In two Mars Hill Forums, I have had opportunity to address this question – the first one dealing with the historicity of Jesus, and the second one dealing with the historicity of Adam and Eve.

The former was with Dr. Robert Price at a Unitarian church in Montclair, New Jersey, in January, 1997. Bob is a former evangelical, a Gordon-Conwell graduate, with two Ph.D. degrees, and now a “non-theistic humanist.” He was prepared for me to make a classical apologetic argument.

When I set this foundation from only Genesis, and from there addressed the question of Jesus’s historicity accordingly, he did not respond on these terms. He gave no contrary data to my view of how the Bible, as a unit, understands itself with respect to verifiable history. And he evidenced no such commitment to verifiable history in any other religious, secular or philosophical source.

Bob did and does challenge my belief in its inspiration, and he argues the Bible is a loose and inconsistent piece of literature. But he could not challenge the text on its own terms relative to its commitment to verifiable history.

I also made the point, up front. that his very concern about whether or not Jesus is historical is a uniquely biblical concern – Bob’s only reason for arguing about verifiable history is because he has accepted the biblical presupposition about its value.

The latter was with the Rev. Carl Hansen, an Episcopal priest and syndicated columnist in Carmel, California, in August, 1997. Carl holds assumptions not inconsistent with the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, and much of the material I covered with Bob Price I also covered with him, but with the focus on Adam and Eve.

Carl says that the historical elements begin with Abraham, and that which preceded him was myth. But if this is the case, by what criteria can it be that myth fully translates into history? Or can it ever? At one point in the forum, I referred to Romans 5:12-14, a salient portion of which says: “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses ….”

Carl paused as he considered this point. It bears witness to the verifiable history linking Adam (whom he regards as mythological) and Moses (whom he regards as historical). Either both were or both were not. With verifiable history rooted uniquely in the assumptions of only Genesis, Paul assumes the same in linking Adam and Moses (as the biblical genealogies do).

In subsequent communications about this matter, Carl says this is a theological point Paul is making, not a historical one. And this goes to the heart of the debate – where in the Bible is theology ever separated from its assumptions about the historical nature of its entire witness? Where in the Bible does the text on its own terms ever allow for the possibility of myth, such as with Babylonian, Greek and all other pagan religions? The witness of how Paul regarded both Adam and Moses as historical is consistent with how Jesus regarded Adam and Eve as historical.


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