Part 3 – Four Questions – “Were Adam and Eve Real People.”

| October 19, 2012

This is the third installment answering questions posted by a Christian University student on evolution and the Bible.  He posed four questions and a series of follow up questions.  These questions were assigned to him at his school, which holds an anti-evolutionary, young-earth view.

Part 1 covered the first of those questions.  Part 2 covered the second and third of those questions.  This installment covers the fourth question. I’d highly recommend reading part 1 and part 2 for some of the biblical, theological and scientific reasons why an overly literalistic anti-evolutionary view is not well supported.  Part 4 will cover his follow up questions.  We provided answers in the discussion at the Celebrating Creation through Natural Selection Facebook group.  This answer is compiled from a pastiche of answers in this discussion group.  A sister Facebook site where you can explore an evolutionary creationist view and share ideas without as much ongoing discussion is Celebrating Evolving Creation the Facebook page.

The Four Questions
-How long are the days in Genesis 1?
-How old is the earth and life and why?
-Did man and apes come from a common ancestor?
-Were Adam and Eve real people?”

The Follow Up Questions
-How does holding an allegorical view of Genesis affect theology?
-How does an evolutionary process of death and survival of the fittest harmonize with what the Bible seems to teach about death entering the world through sin?
-Are the views possible to reconcile?
-As I am sure you all know, one of the biggest things that Biblical creationists believe is that an evolutionary world view will lead to a secular world-view (rejecting God) an the devaluing of Human life, leading to genocide, eugenics, abortion, etc.  What would be your response to this? Do you feel that the evolution based curriculum taught in public schools carries bias that would lead to this?

Question Four – Were Adam and Eve real people.

This is a question that has arisen a lot lately. It’s also a question that Christian and Jewish theologians have been discussing a long time.  Christianity Today brought up the question in evangelical circles in it’s June 2011 cover article.


The reason this question has come to the forefront recently is that the genetic record and population genetics tell us that the first Homo sapiens arose amidst a population of at least a few thousand of our ancestors. Thus, it would be very hard to speculate a time when there were precisely two humans on the earth. And, of course, had such a time existed as recently as young-earth anti-evolutionists hypothesize, we should be able to see the effects of a recent genetic bottleneck of one pair 6 to 12,000 years ago in our genome.  If one insists on a literal single human pair about six thousand years ago, a lot of science has to go out the door or the insisting party needs to come up with an alternative theory that has the explanatory power and evidence of mutation, genetic drift and natural selection leading to divergence from common ancestry. This appears very unlikely.

Theologically, there doesn’t appear to be any reason for a traditional Christian to insist on a historical Adam and Eve.  An historical Adam and Eve is not necessary to the gospel.  An historical Adam and Eve is not required in order for the scriptures to be God breathed.  Yet, many Christians and denominations today are having concerns with this question, not just young-earthists. I suspect that this is because many Christians and some young denominations have little knowledge of our theology.

“Adam” literally means “human” or “everyman”. Eve means “first woman” or “every woman” or “mother.”  To an ancient Jew, as well as us, this strongly indicates that we are talking about an illustration.  A man named “human” and a woman named “Mother” cries symbolism. The location of the two characters in Genesis one and two, which theologians, both Christian and Jewish, dating back to days before Christ, have seen as a parable also indicates that “Human” and “First Woman” are likely to have been illustrative figures, rather than historical individuals.

Did “Human” and “Mother” ever exist as unique historical individuals? We don’t know with 100% certainty.  As we noted, the scientific evidence does not seem to support a time at which there was only one Homo sapiens couple.  Many folks suspect that they were actual, historical people but not the only two people alive at the time. They could have been the first two Homo sapiens given a soul/spirit; the first two into which God breathed spiritual life. This would be outside the realm of scientific proofs and would not require denial of the evidence we have been given. Adam and Eve could have been two of many and the first two to have awareness of good and evil.

What about Y Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve?

There has been much speculation over the last decades as to whether mitochondrial eve and Y chromosome Adam could be the historical Adam and Eve.  Yes, we do all share a common gene between one male and one female but these two people never knew each other. This Male gene we call the Adam gene comes from some male who lived about 175,000 to 200,000 years ago. The female gene we call the Eve gene comes from a female that we estimate to have lived many years later than Y-Chromosome Adam. These two genes just happen to spread like wild fire during breeding periods before Man left South Africa. Again, the genetic evidence indicates that there was not a time at which there were only two hominids on the planet.   This article covers further information on mitochondrial eve and Y-chromosome Adam, if you are curious or confused.

The nature of Genesis one and two, as well as the evidence found in genetics highly suggests that Adam and Eve were illustrations.  Regardless, the degree to which Adam and Eve are historical individuals, rather than parables, is unimportant to Christian theology.

But, didn’t Paul and Jesus speak of Adam as if he were historical?

Young-earth proponents, seem determined to make literal history of the Old Testament to the extent that they will ignore inconvenient parts and the intent of the writing. They note that Jesus and Paul referred to Adam and then extrapolate that as Jesus and Paul mentioned Adam, he must have been an historical individual.  Jesus and Paul were both relating the illustrations, that Jews of their time would have known and used. There is nothing in the texts that indicates that either felt a view of Adam as a historical individual was necessary. If a speaker today refers to George Washington cutting down a cherry tree, we do not assume that they mean to imply that George Washington actually cut down a cherry tree as a boy, but rather that they are giving an illustration about telling the truth.  This blog gives another example of making a comparison to a character not generally thought to be historical.

Paul described Jesus as “the second Adam” to illustrate that Christ provided us with a new start, a new way to be human. He notes that if we think of sin as entering mankind through “Human” that Christ, the second “Human” has provided the remedy.

12”Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. 15But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”  – Romans 5:12-17 (NIV)

Paul tended to provide many varying illustrations in his writings, attempting to look at a point through many views in order to make it clear to a variety of people. Here we can assume that Paul, a Jew, would also have been thinking of Adam as an everyman. It would be adding to the text to claim that Paul himself was writing history, rather that providing a theological illustration.

Remembering that Adam is everyman; remembering that “the gift of God is not like the result of the one (every man’s) sin” and that “the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification” has a theological advantage. It reminds us that we are all “human”. We all sin. And, the cross was for all of us.

In part 1 of this series, I quoted Origin of Alexandria.  He was a second century theologian, who was very responsible for assembling today’s New Testament of the Bible.  As seen in the Origin quotation, which I’ll share again below and as seen in the views of many of Origin’s pre-Christ rabbinical predecessors, none of this theology is new.   We have long thought of Genesis as metaphorical.  On the other hand, if you look at the views of many anti-evolutionary young earth proponents, you’ll find doctrines such as the idea that “all of creation” including the human genome is decaying.  The doctrine that the human genome is decaying is a new doctrine. It is also not supported by the evidence available in God’s creation.

For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”

-Origen of Alexandria in De Principis

What is the point of the parable of Adam and Eve, if not to describe an historical event?

Many denominations approach the chapter in Genesis, which describes Adam and Eve, by asking what it has to do with The Resurrection. The Resurrection is that which saves mankind in the light of the human condition.

In the Genesis description of Adam and Eve we see how the human species is special. That special nature creates the necessity for a special relationship between God and man. Adam and Eve represent the earliest humans who achieved all the special qualities that make man unique amongst the species as far as the Bible is concerned.

Genesis tells us that what sets man apart from the other species are the intellectual gifts that God bestowed on man that allow humans to be conscious, self-aware, and intellectually creative. This is hugely important theologically because these are the qualities needed for an organism to be able to make an informed choice. If one is to be making moral choices, one has to be able to imagine the consequences on the world and one’s fellow humans of the alternatives in a given situation. For a choice to be “good” or “evil” one must be making those choices with awareness as to how they might turn out.

This takes special mental capacities that the Bible indicates may be unique to man. It both puts man in the position of making moral choices and in the position of being responsible for his moral choices. Ignorance is not bliss for man in that regard, once he “falls” and acquires the capacity for having knowledge of good and evil, and the imagination and self-awareness to operate within that knowledge.

As such, man is no longer in the garden of creatures who simply operate according to their biological programming, unaware of whether their actions are moral or not. We are responsible for our sin.   And if sin is what condemns us, and we are unable to not sin at some point or another, we are unable to save ourselves. Therefore, we look to Jesus who died for us while we were in sin.

So to ask about Adam and Eve, “did that really happen” is the wrong question in Christian theology. The right question is “what does that chapter in Genesis have to do with The Resurrection”

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