The Search for the Historical Adam 8 (RJS)

We have been working through the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some good nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative, perspective in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Chapter 4 of Dr. Collins’s book deals with human uniqueness and dignity. These ideas are discussed in the context of the biblical concept of the image of God and in the context of universal human experience.

The image of God is a concept that arises from the text describing the creation of mankind in Genesis 1.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen 1:26-27, NIV

Dr. Collins discusses three approaches to the image and likeness of God while noting that there is no unanimity among biblical scholars on the significance of the term.

Resemblance view: Humans are like God in some respects. The intellectual, moral and aesthetic experiences of human beings are cited as examples of this resemblance.  I would also suggest that creative abstract thought and the ability to realize this creativity are aspects of resemblance.

Representative view: Humans are God’s representatives on earth and are commissioned to rule in God’s place. Humans have a job to do.

Relational view: Humans are fulfilled in community – both as male and female and in a broader sense of community. Humans in community function as the image of God.

Dr. Collins incorporates all three of these in his view of the meaning of the expression “image and likeness.”

My view is that the linguistic and exegetical details favor the idea that “in our image, after our likeness” implies that humans were made with some kind of resemblance to God, which was to enable them to represent God as benevolent rulers, and to find their fulfillment in relationships with each other and with God. (p. 94)

I have also heard NT Wright comment on the image of God as a reflection of the glory and presence of God in the world, humans are “angled mirrors.” Some will also comment on the image and likeness of God as temple language. God’s creation is his temple and humans are the image of God placed in the temple – the way an idol would be placed in the temple – a representation of God.

In what ways are humans created in the image and likeness of God?

Which views would you emphasize or combine?

Continuing on with the idea of image and likeness of God, Dr. Collins reflects on the idea of the human soul – maintaining a form of body-soul dualism, but a deeply connected and intertwined form of dualism. The image of God is a property of the whole person – body-soul, not a property of the soul.

The Biblical version of body-soul dualism stresses much more the intertwining of these two elements than it does their separability. … Recognizing this body-soul unity as the focus in Genesis will help us avoid a mistake that has a long history in Christian theology, of seeing the image of God as a property of the soul only: rather, it is the human being as a body-soul tangle that expresses God’s image. (p. 95)

According to Dr. Collins, the image and likeness of God is unique to humans, universal among humans, and transmitted through procreation. He reflects on human moral instincts and the human ability for language and grammar as reflective of the image of God. There is no effective model for the evolution of language capability and perhaps this is indicative of a special act of God. The ability to retain a cultural life in the worst of circumstances is another feature of humans demonstrating that we are more than mere animals.

Universal Human Experiences: Dr. Collins ends this chapter with a discussion of universal human experiences. Humans have a yearning for justice, a need for God, and a feeling of brokenness. Something just isn’t right. We need redemption for broken relationships. A major effect of the corruption of human nature is social – in the breech of social relationships with God and with others.

Dr. Collins suggests that part of the evidence for Genesis 1-4 as historical is found in the general human sense of being lost. There is a nostalgia for a better past that is part of universal human experience. We know that something is wrong, and that once upon a time all was whole. Here he quotes Blaise Pascal ( I include only the beginning of the quote):

Man’s greatness is so obvious it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature today is like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own. (p. 102)

Dr. Collins next considers the commentary of Leon Kass on Genesis. Kass insists on a purely symbolic reading of Gen 2-4 but discusses a nostalgia for our mythical past. Or at least “something that feels, in fact, like nostalgia.” This deep sense of nostalgia tells us to read Genesis as containing a degree of literal history.

With all due respect to Kass, if we fail to read the Genesis story as some kind of history, we fail to persuade the perceptive reader, because we fail to do justice to this nostalgia. (p. 103)

After quoting GK Chesterton (As I Was Saying p. 160) on the significance of the Fall as a view of life, where happiness is not only a hope, but also a memory, Dr. Collins concludes his chapter:

If we say, as I think we should, that there is a level of figurative and symbolic description in Genesis 1-4, we must still allow that the story we find there provides the best explanation for our lives now, and for our hunger for things to be better. (p. 104)

The Historical Adam and Eve. Dr. Collins argues that we must search for the historical Adam because we know that, in some sense, the story is true. We are fallen, we do not and cannot live up to our ideal, an ideal we know as “memory” not just in theory. We long for something better and are in need of redemption, reconciliation, rescue to reach that something better.

I see more of the figurative, symbolic, and even mythical in Genesis 1-4 than Dr. Collins would allow. However, in this argument I think he is on his strongest ground. There is a way in which the fall is at the very root of the Christian story. And Christ was, from before the beginning of time, the way to make this right.

What do you think – is the fall the best explanation for our lives now and for our hunger for things to be better?

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  • phil_style

    I think trying to find some “common” attribute that makes us “imitatio dei” is an excercise in futility, for the following reasons:

    1. We will always be able to find someone who does not have that attribute – by way of illness or genetic disorder etc
    2. We will, in all likelihood, be able to find animals that exhibit, or appear to exihibit that attribute.

    ..although Rene Girard might have found the marker, if memetic desire is attributable to humans alone

    The best argument in favour of human specialness is simply that God loves us.

  • Edward Vos

    I always felt that the image of God that humans portray is our ability to choose whom to love. Which has its ultimate expression and example in Christ on the cross a model of God’s love for us that we in turn, out of love for God, will extend to all God’s children.

  • rjs


    The fact that we can find someone who through illness or genetic defect doesn’t have a characteristic (say the ability to speak because Dr. Collins emphasizes this) is irrelevant in my opinion. We are not “in the image of God” individually; we are “in the image of God” as a race. Humans as a whole.

    The other issue – about finding animals with those traits – well, I think that is questionable. There are precursors and rudimentary beginnings, but there are also clear distinctions.

  • Mark T

    Why does our longing to be better than we are have to be “nostalgia” or “memory”? That seems to me to be reading into the situation something you want to be there but is not necessarily there. Why can’t it just be a longing? We can all long for unlimited wealth for example, without ever having actually had it, even in some ancestral past. Bringing up nostalgia proves nothing.

  • Adam Huschka

    I found this post very thought provoking. Never before have I considered the many layers of what it means to be image bearers, or at least what it potentially means. I rather enjoyed the conversation on nostalgia as it puts a positive twist on a classic evangelical value. Whereas I’m accustomed to hearing the fall cited as evidence that we’re all sinners, I’ve never heard or considered that this same fall points out a longing in all humans for wholeness. I appreciate the additional perspective.

    I do wish I could more effectively get my head around the implications of believing, or not believing, in a historical Adam and Eve.

  • normbv

    Actually being created in the Image of God ties in with the Gift of Immortality. Genesis 1:26 is a prophetic statement about God’s plan to bring His Spiritual (Heavenly) attributes to humanity and this being accomplished through Christ who is the Image of God. Thus when we put on Christ we clothe ourselves in this Heavenly Spiritual Image reflecting God to the World; at least that is the Biblical implications for humans. It’s not at all about biologically being created somehow to look like God nor what Paul would call the Mortal nature of humanity. When the Mortal puts on the Immortal is when the Image of God resonates within the human capacity. In other words we have to put off the “old self” and put on the New.

    Col 2: 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.

    1 Cor 15:48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

    N. T. Wright has perhaps the best biblical description of this understanding in this conference presentation called “Being Human”.

  • Caleb G

    Although scholars debate the meaning of the image of God in Genesis 1 and other passages in Scripture, I find the Identify View most compeling. (I take the bet in Hebrew as indicating direct object). This means that humans are created not IN the image of God, but that God created humans AS his image. In the original context this most likely corresponded to idols within various pagan temples as images of the gods. God created the cosmos as a temple and then placed humanity as his image within it. What is the significance of this? I’m not sure. Perhaps something along the lines of the Representative View. The First Creation account (Gen 1) portrays humans as the pinnacle of creation. The Second Creation account (Gen 2) portrays humans as one creature, not ontologically distinct from the other creatures. Here the human is created from the earth just like the other creature and possesses the breath of life just like the other creatures. The primary distiction between humans and the other creatures here is YHWH-elohim’s special relationship with them.

    Darwin famously asserted that the difference between humans and other animals is one of degree and not of kind. It does seem that as research progresses, scientists find examples of features and behaviors among other species that formerly were seen as unique to human (See the work of sociobiologists, particularly Frans De Waal). If there is a difference between humans and other creatures, I guess it would be symbolic thought. Yet if, as Gen 2 seems to indicate, human uniqueness is tied to a relationship with YHWH-elohim, then one should not seek to define humans strictly in terms of biology or behavior. I realize this doesn’t answer every question, but perhaps it lays a foundation for further discussion.

  • Amos Paul

    On the one hand, I think that being made ‘in the image of God’ is a dynamic term with depths of meaning going several different directions. On the other hand, I never tire of J.R.R. Tolkien’s description of myth and the role of humans in being inherently Creative, as they are made in the image of their Creator.

    Though this is an online summary, the following is taken directly from a biography of Tolkien (the one by Humphrey Carpenter):

    “C.S. Lewis explained that he felt the power of myths, but that they were ultimately untrue. As he expressed it to Tolkien, myths were ‘lies, even though lies breathed through silver.’

    ‘No,’ Tolkien replied emphatically. ‘They are not.’

    ‘We have come from God [continued Tolkien], and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of true light, the eternal truth that is with God.’ Since we are made in the image of God, and since God is the Creator, part of the imageness of God in us is the gift of creativity. The creation — or, more correctly, the sub-creation — of stories or myths is merely a reflection of the image of the Creator in us. As such, although ‘myths may be misguided, . . . they steer however shakily towards the true harbour,’ whereas materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to the abyss and to the power of evil.

    . . . Listening almost spellbound as Tollien expounded his philosophy of myth, Lewis felt the foundation of his own theistic philosophy crumble into dust before the force of his friend’s arguments.

    . . . Tolkien developed his argument to explain that the story of Christ was the True Myth, a myth that works in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened — a myth that existed in the realm of fact as well as in the realm of truth. In the same way that men unraveled the truth through the weaving of story, God revealed the Truth through the weaving of history.

    . . . Tolkien . . . had shown that pagan myths were, in fact, God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using the images of their ‘mythopoeia’ to reveal fragments of His eternal truth. Yet, most astonishing of all, Tolkien maintained that Christianity was exactly the same except for the enormous difference that the poet who invented it was God Himself, and the images He used were real men and actual history.”

  • John W Frye

    While I like Dr. Collins’ descriptors of “the image of God” in humans and affirm the universal presence of ‘nostalgia’ that generates a longing for something better (things are not the way they’re supposed to be), I can’t see the *necessary* link to some level of historicity in the Adam and Eve story. I can agree that the Story is a good explanation of the way things are now and plant the seed of longing for something “remembered” in the universal human psyche, but why is it necessary to be history to whatever degree?

  • DRT

    I think we are on the wrong path with us feeling that our image is something grand in the human sense. In the Pope’s book Jesus of Nazareth he has a discussion of what Jesus felt was his glory. How would Jesus define his glory? The Pope makes a compelling argument that the glory of Jesus is his self giving and sacrifice, that is the glory.

    So too I think our hubris gets in the way in understanding Genesis. We are always looking for something that is superior to the animals defined in human terms. But in godly terms, the superior image could be our self giving ability. When we are to rule over the animals and creation it is not supposed to be a plundering, but support of nature. Of a giving.

    The giving nature, it seems to me, is the thing that animals do not have but we do. Other animals can conceptualize, communicate etc so those are not it.

  • Joe Canner

    DRT #10: Good point. To elaborate slightly: even when animals (and often humans) appear to be cooperating and giving to one another, it is ultimately for selfish reasons. To be truly God-like is to give without expectation of anything in return.

  • normbv

    I’m going to drop a bombshell on this discussion. The representative priestly Adam/man is bequeathed as a living being just as the creatures are. The difference being that before the fall in the Garden man (think Israel) was also instilled with the “breath of life”. The same breath that Christ breathed back onto his apostles in John 20:22. They were in need of this renewed “Breath of Life” since Adam’s lost it when he returned to the “dust of the earth” just as he came from, along with the creatures.

    The biblical implication and imagery and Paul’s description of Adam as from the earth and mortal in nature was the reason for his “fall”. Adam needed the installation of immortality which meant “life” through God/Christ to walk in the Image of God Spiritually. If one follows the OT imagery closely and Second Temple literature it starts to become clear that the “living creatures” represent the mass of Gentile mortal humanity from the Jewish perspective. The Jew looked down on the Samaritans and they likewise didn’t foster the idea of the Gentiles as fully realized by God because of their paganism. This is the reason for the literary lesser designation of “creatures yet living and mortal” in nature just as the Jews considered themselves as mortal but with a higher and special calling than the Gentiles. (Rom 9:3-5)

    Yet the Jews were smitten because of the burden of their law and its dependence upon works of the flesh or the reliance upon a mortal standard that just didn’t cut it for righteousness. The Gentiles were even lesser creatures mortally because their approach to God was of the fleshly nature also yet pagan and Idolatrous to an extreme. It has nothing to do whatsoever with biological implications but is totally framed in the realm of relationship with God. The story is merely embedded in symbolism that completely throws everyone for a loop until they grasp the Jewish means of projecting the story line.

    Paul says this distinction is reconciled in the NT through Christ where no more is there a Jew and Gentile differentiation for those walking in the Spirit of Christ. However if one isn’t in Christ it doesn’t mean they are less biologically but they are not complete because of not being in tune with the Spirit of God in a holistic sense.

    Hosea speaks of the Day that Peter’s vision embraces the Jew and the Gentile covenant uniting when he says that Israel will be in covenant with the animals from Genesis 1 & 2.

    Hosea 2:18 18 In that day I will make a covenant for them (Israel) with THE BEASTS OF THE FIELD, THE BIRDS IN THE SKY AND THE CREATURES THAT MOVE ALONG THE GROUND. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so THAT ALL MAY LIE DOWN IN SAFETY.

    Gen 2: 7 Then the LORD God FORMED A MAN FROM THE DUST OF THE GROUND and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the MAN BECAME A LIVING BEING.
    19 Now the LORD God had FORMED OUT OF THE GROUND all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man CALLED EACH LIVING CREATURE,

    Ezk 47: Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. … When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. SWARMS OF LIVING CREATURES WILL LIVE WHEREVER THE RIVER FLOWS.

    Rev 22:1 Then the angel showed me the RIVER OF THE WATER OF LIFE, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are FOR THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS.

    1 Cor 15:44 If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam BECAME A LIVING BEING”; the last Adam, A LIFE-GIVING SPIRIT.

  • John W Frye

    DRT #10,
    While your comments are pertinent to the biblical concept of “glory,” especially with Jesus’ expression of it (his cross), your concept cannot be read into the two Hebrew words translated “image” and “likeness.” The terms are too concrete to be transposed into self-giving love or whatever. The ideas of “living idols” or human representatives of YHWH are closer to the mark IMO.

  • Patrick

    It find it interesting that 2 terms were used to describe this. In English, “image” & “likeness”.

    What I wonder is that a Hebraic double up to make a point?

    Or is it 2 separate things? I don’t know myself.

    Check out Ezekiel 1:24-28 and there appears to have always been a Yahweh in the visible form of humanity.

    If anyone cares, there is a scholarly book titled “2 Powers in Heaven” by a Jewish scholar named Segal.

    He makes a very solid case that the ancient Jews understood there were 2, separate, but, equal Yahweh’s.

    One was visible, one was invisible.

    I say this because I wonder if 1 of the 2 terms means a literal image of anthropos?

  • Patrick

    Let me correct an assertion above. In Segal’s book, he concludes ancient Jews saw there was 1 Yahweh, in 2 separated modes as opposed to 2 separate, but, equal Yahweh’s.

    Here’s a short video that takes Segal’s case and advances it towards the view of 2 separate, but, equal OT Massoretic text Yahweh’s.

  • DRT

    I was just watching a show on public TV called “The National Parks”, at 10 minutes in, someone named Dayton Duncan was commenting on the feeling that we all have. However, he framed it up as “we were we and no longer are masters of the natural universe, but that we are part of it, we are coming home.”

    That is much closer to the feeling I experience rather than we are somehow fallen.

    We were part of nature and we have lost that.