This series wrestles with the questions of the compatibility of Biblical theology and biological evolution. To understand my view of Genesis 1, you may read here as that chapter will not be discussed in this series. Also, check out this series by RJS at Jesus Creed. The rest of this series, go here (in the first post, I present an option of Adam being historical).
For most evangelical Christian readers, the following perspective will be a bit more difficult to embrace, as it challenges some inherited beliefs about the historicity of Adam and Eve. A word that has raised eyebrows when included in discussions of biblical interpretation is: myth. An initial response to this word is that it seems to indicate that something is untrue. If, for instance, Adam is simply mythological, the logic follows that we cannot be sure of any claims in Scripture. This is an extreme jump because it completely ignores issues of literary form and historical context. If we believe that the form and context in which God chose to inspire a sacred text matters, then asking questions about the historicity of Adam is not unreasonable.
If you remember the quote by C.S. Lewis that I posted in an earlier article, it certainly alludes to his belief that Adam and Eve were not actually the first historical pair of humans. Tim Keller believes that there is room to have differing opinions on this issue even though his deep conviction is that Adam was indeed historical. He states: “One of my favorite Christian writers (that’s putting it mildly), C.S. Lewis, did not believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and I do not question the reality or soundness of his personal faith.” With this acknowledged, the language of myth may still be difficult for you to embrace.
In order to understand this perspective (rather than caricature it as many have done) we need to have some common language about the word myth. We also need to realize that various scholars are on a spectrum regarding how they understand it. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to borrow a concise definition from Peter Enns’ excellent book: Inspiration and Incarnation – Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. He explains myth in the following way:
Christians recoil from any suggestion that Genesis is in any way embedded in the mythologies of the ancient world… It is important to understand however, that not all historians of the ancient Near East use the word myth simply as shorthand for “untrue,” “made-up,” “storybook…” A more generous way of defining myth is that it is an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?
So, are you still hung up on the word myth? What if we used more of a “biblical” word like parable? Think of Jesus and how he communicated truths about the kingdom of God. He did not give people a list of historical facts, but stories containing a deep truth although not actually historically based. Few Christians would imagine that there is an actual Prodigal Son or Good Samaritan, for they are characters in a parable that point us toward theological realities. Could either of these two parabolic characters be based on actual people? Certainly. But, they may simply be props in a story rather than the point.
From this standpoint, the same could be true of Adam and Eve. John Goldingay believes that we could read the first three chapters as historical based parables. If someone had a camcorder when the two creation accounts along with the “fall” took place, they would not have been recorded exactly as we read them in Genesis. Rather, the reality that God created and humanity rebelled is what the parables of these chapters illustrate. This is why it is possible to have two different creation stories as presented complementary in chapters 1 and 2. As he states: “If you take them as would-be literal historical accounts, you have your work cut out to reconcile them, but this is unnecessary if they are historical parables.”
It will be beneficial to explore the meaning of these texts based on a mythological or parabolic reading. As we do so it is necessary to highlight an interpretive principle that is at work: biblical accommodation. These are stories that were written in way with the original audience in mind. God communicated his perfect truth, while accommodating to the scientific worldview of the ancient world. One form of biblical accommodation is described by Denis Lamoureux as the “message-incident principle.” Message refers to the perfect theological truth that God communicated through inspiration, and incident refers to the idea that the ancient scientific perspective of the text is incidental to the message being conveyed. In other words, “in order to reveal spiritual truths as effectively as possible to ancient people, the Holy Spirit employed their understandi ng of nature… God came down to their level and used the science-of-the-day.”
The science of the day taught that humans always gave birth to more humans; therefore, there must be an original human couple that were the source of all of them. In this case, the Holy Spirit accommodated to this idea so the ancient Hebrews would understand that God is their Creator. “Adam is simply an ancient vessel that delivers eternal truths about our spiritual condition.” Such is consistent with what some have called the “Everyman” theory. This is the view that Adam and Eve illustrate the reality of our propensity toward choosing rebellion against God. They represent all of our stories, and in the “fall” they demonstrate the pattern that all of humanity continues to repeat. In this way, we are in deep need of a Savior from our sin. Adam and Eve are therefore not presented as historically real people, but as parabolic actors on an all too familiar stage of rebellious self-glorification. John Goldingay summarizes this by saying:
I am told there are readers of Genesis who argue like this. If evolution is true, there was no Adam and Eve. If there was no Adam and Eve, there was no fall. If there was no fall, we didn’t need Jesus to save us. But this argument is back to front. In reality, we know we needed Jesus to save us. We recognize the way Genesis describes our predicament as human beings. We know we have not realized our vocation to take the world to its destiny and serve the earth… We know there is something wrong with our relationship with God. We know we die… The question Genesis handles is, was all that a series of problems built into humanity when it came into existence? And its answer is that this is not so… There was a point when humanity had to choose whether it wanted to go God’s way, and it chose not to. The Adam and Eve story gives us a parabolic account of that… God brought the first human beings into existence with their vocation and they turned away from it.
What about Paul? He seems to think that they are historical figures, so does it not follow that we should as well? The answer to this could be the simple reality that Paul reflects the common scientific worldview of his day. Then, some might say, if we are not descended from a literal Adam, then how does the logic of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 work where it compares him to Christ? Jesus brings about life to all and Adam brought about death to all. To this Goldingay points out: “But everyone is not physically descended from Christ, so the parallel would not require all humanity to be descended from one original pair.”
 Keller, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, 7.
 Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005), 40.
 Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part 1, 29.
 Denis O. Lamoureux, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009), 44-45.
 Ibid., 80.
 Biologos Foundation, “How Does the Fall fit into Evolutionary History? Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures?” Peter Enns and Jeff Schloss http://biologos.org/questions/evolution-and-the-fall/
 Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part 1, 62-63.
 Lamoureux, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution, 143-48.
 Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part 1, 58.