Adam and Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah: Historical Figures

Adam and Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah: Historical Figures February 20, 2008
Noah’s Sacrifice (1847-1853), by Daniel Maclise (1811-1870) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




On the Coming Home Network board where I moderate, one of the members told of a horror story where a person who was leading a Bible study taught that Abraham was “the first character in the Bible that we [Catholics] believe actually existed” and that “Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, etc. may simply have been literary devices.” Here is my reply:
* * * * *

His opinion is sheer nonsense and not Catholic teaching. If Adam and Eve are not regarded as actual human beings, and the parents of the human race, then the doctrine of the Fall of man goes down with that, and we are smack dab in the middle of the Pelagian heresy, which holds that man is saved by his own works, and is not in need of being rescued from a fallen condition. The fall is clearly taught in the Bible; especially by St. Paul.

The Catechism refers to Adam and Eve eight times, and ties in their rebellion to the fall of man at least three times (#399, 404, 417).

Cain and Abel are referred to as actual human beings twice, and their actions also connected to original sin.

God made a covenant with Noah. It’s pretty difficult to make a covenant with an imaginary, fictional person. Thus, the Catechism refers to Noah and the flood, and what is called the Noachic Covenant, nine times.

There is also abundant NT evidence of the casual assumption that all these early human beings were indeed historical figures. Paul connects Adam with Moses, in Romans 5:14. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 and 15:45 he draws a direct parallel between Adam and Jesus Christ: the one bringing death upon the human race, and the other being the cause of spiritual and eternal life (pretty weird, if Adam didn’t even exist historically). He again mentions Adam and Eve and assumes they were real persons, in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Jude 14 describes Enoch as a descendant of Adam. St. Paul refers to Eve as having been deceived by the devil, in 2 Corinthians 11:3.

Our Lord Jesus refers quite literally to Abel:

Matthew 23:34-35 (RSV) Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (cf. Lk 11:51)

The author of Hebrews includes Abel in his catalogue of the heroes of the faith:

Hebrew 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking. (also, he refers to “the blood of Abel” in 12:24)

Noah is included in this same recitation of heroic faith. Note how Abraham is mentioned in the next verse. There is no indication whatsoever that one was a real person and the other a mythical figure only:

Hebrews 11:7-8 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.

St. Peter believed that Noah was a real person too:

1 Peter 3:18-21 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, . . .

2 Peter 2:4-5, 9 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; . . . then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

Again, the text moves from the fallen angels to Noah, and then to Lot (2:7), who lived in the time of Abraham, and was his nephew, to the time he was writing. St. Peter is arguing by analogy: “God rescued Noah and Lot; He can do the same for you today.” This makes absolutely no sense if the earlier people are imaginary, because you would have the real fallen angels (demons), then the imaginary Noah, then back to reality with Lot and the early Christians. This utterly violates the tenor and nature of the passage, as is the case in similar passages noted above.

I would urge anyone to stop attending a study “led” by a person this ignorant (or obstinately dissident), unless they are in a position to correct him (which usually doesn’t work very long, of course, to have “students” habitually correcting the error of the “teacher”). I have no patience whatsoever for people like this (as is surely obvious). They lead others astray. They are the “blind leading the blind,” that Jesus talked about. And they will be in deep trouble on Judgment Day if they persist on perpetuating serious error:

James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.

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  • so how do you square all that with the church's tacit accepting of evolutionary theory.

    Peter Keref says the bible does not ban Adam and Eve being created from the muck of the earth 'very slowly'.

    My brother-in-law who will soon be a priest would not rule out as heresy the idea that there were more the 2 first parents ( exactly how that influences original sin) I'm unsure.

    I think JPII indicated we are bound ( at a minimum to believe there were first parents / they were en-soled and they lost preternatural grace.

    so that doesn't seem to rule out that the woman ( called eve in the bible) was not actually called Jenny or they she even necessarily lived in what anyone today would recognize as a garden. etc. etc. and all the other mess that people tend to spout off.

    I've been looking for some good authoritarian stuff to form myself towards and use when I teach religious instruction for years.

    So What say ye?

  • The Catholic Church requires that we believe in a primal pair: Adam and Eve, that these two fell and with them the whole human race,. and that the soul is a special creation of God in each person at conception.

    Evolution gets into the hows and whys of creation, and that is not within the purview of Catholic dogma. Thus we are allowed to believe in theistic evolution (of course, not materialistic evolution in a sense that it would rule out any connection with God).

  • The clearest and most authoritative word on evolution and polygenism remains Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis and the Catechism of the Catholic Church 360.

    36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith. Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

    37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.


    "It is in no way apparent" can also be rendered "It is unintelligible" — that is, right reason is incapable of reconciling polygenism with what Divine Revelation tells us about Original Sin. That is why Pius XII wrote that the faithful "cannot" embrace that view — not "may not," but "do not have the ability to." Polygenism cannot be reconciled with the Catholic Faith (regardless of what Grisez and others think).

    The Church teaches in CCC 360:

    Because of its common origin the human race forms a unity, for "from one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth."

    That's a quote from St. Paul at the Areopagus, Acts 17:26. The Greek literally means "of one blood," i.e., of a single bloodline, hence descended from a single common ancestor. "One ancestor" — mono-gene.

    Consequently, to embrace polygenism means to reject the unity of the human race. That's right — polygenism is RACIST. (Not coincidentally, Charles Darwin, father of modern evolutionary theory, whatever he got right, was certainly and undeniably a racist. His Descent of Man is riddled with unapologetic racism.)

    So, even apart from the impossibility of reconciling polygenism with Original Sin, there is also this problem of reconciling with with the common origin and genetic unity of the human race which is revealed in Holy Scripture and Tradition and maintained by the Magisterium.

  • Hi Dave.
    If you dont mind,i would like to have your opinion on one subject please?
    Our pope , in his latest book (Jesus of Nazareth) wrote that our Lord in Gethsemany , was afraid(very afraid) .
    Now my question is this . Our Lord Jesus Christ always told his disciples and us not to be afraid,do not fear . Now the one who is asking everyone not to be afraid was afraid?
    Isn`t he the lion of the tribe of Judah which attacked death and won?Wasent he almost running to Jerusalem to redeem mankind?Didnt he tell his apostles in (John 10:18) No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. 8 This command I have received from my Father."
    And in the cathechism of the catholic church article number 612 we read :612 The cup of the New Covenant, which Jesus anticipated when he offered himself at the Last Supper, is afterwards accepted by him from his Father's hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani,434 making himself "obedient unto death". Jesus prays: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. . ."435 Thus he expresses the horror that death represented for his human nature. Like ours, his human nature is destined for eternal life; but unlike ours, it is perfectly exempt from sin, the cause of death.436 Above all, his human nature has been assumed by the divine person of the "Author of life", the "Living One".437 By accepting in his human will that the Father's will be done, he accepts his death as redemptive, for "he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree."
    Nothing is mentioned here about fear.
    And then again,darkness is the absence of light,and sickness is the absence of health and so on.So fear is the absence of courage or fortress .
    Now if we , the believers have the gifts of the Holy Spirit , and one of these gifts is fortress . Then how is it possible that the messiah,the annointed one lacked courage and was afraid?
    I really am not trying to criticise the holy father,nor am i trying to pretend to be very wise.But i am only asking to understand…
    The only possibility left,is that Jesus wanted freely to experience fear?
    Thank you in advance Dave…

  • Hi Maroun,

    I'd have to see exactly what the Holy Father wrote, but there are different words in play here. Jesus' emotions in the garden are described with the words "lupeo" (sorrowful: Strong's word #3076) — in Matthew 26:37, and "perilupos" (exceedingly sorrowful: Strong's #4036) — in Matthew 26:38 an Mark 14:34; also "agonia" (agony: #74) — in Luke 22:44.

    These are neutral terms insofar as the question of sin or right and wrong are concerned. Sorrow and sadness are not sins. Jesus wept when he heard about Lazarus. This is not a sin; it is being human and compassionate: and Jesus had a human nature as well as a divine nature.

    Jesus' instructions about "be not anxious", on the other hand, use a different word: "merimnao" (#3309). This had to do with anxiety, worry, fear about what the future held in store. Jesus told His followers not to do that, in, e.g., the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:34).

    It's not a case, then, of Jesus saying not to do something, and then doing it Himself.

    What the pope meant by "afraid" may possibly involve an unfortunate translation. I'm sure if he were probed on it, he would note the difference I have highlighted or point out some other fundamental distinction.

    I analyzed a similar question in the last chapter of my book on the Blessed Virgin Mary, entitled,"Is Mary’s Anxiety in Looking for Young Jesus a Sin?: Reply to a Misguided 'Exegetical' Argument." It came down entirely to not only definitions of words, but context. Mary and Joseph were simply concerned about the welfare of their son, which is not a sin. All parents do that. The word for "anxiously" in RSV is a different one: "odunaomai". The same word ("sorrowing" in RSV) is used when Paul's followers say farewell to him (Acts 20:37-38). No sin . . .

    Even "merimnao" is not an absolute prohibition. Paul uses it in the sense of "caring for" (1 Cor 7:32-34) and quite positively in 1 Cor 12:25 and Phil 2:19-20. He used the cognate "merimna" in 2 Cor 11:28: "anxiety for all the churches."

    Jesus was saying to not worry about what the future holds: getting all anxious over what may or might be. That shows a lack of trust and faith. But He had no doubts in the garden; He was simply agonized over the suffering He willingly undertook.

    Would we really expect Him to be feel otherwise? If He didn't suffer in some sense, He wouldn't have a human nature, as He does. This is one reason why we love Him so much: He is like us in almost all respects except for sin.

  • I tried to find excerpts online about this, from the Holy Father. I found the following:

    "Jesus’ agony, his struggle against death, continues until the end of the world, as Blaise Pascal said on the basis of similar considerations (cf. Pensées VII, 553). We could also put it the other way around: at this hour, Jesus took upon himself the betrayal of all ages, the pain caused by betrayal in every era, and he endured the anguish of history to the bitter end."

    Again, there is no trace of attributing sin to Jesus. He can agonize in His human nature.

  • You need to provide us with a direct quote in context. I wanna see what was actually written and if it could be a translation issue.

  • Thanks a lot Dave.And GBU

  • This is what i found Dave,but it`s in Italian .«La natura umana di Gesù rilutta infatti, come ogni natura umana, dinanzi alla sofferenza, alla morte, ne ha una paura "abissale" che rende l’anima, come Gesù dice esplicitamente, "triste fino alla morte"».
    Now to be honest with you,since i havent read the book yet.I dont know if the words paura abissale are taken directly from the book or someone is only commenting on the words of the pope.
    But as soon as i have something else i will tell you right away.
    Thank you again for your time and patience and GBU

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