Adam and Eve are Ancient “Archetypes”

Adam and Eve are Ancient “Archetypes” February 17, 2015

I’m in the midst of a review series on John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate. (Click here for Part 1, Part 2)

Today, I will specifically look at Walton’s view of Adam and Eve.

Credit: Hans Holbein via CC 2.0/commons.wikimedia
Credit: Hans Holbein via CC 2.0/commons.wikimedia

What is “Adam”?

Walton further reminds us that “Adam” is not actually a proper name for a single individual. It is a collective noun, which refers to humanity. On rare occasions, it points to an individual, but people in the neighborhood wouldn’t have called him “Adam” if they wanted to invite him over for a steak and salad.

Adam bears this representative status as the “image of God” (language found in other ancient documents besides the Bible). This imagery indicates that Adam has royal authority to govern over God’s creation.

In other words, “image of God” highlights humanity’s function and calling.

Is “Adam” Real?

Yes. Adam was a real, historical person. However, Adam was not the first human being. Nor was Eve the first female.

How does that work?

Adam and Eve are “archetypes.” For Walton, this means Adam was “a representative of a group in whom all others in the group are embodied” (240). A person is an archetype if what is true of the one is also true for all those who are represented by in him. Adam and Eve are historical, not fictitious. In some sense, Christ, Abraham, and Melchizedek are also archetypes.

By the way, Walton suggests that Genesis 2 is a “sequel” of Gen 1. Chapter two does not go back and elaborate further on Day Six (from Gen 1). So, we shouldn’t confuse the “Adam” (or “man”) in Gen 1:26–28 with the “Adam” of Gen 2–3.

A Mortal Among Many

If Adam serves as an “archetype,” must he be the first person ever in history?

Walton says no. There is a different between a “prototype” and an “archetype.” In fact, he suggests that Adam and Eve were not the first two human beings on the planet.

Credit: CC 2.0/en.wikipedia

He is essentially saying what the text seems to overtly suggest. After all, Cain has a wife (Gen 4:7) and he fears that “whoever finds me will kill me” (Gen 4:14). Then, Cain builds a city (Gen 4:17). Christians have struggled to make sense of these verses for centuries.

Not only was Adam not the first man; he was also not immortal (as many have frequently assumed). For a fuller explanation as how this works out from the text, you’ll have to read the book. I will say this––Walton does an excellent job exposing certain assumptions that are never explicitly stated in Genesis.

For example, we might need to rethink our understanding of “good” (Gen 1), the meaning of the tree of life, and the significance of the “Fall.”

Is It Fruitful?

How might The Lost World of Adam and Eve prove fruitful for ministry?

First of all, Walton’s interpretations help us to see one another from a biblical––not merely a biological––perspective. God’s image bearers can better grasp the calling for which we were created.

Second, if Walton is correct, there is no direct contradiction between Gen 1 and the claims of many evolutionists.

Third, since so many people appeal to Adam when sharing the gospel, there may reason to rethink the role and significance Adam plays in the stories we tell.

Fourth, the book demonstrates the importance biblical training with respect to interpretation method. I’m not simply referring to theological instruction. In fact, Walton’s argument suggests that theological presuppositions are precisely what keep us from understanding God’s authoritative meaning in Gen 1–3.

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  • Sandra

    I am all for looking at biblical text with fresh eyes and weeding out what we have ‘believed’ the text said without it ever actually saying it. I haven’t read the book but have read a few reviews of this and Walton’s book on Genesis ( at GoodReads, and at , and at…and I have a few deep concerns with some of the above and some possible pre-suppositions Walton is bringing to the text from even his own culture. From various perspectives, I think there is need for considerable caution in regards to his reasoning and conclusions….

    1. We have to ask if he in any way seeking a means of compatibility for holding to both a belief in evolutionary perspective on science and creation perspective on Scripture? Is it possible that he needs to come to evolutionary ‘science’ with the same degree of ‘questioning commonly held belief’ as he is coming to the bible.

    2. Although he says he has studied Ancient Near Eastern culture and literature, to infer or state that ‘Adam’ could not have been the guy’s actual name, to me this shows a lack of wide cultural experience. I live in an African context where people are given names quite differently from ‘Western’ families. I have known a guy called ‘Africa’ – yes he’s African and in a particular setting he may represent Africa, but his actual name (what you call him if you invite him over for dinner!) is ‘Africa’. I have met another guy called ‘Human’ – yes he’s a human being but its a proper name on his birth certificate. Both these words are English language words and not African language words which have been ‘imported’ into local usage. From the cultural context that I am in, there is absolutely no reason why ‘Adam’ can’t be a normally collective term used for a specific individual’s name as well as an individual’s personal name.

    So his arguments that Adam’s name could not have been Adam because its a general word and because its a Hebrew word, don’t seem to hold much weight. Languages are always borrowing words and incorporating them into their own languages. What was accepted as Hebrew could have originally been from the pre-Babel ‘one language’ language and been carried down through the generations. Scripture is full of God or parents giving names that are a play on words because then as for now in the culture I live, there is no language category for ‘personal names’ – any word can be used and is usually a very common ordinary word linked to some significance to that person.

    3. I am well aware of views that believe Scripture is more in the ‘legend handed down’ category where we think details might be skewed or lacking thorough information. But one reason we may think that stories handed down through generations might be skewed is that we don’t have many generations alive at any one time and we don’t live very long. We think in our own terms of ‘handing down’ information. But even if pre-Moses was primarily an oral society, oral societies are pedantic about repeating information accurately over and over and over again – and it is family history and cultural information that more than one person learns so there is re-inforcement of data between family members and community members. The elders are also constantly checking and listening to make sure the data is being repeated correctly. There is no permission whatsoever for ‘changing’ details. It is thoroughly shameful to dishonour the family heritage which the ancestors have ‘passed down’, by ‘adjusting the data’.

    And we must remember that Noah’s father (Lamech) and grandfather (Methuselah) were still alive when Adam was still alive according to the genealogy in Genesis 5. And Adam had 950 years to make sure his descendants ‘got the story right’. Methuselah had over 200 years to ‘talk’ and ‘learn’ from Adam directly before Adam died and Noah had about 600 years before Methuselah died to ‘get the story right’. Then following the descendants of Shem after the flood, Abram had about 60 years of life before Noah died, and then another few years before his own father died (who had had an additional 70 years alive while Noah was still alive) and God called him out of the region of Ur.

    How many of us have the opportunity to check back on data related to 10 generations back with the Patriach of all those generations still alive? If Adam’s name was not ‘Adam’, I think the Scripture record would have recorded it.

    4. This is to say nothing of the implications of Adam not being the ‘first’ human being. – I’m sure Walton has some explanation for the NT writers seeming to understand that ‘Adam’ was very much the actual name of the ‘one man’ through whom sin came into the world, and what to do with 1 Corinthians 15:45 which clearly states Adam as the first man and Christ as the last Adam (and I find it interesting that the Greek word for ‘first’ in this verse is ‘protos’ – the very word we get our English word ‘prototype’ – a term that Walton denies should be applied to Adam it seems…. We cannot avoid the the fact that Christ is the ‘first born’ from the dead – on a spiritual level, in parallel to Adam being the first born of the ‘flesh’ – both being the ‘start’ of a new ‘inheritance line’. If Adam was not the only human alive at the time of the fall, is it only his ‘line’ after him that is under the curse of sin – or did his sin spread ‘sideways and backwards’ to all mankind? To directly say that Adam was not the first ‘man’, when Scripture clearly specifies that detail, is dangerous ground.

    5. I am very aware of the question of where did Cain get his wife and thus Walton’s idea that the world was highly populated at the time of Adam’s beginning sounds like a possibility from a limited human perspective. But his argument infers that there are no other satisfactory explanations…however, again, to say this is imposing our cultural and era limitations onto the situation – when we start thinking outside our cultural ‘box’, there are various considerations to be had. I have personally found an ‘outside of 21st Century western culture perspective’ very helpful in looking at this topic. Here are a few thoughts……

    Cain could have married his sister – we now say that that is incest and see it as wrong, but was it forbidden then? Just because no daughter’s birth is mentioned doesn’t mean there weren’t any – culturally daughters weren’t named or specified in the birth order and after Seth’s birth we are told Eve had ‘other sons and daughters’. It’s highly possible they already had daughters since Genesis 4:1 makes the comment that Eve was pleased to have gotten a ‘man’ (not just a baby, but a boy! – masculine noun – we must not assume a ‘western’ interpretation that would place equal emphasis on a female or male firstborn and that Cain ‘must’ be their first child – and apart from that if she had already many daughters, what use is only daughters if they are to fulfil the mandate to ‘multiply and fill the earth’ – she would have for sure sought the Lord for a son and been thankful when at last a son was given). We also don’t know if Abel had children/descendants before he died – there would be no cultural reason to necessarily mention them as he was not the first-born male so his wife and children would not be mentioned in any genealogy just as the brothers and sisters who survived him were not mentioned by name except for Seth who ‘replaced’ Cain as ‘first-born’. And we must remember that Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old – that gives a good many years for even Abel to have a big family – maybe of sons who married their many possible aunties and had many children.

    Many of Walton’s ideas are not totally ‘new’ and while there is always room for taking a fresh look at previously held views and carefully weighing them with Scripture, at this point of first thoughts without an extensive reading, there seems to be more reason for caution, and even danger, with Walton’s arguments, than for acceptance, from my perspective.

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