Adam: Literal, Historical, or Archetypal?

Adam: Literal, Historical, or Archetypal? March 19, 2015

Screen-Shot-2015-03-11-at-6.25.18-PMAn interview with John Walton, author of the new The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

What made you dive into the discussions (and controversies) surrounding Adam and Eve and Genesis 2-3? 

John H. Walton: I have always been interested in Genesis, in ancient Near Eastern backgrounds, and in issues of science and the Bible, so there is no better text to work on.

What surprised you most as you were researching for this book?

Walton: I think what surprised me most was how varied and controversial the issue was even far back in church history. The interpretation is far from monolithic.

How did the responses you received to The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Scripture shape the arguments and questions you tackled in this book? 

Walton: The more I deal with controversial issues, the more 1 learn of ways to try to avoid potential controversy. It is always important to measure the rhetoric level carefully and not to overstate a case. I have learned that through experience.

You write that “Christianity has been forced to be content with a number of alternatives on the table for interpreting the early chapters of Genesis. It is sadly true that some have adopted a view that only their particular parochial reading is legitimate for a ‘real’ Christian. We must confess to our corporate shame that blood has even been shed.” Can you unpack that? 

Walton: We too easily believe that the world of biblical interpretation is a black and white world—that whatever view we have adopted is right and everyone else is wrong. Such a view is too facile. In many cases we do our best to be faithful interpreters, but the Bible just doesn’t offer enough information to give irreproachable confidence. Even as evangelicals with a common core of theological affirmations, we work with varieties of hermeneutical presuppositions and we weigh the evidence differently. Consequently we develop different preferences based on which view has the preponderance of the evidence supporting it. Though ultimately one position undoubtedly is right and others wrong, we are not always positioned to see that well.

That being the case, it is uncharitable to simply label those who disagree with you as wrong, and even as less than Christian, when they have done their best to engage in faithful interpretation based on orthodox theological presuppositions and a defensible hermeneutic. Theoretically, people will know we are Christians by our love, and I am not sure that we always do a good job of that if we are constantly engaged in denouncing others who are simply trying to be faithful to the text.

One of your major points throughout the book is that the threat posed by the current ideas surrounding human origins is magnified. Why do you think it’s important to address this issue now? 

Walton: We should always be ready to address new information coming to the table so that our interpretation is taking account of every piece of evidence. Genomics has brought important new information to our attention that needs to be taken into consideration. While it is appropriate to let Scripture speak for itself rather than being driven by the modern world (e.g., scientific discovery) or the ancient world (ancient Near Eastern texts), we should always be open to being prompted to reconsider the validity of our interpretations and willing to scrutinize them from a different vantage point.

How has your work as a professor both at Wheaton College and previously at Moody Bible Institute impacted the way you structure your books? 

Walton: I suspect it is more my personality than my experiences at Wheaton or Moody. I was a business-economics major trained to be an accountant (and actually worked as an accountant when I was in graduate school). My brain therefore categorizes information in certain ways and follows a particular kind of logic that is represented in the logical flow of the propositions that characterizes the Lost World books.

IVP distributed this interview.

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  • Hello. A couple questions for Dr. Walton:

    “Even as evangelicals with a common core of theological affirmations, we
    work with varieties of hermeneutical presuppositions and we weigh the
    evidence differently. Consequently we develop different preferences
    based on which view has the preponderance of the evidence supporting it.
    Though ultimately one position undoubtedly is right and others wrong,
    we are not always positioned to see that well.”

    Isn’t the issue here however that one’s core theological affirmations are in danger of being changed? Or, at the very least, that it will seem to be inconsistent to hold onto them if one unquestioningly adopts this or that scientific model?

    “While it is appropriate to let Scripture speak for itself rather than
    being driven by the modern world (e.g., scientific discovery) or the
    ancient world (ancient Near Eastern texts), we should always be open to
    being prompted to reconsider the validity of our interpretations and
    willing to scrutinize them from a different vantage point.”

    Why not also emphasize at this point that it is appropriate to reconsider the validity of interpretations when it comes to evidence that purportedly does or must support a certain scientific theory? Why the supreme confidence that this or that theory is unshakeable? It seems to me there is something in Proverbs about that: “….until another man makes his case….”


  • Aww. Is there going to be a Part 2, Scot? I was looking forward to an answer to the post’s title.

  • AHH

    Based on other things I have read, I believe Walton’s answer to the title question is #2 AND #3. #3 from exegesis and #2 from his theological commitments.

  • scotmcknight

    More coming, yes, including a post of mine at the BioLogos site at Patheos — in a week or two.

  • Patrick

    The answer can easily be literal, historical and archetypal.

    I think Walton’s view of Gen. 1-3 means Adam is not the origin of all humanity anyway( it actually came over to me as if Adam was evolved from less or non “functional humanity” from God’s viewpoint like we view Cro Magnon man), so an adjustment to the mythical status is not needed if we see the genome as unquestioned fact.

    Christians and Jews have forever noticed there are other people in the same text, we just tended to ignore them historically or come up with insanely ridiculous answers such as “they were all Eve’s kids”.

  • Patrick,

    “Christians and Jews have forever noticed there are other people in the same text.”

    Where do you think this is most clear?


  • Phil Miller

    Butting in here, but in Genesis 4 when God sentences Cain to walk the earth as a wanderer, Cain is worried that he will be found by others and killed. It would require some suspension of disbelief that he was talking about people who were his immediate relatives.

  • Nate Sparks

    For starters, there is the fact that Genesis 1 is read most commonly to depict the creation of multiple humans on “the sixth day”. You can’t drop, in good exegetical conscience, the whole of Genesis 2-3 in the middle of day six. The fact that the creation order is different in Genesis 2-3 and that Adam and Eve are not created by divine fiat but by actual physical, hand hewn divine formation (that is the imagery) makes the two incompatible on a literal level. Likewise, it is hard to assume a literal 7 day creation – literal 24 hour periods- and drop Genesis 2-3 in the middle of day 6 as there is no way all that transpired in a single day. The details of the story, for instance, mention that Adam and Eve knew God would walk in the garden in the cool of the evening from prior experience, so they hid. If another evening was starting, it was a different day. Once again, if the attempt to align the narratives in a literal sense, they are incompatible. As such, at best, Adam (literally meaning “man”) and Eve (“mother”) become a representative pair (possibly historical per Genesis 4 and beyond) but certainly not the only humans alive.

    Consider also that Cain was banished from his family, but managed to get married and build a city after leaving them. Where did he meet his wife? Who established the city with him? A city isn’t just you and your wife and, according to Scripture, Adam’s family lived elsewhere at the time.

    There is theology being done in these narratives and there is, in my opinion, continuity theologically between them. But there is a narrative disconnect that cannot be overcome and which suggests that the story serves and archetypal purpose (which is how Paul treats it in Romans) and is not meant to be understood as history in any modernist sense of the word.

    Also, I’m assuming you think then that all people actually descend from Noah. Quick food for thought on that one: If the nephilim are at least partially human physical beings, why does the Flood narrative state explicitly that there were nephilim after the flood? How’d they survive if everything perished, especially since the narrative seems to tie them to why God sent the flood in the first place? Did Noah take a pair on the ark?

    Even in Scripture, in the OT, there is ample evidence that these texts have archetypal purposes and origins in ANE culture. Since Walton gave the interview as a widely distributed publicity piece, probably the best way to get answers from him would be to read his books. They are good books, you would likely find them (and him) very insightful.

    As always Nathan, I wish only to spark some thought based on the questions you raise. Peace to you in Christ.

  • Nate,

    Thanks for the rundown. Not convinced that the traditional reading of the text (which seems to have been not something that arose in the past 200 years but was, as I understand, pretty consistent up to that point), is as unnatural a reading as you suggest it is. Maybe I will look at the book – it would be nice to be more informed here.


  • Hrafn

    WE BELIEVE that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical
    parents of the entire human race; and that they were created in His own
    image, distinct from all other living creatures, and in a state of
    original righteousness.

    — Statement of Faith of Wheaton College, Walton’s employer — which would seem to place severe limitations on an open-minded treatment of differing views.

  • Nate Sparks

    You are aware that Wheaton allows their science department to teach evolutionary biology, right? For certain, their institutional commitment to a historical pair requires certain considerations in Walton’s work – he occasionally dances around a conclusion rather than stating it – but he always guides his reader so as to allow them their own conclusions based on all the available evidence. I have only read his Lost World of Genesis One, I found that text quite even-handed and and not afraid to be critical of literalist approaches; in fact, it was instrumental in leading me out of the traditionalist approach. The evidence he presented against a traditionalost reading was just to devastating and was the final nail in the coffin for me. I would encourage you to read the book, you might be surprised.

  • Hrafn

    I was not aware of that, I was however aware of a number of academics at conservative Christian institutions getting into trouble for research findings that contradict their institution’s Statement of Faith, in some instances for this exact topic (Adam and Eve).

    If Wheaton teaches Evolutionary Biology, I wonder if they include the fact that Population Genetics precludes the existence of a literal/historical Adam and Eve. A bridge too far?

  • Nate Sparks

    I’m not advocating a historical Adam and Eve, per se, but I will say this. The study of the human genome may make it highly improbable that we all descend from a single base pair. The argument for whether or not there were two people named Adam and Eve as discussed from Genesis 4 onwards doesn’t actually exist on the dogmatic assumption they were the only people in existence. The point of Genesis 2-3 as an archetypal narrative is that it makes them representative of the human condition (and the story of Israel), it doesn’t make every aspect literal. I know some suggest they were set apart and chosen by God in a unique way perhaps, others come to different conclusions. Are there some questions begged in these historical presuppostions? Of course. But there is room for varying opinion as to what “a historical Adam and Eve” means.

  • Hrafn

    I did a bit of scratching around, and discovered it is not so much a case of are they teaching evolutionary biology, as what are they teaching as “evolutionary biology” (scare quotes are intentional):

    At the same time, she said, Wheaton’s acceptance of evolutionary theory is limited to changes within a species rather than the widely held view that humans evolved from apes. “There is no assent given here to the vew that Adam and Eve descended from hominids.”

    Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America (2006) by Jeffery Sheler, describing the views of, and quoting, Dorothy Chappell, dean of natural and social sciences at Wheaton.

    “…limited to changes within a species…” is creationism not evolutionary biology.

    Of course it is possible that the situation has improved in the last decade, but it would take more than a prima facie “Wheaton allows their science department to teach evolutionary biology” to substantiate the claim.

  • Nate Sparks

    I’m only speaking from what I have heard from former Wheaton Students. I attended the sister school of Northern Seminary (where Scot McKnight teaches), Judson University, and we had several students who transfered during the time you reference (2006). Perhaps they misunderstood, perhaps there was not consensus in the program, or perhaps compared to those students more conservative beliefs Wheaton was teaching “evolution”. Maybe things have changed since then. I honestly can’t say, though I do know at least one current Wheaton professor of science is involved with bioLogos. I will tell you that Judson, where I attended, was a fairly conservative Baptist school in its own right, yet they had no hesitance allowing full evolutionary biology to be taught in science class or espoused by their professors. They were very ecumenical on a number of topics when in came to the beliefs of their faculty. Thanks for your engagement on the topic.

  • Hrafn

    I think “highly improbable” rather understates the matter (‘not a snowball’s chance in hell’ might be a better, if more colorful, description).

    The problem with an “archetypal” (or otherwise metaphorical) Adam and Eve, is that a fair amount of core Christian theology has its foundation in The Fall, and it is unclear how a less-than-historical narrative affects this theology. That is why even the Catholic Church, which is willing to whole-heartedly accept evolutionary biology in general, seems unwilling to follow through on its implications for Adam and Eve.

  • Nate Sparks

    Fair enough on the first point. On the second, I think you over-sell the actual biblical accuracy of the Western Fall narrative. Certainly, the story as some tell it is rendered moot by an archetypal Adam. The actual biblical witness is not, there are a plethora of scholars and theologians throughout Church history who have accepted the narrative as steeped in metaphor and modern research based on new knowledge of ANE sources and culture has only bolstered such an understanding. Like I said, read the book – and perhaps some others on the topic – you may be surprised.

  • Hrafn

    I just turned up a flier for a decidedly (though covertly) pro-creationist symposium on “Evolutionary Theory: Implications for Science and Christian Belief” that Wheaton put on in 2012. It would seem that Wheaton still teaches an “evolutionary biology” that undercuts scientific understanding of evolution, not actual evolutionary biology.

    The only “Wheaton professor … involved with bioLogos” I could find was Walton himself — but his field would give him no influence whatsoever on how Evolutionary Biology was taught.

  • Hrafn

    I would suggest that you woefully under-sell the implications for Christian theology. There is a very large difference between compartmentalised “acceptance” and follow-through on an idea’s implications. How has this “plethora of scholars and theologians” squared this acceptance with Christian teachings on Original Sin, the ‘Second Adam’ and the topic of Sin and Atonement more generally?

  • RJS4DQ


    I find the Wheaton Statement of Faith on this issue too constricting and would have trouble joining the faculty there.

    However, a number of Wheaton faculty have been involved with BioLogos, including a team who have a grant to develop a textbook on Origins for Christian colleges and high schools. I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with them.

    I don’t think the biology teaching at Wheaton undermines the scientific understanding of evolution. Evolution isn’t taught only as evolution within kinds, but in a fashion consistent with the general community. Young earth creationism isn’t in the picture at all to the best of my knowledge.

    In the origins class space is made for philosophical and theological discussions of a number of positions, including intelligent design – but this is appropriate in such a general discussion class.

    I am fairly certain that this remains a contentious topic at Wheaton – because it is a contentious topic in the Church.

  • RJS4DQ


    There is a large difference between compartmentalized “acceptance” and follow through. The major aim of much of my writing on this blog is to dig into this follow through from a number of different angles. And this is as much for me as for anyone else. I find the compartmentalized acceptance common in the church personally troubling – but I also realize that most Christian leaders on a local level don’t have the time or background necessary to really dig into the issues.

    I’ll post more on Walton’s book coming up, and continue to post on a number of other books as well.

  • stefanstackhouse

    I believe that Adam and Eve were real people. My Lord and Teacher apparently believed this, so how can I believe otherwise?

    On the other hand, HOW God went about creating them, and WHEN that happened, are actually more open questions. There are good reasons to think that a simplistic literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis might actually not be the best way to approach and understand that text. All truth is God’s truth, and I believe that there will be no final conflict between science and scripture. In the meantime, I would caution against staking out positions that are not absolutely required by scripture and run 100% against the scientific evidence that we have gathered so far.

  • “My Lord and Teacher apparently believed this, so how can I believe otherwise?”

    How do you know that Jesus didn’t understand the narrative of Adam and Eve as a parable?

  • AHH


    While I agree that most of the speakers at that symposium are not ones who would give a fair account of evolutionary science, note that the list includes Darrel Falk, who was the President of BioLogos at the time.

    Based on a few interactions with Wheaton science faculty I agree with RJS that they don’t generally oppose evolutionary science (it may have been different 20 or 30 years ago). And they pull no punches in teaching geology (while trying to be sensitive to students coming from YEC backgrounds).
    I could not sign Wheaton’s statement of faith. But we should also recognize that there are some conservative Christian schools (Wheaton and Calvin and Point Loma Nazarene come to mind) that do a lot better with science than others (say, Liberty or Bryan). We shouldn’t lump them all together and write them off as hopeless (I’m not saying you were doing so).

  • AHH

    Where do you get that Jesus believed that “Adam and Eve were real people”? I find nothing to that effect in my Bible.
    If you are referring to Matthew 19:4, affirming that from the beginning God made humans “male and female” is not the same as affirming the historical existence of two specific individuals in the story.

    That said, I agree wholeheartedly with your second paragraph.

  • Nate Sparks

    I get the feeling no matter what I say, you are going to see what you want to see here. At a University such as Wheaton, at a symposium on the implications of evolutionary science on Christian faith, they have to represent more than one side. BioLogos was at the aforementioned symposium and spoke on evolutionary biology in several forums. However, because of the interests of donors and the variety of beliefs among student and faculty of different, they also have to cover other ideas. The same kind of things happen with different topics at secular universities all the time. A symposium on science and religion at a secular university would likely host Christian, Muslim, and other religious thinkers as well as evolutionary biologists even though the university does not espouse Christianity or Islam. Sometimes, officially, it’s not as simple as taking a side.

    In terms of the literal Adam and Eve, prior to their most recent president, Wheaton had no such statement and taught evolutionary biology, it was with his entrance in the mid-90’s that things got hairy as he entered the new language. They were allowed to teach evolution, but they also were required to recognize that a historical Adam and Eve stood outside the evolutionary process as God’s direct and personal creation. Remember, this was before the genome project and common descent wasn’t as strange a thing to hold to (even if Adam and Eve were the result of divine intervention). Should they catch up, to science at Wheaton, perhaps, are they teaching a literal 6-day creation or that the universe is 10,000 years old and that evolution is patently false, no.

    A perfunctory google search of bioLogos Wheaton professor revealed several professors who have been affiliated with bioLogos and spoken at their events.

    Lastly to the notion of the impact on theology, you again demonstrate you haven’t read many theologians (or at least not ones from a variety of viewpoints). Original Sin as a doctrine has been challenged, and rejected by many for quite some time and quite independently of the findings of evolutionary science (though some have come to the realization together). Original Sin was a doctrine based on Greek metaphysical concerns for how Christ was born physically, yet was sinless and takes into account the reigning biological understanding of procreation. For the Greeks, physical was impure and defiled by nature, so they came to the assumption (from a somewhat faulty translation of Romans 5) that a sin nature is transferred physically through the male via the semen, since the female was simply a receptacle. Original sin has been rejected on a number of grounds since then – hermeneutical, scientific knowledge of how procreation actually works, and quite late to the discussion the notion that common descent just doesn’t fit. However, as the witness of Scripture is not about Sin as an internal force but a cosmic force of corruption, nothing is really lost as the thing jettisoned was only central to a certain Western conception of Christian theology. The Bible is bigger than Western thought. Like I said before, before you dismiss these scholars try reading them. There are many who openly accept both evolution and atonement and present no contradiction or tension between the two in their scholarship.

    I have enjoyed the conversation, but I’m not sure how fruitful this really is. I wasn’t looking to debate doctrines, if you really want to know, you can read about it and come to your own conclusions. Anything and everything I say here is already being fed through your filters and preconceptions, which is fine we all do it, but it makes for a rather circular conversation sometimes. At some point, I have to jump off the merry-go-round. Now is as good a time as any. I hope you found the conversation somewhat engaging. God bless!

  • stefanstackhouse

    Well, he clearly considered Abel to be a real person (Matt 23:25 & Luke 11:51). His apostles Paul and Jude and the evangelist Luke all mention Adam as if he were a real person (and Paul mentions Eve as well). Matt 19:4 doesn’t mention Adam and Eve by name, but I doubt that anyone listening to Jesus at the time would have any doubt about who He had in mind.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, the thing about the mentioning of Abel there is that it really doesn’t lose any of its meaning if Abel was historic or not. The point Jesus was making was that the Pharisees are guilty of having the same murderous heart that has plagued many in Israel throughout its history. And actually, an archetypal reading actually makes more sense, at least to me. In a literal or historic reading, Abel would not just be in Israel’s lineage, but in all of humanity’s lineage. So Jesus would somehow being saying the Pharisees would be held accountable for something even outside of Israel’s particular history.

  • Hrafn

    No Nate, it is simply a fact that (unlike you) I know enough about creationism to recognise what I “see”:

    1) The flier for the symposium contains this piece of YEC anti-science propaganda:

    These events often presumably occurred millions (or even billions) of years ago and are therefore not subject to the criteria of testability in the same way that scientific experiments conducted in the laboratory are expected to be.

    Ken Ham couldn’t have said it himself.

    2) Science is empirical, and a matter of facts and evidence not belief. Far from being even-handed, the composition of the symposium was heavily weighted towards creationism: a YEC/ID-Creationist (Nelson), three other IDCs (Behe, Sternberg, Collins), a OEC (Rana), a pro-IDC (and profundly ignorant-of-evolution) philosopher of religion/apologist (Plantinga). On the science side, we did have three members of bioLogos (two to one creationist over science), but only one of them (Schloss) has any strong background in evolutionary biology, and his interests appear to be more in the “theological and philosophical implications of evolutionary theory”, than in studying evolutionary biology itself.

    Given the almost complete lack of anybody with a strong background in evolutionary biology, this symposium would be about as useful for understanding the subject as a Roadrunner cartoon is for understanding ecology, i.e. a complete caricature.

    You are correct that I am not deeply read in theology. Christian theology only interests me to the extent that it affects Christian interaction with science and the rest of the world (which is to say, frequently dysfunctionally). This interest leads me to observe that the historicity of Adam and Eve is a hot-button issue in conservative Christian circles, an issue that generates considerable volume of discourse, considerable tap-dancing, and considerably more heat than light. It exhibits every sign of being a theological ‘third rail’ (as in “you touch it, you die”).

  • Andrew Dowling

    Hfran, you seem to going a little over the top here. Its a symposium at an evangelical college . . the focus is going to be a theological debate. The main purpose isn’t to get better acquainted with the details of evolutionary biology (although hopefully many would)

  • Hrafn

    Andrew: this subthread was in response to Nate’s claim that this “evangelical college” teaches (actual) evolutionary biology — a claim that this symposium adds further doubt to.

    That this symposium was not meant as a “theological debate” is clearly indicated by the inclusion of a number of speakers who would clearly be useless in a theological debate — Behe and Sternberg most obviously to me (as they’re the two whose backgrounds I’m most familiar with), but I suspect also Applegate and Rana.

    If it was meant as a “theological debate”, then why weren’t any actual theologians (as opposed to people from other disciplines who simply moonlight into that area occasionally) invited? John Haught is the most obvious omission, but there are many others.

    The symposium’s “Session Speakers” were all Creationist apologists, or counter-creationist theistic scientists. The obvious implication is therefore that the real topic was Creationist apologetics, not theology, and that the deck was heavily stacked (2-to-1) in favour of the Creationists (and against science).

  • Patrick

    Sorry for the late reply.

    Textually, when Cain says he is afraid for his life from other people when all there have been identified left are Adam and Eve and when he moves to “the land of Nod”, which I believe to be an ANE euphemism for a larger group than 1 human female could populate.

    Comparing historic research I cannot prove my point accessing ancient Jewish or Christian writings except to say if I noticed these things, I cannot imagine sharper people haven’t. I have ADHD bad and this jumped out at me years ago.

    Another point is what Mike Heiser pointed out, if we read Gen 1-3 w/o any pre conceived notions, it is easy as Dr. Walton points out to see it as 2 separated creative events, not 1.

  • Andrew Dowling

    OK that does help clarify, thanks.

  • Patrick,

    I’m not convinced. I’ve read the book many times and never found the “two stories” to read as separate events. Furthermore, this interpretation does not seem to have been common, to my knowledge, until the past 200 years.


  • Alonzo

    AHH, Then what does Matt. 19:4 affirm if not the historical reality of Adam and Eve. You appear to been engaging in eisegesis by claiming “my Bible.” If you begin to pick and choose what is historical fact and what is not, then you become the arbiter and authority of history. If you relegate Adam and Eve to myth, then you permit truth to stand on myth and not on historical fact. Once you take that stance, you also can place sin in that category as well as marriage. Consequently, at what point do you distinguish myth and fact? At the point when you become the authority for that distinction?

  • AHH

    Then what does Matt. 19:4 affirm if not the historical reality of Adam and Eve
    Matt 19.4 affirms just what Jesus said — that from the beginning God made humans male and female. As in Gen. 1:27. In the context of teaching about divorce, not about human origins.

    And it is not a matter of “picking and choosing” according to whim; it is a matter of discerning genre. If literal historical fact is necessary as a basis of truth, then Jesus was a lousy teacher when he communicated truth with parables.

  • Alonzo

    Phil>>>”Well, the thing about the mentioning of Abel there is that it really
    doesn’t lose any of its meaning if Abel was historic or not.”

    Yes it does lose its meaning. What you claim ignores author intent and that the author determines the meaning of what he writes. Meaning is not left to the reader but to the author. Otherwise, communication becomes totally meaningless.

    Furthermore, you would also be ignoring context. Jesus spoke out of the context of Jewish history and lineage. Luke mentions Adam in the lineage of Christ, so also does 1 Chronicles 1. The entire book of Genesis affirms the historicity of Adam and Eve. Paul and Jude also affirm the historicity of Adam. To ignore them is left for you to pick or choose what is fiction and what is history.

    If you render Adam fictitious, are we to dismiss Jude’s reference to Enoch’s prophesy as historical? When Paul cites Adam in reference to the resurrection (1 Cor. 15), are we to treat the resurrection as fictitious, also, if Adam was fictitious?

    When Paul informs Timothy of original sin in Adam, do we dismiss original sin if Adam is irrelevant (1 Tim. 2:13-14)?

    To dismiss Adam as a real historical figure makes a lot of biblical teachings void. It also sets the one doing it up as the authority. This is nothing new. Marcion of Sinope tried setting himself up as such an authority and dismissed large portions of the Bible because he did not agree with them and he was antisemitic.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, simply put, I disagree with pretty much everything you’re saying. You’re pretty much quoting back the Ken Ham, AiG, etc. party line. I do agree, though, the meaning of the text is found within the context of the original time and place it was written. However, one doesn’t have to hold all the same assumptions as the original audience to ascertain meaning from a text. So even if the Pharisees Jesus was talking believed Abel to be a historic figure, it doesn’t mean we can’t see what’s going on, and like I said, I think the reality of Jesus’s statement stands regardless. If we say something like, “he’s an modern-day Atticus Finch”, the reality of what we’re trying to convey doesn’t change because Atticus Finch never really existed.

  • Nate Sparks

    RJS, thank you for lending your knowledge of Wheaton to the discussion, it was helpful.

  • Alonzo


    I have no idea who Ken Ham or AiG is. So, you are wrong again. However, what you suggest is reader response hermeneutics (and not the widely accepted historical-grammatical approach), which is not a proper way to read the Bible. That is, you can read the Bible any way you wish. There is no reason for you to accept the Bible as having any authority if you can pick and choose what you wish to believe about it.

    Besides, you have not refuted the claim that taking Adam as a fictitious character destroys the doctrines of original sin, God’s (and Jesus’) design for marriage, that Jesus actually descended from Adam (Luke 3, 1 Chronicles 1), and that Paul’s argument for the resurrection and redemption depended on the historical Adam.

    Do you even believe in the divine inspiration of Scriptures?

    Simply to name-drop (i.e., Ken Ham, etc.) and to deny historical reality for Scriptural interpretation does not make it so. You have not made your case from scholarship or even from the text itself. All you have offered is a reader response (eisegesis) method of interpretation, which permits you to be the authority above Scripture itself and create any teaching you want from it. That is the logical conclusion of your approach, and it is hardly a way of even reading any book.

    That has occurred numerous times in history and quite often in the first four centuries of the church. It is also a liberal approach to Scripture and aligns with Higher Criticism and the Jesus Seminar methodology.

  • Phil Miller

    However, what you suggest is reader response hermeneutics (and not the widely accepted historical-grammatical approach), which is not a proper way to read the Bible. That is, you can read the Bible any way you wish. There is no reason for you to accept the Bible as having any authority if you can pick and choose what you wish to believe about it.

    You like putting words in other people’s mouths it seems. I have done nothing of the sort. Actually, it seems to me that taking passages from the Gospels or Epistles and using them as proof-texts regarding a certain reading of Genesis is actually an example of using the texts in ways in which they were never intended.

    As far as original sin, I’d say I don’t think the purpose of the Genesis narrative is to explain the origins of sin or evil. It actually doesn’t do that. It gives a story of mankind choosing to go its own way despite knowing God’s commandments, and it shows that this rebelliousness has long-lasting effects. I don’t think sin has to be genetic in nature to be considered real. One doesn’t have to do much to prove that humans are sinful. It is self-evident in reading a paper or watching the evening news.

    As far as marriage, I would say that I have the ontological case for marriage has never completely won me over. I see the appeal that the idea that male-female marriage was established at the beginning of creation, and I would affirm that marriage is a very holy institution. It’s interesting, though, that Jesus himself never married, and that the New Testament church seemed to make less of idol of the perfect family than we see many doing today.

  • Alonzo

    Phil>>>”Actually, it seems to me that taking passages from the Gospels or Epistles and using them as proof-texts regarding a certain reading of Genesis is actually an example of using the texts in ways in which they were never intended.”

    Not true. I simply performed an inductive analysis, looking at all the passages in the Scriptures referring to Adam and asked you questions about them. Apparently, you do not see the difference of using a single verse and scanning the Scriptures.

    I also asked you questions concerning those passages, and you have not answered them from an exegesis of the stated passages. Anyone who knows how to treat the Bible from exegesis would have performed it by explaining the given passages in their contexts from the original languages and not simply say, “In my opinion…” Your opinion does not count when it comes to Scripture without a proper examination of salient passages. The author owns the words; you do not. You cannot read into a passage whatever you want it to say, and your reply does just that by giving your opinion without determining what the Bible actually says and means.

    Rather, you are simply stating your opinion without reference to anything. I did not ask you what you believed except for divine inspiration, and you failed to even reply to that.

    So quit beating around the bush and going off topic. This discussion is over. You are not replying to what I asked.

  • Phil Miller

    So quit beating around the bush and going off topic. This discussion is over. You are not replying to what I asked.

    I don’t know that it was much of a discussion in the first place. You came out of the gate accusing me of not taking the text seriously, distorting Scripture, etc. I gave answers to some of your question, but quite frankly, I don’t have the time nor energy to give detailed answers to them all. There are many pages written on this very subject, and I’ve read more than even remember. I obviously can’t answer every question or objection in the context of a blog comment section. I’ve been down that road before, and I really don’t have any interest in going down it again any further than I have. There are people much smarter than me who written books on the subject who do a much better job of getting their point across than I ever will.

  • Patrick


    I’m not as convinced as I am of Christ’s resurrection, but, the other people in the text either are other people or all Eve’s babies.

    It is unreasonable to me to assume “the land of” is populated by 1 girl’s womb. As far as when anyone ever considered this view, I haven’t read ancient Jewish writings or early Christian writings, so I can’t make the same conclusions you have that folks began to think about this 200 years back only.

  • Alonzo

    You are picking and choosing. You omit the entire context and cherry pick passages from your bible. That is called proof texting. Then you ignore all other salient passages in the Bible referring to Adam and Eve, especially in the genealogy of Jesus, in Jesus’ support of marriage, in Paul’s support of the resurrection, and in the genealogy mentions in 1 Chronicles 1:1. Please show through exegesis how these passages prove Adam and Eve were fictitious characters. And do not say, “In my opinion…”

  • Alonzo

    Phil>>>”…I’ve been down that road before,”

    And I bet you took the same tactics then, too.

    Phil>>>”There are people much smarter than me who written books on the subject who do a much better job of getting their point across than I ever will.”

    You finally got it right. You didn’t name these books and authors.

  • AHH

    If you look at the context of my comment, I was replying to a commenter’s reference to Jesus in Matthew 19:4. That is why I only mentioned that passage.
    I’ll admit that SOME of the passages you mention (notably in Paul) present more of a challenge for viewing A&E as characters in a figurative conveyance of theological truth. For exegesis, I’d commend a couple of scholars more qualified than either of us: John Walton in the book that was the topic of this post and Peter Enns in The Evolution of Adam.

  • Alonzo

    Yep, both liberals. Walton likes to allegorize Genesis by placing temple imagery there for God and comparing His rest with the rest of the gods (See also here: Since Jesus and Paul viewed Adam and Eve as historical fact and since Luke and the Chronicles also includes Adam as history and since nowhere in the texts do any of them give them any fictitious standing, they must be viewed as historical characters. To view otherwise is to read into the text something the authors never intended and therefore to pick and choose what is historical and what is not. That places the reader on very tenuous ground. Luke’s inclusion shows that redemptive history depends on history. Paul does NOT treat Adam metaphorically. Otherwise, he would have said so as he did in his depiction of Mt Sinai in Galatians (allegorical).

    If you treat Luke chronology back to Adam as fictitious, at what point in the chronology do you make a distinction between historical fact and fiction without destroying the genealogy altogether? You can’t. Luke never treated the Jewish genealogy as fictitious (Luke 1:1). You would have to dismiss Luke and Paul like Marcion dismissed whole sections of the Scriptures and become the authority yourself for determining what is true and false. The Jews were very meticulous about their genealogy for showing their heritage.

    Truth cannot stand on fiction, and do not try to use the false analogy of Jesus’ parables again without understanding figure of speech and Jesus’ intent. Jesus explained why He used parables to convey truth. I suppose you failed to read those sections.

    If you treat Adam as fictitious for Paul, show it from the text. You cannot, because Paul never intended to treat Adam as fiction. Remember author intent and not reader response. Those are opposite ways of reading the Bible.

    If you are interested in understanding author intent, read “Introduction to Biblical Interpretation” by Klein and Blomberg. That is an excellent book that served as a text for me in seminary.