Return to Adam (RJS)

Return to Adam (RJS) November 9, 2017

RTB-BioLogosOne of the most contentious questions in the conversation between contemporary science and faith is the question of Adam – more specifically human origins and the origin of sin. The next set of essays and responses in Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation homes in on this question. Loren Haarsma and Kenneth Samples provide perspectives from BioLogos and Reasons to Believe respectively. Ted Cabal acts as the Southern Baptist moderator for this discussion.  The question posed doesn’t ask for a definitive answer, but rather for the range of viable positions concerning Adam and Eve.

Loren Haarsma begins by laying a foundation with three key doctrines to which the people associated with BioLogos are committed (p. 50).

  • Humans are created “in the image of God,” with a special relationship to God and a role to play in God’s creation.
  • All humans who have ever lived have sinned by rebelling against God’s revealed will.
  • God has dealt with sin through Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return.

Viable positions concerning Adam will affirm these three points – even if questioning some of the traditional theological positions that have surrounded them. There are a number of viable views of Adam that are consistent with these doctrines. They can’t all be right of course, but it is not wise to question the commitment of individuals to orthodox Christian belief on the basis of their preferences or current thinking here.

Loren sketches four general positions on the question of Adam and Eve that are faithful to Christian doctrines and to our understanding of biology, genetics, and evolution (pp. 53-55).

  1. Adam and Eve as a transformed pair of ancient representative-ancestors of all humanity.  … God specially selected a pair not only to receive special revelation but also to be miraculously transformed … to make it possible for them to be truly holy, capable of obeying all of God’s spiritual and moral requirements. While they were for a while able not to sin, nevertheless they sinned, and the special grace that allowed them to be sinless was withdrawn. … The spiritual, psychological, and cultural effects of sin eventually spread to the entire population.
  2. Adam and Eve as  a small group of ancient representative-ancestors of all humanity. … God specially selected a small family group of a few dozen individuals to receive special revelation. Although they could have lived according to God’s expectations for them, they chose to sin. These people are among the ancestors of all humans.
  3. Adam and Eve as a pair of recent representatives of all humanity. God specially selected a pair of individuals to receive revelation and to act as representatives (but not ancestors) of all human beings. They disobeyed God and fell into sin in a concentrated historical event. Because they sinned as representatives of all humanity, all of humanity fell into sin.
  4. Adam and Eve as literary figures in a highly compressed history of all our ancestors. … God used both general and special revelation to tell them how they ought to behave and the consequences of disobedience. They chose disobedience again and again.

There is much to unpack behind each of Loren’s brief descriptions and my summaries just hit the high points of his descriptions. There are many variations and implications to be explored in these and related positions.

Creation of AdamKenneth Samples and Reasons to Believe are far more specific. RTB teaches, and its people affirm, a traditional view of Adam and Eve.

  • God immediately and supernaturally created Adam directly, immediately, and in fully functional form from the dust of the ground, and Eve was created later from the body of Adam.
  • God uniquely created Adam and Eve in the divine image.
  • Adam and Eve were the first human beings created and progenitors of the entire human race.
  • Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience brought sin into the world, and that original sin was passed on to their descendants.

Samples believes that this is the best foundation for the historic Christian view. He also holds that it is the only view really consistent with Scripture, at least in part because (he claims) both Jesus and Paul viewed Adam as historical and Paul’s theology requires a historical Adam.  This is an area where the Bible must trump science – the scientific consensus on human origins must be discarded. Now Samples doesn’t put it quite like this. He emphasizes the flux in human knowledge and understanding. Current scientific conclusions may (and often are) still in a state of flux and confusion. “RTB does not think it is wise or prudent to set aside an essential biblical truth of Asam’s historicity and fatherhood of the human race based on current scientific consensus that is open to change and interpretation.” (p. 60)

Redirect. Ted Cabal posed a couple of great questions in redirect. I put my own paraphrase of these questions here. To Loren: Don’t these views (especially #4) imply that the first humans were created as sinners?  To Kenneth: How does RTB reconcile their view that there is a correlation of biblical and scientific when both are rightly interpreted with the insistence on a traditional view of Adam?

Loren responded that “God did not create the first humans as sinners; however God did create the first humans with the ability to choose to sin.” (p. 61)  I think this is a key point, and it is true no matter what view a Christian takes of human origins. The special creation of Adam and Eve, whether in the context of an old or young creation holds the same view. Sin requires disobedience to God’s commands and humans were created with the ability (even inevitability) of falling into sin.

He also points out that there are theological consequences to the traditional view, and these must be reckoned with.   “Science by itself never dictates how we interpret Scripture. Science only alerts us to new theological problems we had not considered before.” (p. 62)

Kenneth Samples reiterated the RTB position on Adam and Eve and then addressed Ted’s question. Summarized and/or paraphrased the points on p. 66: (1) Scripture is the supreme authority because of its explicit propositional nature. (2) The historicity of Adam and his role as progenitor of the human race seems to be the clear teaching of Scripture. (3) To depart is to destructively reinterpret the nature of historic Christianity. (3) Science on human origins is fluid and open to interpretation. (4) It seems biblically prudent and necessary to continue to affirm the teaching of historic Christianity.

He warns that the flexibility on the question of Adam allowed by BioLogos “may lead to an uncomfortable uncertainty.” (p. 66)

france_paris_notre-dame-adam_and_eve-dsSome thoughts of my own. I don’t see the question of Adam as foundational in the way that Kenneth Samples and Ted Cabal (and perhaps even Loren Haarsma) do. Despite Samples assertion, Jesus never mentions or alludes to Adam and Eve except indirectly. Jesus refers to the institution of marriage between a man and a woman as ordained and instituted by God; he jumps from Genesis 1:27 (male and female) to 2:24 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’

More than this – the foundation of Christian faith is a belief in God the creator of all and in Jesus Christ and his life, death, resurrection. Adam has been used and emphasized in the church as a way to flesh out exactly what this means. We should be open to the fact that our interpretations – this fleshing out – could be wrong. Paul uses Adam to flesh out his understanding of Christ – but even here our interpretation of Paul’s intent could be wrong. This is the essence of Scot’s argument in Adam and the Genome. Paul may not have intended what became the Augustinian view of original sin in his teaching.

I also think that we should move from thinking of Scripture as “propositional” and toward reading it as the story of God’s mission in the world. There are some important propositions to be sure, but in general the overarching story carries the message. Scripture is a supreme authority – not because it is propositional, but because it reveals God’s relationship with his people through a variety of means and literary genre.

It is dangerous to make non-essentials foundational. The flexibility allowed by BioLogos on the question of Adam does lead to uncomfortable uncertainty – but this is a current necessity. The RTB position runs the risk of conveying the impression that studies of human origins provide a scientific means of disproving Christian faith. If, down the road, all of the science that is “fluid and open to interpretation” becomes less fluid and quite demonstrably sound, insistence on a traditional view of Adam becomes a barrier to faith. Speaking only for myself, if the choice is (1) ‘traditional’ view as outlined by Samples and agreed to by Cabal or (2) Christianity is a fraud … well then I must conclude that science has disproved Christianity. The “traditional” view is not defensible in light of what we do know today, imperfect and fluid though it may be.  However, I am convinced that the choice is not between (1) and (2) … we must continue to talk, read, study, pray, and think.

I would rather err on the side of “uncertainty” than proclaim with certainty an unnecessarily restrictive position.

What is your thinking on this question?

How important are Adam and Eve to Christian faith?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • Rick

    “Loren sketches four general positions on the question of Adam and Eve that are faithful to Christian doctrines and to our understanding of biology, genetics, and evolution…Adam and Eve as a transformed pair of ancient representative-ancestors of all humanity…Adam and Eve as a small group of ancient representative-ancestors of all humanity…Adam and Eve as a pair of recent representatives of all humanity…Adam and Eve as literary figures in a highly compressed history of all our ancestors.”

    “…the Bible doesn’t claim that Adam was the origin of the whole human race. The story is about the origins of God’s people.”- Ben Witherington

  • swamidass

    I had the privileged of doing the back-cover endorsement of the RTB/BioLogos book. As a person engaged in the Adam debates, I am curious your thoughts on this: There are more options than Loren lays out.

  • Martha Anne Underwood

    I am a Christian who believes in evolution. There is too much scientific evidence and fossils to suggest otherwise. I see the Adam and Eve story as a myth to explain that we get our life from God revealed later in the NT in Jesus Christ. To me a myth is a story that reveals a truth.

  • Patrick

    There are some close analogies between Israel and Adam. Which leads me to be open to Ben Witherington’s position.

    I don’t see Adam as myth , I think he’s a real historic person.

    BUT, I agree the text does not assign Adam the role of the first human ever like tradition sees it. All research together I have read reveals Adam to be the first “elect” person God inspired the Jewish scribes to teach their people about.

    Check out this polemic. Read Genesis 1-3 through neutral lenses:

  • Gregory Peterson

    All four general sketches don’t seem “right” to me, though 4 would be closer than the others.

    Perhaps: Adam and Eve as literary figures in a metaphor on human nature and the human condition.

    But if you want them to be “literally true,” perhaps think of them as proto-Jewish tribes? Unlike other tribal names, which usually mean “the people” in some way, Jewish tribes have the names of the sons of Jacob and his wives and concubines. It might not be too much of a stretch to think that naming tribes after persons, and using their stories as origin stories, was also an earlier practice. But…what do I know about that?

    I do know that it’s highly likely that a population of African humans became us modern humans together, and then spread throughout the world…though humans being humans, when they came upon other humans, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, they had apparently sex with them.

    In Genesis 1, apparently a younger story than the story of Adam and Eve, God creates populations of plants, animals and humans. That would seem more sensible than thinking that God literally created only one person, “the man,” which after “the man” gripes about not having a compatible sex partner, creates a “helpmate” from him who looks like him.

    Interestingly in Genesis 1, the author conceptualizes light as a thing of its own, something that can exist without the sun, fire, lamps etc. The function of the sun isn’t the creation of light and heat, but as with the moon and the stars, is horological.

  • Bev Mitchell


    Thanks for this careful, multi-faceted and bold discussion. I agree with you completely. As often happens when reading posts, a line or thought will arrest my reading and send me off writing something before finishing the piece or checking out the comments. This happened just now, and here is the result in case it’s helpful. Oh, I actually did finish reading your post and the comments before posting this comment – but it remained unaltered.

    “God did not create the first humans as sinners; however God did create the first humans with the ability to choose to sin.”

    While agreeing with this, more or less, we might also include the idea of our being separate from God, while still in his image, still his eikons or representatives to creation. Without the work of Christ, which was ordained “before the creation of the world” our separation from God (and resulting sin) could not be properly dealt with. Humans, including first humans, are/were powerless to accomplish this. This loving reconciliation with God was not available until the first Easter, and the results of our separation are clearly referenced in the Genesis account and throughout scripture.

    What to do with the apparent lack of separation between Adam and Eve and God that comes with a literal interpretation? Well, it certainly didn’t last all that long. Could this close garden experience be in some sense metaphorical and even eschatological? – as the Garden of Eden itself surely is. What I mean to suggest is, could it not be pointing to an ideal, stating what really should be and what will be possible? Indeed, a two stage restoration in Christ, beginning immediately after the first Christ event and, finally, fully realized in the second Christ event described in the Revelation of St. John.

    My version of this interpretation is clearly something remembered and cobbled together from ill-remembered reading. If anyone knows a clear reference to a more standard expression of it, I would be grateful to have it. It has an EO sense to me, but I’m not sure.

  • azbuckeye

    Perhaps … God created Adam & Eve, all humans, and all animals to be ABLE to sin, sin being an act that prioritizes self over God and thus separating oneself from God. And that God created ONLY for Adam & Eve the opportunity to exercise the ability to sin, as only Adam & Eve were commanded to avoid the fruit of that one tree. They acted to disobey, and thus chose selves over God and therefore separation — if only a little separation yet too much separation for God. Yeah yeah yeah, this is not saying which of the four Adam-options I prefer. I guess any are OK, because as has been said, it’s Jesus Who changes my life, not my understanding of Adam.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    My take is that the stories in Gen 1-11 are like parables, the people in them were invented to tell the story of Israel in a shortened form. That is, the story of Israel was retrojected into the Creation/Origins stories. I see all of Genesis as a extended covenant preamble to the Sinai covenant in Ex-Num. with the purpose to show to the Israelites that God is a faithful covenant keeper.

  • AHH

    It seems like Loren’s #4 leaves out a viable option, consistent with his 3 key Christian doctrines, although maybe it depends on what he means by “highly compressed history”.

    I would lean toward the view that “history” is the wrong category, except maybe in the point other commenters have brought up that the story may be recapitulating the history of Israel. I forget who it was that said something to the effect that the purpose of this story was to tell us what sin is like rather than how sin originated. In that view, the story is not giving any sort of “history” of sin, compressed or otherwise, but instead is illustrating in a parable-like way the fact that all humans sin, what is at the root of that sin (selfish disobedience, wanting to usurp God’s role), and the broken relationships that result from our sin.

    I wonder if Loren is trying to hang onto an Augustinian notion of a “fall” (even if not as a singular event). I would say that the theological essential is the fact of our sinfulness (Loren apparently agrees in his 2nd bullet point) rather than any doctrine about how we got into that state.

  • Ted Johnson

    I generally accept the broad outline of evolution theory, but with much more caution when it comes to human origins. I do think there is still far more we do not know scientifically about human origins that we do know. But it does seem to me that to deny all current scientific evolutionary theory is akin to being part of the flat earth society. And I do believe that all truth, including correct scientific truth, reveals God and does not ultimately contradict God’s revelation, indeed, science/nature is one piece/expression of God’s revelation. The options put forth by Loren are interesting, but at this point I am not willing to really commit to any of these theories per se, especially a purely metaphorical or mythic interpretation. Though I realize there is correlation , analogy and similarity with other ANE mythology. I am basically agnostic at this point as to how ‘literally’ to interpret these passages or how to reconcile Genesis 1-3 with modern science. Obviously there is theological truth in these chapters of Genesis, but what they tell about human origins historically, if anything, I just don’t know, though I search for an understanding/interpretation that is as close to the Biblical text as possible, because it seems to me once you sever the cord that ties those chapters to real world experience and historicity in some fundamentally authentic sense, too much is lost that can never be regained.

    I recently taught Genesis in a Church setting, and told the class I was going to proceed with a fairly literal and traditional approach to Genesis 1-3 (which in my church is still pretty much required), but with the caveat that such an interpretation does not appear to line up with current scientific understanding. Which MAY mean the science is wrong to some degree, the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-3 (not the Biblical Text) is wrong to some degree, or both are wrong to some degree. I had people in the class who leaned toward both traditional and evolutionary perspectives, and that caveat seemed to satisfy most so that we could proceed and engage with the text.

  • Tony Whittaker

    Dear RJS

    Thanks for these helpful articles. I think I have increasingly moved to a position similar to AHH’s post. When I read a short story in which the protagonists are generically named Cat, Dog and Rabbit, I can quickly see that these are representative and parable-like ways of expressing a truth about relationships and more. If I read a story where the main protagonists are God, ‘Man’ and ‘Life-giving Woman/Mother’, it seems the same.

    And evolution, from the very beginning, by its very wonderful nature, has been competitive, ‘me first’, or ‘my small community’ first, as each species grabbed, defended, and extended each ecological niche it could. A bit of symbiosis where it was mutually beneficial too, of course. Is that not a sufficient definition of fallen human nature, from which, at whatever point we became moral conscious beings, and also enhanced by an outside force of evil, we need rescueing?

  • I believe the Adam and Eve story is usually considered part of the JE Source (or just the J Source), which would make it older than the P-Source story of Genesis 1-2:3.

  • In other words, Adam was a prophet?

  • Patrick


    He may have been, but, we don’t seem to have any evidence he was from the bible. What I meant by “elect” is it appears he may have been elected as a first “test case” human.

    He got the honor of standing in for us all and failing, I think we all would have.

    In his failure to show obedience to God, Paul shows Adam in Romans to be the archetype for all humanity( sin/death) and Paul also shows Jesus as the 2nd Adam to be the archetype for all humanity in life. Great reversal idea.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Hummm… not quite what I remember reading a good while ago, but I’ll not be surprised that I’m wrong. Genesis 1 would seem to have been heavily influenced by the Babylonian exile, what with the seven days and all. I thought that J drew upon older stories….but J and the redactors would have lived later than when Genesis 1 was formed.

  • M. A. Underwood: ‘I see the Adam and Eve story as a myth to explain that we get our life from God revealed later in the NT in Jesus Christ. To me[,] a myth is a story that reveals a truth.’

    Do you baulk at the New Testament documentation regarding the virginal conception, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ being ‘mythological’ as well? Is it a tremendous stretch in logic to begin denying the historicity of the Genesis account of Adam and Eve and end up questioning whether the Jesus figure represented in the New Testament’s Gospel accounts ever actually existed?

    (Edited comment formatting.)