If Evolution is Right… Then What About Adam? (Option 1: Adam as Historical) [1 of 3]

If Evolution is Right… Then What About Adam? (Option 1: Adam as Historical) [1 of 3] May 9, 2011

This series wrestles with the questions of the compatibility of Biblical theology and biological evolution.  To understand my view of Genesis 1, you may read here as that chapter will not be discussed in this series.  Also, check out this series by RJS at Jesus Creed.  The rest of this series, go here (in the first post, I present an option of Adam being historical).


Adam and Eve, Doge's Palacephoto © 2005 John | more info (via: Wylio)


Many Christians feel that Adam and Eve must be held as historical for the authority of Scripture to remain intact.  Some wonder – if the first couple is not “real” then could it not be said that other parts of the Bible are mythological as well? For those with this concern, I propose that it is completely feasible to still believe that they are historical while also being open to evolution.  Categories are not mutually exclusive.

According to John Stott: “…my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously.”[1] He goes on to explain that it is perfectly logical to assume that many human-like creatures not only existed prior to Adam, but developed cultures, made “cave drawings,” and “buried their dead.”  Calling these creatures homo sapiens is also not a threat to a historical reading of Genesis 2-3 as long as we recognize that “Adam was the first homo divinus;” the first image-bearer of God.  In other words, God took an ancient tool making human and set him apart by placing him in the Garden of Eden and endowing him with the image of the divine.  This man was probably alive about 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic age based on the descriptions in Genesis about Adam and his son’s work.[2]

If one chooses to accept this view of Adam, an immediate question may rise to the surface.  How is it that Adam is part of the evolutionary process if we are told in Genesis 2.7 – “the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground…”? This does not sound like evolutionary process but a special creation.  But, if we note that in Job 10.8-9 God is depicted as having created Job out of dust by molding him together like a potter with clay, we can see that this is a metaphor.  Obviously Job was born through the natural process of childbirth.  The same could be true of Adam who may have been born through the natural evolutionary process but then set apart to become the image-bearer with his wife Eve[3] (who could have literally been formed from his rib, or this could be a picture of some kind about the relationship).[4]

Clearly it is wise to acknowledge that there are elements of the story of Adam and Eve that are figurative, but to deny the historicity of the whole may be unwise according to some scholars.  They would contend that, in defense of the historical view, in the ancient world true stories were told as more mythological over time rather than the reverse.  Therefore, although the early chapters of Genesis can be seen as having some myth-like characteristics, we need not conclude that these are merely myths that are being presented as though they are historical; for in fact, the opposite is true.[5]

Magic Gardenphoto © 2007 Randy Robertson | more info (via: Wylio)
If Adam and Eve are indeed historical, they were placed in a historical Garden in a state of innocence.  Notice that the Garden itself was not perfect, for it this was the case there would not have been a serpent-tempter (Satan) within its borders.  The presence of the serpent is an indication that the powers of evil had “fallen” well before humanity ever did.  Greg Boyd argues that this may be the reason that the evolutionary process became violent in the animal kingdom prior to the fall of Adam and Eve, and perhaps the source of natural disasters.[6] Whatever the case may be, Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden with the opportunity to choose immortality by living in obedient relationship with God after he had rested upon the cosmic temple.  The source of the image-bearers’ eternality was the Tree of Life, which had they not “fallen,” would have sustained them into the eschatological future!  Terry Gray states: “Had Adam and Eve passed the test, they would have been exalted into eschatology glory, the glory that now is only attainable as the result of Christ’s redemptive work.”[7] The problem is that the first couple did not choose the Tree of Life, but chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and therefore set up the whole human race (whom Adam represented before God) to need a Savior from death.[8]

The fall of Adam and Eve, when viewed as a historical reality, yields two major theological perspectives in relation to the issue of death.  The passage in Romans 5 clearly links Adam’s disobedience with the power of death being unleashed in humankind.  Some believe that the kind of death that is at stake in the Garden was not physical in nature (as death was a reality physically in every organism prior to the Fall and Genesis itself is silent on the issue), but was a “spiritual death.”[9] Having failed to properly steward God’s world as image-bearers ought to, by clinging to the forbidden fruit of desire, spiritual death occurred for the first time in history as God’s image was fractured.[10] John Walton represents another perspective.  He believes that physical death was at stake in the disobedience of the Garden, because for the first time ever a human (Adam) was given an antidote to death: the Tree of Life.[11] After the Fall, they were blocked from access to the Tree and therefore were “doomed to the natural mortality of their bodies,” [12] a sentence which was handed down to all of Adam’s contemporaries and their descendents.

[1] Stott, Understanding the Bible, 55-56.

[2] Ibid., 56.

[3] Keller, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, 10.

[4] John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part 1, Old Testament for everyone (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 41.

[5] Keller, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, 8.

[6] Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Corruption of Nature: Seven Arguments, http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/apologetics/problem-of-evil/satan-and-the-corruption-of-nature-seven-arguments/ (accessed January 4, 2011).  See Also: Gregory A. Boyd, A War-Torn Creation, http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/a-war-torn-creation (accessed January 4, 2011).

[7] Terry Gray, Evolution and Original Sin: A Weblog Series Published on an Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution, ed. Steve Martin (2009), 9, http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/ (accessed January 4, 2011).

[8] Ibid. and Keller, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, 11.

[9] Darrel R. Falk, Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds between Faith and Biology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 199-202.

[10] Keller, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, 12.

[11] Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, 100-101.

[12] Ibid., 101.

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  • Here’s one of my issues (and I’m married to a geologist)…if Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden with a choice for immortality, it didn’t really matter if evolution had been in place for thousands/millions of years since death and entropy were already in place. Mutations (by which evolution works) are almost never a good thing (I grew up on a farm–2 headed cows, five legged pigs and such happen, but then usually result in early death). So is death a result of sin? or was it already around for thousands of years?

    • What I expounded above claimed that the powers of evil fell before Adam which may have caused death in the cosmos prior to that time. Also argued that the Tree of Life was the source of immortality for the first time in evolutionary history. when adam and eve were cut off from it, they were no longer immortal…

      • Half right, Kurt. The notion that humans never were immortal absent God’s intervention (tree of life for example, in both Genesis & Revelation), is perfectly reasonable. But I don’t think the existence of biological death can be ascribed to the Powers’ fall, and still hold to any form of evolution, because biologically evolution depends on natural selection which involves death of those who develop traits that don’t select for survival. So if God intended to use evolution as a creative mechanism, then biological death was always a necessary part of that mechanism.

        What the Powers’ (and humans’) rebellion brought, then, was not death itself. It was death as a thing to be feared…death as separation from God’s good order of things.

        But you can’t have theistic evolution, and still hold that simple biological death was not in God’s order of things. Mechanics don’t work out…

    • I think this is one of the central issues. The death that is discussed in Genesis, whether merely spiritual, physical, or both, is the result of Adam and Eve’s volitional choice. It is a causal effect. Now if the scripture only means “spiritual” death, than millions of years of physical death could have existed before. Moreover, Romans 5:12 seems to imply this same feature—”Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Even the Greek, qanatoj, is ambiguously figurative or literal.

  • Alan Molineaux

    Thanks Kurt. Helpful stuff.

    Looking forward to the next two episodes.

    I would add to the discussion:

    1 The early parts of Genesis cannot be viewed as purely history because there wasnt anyone there to record the events. We have to therefore see them as some form of revelation.

    2. The word myth does not necessarily mean false or untrue as many belief. It just has a different role than say written history.

    I know this is nothing new to you but I thought it might add to the discussion.

    Thanks again.


    • Luke T

      I find your second point strange. I understand types of literature, but being that I see the Bible as ultimately coming from God is it appropriate to use a genre of Myth that so often is seen as the untrue story or inaccurate account.

      Could I call the scientific research on this area is not purely historical as myth? Could I say the evolutionary science myth can be reconciled with the biblical myths? Or am I now being offensive?

      At a base level, cannot a Christian say that God was there at creation and gave the biblical account to Moses or some other inspired author?

      • Luke, why is it that we moderns associate the term “myth” with false stories? Is it not because most of the mythology we know of is the Greek, Roman, and Norse stories of their gods? Why should the fact that (we believe) those myths are false, mean that the “falseness” is a necessary part of myth? If the exclusive claims of Yahweh are true, then myths that come from Yahweh are true in a respect that myths from other sources are not.

  • CreationHappened

    This watering down/twisting of the truth found in the Bible, so that it is more palatable to the world is dangerous! To often what I get from this blog, is twisting of the truth found in the Bible to make the Christian message conform to the world’s beliefs.

    This “old earth” belief doesn’t hold up to the simple discussion of when did sin enter the world. If sin didn’t enter the world until Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then how did the life cycle occur previous to this, for ?

    The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 make it clear that the creation days happened only about 6,000 years ago. It is transparent from the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (which give very detailed chronological information, unlike the clearly abbreaviated genealogy in Matthew 1 and other chronological information in the Bible that the Creation Week took place only about 6,000 years ago.

    Jesus was a young-earth creationist, just look at Mark 10:6, where referring to Adam and Eve, the first humans, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” There is no room before Adam and Eve, thus says Jesus’ statement “from the beginning of creation”, referring to Adam and Eve.

    The hebrew word used in Genesis 1 for “day” is “yom”, wherein the vast majority of the Old Testament scriptures this means a literal day (i.e. “and there was evening, and there was morning”).

    I’ve given you some of the truth found in the Bible regarding Creation, a wealth of information can be found at:

    • <!–
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      Hello “Creation Happened,”

      Let me start out with the sincere agreement with your
      “name.” I believe with full
      agreement that creation did in fact happen. I believe what we may disagree on is the “how.” So, I am going to address your
      concerns, paragraph by paragraph.

      Paragraph 1)
      You wonder how it can be productive to “water down” the Bible to fit
      with the world’s beliefs. Friend,
      you may not believe this, but the LAST thing that I want to do is water down
      the Bible. I believe that the
      Bible is the guidebook and authority for knowing God. To water it down would counter my deep convictions about the
      God to whom the Scriptures point.
      Rather, I am convinced that we must read the Bible with these
      considerations: a) What did the text mean to the original authors and audience?
      b) How did what they believed about the world inform how they communicated
      Truth? c) How did God reveal Truth? Did he accommodate language and ideas so
      that ancient peoples would understand?
      This is called the biblical doctrine of accommodation which is held by
      most conservative scholars. d) How does God’s word inform us about God’s world
      and how does God’s world inform us about God’s word (both sources of revelation
      are important). e) How has the
      church interpreted this passage throughout history. It is the answers to these basic interpretive questions that
      inform my reading of the Bible.
      The Bible, like Jesus is incarnational both human (informed by human
      authors) and divine (from God who revealed truth in ways ancient people could

      Paragraph 2)
      Your critique of the “old earth” fails to account for a basic
      question. If sin did not exist in
      the creation prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve and therefore the life cycle
      (life to death, ect) did not take place until they were cast out of the garden…
      what about the serpent? The
      serpent, who most interpreters in the conservative tradition identify as Satan,
      is already in the garden tempting and luring within God’s good creation prior to
      Adam’s sin. What do we do with
      that? I believe that the fall of
      Satan and the demonic powers of evil happened prior to the fall of humanity. I actually think there is a possibility
      that this fall introduced corruption into God’s world which allowed for the
      violent nature of the evolutionary process. So, God’s solution was to place a human couple in a garden
      with the possibility of never dying… because of the tree of life. When they sinned, they were cast out of
      the garden and doomed to die just as their evolutionary predecessors had. PS – Cain had to get a wife somewhere,

      Paragraph 3) Genealogies do present a difficulty to my view
      but not much. If you actually read
      up on my post about Genesis 1, you will see that in the ancient world that passage
      is about “functional origins” and not “material origins”. This is not to say that God is not also
      the author of material origins, but simply that Genesis one is addressing other
      issues. In other words, many homo
      sapiens existed prior to the genealogy listed in Genesis, but that the peoples
      listed there are after God established his world to function under “image
      bearers.” In order to properly
      understand what I mean in this brief explanation you really need to watch the
      video I created on this subject and the one page summary here: http://www.thepangeablog.com/2010/12/27/rediscovering-the-lost-world-of-genesis-one-best-interpretation-ive-seen/

      4) “from the beginning of
      creation…” That is an important quote.
      You must understand what Jesus and any ancient person meant by “create.” Watch the video in the link above and
      that is my rebuttal to this issue as well. From the beginning of the creation of a functional cosmos,
      God did make them in his image.
      But it seems that there were billions of years to account for prior to that
      “functional creation moment.” If
      you read this without reading the above link and watching the short video, you
      will not hear my argument properly.
      Please take time to do that if you truly want to know why I think what I
      think! 🙂

      Paragraph 5) I actually believe that the Hebrew word יוֹם “yom” means 24 hour period of
      time. I don’t hold to a “day –
      age” theory. Again, what is the
      purpose of “day” here? In my above
      article and video I address it some.

      Paragraph 6)
      Answers in Genesis are becoming a fading voice in this discussion because
      of their inability to actually look at ancient Hebrew culture and the literary
      devises God used when He inspired the Scriptures. I might add that one of my main sources here is Timothy
      Keller who is a traditional conservative Reformed scholar / pastor. In fact, all of my sources come from
      traditional conservative authors… these are not left wingers who could care
      less about the authority of Scripture.

      Grace and peace to you
      brother… or sister 🙂

  • I do like where you are going with this article, right from the start you assert Adam and evolution do not have to be mutually exclusive.

    For me, being raised southern baptist, Adam was as real of a person as my great, great grandfather was (though we tended to mention and discuss Adam more). As I became older and more educated, I learned that many civilizations had their creation narratives (Genesis then became one of many). Once I realized this, I began to disengage my willing suspension of disbelief, and embrace the notion that this narrative was meant to set the stage for a personal monotheistic God that set the Abrahamic tribesmen apart from their neighbors.

    Just as I do not ascribe to the healthcare practices, and other scientific methods of nomadic tribes from the middle east 4000 years ago, I do not use them as my definitive scientific experts.

    I am very grateful of the Abrahamic traditions and how they have forever changed this world, but I no longer need to think of their writings as infalible and true in my spiritual journey and relationship to a guy called Jesus.

    Great post!

  • davidstarlingm

    Despite being a physicist and a Christian, I’ve never had trouble reconciling my view of nature with the Biblical account of a recent creation and a worldwide flood. I won’t address any of the issues I have with an old earth at present, though; something more interesting has come out of this post.

    I’ve heard the “Adam was the first homo sapiens that God made in His image” idea before, but I can’t say that I’ve seen it placed within a theological backdrop so completely. And that’s what is so fascinating.

    I don’t believe that the Cross was “plan B”. I don’t believe that God expected Adam and Eve to “pass the test” in the Garden. The Garden served one purpose: to demonstrate that man was incapable of obeying even the simplest command from God, even when surrounded by nothing but blessing. That’s why the Lamb’s sacrifice was ordained before the foundation of the world; God’s one plan from the beginning was not to make people perfect, but to redeem imperfect people.

    That’s what is so interesting about this, at least to me. The idea of an already-fallen creation, filled with millions of years of death and suffering, fits quite well into the idea of the Cross as a backup plan. I’m curious….can an old earth be reconciled with a Cross-centered, Cross-focused view of history?

  • I find this a very intriguing approach to the issues of origin. As someone who looks to Timothy Keller as one of the most solid voices to argue for an intellectual and honest approach to the discussions on God and belief, I am very glad to see his work on evolution that you are referencing here.

    With that being said, I am curious to see (maybe you are going there eventually) how you approach creationist arguments such as Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity”. For me it is not as much an issue of trying to understand the interaction of science and faith as it is the debate on whether or not I am being honestly taught science when it comes to evolution period! Hugh Ross’s “A Matter of Days” makes a fantastic case for an old earth that sees God actively creating different stages of life at the exact right time in a process to lead to His creation of Man.

    Perhaps I am wrong, but I seem to be reading here that you have a position that evolution, in the way it is generally taught, is fairly accurate. I would contend that this is a position that is scientifically untenable, as articulated by Old Earth Creationists such as Ross and Behe.

  • If this world was really only 10,000 years old or so, none of us would be here. The land around our feet would be red-molten hot, the air would be toxic for us to breethe. The world around us remains in constant change and flux…though generally at a rate barely registerable over a human lifetime. Look at the islands of Hawaii, many which still have active lava flows.

    Believing all the Dinosaurs suddenly died out in a flood 6000 years ago is so naive it borders on inexcusable…

    • Unspun42

      Wherever you side, inexcusible would be to hold to logic that the earth “must” be molten hot at its beginning before cooling down. If God could have created it out of nothing then certainly He has the power to create an earth at the “right” temperature not needed to be terraformed. I hear these kinds of arguments a lot. Please explain why it *must* be so (molten etc).

  • Walton also holds out for a special creation of Adam and Eve, but he doesn’t unpack the details for us, at least in the Lost World (p. 139).

    Suffice to say that, apparently, affirming something akin to the neo-Darwinian synthesis and a special creation of Adam somewhere along the line in the ancient past aren’t two mutually exclusive ideas.

  • Philmmaclean

    Kurt, (a little off topic) but have you written/considered writing on how people may perceive the church from a perspective of material vs. functional ontology (building vs. people)? Can a church even exist if it is not serving it’s function?

  • Much ado about nothing.

    Anyone that does not recognize there are various types of literature in Sacred Scripture, each written for different purposes, is forgetting the purpose of Scripture.

    Anyone forgetting that Scripture, while God-breathed, is man-written will not listen to this discussion.

    Anyone whose faith is in the (exact) words of the Bible and not in the Savior has created an idol.

  • Celeste

    Hurray for Bob Chapman’s post! To me, a person very inequipped to participate in the scholarly language of this discussion, his post cuts right to the point — the Bible can’t be granted the authority that it is by literalists. It is an inspired document, but the Old Testament is the book of Judaism, and the Pharisees were expert in reducing it to particulate level. And our Savior, Christ, rebuked them, in being and in deed. Truthfully, if one disputes the amazing process that is evolution, you cannot fully enjoy the majesty of God’s Creation.

  • Some of you good folks have brought up Genesis One kinds of questions. I want to post a video I made here addressing that issue (although this series is not about that, but assumes such a reading of the first chapter of the bible).

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vk_gMxjALUk&w=480&h=390%5D

  • I love a good, deep discussion of theology, and a discussion of “historical vs. allegorical Adam/Eve” is a great one, BUT….here’s the core issue: either way (historical or allegorical), it does not change (1) the strength of evidence and settled science supporting evolutionary biology, including man or (2) the theology of man as “image-bearer” of God. Both of these still remain, regardless of the historical (or not) basis of Adam and Eve. @markraymd:twitter @ballardmel:twitter @shepstrong:twitter @aaronballard:twitter

    • Good on you Janet! To your list I would add (3) the call of Jesus to follow him and make disciples who do likewise.

  • homo divinus” <– that's an interesting category. 🙂

  • Cecilia Pessoa

    This is an area I wrestle with as a Christian and a geology student. Many parts of this explanation seem plausible to me, but there is one point in particular that concerns me. It’s the mention of Adam’s being the first “homo divinus” chosen from the population of early humanoids. If that were true, it opens up the possibility that not all humans descended from Adam, and therefore, are not all made in the image of God. This I do have a problem with because Jesus came to save people of all nations/peoples, not just of the some who may have been descended from Adam and Eve.