NOT an Onion Headline: Evangelicals Admit Adam and Eve May Not Have Existed

NOT an Onion Headline: Evangelicals Admit Adam and Eve May Not Have Existed August 13, 2011

This just in from NPR:

And Venema is part of a growing cadre of Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century. Another one is John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan until recently. He says it’s time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.

“Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost,” Schneider says. “So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings.”

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  • Trey

    How do you feel about that statement Tony?

  • I’ve been asking folks in the church for awhile now what would happen if history, science, archeology, or some other empirical discipline disproved one of their favorite Bible stories. Could you live with Adam or Noah or Jonah or Job being a legend wrought by God to teach us something about our relationship with him? Would your faith weather that storm?

  • I used to be one of those who thought the whole house of cards would fall if even one iota of it were proved not literally true. I survived the card being removed, and my faith has grown deeper, and not as shallow as it once was.

  • *facepalm*

    Scientific research and evolutionary biology cannot speak to the existence of Adam and Eve by their very nature. They might overturn the pseudo-scientific claims of Fundamentalist Young Earth Creationist readings of the Biblical texts, but that in no way shows that the Genesis accounts are therefore automatically to be considered “legends.”

    Evangelicals for 50+ years have allowed for a non-literalist reading of Gen.1-11. Bernard Ramm, C.S. Lewis…there’s nothing new here.

  • Not for you and me perhaps, but for the average Christian in our churches on Sunday morning, I have found this to be very much a new idea. I am part of Restoration Movement, which holds the Word in very high esteem, and I have to be careful lest I be branded a heretic.

    Also, by “legends” I only meant non-literal stories, so we are in agreement there.

  • Vern Hyndman

    Scripture says that God spoke creation into existence. And we believe scripture is inspired words of God. So if what creation tells us, and what scripture tells us are at odds, we’ve misinterpreted scripture, we’ve misinterpreted creation, or we’ve misinterpreted both. Both are the words of God.

  • Dan Hauge

    I’m pretty comfortable with not reading Genesis 1-3 as some kind of literal history, but I’m more interested in the question of how much we really need to reformulate in terms of our theology. Does accepting evolution demand that we stop speaking of any kind of ‘fall’? It seems to me that even on a metaphorical/mythical level, the text still teaches the idea that humanity had some kind of opportunity to trust God, and that we chose not to, and the ramifications of that affect the way we relate to God and each other, not generally for the better.

    I’d be interested to hear more from Schneider about how evolution proves there was “never was any such paradise to be lost”. It seems to go along with a broader trend I see in theology, to want to move toward a more ‘progressive’ model of redemption, where we are just gradually improving and there was no orignally “good” creation that we fell from in any way. It’s interesting, but I’m a little bugged by the way biological evolution is brought in to support this view. The evolution of species and physical traits by natural selection does not necessarily imply any kind of moral progress, any more than it implies social Darwinist philosophy, where ‘survival of the fittest’ was used to justify rather draconian social policies. We just need to be more careful how we derive philosophy and theology from the natural sciences.

  • Contemplative

    Well, looks like science (and history) is working its way one by one through the Bible’s major figures. I suppose once Jesus is proven to have been a myth, we can finally throw in the towel?

  • Eric Nelson

    You either believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, or you don’t. I just think it’s a dangerous path to go down to start picking pieces apart in this way.

    • Beth Walters

      And sometimes God teaches us in stories — as did Jesus.

      • Beth Walters

        And as my old friend Bill Dols always says, “Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”

  • If this is true, it will be rather interesting for Genesis and history. It still may be a hoax, but if not then it is a science/religion game changer.

    • I have a co-worker who is from Turkey. A couple years ago I asked him what the locals think or believe is up on Mt. Ararat, and he said simply that for Turkish people there is no question, the Ark is indeed up there. He told me that it wasn’t just Turkish Christians who believe this, but Turkish Muslims, as well. But he was also quick to point out that just because Turkish people state as fact that the Ark is up there doesn’t mean that they believe the Flood happened described in the Bible.

    • Scot Miller

      Maybe this just confirms the Gilgamesh Epic, since the writers of this part of Genesis (J and P) probably borrowed some of the story from the Babylonians.

      • Klompenmaker

        The mountain we call Ararat is a stratovolcano, a mountain built up of layers of volcanic ash and other ejecta from successive eruptions. While the precise dates of its activity are not known there are bronze age (3rd millennium BC) artifacts buried under pyroclastic flows on its slopes. There is some evidence of pyroclastic eruption in an 1840 eruption as well.

        All this is to say that even if the mountain we call Ararat were the landing place of the Ark, it would be buried or destroyed by eruptions of the mountain, which is significantly higher now than it was 5000 years ago.

        Noah’s Ark explorers are wasting their time on Ararat. And the Chinese “discovery” of the Ark in the YouTube video linked is simply a fraud perpetrated by a group making money from feckless Christians.

        For my part, I remain a convinced evangelical Christian, but after long study and prayer, I have had to put a question mark in my hermeneutic – I don’t know how to reconcile Genesis 1-11 with what the creation tells us about itself. But to those who suggest the answer lies in simply ignoring science and looking only to the Bible, I must respectfully but firmly state their suggestion is measured and found wanting. For now I will live in tension of not knowing for sure. Certitude is great when it’s possible, but here it’s just not.

  • Beth Walters

    At the end of the NPR piece Tony has cited is this line: “Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn’t be surprised if their faith unravels.”

    What we need to consider is that in “accommodating” science, our faith may become more strongly woven and resilient!

  • I struggle to find any evangelical, even the most fundamental, in the UK who asserts the need for a literal Adam and Eve.

  • I think it’s good to question fundamental issues, look at things from a differing perspective, and refine our beliefs. But, totally dismissing something altogether like what Mr. Schneider has done is not only preposterous, but he will likely lose all credibility within the Christian community, both in academia and in the church.

  • Andrew

    Dan and others: you can find Schneider’s full article here: It’s worth reading–and questioning the historical Adam and Eve only scratches the surface of what Schneider is wrestling with.

    As someone who was raised in the same kind of Neocalvinist Kuyperian atmosphere that Calvin came out of, I suspect that the real sticking point within that community is not Schneider’s denial of a historical Adam and Eve, which isn’t really that controversial, but his assertion that there is no evidence for a historical fall, arguing both from evolutionary biology and the book of Job. Calvin’s brand of Reformed worldview looks at the kingdom of God as a sort of return to norms that were built into the original “good” creation, rather than viewing it as a continued unfolding, and as such it leans pretty heavily on the notion of a paradisal creation and historical fall.

    Thus, from where I sit, Schneider’s real “sin” within the idiosyncratic brand of Reformed that Calvin comes out of is not denying that Adam and Eve really existed, but highlighting a flaw within the Neocalvinist Kuyperian worldview.

    • Andrew

      I hasten to add that when I’m talking about “Calvin” above, I’m referring to Calvin College and not John Calvin. FWIW.

      • Dan Hauge

        Thanks for this link Andrew–this is definitely where I need to spend some more time reading later on. From just a cursory skim, it seems like he raises a lot of interesting questions, but does come up against the very real difficulty of saying that all of the damaging and hurtful things we do to each other are within God’s ultimate plan and purpose for creation (which definitely fits in with certain Calvinist tendencies, so I guess that shouldn’t surprise). Looking forward to digging into it further.

  • Tim

    LOL, now even the fall isn’t real?

    “I survived the card being removed, and my faith has grown deeper, and not as shallow as it once was.”

    This describes me as well, but goodness gracious, we’re not going to have any cards left at this rate.

    • Vicki

      LOL! Agreed.

  • For me the wall of the construction of my faith did fall down. I thought the gospel was based on judgment and impressing God when we got to heaven, as well as teaching others to do the same so they could be ready for the BIG DAY. When I rejected that particular hypothesis, the rest of it crumbled.

    Now I am happy! And full of joy! And more in love with Jesus than ever. Part of my story is at: and might be of some value to those that are struggling and seeking.

  • Hans Chung-Otterson

    Yeah, nothing really new here! Doesn’t anyone read Paul Tillich anymore?

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  • TR

    @Tim, just because Adam and Eve may not be real doesn’t mean the Fall isn’t real. I am utterly convinced that the Fall is a very real and important aspect of the human condition, whether or not it has its origins in a serpent and an apple.

  • Raymond Griffith

    Think about how the early Israelites received the stories of the Creation of the World. They would not have listened with scientific interest, thinking, “so that’s how He did it!” There was no interest in that.

    The world was a scary place. The creation stories of the Egyptians had gods creating man by accident — from the tears of a god. The Babylonian stories had man created to be slaves tending a garden. Gods and demigods and forces man could not see were all at war with each other, and man’s misfortune was to get in the way. Fear flourished in the face of the unknown.

    They needed to see God differentl­y. They needed to see themselves differentl­y. So the Creation stories do not see God struggling with the waters of Chaos, but God calmly commanding and chaos submitting to order. Man was no accident, no slave, but the pinnacle of creation, with no peer, no background competitio­n by lesser gods, meant to be the rulers over the world. The first creation story emphasized man’s mastery. The second emphasized how deliberate­ly God created all things for man, planted the garden for man, made the animals for man, and even walked and talked with man. Mankind was not insignific­ant in the eyes of the God of Israel.

    Every Israelite hearing these creation stories also knew the stories of the nations around them. The God of Israel valued His people so much more than any other god valued theirs. Every man saw himself in Adam, and every woman saw herself in Eve.

    Add to this understand­ing the lesson of the Fall. The hearers weren’t interested in complex theology or original sin.

    The story of the Fall is part of the story of creation. God the potter formed man, breathed life into him, tried ideas for Adam’s companion until finally, He took His masterpiec­e and built from, creating woman. God planted a garden for man to live in. It was a Parent-Chi­ld relationsh­ip. Adam and Eve had few responsibi­lities, many privileges­, no shame, lots to eat and explore.

    Man was never meant to stay in the Garden forever. One has to grow up sometime and take on responsibi­lity. But when would that time be? When man knew the difference between good and evil for himself. God already knew the difference between good and evil. God planted the Forbidden Tree, and like many parents, threatened His children with dire consequenc­es for disobedien­ce.

    In the story, the serpent tells the truth and God lies. (Yes, I know — that is startling. But read what it says, and forget such things as “spiritual death” which did not even come into the picture in the Old Testament.) God did not intend that man die when he ate from the tree. But that would indicate that man was making his own decisions rather than simply obeying his Parent. When Adam and Eve acted despite consequenc­es that might or might not occur, they indicated their readiness to be on their own.

    Far from suffering death, Adam and Eve suffered the fate of growing up. They knew right and wrong, good and evil. Their hardships in the future would be measured by the pleasures they had known in the garden. The ground would yield thorns, yet they would carry on despite all.

    Most Israelites could relate. They had known innocence, and knew how burdensome responsibi­lity was. They had all sinned, gone their own way, made bad decisions — had grown up the hard way. Still, God was not their enemy, He was their Father. There was no retreat back to innocence. The path of responsibility always leads away from the sheltered place. They were out in the world, but they were ready for it.

    The Creation stories and the story of the Fall uplifted every person and humbled every person. In the experience of Adam and Eve, they saw themselves, their place in the world and their relationship with God.

    Arguing about how “real” Adam and Eve were would have distracted from the central message that gripped every Israelite to the core. No mental time or distance separated the hearers of the message from the events. Would that we could assimilate the truths of Scripture into our psyche as thoroughly.

  • Adam

    So we get to choose for ourselves which stories are literal and that are not? Surely a man claiming to be god should not be taken literally!

  • Eve

    Seems like a few of you have been literally referenced in 2 Timothy 4:3. While you’re looking that one up, go ahead and read 2 Peter 3.

  • Interesting blog you have here. I have some posts in the same genre and curious what you think about Noah’s Ark? Both that and the A&E story have a simiar backgroud as pagan myths that were theologized to deliver the story of Yahweh. I put some thoughts together on the Noah bits here (which also have a link to thoughts on Adam and Eve)

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