Were Adam and Eve Real People? How the Gospel Depends On It
The debate about our origins has taken a new twist. A growing number of Christians, many of them considered conservative and evangelical, have yielded to the pressure of “the fact” of evolution and have attempted to meld the tenets of evolution with those of Christianity. This view is commonly called “theistic evolution” and poses a dangerous threat to the gospel.
Last year, NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty, wrote an interesting piece where she interviewed Christian scholars regarding one of the major threats of theistic evolution- were Adam and Eve real, literal people? You can read Hagerty’s article here: Hagerty NPR article
Obviously, if one believes in the theory of evolution one is forced to not believe in the literal existence of Adam and Eve. The sudden introduction of hominids on the earth about 6,000 years ago does not fit the evolutionary paradigm. Additionally, proponents of evolution argue that genetically it is impossible for today’s gene rich human race to have descended from just two people a relatively short time ago. This theory is commonly known as “Mitochondrial Eve” and can easily be argued against- click here: Mitochondrial Eve
My point in this post is not to argue the finer points of the debate from a scientific perspective. There are many websites that do that much more eloquently than I could. I wish to demonstrate the danger to the gospel posed by theistic evolution and the belief there could be no literal Adam and Eve. How are such beliefs a threat?
To begin, if Adam and Eve are not literal people, how does the Fall of Man ever occur? If humans evolved from primates and then pre-hominids, how do we know who the first “humans” were and consequently when sin was introduced into the world? The story of God, man, the Fall, redemption, and restoration is the metanarrative that runs through all of Scripture. This biblical metanarrative explains our separation from God through sin and the reason for Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. Yet, how can we believe this story if we cannot trust what it says to us regarding its beginning?
John Scneider, a former professor at Calvin College in Michigan, was quoted in Hagerty’s article stating, “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. So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings.” You can easily see how that statement opposes the gospel and the biblical metanarrative. Al Mohler (see his blog post on the subject here: Mohler blog post) responds saying, “At this point, we are looking at a repudiation of the Bible’s account of beginnings. We are not talking about an argument over the interpretation of a few verses or even chapters of the Bible. We are now dealing with the straightforward rejection, not only of the existence of Adam and Eve, but of both Eden and the Fall. Look carefully at Professor Schneider’s words- ‘there never was any such paradise to be lost.’” If Adam and Eve are reduced to figurative components of a larger figurative narrative, key concepts of the gospel become untenable propositions.
Another key problem with denying the literal existence of Adam and Eve is what such a rejection does to the veracity of the Bible itself. It is clear that when the Bible talks about Adam and Eve and the origins of life it is not only referencing them as literal people, but also making truth claims. There is nothing in the text that would point to the need of using a figurative hermeneutic (e.g. texts that include hyperbole, such gouging out your eye and cutting off your hand). The children and descendants of Adam and Eve are presented as literal people describing actual events that occur in their lives. This is further evident in the genealogies of the OT (1 Chron. 1:1) and the NT (Matt. 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). If the authors of biblical texts did not see their descendants (including Adam and Eve) as literal people, why include them in a genealogy? There is little doubt that Jesus thought Adam and Eve were literal, physical people in His teaching on marriage and divorce in Matt. 19:3-6- “He made the male and female… and the two shall become one flesh.” If they were merely figurative representations for humanity, it is inconceivable that Jesus would use the term “flesh” in association with Adam and Eve.
The Apostle Paul also affirmed the literal existence of Adam and Eve and clearly demonstrated the theological importance of such. To begin, in 1 Tim. 2:13 Paul says that “Adam was first created [or formed], and then Eve.” These are hardly the vocabulary choices Paul would have made if he thought Adam and Eve were figurative beings. In Rom. 5:12-14, Paul states that sin and death entered into the world through one man- Adam. Again, such a statement does not fit an evolutionary construct. If evolution is true, exactly how and when was sin and death introduced into human history? In 1 Cor. 15:45-49, Paul links Jesus to Adam saying that the first Adam was “the first man… a living soul” and the last Adam, Jesus, is the One who restores mankind to life. These two texts from Paul reveal that Adam and Jesus are linked together. The first Adam brought death to humanity, the last Adam brought life through salvation. Notice that none of this works if the first Adam is not a literal, physical person. If Adam and Eve are not the parents of all humanity, we really don’t have a clear understanding of sin which means we don’t have a clear understanding of the need for salvation and the person and work of Christ. The gospel simply does not work if Adam and Eve are not real people.
Finally, Christians who espouse theistic evolution have a problem as to the mechanics of understanding when the figurative aspect of the biblical metanarrative stops and the literal takes over. I have had discussions with Christians who say Adam and Eve were not literal, nor is the account of a universal flood, and particularly not the story of Jonah and the whale. However, they believe the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus are literal events. When I ask the question, “If the people and events in Genesis and other OT texts are figurative, what is the reasoning for believing the people and events in the NT are not figurative as well?” I have yet to hear a satisfying answer to that question. My point is that in the biblical metanarrative, once you open the gate to a figurative understanding of the text (of course, not withstanding those texts intentionally meant to be so), how and when does that gate close? If Adam is figurative, what keeps us from thinking Jesus is figurative as well?
Failing to view the literal existence of Adam and Eve is a theologically impossible and fatal thing to do. It is especially egregious when one understands that such an approach is taken in order to capitulate to a secular philosophy such as evolution. The Scripture is clear on how the metanarrative begins. If we muddle that clarity, we muddle the rest of the story and have thus attempted to change the very foundation and framework of Christianity itself.