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.


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5 Responses to “Were Adam and Eve Real People? How the Gospel Depends On It”

  1. I guess my question would be how does Jewish tradition view that narrative? (As Christians, I think we sometimes forget to include Jewish understanding of the OT. Yes, they were wrong about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about everything.) I also wonder how much of that narrative was intended simply to show us how incomplete we are without God. 

    As for the literal people, Adam and Eve may be the beginning of the “people of God”. If science says we couldn’t have all come from one couple, either we don’t have enough information, or it’s possible God truly did set His people apart from the very beginning. All through the OT it talks about the Hebrews being people set apart by God. Does that start with Adam and Eve? (Not sure what that does with the application of the Fall to all mankind….)

    The accounts of Jesus were written by people who actually knew him, so I would question anyone who saw him as figurative. To take it to that point seems extreme. Especially since OT narrative was formed from generations of oral tradition. NT wasn’t. 

    Really enjoyed reading this since I’d had a conversation with friends about the same thing this morning! 🙂 

    • Cambra, thanks for reading! Those are great questions. My response to the Jewish perspective of the narrative is that we clearly have it- as seen in Jesus and Paul. Their perspective is certainly Jewish and it seems to me that they definitely believed Adam and Eve to be literal people. The issue I would have about Adam and Eve referring only to the people of God is that the narrative doesn’t say that and really doesn’t imply it either. Yes, the OT was written from an oral radiation, but an oral tradition that is completely unlike ours today. Theirs was infinitely more reliable as the medium of writing was scarce. Our oral tradition can’t even make it around a circle of people in a party game! However, in my opinion, the greatest problem about Adam and Eve not being literal is the theological land mine it creates. If they are figurative, the doctrine of the Fall is at best cloudy and actually unexplainable. If so, that distorts the metanarrative. If we are uncertain about the beginning of the story, it’s hard to be certain about the meaning of the rest of it.

      Thanks for your insight and it’s great to hear from you! I hope you are doing well!

  2. I really believe God used evolution to make man after spending most of my life not knowing for sure. I think I understand how it harmonizes with the Bible. A lot of the comments I read criticicizing a theistic evloution perspective are from people bound up in traditional assumptions made about Genesis. If evolution is true then some common understandings and interpretations will have to be reconsidered but they are not necessarily prejudicial to the Christian faith. The question I have is has anyone actually evaluated what changes in orthodox Christian teachings must be assumed if evolution is true but in an attempt to harmonize them with the Bible and Christian faith? If evolution is true then the church which holds to a creationist line will only harm the church and the Christian faith in the long run. The church is going to have to deal with this issue of reconciling evolution with the Bible sooner or later.

  3. I can begin to try and answer a few of the questions in your blog but not to teach anyone but only to show how I can harmonize evolution with the Bible. Please tell me where my explanation is prejudicial to the Christian faith and I will cease my opinion.

    Your questions:
    “To begin, if Adam and Eve are not literal people, how does the Fall of Man ever occur?

    1) Adam and Eve are literal people or at least types of real people. For the sake of argument I will agree they are literal people and literal events. The Fall of Man is a conclusion based on a false assumption made about Adam, which is, that he was made perfect. If Adam evolved then he was made (and all those before him) “lower than the angels” with imperfections no different than the other brute beasts on the earth with their attention focused on their next meal, their tribe, their desire to mate, their survival. What separated Adam from all the other beasts (including members of the human species before him) was that he was the first to use a distinguishing human capacity of intelligence to turn his attention to his creator. There are several references in the Bible that God considers men who are living in darkness as the brute beasts. Thus God does not name Adam’s predecessors because they remained in darkness like other animals.

    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?

    2) Sin was imputed for the first time in the world when Adam willingly disobeyed God (Romans 5) after receiving his command not eat fruit from the specific trees in the Garden. God does not impute sin to animals who know not his laws or him.

    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?

    3) We were made “lower than the angels” which includes: separate from God, imperfect, mortal, in darkness but that is not the final form he wanted for us. He knew we would develop the capacity to know him and when Adam developed that capacity God invited him to be with him forever in eternity. What Adam did not know at the time (before he sinned) is that it was impossible for him to attain that eternal life without God’s assistance. That assistance would be the work Jesus did for him and us to cover our disobedience and imperfections. Thus, the story of Adam in Eve in the garden is not about the cause of all death on earth but about God instructing the first earthly creature who turned to God about his inability by his own works of being with God and about his need of God’s assistance.

    In anticipation of your reminding me of what Paul says in Romans 5 I will say that Paul in that section of scripture states he is using Adam as a type of christ but in an inverse way to demonstrate that one act of Christ can cover many sins and save many people just like death followed Adam to everyone. Paul is not saying Adam is the cause of all death but is a type of Christ to illustrate one act on the cross is enough.

    Also in anticipation that you will quote where God says Adam will die if he eats the forbidden fruit I would reply thus, Adam was fully aware of death all around him and expected to die until Adam turned his attention to God his creator and God responded by offering him eternal life on the condition he would obey God. When Adam disobeyed he only received what God had offered to do away with, death, if he had obeyed. Death was not knew to Adam. He was only hoping to avoid it by remaining faithful to God. I realize I am assuming Adam believed death to be a natural process which he hoped to avoid but this assumption is reasonable since if Adam evolved then he would have seen other human members of his species die before him.

  4. By the way, I just want to add that Saint Agustine’s writings on Genesis assume a literal meaning and he quite often states that the development of creation over the ages is a possibility that is not prejudicial to the Christian faith. He wrote this a long time ago before the theory of evolution existed so a theistic evolution perspective is neither new nor necessarily one that Christians have adopted after caving to modern science. It is what early theologians taught as a possibility.