The Biblical Necessity of Adam and Eve

 

Were Adam and Eve real people? Or were they just literary devices and poetic images?

Over the last year, a small volcano of debate has erupted over these very questions regarding the historical reality of Adam and Eve. Christianity Today did a huge cover article on the topic, saying, “The center of the evolution debate has shifted from asking whether we came from earlier animals to whether we could have come from one man and one woman.”[1] NPR ran a widely read article on the growing movement away from the historical reality of Adam and Eve within evangelicalism with the advent of genome sequencing:

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”[2]

This question of the historicity of Adam and Eve is important because it’s the foundation of the biblical story. Without a real Adam and Eve, the Bible loses its basis for the fall, sin, the need for redemption, and the need for Jesus and atonement. Many scholars—including some who are professing Christians—who are rejecting the biblical account of Adam and Eve as historical recognize this fact. John Schneider, who until recently taught at Calvin College, is quoted in the above-mentioned NPR article in agreement with this fact:

“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.”[3]

In essence, Schneider is saying, “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.”[4] In doing so, he’s echoing the growing number of professing evangelical theologians, scientists, and scholars who share his views and who have abandoned the once unquestioned existence of Adam and Eve.

What is interesting about this debate is that it’s not being forced upon evangelicals from militant atheists outside of the faith. Nor is it even cross-denominational bickering. Rather, the debate about the historical Adam is one that is growing among evangelicals, all of whom claim to hold to a robust doctrine of Scripture’s inspiration, authority, and inerrancy.

You Can’t Serve Two Masters 

It’s interesting that men and women who claim to have a high view of Scripture and affirm its inspiration, authority, and inerrancy also are ready to subvert it to new scientific evidence regarding genome sequencing and DNA, taking centuries of collected—and divinely inspired—knowledge about human existence, experience, and condition and throwing it out with the bath water by denying the historical existence of Adam and Eve.

In doing so, they are drawing a line in the sand and demonstrating the exact opposite of what they claim in regards to Scripture. One can conclude only one of two things: either they don’t fully understand what Scripture says about Adam and Eve, or they prefer to base their perceptions of history and reality on science rather than on Scripture (which they are free to do, but, if so, they need to cut out their lip service to the importance of Scripture as our highest authority and God-breathed perfection).

One of the central tenants of Protestant Christianity is sola Scriptura. Simply said, sola Scriptura states that there is no higher authority for belief and practice in this life than Scripture. As I wrote in Doctrine, “Nothing judges Scripture. It judges everything else. As followers of Jesus, we take the same stance he did and receive the Bible alone as infallible, inerrant truth from God with full authority in our lives.”[5]

This is not to be confused with solo Scriptura, “which is the erroneous belief that truth is to be found only in Scripture and nowhere else.”[6] Certainly there are truths about life and this world that we, by God’s common grace, can discover and that Scripture itself doesn’t address. For instance, a mechanic doesn’t need to consult the Bible to figure out how to fix a car. This is knowledge that we gain from life experience that is true, not addressed by Scripture, and which Scripture doesn’t address for obvious reasons. Likewise, a doctor can use modern science to determine things about our bodies that are not taught in Scripture and still talk of those things as truth.

Problems arise, however, when we find truths that seemingly contradict the truths of Scripture and, rather than subject those truths to the authority of Scripture, instead consider those truths to invalidate the truths of Scripture. Such is the case today when it comes to the biblical account of Adam and Eve and some modern scientists’ disbelief of the scriptural account in favor of the scientific account. Believers who are scientists bear the primary responsibility for affirming scriptural truths over scientific ones and figuring out how the truths of science affirm the truths of Scripture—not the other way around. It’s impossible to serve two masters.

The Intent of Scripture 

Part of faithful biblical interpretation and study is to understand the context and intent of Scripture. What did the author mean and how did the original audience understand it? These are two very important questions when it comes to understanding the full meaning of Scripture and in understanding the truths of Scripture in light of other truths we discover in fields such as science.

The first question we must ask is, Does the Bible intend to give a wooden, literal account every time it speaks? The answer is no. There are many types of literature in the Bible, from literal-factual history to poetic-literal device to apocalyptic depiction. The Bible communicates literal truths and does so sometimes in poetic and apocalyptic ways. Problems arise when we take what is meant to communicate a truth in ways that are poetic or metaphorical and assign to them a wooden, literal meaning. For instance, Revelation 7:1 speaks of “the four corners of the earth.” Is the intent to teach that the earth is flat? Some people claim such, but an understanding of Revelation’s apocalyptic literary genre would reveal that this is poetic language to speak about the authority of God over all the earth, not a prescription on whether the earth is flat or not. It’s using poetry to convey a factual truth—God is sovereign over all the earth.

This is especially important when we consider the Genesis account of creation. Certainly there are poetic elements. But is the Genesis account intending to give a wooden, literal, chronological, factual, historic account of creation devoid of poetry and figurative images? The answer again is no.

I covered this topic in Doctrine: “The book of Genesis . . . was not written with the intention of being a scientific textbook. Rather, it is a theological narrative written to reveal the God of creation, which means its emphasis is on God and his relationship with humanity and not on creation.”[7]

This means that Christians can hold various views on creation without contradicting Scripture or invalidating their faith. While I hold a particular position, I certainly won’t bicker about it with other Christians, nor will I hold it as essential to the faith. What I will hold essential, however, are the truths that Genesis teaches: that God sovereignly created all of creation by his Word (Genesis 1)—including humanity beginning with Adam and Eve—ex nihilo (Latin for “out of nothing”), as Hebrews 11:3 teaches, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

There is room for discussion as to how he did this—and certainly science is helpful in this discussion—but there is no room for debate on the fact that he did it. This is important because “it negates the possibility of naturalistic evolution and an eternal universe,” which is taught by some as truth but is a truth contradictory to Scripture.[8] Simply said, you cannot claim biblical Christianity but deny God’s work in creation.

What does Scripture say about Adam and Eve?

So, the question becomes, what does Scripture say about Adam and Eve and what was the intent in the teaching?

While the issues at stake are often quite confusing, it’s apparent as we look at Scripture that it teaches the truth that Adam—and by extension Eve—were the first persons and that they were also the first persons.

Adam as the first person                          

One of the main reasons that Christians need to affirm that Adam was the first human being to exist is the doctrine of the fall and original sin.

Genesis 3:17 says, “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.’” Here we see that God, as a result of Adam’s sin, pronounces a curse upon Adam and all humanity after him.

Christians take seriously the fact that God made all things good and without sin (Gen. 1:31), and this has important ramifications for the consummation and new creation (Revelation 21). Yet Adam, as the first person, brought sin into the world and tainted God’s perfect creation. Romans 5:12 says that “sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Based on what Scripture itself teaches, the Christian must be able to affirm the truth that Adam was the first person, through whom sin entered into the world, in order to speak of Christ as the “last Adam,” through whom sin and its curse—death—were vanquished (1 Cor. 15:45).

Adam as the first person                           

There are at least five scriptural arguments that affirm the truth that Adam was not only the first person but also that he was the first person—a real human being: the Genesis account, Luke’s genealogy, Paul’s theology, and Christ’s statement on Adam in Matthew and Mark.

The Genesis Account

As already discussed, Genesis affirms Adam and Eve as real people in the creation account of chapters 1 through 3. Additionally, Genesis affirms the reality of Adam as a person by giving us the number of years that he physically lived, “Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died” (Gen. 5:5), and by giving an account of Adam fathering other figures in the Bible who are treated as real and physical people and not mythical constructs (Gen. 4:1, 25; 5:3–4). It’s impossible to take the Genesis account of Adam as one of him being a mythical representative of humanity since he fathers singular children who are part of a historical genealogy. To do so clearly divorces the creation account from the context of the rest of the book and ignores the intent of the author of Genesis and—as we shall see—the rest of the biblical accounts regarding Adam.

Luke’s Genealogy                   

Luke’s genealogy in chapter 3 of his gospel is often recognized as one that explicitly expresses the humanity of Jesus Christ. While Matthew’s genealogy ties Christ to Israel and John’s prologue refers to Jesus as God, Luke’s intention is to give an historical account of the life of Christ. So, he links Jesus to Joseph, David, Abraham, and, ultimately, Adam. It would make no sense for Luke to mention real person after real person only to come to the climax of his genealogy by mentioning a mythical figure. One who denies that Adam was a real person has reason to also question whether the rest of Luke’s figures are actual people as well.

Paul’s Theology                                 

Further, if one denies that Adam was a real person, it is difficult to make sense of Paul’s analogy of the relationship between Christ and Adam. For one, as we’ve already mentioned, sin came into the world through one actual person (Rom. 5:12). But more than that, in both 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45 and Romans 5:12–21, Paul makes a direct connection between Adam and Christ:

1 Cor. 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

1 Cor. 15:45: “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Rom. 5:12­–21: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for fall men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that Adam was the one person who brought sin into the world, and Jesus Christ is the one person who brings life where death previously reigned. It would be odd for Paul to compare something that he knew was an actual human person (Christ) to a literary figure.

In addition, in 1 Timothy 2:14, Paul says, “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” It is incredibly difficult to argue that Paul did not view this deception as an actual historical occurrence. Again, in Acts 17:26, Paul says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” Here, once more, Paul talks about actual nations descending from one human person.

Christ on Adam and Eve                                

Even if one passes over Luke and Paul, one must deal with Jesus and his teachings. In Mark 10:6 and Matthew 19:4, Jesus refers to Genesis, speaking of God’s order in creating Adam and Eve and relating that literal act to the institution of marriage. It’s difficult to think that God himself (Jesus) could be wrong about his own creative event, since he was there as the Creator when it happened (John 1:1–2; Col. 1:15­­–17).

Mark 10:6: “‘But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.”’”

Matt. 19:4: “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.’”

Conclusion                          

When we look at Scripture itself, it’s clear there are numerous biblical reasons why Christians should affirm that Adam was both the first person and the first person—and there is no textual evidence to support a denial of this truth. Rather, to deny this historical teaching of the church undermines the clear teaching of the Bible and fails to make sense of its storyline, as without a historical Adam and Eve, there is no fall and no need for redemption and no need for Jesus. The very basis of Christianity is effectively undermined.

So, what are we to do in the face of seemingly contradictory truth between science and Scripture? We have two choices: exchange the truths of Scripture for the truths of science and wash our hands clean (Paul is clear in Romans 1:18 and 1:22–23 that many people choose just this option), or we take the truths of science and place them within the context of the truths of Scripture as the highest authority.

Just as there are many ways to interpret the chronological and methodological ways in which God created and still be in the realm of Christian orthodoxy by affirming the intended truth of those Scriptures—that God created—there are also many ways to internalize the truths of the historicity of Adam and Eve as taught in Scriptures. What one cannot do, however, is deny the existence of Adam and Eve and remain faithful to the Scriptures and their account.

As C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary writes, “The purpose of the stories [in Genesis] is to lay the foundation for a worldview, without being taken in a ‘literalistic’ fashion. We should nevertheless see the story as having what we might call a ‘historic core,’”[9] namely that Adam and Eve were real persons through whom came the fall and sin and our need for salvation, which can only come through Jesus, his death and resurrection. Any other story or worldview is in contradiction to Scripture and thus to be rejected.

Further Reading

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Theological Seminary, wrote two insightful articles on this controversy that I’d also recommend.

False Start? The Controversy Over Adam and Eve Heats Up

Adam and Eve: Clarifying Again What Is at Stake



[1] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (June 3, 2011), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/historicaladam.html.

[2] Barbara Bradley Hagerty, “Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve,” NPR (August 9, 2011), http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 67.

[6] Ibid., 68.

[7] Ibid., 80–81.

[8] Ibid., 85.

[9] C. John Collins, “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (September 2010), 151.