Before I became an Evolutionary Creationist, I spent two years combing through the theological and scientific literature. I read lots of blog posts on BioLogo.org, and read books written by Evolutionary Creationists such as “The Language Of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief” by Francis Collins, “Deliver Us From Evolution? A Christian Scientists In-Depth Look At The Evidence Reveals A Surprising Harmony Between Science and God” by Aaron R Yilmaz, and” How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Discuss Theology and Science” edited by Kathryn Applegate and Jim Stump. In doing this, I found that my objections, both of the theological and of the scientific variety, to Evolutionary Creationism (a.k.a Theistic Evolution) fell one by one like dominoes. I discovered that one objection after another wasn’t very good.
However, one question kept nagging me. “What about Adam and Eve?” How do we reconcile Genesis 2-3 with Darwin’s theory of macro evolution? If humans descended from lower hominids and an ape like creature (i.e the common ancestor of humans and chimps) then how can The Bible be right when it says that God made Adam from the dust of the earth and Eve from his rib? And how did sin spread to the human race if Adam and Eve were only one of the first humans rather than the first humans? How could sin spread if Adam and Eve were not the sole progenitors of all humanity? The answers I read to this weren’t very satisfying. That is, until I read John Walton’s “The Lost World Of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and The Human Origins Debate.” In this blog post, I’ll be talking about the things I learned from that book.
Adam and Eve Are Archetypes
“Adam” is the Hebrew word for “man” (adult male) or “humanity” (including men and women). Sometimes occurs with the definite article, sometimes the word occurs without the definite article. Hebrew does not use definite articles on personal names. “Adam” has 34 occurrences in Genesis 1-5.
Without the definite article, Adam is sometimes used as a personal name (see Genesis 4:25, 5:1a, 3, 4, 5, 4:1*) The word is used to describe generic humanity four times it refers to humanity (i.e Genesis 1:26, 2:5, 5:1b, 2, 1:27*).
”Adam” is not Adam’s real name. Adam is a real person, but “Adam” is not his real name. Eve is likewise a real person of history, but she was not called “Eve” (Chava in Hebrew). Now, this might sound jarring to many readers. How could I say such a thing? The Bible clearly calls them Adam and Eve? I’m directly contradicting the word of God, aren’t I? Before you brand me a heretic and report me to James White, let me explain what I mean when I say that they weren’t really named Adam and Eve. “Adam” and “Chava” are Hebrew words and the Hebrew language did not come into existence as a language until about the time of Moses at the earliest. So, those are not their historical names. Those are given names from a later audience with a different language. I would also say that these names were given with important meaning in mind. So, one could translate the Hebrew name of Adam as “human”. The name of the dude in Genesis 2-3 is Human. I’m kind of glad the translators did not do this as many people name their children after biblical figures. Can you imagine going to see a Human Sandler movie? Joking aside, imagine if the translators did render the word “human”? You’d read that biblical passage very differently, wouldn’t you? His name’s “human”, her name’s “life”. Even this issue of the names itself opens up the possibility for other types of thinking. I think the names are indicative that Adam and Eve (or “Human” and “Life”) are meant to be archetypal figures. Now, by “archetypal”, I do not mean it in the literary sense (e.g the villain, the hero) nor do I mean Adam and Eve are fictitious characters. I am firmly committed to a historical Adam. Rather, what I mean by “Archetypal” is that lots of things that are described as being true of Adam and Eve are meant to be a truth about all humanity.
John Walton, in a lecture that I watched on YouTube, gave an interesting analogy of what it would mean to describe a class of people in archetypal terms. A group of elementary school children were asked the question “What are mothers made of?” The question wasn’t “What is your mother made of?” The question is what are mothers, as a class of people, made of? The elementary school children understood that. One little girl said, “Mothers are made of angel wings, clouds, and string, and just a little bit of mean”. She wasn’t describing biology and biochemistry, and anyone who took the little girl to be speaking of biology or chemistry might accuse her of being in error if they took a blood sample and found a lack of angel wings and clouds. She was speaking archetypally, something true of all mothers. Moreover, the things the girl described had special meaning. Angel wings and clouds could refer to the nurturing and comforting nature of a mother. A mother can be like a guardian angel, protecting you, guiding you, instructing you. Also, in describing mothers archetypally, she was not at all denying the reality that her mother was a real person who existed in time and space.
I will return to this after the next subheader.
Most people think Genesis 2 is simply a more detailed explanation of what happened in day 6 of Genesis 1. Genesis 1 does not mention “Adam and Eve”. It doesn’t say that He only created two them. “Let us make man in our image. ….God created them, male and female” (Genesis 1:26-27).
Genesis 1 is very non-specific on this point. Genesis 2 is more likely a sequel to Genesis 1. Genesis 2:4 says “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”
The Hebrew word translated as “account” in Genesis 2:4 is Toledot. The literary formula “This is the account of X” occurs several other times in the book of Genesis. Each time it does, it reports what comes after. It is never used as a recapitulation of what the narrative described before.
In Genesis 5:1 – Parallel/Sequel – Cain –> Seth.
Genesis 6:9 — Pre-Flood Condition –> Noah.
Genesis 10:11 – Sequel – Noah and his sons –> Table Of Nations.
Genesis 11:10 – Recursive – Table Of Nations –> Shem’s Descendents
Genesis 11:27 – Sequel – Shem’s Descendents –> Terah/Abraham
Genesis 25:12 – Sequel – Abraham –> Ishmael
Recursive is not the same as recapitulation. A recursive account always happens with brothers, with the narrative detailing the less important line and returning to the more important one. Therefore, Genesis 2:4’s toledot is most likely a sequel. But in any case, toledot is never recapitulative. There is not one instance in The Old Testament in which toledot is used to retell a previous narrative in more detail. Therefore, Genesis 2:4’s toledot is most likely a sequel. If it’s a sequel, the people in Genesis 1:26-27 are not necessarily Adam and Eve. There could have been people who were created by God who preceded Adam and Eve. We cannot argue this on biblical grounds. The text allows for it.
The Forming Account – Dust
Genesis 2:7 says “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The Hebrew word translated as “formed” is “Ysr” and “Ysr” does not always necessitate a material act of formation. Zechariah 12:1 is one example using the human spirit, something incorporeal.
John Walton, in The Lost World Of Adam and Eve, provides other examples. The following bullet points are excerpted from Walton’s book.1
- God speaks of events that are taking place as having been formed (NIV: “planned”) long ago (2 Kings 19:25//Isaiah 37:26; cf. Isaiah 22:11; 46:11; Jeremiah 18:11).
- When God forms the heart, the statement is not referring to the blood pump but to thoughts and inclinations (Psalm 33:15).
- God formed summer and winter (Psalm 74:17).
- A corrupt administration forms (NIV: “brings on”) misery for the people through its decrees (Psalm 94:20).
- Our days are “formed” by God (Psalm 139:16).
- Israel is formed by God (Isaiah 43:1, 21; 44:2, 21, 24; 45:11; Jeremiah 10:16; 51:19) as a people. Obviously, the individual homo sapiens that comprised the nation of Israel pre-existed the nation of Israel itself, therefore the “Formation” of Israel is not a material act of bringing new material things into being from non-being. The people who comprised Israel pre-existed Israel, yet the text says that God “formed” the nation of Israel.
- God forms light and creates darkness (Isaiah 45:7). While we recognize light as a material substance (it’s composed of photons), the ancients did not. So Isaiah would not have thought the statement “God formed light” to be referring to the formation of anything material.
- Servant (which God’s word tell us is Cyrus elsewhere) is formed by God in the womb (Isaiah 49:5; cf. Jeremiah 1:5) though he is born via the regular process of human reproduction.
- God forms (the NIV uses the word “prepares”) a swarm of locusts (see Amos 7:1).
In his book The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate, Professor John Walton writes “More than half of the occurrences are shown by context to be unrelated to material. Many of the occurrences listed above communicate how God ordains or decrees phenomena, events, destinies, and roles. Most of the occurrences not listed here could easily be translated by alternatives like ‘prepare,’ ‘ordain’ or ‘decree.’ …We therefore discover that our predisposition to understand ‘form’ as a material act has more to do with the English translation than with the Hebrew original.”2
*Dust – The referent to dust simply means that man was created mortal. This is supported by a biblical passage in the very next chapter (Genesis 3), in which God says to Adam and Eve “Dust you are and to dust you will return”. Obviously, this is drawing from the imagery of decomposing bodies, which ancient Israelites would have been aware of as they collected the bones of their dead to put them into ossuaries a year after burial. It is not true only of Adam and Eve that dust they are and to dust they will return, it is true of all of us. What is true of all of us? That we are created mortal. Moreover, Psalm 103:14 says “For He [God] remembers how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:14 says we are all dust. We are all formed from dust. Psalm 103:14 strongly implies that being formed from dust is not something unique to Adam, but true of all humankind. Moreover, The Apostle Paul alludes to this archetypal nature of Adam and Humanity when he contrasts Adam with Jesus in his first letter to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 15:47-48, Paul writes “The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.” (emphasis mine). Ecclesiastes 3:20 also supports the conclusion that when The Bible uses “dust” language of humanity, it is referring to our mortality. Ecclesiastes 3:20 says “All go unto one place. Are all of the dust and all turn to dust again.” (KJV)
Further evidence can be found in Job 10:9: “Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?” Here, Job says to God that He molded him from clay. Obviously, no one thinks that Job was miraculously transformed from a clump of clay into a living human being. Nor does anyone think that Job himself thought that. While “clay” is not the same word as “dust”, it certainly indicates that ancient peoples’ could know full well that they were born through the process of natural procreation, yet say of themselves that God formed them out of earthly material. If Job being formed from clay doesn’t mean Job didn’t have a Mom or Dad, then why should Adam being formed from dust mean that Adam didn’t have a Mom or Dad. However, notice that Job does say “Will you now turn me to dust again?” This implies that Job believed he “was dust” at a prior point in time, since He asks God if he’s going to turn Him to dust “again”. How can anything happen “again” unless it happened a first time?
What all this leads to is the conclusion that God created Adam to be mortal, and this trait that Adam has is true of all humanity. It is not only true of Adam. I am made from dust. You are made from dust. The Psalmist explicitly said that we are all formed from dust. Job said he was.
Now, popular teaching on Genesis is that Adam and Eve were created inherently immortal and that they lost this immortality when they sinned. They would reject this explanation in spite of the biblical evidence because, they would say, it contradicts what Romans 5 says about human sin bring death into the world. However, people who say Adam and Eve were created mortal and draw this conclusion from a reading of Romans 5 are reading something into the text that isn’t there. Genesis says that God placed a tree of life in the garden and specifically says that He had to ban Adam and Eve from re-entering the garden, otherwise they would eat of the tree of life and live forever (see Genesis 3:20). If Adam and Eve were inherently immortal, they wouldn’t have needed a tree of life. So the very presence of the tree of life suggests that Adam and Eve were created inherently mortal. This does not come into conflict with what Paul says in Romans 5 because obviously if humanity is cut off from the remedy of death, death would come to us. Without that miraculous fruit, Adam and Eve (not to mention their descendants) would grow old and die! Adam’s sin leads to being banned from the Tree of Life. Being banned from the Tree of Life meant that immortality was no longer available to Adam. Therefore, Adam would die, as would his descendants. Adam’s sin brought death not because God removed his immortality in response, but because Adam no longer had access to the cure.
The Forming Account -Rib
“So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” – Genesis 2:19-25
What the use of the word tardemah and sela suggest is that God put Adam into a trance, a visionary state. In this state, he saw a vision of God taking him and cutting him in half to make a woman. The point of the vision is that woman is ontologically equal to man.
Eve serves as an archetype for women. Just as all men are created mortal (from dust), all women are made from the side of all men (i.e all women are ontologically equal to men). Matthew Henry echoes this sentiment when he writes “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”4 To be equal with man, to be under man’s arm to be protected, and to be loved by a man are true of all women, not just Eve. This was God’s intention for all women, not just Eve.
What can draw from the information we concluded thus far? We can conclude that The Bible does not speak to the material origins of Adam and Eve, nor of humanity in general. Therefore, The Bible does not demand that we take a de novo view of Adam and Eve’s creation. Adam and Eve could have had parents, grandparents, great grandparents. Indeed, Adam and Eve’s ancestry could go back to lower hominids such as homo erectus, homo habilis, and Australopithecus. In other words, Genesis 2-3 does not rule out human evolution from lower primates. Now, this does not mean that Christians should automatically jump on the evolution bandwagon. Just because an idea is compatible with The Bible doesn’t mean that idea should be adopted without much thought. However, one cannot say that we are barred from accepting the scientific consensus on human origins on the basis of biblical authority if The Bible doesn’t speak on the material aspect of human origins.
Just how did sin spread to humankind? Romans 5:12 says that “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—” Traditionally, Christians have held to the Augustinian position that the sinful nature was inherited from Adam. We all have a sin nature, this causes or inclines us to sin. Because we’ve sinned, we’re in need of salvation. If Adam and Eve aren’t the sole progenitors of the human race, how could we have all inherited the same sinful nature from Adam?
It should be noted that Romans 5 (nor does the entire Bible) give us an explanation as to how sin spread to humankind. It only says that it did. We are therefore free to speculate and come up with theories on how this occurred.
One possibility is that when Adam and Eve sinned, they obtained a sin nature. This sin nature was passed on to their offspring, and then onto their offspring’s offspring, and so on. Adam and Eve and their children had a bad influence on their contemporaries, leading the contemporaries into sin and this lead to the contemporaries of Adam and Eve developing a sin nature. The contemporaries were then bad influences on other contemporaries, and so, sin spread like a contagious disease. Once the whole human population was infected, the sin nature became a universal feature of human nature. This was passed down through all lineages, Adam and Eve’s lineage as well as the lineages of their contemporaries. Thus, one possibility is a modified version of the inheritance view.
The view that Adam and Eve as historical persons and being the ones through whom sin was introduced into the world does not have to be forfeited in light of what modern science says about human origins. Genesis 2 does not address the material origins of Adam and Eve, but uses “dust” and “side” as indicating archetypal features that they have. We are all made from dust, and all women are made from the side of all men. Yet, we have material continuity with previous biological ancestors. Furthermore, there are clues within the biblical text itself that indicate that Adam and Eve were not the sole human beings on the face of the planet at the time of the fall, such as incest always being considered sinful (cf. Leviticus 18:24) and God not making sin a requirement to populate the Earth, and Cain building a “city”. Finally, there’s no issue regarding a theology of the fall. Adam and Eve could have been a bad influence on their contemporaries who were bad contemporaries on others who were bad contemporaries on others and so on, until all developed a sinful nature that would be transmitted through their lineages.
1: Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (p. 72). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
3: Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (pp. 79-80). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
4: Quote taken from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.