Adam, Eve, and the Gospel

The fact non-Christians would deny Adam and Eve’s existence is not surprising, but the growing trend within the Christian community is to do the same.

By Richard Davis and Paul Franks at Enrichment Journal

  

The traditionally accepted belief in the literal existence of Adam and Eve is under attack. It is not hard to see why. Reconciling the existence of a literal Adam and Eve with standard accounts of evolution is not easy, and people will criticize anyone who questions the veracity of evolution. The fact non-Christians would deny Adam and Eve’s existence is not surprising, but the growing trend within the Christian community is to do the same.

For example, Christian evolutionist Denis Lamoureux writes, “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”1 On this account, Adam did not exist, but was simply a mental construct — a figment of the prescientific Near Eastern mind.

Brian McLaren is equally explicit in his denial that we are not to take the accounts of Adam literally. Of the Genesis accounts of Adam, including those describing the Fall, McLaren writes, “It is patently obvious to me that these stories aren’t intended to be taken literally.”2

Many responses to such statements focus on how to properly interpret those early passages. While those responses are necessary, and quite helpful, we hope to provide an additional type of response. We aim to show: 1) there are problematic theological consequences in rejecting a literal Adam and 2) there is a powerful philosophical argument demonstrating the need for a literal Adam.

Theological Consequences of Rejecting the Literal Existence of Adam

First, let us begin with a consideration of what Jesus thought about Adam’s existence. When the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, Jesus pointed out that Moses allowed for divorce (Deuteronomy 24), but only because of the stubborn reality of human rebellion. God’s intention, however, was that divorce would never take place, but “ ‘from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’ ” (Mark 10:2–9, ESV3).

Although not specifically named, anyone with even a passing familiarity of the Creation story knows whom Jesus is talking about. The “them” are Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27). Now what is helpful about this passage is this: The Pharisees based their understanding of divorce on Moses’ teaching. But Jesus pointed out that Moses was simply conceding that divorce would occur because of the hardness of human sin and weakness. The Pharisees had an inadequate basis for their teaching on divorce whereas Jesus based His teaching on divorce premised on certain facts about Adam and Eve. That is, Jesus thought the existence of Adam and Eve provided a better basis for understanding how God views divorce.

Two questions now arise. First, how could Jesus’ teaching on divorce be better than the Pharisees’ teaching if Jesus based His teaching on something that was false? He did not appeal to a “figment of the prescientific Near Eastern mind” to justify His teaching, He appealed to the existence of Adam and Eve.

A second, and more theologically troubling, question is this: What do we make of the fact God incarnate held false beliefs about Adam and Eve? Even if one says He did not believe Adam existed, but just used the idea to communicate to His audience, it seems strange for God, who is incapable of lying (Numbers 23:19), to use false ideas to communicate truth. If there were no Adam and Eve, then surely Jesus, God the Son, would have been able to communicate His thoughts on divorce without, at the same time, propagating false beliefs. In sum, if there were no physical Adam and Eve, then, in addition to His teaching on divorce being less well grounded than the Pharisees’, Jesus also either held false beliefs or willingly propagated them.

There are further theological concerns though. Consider what the apostle Paul said about Adam. Paul quite clearly links our redemption in Christ with the historic reality of the fall of Adam. At the core of his theological masterpiece Paul writes, “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” (Romans 5:12, ESV). This pinpoints sin’s entry into the world. How did sin, and through it death, gain its foothold in the world? It was “through one man.” Notice Paul says “man” — not myth, legend, or Near Eastern construct — but man. Myths, legends, and constructs cannot sin. You need a moral agent with the power of choice to bring sin “into the world.” There can be no sin (or death) without a sinner. Sin is not a free-floating airborne virus you simply breathe in. Rather, like a deadly cancer, sin gets its life from a host.

With the fall of Adam (and its effects) in place, Paul ratchets up the argument to establish two major doctrinal points: 1) “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” (5:15, ESV), 2) “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” (5:17, ESV).

Notice the form of the reasoning in both cases: “If … much more.” It’s the same way Jesus reasoned in Mark 2:9–11 — “ ‘Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ ” — He said to the paralytic — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (ESV). The onlookers recognized that anyone could say, “I can forgive sins,” regardless of an ability to do so. This is why Jesus provided them with something that was easier to believe, even if harder to pull off. Because they knew the man was paralyzed, once they saw him pick up his bed and leave, it was easy to believe that Jesus could heal. It was on that basis — Jesus’ ability to heal — that they were to accept what was harder to believe — Jesus’ ability to forgive sins.

How does this relate to what Paul tells us in Romans 5? Paul recognized that it was hard to accept that grace and life abound to many through one man — Christ. This is why he first calls their attention to what was easier to believe, that sin and death entered through one man — Adam. If you take away Adam and his trespass — the much easier thing to believe in Paul’s mind — you lose his “much mores.” If Lamoureux and McLaren, among others, are right, then we no longer have the grounds for accepting the wonderful promises Paul writes about in Romans — that grace and righteousness and life abound to many through Christ.

A Philosophical Argument for the Existence of Adam

So far we have seen that there are problems with denying the existence of Adam, but we need not stop at that. There are also good reasons to believe that Adam existed. This begins with something that we all recognize in ourselves — our basic operating systems are deeply flawed. Our natures are sinful and our hearts corrupt. What, then, could be the cause of this? What could cause us to have this sinful nature? There are three — and only three — possibilities for why we have a sinful nature. It is either uncaused (there is no reason or explanation for why we have it), self-caused (we brought it into existence ourselves), or it is caused by another. Consider each of these in turn.

Our sin nature is uncaused

The least plausible option is that there is no cause of a sin nature. Why is this the least plausible option? Well, simply put, because it is impossible. To say that our sin nature is uncaused would imply that something (a sin nature) came into existence out of nothing and for no reason. The problem with this is that it denies the obviously true principle that anything that begins to exist must have a cause for its existence. Imagine what denying such a commonsense principle would do to our scientific research. When trying to find the cause of cancer, medical researchers would have to entertain the possibility that there simply is no cause of cancer — it can just suddenly arise uncaused (perhaps this will be the next argument from the tobacco industry).4

Our sin nature is self-caused

The first option is obviously a failure, but what about the second? Could each of us be the cause of our own sin nature? The prospects do not look all that promising because on this view our choosing to sin would precede our possessing a sin nature, but things are precisely the other way around. Not only is this confirmed in our personal experience, but Scripture also teaches that our sin nature comes first and our sinful choices come second. Jesus tells us that “ ‘out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexually immorality, theft, false witness, slander’ ” (Matthew 15:19, ESV). Our evil thoughts do not cause our malformed heart; it’s the other way around. Here someone might object to this ordering by saying, “You do not know that there wasn’t a time much earlier — one you cannot now remember — where (like Adam) you had no sin nature but then brought one into existence by your own free choice.” The problem with this objection is that it flies in the face of Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” None of us were sinning from the time of conception of course; that is not even possible. But David says we were nevertheless “sinful.” The implication here is that you can be sinful without actually sinning and that such sinfulness is present from conception. Clearly then, our sin nature comes first and our sinful choices later, thus ruling out the second option.

Our sin nature is caused by another

The final option is that another caused our sinful nature. We inherit our fallen natures from our parents, who also inherited theirs, and so on down the line. Now here is the important point. This chain of prior generations from which we inherited our sin natures cannot go back forever. For then there would be no explanation for why anyone had a sin nature — no explanation for how sin entered the human race in the first place. The best explanation for the existence of a sin nature is precisely what we see in the biblical account. There was an original human pair — Adam (“the man,” Genesis 2:20, ESV) and Eve (“the mother of all living,” Genesis 3:20, ESV) — who sinned but did not do so because they had a sin nature. It is the physical existence of Adam and Eve that stops the regress of sin natures and provides an explanation for why we have one now.

Conclusion

There are several ways one might go about arguing against false ideas. One way is to show that the idea has, unavoidably, problematic consequences. This method provides the resources for refuting Lamoureux’s earlier claim that denying the real existence of Adam “has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”

It is simply false that such a denial would have no impact on the foundational beliefs of Christianity. Any view that results in both Jesus and Paul believing and teaching false ideas will necessarily have a tremendous impact on one’s understanding of Christianity. As we have seen, this is what happens. Denying that Adam and Eve existed means that not only did Jesus and Paul hold and communicate false beliefs (which would necessitate the denial of the inerrancy of the Bible), but also that we have no reason to accept some of their theological claims either because they depend on those false beliefs. We should also note that such an argument is not likely to persuade someone like McLaren, but that is not due to a fault in the argument. Instead, it is due to the fact McLaren is already committed to a radical reworking of historical notions of Christianity. Once you are ready to cast off entirely the notions of “the Fall” and “original sin,”5 then the rejection of Adam and Eve is a minor issue.

Another way one might demonstrate that an idea is false is to give a positive argument establishing what the false idea denies. We have seen that there is a powerful philosophical argument for the existence of Adam and Eve — an argument that simply makes use of the thoroughly biblical notion of “sin nature.” Combined, these responses show that one need not shy away from maintaining that there was a literal Adam and Eve. In fact, we ought to do what Jesus and Paul did, proclaim it boldly both among fellow believers and those outside the Christian community.

Richard Davis, Ph.D., Toronto, Ontario, is associate professor and chair of the Philosophy Department at Tyndale University College. He is the author or editor of books, including 24 and Philosophy: The World According to Jack and Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy.

 

 
W. Paul Franks, Ph.D., Toronto, Ontario, is assistant professor of philosophy at Tyndale University College and a minister with the Assemblies of God. He graduated from Southwestern Assemblies of God University in 2002. His academic research focuses on the problem of evil, petitionary prayer, and Christian apologetics.
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10 thoughts on “Adam, Eve, and the Gospel

  1. Mike Gantt February 8, 2014 / 4:40 pm

    The presence in the Scripture of the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and all the parables indicate that God is more than willing to teach His people through a useful fiction. We also know by its abundant presence in the Scripture that God is also more than willing to teach us through history – things that have actually happened. The question for us therefore becomes, “How do we know when we are reading Scripture whether the portion we are reading is a fiction or history?”

    Sometimes, we cannot be sure – as, at least for some, in the case of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16). Most of the time, however, the fact-or-fiction question is easy to settle – even when the events being reported are quite extraordinary (e.g. the parting of the Red Sea or the resurrection of Jesus from the dead).

    When the totality of biblical passages referencing Adam and Eve – Old Testament and New Testament – are read, it is impossible for a reader to think that the biblical writers were referring to a ficticious couple. Even if one wants to think that the writer of Genesis wrote the account of them with fictional intent, it’s still obvious that all the subsequent writers read the text as factual.

    Therefore, the testimony of the Bible- not just the testimony of Genesis 1 and 2 – is that Adam and Eve existed. For this reason, affirming the existence of Adam and Eve is consistent with ascribing credibility to the Bible. Conversely, doubting or denying the existence of Adam and Eve is consistent with doubting or denying the credibility of the Bible.

    Forget inerrancy. If we cannot know that the Bible is historically credible, how can we be sure of a Savior?

    Be sure, therefore, that the historicity of Adam and Eve is not a peripheral issue.

    • chab123 February 9, 2014 / 12:35 am

      Mike, see the book The Lost World of Scripture and their use of speech act theory. It will help with many of the issues with inerrancy.

      Speech act theory includes: Form & content: locutionary act: what is said. 2. Energy & trajectory: illocutionary act: what is done in what is said. There is a command, warning, exhortation, forthtelling, teaching, etc. 3. Final purpose-perlocutionary act: what are the intended sequential effects on the thoughts, feelings, and/or actions of the hearers/readers by what is said and what is done in what is said. In other words, what now needs to happen is a choice to obey

      “God will not accommodate a communicator’s belief there was an exodus from Egypt and speak of it as a reality if it never happened. God will accomodate limited understanding for the sake of communication—that is simply part of accomodation in the locution. But we would maintain that he will not communicate about how he worked in events (e.g.n the exodus) or through people (e.g., Abraham) if those events never took place and those people never existed. Such accomodation would falsify his illocution and invalidate its reliability.”—Lost World of Scripture, pg 42-43.

  2. Mike Gantt February 9, 2014 / 8:58 am

    John Walton reads the Scriptures more flexibly than many of his scholarly evangelical inerrantist peers, but he clings to the historicity of Adam and Eve. That is encouraging.

    By contrast, Tremper Longman and Peter Enns have gone too far and relinquished a belief in a historical Adam and Eve. That is discouraging.

    The authors of the original post above are absolutely right in what they have written. I only wanted to strengthen their argument. Even more can be said. And I hope others will join in to say it.

  3. chab123 February 9, 2014 / 2:13 pm

    And that is why the book Four Views of the Historical Adam is on the reading list.

    • Mike Gantt February 9, 2014 / 3:39 pm

      Eric,

      To which of those four views do you subscribe?

      • chab123 February 9, 2014 / 6:49 pm

        As of now, I haven’t read it yet. But up to this point, I tend to reject Enn’s take on it.

  4. Perplexedearthling1 February 10, 2014 / 2:15 pm

    Well, Adam & Eve are disproved by genetics. So, we have the ongoing tension between creationism and evolution. However, in the “Lost book of Enki” by Zecharia Sitchin, Sumerian tablets of 25,000 years ago show that extra-terrestrial aliens (so advanced that they were taken to be gods) genetically modified early hominids, resulting in “Adamu”, the man. This was done about 445,000 years ago to produce slave labour needed to work in gold mines in South Africa (mines have been found dating about 300,000 years ago in that area) as gold was needed for some technology to try and repair the failing atmosphere of their home planet. This would tie in with 1) various ancient tablets, engravings, paintings of astronaut-looking people 2) the fact that 223 genes in humans are not shared by vertebrates and, according to some scientists, could have been introduced by said aliens and 3) many other Genesis stories came from Sumerian and Babylonian mythology e.g. flood, Noah etc. So very different from the current religious or scientific paradign but food for thought.

  5. Sue February 11, 2014 / 3:52 am

    Precisely when and where in a universe full of space-time paradoxes and in which distance is measured in of hundreds of light years did Adam & Eve appear?
    You cannot even account for your own appearance here because to do so you would have to account for the entirety of everything that has ever existed and how it has changed over vast aeons of time to coalesce into the body-mind-complex that you now identify with, and of course the entire present-time Cosmic display, ALL of which arises mysteriously and spontaneously in each moment as an Indivisible Unity.

    And yet you presume to “know” so much about Adam & Eve, “Jesus” and “Paul”.

  6. chab123 February 11, 2014 / 4:02 am

    Hi Sue, seems like you are mixing up cosmology and anthropology. They are both important. But by the time we get to Adam and Eve, the universe and earth is here. So your objection is not something that is discussed in the general objections that those books/resources I mentioned to the last person that commented. As I said in response to the last comments, Whether Adam and Eve is disproved by genetics or existed is still being debated. See Science and Human Origins by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, Casey Luskin or John Collins book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist, or Dr. Fazale Rana’s work here: http://www.reasons.org/articles/were-they-real-the-scientific-case-for-adam-and-eve?vm=r&s=1

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