Scientific research continues to mount strong evidence against the idea that a single couple, such as Adam and Eve, could ever have been the ancestors of the entire human race. The evidence is profound and comes from a number of disciplines including paleoanthropology, anatomy, and modern genetics. For example, the bones of various species of extinct upright walking primates have been discovered and classified. The techniques used to reconstruct and categorize these specimens are similar to those associated with crime scene investigations. Data from these techniques, while not infallible, are considered valid. The data from the bones indicate that Aridopithicus (4 million years ago) and the australopithicines, like the Lucy skeleton, (two to three million years ago) walked upright but were rather ape like in facial and cranial shape. The remains of others such as Homo ergaster (two million years ago) and Homo erectus (two million to at least half a million years ago) were associated with simple, hand-worked, stone tools. The bones of these Homo species looked surprisingly human from the neck down. Their faces and skulls were primitive compared to modern humans. Their brain cases were intermediate between the earlier upright walkers (450cc) and those of modern humans (1300cc).

Complicating the story is the strong evidence that some humanlike species were contemporary with early modern humans, Homo sapiens. Many of us are aware of the curious findings associated with the Neanderthals, Denisovans, the red deer people, and the dwarfed Hobbit men. Enough DNA has been salvaged from the bones of the Neanderthal and Denisovans to make whole genome comparisons with modern humans. Genomic studies have led to the growing belief that both of these extinct forms produced a limited number of offspring with their modern human contemporaries about 50,000 years ago.

It is difficult to determine the relationship of these upright walkers to that of divine, image-bearing, modern humans. Reconciling the anthropological science (the interpretation of natural revelation) and theology (the interpretation of Scripture) is the challenge. Some, in order to accommodate the science, allegorize Adam, claiming that he is a figurative representative of humanity, not a historic individual. In other words, Genesis 1–3 is literary myth in the best sense of the term, conveying truth without having real characters doing things in real time. One Christian author draws the comparison of humans and baseball. Just as there was never a first baseball game, there was never a first human. Both have evolved.

However, this approach has significant pitfalls. The rejection of a historic Adam typically calls for departure from a number of traditional Christian doctrines. 1) The historic doctrine of original sin is recast into a story about every human’s condition. Romans 7:24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” is altered so that “this body of death” refers to my base instincts (those vestiges of humanity’s evolutionary past). 2) The doctrine of the atonement (Christ’s death as payment for the sins of many) is recast as Christ’s defeat of sin through his conquest of his own base instincts. He is our example. And, 3) the development of a neo-Pelagian theology, replacing Augustinian sovereign grace, that sees each of us having our own fall from our state of innocence in the struggle to be faithful image bearers.

The concept of Christ as “a ransom for many” (Christ’s words in Matt. 20:28) and the ideas of redemption and renewal suggest buying back and restoring to an original state. If sin is simply a struggle with the instincts and vestiges inherited from an earlier biological stage, then the idea of ransom, redemption, and renewal are not meaningful. Also, the rejection of a historic Adam leads to depersonalizing the direct confrontation between Satan and Adam, and by extension, depersonalizes the conflict between Satan and Christ. From Scripture we know that Christ, the human, was not being tempted by his evolutionary past. He was being confronted by the same tempter that confronted Adam. Satan, at it again, tried to derail God’s plan for defeating Satan. The thing to remember is that Satan’s attempt to derail the first Adam as redeemer or preemptor of Satanic expansion (Satan rebelled before the human fall) largely succeeded. However, Satan utterly failed in his confrontation with the last Adam.

The Genesis account could have delivered a story consistent with the notion of the fall as every unfallen individual’s internal struggle. Instead, Genesis 3 describes a fall from a paradise of moral innocence by one person, Adam, with implications for the rest of humanity. If one allegorizes the Adam and Eve story (Gen. 1–3), reducing it to a mythic narrative full of “truth” without real historic content, Paul’s New Testament references to the first Adam and the last Adam (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) become a reflection of his Hebrew education and not a comment on real history. At that point, Paul’s Christology can be called into question along with the entire redemptive picture as understood by historic orthodox Christianity.

The allegorists may have a point. The language of the Genesis account of the creation of humans and the subsequent fall does ring with allegory, or at least symbolism. Consider a crafty talking snake, a tree of life that shows up in Revelation 22, and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, eating its fruit is an act of death-earning disobedience. The story has the flavor of fantastic myth constructed to teach valuable lessons, without the stories having actually occurred. However, allegorists seem to forget that allegory, symbolism, and history can go together. Consider Revelation 12. The woman clothed with the sun and moon, with twelve stars in her crown is about to deliver. The dragon (serpent), whose tail swept out a third of the stars of heaven, waits to devour the new born. The child is caught up to God’s throne, and the woman fled to the wilderness to a divinely prepared place. The story, in part, is a symbolic version of the Matthew 2 account of actual space/time history that involved Herod’s hunt for the Christ child and Joseph and Mary’s flight with the baby to Egypt. The protagonist is not a real dragon. The woman does not actually have a crown with ten stars. What Christian familiar with Matthew 2 would not recognize parallels between the two stories? The dragon symbolizing Satan, the pregnant woman representing Mary and the unborn Jesus. The conflict between ultimate good and evil is apparent. However, the Revelation 12 story, like the Matthew 2 version of the story, describes real characters and real events. The Revelation 12 account is a literary story that more clearly describes the behind-the-scenes struggle between spiritual forces. Again, the characters in both of the stories are real.

The Genesis 3 account of the fall makes sense if it is seen in a similarly symbolic way involving real characters and real events. The symbolic nature of the story is undeniable, a talking snake and trees of unknown taxonomy. However, to say that the characters and events are only allegorical or mythic flies in the face of the rest of Scripture. The rest of Scripture assumes real characters and real events. Genesis 3 can be seen as a similar narrative style to Revelation 12 without having a corresponding Matthew 2 type parallel account.

Where does this leave Adam? The situation in some measure is unresolved, especially for old earth creationists, people like Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, E.J. Young, and Francis Schaeffer. When did God first create Adam as an image bearer of God? What process did God use to create him from the dust? How long was Adam alone without a mate? Were Adam and Eve recognizably modern humans? Can the information that science gives us regarding early up-right walkers be reconciled with the Scripture? The answers to these questions may require us to live by faith, with the science in some tension. We cannot deny the data. However, science cannot be the arbiter of truth concerning certain Christian doctrines. For example, science is unable to confirm ex nihilo creation, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and miracles in general, things that we knew and accept by the testimony of Scripture. It seems that the Adam issue is similar. Perhaps the best science can do for the historical Adam is to inform us of normal natural processes and enable us to more clearly understand when divine intervention is a departure from natural events. For example, even if the human body of Adam was created through some God guided natural process (all natural processes are so guided), it is apparent from the narrative that the immaterial soul of Adam was not of the dust as his body was. A divine interventional miracle was the means of the creation of the immaterial soul. Again, if this special creation of Adam and Eve did not happen the Creator would have said, “Let the earth bring forth man in our image” instead of saying, “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26, emphasis added)? If we believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, then we must admit that the narrative indicating special creation means just that.

We thank the Lord for special revelation to give us information we could not have discovered by studying nature. Seeing Adam as a special creation is secured by special revelation. For example, God has the earth bringing forth plants and animals on day 3 and 6 respectively. On Day 6 God could have said, “let the earth bring forth man in our image.” Instead, he says, “let us make man in our image.” Apparently, the mode of creating humans is different from the other organisms. It involves both material (dust) and intervention (“in our image”). This does not eliminate the possibility of some kind of process in creating humans, but it does indicate that something quite special is going on. Notice in parallel that Christ, the last Adam, in his humanity is both the result of material process (sharing humanity’s identity through Mary) and intervention (How did he get his Y chromosome?). Natural revelation combined with special revelation are telling us that the parallels between the first Adam and the last Adam may be more profound than we have previously thought.

So is Adam the lone first image-bearing human as traditionally believed? Or as some now suggest, is he representative of all humans before and after him, just as Christ the redeemer is representative of those redeemed living before and after his earthly ministry? Difficulties are created by taking either tack. Certainly, serious theological issues are created if we say that the Adam in Genesis 3 is only allegorical or mythic. Consequently, reading Scripture in an unwise allegorical manner to make it comport with mainstream materialistic science seems like a new syncretism and an abuse of natural revelation.

There is a tendency among some Christians in the modern context to over-accommodate the claims of mainstream materialistic science. Natural revelation as interpreted by science does present some challenges for us, but we have been down that road before. The departure from geocentrism is a case in point. However, the shift to heliocentrism did not present the theological crisis that was initially feared in the sixteenth century. Another example might be the issue of whether or not there was any death before the fall. Special revelation certainly indicates that there was not death for humans before the fall. Some have assumed by extension that nothing died before the fall. However, this would stretch credulity if modern ecology has revealed something right about nature. It would be hard to conceive, even in a garden of Paradise, that no insects were inadvertently stepped on by large creatures, that no plants died, or that no bacteria were killed on the ground by being left high and dry. Ecology has shown us that the cycles of death and renewal are part of a healthy functioning ecosystem. Moving theologically from no death in the garden to ecological balance does not really cost us much. The historic Adam issue is much more critical. The theological consequences of rejecting a historical Adam are devastating as evidenced by those who hold to that position. As we keep trying to get natural revelation right, our interpretation of science will likely be wrong about some of the details. However, it will be a lot easier to correct that than to rewrite the errors of bad theology.

Jan Frederic Dudt is a professor of biology at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, January, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: January 2023

Historical Adam

Also in this issue

The Ruling Elder Podcast Is Here

Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 1: The Danger of Pride

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 3.4–6

An Attempt at Reconciling Paleoanthropology and Scripture: A Review Article

What Is the Primary Mission of the Church? A Review Article

The Unfolding Word, by Zach Keele

Adam’s Silence

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