From Eden to Eden
A man created from dust, and a woman created from that same man’s rib: surely we’re more intelligent than to actually believe in this, right? Prior to the nineteenth century, rarely did Christians deny the historicity of this Genesis account. However, it has become quite common to do so in modern Christianity, as many professing believers doubt this seemingly unbelievable account of creation.
Some have done so for literary reasons, claiming that the Adam and Eve narrative is a myth intended only for spiritual and theological insight. Others have done so for scientific reasons, hoping to reconcile Christianity with evolutionary theory. While liberal theologians welcome such developments in theology, many evangelicals are concerned—and for good reason.
Is this debate merely a polarizing issue for the church, or is there something more at stake? I propose that the debate is not superficial, but affects the very heart of the Gospel. My purpose in this essay is (a) to illuminate the issues surrounding this debate; and (b) to identify why an historical Adam and Eve is an integral facet of the Gospel.
Some reject the historicity of Adam and Eve for literary reasons. Genre and chronology play an important role in these scholars’ objections. First is the issue of genre. Is Genesis 1-3 history, myth, poetry, science, or something else? Some scholars, such as Bruce Waltke, claim that it is most likely “all of the above,” excluding science . Others, such as C. John Collins, suggest that it is historical in the sense that it tells of literal events. But he also suggests that it does not need to fit within a particular genre necessarily . Still, other scholars believe that Genesis’s author adapted Mesopotamian and Egyptian creation myths to recount an alternate, Hebrew account of creation.
Related to the issue of genre is that of chronology. Many question whether these chapters were intended as a chronological account of historical events. These suggest that certain parts of the creation story are repetitive and seemingly out-of-order. For example, Genesis 1:26-27 includes mankind’s creation on the sixth day of creation, but then Genesis 2:7 again recounts the same story, though with more detail. Similarly, God creates light (Gen. 1:3) before He creates the Sun (1:16). These tensions lead some scholars to deny that the creation account is an orderly, literal one.
Such critics then propose a series of questions: Did God really create two, literal human beings in the beginning, or are Adam and Eve merely representative of mankind? Are they mere “figure heads” for mankind to explain the creation myth and mankind’s “fall”? In other words, these critics suggest that God created mankind in mass, as He did with the animals and plants. Such critics believe that Genesis’ author added these opening chapters to the “creation myth” to add beauty and theology . Though a theological liberal himself, James Barr criticized such questions. He believed that they have false premises, since they leave no room for an historical Adam and Eve .
While some scholars doubt an historical Adam and Eve for literary reasons, others do so for scientific ones. For example, the Biologos Foundation is a leading organization that attempts to wed Christianity with evolutionary theory. One of its more recent accommodations concerns the human genome. They doubt an historical Adam and Eve because they do not believe that so much diversity within mankind’s DNA could result from only two people. Dennis Venema concludes, “[T]he expectation that the Genesis narratives provide scientific biological details of human ancestry fails in light of human genomics evidence on two points: humans share ancestry with other forms of life; and our speciation was through an interbreeding population, not an ancestral pair” .
It is important to remember that these Biologos scholars are not radical atheists seeking to debunk Christianity. Rather, they’re hoping to unite science with faith and rescue Christianity from the supposed facts of science—similar to many theologians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example, one evangelical scholar stated several years ago, “[I]f the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world” . Such thinking suggests that we must accept science’s findings when Scripture conflicts with it.
Others have shared similar sentiments. But in so doing, do these possibilities not compromise a vital part of the Gospel? This possibility merits closer consideration.
Can we forfeit a literal Adam and Eve, and still maintain the Gospel’s message? I believe not. The implications for it are too great. Fundamentally, this is not a debate of science versus faith. Fundamentally, it is a debate of theology and our redemption.
NPR radio host Barbara Bradley Hagerty made this plain when she stated the following concerning John Schneider: “Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College…says it’s time to face facts: There was no Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, [and] no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence” . Schneider is a prime example of the “slippery slope” that such thinking produces. To forfeit an historical Adam to is forfeit a literal Creation and a literal Fall. And without a Fall, we have no need for Redemption . Albert Mohler later challenged Schneider, suggesting that his approach has no boundaries. In other words, if Schneider doesn’t believe in a literal Adam, why not deny Christ’s literal divinity or a literal Virgin Birth ?
Rather, an historical Adam and Eve is crucial for the Old Testament’s narrative. C. John Collins explains: “Genesis 1-11 is the backcloth of the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob story which is the backcloth of the Exodus story. This prehistory grounds the call of Abraham by showing how all human beings are related, and therefore equally in need of God’s blessing, and equally reachable with that blessing.” Collins then explains beautifully: “Abraham is God’s answer to this universal need (Gen. 12:1-3): he is to be the vehicle of blessing to ‘all the families of the earth,’ starting the family through which all mankind, which is now estranged from God, will come to know the true God” .
However, let’s press the issue a little further. Without a literal Adam and a literal Fall, there is no need for a literal Christ. The apostle Paul clearly makes this connection when he identifies Jesus as the second and greater Adam: “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…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” (Rom. 5:14a, 19). Tom Schreiner insightfully comments: “[T]he relation between Adam-Christ is so tight in these verses that one cannot deny a historical Adam without denying a historical Christ” . Without a literal Creation and Fall, Christ died for naught on Golgotha’s hill, and Paul perpetuated irrelevant myths.
Was Adam literal? Paul seems to believe so. As a matter of fact, this has been the predominant view throughout church history. More importantly, the New Testament writers believed it. Why then are we so quick to shed this 2,000-year+ position?
When science and Scripture appear to be in conflict, modern Christians often give science the priority—despite the fact that scientists frequently change their positions on these questions. Stephen Wellum writes, “Inevitably it is always Scripture which seems to get re-interpreted in light of current thought” . Sadly, many Christians bow their knees to scientism in order to accommodate culture, or else be relevant to it. Although Bruce Waltke notes that Christians risk “cult” status for refusing acknowledge science’s findings, it wouldn’t be the first time that secular society has viewed the Church as odd. As a matter of fact, the Gospel has always been a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23).
Ultimately, to forfeit Genesis’s Eden is to forfeit that greater Eden in which we place our eager expectation and hope. Genesis’ account of Adam in the Garden anticipates a literal place and sinless time of perfect communion with God. However, sin entered the world through an historical Adam and destroyed our world. The story of Jesus Christ tells us of a second Adam who mediates a new covenant by His blood, promising us an eternal return to the paradise we once lost. Adam brought alienation, but Christ reconciliation, making peace by the blood of His cross. Indeed, the Second Adam is our only hope of returning to the new Eden.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 74-78.
 C. John Collins, “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62 (September 2010): 147-65.
 I’m not using the word “myth” in this section to refer to some sort of lie. By myth I mean something more similar to a story that conveys a deeper spiritual or theological meaning. What J. R. R. Tolkien gives us in the Lord of the Rings is similar to this type of myth. Theologians also refer to the Genesis accounts as myths because they resemble other Mesopotamian myths around the same time that these accounts were recorded.
 James Barr, “One Man or All Humanity A Question in the Anthropology of Genesis 1,” in Recycling Biblical Figures; Papers Read at a NOSTER Colloquium in Amsterdam, 12-13 May 1997 (ed. Athalya Brenner and Jan Willem van Henten; Studies in Theology and Religion; Leiden; Deo, 1990), 10.
 Dennis Venema, “Genesis and the Genome,” http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/venema_genesis_genome.pdf, accessed on January 8, 2012.
However, I’d respond to this in the following: If Adam and Eve were perfect beings, this means that they were perfect biologically, which means theoretically (or should we say theologically), that they could have had enough diversity in their DNA for all of mankind to descend from them. To the extent that people criticize this, are they limiting God? I suggest that they might be.
 Interview with BioLogos. BioLogos has removed the video interview at Waltke’s request. But you can find this quote as well a link to Waltke’s attempt at clarification here: http://biologos.org/blog/why-must-the-church-come-to-accept-evolution/
 Barbara Bradley Hagerty, “Evangelicals Question the Existence of Adam and Eve,” http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve, accessed on January 8, 2012
 R. Albert Mohler Jr., as well as many others, have led the way in explaining this very thing. To see how Mohler addresses the issue, you can watch a lecture he gave for Ligonier Ministries here: http://www.christianity.com/ligonier/?speaker=mohler2.
 You can read the transcript or listen to Barbara Bradley Haggerty’s piece here: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve
 C. John Collins, “Adam and Eve in the Old Testament,” SBJT 15 (Spring 2011): 4-25.
 Thomas S. Schreiner, “Sermon: From Adam to Christ: the Grace that Conquers all our Sin” SBJT 15 (Spring 2011): 80-90.
 Stephen Wellum, “Editorial: Debating the Historicity of Adam: Does it Matter?” SBJT 15 (Spring 2011): 2-3.
Further Resources: Kevin Hester, “Adam and Eve and Maple Tree Leaves,” available here.