The historicity of Adam is one of the most debated issues in modern Christianity. There are many who simply do not believe Adam and Eve existed, even within the Church. Some scholars do not believe that the existence of a literal Adam and Eve is crucial to Christian doctrines of the Fall and Redemption. William Dembski, college professor and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, writes:
“The theodicy the defense of God’s goodness in view of the existence of evil developed in this book is certainly compatible with a literal Adam and Eve. But it does not require a literal Adam and Eve. What it does require is that a group of hominids, however many, had their loyalty to God fairly tested; moreover, on taking the test, they all failed.”[i]
Others believe that the Genesis account of the creation of man and the fall may be allegorical. Francis Collins states, “The real problem for the believer comes down to whether Genesis 2 is describing a special act of miraculous creation that applied to a historic couple or whether this is a poetic and powerful allegory of God’s plan for the entrance of the spiritual nature (the soul and the Moral law) into humanity.”[ii]
Peter Enns, author, former professor, and Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for Biologos, in an interview for Christianity Today reveals:
“To Peter Enns, a literal Adam as a special creation without evolutionary forebears is “at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains.” As he reads the early chapters of Genesis, he says, “The Bible itself invites a symbolic reading by using cosmic battle imagery and by drawing parallels between Adam and Israel.”[iii]
Scripture Teaches the Existence of a Literal Adam and Eve
Genesis 1 and 2 clearly describe Adam and Eve as literal historical people. Adam was created first from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7) and Eve was then created from a rib taken from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:18). They were distinct creations from the animals and were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15) and was given dominion over all living things (Genesis 1:28). Adam was commanded by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and was told that if he disobeyed he would die (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve were joined in marriage by God (Genesis 2:24) and told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).
Other Bible authors also reveal their belief in the existence of a literal Adam and Eve (Job 31:33), refers to Adam trying to cover his sin (Genesis 3:7). Paul (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47-49) writes about man (referring to Adam) being a living being and made from dust (Genesis 2:7, 3:19). In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul warns the Corinthian church not to be deceived as Eve was deceived by the serpent (Genesis 3:6). Acts 17:26 states that every nation is made of one blood. This is only possible if Genesis 3:20 which says that the woman was named Eve because she was the “mother of all living,” refers to a real life Eve. Paul affirms the sequence of creation—Adam first, then Eve in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, 12, and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. He subsequently builds church doctrine on this basis, teaching that men are to be the spiritual leaders of the church.
The creation sequence is also vital to Paul’s teaching on leadership and submission in marriage, which is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5). If the creation sequence of Adam and Eve is not literal and historical, then the doctrines that Paul builds off it are meaningless even his calling Jesus “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Jesus affirms the existence of a literal Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:4-5 (Mark 10:6-8 also) when He quotes Genesis 1:2 7 and 2:24 as the institution of the first marriage. If Adam and Eve were merely allegories, then so was their marriage. This would certainly not provide Jesus with a foundation for real marriage in His teaching since an allegory about marriage would represent something different.
Adam is also mentioned in several genealogies. In Genesis 5:1-5, it is written that Adam had sons and daughters, was 130 years old when Seth was born and died at 930 years old. These ages only have relevance if they are referring to a literal person. First Chronicles 1:1-27 traces Abraham’s genealogy beginning with Adam, and Jude 1:14 references “Enoch, as the seventh from Adam” who prophesied. Not many question the historicity of Enoch and Abraham, and yet they think Enoch and Abraham’s great, great grandfather was likely not a real person.
Luke 3:23-38 traces Jesus’s genealogy back to Adam. This is significant because Jesus was the Seed of Eve promised in Genesis 3:15 that would bruise or crush Satan’s head. Few question that Jesus was a real person, but then how can He be the promised physical Seed if His great, great grandmother is an allegory? It is clear from Scripture that the Bible’s authors and Jesus Himself believed in the existence of a literal and historical Adam and Eve.
Literal Adam and Eve are Essential to the Christian Doctrines of Sin and Salvation
Oddly enough, atheists understand the vital relationship between the historicity of Adam, Eve, and original sin to the purposes of Christ. On a website promoting their Christmas campaign, the organization American Atheists stated:
“Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t believe in the fable of Adam and Eve and the talking snake. You probably don’t believe that Adam literally ate a fruit, resulting in God expelling him and Eve out of the idyllic Garden of Eden. In other words, you know that’s a myth. Right so far? So if Adam and eve and the Talking snake are myths, then Original sin is also a myth, right? Well, think about it. Jesus’ major purpose was to save mankind from original sin. Without Original Sin, the marketing that all people are sinners and therefore need to accept Jesus falls moot. No Adam and Eve means no need for a savior. No Fall of man means no need for atonement and no need for a Redeemer. You know it.”[iv]
That atheists understand the foundational importance of a literal Adam and Eve committing Original Sin to the purpose of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is why they attack Genesis so much. Paul understood this essential link between Adam and Christ and discussed it in Romans 5:12, 14-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49. Paul’s emphasis on this connection is not surprising since his audience was mainly Greeks. They did not know the Bible or have an understanding of it as the Jewish people did. In order for them to understand their need for Christ, Paul had to take them back to Genesis so they would know what sin is (disobedience to God) and why all people are sinners (because they are descendants of Adam and Eve who committed the first sin). This allowed the Greeks to come to a realization of their sinful state and their need of salvation from their sins through Christ.
The historicity of Adam and Eve lies at the very heart of the gospel message. If Adam is not a historical person who sinned, as stated in Genesis, and we are not all sinners as a result, then Jesus died for nothing. A.B. Caneday, professor of New Testament Studies and biblical theology at Northwestern College, writes:
“If Paul holds and advocates wrong beliefs concerning Adam’s origin and historicity, how is he to be trusted doctrinally, since the doctrines he affirms and teaches are entirely inseparable from biblically stated origins and historicity? The one man, Adam, as a historical person is integral both to humanity’s impaired dominion and subjection to death and sin bound up in his disobedience and to the proclamation of God’s gracious gift of righteousness that restores dominion in life through obedience of one man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).[v]
Scripture makes it clear that the existence of a literal Adam and Eve is foundational and essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Final Thought
The debate surrounding the historicity of Adam and Eve is not only an attack on the truthfulness and authority of Genesis but also an attack on the gospel. Can the Bible’s theology be true if the historical events on which the theology is based are false? The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall. Scripture is clear that Adam and Eve are literal, historical people. This fact is important to the truthfulness and authority of Genesis, the gospel, and all of Scripture.
This article first appeared in Theology for Life Fall Issue. To download the rest of the issue click here.
[i] William Dembski, The End of Christianity (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing).
[ii] Collins, The Language of God, p.207
[iii] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (June 2011), p. 26
[v] A.B. Caneday, “the Language of god and Adam’s Genesis and Historicity in Paul’s Gospel, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15 (2011), p. 26-59.