Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 3)

Image: by me. Feel free to use, just link back to this post.
So here is my theory on Adam and Eve, summarized from the previous two posts: Adam and Eve were not the first humans or the only humans to live in their time. Instead, they were the first ones to be made in the image of God, and they eventually became recent common ancestors to all of humanity. "Ancestors" here should be understood in the spiritual sense: we inherit from them both the image of God and the effects of their original sin. Because this is a spiritual heritage, it is not limited to transmission only through biological reproduction. It can be transmitted through any loving relationship that shapes the identity of the beloved. This most commonly takes place between parent and child, but it can also happen in any other analogous relationship.

In this post, I will explore how the spiritual descendants of Adam and Eve - the ensouled bearers of the image of God - might have spread through the Earth in my theory. I will then evaluate the overall state of the theory.

Adam and Eve were created in a spiritual vacuum, in that everyone else around them were merely biological humans. With their spiritual awareness, Adam and Eve and their descendants would have wielded great influence among the neighboring people, allowing them to bear many spiritual children. The number of their descendants through identity-shaping spiritual relationships may have been far greater than their descendants through biological reproduction. The "image of God" among the merely biological humans would have therefore spread very quickly, turning them into fully human spiritual descendants of Adam and Eve. They would in turn further transmit the "image of God" with similar ease, and much like the rapid spread of Christianity in its early days, the propagation of the "image of God" through humanity would have spread like wildfire.

This rapid spread would have been aided by the many mundane advantages of being fully, spiritually human. Adam and Eve were exceptional spiritual beings. They had literally spoken with God. This would have infused and influenced their descendants throughout the generations, and manifested itself even on a material level. For instance, the descendants of Adam and Eve may have had a more just form of government than other people, or sacrificed more for the common good. The benefits of knowing God flowed from their spirit even down to the prosaic matters. They would have been culturally superior to the merely biological humans - wealthier, wiser, healthier, more inquisitive, more respected, and more well-liked. All these would have naturally enhanced the fecundity of the children of Adam and Eve, through both biological reproduction and spiritual relationships.

I am undecided on how to interpret the long lifespans recorded in the genealogies of Adam's line. They may be numerological. Or they may be real, or be real but with gaps, or maybe something else altogether. If real, maybe all antediluvian biological descendants of Adam and Eve had phenomenal longevity. Or maybe these lifespans only applied to the male heirs in the messianic line. In any case, whether you take the numbers literally or as an expression of the fact that these were remarkable, important men, the net effect for the descendants of Adam and Eve would be to further enhance their fecundity.

On top of all that, Adam and Eve, and later Noah and his family, are divinely charged to 'be fruitful and multiply'. Additionally, there are multiple events in the early chapters of the Bible which scatters the children of Adam and Eve, such as Cain's exile, the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, and the calling of Abraham away from his homeland. All of this would have had the net effect of quickly spreading out Adam and Eve's descendants, drastically reducing the time necessary for them to become the spiritual common ancestor to all of humanity. 

This rapid propagation of the descendants of Adam and Eve solves some of the objections that may be raised against the theory. First, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of humans living today is estimated to have lived very recently (2000 to 4000 years ago), but this is only because of the European expansions since the Age of Discovery. Their explorations and the resultant co-mingling of lineages is what allows the recent date to the current MRCA. But before the Age of Discovery, it is suspected that the MRCA of living humans might have lived tens of thousands of years ago. While this does have some small overlap with when Adam and Eve might have lived, it is incompatible with the commonly given date of 4000BC. Could Adam and Eve really have become the common ancestor to all of humanity by the time of Jesus, even if they lived around 4000BC?

At this point it's important to remember that the time to MRCA estimates only come from computer simulations, which only traced descendants through biological reproduction. With that limitations it seems unlikely that Adam and Eve could have become recent common ancestors by the time of Jesus, or spread to each ancient civilization before it began to flourish. However, with the much faster propagation of descendants that I described above, this is no longer an issue. There is no reason to think that the descendants of Adam and Eve could not have spread quickly enough.

What about the human migration to the Americas? Didn't humans first cross the Beringia land bridge something like 15,000 years ago? How could Adam and Eve then be ancestors of Native Americans before Europeans got to the Americas? Well, it's true that 15,000 years is likely to be beyond the upper bound for when Adam and Eve lived. However, we're forgetting that one does not need to be the first member of a group in order to be the MRCA of that group. We're making the same mistake as thinking that Adam and Eve must have been the first anatomically modern humans. So, remembering that the MRCA of a group could be a recent arrival, the date we should be concerned with is not when humans FIRST migrated to the Americas, but when they LAST migrated to the Americas before the Europeans got there.

Now, I am not qualified to give an estimation for the pre-European MRCA of the Native Americans. The details of the human migration to the Americas is still being debated even among the experts. Like many other aspects of my theory, there is still much to discover. I will, however, note that even after the Beringia land bridge disappeared, people could have easily moved from Asia to America. Crossing the Bering Strait is risky for a single attempt, but easy for a people group over the course of many millennia. You can even just walk across the frozen sea if the conditions are ideal. So overall, there is no insurmountable barrier to the idea that a descendant of Adam and Eve could have crossed over into the Americas as recently as 5000 years ago, then become the spiritual MRCA of the Native Americans.

How about isolated peoples, such as the Sentinelese? The Sentinelese live on a remote, isolate island while maintaining a prehistoric society, and violently resist contact with the outside world. Due to their isolation, little is known of their history, but they may have been living on their island for tens of thousands of years. Could they still be the descendants of Adam and Eve?

There are simply too many unknowns to say for certain. Were they always as resistant to outside contact as they are now? Were they perfectly consistent in their "death to outsiders" attitude, for thousands of years? Did anyone ever leave the island, receive the image of God, then go back? Given that there has been nonlethal contact with the Sentinelese people just in the last fifty years or so, it would be premature to say that they definitively cannot be the descendants of Adam and Eve.

In dealing with any of the questions above, keep in mind that even if Adam and Eve could not become humanity's common ancestors by the time of Christ, it's not fatal to my theory. My theory could even handle merely biological humans existing today. Even if one of the above objections were shown to be valid, it would only make my theory slightly less robust, as I would then have to address the issue of "merely biological humans" with more care.

Still, isn't there a lot of opportunity for something to go wrong with the theory? For instance, what if it could be conclusively demonstrated that the Americas were completely isolated after 15,000 years ago? Or what if a better estimation for the time to MRCA gives a value of 100,000 years in the past, making Adam and Eve far too recent even after taking spiritual propagation into account? These potential problems are actually good things: that means my theory is falsifiable. And I do expect the details of my theory to be falsified to some extent. Right now there is simply too much missing information. We don't know the details of human migration into the Americas. We don't know the history of isolated peoples, or their frequency of contact with outsiders. We don't know what better and more extensive genetic testing may reveal about the history of humanity. The estimations for the time to the MRCA could use a great deal of improvement. As I am not a geneticist, anthropologist, archaeologist, or a historian, I will submit my theory to possible modifications based on future discoveries in these fields. I may have to modify details such as exactly when Adam and Eve became ancestors to all humans, or exactly how their descendants spread out. I believe this to be the wise course of action: to wait for the science with a willingness to revise my theory, rather than declaring the correctness of my theory with insufficient information.

But having said all that, I believe that the core of my theory is pretty solid. While it's still falsifiable, it rests on well-established Biblical, historical, and scientific facts which are unlikely to be overturned. Overall, I consider my theory about Adam and Eve to be more certain than a "working hypothesis", but perhaps not quite certain enough to be a full "theory". I will therefore conclude, with some significant confidence, by restating the summary that began this post: Adam and Eve were not the first humans or the only humans to live in their time. Instead, they were the first ones to be made in the image of God, and they eventually became recent common ancestors to all of humanity. "Ancestors" here should be understood in the spiritual sense: we inherit from them both the image of God and the effects of their original sin, and this inheritance is propagated through identity-shaping spiritual relationships, rather than just through biological reproduction.


You may next want to read:
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 1)
What is "evidence"? What counts as evidence for a certain position?
Another post, from the table of contents

Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 2)

Image: Creation of Eve by Michelangelo, public domain
In my previous post, I said that Adam and Eve were recent common ancestors to all of humanity. This means that they were almost certainly NOT the first humans, or the only humans to have lived in their time. Instead, they were the first humans to have been ensouled by God and created in his image. As their descendants, we too bear the image of God, but are also affected by their original sin. This model accounts for everything the Bible says about Adam and Eve, as well as all known history and science.

Also in my previous post, I said that I will be making one major modification to my model, and mentioned that I will come back to the issue of "merely biological humans" - people who were not directly descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore do not bear "the image of God".

The modification is about these merely biological humans. To be frank, the existence of this group of people - people who might be called 'soulless' or 'animals' or 'sub-human' if your intent was to degrade them - is the issue in my theory that bothers me the most. But remember that this issue has no practical consequences: I think the descendants of these biological humans have long been thoroughly mixed with the descendants of Adam and Eve, so that everyone alive now is fully human. Therefore this issue cannot be used to justify any kind of oppression or discrimination.

But how about in history? Well, I believe that Adam and Eve became common ancestors to humanity early enough, so that anyone you read about in history, or anyone recorded in the Bible, is still their descendant and therefore fully human. So this issue of "merely biological humans" also cannot justify any kind of historical oppression, even the ones that happened thousands of years ago.

But didn't the descendants of Adam and Eve interact with them at some point in prehistory? Doesn't my model, in fact, require many rounds of sex and child-rearing between the full humans and the merely biological humans, so that their descendants could be brought into Adam and Eve's lineage? Well, yes. What happened in these interactions?

Let's look at a specific scenario: what would happen if a full human adopted a biological human as their child? Say that Adam and Eve came across a lost baby and took him in as their own, out of compassion and pity. Would this child then be fully human? Would God grant him a soul, and would he bear the image of God?

This is fundamentally a question of how the soul, or the image of God, is propagated from person to person. Up until now, we have been working under the implicit assumption that it is transmitted the same way that genes are - by parentage. But is that really how it works? This is not a question that can be definitively answered, but several lines of Biblical reasoning suggest the answer is"no".

First, none of the other spiritual qualities propagate that way. For example, sin doesn't propagate that way. The Bible says that "bad company corrupts good character". God also commands Israelites to not even make treaties with the Canaanite nations that he's driving out before them, because their ways were evil and infectious. Both are examples of sin propagating through non-biological means. Even in our day to day lives we see that sin propagates through human relationships, rather than just from parent to child.

The new life we have in Christ also doesn't propagate that way. Faith comes through hearing the word of God preached. Again, the medium of propagation is the connection from one person to another, the relationship between two people. It does not necessarily follow genetic lineage. Of course, our parents are the people who influence us the most, and both our sins and our faith are most often transmitted to us through them. But we should not confuse this for biological heredity.

Also, consider that Luke says Adam was the "son of God", in exactly the same way he says that Seth was the "son of Adam". The same genealogy also says that Jesus was the "son of Joseph". Obviously, these father-son relationships are not based on a biological connection. But this genealogy is the same one that's in Genesis - the one that traces the descendants of Adam. In fact, this genealogy in Genesis begins by explicitly invoking the image of God, and connects it with Seth being a likeness and image of Adam, clearly implying that the image of God propagated from Adam to Seth. But Luke expands this same genealogy to include non-biological fatherhood.

This is clearly spelled out in John 1:13. Being the "children of God" does not depend on "natural descent" or a human parent's biological decision. Now, there can be some hair-splitting of the difference between "children of God" and "image of God", but overall I believe that this is fairly convincing evidence that biological heredity is not essential for our spiritual identity.

All these things suggests that the image of God is transmitted, not through purely biological means, but through relationships - in particular, the kind of nurturing, mentoring, teaching, and influencing relationship that a father would have with his son, born out of love. This most often happens between parents and their biological children, but the biology only exists to serve the relationship. God, as the one from whom all fatherhood on heaven and on earth derives its name, saw fit to design our biology to enable the relationship, so that we could better understand and draw near to him.

So yes, a merely biological human child adopted by Adam and Eve would inherit the image of God, and become a full human being. In fact, I believe that any relationship born of love, where one person shapes the identity of the other through that love, can serve as a conduit for propagating the image of God. As I said, this most often happens between parents and their biological children, but it can also happen between parents and an adopted child, a teacher and a student, a master and an apprentice, a commander and his soldiers, or between spouses, depending on the circumstances. Through all relationships of this kind, the image of God propagated throughout the human race over time.

At this point, you may say, "isn't this a lot of improbable speculations just to get your theory to work? Why doesn't the Bible explicitly mention any of this?" First, I don't think this is improbable. The main idea, that the image of God - the essence of our spiritual identity - is propagated through relationships, is a simple idea with solid Biblical backing, as I documented above. I do admit that there is some speculation, and that the Bible doesn't explicitly endorse this view. But before you use these as reasons to dismiss the entire theory, consider the following:

By now, you may have noticed the parallel between the "what about the merely biological humans?" question and the "what about the people who never hear the Gospel?" question. What is the status of the people who never hear the Gospel? Are they, or can they be, saved? What degree of faith in God, or in Jesus Christ, do they need? What if they lived before Christ? Does it matter? What if they only heard a poor presentation of the Gospel once in passing? These are important questions, and answering them necessarily involves some speculation. The Bible doesn't explicitly speak on the issue, despite its importance.

Why? Because the Bible instead gives us a commandment that's far more simple, practical, and effective. Rather than going into some esoteric discussion about the salvation status of unreached people groups, it simply tells us to make disciples of all nations. Following this commandment makes the discussion about unreached people moot. Are they unsaved? Go, preach the Gospel to them, so that they may be brought to salvation. Are they saved? Go, preach the Gospel to them, to bring them into a better understanding of the salvation they have. The question about unreached people is of no practical consequence, in light of this commandment we're given to obey.

The same is true for the "merely biological humans" question. The Bible doesn't discuss the question explicitly. Instead, God tells us to love our neighbors, which is a far more simple, practical, and effective course of action. It is also one of the oldest and best-known moral laws, discernible even by the ungodly, even before the law of Moses. In obeying this law, the question of "merely biological humans" would have been rendered moot. How should these outsiders who are not descended from Adam be treated? Could they even be distinguished from the "fully human" children of Eve? It didn't matter - none of it was of any practical consequence. The children of Adam and Eve were to love these outsiders anyway, and in doing so, they would have naturally passed on the image of God, turning these merely biological humans into full human beings. In bearing the image of God who freely made them in his likeness, they would freely pass on that likeness to all those they came across.

Now, did the descendants of Adam and Eve actually obey this moral imperative? Not really. Overall, they were probably no kinder to these outsiders than we are to one another. In fact, the two groups of people probably became indistinguishable several generations after Adam and Eve, so their cruelties upon one another were probably just ordinary human cruelties. But in acting so, they were violating God's moral imperative, even if the offense was against "merely biological humans". So, even in the early, prehistoric days, when the two groups of people both existed and could theoretically be distinguished, there would have been no justification for discrimination or oppression.

And with this understanding, we can even tackle potential modern difficulties. Say that we discover an isolated people who are not descended from Adam and Eve. Say that we somehow knew for certain that they were merely biological humans. This is all pretty much impossible, but let's pretend that it's true for a moment. Could we then oppress or exploit them, since they are not fully human? Absolutely not. Instead we are to love them as our neighbor, as we love ourselves. We are to teach, guide, and empower them, thereby enabling their incorporation into the rest of humanity. We are to preach the Gospel to them. We are to do this with all due respect for their culture and their right to self-determination. We will thus impart the image of God onto them, making them fully our equals.

Why? Are they not merely animals? Yes - in the same way that Adam, the origin of our own full humanity, was merely dust. God did not give Adam a soul because Adam was worthy, but instead to make him worthy. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. We rightly say that humans have value because we bear the image of God. Then, as God's image, we are to imitate him, who gave out that same soul-granting image to unworthy piles of dust, to lowly sinners. Freely we have received; freely give.

We Americans have a well-known line in our Declaration of Independence: "all men are created equal". The idea is that SINCE we are all equal, we ought THEREFORE to be treated equally by the government, in our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As political ideas go it's not a terrible idea, but it falls far short of the glorious grace of the Gospel, of the God who saves sinners and declares them all to be one in Christ. The idea is that EVEN IF we are inherently unequal to begin with, and all undeserving, he will STILL lift us all up to be one in Christ. That is the God we are to imitate, the God whose image we bear.

So, that settles the question of these "merely biological humans" once and for all. At no point in time or space is there ever a justification for using the distinction between "merely biological humans" and "descendants of Adam and Eve" for oppression or exploitation. Since the image of God is propagated through any archetypal father-son relationship, where one person shapes the identity of the other in love, the proper response by the descendants of Adam and Eve would have always been to love and grow the "merely biological humans", to thereby impart the image of God upon them.

Next week, I will continue to elaborate further on this "Adam and Eve as recent common ancestors" model, with this new understanding of "ancestor" that I just described in this post. I will discuss how the descendants of Adam and Eve spread throughout the Earth, and assess the overall strength of the theory.


You may next want to read:
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 3) (Next post of this series)
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 1) (Previous post of this series)
Another post, from the table of contents

Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 1)

Image: Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, public domain
Adam and Eve were exactly who the Bible says they were: the first humans created in the image of God, who were endowed with a living soul by the breath of God. They are the ancestors to all humans alive today. Through them, we too bear the image of God, but we're also impacted by their sin and its consequent curse.

As such, they are of seminal importance in understanding our spiritual history, and form the crucial component in the Genesis creation story and my interpretation of it. Now, as I've said beforeGenesis 1:1-2:3 uses a broad, abstract, metaphorical language befitting its placement as the prologue to the whole Bible. But starting with Genesis 2:4, the language settles down to the matter-of-fact style used for the remainder of Genesis, and the stories thereafter should be interpreted "literally". So, Adam and Eve were historical persons. They lived in a physical Garden of Eden, where they ate a real fruit, after being deceived by a snake that actually talked.

At this point it's important to remember what the Bible does NOT say about Adam and Eve. These are common but unfounded assumptions that people often read into the story, assumptions which in fact cannot be true based on our understanding of history and science. So: the Bible does NOT say they were the first members of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. That is a designation that did not even exist until modern taxonomy, and it would be ridiculous to use it in our interpretation of Genesis. The Bible also does NOT say that they were the only anatomically modern humans God created. It actually often hints at the existence of other humans outside their family. The Bible only says that Adam and Eve were the ones to be created in the image of God. I am here making a very clear distinction between biological humans and spiritual human beings. Biological humans evolved around 200,000 years ago, according to our current best estimates, but Adam and Eve lived around 6,000 to 12,000 years ago, depending on how you interpret the genealogies. Adam and Eve were not the first biological humans or the only ones that lived in their time, but they were the first spiritual human beings - full, biological humans who were also ensouled bearers of the image of God.

You may object that I have divided the human race into two classes: "spiritual human beings" and mere "biological humans", which I suppose can be termed "mere animals" if one were in an inflammatory mood. I will come back to this point later, but for now, this is of little practical importance. Everyone you meet, every individual you've read about, everyone that appears in the Bible or in history, and every person that you've ever felt a human connection to, are all descendants of Adam and Eve, and all spiritual human beings. This distinction therefore cannot be used to justify any kind of discrimination or oppression.

But what happened to the race of merely biological humans? Did they die out? No, their biological progeny continues, and they're doing very well. They were fully biologically human, after all. Characters in the Bible like Cain's wife, or Seth's wife, came from this group of people. Like with Cain and Seth's wives, they all eventually mated with a descendants of Adam and Eve, and thereafter their children are counted among the spiritual human beings. This processed continued on, until the entire human population is now descended from both the merely biological humans, and also Adam and Eve. Since they far outnumbered the two people living in the Garden of Eden at the time, our biological heritage - our genes - comes mostly from this group of people. But our spiritual heritage comes from Adam and Eve.

But how could Adam and Eve be ancestors to all the humans alive, if they only lived 6,000 to 12,000 years ago? Isn't this all rather contrived? Not at all. It is actually perfectly natural for a population to have a relatively recent common ancestor. It would be contrived if such a common ancestor did not exist - That would basically mean that the "population" was in fact two or more populations. And the scientific time estimates for the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for all humans is shockingly recent - possibly as little as 2,000 to 4000 years ago by some estimates. Needless to say, this timeframe agrees remarkably well with the Biblical timeframe for Adam and Eve.

(Please read that linked Wikipedia article on the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) - the concepts there are key to understanding my interpretation of Adam and Eve. I will illustrate the all the important points in this post as they come up, but you should still understand the bigger picture, and know that none of this is something that I'm just making up)

Image: by me. Feel free to use, just link back to this post.
So humanity could have had biologically started 200,000 years ago, yet really have a recent common ancestor as little as 2,000 years ago? Absolutely. Consider this simplified example: there is an isolated village in the mountains, numbering several hundred individuals. They have been around for a thousand years, isolated from everyone else and marrying among themselves. But one year, all their menfolk die, due to some sex-selective plague, or perhaps a catastrophe at a village-wide male-only ritual. Now it looks like the village will die out from the failure to reproduce. But one man, an outsider, wanders upon the village and settles there. He then dutifully impregnates all the women of the village for a generation, until his sons could take over, and the village is saved from extinction.

So the village existed for a thousand years, yet the most recent common ancestor of the village was this man from the outside, in just the last generation.

How about a more realistic example? The descendants of Genghis Khan are said to number in the tens of millions, and that's just counting the men along the patrilineal (father to son) line. They form a nontrivial fraction of the entire world population. You can easily imagine that in another millennium, this group of people will move around, mix, and marry other people, to the point that everyone in the world will be a descendant of Genghis Khan.

At this future point, the human race would still be some 200,000 years old, but their MRCA would be Genghis Khan, who would have lived less than 2000 years ago. Also, this would not imply that Genghis Khan and his mates were the only people to exist in their time, or the only ones to contribute to the gene pool of the world population. In fact, even with Genghis Khan being the MRCA, his genetic contribution to any given individual at this point would be quite small, as it went through many intervening generations where it was mixed and diluted with other people's genes.

So, Adam and Eve were a recent common ancestor (RCA) to the human race. Note that they don't necessarily have to be the MOST recent common ancestor (MRCA); they could have been an ancestor to the MRCA, for instance. Note also that the Biblical Adam and Eve are almost certainly not the mitochondrial Eve or the Y-chromosomal Adam. These individuals are the ancestor to only the members of their own sex, following only the matrilineal or patrilineal lines. This is a strong restriction on leaving descendants: for instance, if a couple only had a son, who then only had a daughter, this would break both the matrilineal and patrilineal lines, whereas the MRCA could still trace their descendants through this line. Because of this same-sex restriction, the lines of ancestry for mitochondrial Eve and the Y-chromosomal Adam converge far too slowly, making these individuals far older than the MRCA and too old to be the Biblical Adam or Eve.

Lastly, there is the question of when, exactly, Adam and Eve became the common ancestor to the whole world. As I mentioned above, I believe that every person in the Bible, and everyone that we have a written historical record of, is a descendant of Adam and Eve. This means that their descendants had to spread to each of the major civilizations before it began to flourish, and probably spread out to nearly everywhere by the time of Christ. This is a strong constriction which forces back the lastest possible date for the common ancestor. An important reason that the MRCA of humans living today lived so recently is the relative ease with which we could travel to, colonize, conquer, and trade with the people living in far off places. This mixes the people of different lineages and allows quicker divergence from the MRCA. But the MRCA of the people living in the first century might have lived quite a bit further in the past, as the starting point is pushed back 2000 years, and travel was more difficult. But I believe that even under these constraints, Adam are Eve are sufficiently old enough to be the ancestors to all of humanity.

All these possible difficulties and implications, along with one major modification to this model that I have not yet mentioned, will be elaborated on in the next few posts. But for now, this is the skeleton outline of my model: Adam and Eve were recent common ancestors to all the humans that lived at the time of Jesus. Thereafter, all of us - all humanity - are their descendants. We inherit our spiritual condition from them, both the image of God and the effects of the original sin. Big Bang and human evolution all took place, but they happened far before Adam and Eve. I believe that, with the modifications that I'll discuss next week, my model squares with all the relevant scientific, historic, and Biblical facts. In fact the the agreement between the Biblical date for Adam and Eve, and the historical/scientific dates for recent common ancestors, is quite good.


You may next want to read:
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 2) (Next post of this series)
Interpreting the Genesis creation story: an introduction
Why we should interpret the Bible in light of science
Another post, from the table of contents

Common arguments about the creation account (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post. I evaluate common scriptural arguments about how to interpret the Genesis creation account, and relate them to my espoused interpretation. Each of these arguments deserves a full post at the very least, but I have condensed my reply to a few short paragraphs as to not repeat what has been written elsewhere, and to demonstrate that my interpretation does in fact take these arguments into consideration.



"Biological evolution and an old earth implies that there was death before Adam, but Romans 5:12 clearly indicates that death entered the world through Adam's fall. Otherwise, how could God have created the world and called it 'very good' if it involved the many deaths and extinctions that evolution requires?"

Romans 5:12 is focusing on spiritual death. In Romans 5, the death that came to all men through Adam is contrasted with the life we all receive in Jesus Christ. Actually, the passage makes a point of saying that the gift is not like the trespass, that the effect of Christ's actions are far greater than Adam's sin. Now we Christians, living after Christ and his cross, still must all physically die one day. So, if the greater effect - caused by Christ - still does not prevent us from dying physical deaths, why would the lesser effect - caused by Adam - include both physical and spiritual death? Was Adam's sin greater than Christ's sacrifice?

But what if Romans 5 is talking about both physical and spiritual death together? Is that not the most natural reading? Just as Adam's sin caused spiritual death, and therefore physical death as an eventual consequence, Christ's sacrifice gives spiritual life, and therefore our physical resurrection as an eventual consequence. This is a solid interpretation; in fact 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 strongly supports it. But this still doesn't change the fact that spiritual death is the chief concern, that even after Christ's work on the cross, we must physically die before our resurrection. It therefore seems reasonable that even before Adam's fall, people and animals had to physically die.

All this means that physical death is not the great evil that we must guard against at all costs. That's spiritual death, the second death, the permanent separation from God. In the grand scheme of things, physical death matters less than the smallest bit of our sins. For in Christ even that smallest bit of sin is removed, whereas we must still undergo our physical death.

So, according to evolution, some part of creation that did not yet have contact with Adam - the bearer of the image of God - died merely physical deaths. This is not some great evil. It is no more evil than water flowing down a slope or the second law of thermodynamics. Evolution and its associated physical death can take place without impinging upon the goodness of God, because there was no ensouled creatures before Adam to experience it. Verses like Romans 5:12 rightly focus on the death brought on by Adam, but this only began to matter because Adam was the first creature to have a God-breathed spirit. These verses are mostly about spiritual death, with the attendant physical death only starting to matter because it was now starting to happen to spiritual beings.

But could it not be argued that any death would be a flaw, that all of creation should have lived forever in perfection before the fall? No: Eden is not the New Jerusalem. It is only 'very good', not perfect. Our pre-fall state will pale in comparison to our post-resurrection state. This is made most obvious by the fact that Adam fell, whereas in Christ we are secure forever. Therefore there is no reason to postulate the lack of physical death before Adam, when it remained even after Christ. It will only disappear in a new heaven and a new earth, where the old order of things will have passed away.



"How could the human race have propagated itself from just Adam and Eve? Who was Cain's wife, or Seth's wife? A literal interpretation would involve lots of incest, which is contrary to God's commandments."

Many who hold to a literal, 7-day creation will say "Cain and Seth married their sisters" without batting an eye. I personally find this to be far more problematic than "death before Adam". I mean, God explicitly commands us not commit incest. It seems unlikely that his "very good" design for humanity involved reproduction by incest from the very beginning.

I've heard it said that because Adam and Eve had perfect, universally representative genes, there was none of the usual deleterious effects of incest in the next few generations, and this was why incest was allowed. But this strikes me as a dangerous way of thinking. So, if we could mitigate the negative genetic effects of incest, God would approve of it? Then would modern-day incestuous relations be okay with the use of birth control, or with genetic screening? Would it in fact be desirable, since it's going back to the pre-fall, original intent that God had for humanity? This gets even more muddled if we expand this way of thinking into other sexual mores. When would adultery be allowed, for instance?

Such shallow thinking about sexuality is the way of the world - not fitting for the body of Christ. Ironically, evolution is one of the best tools we have against the "anything goes" ideas of human mating that are prevalent in the world. While evolution becomes monstrous when it's taken as an idol and the ultimate arbiter of morality, when it is properly understood as the tool that God used to create us humans, it expresses a great deal of power and truth that's very relevant to our understanding of morality - sexual morality in particular. But the Christian Church, as a whole, is missing a great opportunity to explore and declare the truth in this area due to our collective waffling on evolution.

Accepting evolution allows us to believe that God was consistent in forbidding incest. It also allows us to discover greater truths about human reproduction and sexuality hidden within the scriptures. With this proper understanding we can take a firm stances against the errors of the world.



"We're the children of God, not the descendants of monkeys!"

If God could make children of Abraham from stones, he can also make sons and daughters of God from monkeys. It is, in fact, good to be reminded of our animal nature, so that we can better trust and glorify God as he makes us into his full-grown children.

Remember that God did not choose Israel because they were a numerous people, or because their ancestors had always served God. He chose them because he loved them. Likewise, he probably did not choose the monkeys that were our ancestors because they were so very smart, or good looking, or well behaved. But just as God did his amazing works through Israel despite their lowly origin, he's accomplishing great things with humanity, despite the fact that we're just a species of great apes. This should make us better appreciate that we're the children of God, rather than dismissing what God can accomplish even through beings like us.



"2 Peter 3:8 says that for God, a thousand years is like a day. The days in the Genesis creation accounts could easily be long periods of time."

While this is certainly true, and a good reminder that God is not bound by time as we are, I find this line of thinking too literal, trying too hard to "proof-text" using a passage that's not directly related to the Genesis creation account. It's a decent verse for a day-age theorist, and while that's not a view I currently hold, it's one that I'm somewhat sympathetic to (Hugh Ross was influential in some of my early thoughts).



"The Bible means what it says. As a general rule, a literal interpretation is to be preferred over a figurative one. A figurative interpretation should only be adapted if a literal interpretation fails. Allowing an allegorical interpretation for the Genesis creation account would lead to allegorizing away the meaning in all the other key passages of the Bible."

Once again, I'll say that this is a view I can respect. It's born out of a desire to take the Bible seriously and a zeal to be faithful to God's word, and it would certainly be nice if Bible interpretation was always as easy as taking a passage literally. However, as I mentioned before, I disagree with nearly all of the claims made about Bible interpretation in this view: no, a literal interpretation should NOT automatically be the default. An allegorical interpretation, while it may be more difficult than a literal one, can NOT be made to say absolutely anything, and does NOT lead to losing all meaning in the Bible. In fact we rely on a figurative interpretation in some very important passages to say very firm things, such as in John 1.



In my next post, I will discuss Adam and Eve - key figures in the creation story, and also in my interpretation of that story.


You may next want to read:
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 1) (Next post of this series)
Orthodoxy vs. living out the Gospel: which is more important?
Common arguments about the creation account (Part 1) (Previous post of this series)
Another post, from the table of contents

Common arguments about the creation account (Part 1)

In this and the next post I will evaluate some common Scriptural arguments about how to interpret the Genesis creation account. I will answer common objections raised against my interpretation, and evaluate common arguments put forth for my position.

Now, as I mentioned before, there has already been so much written on this topic that I cannot possibly cover every part of the discussion in full depth. So, in establishing my interpretation, my goal has been to introduce relatively new, rarely mentioned lines of thought. But I must also demonstrate that I have considered the old, commonly seen Biblical arguments relating to my position. Each argument below deserves a full post at a minimum, but then I would be repeating much of what others have already written. So instead I will be giving a relatively short reply to each of the following common arguments, again trying to be as original as possible in my thoughts:



"Other Bible verses, such as Exodus 20:11, states that the world was created in six days. This is even given as a rationale for working for six literal days and resting on the seventh literal day."

A reference to "created in six days" does not necessarily make the days literal. It is simply a reference to the fact that the creation story has "six days" as an element in it. This remains true even if it's tied to the commandment to work for six literal days and then to rest on the Sabbath. Some examples will illustrate my point:

Even within Genesis, there is the story of Jacob's dream at Bethel. Jacob runs away from his home after deceiving his father and brother to steal the blessing of the firstborn. He falls asleep on the road, and in his dream he sees a ladder going up to heaven along with angels, and God himself. God assures Jacob that he will be blessed. In the morning he wakes up and names the place "Bethel", meaning "House of God".

Later in the story God appears to Jacob to give him further directions, and God himself actually calls that place "Bethel" - House of God. So, does that mean that this place is now literally the house of God, with a bed and a kitchen for the One who cannot be contained in the highest heavens? Of course not. God is simply referencing Jacob's experiences at Bethel without intending for the words to have literal meaning. Just because God references something that can be taken literally doesn't mean that it has to be taken literally

But what about the fact that God proscribes the fourth of the ten commandments based on the "six days"? Doesn't that mean the six days are literal? Not at all. Consider the sacrament of communion (also known as Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper). As Jesus instituted this sacrament, he took bread, broke it, and said, "this is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me". He also took a cup and said "this cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me". Now, does the fact that Jesus instituted this sacrament mean that Jesus's words here are literally true? Certainly not in the sense that we are to be cannibals. But this is what would be required if we use an absolutely literal interpretation of "eat Jesus's flesh and drink his blood". So "six days" doesn't necessarily have to be literally true, even if it has a commandment based on it, just as "eat flesh/drink blood" isn't literally true, even if it has a sacrament based on it.

The biggest problem I see with all this, though, is that none of these verses are meant to be interpreted this way. Exodus 20:11 is mainly about keeping the Sabbath, not about the details of the creation account. The story of Bethel and the Last Supper isn't about the creation account either. But when we examine John 1 - the one truly relevant passage that actually is about the creation account - we get the very strong sense that there are many elements in the Genesis creation story that are not to be interpreted literally.



"How could there be a literal, 24-hour day before the Sun was created on the fourth day?"

This line of thinking supports my interpretation, but of course it's not a knockout blow for a literal interpretation. In general, there are few "knockout blows" in argumentation. From a literal point of view, I have heard it said that there could simply be a light without a source which was created on the first day, and that the Earth's rotation in reference to that light gave the days and the nights. I have also heard people say that everything was supernatural during the creation week anyway, so all this doesn't matter. Now, while this and other similar interpretations give a possibly plausible explanation, it does seem awkward. It gives lie to the idea that the literal interpretation is simple and clean, while any figurative interpretation must be convoluted. A day without a Sun as marked by a light that's not coming from the Sun which is still somehow a 24-hour day is not simple or clean.

In reality, the topic itself - the creation of the world - is profound and abstract by its very nature, and there is no easy way to understand it. This is one of the reasons that I think that Genesis describes the creation event metaphorically; nobody could understand it otherwise. Even the tiny sliver of creation that we think we understand by our sciences are out of reach for a vast majority of humanity, who are not experts in any scientific fields. How then could anyone understand the entire creation of the universe "literally"? But what we cannot understand directly, we can grasp by symbols and metaphor. If you believe that the Bible was written to make sense, especially to its original readers, then it makes a lot more sense to think that the creation story contains metaphors. God chose to give us a symbolic story of profound meaning that we can actually understand, rather than a poor, literal, scientific account of creation that hardly scratches the surface of what's really going on, which we still can't understand.

Furthermore, employing such awkward answers for the sake of a literal interpretation means that you are abandoning any relationship between science and the creation event, including some very convincing evidence for the existence of God. If you go down this route, you cannot use the fact that the universe had a beginning to argue for the existence of God. You cannot admire God's handiwork in setting the parameters of the Universe to allow us to exists. You cannot glorify God by understanding and harnessing our evolutionary impulses to his will. These are all aspects of creation through which we can glimpse God, but these thoughts only hold up if we can trace back our origins and creation through science. Giving up all this is regrettable, given that Romans 1:19-20 clearly states that what can be known about God are visible through his creation, even for the ungodly.

So, in a literal interpretation, there can still be 24-hour days before the creation of the Sun. But such an interpretive scheme does not deliver on anything like a simple, clean interpretation that it promises, while the sacrifices demanded by this interpretation are costly indeed.



"The Hebrew word for 'day' ('yom') is always meant literally when it is preceded by a number, as in 'first day', 'second day', and so on. Therefore the days in the creation story are literal. This is doubly emphasized by the phrase 'and there was evening and there was morning', which is repeated each day."

To begin with, it is not true that a number preceding "yom" always makes it a literal, 24-hour day. A counterexample will suffice to prove my point. Hosea 6:1-3 reads:
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him. 
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.
Verse 2 has clear examples of "day" preceded by a number, which are nevertheless used figuratively.

Note that the context here is determined by applying the principles of Bible interpretation, rather than by just looking for a certain combination of words. While it's true that having a number attached to "day" makes it more likely that it's meant literally, this is hardly the only or even the most important consideration. As for the repeated "and there was evening and there was morning", I personally feel that this formulaic repetition makes it less likely that this is meant literally. How many literal uses of "day" are there that repeatedly emphasize evening and morning, day after day? Don't they usually just state what day it is?

So there is much more to consider beyond just looking for a combination of a number and "yom". When we consider all these factors, there are very good reasons to think that "day" is not meant as a literal, 24-hour day.



My next post will continue to consider more arguments, such as the "no death before Adam" argument, the "who did Seth and Cain marry?" argument, and more.


You may next want to read:
Common arguments about the creation account (Part 2) (Next post of this series)
Orthodoxy vs. living out the Gospel: which is more important?
The simple essential meaning of the Genesis creation story (Previous post of this series)
Another post, from the table of contents