The Evolution of Adam: Additional Thoughts

Posted By on June 2, 2012

A few weeks ago I had offered some thoughts on a review of Peter Ennsí recent book, The Evolution of Adam. Readers recall that the purpose there was to object to some poor thinking maligning Ennsí theological thinking. In the course of that short critique, I also put forth some thoughts of my own about Ennsí position which, in a nutshell, is that evolution is a given, and that Adam in Genesis was designed by the biblical writers to typify Israel, not to provide any sort of scientific statement about human origins. Enns also believes that Paul was wrong about Adam (in that Paul presumed that Adam was indeed the first human), but right about Jesus being the answer to the universal human dilemma of sin and death. I promised more input on Enns and the ďAdam problem,Ē and so that is my aim here (but note, this topic is still percolating in my head — I tend to think about things a long time before I feel they are settled). So …† this isnít really a book review, but my thoughts on the issue.

The Science: The Discussion

Iíve been following the discussion between Christian geneticists, biblical scholars, and certain science apologetics sites relating to the problem of a historical Adam for nearly two years. But for those who have not, some summary is in order.

Some Christian geneticists have recently concluded that, statistically, it is not possible that the current genetic landscape for human beings can be accounted for by an origin from a single pair of humans. The article by Dennis Venema that sort of started all this off was entitled, “Does Genetics Point to a Single Primal Couple?” This article was a distillation for lay people of the points discussed in a much longer journal and more technical article published in Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith entitled, “Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes.” This article drew many responses. The well known old-earth Christian apologetics site, Reasons to Believe, responded in a series of essays by Fazale Rana. Frankly, RTB does poorly here, a failure pointed out by both Venema and (ironically, to say the least) by young-earth creationist (and geneticist) Todd Wood. Wood simply has a better handle on the genetics material than RTB and, despite his young-earth position, candidly acknowledges that Venema’s science is solid (though he wonders about the statistics part). You can read the exchanges between RTB, Venema, and Wood here:

Venema responded to two books by Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana as they related to the issue of genetics and human evolution (November 2010):

An Evangelical Geneticistís Critique of Reasons to Believeís Testable Creation Model, Pt. 1

An Evangelical Geneticistís Critique of Reasons to Believeís Testable Creation Model, Pt. 2

Fazale Rana then responded on behalf of RTB (all December 2010):

DNA Comparisons between Humans and Chimps: A Response to Dennis Venemaís Critique of the RTB Human Origins Model, Part 1

DNA Comparisons between Humans and Chimps: A Response to the Venema Critique of the RTB Human Origins Model, Part 2

DNA Comparisons between Humans and Chimps: A Response to the Venema Critique of the RTB Human Origins Model, Part 3

DNA Comparisons between Humans and Chimps: A Response to the Venema Critique of the RTB Human Origins Model, Part 4

Todd Wood went through Rana’s responses very carefully, and shows some disturbing “confusions” and even errors. Even though he finds Venema’s work uncomfortable, it is Rana that he takes to task on the science (all early 2011):

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome Part 1

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome Part 2

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome Part 3

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome Part 4

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome Part 5

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome Part 6

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome part 7

Todd’s Blog: RTB and the chimp genome Part 8

The Science: My Own Thoughts

Let me say first that, despite an interest in genetics, I find it hard to care about evolution, theologically. I’m not offended by the thought at all. I really don’t care what mechanism God used to do what He did. I’m actually more concerned with Christians who do embrace evolution wanting to be Darwinists, rather than credit God with a role. I really don’t see the point in calling oneself an Christian Darwinist (as Venema does) and then him-and-haw about whether God had anything to do with it (as Venema does: see here, here, and here — in an evasive “response” that smacks of sophistry).

Let me also say that, despite an interest in genetics, I’m not a scientist. Neither is Peter Enns. We both would say that it’s best to let scientists (and, specifically, geneticists) committed to the Christian faith parse all this. Fair enough. However, I am less “certain” about the evolutionary paradigm (and, consequently, Venema’s statistical argument) than Enns. I simply read too many critiques of evolution within the scientific journals and evolutionist community to feel secure about the paradigm being offered. I speak here of blogs by people with degrees in bioogy and genetics who know evolutionary theory very well, and who spend a great deal of time combing through the journals to produce instances where evolutionary theory doesn’t work as it should or as it is expected. (Try Cornelius Hunter’s Darwin’s God, for example — unless you are a fundamentalist evolutionist — this blog may shake your faith).1 The real question is whether the problems with evolutionary theory warrant scrapping the idea (overkill in my view) or re-articulating the idea (seems pretty reasonable to me). This relates to the current issue (for me) in this way. Given that, 150 years after Darwin scientists are only now, due to advances in technology, beginning to realize that evolutionary theory has problems, I’m betting that someone will come along a lot sooner than that and offer a serious-minded critique to Venema’s statistical analysis of the genetics. Statistical genetics is not what anyone would call a well-worn path, and so it is vulnerable (as even established scientific disciplines are) to correction. To illustrate why this matters, think of astrophysics. Even the slightest errors in calculations there mean the shuttle astronauts die, or that they never get back to earth. The math in that field is only secure because of steady attention given to it over decades. Statistical genetics is still in its infancy and is more given to subjectivity than celestial mechanics. Of course Venema’s work may indeed stand the test of time — but that requires time. Drawing too many firm conclusions now on its basis seems transparently premature.

But let’s assume he’s completely right for the rest of this post. Let’s assume we cannot speak of a historical Adam that produce all other humans, and that humans share a common ancestor with chimps. 2

What To Think — My Two Dollars’ Worth (Hey, it’s a long post, so 2 cents doesn’t cut it)

Assuming evolutionary theory is valid, and that theists would either feel enthused about or compelled to embrace the idea that God used the evolutionary process to produce all life as we know it (including homo sapiens), what is to be done with Adam?3

I feel less trepidation here than many believers and believing scholars for two reasons. First, since I’m already on record as insisting that we not make the biblical writers what they weren’t (scientists) and let Scripture be what it is (a document produced over long periods of time by many human hands under the providential oversight of God, who decided to use humans in the first place to produce this thing we call the Bible), I don’t have a problem affirming the pre-scientific nature of the Bible, and think critics sound stupid when they criticize Scripture for not being what it wasn’t intended to be.4† Second, I’m also on record that I don’t see Romans 5:12 as teaching the idea of the original *guilt* of all humans. (See my archive on that issue and fuller discussions on the summary that follows here). That is, while the biblical story does describe a fall, and Romans 5:12 alludes to that fall, Romans 5:12 does not teach that all humans need Jesus because they inherited Adam’s guilt. The text never actually says that. That has been read into the text for centuries. What it *does* say all humans inherit is death (i.e., mortality). Read it — it’s quite clear that what “passed upon all mankind” is death. The passage never says humans became guilty before God because of Adam; it says we all die because of Adam. Further, like the post-Fall Adam and Eve, we have no inherent access to the divine presence that would enable us to resist sinning for any meaningful amount of time (as it apparently did with Adam — though it obviously didn’t prevent him from willingly sinning altogether). We get that presence via the Spirit when we become believers (that is why we can resist sin, albeit imperfectly since we still live in an unredeemed body). The result of the fall is being a mortal human, and (pardon the pun) the fallout proceeding from that is “all have sinned” (i.e., every human invariably and inescapably will sin — and that is where our guilt before God comes from — what *we* do, not what Adam did). The exceptions to this guilt are: Jesus5 and humans who never get to sin.6

But don’t I need a historical Adam for my view as well?

How would I answer that? Well, here’s one possible short answer: That’ll work fine, but it isn’t necessary. Genesis 3 is a story aiming to describe several theological points and ideas, one of which is why humans die and why we cannot merit eternal life with God. It’s “just a story” but a theologically pregnant one, pointing us to spiritual certitudes. That is, I don’t need a single real-time event involving an original human couple to know with theological certainty that all humans are mortal, that all humans sin, and that all humans are totally helpless to remedy either problem. If Genesis 3, an important passage that communicates these truths, is only a story, the points are still clearly and forcibly put forth. Do we need Job to be a historical person to know that the righteous can indeed suffer and we must trust God for why that happens? That would be an incredibly narrow (and reality-defying) position to take.

Now, the longer answer might follow the trajectory of other thoughts …

Genesis 3 (the fall account) is very consistent with ancient Near Eastern epics that seek to explain why humans are mortal — why we die — unlike the gods (who, even when they die are often [always?] not really dead, or not dead for long). Immortality is an attribute foreign to humans, so that must be explained in the ancient epics. Immortality must be bestowed or granted by God/the gods. It is not part of the human situation.7 Lesson: humans are mortal, and to be human means you’ll invariably offend God (sin). And our guilt (not that of someone else) means we need deliverance and forgiveness — things we cannot merit or obtain through our own effort, not to any degree.

The story of Adam and Eve then, as the product of a pre-scientific culture, isn’t about science in any way. As† With respect to theology, it could be viewed as only a *story* (not the record of a literal event) of why we die and why we need redemption (Answer: because we aren’t God and cannot enter God’s eternal life without his gracious invitation and the removal of our guilt, caused by our offenses toward him). The Adam story illustrates both truths quite clearly (and Israel’s own history — hence the “Adam as Israel” view of the biblical author, articulated by Peter Enns in his recent book).

So, here’s how I’d parse Romans 5:12, 18-19:

5:12 – “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…”

Without a historical Adam, we’d have an allusion to a story designed to teach us why we are other than God — why we die and how the attribute of mortality contributes to why we offend God and cannot be part of his eternal life as we are.

Rom 5:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one manís disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one manís obedience the many will be made righteous.

Yep. As the story of Gen 3 shows us, humans from the very beginning of humanity are condemned to life apart from God’s own unique, eternal life. The failure of the Adam character drives home the awful reality that we are human and therefore mortal, and because mortal and not Deity, we are all sinners. And these same conditions are true of all humans. Even Jesus was mortal since he was fully human. He only didn’t sin like all humans because he was (uniquely) God as well. But he did die. And it was through that voluntary death on the cross that both the plagues of humanity can be solved:† mortality yielding to immortality, and the guilt we incur via our sins being forgiven. And so, we understand our need and helplessness from the Adam story — that is how God chose to communicate our condition to us. And we are real — we are in history. But the story need only communicate our problem and its universality. God is also real and intrudes into human history. Once he did that in the person of the Son as a human being.8 And through that historical intervention, our very real historical problems as they relate to mortality and inability to have God’s eternal life, got solved.

†So, where does this differ from Peter Enns? I think Paul could have looked at Genesis 3 as a story. While it’s likely he believed Adam and Eve were the first two humans, I’m not completely convinced that he couldn’t have seen it as only story. Why? Did all ancient people believe in their creation stories in a literal sense? I doubt it. Did a Sumerian really read their creation stories and think that they were composed of the blood of a god and clay? Or that the first humans grew out of the ground like plants? I’m sure some of them did. But I’m also sure that some of them would look at you and say, “Hey, it’s a story — who knows how we all got here; the gods must have done something to put us here, but growing us out of the ground — really? Come on.” I say this because the language of appearances that Peter and I (and others) refer to in order to drive home the point of a pre-scientific worldview actually cuts both ways. EXPERIENCE would also have told our Sumerians that people didn’t grow out of the ground (they’d never experienced that) and that there didn’t seem to be any residual divinity in people (the kings and their bloodline might be an exception). Snakes really don’t talk, and so it’s conceivable to me that a devoted ancient Jew might look at Genesis 3 and presume it was only a story designed to teach spiritual truths and conflict among divine beings, having nothing to do with real members of the animal kingdom (many readers know my thoughts on Gen 3 in regard to the serpent in that respect). Did Paul think that? I have no idea. Could he? I think so — and so he might be “more right about Adam” than Peter Enns would allow. If that’s the case, then “being right” about Genesis 3 and Adam would amount to reading it as story, as I have tried to illustrate here. I can give Paul more of a nod there than Peter Enns. But both Peter and I would agree that Paul was right about the human condition and its solution in Jesus.

At any rate, those are my thoughts at this point. But it’s still percolating.

And no — this is not the longest post in the history of this blog. (I checked; there have been three longer posts).

  1. Several of Hunter’s recent posts illustrate his main points: that evolutionary theory has problems and that scientists often make theological statements. Samples:†Hereís a Very Complicated and Unique DNA Finding That Contradicts Evolution;†Even Evolutionists Admit Itís a Mess; Evolution Falsified Yet Again: They Are So Complicated ďThat itís StunningĒ; This Paper Discusses Problems With the Evolutionary Tree That You Didnít Learn in Biology Class; You Wonít Believe Who Denies Evolutionary Beliefs;†Gene Splicing Stuns and Bewilders Evolutionists.
  2. The Neanderthal issue is too much of a rabbit trail for this post. For those new to the discussion, comparison of the human genome with Neanderthal DNA that showed most humans carry 1-4% Neanderthal DNA has led to debate over whether it is proper to consider Neanderthals a different species than humans, or as a different kind of human. Todd Wood, a young-earther, has done a lot of good work here making the genetics digestible. See here (May 2010) . It should be noted that RTB’s view of this issue, on the other hand, requires widespread bestiality in human populations, since RTB insists that Neanderthals cannot be human. This is absurd both in terms of scale and in terms of how non-humans could mate with humans — which isn’t biologically possible, at least judging from everything I’ve read on that. Yet RTB clings to this position.
  3. This post sets aside the image of God issue. Readers will know that my view of the image is functional — that humans are imagers of God. The image is not a thing in humans or an attribute; it is a status. To be human is to image God. And so, the image concerns homo sapiens, not how homo sapiens came to be.
  4. I don’t see this as a problem for either inspiration or inerrancy since my definition of inerrancy — and all views of inerrancy require a definition — distinguishes between what Scripture affirms and reports, as well as distinguishing what Scripture affirms from how writers argue toward an affirmation. For those interested, see my archive on Inspiration.
  5. While Jesus was fully God in flesh, he was also a fully human descendant of Adam (see Luke 3:38). This direct descent is why the traditional view has a problem — If Jesus was fully human and descended from Adam, why doesn’t he have a sin nature, too? He must, given the traditional view. Many theologians have invented weird (and exegetically and logically lame) ideas to circumvent this — like the virgin birth preventing Jesus having a sin nature. Too bad Mary was a human being (you can see here why catholicism felt compelled to argue for her sinlessness — despite that being taught nowhere in the New Testament). Too bad also that this doesn’t overturn Luke 3:38, which says point blank that Jesus is in Adam’s line. See the archive for more
  6. I speak here, for example, of aborted babies or any human born that cannot discern right from wrong — volition *is* needed for moral guilt — due to mental impairment. This issue relates directly to whether babies and such persons are with the Lord after death. I believe they are and that is an exegetical standing for that — but you have to surrender the traditional Christian view of Romans 5:12 for that. And incidentally, no one goes to heaven on the basis of any merit or works – to any degree — including those in this category. For how salvation works here — and how I argue it from the biblical text — see the archive.
  7. If you are thinking Sheol contradicts that, it really doesn’t — it is an eternal death — described as an everlasting “existence” in the realm of the dead. (But my heart is warmed that I have readers who would think of Sheol!) The hope of the biblical writer was to escape it, not to be content with it, even though one kept on “living” in the realm of the dead.) So, I could look at Genesis 3 and says its whole point is to answer why humans are mortal. Got it. And the absence of ever-present divine presence (no garden, no Yahweh all the time, 24-7-365) means the odds just got way worse that I’ll sin (moving from a minute possibility to an every-moment likelihood).
  8. My presuppositions are very simple ones: There is a God (this assertion is intellectually more coherent than its antithesis); if there is a God that God can do things, like interact with humans; the notion that God could be in more than one person, and that one of those persons could become human is trivial in comparison to creating the universe and our world. Consequently, this assumption about God and Jesus and history proceeds from a simple but quite intellectually defensible chain of thinking.

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45 Responses to “The Evolution of Adam: Additional Thoughts”

  1. Brian LePort says:


    Thank you for the helpful post. I am reading Enns’ book right now alongside C. John Collins’ treatment of the same subject. Like you I tend to think Paul leaves room for an ahistorical Adam and the Hebrew Scriptures seem to make little of Adam, other than the comparison with Israel. It seems that those who have the greatest problem with losing a literal Adam are those who hold to a view that all sinned in Adam (which you addressed) and those who approach Scripture with a canonical hermeneutic seeking a worldview. If Adam is removed the canonical reading seems to take a hit in their estimation and the Christian worldview is left without an anthropology. I am still weighing these concerns. What are your thoughts?

    • MSH says:

      If the canonical intent was an “Adam is Israel” prequel of sorts to the Israel story, then the canonical intent can only be affirmed by that observation, not harmed. “Canonical” by definition would mean the intent of the writers (guided by the unseen hand of providence), not the meaning succeeding audiences would want. I know that part of a canonical approach involves the believing community. I don’t think meaning is determined by majority vote, even if that majority is the believing community. I use the term canonical in the sense of intent behind the completed whole — how it all fits together and intertwines to present a set of comprehensive theological affirmations (again, intended by God, who was big enough to accomplish that intent using human writers).

  2. Patrick says:

    1) I have been re-considering the XFER of “the sin nature/guilt” logic for a while. I think your Romans 5:12 view makes some sense here, except, does that conclude Jesus would have eventually died a natural death also if He had not been murdered, even W/O sin? ( I know that wasn’t to be, just curious)

    2) It’s difficult for me to assume parts of the text are stories like this unless it’s clear they are driven by apocalyptic genre or parabolic. Not only would Paul be wrong if Enns is right, Luke’s geneaology adding in Adam would be wrong if this thesis is right.

    3) I had a gentleman explain this “Adam as Israel instead of the first human” issue a while back and it just made no logic at all except that Adam’s fall and Israel’s unfaithfulness had some parallels.

    I’ve gone through huge theological changes in the past 4 years and I am confident the new thinking is more accurate, I just couldn’t believe this specific doctrinal view and I wanted to. That makes me think this view needs re-examination because I wanted to buy into it and I just can’t right now.

    4) I still think the people Cain were afraid of and the people of the land of Nod need a fresh examination from theologians as this debate moves forward. Just because past theologians assigned them as all children of Adam doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

    IF they are not Adam’s genetic seed and reason says they are not, Adam STILL brought death to all the human race like Paul said as Cain’s appearance led them all to inevitably sin as your Romans 5:12 view posits.

    5) With the many objections just to the evolution theory you detail, the genome itself may be exceptionally flawed anyway.

    • MSH says:

      In order:

      1. If Jesus was a real human (and he was — presented that way in the Bible), then he would have eventually died (humans age and die; and Jesus certainly aged). But that is sort of a useless hypothetical.

      2. One could easily argue that the biblical writer (like other ancient historiographers) incorporated fictional genealogical material into a true, biological genealogy (these lines were blurred for ancient writers in the ANE — in part because they may have assumed complete historicity — e.g., the family lines of Achilles, or Mesopotamian kings who supposedly descended from kings who lived tens of thousands of years in the Sumerian king lists).

      3. Enns’ book has a nice summary of it. There are clear points of correlation that just can’t be coincidental.

      4. Agreed. The OT can indeed (and has been!) read as though there were other humans besides those from Adam. If you want a (dense) history of the exploration of this idea by modern western thinkers, I recommend Adam’s Ancestors by Livingstone (a Johns Hopkins Univ Press title, so its not a popular, readable item).

      5. Also agreed; I think the jury is still out on a “true understanding” of the genome and any conclusions based on it, particularly from something as (seemingly) slippery as statistics.

    • MSH says:

      One more thought – it’s interesting how #2 (the genealogy) is another example of the need for a definition of what counts as an error with respect to Scripture (should there be no historical Adam). If the writer is presupposing the total historicity of genealogical material — something that most if not all in his day would have approved — but it turns out to be a blend of historical and ahistorical, then the writer can only be judged wrong if the source material was wrong — not wrong on intent, or even wrong on the larger (canonical) intent — if indeed that larger intent was to analogize the history and status of Israel with the advent of humanity on earth. That would sort of make him right by accident, or right without knowing why.

  3. I too am still percolating, although not getting too worried about it these days, for similar reasons to the ones you’ve outlined.

    What do you think of the idea that Adam and Eve were the ‘corporate heads’ of mankind: i.e., the first human pair in which the image was ‘completed’, who represented any others who would be created after them (Cain’s potential aggressors, etc.)? That way you can have an original pair, and still have humanity emerging from several different places. ‘Mother of all living’ could be seen in abstract terms, I suppose.

    I also think it’s hard to do away with a literal Eden, if it was God’s new-creational realm to be expanded over the whole earth. It’s hard to envisage what the ‘metaphorical’ meaning of that would be (unless it’s a sort of prophecy).

    • MSH says:

      This approach would seem workable if one reads Genesis (and one can) as describing other humans outside Adam’s line (Cain’s wife, Cain’s fear that other people [what people?] would kill him, and the fact that Cain really could not have built a city by himself) – and so the “corporate head” idea could be massaged a bit to an “apex of humanity” or an “elect among humanity” (the Adam and Eve story then abstractly pointing to an act of preference or election, which would add to the analogy with Israel.

  4. Kirk Shelton says:

    Thanks for the post. I emailed you before with a few questions about creation, finding myself asking questions I’d taken for granted in the past.

    Viewing Adam and Eve as literal, historical people that were sanctified rather than being the first humans would solve some problems, not address others, and create more.

    Some have suggested that Genesis 6 talks about the sons of God being sons of Adam and the daughters of men being these other people. Like you, I’m already convinced this is talking about something else, but it is an interesting idea. And if there were human populations before the unique creation of Adam, would Noah’s flood not be universal?

    To me, it’d be one thing if the account of Adam and Eve were somehow disjointed from the rest of the narrative. Rather, it seems to go right on through to definite history without implication of switching genres (at least not in a way I am able to detect). If you (all) are still percolating, I certainly am as well. It’s good not to be alone in this.

    • MSH says:

      Well said; the Adam = Israel analogy may provide a coherent (text-driven) solution (in literary terms) for the problematic language of Genesis elsewhere about Cain (his words can very easily be read that he presumes other people are out there – and they would be non-Adamic – as opposed to viewing them as anticipating the presence of other Adamic people, which, while possible, seems pretty strained).

  5. Robert Holmstedt says:


    Nice summary and good thoughts. I just had a discussion about Enns’ book this weakend with some old college buddies. Though have long tired of the evolution-creation debate as it typically runs, I find that the Walton and Enns have taken the ANE/genre/literary issues many of us have known for a long time and cast them in extremely helpful ways for their evangelical audiences. I’m glad to see others pick this up and carry on the conservation.


  6. Thanks for posting on this, Michael! I appreciated your overall approach. The one point where I found myself deeply puzzled was when you wrote, “I simply read too many critiques of evolution within the scientific journals and evolutionist community to feel secure about the paradigm being offered. I speak here of blogs by people with degrees in bioogy and genetics who know evolutionary theory very well, and who spend a great deal of time combing through the journals to produce instances where evolutionary theory doesnít work as it should or as it is expected…Given that, 150 years after Darwin scientists are only now, due to advances in technology, beginning to realize that evolutionary theory has problems…” It seems to me that you have been reading blogs like Uncommon Descent which are better described at spin machines. I have rarely encountered a quote on that blog (from which I was banned years ago for pointing out things like this) from a scientific journal supposedly calling evolution itself (and not a specific scenario or mechanism) into question, which did not in fact do no such thing in its original context.

    The claim that it is only as a result of advances in technology that problems with evolutionary theory are becoming apparent reminds me of the claims of people like Michael Behe, and which again seems to profoundly misrepresent the situation. Advances in technology have certainly caused changes in our understanding of biology, just as of astrophysics and any scientific field one chooses to name. But work in genetics has been crucial in confirming the fact of evolution itself, not challenging it. There is really no way that one can look carefully at genetic evidence (for instance the clear evidence of chromosomal fusion in humans resulting in our having one fewer pairs of chromosomes than other primates) and not see that it confirms that evolution occurred. There have been major revisions regarding its path, speed, and mechanisms, to be sure, but new evidence has consistently confirmed the overarching theory’s broad outlines.

    • MSH says:

      I’m speaking specifically of Cornelius Hunter’s blog (referenced in the post’s footnotes). When Hunter (and others, no matter where they blog) cite journal articles where scientists express surprise (at times shock) when something doesn’t jive with how the theory should work, that isn’t spin. It’s peer-reviewed “what’s up with that?” And it happens. I don’t think anything in my post actually opposed the rest of your comments. It’s a question of refinement or coming up with something new, and I noted that the former seems more reasonable. My overall point is that the level of certainty isn’t what it seems to be in the eyes of the non-specialist (kind of like biblical studies).

  7. Bran says:

    If Jesus came from Adam’s line, wouldn’t that mean the Jews back then believed Adam to have been a real person in some way?

    Is there insurmountable issues with reading genesis 2 as being a secondary episode of creation thus leaving the humans created in genesis 1 as a separate line?

  8. Ed Babinski says:

    Michael, I hope you are planning on posting my previous comment. i don’t see it yet. Though I see McGrath sent you something similar.

    Also, plug these search strings into google to discover Cornelius Hunter’s lack of qualifications and lack of knowledge:

    “cornelius hunter”
    “cornelius hunter”

    • MSH says:

      I don’t see a previous comment. Can you send me a *specific* link about Hunter’s credentials? All that shows up at the link is a listing of posts in which his name appears. Hunter has a PhD in biophysics, so I need more than a blogger who just doesn’t like Hunter’s take on things.

  9. Ed Babinski says:

    Maybe my original comment was too long, so I’ll break it down into parts.

    Death was around long before the first upright hominids and their alleged “fall.” How do theologians account for the universality of death prior to a “fall?”

    Reconciliation behavior also seems to have preceded the earliest human species because monkeys and apes engage in reconciliation behavior (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on)… When social animals are involved… antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human. (Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates)

    • MSH says:

      In order:

      1. You’d have to ask them. I don’t believe the Bible teaches there was no death before the Fall. Eden is cast as having specific geography; it is never cast as though all the world was Eden. Consequently, even taking the story at face value means that Eden is a small slice of the planet, and so what goes on in the story is isolated to that slice.

      2. This is pure speculation (I’d use the word imagination). Humans are imagining / attributing some sort of motivation for a behavior. Maybe it’s area because other life forms don’t have arms (or maybe it’s pure nonsense contrived through imagination).

  10. Ed Babinski says:

    Also, there is nothing fundamentalist about evolution. There is no book that all evolutionists defend as “inerrant, not like there is at BIOLA where Hunter teaches. Even YECs like Wood and Wise admit the genetic evidence for common ancestry, including chimpanzees and humans, is so compelling that it is primarily their devotion to the Bible, literally understood, that keeps them young-earth creationists. Wood has a long research paper on the topic of the human and chimpanzee genome and the problems it raises for creationism, here’s a summary:

    • MSH says:

      I already know about Wood’s paper (it’s reference at one of the links in my post). The fundamentalist label is given because of an absolute resistance to entertaining any alternative to one’s position. If one accepts that definition for fundamentalism (it’s a little narrow) then I certainly have met evolutionists who would be fundamentalist. But I don’t find the term or caricature useful.

  11. Matthew says:


    I have a question that is barely related to this topic, but since you are an expert in Hebrew, I wanted to ask you.

    You know the old debate around Eph 2:8-9… is faith the gift from God or is grace a gift from God that is received through faith. Now, my question isn’t about Eph 2, I just used it as an example.

    From a purely Hebrew grammatical perspective, Genesis 2:17… is it by way of an example, “The same day you cross me, I’ll get you” or can it be something like “The day you cross me, you’re a dead man.” You see? Is the passage literally saying that the death will occur on that day or is it a figure of speech suggesting that its a done deal as soon as the dirty deed is committed? I hope my example above is sufficiently clear.



    • MSH says:

      Literally, it reads “in the day of your eating from it you shall surely die.” I follow the question, but I have to admit it’s one that doesn’t have much impact on me due to my view. In light of my take on what happened in the garden, I take this as “in the day that you eat you will lost immortality.” So, if I have to choose one of your options, I’d go with number two, but the wording doesn’t require any notion that they’d drop over dead at that moment (“you’re a dead man” = “you just lost immortality” from my perspective). It *might* suggest they were driven from the garden (i.e., lost immortality — in the story, cut off from the tree of life) almost immediately after the eating. But I don’t think the story intends to give a real time chronology of events; it’s designed to explain why humans are mortal and in need of God’s grace (see my wording in the earlier post).

  12. Shaun says:

    “One could easily argue that the biblical writer (like other ancient historiographers) incorporated fictional genealogical material into a true, biological genealogy (these lines were blurred for ancient writers in the ANE ó in part because they may have assumed complete historicity óe.g., the family lines of Achilles, or Mesopotamian kings who supposedly descended from kings who lived tens of thousands of years in the Sumerian king lists).”

    Can you please do a more detailed post on this topic later?

    For now a shorter question. How do we know where to draw hard lines in scripture? Where does *real* history begin in the bible?

    Thank you for your thoughts on all this.

    • MSH says:

      On the genealogies, maybe. It’s just that ancient near eastern histories, particularly of royal / elect lines, often include some notion of divine “parentage” (the old “divine right to rule” idea).

      The second question would require omniscience, and I have a low view of my own omniscience.

  13. Charlie says:

    Thanks for the post, reading through it sparked a few questions in my mind.

    1) Was Adam created with a “sin nature”? If not why did he sin? If so why would God have done that? Seems to me that unless he already had some predisposition to sin he wouldn’t have, (unless it was a learned behavior, which the passage seems to indicate)

    2) If Adam did not have a “sin nature” (before the fall), why would committing a sin create a propensity to continue to sin? How would this act be embedded into DNA and passed on to successive generations? Could we be talking about a learned behavior and that children learn to sin through observation of a fallen environment. If that is the case Jesus overcoming a learned “sin nature” would be somewhat easier to explain than an embedded sin nature (since He pre-existed the fallen environment).

    3) If I were an evolutionist and had Christian convictions wouldn’t I want to know at what point in the evolutionary process the fall occurred? Was Adam fully human when he fell or was he pre-human? Are there any other species that evolved that may need atonement? What about future species (i.e. transhumans created in labs)? I say this tongue in cheek, and perhaps oversimplify what I think is a fatal flaw in reconciling Christian doctrine with evolutionary theory.

    • MSH says:

      You need to read through the Romans 5:12 archive on this blog for the first two.

      I can only answer the last one in view of the friends I’ve had who were theistic evolutionists (most of whom were professional scientists and serious Christians): no. For them, it is sufficient to know that Scripture teaches all humans were in need of redemption. Any chronology behind such a conclusion on God’s part was irrelevant to them.

      • charlie says:

        Would love to read the Romans 5:12 blogs, unfortunately each of the links leads me to a blank page.

      • Charlie says:

        Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Romans 5:12

        When I read Romans 5:12 in consideration of Genesis 3:17-19 itís obvious from this statement that prior to man, sin was not present in the world. What may not be so obvious is where should the emphasis be placed? On man or the world? The traditional view of man inheriting a sin nature seems to diminish the magnitude of the problem, man was a mere vehicle and sin was the passenger into a previously pristine and uncorrupted world.

        And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed [is] the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat [of] it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:17-19

        I think that is something that all Christians believe, but we focus on man and not the world (for obvious reasons), for it was all of creation that became corrupted through the sin of man, and not just man alone. We can see evidence of this in Romans 8:19-24.

        For the earnest expectation of the creature (creation) waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature (creation) was made subject to vanity (disappointing misery) not willingly, but by reason of Him Who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature (creation) itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? Romans 8:19-24

        Man brought sin into the world and as a result the conditions were established to allow the propensity for mankind to sin from generation to generation. When reading Genesis 3 there seems to be nothing mentioned of an altered nature of man because of the sin, but we do see an altered world or creation (ďÖcursed is the ground for thy sakeÖĒ). We also see later the pronouncement of death in that man will ďÖreturn unto the groundĒ, this apparently encompassed all living creatures as well for there is no evidence of material immortal creatures. So the two conditions mentioned in Romans 5:12 magnify the two penalties proclaimed after manís sin. I apologize if this seems elementary, but Iíve been forced to re-think my traditional understanding of sin nature due to previously unseen contradictions. It seems clear that man always had the ability to sin, but not necessarily a will or an incentive to sin. Temptation and deception served as the lure that the enemy used to create an incentive for man to sin. Sin therefore seems to be a learned behavior and not necessarily something that originated in the created man. So man was not created with a sin nature, but a learning/curious nature and the enemy used this to its advantage. Satan, who apparently was already a fallen entity, used man to usher sin into this new creation, ensuring a corrupt environment that would plague all future generations born into sin (Psalm 51:5). Sin therefore appears to be a learned behavior, but nearly impossible to distinguish from natural behaviors, for we as observers are products of the same corrupt environment.

        That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6

        Christ, however, was not a product but a producer of the original uncorrupted environment (John 1) and was/is privy to a world view that only He (and Adam/Eve) ever saw. He truly came to restore/repair all things (so naturally He came as a carpenter).

        • MSH says:

          See the archive. The traditional view interprets “for all sinned” in Romans 5:12 in such as way that Adam’s sin *caused* the guilt of all humans. But this creates a problem with Jesus, who is a direct descendant of Adam (and fully human). My view is that Adam’s sin caused mortality for all humans (no problem for Jesus’ humanity, obviously) and then the RESULT of that mortal condition for all humans is that all will invariably sin (if allowed to be born and live to the point of willful volition). Jesus avoided this because he was more than human; he was also fully God in flesh.

  14. Kirk Shelton says:

    Here’s a link to the Historical Adam Society, who views the historicity of Adam as legitimate, but does not acknowledge him as the progenitor of all mankind.

    Given your thoughts about the possibility of not having a literal Adam and Eve, some of their ideas may fit into such a view. I would not necessarily suggest buying their book, as the info on their site is just as useful. It seems to me they’d convince a Biologos fellow of the historicity of Adam and Eve, but fail to convince a more conservative fellow that Adam and Eve weren’t the progenitors of man. Part of their view involves selectively translating “adam” as only Adam’s descendants rather than all mankind for the duration of early Genesis. It seems dubious to me to translate it inconsistently like that.

  15. Bran says:

    “”I donít understand the question.””

    I have come across an interpretation of genesis that holds that the second chapter is a whole separate episode of creation. Basically, that God made the earth and everything including some human beings. Then afterward, he made a specific garden and two specific human beings, thus causing two different groups of humans. Adam and Eve, then all the others from genesis chapter 1. I found the idea interesting, but figured you would know all the flaws with it, as I am assuming there are some.

    • MSH says:

      This is (from what I can tell of your brief description) the same idea as the standard source critical approach, where Gen 1 was part of the P source, and Genesis 2 is part of the J source. As I noted in the series on the Documentary Hypothesis, I think the overall approach is guilty of circular reasoning, and it only looks neat because of that circularity. However, I don’t hold to the traditional Mosaic authorship view, so I am open to the idea of Gen 1 and 2 being distinct stories (whether or not that means they derive from different source documents – the two are related but not synonymous, ideas).

      • Kirk Shelton says:

        One thing that would help me would be an answer to the question: Does the proper name Adam come from the word adam for man, or does the word adam for man come from the proper name of Adam who was the first man?

  16. Richard Brown says:

    Good to see the Naked back up and running. Its my fave.

    Some of the comments at this link are quite thoughtful regarding Enns et al embrace of Neo-Darwinism. This precedes our discussion

    • MSH says:

      yes; though Enns sounds to me like a theistic evolutionist (depends on what “Neo-Darwinist” means to people – some Christians who embrace evolution don’t want it to be theistic, since that means intent and design.

  17. […] an earlier post, I suggested some thoughts about how these verses could be taken without a historical Adam. Now let […]

  18. Chris Klessens says:

    Hi Mike,
    After reading articles on this website, my head always starts to swim with all kinds of ideas, some of which can be confusing. But this is a good thing (swimming is good exercise).

    As for the idea of Genesis describing 2 separate lines of humans being created at different times, does Acts 17:26 have any bearing on that? I don’t know if “one blood” can be used to point out a singularity of origin. I know that scripture says that the life of all flesh is in the blood. So all nations share the same source of life?

    Also, on the Romans 5:12 issue, I have read that it is possible to translate it to read the last part of the verse is saying not that all die because they have sinned, but that the reason all sin is because they are already “dead”. Sin entered through Adam, death came as a result of sin, death came to all of Adam’s descendants causing them to sin. In a sense, death, working in, or coming upon, any human could be considered “sin” because the “goal” or “target” for mankind is life, and death in any sense of the word misses that target. “Missing the target” is the biblical definition of sin.

    • MSH says:

      This approach to Romans 5 that you mention is inherently contradictory and self-serving. It requires death to be understood as both literal and figurative, but only because it presumes that need.

      Death (mortality) came as a result of (Adam’s sin). And the text clearly and ONLY says that what passed to humans was death. The result or consequence is that everyone sins. The verb form there is *active*, not passive (which would be needed to justify a reading of “all *became* sinners). And the aorist there can certainly be what’s called “gnomic” (i.e., axiomatic — all sin (now, as a result of what has preceded).

      In short, my reading of this passage is not idiosyncratic in terms of the grammar, and solves the major problems of Jesus as a direct descendant of Adam (without inventing a ludicrous solution like sin passes only through males — Mary had parents, so it’s useless) and the issue of the unborn/human unfortunates (i.e., it provides an exegetical basis for their being raised at the last day without simply having to cheat on the doctrine of salvation, saying God overlooks their state).

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