Quick question: Who were the first human beings to ever live on the earth?
If you’ve ever set foot in a church, skimmed over the first couple pages of the Bible, or feasted your eyes on a flannelgraph presentation, then you probably have a quick answer: Adam and Eve. That’s the “traditional” answer for Western society – not just the Church – and it’s been that way for thousands of years.
In recent years, however, a lot of people have started to debate the traditional view. This got started as a discussion among scholars and commentary writers, but the conversation has become more mainstream even in the past few months, especially because of a new book written by Peter Enns called The Evolution of Adam.
What Enns and other scholars are now saying is that a better understanding of the human genome makes it difficult to believe that the human race could have grown out of the genetic contributions of one man and one woman – Adam and Eve, in other words. Rather, these scholars say that the history of human genetics points to homo sapiens appearing around 100,000 years ago in a population of 10,000 people. Not two.
It should be noted that much of this research comes from a man named Francis Collins, author of a 2006 bestseller called The Language of God. This is significant because Collins – an outspoken Christian and defender of evolutionary theory – was the head of the Human Genome Project, which spent more than a decade mapping out the 25,000 genes found in human DNA.
The reason this research makes a lot people uncomfortable is that it seems to clash with the Bible’s presentation of Adam and Even as a living, breathing, historical human beings who are the original parents of the human race.
Genesis talks about it: “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being” (2:7). “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man” (2:22-23).
The genealogy of Jesus from Luke 3 lists Adam as Jesus’ earliest ancestor: “As He began His ministry, Jesus was about 30 years old and was thought to be the son of Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi … son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God (vv. 23-38).
And, perhaps most importantly, Paul treats Adam as a historical person when he makes a direct link between Adam and Christ: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.13 In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law.14 Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a prototype of the Coming One” (Romans 5:12-14).
This is a huge issue, obviously, and our goal in presenting it here is simply to introduce you to a conversation that has lots of theological implications. We’ll be observing how the Church as a whole works together to achieve the best understanding of the facts, and we recommend that you do the same.
If you want to dig a little deeper, here are some good places to get started:
– Christianity Today‘s cover story The Search for the Historical Adam offers a great overview of the debate and what has happened so far.
– The editors of Christianity Today offer their own take on the issue in an editorial called No Adam, No Eve, No Gospel.
– This post from The Jesus Creed has a helpful overview of Peter Enns’s book and the link between Adam’s portrayal in Genesis and in Paul’s writings.
– Southern Baptist Theological Seminary features a chapel discussion on this issue. It’s called Adam and the Gospel: Is a Historical Adam Necessary, and it includes input from Al Mohler, Chad Brand, Jim Hamilton, Thomas Schreiner, and Steve Wellum.
– Finally, Kevin DeYoung offers 10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam.