The Book of Genesis records the creation of Adam and Eve in God’s image at the culmination of a week of creative activity. Is this still an important thing for Christians to believe? Or can we view these passages as archetypal or mythical, as some have suggested?
There are several reasons why belief in a historical Adam remains a critical component of Christian theology:
- The New Testament refers to Adam and Eve in numerous passages, without any hint that they are to be understood as nonhistorical. Most famously, Jesus refers to the creation of humans when he explains why God hates divorce (Matt. 19:3-6), and Paul discusses Adam at length when explaining the need for Christ’s death and atonement (Rom. 5 and I Cor. 15). Making Adam and Eve allegorical requires a radical re-imagining of what Jesus and Paul were talking about. Despite the preferences of evangelical advocates of a nonhistorical Adam, these radical re-imaginings basically boil down to arguing that Jesus and Paul were mistaken about the historicity of Adam.
- The account of Adam and Eve and their Fall into sin provides the most historically and theologically satisfying understanding of the basic message of Christian theology. Creation, Fall, and Redemption has been the message of Christianity for centuries and is supported by many passages of scripture (particularly Paul’s account of the first and last Adams cited above). Abandoning Adam and Eve as the culprits who brought sin into the world leaves sin without explanation. Some would contend that we don’t need an explanation of sin to recognize our personal sinfulness, but this does not resolve the theological question of where sin came from in the first place.
- Ultimately, our understanding of creation touches on our ability to know anything from the scripture. If we are to allegorize Genesis 1-2 because science has suggested it must be wrong, then where do we stop? What criteria should we use to allegorize what appear to be straightforward accounts of historical events? Should we allegorize the Exodus, accounts of miracles, or even the resurrection of Christ? If not, why not? What reason do we have for allegorizing one part of the Bible but not another?
William VanDoodewaard of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI provides another perspective in his message from the 2016 Ligonier conference:
Given the importance of the historical Adam to the Christian faith, what does this mean for human origins? What should we do with the image of God, for example, or the narrative of Genesis 1-2? How does this relate to the fossil record or the human genome?
Since the image of God is not something we can see in bones, we ought to be cautious about how we approach the fossil record. It would be very easy and even natural for us to simply assume that we ourselves are the standard of what is human, but this approach has yielded ugly fruit in the past. Racist, pro-slavery anthropology of the nineteenth century use this approach frequently. We Christians ought to be better than that.
For scholarly resources on Adam and the image of God, see the following articles.
- Peter Gentry. 2008. Kingdom through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image. Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12(1):16-42, PDF.
- Southern Baptist Journal of Theology special issue on the Historical Adam
- Gary Gromacki. 2011. Adam: Man or Myth? Journal of Ministry & Theology 15(1):24-67.
- Jim Gibson. 2004. Issues in “Intermediate” Models of Origins. Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 15(1):71-92, PDF.
See also posts from Todd Wood’s blog:
- Adam and BioLogos
- Dose of Reality on Adam and Eve
- Moritz on the Adam/Eve Debate
- Pondering the Image of God