From One Couple?

Lucas Cranach Man and WomanThe next argument John Walton addresses in his new book The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate is the argument that Adam and Eve are required by biblically sound theology to be the unique progenitors of the human race. To do so he poses two questions:

  1.  Does the Bible claim that Adam was the first human being to ever exist?


  1. Does the Bible claim that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve?

Walton is convinced that if the Bible stakes out a firm answer of yes for these questions that we then must, as Christians, affirm it. In light of the scientific evidence, this would mean that God formed a mature creation with the appearance of history.  He uses the example of his teeth, where the evidence of a number of dental procedures are evident. God could have created him full grown, with an apparent history of dental work. The human genome likewise shows evidence of a history, an evolving population never less than 10,000 or so, and of common descent. But … “If the Bible claims otherwise, then we would have to take a stand against this emerging scientific consensus.” (p. 183)

He is convinced that the Bible intentionally refers to a unique couple (Adam and Eve), but this does not necessarily require an answer of “yes” to either of the two important questions. Adam and Eve would be included among the first humans (however we identify the beginning of humanity) called out as priestly representatives to keep God’s sacred space. Turning to Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15: “When [Paul] speaks of Adam as the “first man,” he is most interested in the archetypal role of Adam and in the theological issues surrounding sin.” (p. 183) It is not clear that either the author of Genesis or Paul intend to make scientific statements about human origins.

It is possible to affirm that all humans today are descended from Adam and Eve (although not solely from Adam and Eve) because the intermarriage within a small population could result in all people tracing back to include one specific pair in their genealogy within a relatively small number of generations.  One can also affirm that this pair is the beginning of spiritual human, created in the image of God, and that their descendants (within a finite number of generations long ago becoming all humans everywhere) inherited both the image of God and the consequence of the original sin.

Though it looks nothing like the traditional biblical interpretation, it makes similar affirmations while at the same time accommodating common descent and affirming that the history evident in the genome actually took place. (p. 185)

Other models and explanations are possible as well. Some grasp at population bottlenecks, mitochondrial Eve or Y-chromosomal Adam to support the possibility of a unique original pair.  In many ways, mature creation, is the simplest way to accommodate both science and the traditional interpretation of Scripture, although this approach has problems of its own.

These all maintain aspects of traditional biblical interpretation while at the same time adopting some of the basic aspects of the current scientific consensus. They require selective acceptance of scientific findings and/or significantly adjusted biblical interpretation. We need to ask whether such complicated attempts at reconciliation are necessary, and so we return to the questions above: Does the Bible claim that Adam is the first human being to exist and that all are descended from him? (p. 185-186)

John Walton Explaining Lost WorldsSo where, if anywhere, does Scripture suggest that Adam and Eve are the sole progenitors of the entire human race?

The passages in 1 Cor 15 and Romans 5 have already been dealt with. Both John Walton and Tom Wright agree that Paul wasn’t making a point about Adam, but was making a point about Christ.  There are a few other passages worth looking at as well.

From one man. In Paul’s Areopagus speech he makes the argument “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”  (Acts 17:26) Some will suggest that the “one man” referred to here is Adam, But John Walton argues that it is far more likely that Noah was the one man Paul had in mind. In Genesis 10 the nations are drawn from Noah’s three sons. “These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.” (Genesis 10:32)

Genesis 3:20 refers to Eve as the mother of all the living (or the NIV says she would become the mother of all the living). The name “Eve” is a word meaning life or living. This name has significance – but shouldn’t be taken too literally. She clearly wasn’t the mother of all life (which would include nonhuman life) and the kind of phrase that is used in this verse is common in the genealogies. In Genesis 4:20-22 Cain’s descendants Jabal and Jubal are said to be the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock and the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Another Tubal-Cain is the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.  Few of us would argue that we should take this patriarchy of Jabal and Jubal literally – least of all biblical literalists as the lines of Jabal and Jubal would have died out in the flood, long before Genesis was written (even for those who hold that Moses wrote the book).  As Walton says: “These usages show that this sort of expression has larger associations in mind than just biological descent.” (p. 188)

The genealogies in Gen 5, 1 Chron 1, and Lk 3 go back to Adam.  This, some will argue, show that Adam was the first human being. Walton gives a few reasons why this doesn’t imply that Adam was the first (and only) human being. Adam is the origin of the called people of God, and it is from Adam that 1 Chron and Lk 3 trace the line of Israel and Jesus. This could point to a historicity of Adam through the paternal line – but it need not point to a unique originating couple.  Lk 3 is tracing the lineage of Jesus through Joseph, so those who hold to the virgin birth (which includes me) would have to agree that the significance of lineages in Scripture is not always biological descent. In Walton’s view “Adam is the first significant human and the connection to God because of the very particular role that he had (again, federal headship gives an adequate connection, as does his priestly role).” (p. 189)

In summary, there is nothing in the biblical text that requires us to view Adam and Eve as the sole unique progenitors of the human race. This is one possible interpretation, but one that seems highly unlikely on other grounds.

How would you answer Walton’s two questions?  Why?

Does the Bible claim absolutely that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve?

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