Adam, Eve 'n History?

"Adam was singly taken aside by God from physically evolved humans and the image was divinely imparted to him."
Gary Fugle, biologist and author of Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide

My previous post highlighted mere Christians like C. S Lewis (and I've written more on CSL here), who understood Adam and Eve as typological (or paradigmatic), but not historical. I'll call this Position A. Having read the comment section on that post, I realize many reject this position. And some vehemently!

So I now come to Position, B, those who say Yes to Adam and Eve as both typological and historical while engaging the consensus of modern science. They accomplish all this in some surprising ways.

Position B takes in the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and the development of hominins, but responds, "Hey, wait! We can't simply jettison Adam and Eve as real, historical people. There are biblical and theological commitments that are wrapped up in this." They believe that Adam and Eve are historical figures, but generally set out a period of time for common descent with other primates until a point in history when God decided to set Adam and Eve apart as the first and original human beings.

We could call those two groups "Adamites" and "pre-Adamites," as indeed the evangelical biblical scholar Derek Kidner does in his commentary on Genesis. Kidner proposed a "tentative" concept that could fit with population geneticists' theory of human origination. He proposed that pre-Adamites and Adamites shared the same genetic heritage. Because there was "no natural bridge from animal to man," God had to place his image upon Adam. He then may have acted similarly with the others who existed at that time, "to bring them into the same realm of being." In Kidner's view, Scripture presents Adam's sin "in terms not of heredity but of solidarity"--that is, in theological terms, his "federal headship." This headship may have extended, according to Kinder, "outwards to his contemporaries as well as onwards to his offspring, and his disobedience disinherited both alike."

To set out this perspective and as a voice who summarizes these positions and knows how to take the biology serious, I'll lean on my friend, colleague, and career professor of biology Gary Fugle as a guide. He sees a development through time from which homo sapiens sapiens (our species) emerged and then presents two possibilities for the historical Adam that square with modern science. First of all--as I quoted above--Adam was chosen by God to and "the image was divinely imparted to him." He adds, this image "was not something that simply evolved along with human physical features." The second possibility is that God "revealed himself in a special way to two individuals or a group of humans and this knowledge of God spread outward to other people who would hear."

Here the simple reader of the Bible might step back and muse, "There's nothing like this in the text. Genesis 2:7 states it simply that God created Adam from the dust of the ground. I don't see any other human-like creatures around." The response is that it may not be specifically in the text, but it's not contrary to the text and, even better, makes sense of some other texts--for example, where Cain and Seth found wives without their violating God's prohibitions for incest. And there's also the population of other human beings that's implied in Genesis 4:14,17.

What takes Positions A and B in different directions? Let's remember what they both affirm: that Jesus the God-man is historical that his bodily resurrection occurred in time and space. These two positions, however, diverge as to whether Adam and Eve have to be historical.

There are several biblical texts to consider, but two are absolutely critical--and it leads into the topic of original sin, of how Adam and Eve's disobedience affects us today. That is Romans 5, which I'll excerpt:

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.... Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people."
Paul in Romans 5: 5:12, 18

Secondarily, we arrive at Paul's succinct formulation:

"For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

One man, the first Adam paired with one man, the new Adam. This seems fairly clear--Paul believed in an historical Adam (and Eve), and so should we. Here's why many evangelical mere Christians will find themselves uncomfortable with the purely typological approach. It doesn't seem to square with the natural reading of Scripture and certainly contradicts many statements of evangelical faith. Consider the traditional tenet (as summarized in Wheaton College's statement of faith) that "God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race."

With that in mind, does an historical or purely typological approach fit better with Paul? The noted Scottish evangelical biblical scholar James D. G. Dunn interprets Romans 5 with a nuance that fits with a typological approach:

"In particular, it would not be true to say that Paul's theological point here depends on Adam being a 'historical' individual or on his disobedience being a historical event as such.... Indeed, if anything, we should say that the effect of the comparison between two epochal figures, Adam and Christ, is not so much to historicize the individual Adam as to bring out the more than individual significance of the historic Christ." James D. G. Dunn

Dunn reminds us that Christ is the focus, not Adam. Therefore if Adam is not to historical, but typological or paradigmatic, there's no problem for what Paul is teaching here. Position A concludes: Yes, that's good exegesis and matches with excellent modern science.

Nevertheless, I imagine that many reading this would not want to disagree quickly or easily with the New York pastor and bestselling author, Tim Keller (I know I don't), who concludes,

"[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. . .If Adam doesn't exist, Paul's whole argument--that both sin and grace work 'covenantally'--falls apart. You can't say that 'Paul was a man of his time' but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don't believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul's teaching." Tim Keller

How do we decide between Positions A and B?

To answer that last question, let's remind ourselves that Christian faith is not named after Adam, but Christ. Therefore, Christians have to start with Jesus Christ--with his life, death, and resurrection, that he has saved us from sin, the world, and the devil--and then see what this implies about Adam. As the brilliant New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has taught me, when we hear the name "Adam" let's not only think "original sin," let's remember that Adam's vocation was to rule over all creation.

I arrive then at one, final Big Affirmation: mere Christians (whether evangelical or not) believe that redemption comes through the grace of Jesus Christ, received by faith. Within that affirmation, some say we need the historical Adam and Eve; others say we don't.

And that leads me to quote Greg Boyd (whom I cited in the previous post):

"this debate should be construed as a debate among orthodox Christians, not as a debate that determines whether or not one is an orthodox Christian"

as well as a a quip (behind paywall) from physicist, theologian, and bestselling author Karl GIberson (and Karl quips so well). Whether we believe in an historical Adam and Eve or not represents a

"disagreement that shouldn't cause us to hurl accusations of infidelity at one another."

That seems wise. It's ironic that the existence of Adam, the one whom the Bible presents as bringing unity to humankind (Acts 17:26), might also be fodder for contentious division in the Christian community. I think we can do better than that.