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Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?

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June 17, 2010 Tags: Human Origins
Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?

Today's entry was written by Daniel Harrell. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

As many of our readers know, the historicity of Adam and Eve is a critically important topic in the discussion of Christianity and human origins. Although BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans (see here), science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve, which opens this interesting discussion.

The range of Christian perspectives on this topic is introduced in our FAQ on Evolution and the Fall. Harrell’s entry below follows several other recent posts presenting different views on the topic, including those from Tom Wright (here and here), Pete Enns, David Opderbeck, and Alister McGrath.

Update 6/24/2010: Darrel Falk has also written a response to this blog here.

Any discussion about evolution and faith quickly polarizes when it comes to Adam and Eve. Do we understand the Bible’s first couple as literal people or literary figures?

If they are literary people, then that raises questions about the rest of the Biblical cast. Are Moses and Jesus fictional characters too?

If they are literal people, then the trove of evolutionary and DNA evidence can’t be right. It’s impossible for the human race to trace back to a single pair of parents (and this without mentioning a talking snake and God creating Adam out of the dirt and Eve from his rib). For the serious student of Scripture and science, making a choice between literal and literary is impossible too. Can’t there be a middle option?


Can we read Adam and Eve’s origin as a poetic reference to God’s involvement in the evolution of humanity while still regarding them as historical people (as do Jesus and Paul)?

To regard Adam and Eve as historical figures leaves us with basically two options within an evolutionary rubric. The first is that God created them supernaturally, midstream in evolution’s flow. To create in such a way would require that God also put in place a DNA history, since human origins genetically trace back to earlier, common ancestors. Conceptually, this presents the same problems as creating the universe with apparent age. Apparent age is how some square a literal Genesis with scientific evidence. Stars that appear to be billions of years old (according to cosmological measurements) are in reality only a few thousand years old (according to literal biblical reckoning). God created the stars with age.

The problem is that creating with age makes God seem to be tricking us into thinking things are older than they are with no clear reason for doing so. Nevertheless, given that Adam and Eve are both introduced in Genesis, presumably as adults rather than children (even if they acted like children), it could be that in their case, creating with age (and a history) would apply. While we might not necessarily understand why God would do that, he could do that (being God and all).

Another option might be to have Adam and Eve exist as first among Homo sapiens, specially chosen by God as representatives for a relationship with him. We often speak of Adam theologically as serving as representative of humanity in matters of original sin (his sin affects us all; Romans 5:12), so the idea of Adam as representative already exists in Christian theology.

Science asserts that evolved brain capacity and function are part of what set Homo sapiens apart from previous hominids. It is this same capacity and function that make relationship possible and, particularly in the creation account, covenantal relationships between humans and God and between humans and each other (i.e., marriage). An advantage of this interpretation is that God’s natural processes marvelously work without the need for any ancestral or genetic fabrication. Also, you’d finally be able to explain where it is that Cain found his wife (answer: from the other humans walking the earth east of Eden; Genesis 4:16-17).

However, this view would require a reinterpretation of words like “formed” and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7 KJV). Can we use “formed” and “breathed” to mean created through the long and continuous history of biological evolution (as were the other living creatures in Genesis 1)? If so, then perhaps “the Lord God formed the man” could be read emphasizing the novelty and uniqueness which humans inhabit.

Similarly, the “breath of life” would not signify simply oxygenated animation (surely Genesis isn’t simply speaking in that sense), but that breath which set humans apart as inspired by God (the Hebrew word for breath here is different than the word used for oxygen-intake by living creatures as a whole).

There are those who would object to such a reading since the Biblical author would not have had knowledge of evolutionary biology. And yet just because the author of Genesis wasn’t a scientist doesn’t mean that evolution wasn’t happening. We still describe babies’ births as “miracles” even though they’re among the most natural occurrences in nature.

Whether specially created or specially selected, humans constitute an interruption in the evolutionary process. Before people showed up, evolution’s potential pathways were invisible. But once humans appear, human volition entered with it. The human capacity to choose replaced randomness with intentionality. We have developed enough mastery over our environment (Genesis 1:28) that natural selection, in the strict Darwinian sense, no longer really applies to us.

We now control our own evolution, capable not only of self-awareness, but of self-determination too. Qualities that make relationship with God and others possible also made the breaking of relationship possible. This is a sad reality expressed throughout human history. The brokenness of human relationship affects, not only the relationship with God and our relationships with each other, but our relationship with the rest of creation. Even if humans were specially created, we were still made out of the dust of the ground, the same ground from which all other living things emerged.

Daniel Harrell is the Senior Minister of Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota. He is the author of the books Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith, How To Be Perfect: One Church’s Experiment with Living the Book of Leviticus, and the forthcoming Wisdom of the Saints (And Near Saints): Christian Inspiration from A-Z. He also teaches theology at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul.

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Melanie - #22309

July 18th 2010

God is telling you about the future in the story about Adam & Eve.  This is what he is saying:

The Tree Bears Jesus

Jesus is the fruit in the New Testament.

Melanie - #22310

July 18th 2010

The childrens story about Adam and Eve is about deception.  (Yes we are still children.)  It isn’t about creation at all.  Adam and Eve are living right now.  Adam and Eve are representatives for all of us.  In some ways we are all the same, as God suggests that we have a common heritage.

The story is not about original Sin as the Church suggests.  It’is all about deception.  The Serpent isn’t lying to Eve it is deceiving her.  The Serpent is telling the truth, but it’s deceptive.  Eve eats and does not die just like the serpent says.

So, how have we all been deceived?  I read what all of the other bloggers wrote and yes both Atheist and Christain have been deceived.

What is the Mother of all Deceptions?  And Who is the Serpent?

We know that the Serpent is Satan.  But who is Satan?  God tells you exactly who Satan is in the story about A&E.  Did you find It?

Mica Tesh - #74749

November 27th 2012

do you not think the story is about God at all?

as a Christian, i believe Genesis is all about God. the creation shows us his power. the fall of man, while often it is seen as the main point, is a precurser to Christ. Adam is the first man, he allows himself to sin, bringing sin into the world and giving humanity a sin nature. Jesus is the second Adam. he is the first - as Adam was the first human - Jesus was the sin offering for the world.

while the story in Genesis does focus greatly on the deception of man, it is more so about God and his work and is a precurser to his redemptive powers.

and forgive my ignorance, but what does A&E stand for?

Melanie Stephan - #22346

July 18th 2010

Satan has deceived all of us.  In verse 3:1 in the Book of Genesis, God tells us exactly who Satan is:

Genesis 3: 1 Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that God had made.  So it began to say to the woman: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?”

Did you see it?  God says the serpent is a wild beast.  Most of us know that a snake is a reptile and not a beast.  A beast is a mammal.  The snake talks.  The snake also knows what God said.  It has knowledge of Gods words.  How does serpent know what God said?

Is God confused about reptiles and mammals?  Or is he having a senior moment?  No, he isn’t.  He is telling you the snake is really a mammal that talks.  Out of all of the mammals only man can talk.  So Satan is really a man with qualities of a snake.  Now we have at least 3 people in the garden.

Next, How do snakes deceive us?  We think the snake is a stick until we almost step on it and then it moves.  This snake talks from the stick.  A stick comes from a tree and a cross comes from a tree.
Does this sound familiar?

The Church speaks from the Cross

Melanie - #22349

July 18th 2010

Some of you are not going to like this.  But you really need to know:

Satan is the Roman Catholic Church

Sorry that I am the one to have to tell you and take away your innocence.  It’s time to grow up, your not a child anymore.  What this means is that the Jews are right and the Romans are wrong.  Satan read the Old Testament and then he made up a story about Jesus.  Jesus is innocent.  Satan put words in his mouth.  Satan talks from the stick (cross).

Melanie - #22354

July 18th 2010

You can have some doubts about the identity of Satan, but verse 3: 4 in the Book of Genesis confirms what I just wrote.

Genesis 3 : 2 At this the woman said to the serpent: “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. 3 But as for [eating] of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said: “You must not eat from it, no, You must not touch it that you do not die.”  4 At this the serpent said to the woman: “You positively will not die. 5 For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.”

Does this sound familiar to you:  Jesus said:  Believe in me and you will not die.
Satan says:  Eat the Fruit and “You positively will not die”. In other words, Take in Jesus and you positively will not die.

Satan and the Catholic Church sound the same to me.

Remember Satan deceives.  Both Satan and the Church, speak the truth.  Eve does eat the fruit and she does not die this very day.  Everthing happens just as Satan said it would.  Remember Satan is speaking for Jesus.  Satan speaks from the cross(stick).  The dead can’t speak for themselves.

Melanie Stephan - #22419

July 19th 2010

To answer the question, are Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?   The following verses from Genesis positively answers that question.

Genesis 3: 6 Consequently the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon, So she began taking of its fruit and eating it.  Afterward she gave some also to her husband when with her and he began eating it.  7 Then the eyes of both of them became opened and they began to realize that they were naked. Hence they sewed fig leaves together and made loin coverings for themselves.

What food do you know of after eating it makes you realize that you are naked?  None.  There is nothing in this world that you can eat, not even an apple, that will suddenly make you realize your naked.  So the answer is to the question “Literal or Literary?”, is Literary.  This is a story, but there is a catch to this answer.  If you realize that the Tree is a Book and the Fruit is Jesus the story is Literal.  God has written two stories with the words of one.

Melanie - #22425

July 19th 2010

The next verse from Genesis is where they hear God coming and hide in the bushes.

Genesis 3: 8 Later they heard the voice of God walking in the garden about the breezy part of the day, and the man and his wife went into hiding from the face of God in between the trees of the garden.  9 And God kept calling to the man and saying to him: “Where are you?” 10 Finally he said: “Your voice I heard in the garden, but I was afraid because I was naked and so I hid myself.”

Adam and Eve are hiding from God because after reading the Bible they now realize that being naked is a sin.  They are ashamed and embarassed and are now hiding their sin from God.

Melanie - #22429

July 19th 2010

For some of you that are not aware that being naked is a sin let me remind you of things like.  Porn, Pictures of totaly naked girls. Men undressed.  The full Monty.  Kiddy Porn.  Totaly Nude Teens. You can’t go out in public naked because it is also against the law.  In some countries woman have to cover everything except their eyes and hands.  Yes, naked is a Sin.  And it is also illegal.

Melanie - #22518

July 19th 2010

That is the definitive interpretation of the story about Adam & Eve.  My precise interpretation is conclusive and decisive.  There is no other possible interpretation.  If you don’t think I am right show me I am wrong.  You can’t do it and no one for almost 2000 years has been able to do it either.

Prophesy.  A story written 3000 years or so ago has come true today.  This is a divine Revelation and the greatest prophesy ever told.  God has told a story about the beginning and the end with the words of one story.  Who else can do that?  The End is at the Beginning.  That means we will start all over again.

Satan put Revelation at the end of the book.  If you haven’t read John’s nightmare, it is the End.

The Jews have been right all along and everyone else is wrong.  Jesus is not the Messiah.

The Jews are still waiting for their Messiah.

His name is Yeshua!

Iam - #31332

September 22nd 2010

The serpent is the Jew. Deceiveing the innocent to disobey God. Disobedience to God leads to death. God tells that in the future the disobedient Jews will be marked by the circumcision. So that the world shall be aware of the disobedient Jews. 

Genesis 2:16 “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction.  17 But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will surely die.”

The serpent Jew want us to disobey God. The tree in the midst is the world Jewry with their baal-talmudic book. The Jewry time and time again show their disbelief. The prophets disbelieved by a Jewry who wants more and more of what is not theirs to have.  God detests the way of the Jewry.

The Jewry have the vailing wall and an endless waiting for ‘Messiah’. Meanwhile the Jewry through deceiveing gain ground leading the world into utter unrighteousness.

The Christians have ‘met’ their Messiah. But are by Jew-serpentry deceived into caressing the evil men of disobediance.

Note the serpents ‘circumcision’ like appearance. The serpent can not hide the head with the skin.

Melanie - #34675

October 14th 2010

Iam, God also said that there are a number of people that are full of shit.  Join the crowd.  Hey, that isn’t how I talk.  That’s how God talks.  I thought he would be more pious, like the Pope.

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