t f p g+ YouTube icon

Daniel Harrell on Adam and Eve

Bookmark and Share

May 5, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's video features 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.

For many Christians, the biblical characters Adam and Eve can present a significant challenge to accepting evolutionary theory—that is, when they are cast as historical figures who are also the biological progenitors of the human race. In this video, the Rev. Daniel Harrell discusses how there may be some “middle ground” in the way that Christians understand Adam and Eve. Harrell points out that the historicity of Adam and Eve does not necessarily conflict with science.  Rather, the claim that conflicts with science is the idea that Adam and Eve were the first humans, the only original biological ancestors of all humans today.

Instead, another way to view them is as the first two people with whom God chose to enter into a covenant relationship, like He did with Abraham, for example.  In this view, Adam and Eve become representative of the kind of relationship that God intends to have with all people. This may be a point of possible convergence, says Harrell, “for those who are worried about a historical Adam and Eve to breathe easier, and those who are concerned about integrity with DNA and evolutionary science to also breathe easier.”

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

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.

Learn More

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 5 of 5   « 2 3 4 5
Norm - #13063

May 10th 2010


I received your book from Amazon and I must say I would recommend this for all of us here at Biologos as must reading. Not that I’m going to agree with everything you present but there is enough fresh information available to make us all think again about some of our suppositions concerning Adam and early Genesis in the historic framework of the ANE.

Dick one thing in particular stands out to me so far and that is your understanding of adam and ish and their respective application to covenant man and mankind at large. This recognition I believe should have profound implications for understanding the purpose and framework of Israel and the surrounding peoples. I have actually written upon this issue a few times and have come to a similar conclusion as you have.  I believe it especially has implications for Gen 1:26-28 in applying whom this adam actually would be made in the Image of God. The image of God is a Covenant relationship inferring God’s Spirit and in no way was pagan mankind at large considered to hold the Image of God IMHO. 

I have an article posted on this subject.


Nathan - #13073

May 10th 2010


I sent you an email, and I await your response.


Yes, Canaanite is a parent language to a group of Northwest Semitic languages including Hebrew, Phoenician, Moabite, etc.  It is distinct from Aramaic, another Northwest Semitic language.  We don’t know, however, what people in Syria or Canaan spoke during the period of the patriarchs.  Our evidence for Canaanite starts in the 14th century BCE.

It is also worth pointing out that there are different traditions regarding the homeland of the patriarchs.  Deut 26:5 explicitly remembers the ancestors as Aramean., not Mesopotamian And the location of the relatives in Paddan-Aram and Aram-Naharaim in Genesis likewise suggest a tradition about Syria (Aram) as the homeland of the patriarchs.  Ur of the Chaldeans is Mesopotamian, so it appears there are conflicting traditions.

Dick Fischer - #13150

May 10th 2010

Hi Norm:

You are a faaast reader!

Why did a simple language that had one word for either hills or mountains, one word for either earth or land, one word for either heaven or sky, need two words for “man”?  I’m confident there are many examples in Scripture where the writers wanted to make a distinction between those from Adam and those whose roots lie elsewhere.  One case in point referenced in the book is Psalm 8:4:

“What is man (‘ish), that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man (bene ‘adam), that thou visitest him?”

How are men different from sons of men? Aren’t all men sons of men? Yes, but not all men are sons of Adam! God is mindful of common man (‘ish), but it is the sons of Adam (bene ‘adam) that He visits. This verse reflects the special covenant relationship Israel enjoyed.

There are more rules, however,  where animals are included man is always ‘adam, whereas man and woman is always ‘ish and ‘ishah.

Nathan - #13153

May 10th 2010


I don’t know what you mean by “simple,” but Hebrew does have a word for hill (giba’) and land (‘adamah).  More to the point, what do you make of the ‘adam/‘ish distinction in Phoenician and Punic?  It would be highly tendentious to argue that the use in Phoenician is related to the Adam myth.

Dick Fischer - #13172

May 11th 2010

Hi Nathan:

This may come as a surprise but I don’t speak Punic.  My question would be what do you mean by an Adam “myth”?

Adam was a real-live, flesh-and-blood human being - or else he wasn’t. As much as we might like an intermediate position, something in between, or a happy compromise, it’s not possible. We either can believe there was an Adam wearing his fig leaf, or we can have an Adam who was only a figment. As much as the issue can be couched in theological double-speak, there is no escaping a fundamental fact of life, or non-life. A real Adam either existed, or he didn’t.

The legend of Adapa that I believe was based upon Adam of Genesis is an epic tale to be sure, but legends built upon actual personalities is something that’s persisted for millennia.  How true was Shakespear’s play to the real life of Julius Ceasar?  Seen any movies about Queen Elizabeth?  How historically accurate do you think the dialogue was in the film?

Adam, Dumuzi, Enmerkar and Gilgamesh were well known and thus good subjects for tall tales.

Karl A - #13187

May 11th 2010

Dick, you’re using “myth” differently than Nathan is, I believe.  I think Nathan used it more-or-less equivalent to your “epic tale” rather than “something that is patently untrue”.

Dick Fischer - #13201

May 11th 2010

Hi Karl:

Mesopotamian myths normally contain historical elements but mixed with extraneous stuff tossed in by scribes who seem to be trying to make their tales more interesting and salable.  The tough part is separating the two, a process called “demythologizing.”

Robert Best tries to do that in his book, Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic.  Yet Best thinks Noah was Sumerian which I regard as the biggest blunder in his book. The difficulty most authors have is they don’t live in proximity to the great repositories, in my case the Library of Congress.  Maybe Google will solve that by putting it all online eventually.

Norm - #13202

May 11th 2010


I’m amazed at how much similarity there is between the conclusions you and I have come to independently. I listed one article above that demonstrates this and I have an assortment of articles that goes beyond that first article.

I’m going to draw some different conclusions about the Hebrew purpose behind some of these issues that pertain to Adam, the flood and Babel. I do not try to work out the time lines of the life spans as historically realistic but serve a broad Hebrew theological purpose. In other words there is real history there but there is Hebrew theology symbolically embedded as well. I believe if we attempt to apply literal history to long lives we may have missed an important understanding that the writers of Genesis were pointing to.

As an example you believe that intermarriage with the surrounding non covenant lineage reduced the physical life spans of the covenant people. Well I think you are on the right track but the life spans don’t really express real physical lives as much as they express a loss of covenant life. The intermarriage that begins in Gen 6:1 is a Hebrew realization that these called people are moving more and more toward mortal life from which Adam was lifted out of.

Norm - #13204

May 11th 2010

In other words they are drifting back into mortality by mixing with pagans.  A good example of how the Jews viewed this idea of the perfect eternal life is found in Jubilees 4 in which it is made mention that Adam did not live the full 1000 years because of his disobedience. This reaching the full 1000 years was not attained until Christ when those lived and reigned a 1000 years (Revelation) because of their redemption from the Law and spiritual death.

29: … thereof, Adam died … And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; FOR ONE THOUSAND YEARS ARE AS ONE DAY IN THE TESTIMONY OF THE HEAVENS and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: ‘On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.’ For this reason HE DID NOT COMPLETE THE YEARS OF THIS DAY; FOR HE DIED DURING IT.

IMHO these life spans fit the theological purpose of the author to demonstrate the reality of their spiritual loss and are simply a motif built into this narrative to drive home this point. Genesis needs to be examined from this viewpoint IMO to gather what the Hebrew writer had in mind.

Dick Fischer - #13214

May 11th 2010

Hi Nathan:

I spoke with Phil Jones in the Babylonian section at the University of Pennsylvania.  For starters most of the scholars in primitive languages would scoff at the idea of integrating biblical history with actual human history.  My views are politely tolerated, that’s all.

Since I volunteer in the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian I can see parallels in language evolution with human evolution.  The further back in time you go the cloudier it becomes and the best scholars have points of disagreement.  Although we evolved from Homo erectus, Homo sapiens and erectus overlapped, both lived at the same time 100,000 years ago. The same kind of thing is true in linguistics.

Also, I start with biblical history at no earlier than roughly 7,000 years ago.  Humanity and human language, including a “Semitic” tongue, predates that period of time.  But Semites are named for Shem, Noah’s son, who lived roughly 3000 BC, so the language moniker predates the man for whom it’s named.

Akkadian is the first written Semitic language but 3rd millennium Akkadian varies from 1st millennium just through normal evolution of language. 

Continued ...

Dick Fischer - #13215

May 11th 2010

Continued …

By the late 3rd millennium we have various Semitic languages spoken over the entire region all of which are more like each other than they are to Akkadian.

Prior to the arrival of the Akkadians and Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia there was no written languages at all with maybe the exception of proto Elamite in Persia, yet we know languages, an Afro-Asiatic language for example, was in use prior to that which some believe would be a root of Akkadian, but what kind of language preceded that?

Prior to about 5,000 years ago in human history the best linguists can do is infer spoken languages from presumed migration patterns from similarities in pottery styles. Not an exacting science.

I can agree that it is probably overly simplistic to say that Akkadian is the root of all Semitic tongues, but the Akkadian language fits the biblical timeline of a Semitic tongue being spoken even before the flood.  However, was Amorite spoken before Amor?  Was Canaanite spoken before Canaan? Was Assyrian spoken before Asshur? Hebrew before Eber?  Elamite before Elam?  I don’t think so.

For a parallel, the Smithsonian calls “Lucy” a human while I always thought she was an ape. Who knew?

Nathan - #13228

May 11th 2010


I appreciate your conceding the point.  Using biblical “history” (or myth) as the basis for historical linguistics is as untenable as using it for claims about human biology.


Dick Fischer - #13265

May 11th 2010

Hi Nathan:

I’m sure you know there is no one, coherent concensus position on that chapter of human history, the people, the events or the linguistics.  If there was I wouldn’t have written a book about it at all.  I had to laugh when Jones made this comment putting it into perspective: “If you want in an depth study on that, read (name omitted), he knows a lot more about it than I do but I think he’s wrong.”

Page 5 of 5   « 2 3 4 5