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Daniel Harrell on Adam and Eve

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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.

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David T. - #12466

May 5th 2010

Ken B.,

If Gen 2:7 doesn’t refer to humans being given a “soul,” then either Adam was a special creation, with no connection to any evolutionary form living at that time, or this is just a fanciful myth. Gen 2:7 indicates the creation of something new. You either have to accept that or mythologize it.

JKnott and Ken B.,

How do explain Ezekiel 18, “the soul that sins, it shall die?” Would that also apply to animals?

dopderbeck - #12467

May 5th 2010

John (#12462)—in my experience, the RC “position” is actually hard to pin down.  Most RC theologians certainly allow for something like this “Worldview Approach” (including Karl Rahner, who was one of the major intellectual forces behind the Second Vatical Council).  The Papal Encyclical “Humani Generis” from 1950 insists on monogenism, but encyclical letters generally are not thought infallible and can in some respects be revised.  Pope John Paul II’s statements on evolution are thought by many to give further support to a “softer” view of Adam.

Re the EO—from my conversations with EO theologians, my sense is that the situation is equally hard to pin down.  Some state clearly that Adam can be entirely metaphorical.  Others do not.  There is no Augustinian notion of “original sin” in EO theology, so that makes the question rather different.

Norm - #12468

May 5th 2010

Ken B,

You are on the right track but it is more complicated due to chaotic translation practices. The Breath of Life is God breathed and typically equates to Covenant life, thus Adam’s special creation and relationship to God.  The living creature is a designation that is indeed applied to both man (Adam) and Beast. But the kicker is that Beast and the creatures is a Hebrew designation toward Gentiles and especially in apocalyptic type literature that we see in Genesis.  Satan is described as a Beast and so is despot Kingdom rulers and in fact there are two Beast of Revelation, one from the Sea (Gentile) and one from the (Land) Apostate Jew.

See how Ezekiel describes the living creatures at Christ coming and how Ecc compares adam and beast.

Eze 47:9 ESV And wherever the river goes, every LIVING CREATURE that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything WILL LIVE where the river goes.

Ecc 3:19 ESV For what happens to the children of man (Adam) and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They ALL HAVE THE SAME BREATH, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.

Gregory - #12470

May 5th 2010

Hi John,

Yes, Ben has expressed his position. But I think he made it clear this is not *necessarily* the Vatican’s position, i.e. A&E as ‘real, historical’ yet “way back in time.” He is free to adopt this position, but Rome is not rigorous on it.

Wrt the Eastern Orthodox Church’s position, it is also not rigid, yet it accepts ‘real, historical A&E.’ I am not an expert on EO, but here is a link to a translated text by a well-known, current Orthdoox Priest writing on this topic. The section “Man Enters the World” deals with this topic.

“In this case it does not matter what period of time — 24 hours or several million years. In any case the flowing manner of formation of our world creation happens by the word of the Creator.

How long and which way the earth was giving birth to life the Bible does not say. It insists on one thing: everything from the hands of Supreme Creator and by His word.” - Fr. Kuraev


Gregory - #12473

May 5th 2010

Thanks to dopderbeck for commenting on this.

Indeed, the issue of monogenism vs. polygenism (i.e. of human beings, homo sapiens) plays a huge role here too.

Does anyone know who coined the phrase “Worldview Approach”?

I would have no bone to pick with biologists like Dr. Falk or genomicists like Dr. Venema (and I’m glad there are Christians going into these fields), as long as they don’t come out as being ‘anti-Adam,’ i.e. if they can openly admit it is Biblical and Traditional to say ‘real, historical A&E.’ I’m easily pleased! = )

Personally interpret A&E as just a symbolic story, unhistorical, not literal, figures just as ‘representatives’ (meant in the most liberal of ways) and a whole raft of problems enter.

The theory of ‘evolution’ is not so Universal that it should pose a deadly problem for monotheists.

JKnott - #12474

May 5th 2010

David T—

I don’t see how your question pertains to a problem with my view.  Please elaborate.

David T. - #12476

May 5th 2010


If “the soul is our relation to God,” does our “relation to God” sin? Ezekiel 18 seems to speak of the soul as the inward spiritual being of man, with sin resulting in spiritual death.

John VanZwieten - #12477

May 5th 2010


The “Worldview Appoach” to biblical interpretation seems to have been coined by Carol A. Hill in a previous article here:


_A third alternative to concordism and divine accommodation: the worldview approach_

Dick Fischer - #12479

May 5th 2010

Hi Gregory:

I believe it was Carol Hill who coined the expression “Worldview Approach.”  She and I have been sojourning in the same direction for years now, although I’d prefer another term because it isn’t obvious what it means.

In my opinion Adam ushers in a new era of accountability and a covenental relationship with God.  Just as parents normally don’t punish infants for their mistakes neither did God hold primitive humans accountable.  It was with Adam that God manifiests himself and seeks a relationship with humanity and instills in Adam a simple standard of behavior with rewards.  Obey your God, honor Him, and He will provide.  It was the obedience part that proved difficult.

Adam was earmarked to do the work that fell to Christ when Adam failed to live up to the task.  The world was populated in the millions by 7,000 years ago, so Adam had a vast audience of humanity to reach with God’s message.

As to whether they had souls capable of being redeemed, I believe they did, or why else would God give Adam the mandate and the responsibility?

Norm - #12481

May 5th 2010


It seems that you have progressed to a somewhat different view than I thought you previously espoused. In reading Peter Rust from the ASA archives I didn’t get the feeling that you have always tended toward some current understandings that you’re describing now. Have you added some new ideas recently? 

For those who are interested here is another ASA author (Peter Rust) such as Carol Hill and Dick Fischer who have some similar concepts regarding Adam. Carol Hill mentioned to me that Peter and she had some basic similarities and have corresponded. I think what we are seeing is that some of this discussion has been on going over on the ASA site for a while and is seeing some maturation coming forth out of their articles.

I think the big noise was from Denis Lamoureux’s recent book which highlights the accommodation viewpoint but it seems to be time to swing the pendulum back the other direction to more carefully consider some historical implications as well. I think we that are seriously interested in Genesis need to know both sides of the coin and through that can perhaps help in the discussion.

Early Humans, Adam, and Inspiration by Peter Rust


Norm - #12482

May 5th 2010

I want to revisit the Image of God application of Gen 1:26 again. I have proposed recently here that Gen 1 is 7 Day Temple literature as proposed by Walton. These are functional creations described in Gen 1 and are concerned with the implementation of the Heavens and Earth and their ultimate consummation. Gen 1 is a prelude or prologue of the entire account of Israel’s Heavens and Earth existence and should not be considered as a material account of the physical world except in how it relates to Israel and only then as the briefest of an overview. Gen 1 sets the program for the entirety of Israel’s being until consummation as the New Heavens and Earth ushered in through Christ.

Rev 21:1 ESV Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

22And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  (23)  And the city has NO NEED OF SUN OR MOON to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and ITS LAMP IS THE LAMB.

This language found here in Rev is apocalyptic language de creating some of what was created at the beginning of the first H & E and is confirmed in Hebrews 1 & 12.


Norm - #12483

May 5th 2010

Heb 1:10-12 ESV And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;  (11)  they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment,  (12)  like a robe YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP, LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL BE CHANGED.

Heb 12:26-27 ESV At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH BUT ALSO THE HEAVENS.”  (27)  This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that THE THINGS THAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN MAY REMAIN.

This is covenant renewal language concerning what is happening to the Old Covenant of Israel and the law and is not about a physical demise of the physical universe. This relates to Gen 1:26 because the sixth day of the creation account is the day before God enters his Sabbath rest and that is what is occurring after the removal of the Old Covenant Law and Sacrificial systems. They are being rolled up. Jesus points out to us that God is still at work in Jn 5:17.


Norm - #12484

May 5th 2010

This accounts for why the NT is speaking of the consummation of the Image of God as taking place through Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Image of God has been assigned to all humanity but this doesn’t hold up under heavy scrutiny of scriptures. God encounters mortal mankind and is lifting him up to a higher plane through Christ and the Spirit. Trying to work the Image of God back into mortal mankind seriously steps on the importance theologically of redemption by misunderstanding the Hebrew process of redemption as understood by Paul. Paul sees Adam as earthy, natural, corruptible and mortal while through Christ the second Adam whom indwells believer we are from the higher spiritual realm and immortal. If Adam fell from the Image of God as biblicaly understood then Adam fell from the Spiritual realm that theologically is untenable to almost all faithful Christians. Falling from the earthy mortal state is quite different than falling from Immortal Spiritual state.

Dick Fischer - #12492

May 5th 2010

Hi Norm, you wrote:

“Have you added some new ideas recently? ” 

I don’t think so.  I rephrase things from time to time to make it clearer and more easily understood.  Plus, I continually find new tidbits.  Peter, Carol, David Rohl, Davis Young and I are in close agreement as to the general idea of a historical basis for Gen. 2-11 in the ancient Near East.  We differ a bit on some of the peripheral issues.  Since we have minor points of disagreement it may seem to outsiders that we have conflict which conveys the wrong impression.

Carol opts for the patriarchal ages to be more in line with typical, pedestrian human life spans where I take them as advertised as it fits the archaeological timeline better and satisfies some other data points.  Peter prefers Genesis 1 to be about the creation of generic humans while I think the Jews would never have believed outsiders were in the “image of God.”  David Rohl and I use the same timeline but he places the Garden of Eden at Tabriz whereas I follow Babylonian tradition placing the Garden near Eridu in Iraq.

We probably all ought to celebrate our common points of agreement more and downplay any trivial disagreements.

Mike Bull - #12495

May 5th 2010


Thanks for your reply.

You are assuming that Adam’s race already existed, and that the Adamic Covenant created a bipolarity. That is not what the Bible describes.

The division of the race occurred at the exodus of Cain. Abel’s murder occurred around 130 years after Adam’s exile. For Cain to build a city he would have left with a lot of people. We see this occur again in the book of Kings: a divided kingdom.

What is recorded in Genesis 6 is a syncretisation of the two kingdoms but not according to the Covenant. This is exactly what the kings attempted to do, and what the Herod’s also attempted to do.

Godly intermarriage is on Covenant terms (ie. Ruth to Boaz) but outside of that it is always idolatrous (Elimelech’s sons, etc.) Joseph’s and Solomon’s marriages to Egyptians were on Covenant terms. Solomon’s later marriages were the same kind of marriages as in Gen. 6. Compromise. Ezra deals with the same issue severely, so it wouldn’t happen again.

So the bipolarity does not predate the Covenant with Adam at all. The narrative from Adam to the flood follows exactly the same pattern I described before, only with Abel’s murder at Passover and the destruction of the world at Atonement.

Kind regards,

Mike Bull - #12496

May 5th 2010


You are spot on in your identification of the Covenantal language in apocalyptic passages. But we must also understand the chiastic nature of history. The Bible begins with a physical heavens and earth, and only then, in the Hebrews, moves to a Covenantal heavens and earth - a People. Then, at the centre, we have Christ, the Covenant as a Man. In the church, it moves out again to a social heavens and earth (after AD70) - a People. Finally, it returns to a physical heavens and earth.

So, basically, if you cut Genesis 1 adrift from a physical Creation-Covenant, you must of necessity untether it at the other end. What you have done is conflated the “social” points of this chiastic process with the “physical.”

I have a couple of links here:

BenYachov - #12517

May 6th 2010

My talking points:
Historical Adam=Yes. but he had to have been the first to receive a soul & he would have had lived long enough ago to transmit original sin to all existing modern humans,
Historical Eden=yes or no, Eden could be more a spiritual state than an actual garden.
Historical flood=Yes, I could accept the Worldview Approach, 
Patriarchal Ages=No, either worldview or accommodation.
Creation day=Literary but open to day age.
Age of Universe=Old
Existence of Pre-Adamites=Yes but they would all have been souless,  Mere biological species doesn’t make you human.  It requires an immortal soul directly created by God.
Evolution=Based on Aristotelian-Thomistic principles I believe Evolution is compatible with the Bible & classic theism,

BenYachov - #12518

May 6th 2010

> But I think he made it clear this is not *necessarily* the Vatican’s position, i.e. A&E as ‘real, historical’ yet “way back in time.” He is free to adopt this position, but Rome is not rigorous on it.

I reply: Well as far as I can tell the only polygenesis, purely symbolic Adamic, scenario I’ve seen an orthodox Catholic make is one where he speculated God might have created a community of early souled humans and all of them without exception sinned and we all today inherit their original sin.

The Catechism says QUOTE”“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).

The Worldview Account is interesting but IMHO it would have to be tweaked to fit CCC 390 before Catholics could accept it.

BenYachov - #12519

May 6th 2010

additional to my taking points.

the existence of unsoulded Pre-Adamites contemporaneous with Adam=yes

J.J.E. - #12521

May 6th 2010

So, why not simply rewrite the Bible from scratch in unambiguous legalistic language and then call that the foundation of your religion and morality? This long history of re-interpretation after re-interpretation to fit what we learn from year to year has a rather disingenuous appearance.
After all, if one wants to parse the language carefully enough to remove the requirement for A&E to be the first humans and the ancestors of all modern humans, then why not just say that outright? Indeed, why not just throw out A&E altogether while we’re already in the process of editing and cleaning house…?

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