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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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BenYachov - #12523

May 6th 2010

>This long history of re-interpretation after re-interpretation to fit what we learn from year to year has a rather disingenuous appearance.

I reply: If the Bible was actually meant to be interpreted by the mere individuals your argument might have some bite.  But Catholics & Eastern Orthodox hold that the Bible was always meant to be interpreted by the Church threw Tradition which gives us the principle that the Bible must be interpreted in harmony with natural science.

>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…..

I reply: Your clearly equating biological monogenesis with having a “first human”.  I see no reason to do that.  A&E where the first to have souls & that makes them human.  Of course I could see how a materialist might make that mistake since he would define human purely in biological terms sans metaphysical or theological.

BenYachov - #12524

May 6th 2010

>This long history of re-interpretation after re-interpretation to fit what we learn from year to year has a rather disingenuous appearance.

I reply: I fail to see how?  Neither Philo of Alexandra, Augustine,  Origen, Maimonides or Aquinas took Genesis One literally or scientifically.  Also they all taught that Scripture must be interpreted in light of natural philosophy and science with the primacy given to the later.  This was long before Galileo or Darwin ever came on the scene.  Even before these breakthrews in science as documented by Fr. Stanley Jaki the Fathers of the Church didn’t have a unanimous cosmogenesis of the Book of Genesis.  So your objections are unremarkable.

J.J.E. - #12525

May 6th 2010

You miss my point. The text is a moving target that is continually subject to reinterpretation. The question isn’t whether or not some day in the past it WASN’T subject to interpretation. The point is that the interpretations disagree with one another. Why not just rewrite the whole thing, make it clear, unambiguous, and stake something on it instead of hiding behind metaphor the next time we observe something that challenges scripture.

For example, there is a possibility (unlikely, but possible) that humans have interbred with chimps in the past. It is possible (and a bit more likely) that we have interbred with neanderthals. If either is true, then it is very much possible that there extant people who are descendants only of the blessed “ensoulled” species and people who may not have any of that ancestry or at the very least are mosaic. How does the soul argument fit there? Or will this target move again if Svante Paabo publishes a paper this summer with iron clad evidence about neanderthal alleles in the human gene pool?

And what if someone does the same thing for chimps in 2 years? Does the target keep moving or does it ever get pinned down?

BenYachov - #12526

May 6th 2010

Rather you miss my point.  Your assuming the idea that Scripture must be super perspicuous to be authoritative but Catholics like myself and our Eastern Orthodox brethren reject the concept as a mere novelty of the 16th century religious rebellion called commonly “The Reformation”.  The Bible is not and has never been perspicuous.  That is a brute fact of tradition. 

>The point is that the interpretations disagree with one another.

I reply: You have just summed up my entire polemic against Protestantism but of course I believe in an Authoritative Church and Tradition to definitively interpret Scripture so how does your criticism effect me?  It’s doesn’t.

JKnott - #12527

May 6th 2010

David T.—

Well, we certainly only “sin” in our relation to God (or, without God it may be “evil” or something, but it’s not sin).  And if sin is a break in our relation to God, wouldn’t the relation “die” with it?  I don’t necessarily think one can fit in everything here, but I’m working toward a coherent position.

BenYachov - #12528

May 6th 2010

>It is possible (and a bit more likely) that we have interbred with neanderthals.

I reply: Actually ANY offspring of an ensouled human and an unsouled hominid would have a soul so your objection is moot IMHO.  I advocate a theological monogenesis with a biological polygenesis.

>Why not just rewrite the whole thing, make it clear, unambiguous,

I reply: Why do we need too?  The Church already provides us with unambigous formal & final interpretation of the texts as they pertain to Faith & Morals.  We already have what you want it’ss called formulated dogma.

>and stake something on it instead of hiding behind metaphor the next time we observe something that challenges scripture.

I reply; here you are assuming contrary to Tradition scripture was meant to convey to us mere natural knowledge.  Why would it need too?  Our natural reason and rational investigation of the world can already do that.

J.J.E. - #12529

May 6th 2010

Hmmm. I don’t see the distinction you are trying to draw. I rather think Protestants (and many other theists) are pretty happy to relegate their understanding (or lack thereof) of scripture to the ineffability of their god. They are happy to live without a perspicuous scripture.

And the question arises, what happens when your Authoritative Church and Tradition ca 2010 disagrees with the Authoritative Church and Tradition ca 2010 - X or 2010 + X? Or does the capital letter gracing Authoritative imbue the Church with the right to be always right regardless of the presence of what would be contradictions if stated by an lesser institution?

BenYachov - #12530

May 6th 2010

>Hmmm. I don’t see the distinction you are trying to draw. I rather think Protestants (and many other theists) are pretty happy to relegate their understanding (or lack thereof) of scripture to the ineffability of their god. They are happy to live without a perspicuous scripture.

I reply: Rather I think there are clear major gaps in your knowledge on religion and u are serving up a mere boiler plate critique.  Catholic reject a perspicuous scripture.  Protestants need it by default since they no longer accept the word of an authoritative church.

>To Paraphrase u “What happens when your Church contradicts itself by later changing Dogma that was authoritatively taught earlier?”

I reply: Simply put it doesn’t and believe me for that past 20 years I’ve heard all claims & to date all of them have failed.

BenYachov - #12531

May 6th 2010

At best the Church develops doctrine but that is not a true change of Dogma.  Nicea might teach Jesus is God and Man & then later Chacedon might teach he is a Divine Person only with two natures one human and one divine but that is just going into more detail,  That is not changing dogma since under Chalcedon teaching Jesus is STILL human & divine.

J.J.E. - #12533

May 6th 2010

That cleared up everything nicely. Thank you.

BenYachov - #12534

May 6th 2010

Cheers man I’m off to sleep.

norm - #12538

May 6th 2010

Mike Bull,

Thanks for replying.

There is a lot that we would agree on but then we start to diverge. I’m going to assume that you are a YEC who believes in a global flood and eventually a new earth coming on line. This all makes sense only with a hermeneutic that changes shape when dealing with Gen 1-11 and Rev 21-22. I call this the hybridization hermeneutic in lieu of a consistent Hebrew application across the board. That is an approach driving modern evangelical methodologies and brings us many exotic applications such as dispensationalist views concerning the Jews and the land arising once again. There is no end in sight of adventuresome possibilities when we endeavor down that hermeneutic route as it becomes simply pick and choose a literal view to meet one’s pet presuppositions. I think the case would need to be made that a physical and literal reading of apocalyptic type literature is in order and is a consistent Hebrew expected rationale.

Mike I believe we have to be careful with overstating chiastic applications as these can seemingly start appearing everywhere one looks. However I’m fully cognizant that Gen 2-11 has story lines that parallel future stories regarding Christ and judgment.

norm - #12540

May 6th 2010

Dick Fischer,

I appreciate your reply and by the way I’ve ordered your book and it should be here in a few days. Can’t wait to view it.  Dick, I find myself more in alignment with Carol, Peter and you in the investigation of Genesis but as you state we all have some nuanced differences. I do think though that we also need to reiterate that in our quest for historical Adam that we indeed have to keep in focus the difficult questions of how ANE mythology comes into play with Hebrew thinking. That is a more difficult question to answer and those such as Seely and Lamoureux’s need to be at the table with us as well. I personally believe that they drive the accommodation engine too strongly and so the need of vibrant interactive discussion. It appears to me that the Hebrews while being influenced had their own completely different worldview that was alien toward much of the ANE worldview at large as attested to the anti pagan theme of scripture. This seems consistent from beginning to end as well and is what sets it apart and implies that we have to be careful with accommodation.

Gregory - #12571

May 6th 2010

Thanks for the references, John and Dick, #12477 and #12479.

- Gr.

Dick Fischer - #12587

May 6th 2010

Hi Norm:

Why does Hebrew thinking reflect ANE mythology?

Historians recognize Akkadians and Semites, but not Adamites because that’s religious stuff.  The Akkadians for all practical purposes are the precursors, the historical ancestors of the Arabs and Israelites.  Until Sargon, a Semite, conquered and unified the area in 2371 BC the official written language was Sumerian.  After Sargon the official language was Akkadian.  So whether something is recorded in Sumerian or Akkadian is not always indicative of who originated it.

The Sumerian King List is a good example of how confusing it can be.  There are slightly differing versions that have been discovered in some of the principle cities.  Some list seven kings before “the flood swept thereover,” others list eight or ten.  The first two kings are Akkadian names ruling at Eridu.  Badtabirans wage war on Eridu and kingship is transferred to Sumerian kings.  Now the tricky part.

Some of the rest of the pre-flood kings look to be Akkadian yet recorded in Sumerian.  Thus Ubartutu, Su-Kur-Lam (or Surrupak) and Ziusudra most likely are Methusaleh, Lamech and Noah gleaned from evidence external to the king list itself.

Hebrew thought evolved from their ancestral Akkadians.

Norm - #12591

May 6th 2010


Maybe the best term to use is not ancient mythology but basically it is what it is as we view it and classify it through our modern eyes. As I stated I’m really looking forward to your book to see more fully how you handle these historical issues. As an example the Kings list used huge life spans far exceeding what even the Hebrews used. I hardly expect those to be realistic but expect they imbue a theological purpose to signify their exalted state. This is my understanding of what the Hebrew have attempted to do in their genealogical list of Gen 5 as they do not appear to represent true life spans. Dick I realize that you felt their ages fit because of the time line historically but in my experience the Hebrews made things fit for their own purpose theologically. So when I speak of reflecting ANE mythology I try to do so through how the Hebrews interfaced with their surrounding worldviews be that as it may.

Maybe after I get through your book we can delve into these points more explicitly.

Reklaw - #12601

May 6th 2010

I think the idea of Genesis focusing on God’s covenant with His creation is dead-on. Genesis is a temple text and is most likely written in ritualized fashion. An excellent article on the covenant and kingship imagery of the Genesis account is

Walter Brueggemann, “From Dust to Kingship,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 84/1 (1972)

Dick Fischer - #12634

May 6th 2010

Hi Norm:

The “years” of reign for the Sumerian kings is problematical.  Carol Hill tackled that and found a way to bring them into the scope of reality, so did Robert Best.  Using a sexagesimal system, the years recorded for the ten kings ending with Ziusudra were in multiples of 60 or 60 squared.  Probably there is something we do not understand about how they recorded perods of time, but suffice it to say the Sumerians believed these kings ruled for long periods and to do that, they must have lived long.

As for the pre-flood patriarchs, if the flood is dated at 2900 BC and Eridu where Adam was located is dated by archaeologists at 4800 BC, that puts 1900 years spread over ten generations.  You can do the math.  Even Abraham lived to 175 so what might work at the beginning won’t work at the end.  There are some other considerations to but they are in the book.  In short, I don’t take issue with the advertised years for the patriarchs.

Pete Enns - #12658

May 7th 2010

Ken B (12459),

You are correct. Gen 2:7 is not about endowing humanity with a soul in the way we think of a bipartite division between “body” and “soul” or “spirit.” It simply—and quite clearly, I might add—refers to the animation of what had recently been dirt. That the Hebrew word nephesh is used, that we sometimes translate as soul, does not in any way support the notion of a “soul” being given to Adam. To say he became a “living soul” means he became alive. Nephesh is a very common word in the Hebrew OT and has a variety of uses (look them up, they are interesting). “Soul” as we think of it is not one of them. I have no problem with people trying to reconcile science and theology by creating an Adam who is the first soul-bearing (rather than biological) human. I think it is wrong, but I am always interested in what people have to say about this. But don’t try to root it in the Genesis narrative. You will find no support there. Best to say “even though I realize this has no support in the text, i would like to posit the following theory of Adam to conforms to my theological requirements.”

Dick Fischer - #12706

May 7th 2010

Hi Pete:

If Gen. 2:7 “refers to the animation of what had recently been dirt.,” what kind of time frame should we put on the word “recently”?  If Adam was created out of dirt around 7,000 years ago in the midst of a populated world then he must have been created biologically compatible with the indigenous Homo sapiens.  If the “dirt” Adam was created out of was the same kind of dirt that goes into every living creature then that dirt could be 3 billion year-old dirt that is in each and every one of us.

In your estimation did this Adam live at the dawn of humanity and would have been the ultimate father of all mankind, or would you have him inserted into the stream of humanity where he could have been a sort of shepherd?  And would you prefer Adam to be with or without natural parents? 

Or is that part of Genesis simply what was in the minds of the Hebrews and not necessarily lined up with what actually happened?

Just looking for your take on those questions that frequently pop up..

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