Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person, Part 4
This is the fourth entry in a series taken from Denis Alexander’s essay addressing the question, “How Does a BioLogos model need to address the theological issues associated with an Adam who was not the sole genetic progenitor of humankind?” This essay was presented in November 2010 at the Theology of Celebration BioLogos Workshop in New York City. In Part 1 and Part 2, Alexander describes the process of model building in science and lays the groundwork for two models that relate creation theology and anthropology. Part 3 introduced the first of these models, the “Retelling Model.” Today Alexander describes the “Homo divinus Model.”
The Homo divinus model
Like the Retelling Model, this model also represents a protohistorical view in the sense that it lies beyond history as normally understood, but like the Retelling Model looks for events located in history that might correspond to the theological account provided by the Genesis narrative. But in this case the model locates these events within the culture and geography that the Genesis text provides.
According to this model, God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself – so that they might know Him as the one true personal God. From now on there would be a community who would know that they were called to a holy enterprise, called to be stewards of God’s creation, called to know God personally. It is for this reason that this first couple, or community, have been termed Homo divinus, the divine humans, those who know the one true God, the Adam and Eve of the Genesis account (Some versions of this model do seek to incorporate the ‘image of God’ teaching into the model more clearly than is attempted here). Being an anatomically modern human was necessary but not sufficient for being spiritually alive; as remains the case today. Homo divinus were the first humans who were truly spiritually alive in fellowship with God, providing the spiritual roots of the Jewish faith. Certainly religious beliefs existed before this time, as people sought after God or gods in different parts of the world, offering their own explanations for the meaning of their lives, but Homo divinus marked the time at which God chose to reveal himself and his purposes for humankind for the first time.
The Homo divinus model also draws attention to the representative nature of ‘the Adam’, ‘the man’, as suggested by the use of the definite article in the Genesis text as mentioned above. ‘The man’ is therefore viewed as the federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time. This was the moment at which God decided to start his new spiritual family on earth, consisting of all those who put their trust in God by faith, expressed in obedience to his will. Adam and Eve, in this view, were real people, living in a particular historical era and geographical location, chosen by God to be the representatives of his new humanity on earth, not by virtue of anything that they had done, but simply by God’s grace. When Adam recognised Eve as ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, he was not just recognising a fellow Homo sapiens – there were plenty of those around – but a fellow believer, one like him who had been called to share in the very life of God in obedience to his commands. The world population in Neolithic times is estimated to lie in the range 1–10 million, genetically just like Adam and Eve, but in this model it was these two farmers out of all those millions to whom God chose to reveal himself.
Just as I can go out on the streets of New York today and have no idea just by looking at people, all of them members of the species Homo sapiens, which ones are spiritually alive, so in this model there was no physical way of distinguishing between Adam and Eve and their contemporaries. It is a model about spiritual life and revealed commands and responsibilities, not about genetics.
How does this model relate to the fact that Adam is made in God’s image? If we take Genesis 1 as a kind of ‘manifesto’ literature that lays down the basic foundations for understanding creation, in turn providing the framework for understanding the rest of the Bible, then the teaching of humankind made in the image of God is a foundational truth valid for the whole of humanity for all time. It is a truth that certainly encompasses the kingly responsibility given to humankind in Genesis 1 to subdue the earth; the truth also has a relational aspect in reflecting human fellowship with God, and the relational implications of what it means to be made in God’s image are worked out in Genesis 2, through work, marriage and caring for the earth.
Of course with our western mindset we would like to ask the chronological question: when exactly did the ‘image of God’ start applying in human history? But the Genesis text is not interested in chronology. Neither does the Homo divinus model as presented here seek to address that particular issue, but simply accepts the fact that the whole of humankind without any exception is made in God’s image. Instead the model focuses on the event from Genesis 2:7 in which God breathes His breath into Adam so that he becomes a nepesh, a living being who can respond to God’s claim upon his life. The model is about how Adam and Eve became responsible children of God, involving a personal relationship with God, obedience to his commands, and the start of God’s new family on earth consisting of all those who would come to know him personally. Paul says that ‘I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name’ (Ephesians 3: 14–15). Families have to start somewhere, and God chose to start his new family on earth with two very ordinary individuals, saved by grace like we are, and sustained by the ‘tree of life’.
In this model the Fall then becomes the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the expressed revealed will of God, bringing spiritual death in its wake, a broken relationship between humankind and God. In an extension of this model, just as Adam is the federal head of humankind, so as Adam falls, equally humankind falls with him. Federal headship works both ways. Just as a hydrogen bomb explodes with ferocious force, scattering radiation around the world, so sin entered the world with the first deliberate disobedience to God’s commands, spreading the spiritual contamination of sin around the world. And as with the Retelling Model, the physical death of both animals and humans is seen as happening throughout evolutionary history. Both models suggest that it is spiritual death that is the consequence of sin. Genesis 3 provides a potent description of the alienation that humankind suffers as a result of sin, with a fiery barrier separating them from the Tree of Life (3:24). But under the New Covenant the way back to the tree of life is opened up through the atoning work of Christ on the cross: ‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city’ (Revelation 22:14).
Denis Alexander is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, to which he was elected a Fellow in 1998. Alexander writes, lectures, and broadcasts widely in the field of science and religion. He is a member of the International Society for Science and Religion.