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Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person, Part 4

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January 3, 2011 Tags: Human Origins
Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person, Part 4

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

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.

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Tim - #45745

January 3rd 2011

I’m not a big Jerry Coyne fan, as he seems WAY too hostile (militantly so) toward religion.  However, over at his blog, http://www.whyevolutionistrue.com he ju,st ridicules this model, and IMO rightly so.

Essentially, his argument is that this scenario is found nowhere in scripture, being made up whole cloth by the apologist, and that the model doesn’t even attempt to work through how the rest of humanity outside the representative pair comes to be tainted by this pair’s original sin/rebellion in a just/deserving manner.

It seems like the attitude toward accepting scriptural teachings even when “you don’t yet have answers to hard questions” is being extended to this model largely made up by the apologist.  The difference, of course, is that this model isn’t scripture, but an invented scenario found nowhere in it designed to harmonize remnants of the Adam & Eve story with modern science.  So I don’t think “hard questions” of this model can be side-stepped so easily.

The bottom line for me is that this model represents such a significant departure from a historical reading of the Genesis 2-3 story (one steeped in Ancient Near East mythology), and rather than simply recognizing the obvious, that the story is myth, the apologist goes to ridiculous and speculative lengths to preserve some arbitrary historicity.

beaglelady - #45752

January 3rd 2011


I agree with you.

Jon Garvey - #45754

January 3rd 2011

@Tim - #45745

Tim, I must disagree. It’s the comparison of Genesis to ANE literture that gives this model wheels. If the early chapters of Genesis are taken as primarily functional creation accounts, then the proper sphere of its subject matter is Yahweh’s establishment of the world as his temple and his self-revelation to mankind as his worshippers. It makes Adam the first in a line of such personal revelations, through Noah, Abraham and Moses.

The Sumerian myths deal with the establishment of the city states as their respective gods’ domains, with their kings (dating creation from “the descent of kingship from heaven”) and their social order. Whether one takes Genesis as a parallel of this, a memory of a true events behind them or as a Hebrew polemic against them, the focus is on man’s spiritual relationship with God more than on cosmology as such.

I wouldn’t accept Jerry Coyne’s opinion on what constitutes divine justice, but the classic doctrine of federal headship can be applied to it, or the account viewed as having only Israel in view prior to God’s gracious extension of relationship to all mankind in Christ - or my own view, linked under the previous article, that the present race is indeed descended from Adam.

normbv - #45773

January 3rd 2011

I have to give Denis Alexander props for this article. This is the scenario that I believe is consistent with the Hebrew OT and NT understanding of Genesis and Adam. I would tend to move away from a federal head of all humanity though and apply the headship to the covenant people established first with Adam.  Adam was to be a Priest to the greater world as was Israel and I might add us as well but our Headship is found now in the second Adam Christ but only as one comes into the Kings Covenant of fellowship.

The world that rejects God is still without so the point is important to recognize that the Image of God is reserved for those in Adam as they were fully restored from spiritual separation through the curse of the Law that brought about Adam’s expulsion from the Garden. Adam as being made in God’s image is fulfilled completely only in covenant consummation of those calling on His name through Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The church should have understood these issues by proper studying but circumstances and exploitation by those in Power often overrode this Jewish understanding that has been lying dormant in most quarters for centuries. It’s prime time it came to light again.

beaglelady - #45778

January 3rd 2011

I like Denis Lamoureux’s explanation of Adam as given in his excellent book Evolutionary Creation

normbv - #45781

January 3rd 2011

beaglelady - #45778

Denis Alexanders version is more accurate to the big picture though.

Lamoureux’s explanation IMO is laced with some modern presupositions that believe the writers of Genesis were writing from a material creation viewpoint where Alexander has it written from a Jewish allegorical one. The Jews wrote extensively using allegory and trying to plug a square into a round hole like Lamoureux does ultimately gets off track. Lamoureux believes that its talking about physical death in Genesis 3 while Alexander is correct that the “death” was spiritual. This is the whole premise and interpretation of Paul concerning Adam and verifies Alexander is on the right path. I’ve heard Lamoureux from his Waco conference in 2009 and it is a poor exegesis of Romans 5 IMO and illustrates why his premise is misguided.

The problem is that the modern church doesn’t like it when its pointed out that Genesis is written with extensive allegory.  This stems from their literalist indoctrination toward scriptures.

Dick Fischer - #45797

January 3rd 2011

Hi Denis, you wrote:

The Homo divinus model ... “simply accepts the fact that the whole of humankind without any exception is made in God’s image.”

Whereas ‘adam, translated “man” in Gen. 1:27, might perhaps refer to generic mankind in general, it is also possible, perhaps likely, that the Semitic author of Genesis had in mind Adam specifically.  If we could resurrect the original author and ask him if he thought 200,000 years worth of gentiles were created in God’s image what do you think he would say? 

We might like to think that Nero, Attila the Hun, Joseph Stalin, Jack the Ripper, Saddam Hussein and persons of like repute were in God’s image, but it is not altogether clear to me that the author of Genesis intended to be so inclusive.

Whereas it could be argued either way whether the “image” extends to all mankind or is exclusive to Adam’s kind I’m not sure we could resolve it, but at the very least I think we should take a more neutral stance.

Let’s just leave the “image of God” open for discussion, by no stretch of the imagination could it be called a “fact,” and not insist that it applies to generic mankind.  Otherwise your model is pretty much the model I have argued for the past 27 years.

Veedar - #45809

January 3rd 2011

Perhaps the inherited sin is merely a lack of grace. That is, the first people God revealed himself to were given grace and became Homo Divinus. They were supposed to be God’s priests and proclaim the good news to all people. Had they followed the path, this would have led to eternal life for themselves and everyone else who would listen (tree of life). Instead the stewards rejected God, and so could not give to anybody else what they had already thrown away. The sinful nature would then be our biological nature that was supposed to be superseded by something far greater, in and of it self not evil, but less than what God had called man to be (missing the mark). And perhaps this has happened more than once. First and foremost by “Adam and Eve”, but also by Israel, God’s chosen people who were supposed to have the same role. Instead they fell and were driven out of their land by the babylonians. Finally, the God - Man was the first who could be what the others had failed to be. The second Adam, the second Israel who fulfilled everything the other chosen could not.

merv - #45815

January 3rd 2011

Veedar, that does seem to be the repeated Biblical theme.  Man screws up.  Suffers the consequences.  God rescues.  And then the ultimate rescue culminates in Christ.


Jon Garvey - #45848

January 4th 2011

@Veedar - #45809

The only weakness I can see in this account is to explain why, and at what point, man apart from Adam became *accountable* for the biological nature’s shortcomings. If Adam was given good news at some point in history, were those born in the millennia before subject to God’s judgement, depite not having Adam’s knowledge of God? And after he sinned were those who accordingly never heard the news guilty?

Paul, of course, says that sin came into the world through one man, which casts light on the failures of not only Adam, but of Israel, as you mention: he who receives much, much is expected. But how does this generalise to the whole race? How is one accountable personally for a nature inherited genetically through evolution?

Jon Garvey - #45865

January 4th 2011

In the end there seem 4 ways of handling this issue.

One can say Genesis 2-3 is myth in the sense of “speculation” on the origin of human uniqueness and sin. In that case it has nothing reliable to say, and information must be gleaned from the sciences, which don’t actually recognise such theologicalcategories. So “sin” must reduce to “selfishness” etc and “uniqueness” “abstract thought,” etc.

OR myth, but inspired by God to explain palaeolithic origins of which the writers were completely unaware. The net result is we still have to look to science to “translate” the myth into historical truth, with the same drawbacks of trying to get theology from nature.

OR a literal account, and one takes the Creationist line of interpretation, necessitating the negation of science. Nuff said.

OR (inspired) literary proto-history, using metaphor and ANE mythic convention to describe a set of specifically theological events around the time and place it indicates, which, whilst hugely important to the history of mankind, do not interact noticeably on the disciplines of human biology or anthroplogy, as in the Homo divinus view described in the post.

Those, it seems to me, are the issues Christians must deal with.

Veedar - #45872

January 4th 2011

@Jon Garvey

Short answer, I don’t really know. But I can speculate that it depends on the level of freedom that a creature enjoys, and it’s ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. More is demanded of those who have much.

I also happen to think that the image of God as a judge and man as the accused is a metaphor and as such has some very serious limitations.

When it comes to the weakness of man, Jesus said ““It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Here sin becomes a disease and the grace of God gives healing. Now, sickness is relative to proper function. Meaning that when God has intended man to share in His communicable attributes, anything less than this divine intent is sickness. And then accountability becomes less important while God’s intervention in history to heal his creatures becomes more important. At least this is how I see it. We are all sick and need a doctor. The cure being supernatural grace that can launch man on a spiritiual evolutionariy path (sanctification) towards the goal of theosis. A goal that biological evolution alone could never acheive.

Jon Garvey - #45885

January 4th 2011

@Veedar - #45872

Nevertheless it’s notable that even when Jesus uses the “sickness” metaphor he adds that he’s not calling the righteous, but sinners “to repentance”.

If disease were in itself an adequate metaphor, it would make the “judgement” metaphor unnecessary. As it is the latter outweighs it not only across the Bible, but even in Jesus’ teaching and death. (I used to be a doctor, and never felt it necessary to die in order to heal my patients!)

And if judgement and accusation are indeed metaphors, then for what do they stand?

Dick Fischer - #45897

January 4th 2011

Jon Garvey, wrote:

“… OR a literal account, and one takes the Creationist line of interpretation, necessitating the negation of science. Nuff said.”

No Jon, there is more to be said.  Creationists rely on a flawed translation and derive an even worse interpretation.  Genesis 2-3 can be considered the literal account of Adam and his downfall as the first man of the Semitic race.
I can’t say with complete assurance that no elements of myth wound up in the text but it appears to be on the whole a “CliffsNotes” glimpse of the life of one who lived in southern Mesopotamia about 7,000 years ago.  We get further glimpses in the Legend of Adapa – a story about Adam written for popular consumption.

The city Cain built, Enoch, is in the Sumerian King List and other Sumerian literature, for example.  In short, there are historical underpinnings that corroborate the Genesis story.
We don’t take any creationist version of science.  What would make you think they got anything else right?

Jon Garvey - #45904

January 4th 2011

@Dick Fischer - #45897

Hi Dick. I may not have made myself clear enough - I consider your reconstruction comes under my 4th category, ie proto-history.  The setting and time are clearly stated, the cultural level fits the time and place, the issues correlate broadly, though not derivatively, with the sumerian origin stories, there are details, as you say, with direct historic correlation, yet the protagonists names have symbolic importance and there are a number of details that sound likely to be literary or mythic devices, eg the direct creation of Adam, Eve derived from a rib, the snake being subtle and talking, blessings and judgements portrayed as trees etc.

The Creationists, au contraire, take all those elements as literal, date the earth from the story, build their entire cosmology and biology on it and wouldn’t touch the ANE stories with a barge-pole.

I put my own views in the fourth category, but would want to make it broad enough to include those who. for example, might say that Adam stands for a whole community, or that the account sits slightly looser to history than you or I would accept.

Veedar - #45918

January 4th 2011

@Jon Garvey


I think the idea of an angry God and judgement is a natural development. The world in which we live must have seemed like a hostile place at times. Terrible natural disasters, disease and death. Without any scientific understanding of the world, the logical conclusion was that such disasters were the result of God being angry for sins.

God does intend to perfect the world along with man and therefore set us free from these things. As long as we resist this, we are in fact working FOR sh*t to continue to happen and against God’s plan. Indeed, Paul says that God wants to save us from the “wrath of God”. This makes no sense unless the “wrath of God” is meant as a metaphor for all the natural and moral evils that God wants to rescue us from.

As for the sacrifice of Jesus, I do not think it had anything to do with appeasing an angry God. Rather, Jesus entire life was a sacrifice for us, culminating in the ultimate sacrifice of his own life rather than compromising with evil. By living the perfect life and dying because of the sinfulness of man who murdered him, Jesus was perfected. He was raised from the dead and his human nature was deified. He became what God intends all of us to be, the true Homo Divinus.

Veedar - #45919

January 4th 2011

@Jon Garvey


I also believe that the sacrifice on the cross is inseparable from the eucharist. Jesus human nature was deified. We identify with the slain victim by metaphorically being buried with him and in baptism and raised to a new life of grace. We eat the body and blood of the deified Jesus in the eucharist, so that we may share in his life and become transformed by cooperating with God working in us. So while God’s wrath and judgement does have it’s place as a metaphor (and can even be very useful when we are confronting terrible evils), when we are talking about the man who tries to cooperate with God, but sometimes fails due to his own natural weaknesses, I think the image of sickness and healing is far superior. I also think the overemphasis on an angry and judgmental God in western Christianity has done more harm than good.

nedbrek - #45921

January 4th 2011

Veedar, I must admit your theory is completely alien to me!

In what way was Jesus not perfect, that the Cross perfects Him?

Also, would you say death is good? (existing on day 5, prior to “Adam” - which I take is the ancestor of the Hebrews?)


Veedar - #45933

January 4th 2011


“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.“Hebrews 2:9-10

I am talking about Jesus human nature. I am sorry if this was not clear. Jesus human nature was ordinary and mortal. Through what he suffered, his humanity was made perfect and God elevated his human nature to divine glory. And we are called to share in that divine nature through grace (theosis):

“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2Peter 1:4

As for death being good, it depends on God’s intent with the creature in question.  There are degrees of goodness in the genesis account as the seventh day is “very good”, while the others are merely “good”.  As for Adam and Eve, they are not described as being immortal, or the tree of life would be pointless.

nedbrek - #45947

January 5th 2011

Veedar, thanks.

I guess I’m still not seeing how suffering makes for Jesus’ perfection.  Can anyone come to perfection through unjust persecution and suffering?

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