Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3
The historicity of Adam and Eve is a critically important topic in the discussion of Christianity and human origins. Although BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans (see here), science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve. Indeed, there is a wide range of Christian perspectives on this topic, several of which have been explored here on the BioLogos Forum in posts from Tom Wright (here and here), David Opderbeck, Pete Enns, Daniel Harrell, and Alister McGrath.
In the final chapter of Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008), Christian scholar Denis O. Lamoureux presents another important perspective, stating, “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” Also summarized in a slide-audio web lecture with a two page handout A and B, today's post is the last of a three-part series taken from Lamoureux's I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (2009), in which he argues forcefully against the historicity of Adam, primarily on biblical grounds.
Did the apostle Paul believe that Adam was a real person? Yes, well of course he did. Paul was a first-century AD Jew and like every Jewish person around him, he accepted the historicity of Adam. In fact, he places Adam’s sin and death alongside God’s gifts of salvation and resurrection from the dead through Jesus. In Romans 5:12 and 15, he writes that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. . . . For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and gift that came by the grace of the One Man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Paul also claims in 1 Corinthians 15:21 that “since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a Man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
It is understandable why most Christians believe that Adam was a real historical person. This is exactly what Scripture states in both the Old and New Testaments. To defend their position, these believers often offer three arguments by appealing to the apostle Paul. First, they use a conferment argument. They contend that since Paul believed in the existence of Adam, then Adam in the opening chapters of Genesis must have been a real person. In other words, the apostle’s belief in the historicity of Adam confers historical reality to Adam. Second, these Christians employ a consistency argument. They argue that since Paul refers to Jesus as a historical person in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, then it is only consistent that his references to Adam in these chapters must also be to a real individual in history. Third, believers point out that the Gospel appears in these New Testament passages. In particular, it is explicitly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1–7 and introduced by the clauses “the Gospel I [Paul] preached to you” (v. 1) and “by this Gospel you are saved” (v. 2). They contend that we can’t just pick-and-choose the Bible verses we want, such as accepting the Gospel and rejecting the existence of Adam. On the surface, these three arguments are quite reasonable. In fact, I used all of them thirty years ago when I was a fiery young earth creationist.
But let’s reconsider these popular arguments. First, the conferment argument. Many Christians argue that since Paul believed in the existence of Adam, then Adam must have been a real person. But what else did this apostle believe? In one of the most important passages in the New Testament, the wonderful Kenotic Hymn, he states that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (1) in heaven, (2) on earth, and (3) in the underworld (Philippians 2:10–11). Paul clearly accepted the 3-tier universe. But, does his belief confer reality to this understanding of the structure of the universe? And since he believed the world had three tiers, do we also have to believe it? More specifically, Paul accepted that there was a subterranean region where beings exist. Does his belief bestow reality to such a place with such individuals under the surface of the earth? And if we decide to reject the 3-tier universe in Philippians 2, but to accept Jesus as Lord, are we to be accused of being inconsistent? Or worse, of picking-and-choosing the Bible verses that we want to believe? I doubt anyone would answer “yes” to any of these five questions.
Second, the consistency argument states that since Paul refers to Jesus as a historical individual in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, then references to Adam in these chapters must also be to a real person in history. However, this common line of reasoning fails to distinguish real history (the existence of Jesus) from an ancient understanding of human origins (the de novo creation of Adam). In other words, the often-used consistency argument is in fact inconsistent! It conflates (collapses together) actual historical events of the first century AD with an ancient biology. This is similar to using the Kenotic Hymn in Philippians 2 and the historical fact that Jesus actually existed in order to argue for the existence of the 3-tier universe presented in verses 10-11; and then to extend the ancient astronomy in this New Testament passage back to Genesis 1 to claim that God actually created a world with three tiers. I am doubtful that anyone would appeal to consistency in such a way.
But let me appeal to consistency in a way that is not often heard in Christian circles. Consistency argues that since Paul accepted ancient astronomy and ancient geology, then he must also have accepted ancient biology. The static 3-tier universe was the science-of-the-day embraced by this apostle and his readers, and so too was the notion that living organisms were static (immutable) and reproduced “according to its/their kind/s”. Paul refers to this ancient biological (taxonomical) conceptualization in 1 Corinthians 15:39 by stating that “all flesh is not the same: men have one kind of flesh, animals have another [kind], birds another [kind], and fish another [kind].” Since he viewed living organisms as separately created kinds, it is only consistent that he understood the origin of life through the ancient biological notion of de novo creation. In fact, the apostle presents this ancient science of human origins in Acts 17:26 when he states, “From one man God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth.” Paul definitely believed that human life began with the quick and complete creation of Adam. In other words, he accepted the biology-of-the-day. In this light, I am doubtful that there are any Christians today who accept the ancient astronomy and ancient geology so clearly stated in Scripture, and consistency argues that neither they should accept the ancient biology in the Word of God.
Third, it is necessary to underline that Jesus and His sacrifice on the Cross are not dependent on the existence of Adam. Now, there is no doubt that Paul believed in the historical reality of both Adam and Jesus. In particular, this apostle recognized that the Gospel is based on the Lord’s existence and His physical death and resurrection from the grave. Stating concisely the Good News and its implications, Paul writes:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born...
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…. …And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins
1 Corinthians 15:1–7, 14, 17
Please Note: This is the Gospel as stated in the Bible, and there is no mention whatsoever of Adam and whether or not he existed. Christian faith is founded on Jesus, not Adam. This religion is called Christ-ianity, not Adam-ianity. Also note that this passage refers to many people who lived during a well-known point in real history (first century AD) and who had actually met the Lord (Peter, the Twelve, 500 brothers, James, Paul). This is not the case with Adam. Of course, Paul believed that Adam existed, and mentions him later in 1 Corinthians 15. But Adam’s existence is based on de novo creation, the origins science-of-the-day for Paul and his readers. Therefore, in the same way that we must separate, and not conflate, the inerrant message that Jesus is Lord from the fact that the 3-tier world presented in Philippians 2 does not exist; we must also separate, and not conflate, the historical reality of Jesus and His death and bodily resurrection from the fact that Adam never existed, because Adam’s existence is rooted in an ancient biology of human origins.
Considering these three counterarguments above, it is possible to suggest a new approach to Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 by employing the Message-Incident Principle.
The central message in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 is this: we are sinners and God judges us for our sins; but the Good News of the Gospel is that we are offered the hope of eternal life through the sacrificial death of Jesus and His physical (bodily) resurrection from the dead. In order to deliver as effectively as possible inerrant spiritual Truths about human sinfulness and the divine judgment of sin, the Holy Spirit accommodated to Paul’s level by employing an incidental ancient biological notion from the early chapters of Genesis—the de novo creation of Adam. To be sure, this is a very challenging and counterintuitive way to read Scripture. Nevertheless, we must not conflate, but instead separate the inerrant, life-changing Messages of Faith from their incidental ancient vessel in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. These passages in the Word of God do not reveal how God actually made humans, but that He created us; and that we are sinners in need of a Savior, whom the Lord has graciously sent to die on the Cross for us—the latter is The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen!
Denis Lamoureux is the associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. He holds a PhD in evangelical theology and a PhD in evolutionary biology. Lamoureux is the author of the books Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008) and I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution (2009). More on his work can be found here.