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Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3

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September 17, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3

Today's entry was written by Denis Lamoureux. You can read more about what we believe here.

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.

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MF - #30524

September 17th 2010

Oy! Does anyone else feel a vibe of condescension when in these posts the author defines or gives etymology for ordinary words, e.g., “conflates (collapses together) ” or “retroject (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw)”? Moreover, how can a word like “phenomenological” go undefined if these other words are presumed to be unknown by much of the audience?

“Conflate” needs no definition. If the author thinks it too obscure, he should choose a different word or phrase (perhaps “collapses together”?). “Retroject” is less common, but it could be replaced, rephrased, or clarified inline in a multitude of ways (e.g., replaced with “cast back”, or clarified as in “It was reasonable for them to retroject or assume the continuity of their day-to-day experiences back to the beginning of creation…”).

It hurts the argument because it makes it seem as if the author’s intended audience is a bunch of ignoramuses with low vocabularies.

John VanZwieten - #30527

September 17th 2010

Can’t say I feel condescended to.  He uses “conflate” 4 times just in this part of the post, and it’s a key idea, so making the meaning clear seems ok to me.

Paul D. - #30536

September 17th 2010

“… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried on the third day according to the Scriptures…”

That part of Corinthians confuses me. No scripture in existence when Paul was writing that said Christ died for our sins, or that he was buried on the third day. (As far as I can tell.)

Sorry if that’s off-topic.

John VanZwieten - #30545

September 17th 2010

There is a typo in the I Cor quotation.  V. 4 should read: that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

Paul D.,

Perhaps Paul had in mind Isaiah 53 for the “died for our sins” part, and the sign of Jonah for the “raised on the third day” part?

conrad - #30548

September 17th 2010

I will put his bald statement that Adam never existed right along side of Hawking’s statement that there is no God.

They are both W.E.G.s.    [Wild eyed guesses.]

conrad - #30550

September 17th 2010

Also I don’t think Genesis describes a world with three tiers.
It describes cosmic inflation pretty well.
And it describes the anisotropy pretty well.

The tin-roofed chicken coop that some people visualize when they read Genesis does not pop up in my mind when I read those verses.

conrad - #30551

September 17th 2010

Richard Dawkins, [that jerk] has good lecture on Ted.com and Hawking goes over the same territory.
Reality is what your mind creates when your brain receives information from the outside world.

The signals from the outside world cause you to build a mental reality.
But those signals may arise from something different than what your mind constructs.
I just don’t see Genesis describing a three tiered universe.

My mind builds a different reality from those verses.

Cal - #30557

September 17th 2010

I agree Conrad:

I also find problem in trying to read into Paul’s thoughts that there really was a “subterranean”, literal, abode of the dead right underneath the ground.

From the beginning to the Bible to the end, it consistently uses language about death but the interesting thing about it is that it is different enough to evoke the concept to the reader that it is all metaphorical.

We have:
“swallowed up by the earth”
“return to the dust”
“going to the grave”
“Being near Abraham’s Bosom”

The interesting thing about the Bible is that it never gives a firm description of what lies afterdeath (unlike concrete images ala Islam) but is always metaphorical about these concepts.

rjfaeh - #30569

September 17th 2010

I’m curious, do you all believe the author of Romans (Paul) was inspired, or that the text was inspired?
I say, the text, meaning God inspired the text directly, and Paul was just the instrument. For example if I were to take a pen and scribble on piece of paper, I inspired the scribbling, the pen is merely the instrument. If this is the case then you are accusing God of not understanding the origins of the universe/Adam. Pretty dangerous ground boys.

Chip - #30574

September 17th 2010

Consider for a minute the Phil 2 passage that constitutes the keystone of Lamoureux’s argument: “Every knee will bow () and every tongue confess that Jesus X is Lord”  Inside the parentheses, there is the following clause:  “those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” 

In context, what’s the point of this parenthetical? Is it, 1)to provide a science lesson in 3-tier cosmology to Paul’s readers, as Lamoureux asserts, or 2) to emphasize that no one anywhere will be exempted from a recognition and acceptance of the supremacy of X?

Consider also the similar text in Eph 1:10:  “…the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth…”  In this case, is Paul emphasizing:  1) his view in a 2-tiered universe, or 2) his view that all things everywhere will be summed up in X? 

Or asked another way, are the passages parallel, emphasizing the overarching supremacy of X; or are they in conflict, since the “science” they represent is contradictory—Paul, for all his inspiration,  doesn’t seem to be clear on how many “tiers” the universe has…

Chip - #30575

September 17th 2010


In the end, I find it quite ironic that Lamoureux’s interpretation stands up only if the biblical language is read as if it is a science text, and if it is read literalistically—the two things that Biologos interpreters consistently say should not be done. 

This in a post that emphasizes the importance of consistency.

Jon Garvey - #30576

September 17th 2010

@rjfaeh - #30569

No, I doubt anyone posting here accepts your definition of inspiration - that’s more a Muslim concept.

The strongest view of inspiration you’re likely to find here would be (to quote from Wikipedia): “Evangelicals see the Bible as a truly human product whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors’ works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style. This divine involvement, they say, allowed the biblical writer to reveal God’s own message to the immediate recipients of the writings and to those who would come later, communicating God’s message without corrupting it. “

But even if one accepted your definition, the blog specifically speaks of God’s accommodating his truth to Paul’s human understanding, which is nothing to do with any ignorance on his own part.

So I think the ground is unlikely to give way just at the moment, thanks.

Jon Garvey - #30578

September 17th 2010

@Chip - #30574

To be fair, I don’t think he’s suggesting Paul is teaching a 3-tier system, but assuming it. It’s Sheol, the abode of the dead, that is surely alluded to here - even the dead will acknowledge Christ. Though he might also have in mind the Abyss, the prison of demons, as per Revelation.

One could argue that he simply means “those buried under the earth”, but you’d have to ask if that’s a natural mode of expression for the time (or even now).

But given the undoubted belief at the time both in Jewish and pagan circles that Hades/Sheol was subterranean, it would be misleading of Paul to mean simply “everywhere” with no reference to these ideas.

John VanZwieten - #30586

September 17th 2010


The Greek words used in Phil 2 in the parenthesis refer not to the places themselves, but to the beings or “powers” which reside in those places, so the parenthesis would read (of the beings residing in heaven, of the beings residing on the earth, and the beings residing in the underworld).  The third Greek word is “katachthonion,” which Homer used in calling Hades the “Zeus katachthonios” or “Zeus of the underworld.”  So it really is different from saying “everywhere.”

All the same, as you point out, Paul’s purpose is not to teach about the cosmos, but to drive home the point that because of what God has done in Christ, every single being no matter where they reside ought to bow before Christ to God’s glory.  In doing so he simply picks up on his readers’ understanding of the cosmos.

nedbrek - #30587

September 17th 2010

Is the author suggesting Heaven and Hell are not real places, now?

Chris Massey - #30588

September 17th 2010


Are you suggesting that hell is a place located under the surface of the earth?

If not, then denying the existence of a subterranean world says nothing about the reality or non-reality of heaven or hell.

nedbrek - #30591

September 17th 2010

I don’t know where Hell is.  But ancient people referred to it as the Underworld.  Some believed it was physically located under the earth.

John VanZwieten - #30593

September 17th 2010


Do you know which ancient peoples believed it was physically located under the earth?

nedbrek - #30595

September 17th 2010

I know the Greeks did.  How is it relevant?  It could be physically located in the Earth’s core.  It is very hot there…

John VanZwieten - #30598

September 17th 2010


I think you are confusing the Underworld (Sheol, Hades) with the lake of fire (Gehenna, Hell).

And are you really saying you believe you could dig a hole and reach hell?  If you fly high enough, do you think (like the builders of Babel) that you could reach heaven?

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