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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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Chip - #30671

September 18th 2010

Here’s a question. Where does Paul himself ever insist that all his own words are divinely inspired by God and thus inerrant and infallible?

Paul on himself: (I cor 14)

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.

Peter on Paul (II pe 3)

...just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures…

beaglelady - #30674

September 18th 2010

Nancy R,

Good point!

Jon Garvey - #30682

September 18th 2010

@Nancy R. - #30666

Yes, but WHY do we all sin against him?

conrad - #30696

September 18th 2010

Conflicts with science cause many to lose faith.

But really there are virtually no conflicts with science.
Where people are generating false conflicts I try to show concordance instead.

Jesus said the “enemy” sowed tares among the wheat.
I think that is how sin entered the world.

The devil introduced it.
Christ will sort the wheat from the tares.

Unnecessary conflicts with science are damaging and prevent some people from being saved.
There would be fewer of those,[I say none] if people worked at concordance with REAL SCIENCE,... NOT JUNK SCIENCE.

When someone takes the view that embracing junk science demonstrates their greater faith they throw up obstacles for other people’s faith.
Do as much concordance as you possibly can.


Don’t just say “I believe in 24 hour days of creation.” when time is relative and the sun’s light did not strike the earth until day 4,


conrad - #30699

September 18th 2010

Hey Roj,
  Did you go to Youtube and watch “The Journey of Man” with Spencer Wells as downloaded from National Geographic.

There is another one produced by the BBC that is just as good. Actually Adam, or some modern human left “Eden” [Africa] only 60,000 years ago.

There may not have been a “bottleneck” [a large population that becomes smaller and then re-expands to a large population again]  BUT THERE WAS DEFINITELY A VERY TINY POPULATION OF HUMANS ONLY 60,000 YEARS AGO.




Hey Beagle Lady, what do you think about this.
The last time you chimed in you were negative on concordance.

Have I budged you off of that position with my many excellent posts?

conrad - #30701

September 18th 2010

Nancy I think the 6000 year old Adam if off by one decimal. [It should be 60,000]
But prior to him there were no people living in Peru.
Spencer Wells will tell you that.

These dates can be wrong.
  The genealogy is vague particularly on the point of whether a given ancestor’s name identifies him or the family [tribe] bearing his name.

BUT THE STORY LINE .....THE PLOT….. IS IDENTICAL ,..... AND SINCE IT IS SUCH A BIZARRE STORY…........ [all humans arose form one family a very short time ago and populated the globe],........ ISN’T THE CONCORDANCE MORE IMPRESSIVE THAN THE AREA OF SUPPOSED CONFLICT?

sy - #30719

September 18th 2010

Conrad has it right. There were hominids living in Africa and Europe 100,000 years ago, but… they didnt speak much, they didnt have any art work or decorations, they didnt do rutual burials, their tools were elementary and not standardized, they didnt know how to fish, they didnt engage in trade of long distance travel. They likely didnt play music, sing or tell jokes. They were NOT human.

And then Toba erupted about 70,000 years ago, and the popultions of these hominids almost went extinct. Estimates of total population size have been as low as 1000 to 2000.

Then in Africa, where Homo Sapiens were living, there was an abrupt and unexplained revolution. It is called the Upper Paleolithic Revolution or the Great Leap Forward by Jared Diamond. Very suddenly Homo Sapiens began doing all of those things that their grandparents didnt do. They spread out of Africa, talking, singing, laughing, loving, fishing, painting, worshipping and praising the Lord. The Beanderthals in Europe, who still couldnt do any of these things went extinct , and here we are, masters of the world.

And yet, we are faced with evil, we must earn our bread by the sweat of our brows. We are the children of Adam, the first true man.

sy - #30720

September 18th 2010

Sorry, Beanderthal = Neanderthal

Barry - #30721

September 18th 2010

It’s a real puzzle why a “sophisticated theologian (sic)” like Lamoureux would waste so much time and energy reaching a conclusion that scientific evidence has already emphatically determined. We don’t need “interpretations” of scripture. We don’t even need philosophy. We have the genetic basis of homo sapien. We know there wasn’t a “first man” and we know there wasn’t a “first woman”.  No amount of tortured theology can change that fact.

All Lamoureux has done is disprove Genesis with very bad reasoning when a perfectly accurate scientific explanation provides such a good one.

Do you spend every day wasting time like this?

conrad - #30722

September 18th 2010


But it proved to be a curse.
They constantly had to make new improvements and outsmart the competition, from then on.
We are still caught in that curse today.
We invented the internal combustion engine and now we have to dispose of the co2.

If we had not “eaten from the tree of knowledge” we wouldn’t have excess co2,.... or clothes.

But thanks for the basic confirmation of the facts I presented.

They are lying there unused.


conrad - #30723

September 18th 2010

Barry google up the human genome project.

conrad - #30724

September 18th 2010

The Adam story corresponds to the Upper Paleolithic Revolution.



Nancy R. - #30729

September 18th 2010

@Jon Garvey #30682 - Being made in God’s image necessitates that we are capable of moral understanding, and that we possess free will. We sin because God allowed us freedom to do so. Being evolved from lesser creatures, we are driven by animal needs and desires. But we are different from animals in that we have an awareness of God. We were indeed made “a little lower than the heavenly creatures.”

Jonathan - #30734

September 18th 2010


All I was referring to was a point in time when things went from ‘good’ to ‘not good.’ May we assume that there was ever a point in time when humanity, God, and nature all enjoyed existence with one another as it was meant to be enjoyed? Even if you take a mythological view of Genesis 1-3 this seems to be the case. At some point the relationships were marred. I’m wondering if its important for us to understand that historical event or if we can just say, “Hey, it happened somehow and this is the world we live in.”

Nancy R.

I see your point that Adam may simply be the archetype for all humanity (his name does simply mean ‘man’ or ‘humanity’), but if his story is our story, doesn’t that change how we think of the doctrine of original sin? Are people born morally neutral and remain so until they have their ‘forbidden fruit’ experience? Must we then adopt the idea that humans all technically have the potential for sinless communion with God but unfortunately no one does because every single person abuses their freewill? Is there any validity to the idea that sin (not particular sins) is passed down from parents to their offspring?

Jonathan - #30735

September 18th 2010


These are just some of the questions I see coming up if we adopt the archetype position. I’m more than willing to adopt a different theology of sin that fits nicely with the archetype position, but I’d need to see a biblical hamartiology that can legitimately explain it. One aspect of sin that doesn’t get mentioned often is its pollutive quality and I think we could explore how something like this might fit in with the reality that every human being is sinful. Maybe universal sin isn’t just culpability for willful acts of disobedience, but that creation itself is permanently polluted and unclean from the sin of humanity. We, being apart of creation, might simply be born unclean and impure before God without needing to do anything willfully defiant.

I don’t know, these are just things swimming around in my head, any thoughts on how our doctrine of sin could remain biblical but yet align itself with the archetype position?

Benyachov - #30761

September 18th 2010

@Paul D

>Because Paul never had a personal experience with Adam or personal knowledge of him.

I reply: But God the Holy Spirit would have & as such was clearly revealing it threw Paul.  Jesus spoke of Adam as well.  He was Fully God & Fully Man thus by definition he would have known and could not have been mistaken.

>Perhaps it depends what you mean by “real Adam”. Genetic studies show the existence of a single male human progenitor a scant 6000 years ago to to be a virtual impossibility.

I reply:  I don’t hold to YEC thus it’s not a meaningful objection to me.  Also I don’t believe a biological monogenetic origin for humankind is needed to believe in a real Adam.  We can have a biological Polygenism mixed with a theological metaphysical monogenism. There is no reason why we can’t believe Adam’s ofspring mated with the unsouled hominids who where their genetic contemporaries. 

Like Catholic physicists Dr. Stephen Barr & the Late Fr. Jaki I tend to reject CONCORDANCE.  But that having been said much of what Conrad says seems plausible.

Benyachov - #30763

September 18th 2010


>We don’t even need philosophy.

I reply: We always need philosophy.  To deny we do is itself a non-scientific philosophical view that is clearly incoherant & refutes itself by it’s own standards.  As Daniel Dennitt said Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science, there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 1995, p.21. I agree with him for once.

Benyachov - #30765

September 18th 2010

@Barry continued.

>We have the genetic basis of homo sapien. We know there wasn’t a “first man” and we know there wasn’t a “first woman”.  No amount of tortured theology can change that fact.

I reply: Your unstated philosophical baggage here is materialism & genetic reductionism.  You are assuming humans are material beings only, & they must solely be defined genetically.  Which is fine, you believe that, but that is not a scientific view it’s philosophical. Christians define humans metaphysically as composites of matter & spirit and I’m afraid no amount of genetic testing is going to show when our ancestors made the meta jump from human to animal.  Plus belief in Adam doesn’t require biological monogenism.  If you wish to doubt belief in Adam via your materialism & genetic reductionism that’s fine but assuming it A priori as a basis for a critique of belief in Adam begs the question.  You have to make a convincing philosophical case for reductionist materialism first you can’t just assume it & expect us non-materialists to just go alone with it on blind faith.  Of course if you could do that you wouldn’t need to appeal to science since philosophy alone would eliminate a Christian concept of Adam.

Benyachov - #30767

September 18th 2010

>In order to believe in both a historical Adam and human evolution, you end up contorting the meaning of the text so much that God’s clear message becomes obscured.

I reply: That does not logically follow & it’s based on a false either/or fallacy(ie. We either interpret Genesis literalistically & believe in a literal Adam or we interpret Genesis figuratively and deny Adam existed).  What about believing Genesis uses figurative language to tell a story of a primal event of the fall of the first true man?  On a sectarian note your criticism is only meaningful to believers in the Perspecuity of Scripture(Protestants).  Catholics(myself), Eastern & Oriental Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews start from the presuposition Scripture is kind of obscure in parts & thus requres Tradition (2 Thes 2:15) & Church(1 Tim 3:15) to interpret the obscure text.  OTOH hand if I was a Protestant I might simply conclude your criticism only works with a hard perspecuity.  A more moderate or soft perspecuity might leave room for some scriptural obscurity in “non-essentals”.

Thus I still don’t see if one accepts both the Bible & Evolution any Scriptural, philosophical, rgenetic, or scientific reason to deny the existence of a real Adam.

Benyachov - #30769

September 18th 2010

At this point I have bitten off more than I can chew (responding to multiple people) so I most likely won’t respond to everybody(unless I find the challenge to interesting to resist).

But my conclusion here is there is no good reason to reject a real Adam if you accept Evolution & Genesis and the claim that one must is nothing more that an ad hoc fundamentalist liberal Christian dogmatic assertion.

If I rejected the existence of God tommorow naturally I would doubt the existence of Adam but I would still find the arguments here insisting he could not have existed to be insuficient and flawed.

I hope this is food for thought.

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