t f p g+ YouTube icon

Was Adam a Real Person? Part 3

Bookmark and Share

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.

< Previous post in series

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 5 of 7   « 2 3 4 5 6 7 »
Jon Garvey - #30817

September 19th 2010

@Nancy R. - #30815/6

Amen to your first paragraph!

Regarding your last paragraph, it’s of course hazardous to speculate on the what-ifs. My own speculation is that once the God-Adam-Eve-Snake order had been established, things would have been very different.

C S Lewis’s “Perelandra” takes a look at this idea in depth. Once the primal couple have resisted the blandishments of the Satan-figure, their own prohibition is no longer prohibited: the forbidden island becomes the seat of their rule over their world.

In Adam and Eve’s case, the knowledge of good and evil holds no threat if you’ve nothing to be ashamed of.

If you want a metaphor, Eve failed by obeying the animal nature (personified as snake) instead of God’s command. If she’d overcome the first time, it would have got a lot easier (that at least is true to our experience!)

Paul D. - #30862

September 19th 2010

@ Jon Garvey - #30814

> It’s a mistake to look at the OT for a doctrine of heaven and hell, because it’s mainly a New Testament doctrine, primarily taught by Jesus. “Modern” might be considered a strange word for that!

Again, Jesus was talking in terms of popular ideas of his day, I believe. Surely we don’t believe that the Greek god Hades is a real person too. But in modern (and pre-modern) times, very intricate, layered models of Heaven and Hell have been constructed and promulgated that I find have very little to do with the Bible.

Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus, the lake of fire, Abraham’s Bosom, it’s all very complicated, isn’t it? Funny that God *completely* forgot to tell the Israelites all that stuff for the 2000 years previous. Like it wasn’t even important. Or it wasn’t part of their ANE cosmology.

Jon Garvey - #30932

September 20th 2010

@Paul D. - #30862

I’m not sure where you’re coming from, Paul. You talk of non-Biblical ideas, and then quote a number of terms used in the Bible. So the Bible teaches non-Biblical ideas??

No doubt the theology of judgement develops through the Bible, and also there’s no doubt the writers adopt some of the terms used by their contemporaries. But if it’s funny that God forgot (a loaded word - “chose not to mention” would fit the bill equally) final judgement for 2000 years, then you’ll also want to dismiss the significance of Jesus on the same basis. And the place of Gentiles in God’s kingdom. And the Law of Moses, come to that, which had to wait from Adam to Moses before being mentioned…

Progressive revelation. As Paul said to some Gentiles, “In the past he overlooked such ignorance ... He has set a day when he will judge the world with justiceby the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

God reveals the judge, so he reveals the judgement. Or, if you’re correct, is covering his tracks for forgetting to mention it before…

Paul D. - #30940

September 20th 2010

@Jon Garvey - #30932

> You talk of non-Biblical ideas, and then quote a number of terms used in the Bible. So the Bible teaches non-Biblical ideas?

I mean that Christians have taken a few ambiguous references to the underworld or afterlife — often based on Greek mythology and other concepts completely absent from the OT — and constructed an elaborate framework with all kinds of zones and levels and partitions that tries to build a cohesive whole of it all, but deviates far from what that I think the Bible is trying to say. We end up with hell-centric rather than Christ-centric faith, which is natural considering the supposed horrors of this alleged place.

Let’s face it, if the NT had been written a few generations earlier, there’d be no mention of Hades or Gehenna.

> And the Law of Moses, come to that, which had to wait from Adam to Moses before being mentioned

That’s only a problem if you believe Jewish law was a requirement for all mankind.

Jon Garvey - #30958

September 20th 2010

@Paul D. - #30940

“Let’s face it, if the NT had been written a few generations earlier, there’d be no mention of Hades or Gehenna.”

Well, yes, though it would have had to be more than 600 years earlier to have missed
Jeremiah’s introduction of the Hinnom valley as a place of judgement. And, of course, Hades merely translates Sheol, which concept was well established in OT times.

But do you mean that the timing of Jesus’ coming was a matter of indifference to God? Or might he not have thought to prepare the ground through the Law and Prophets, through the failure of the Old Covenant and Exile in Babylon, through the Intertestamental developments in Jewish thought, through the feverish Messianic expectations of the nation, through the development of the Jewish diaspora, through the Pax Romana and the road system, etc?

Paul D. - #30968

September 20th 2010

@ Jon Garvey - #30958

> Hades merely translates Sheol, which concept was well established in OT times.

I’ll have to dispute you on that. From what I’ve read, Sheol is merely death, the grave, the end of one’s existence. Hades is the underworld realm of the god Hades where departed spirits (a Greek innovation) live on. Tartarus is an even lower underworld realm (belonging to the god Tartarus) where imprisoned deities go.

> But do you mean that the timing of Jesus’ coming was a matter of indifference to God?

I certainly don’t know the mind of God, but I suppose he could have sent Jesus at any time he chose, and Jesus could have spoken through the language and cultural ideas of the time and locale. Tying back into the original topic, this explains why Jesus would use Adam as an illustration when speaking to Jews even if modern science shows that no such individual probably existed.

Jon Garvey - #31077

September 20th 2010

Paul D. - #30968

Here’s an answer to your disputing!

Sheol resembles Babylonian aralu, a place of shades with its own gods. With Egypt also having an afterlife it would be strange if Israel alone believed death meant extinction.

So consider 1 Sam 28, where Saul hires a medium to raise up Samuel and to her surprise she succeeds - she would have no trade unless people believed the dead lived on.

Or Isa. 14.9-11, where the dead in Sheol are roused to greet the King of Babylon, and have a very Odyssean conversation.

The Septuagint used Hades to translate “Sheol” almost invariably, so the NT usage reflects that rather than the adoption of pagan ideas.

Tartarus is used in 2 Peter to a Gentile audience who would not understand “Gehenna”, just as our “hell” comes from the Saxons without baggage from its pagan origin. Gehenna is only used by Jesus, apart from 1 use in James, to a Jewish readership. Jesus also uses “Hades”, but it’s translated from his Aramaic, presumably indicating the equivalent of Sheol in that language.

So no paganism: just the development of final judgement, with a new place of punishment - nearly always on Jesus’ lips in the NT, to whom judgment mirrored salvation.

Chip - #31140

September 20th 2010

Sin is something we *do*, not someone we are. I sin because I make poor choices, not because anyone else makes me sin…

Yes and no.  Of course I make bonehead, self-centered, even hateful and evil choices, and harbour even worse thoughts.  But its even deeper than that.  Consider Rom 5:

12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

- The verb in the clause “because all sinned” (:12) is a greek aorist, which should be viewed as a single, collective whole, a one-point-in-time action; IOW, we sinned with Adam, not merely like Adam. 
- All Adam’s descendants were subject to death because of his (not our) sin (see 5:15—the rest fo the pp, where the “one trespass” language is repeated again and again)—even if we “did not sin by breaking a command.”

Chip - #31141

September 20th 2010

Conclusion:  Yes, we are sinners in one sense because we commit sinful acts; but there’s another sense in which Its not about what we do; its about who we are. 

Why does this matter?  Because of the parallelism between Adam & Christ.  Consider this, from I cor 15:

21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

The parallel is really quite stunning:  I obtained my old nature through no actions of my own, simply by being “in Adam;” I’m helpless to be able to do anything about this predicament.  Unless someone helps me.  And this is what X provides:  I inherit my new nature through being “in Christ.”  The former results in death; the latter, life and resurrection.

Robert Byers - #31190

September 20th 2010

Is the disbelief in Adam from Christians from anything else but the claims of men that there was no Adam?
Is this disbelief coming from a greater confidence in evolutionary etc beliefs?
Otherwise why say the word of God misspoke?
Everything in the bible comes back indeed to a origin for human kind. its not withheld from mankind our origin.
The bible does not say we evolved from primates.
It clearly says Adam was from dust and Eve from his body. No parents birthed them.
I smell theres doubt about Adam from the thread author because of his respect for men’s conclusions that there was no Adam. Then the bible is made to fit.
It don’t fit.

Gudnews - #31194

September 21st 2010

L. insists that ancient astronomy, geography, and biology are incidental to and therefore separable from the true kernel, the “inerrant theology” of Scripture. Fair enough. What about ancient history? Was Abraham any more real than Adam? David? Jeremiah? What about ancient morality? Is adultery really wrong, or just a holdover from ancient pruderies? What about ancient theology? Should we really believe in a wrathful God who judges sin? Why? And can any of us really tolerate the bloody, brutal, savage idea that sin can be atoned for by the sacrifice of a Substitute? It’s really hard not to throw the gospel out with the bathwater, once we get started here.

John VanZwieten - #31198

September 21st 2010

Robert Byers,

The author’s point is that the Bible does fit very well with the ancient views of origins of the cosmos, world, and people.

If by “it don’t fit” you mean those ancient views don’t fit with modern knowlege, then I’d agree with you.  You are, of course, free to hold fast to all those ancient views if you wish (though you might as well stick with the fixed, flat earth for consistency), but others are more interested in better understanding scripture in light of present-day knowlege.


How do you go about separating what’s incidental and what’s not?  You ask good questions; do you have any thoughts?

Barry - #31199

September 21st 2010

@Benyachov - Thank you for giving up on me. You are the space that filled a much needed gap.

Gudnews - #31221

September 21st 2010

John VanZwieten—
Nope. Sure wish I did. So I remain a YEC-er, even around here. I have not yet heard a set of distinctions that actually sorts through it all in a way that leaves the gospel in place.

Gudnews - #31222

September 21st 2010

Despite Dr. Lamoureux’s noble efforts

John VanZwieten - #31250

September 21st 2010


Fair enough.  Are you a geocentrist, flat-earther as well?  If not, how do you make distinctions that allow for ancient cosmology and geography in Genesis, but not biology?

R Hampton - #31276

September 21st 2010

Sad to say, but there are some kooks of the Catholic persuasion who cling to Geocentrism (unlike the Church itself).

First Catholic Conference on Geocentrism
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Hilton Garden Inn, South Bend, Indiana

By way of rebuttal, Answers in Genesis provides today’s ironic Creationist position:
Some creationists believe that the scientific assault on the Bible did not begin with biological evolution, but with the acceptance of the heliocentric (or more properly, geokinetic) theory centuries ago. These people believe that the Bible clearly states that the Earth does not move, and hence the only acceptable Biblical cosmology is a geocentric one. Modern geocentrists use both Biblical and scientific arguments for their case. We examine these arguments, and find them poorly founded… One geocentrist assumption is that modern relativity theory is wrong. Unfortunately, many creationists reject general relativity or at least are very suspicious of it, mainly because they misunderstand it.

Gudnews - #31322

September 22nd 2010

John VanZwieten—

No, not a geocentrist or flat-earther… still looking for how to make needed distinctions without giving away the store entirely

BenYachov - #31343

September 22nd 2010


FYI as a Thomist I loath the “god-of-the=gaps” & there is not enough four letter anglo-latin metaphors of a vulgar nature to express my contempt for that anti-Classical Theism phony fourth rate “deity” whom I wouldn’t sacrifice a maggot to offer homage.  Thought it is amusing to watch misinformed Atheist waste their ammo on it.

Just so you know.

Cheers to you.  I wish you well.

BenYachov - #31348

September 22nd 2010

additional to post #31343:

It is even more tragic to many Theists including Christians think it’s God.


Page 5 of 7   « 2 3 4 5 6 7 »