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What Are We to Make of Adam and Eve?

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March 31, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's video features Alister McGrath. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

One of the most important questions concerning the origins of life is about Adam and Eve, suggests theologian Alister McGrath.

Are Adam and Eve real historical figures that lived 6000 years ago, or are they metaphorical representations? It is an interesting question, says McGrath, because based on one’s response, the whole theory of evolution would shift the time frames back a very long way from what many evangelicals hold as true.

There are those who would say that Adam and Eve designate specific historical figures. That makes some sense, acknowledges McGrath, but it makes even more sense to say that Adam and Eve are stereotypical figures that encapsulate the human race as a whole. They represent the vast human potential as created by God, but also the capacity for going wrong.

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of all of us—people created with the greatest of intentions and great gifts—but still with the ability to fail. The Adam and Eve story tells us that this is not accidental—this is part of what it is to be human.

The real question is: is there anything to be done about this human quandary? Science doesn’t have a huge amount to say about how we understand Adam and Eve. Yet in Romans, Paul writes that Christ is the second Adam, who offers a second chance for humanity. This is our story, we have gone wrong but there is something to be done about it. And that something is the transformation that is brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

Alister E. McGrath is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. In addition to his work at Oxford, McGrath is Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and serves as associate priest in a group of Church of England village parishes in the Cotswolds. His personal website can be accessed here.

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Roger D. McKinney - #9263

April 9th 2010

If TE is correct, then Adam and Eve never did rebel. Before humans evolved, we were animals and controlled by animal instincts. Morality didn’t exist because morality requires free will and animals don’t have a free will as far as we know. Animal behavior is determined by instincts. According to TE, one day the proto-human animal became human and on that day God said that animal behavior was no longer sufficient. Humans would have to quit obeying animal instincts and behave according to God’s laws. So humans never rebelled; once we attained self-consciousness, God changed the rules for our behavior. Evolving to a level of self-consiousness was our only “sin” but we had no choice in the matter. God planned it that way. And then God planned to have his son become one of us and save us from what? Save us from his decision that our animal behavior was no longer appropriate simply because we had attained self-consciousness? Is that the Gospel?

Roger D. McKinney - #9278

April 9th 2010

Myles: “by one man (or the human race) sin entered the world, and by one man it is taken away.”

I agree that Paul’s use of Adam does not require that Adam be one person. Paul’s point is that rebellion introduced sin into a sinless humanity and that death (physical and spiritual) death resulted. But theistic evolution tells a different story. After all, what we call sin is nothing but our acting like animals. Acting like an animal would be an appropriate “translation” of acting in the flesh instead of the spirit. Animals kill each other, but we don’t call it murder. They steal and have sex with multiple partners.  After all, killing others is nothing but our natural desire for survival. Sex is nothing but our animal desire to respond to hormones that God gave us. At some point, according to TE, God decided that our animal behavior was no longer appropriate and changed the rules of how humans should behave.

So according to TE, sin did not enter humanity; God created us with an animal nature that he later called sinful. Christ does not redeem us from a fallen nature, but corrects God’s mistake in creating us animals first.

Trevor K - #9622

April 13th 2010

The REALissue is why you choose to believe in evolution in the first place. The bible is quite clear on this issue: Exodus 20:11 addresses man’s obedience to six days of labour and in the same breath equates those exact six days with God’s creation of heaven and earth and all that in them is.
There can be no dispute, it is as clear as daylight - six literal days for man = six literal days for God. The context is pin-sharp, clear and totally unambigious.

To top it all - Moses says that GOD wrote those words himself on a tablet of stone. So believing in evolution with it’s millions/billions of years quite clearly contradicts GOD himself.

It comes down to who will you believe?
God’s word in which He gives an eye-witness account of what occurred at creation, or man’s fallible, speculation of things he had no part in?

Get the basics right, then there’s no need to worry about Adam and Eve. God said they’re real so believe God, not man.

O. Bower - #9875

April 15th 2010


You raise some interesting points, yet it’s completely and legitimately possible you are mistaken and that people have sufficient to reason to question your stance.  One could ask, “Even if God actually wrote on the stone tablets, does it mean everything He says must be literally true?”  This is the question and viewpoint I myself assume.  Your perspective basically asserts when God speaks/commands, He MUST transcend the human culture and its cognitive abilities.  You might even state that when we say God uses cultural concepts to convey truth, we somehow limit God.  I would want to reverse that statement and ask, “Ah, but isn’t your claim somehow limiting God too?”

O. Bower - #9876

April 15th 2010


Also, you appear to assume biblical inerrancy.  (This might sound redundant, but I think it’s worth restating again and again) Why MUST one assume this biblical framework?  Nothing in Scripture demands we have such a detailed inerrancy.  Now, if you fire back and claim I’m a fallen person, so how can I believe a non-inerrancy position, I’ll simply ask, “You (Trevor) are a fallen person, how can you claim you have the correct biblical framework (here inerrancy)?

If that is difficult to follow, then I apologize.  My overall point is, reality (even biblical interpretation) is NOT simple.  It’s quite complex.

Roger D. McKinney - #10055

April 16th 2010

O. Bower: “Why MUST one assume this biblical framework?  Nothing in Scripture demands we have such a detailed inerrancy.”

Pardon me for jumping into the conversation. If I may, there is an important reason for innerrancy: 1) from our distance and with out limited resources, it’s impossible to tell what is true and what isn’t. The honest thing to do is accept all or none. Anyone who claims they can slice and dice the Bible and tell which verses are true and which aren’t, like the Jesus Seminar did, is deceiving themselves and trying to decieve others. 2) God can’t lie and he is omniscient. If the Bible is God’s communication to us, then he must not have lied in it and he must have accurately portrayed events, othewise he is not omniscient or he is not honest.

O. Bower - #10067

April 16th 2010

That is blatantly false. 

Deceiving implies the person intends to lie.  Why can’t the Holy Spirit use familiar categories to convey truth without obliterating ancient ideas?  It’s obvious God used ancient cosmology to accomplish His revelation.  Look into ancient cosmology and you’ll see the Hebrews understood the earth to be flat, pillars supported the earth, a solid dome surrounded the flat area (circle of the earth), etc.  This is true outside the Genesis narratives too (other parts of the OT).  Ancient peoples all believed this.

Also, Jesus utilized the same ideas.  The last time I checked the mustard seed wasn’t the smallest seed. 

Again, people bring their own presuppositions and frameworks to the biblical text and assume they’re correct.  People have forgotten cultures, languages, etc. gradually change over time and therefore meanings alter as well.  We don’t live in a static world.

O. Bower - #10068

April 16th 2010

And finally, I find it particularly interesting how people accuse others of usurping God’s role when they claim to have a correct understanding.  The accusers do the same thing yet think they somehow escape their own criticism.  Sorry, it’s a double-edged sword. 

P.S. I think another good example pertinent to this conversation is the scientific issues surrounding Copernicus and Galileo.  Geocentrism was a biblical interpretation that the Church eventually dismissed.  Heliocentrism took its place.

Roger D. McKinney - #10318

April 19th 2010

O. Bower: “Look into ancient cosmology and you’ll see the Hebrews understood the earth to be flat, pillars supported the earth, a solid dome surrounded the flat area (circle of the earth), etc.”

No. The Hebrews understood that the earth was round. There are several passages that speak of the sphere of the earth. The passages with the pillars and dome are poetic and so should be taken poetically. To interpret history as poetry, or poetry as history is dishonest.

O. Bower: “The last time I checked the mustard seed wasn’t the smallest seed. “

That is such a cheap shot that atheists constantly repeat. But you have to interpret the saying according to the culture and the times. Did Jesus intend to make a scientific statement? Of course not. The mustard seed was considered the smallest seed according to the culture of the time and was commonly used as a symbol of very small things. Jesus was merely using a cultural idiom for his day.

You might respond that the author of Genesis did not provide an article on science, either, and I agree. It was not an article on science by a document of history.

Roger D. McKinney - #10319

April 19th 2010

O. Bower: “Geocentrism was a biblical interpretation that the Church eventually dismissed.  Heliocentrism took its place.”

And how did the Church arrive at its false interpretation of the Bible? It violated the principles of hermeneutics. History if full of false interpretations of the Bible. That’s why the principles of hermeneutics were developed. They are logic applied to interpretation. The idea was to set down some rules for interpretation that would force the interpreter to be honest and logical.

O. Bower - #10345

April 19th 2010

I’ll be bluntly honest.  I think your misreading the evidence when it comes to biblical research.  I would suggest reading John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One”, Dan Lamoureux’s “Evolutionary Creation”, and Pete Enns’s “Inspiration and Incarnation”.  They provide a great wealth of knowledge. 

Also, I find your “poetic argument” to be ill-founded.  So was Israel using poetry and other cultures weren’t?  Or, were they all aware that the pillars, dome, etc. were not literal ideas?

O. Bower - #10713

April 21st 2010


1) I’m not an atheist.  I don’t know if you implied that in your post, so I provided the information either way.

2)  If you’re so willing to allow the cultural viewpoint to determine Christ’s words, why are we barred from using this method to interpret Genesis?  You appear to pick and choose.

Mel Steffor - #20528

July 5th 2010

All of you are interpreting the story about Adam and Eve wrong.  Genesis was told to Moses who in turn wrote everything down word for word.  God is telling two stories with the words of one story.  The story about Adam and Even is about the past and the present.  What happened in the past holds true today.  You don’t see it because you don’t understand howGod talks.  Everything in this story is symbolic.  Example:

Genesis 2:17 “But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”

First Trees don’t grow knowledge of good and bad.  Books are made from trees and so is a Cross.  Books do grow knowledge.  Books also have leaves like a tree.  God is talking about a book and not a tree.  The Tree is a Book.  A Cross is also a Tree.  This book has knowledge of both good and bad.  The book is the Bible.

Mel Steffor - #20532

July 5th 2010

Next:  What is the Fruit on this Tree?  and, What is the fruit in the Bible?
When I tell you your not going to like the answer.  Your not going to like it at all.

Jesus was nailed to a Cross.  A cross is a tree.  The Tree bears Jesus.

Jesus is the fruit on the Tree.  Jesus is the fruit of the New Testament.

Mel Steffor - #20536

July 5th 2010

God says:

you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”

What does God mean by using the word “eat”.  Eat means, to take in, consume, digest.  God is saying don’t take in Jesus, it’s poison.  Don’t eat Jesus.  Now, why shouldn’t I take Jesus in?  Because the Jews are still waiting for the Messiah.  and, The New Testament was made up.  The story about Jesus was made up.  Who made up the story about Jesus?  I will tell you.

In Genesis God also tells you exactly who Satan is in verse Genesis 3:1,  If you didn’t like the above you are really not going to like finding out who Satan is.  Your not going to like being deceived.  Revelation says that everyone will be deceived by Satan.  Yes you, that means everyone except the Jews have been deceived.  I know your watching out for Satan so that you will not be deceived.  Your just wrong, we were all wrong.  After you read the following your not going to be wrong anymore.

Yes, you have been deceived because none of you knew that a Book comes from a Tree.  I mean it is so simple, but you didn’t see it.  People thought the fruit on the tree was an Apple.

Mell Steffor - #20544

July 5th 2010

In Genesis 3:1 God tells you exactly who Satan is:

3 Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that God had made.  So it began to say to the woman: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?”  2 At this the woman said to the serpent:  . . . . .

Did you see it?  God says the serpent is a wild beast.  Most of us know that a serpent is a reptile.  A beast is a mammal.  Did God get confused for a minute.  Did God have a senior moment?  No, he didn’t.  He is telling you that the serpent is really a mammal that talks.  The only mammal that can converse is MAN.  So the serpent is really a man.  We now have three people in the garden.  So the interpretation of this story is really about the future.

How do snakes deceived us?  We think the snake is a stick until it moves.  So we have a man with characterists of a stick.  We have a talking stick.  The serpent talks from the stick.

The Church speaks from the Cross

The serpent is the Church.  Satan is the Roman Catholic Church.

Mell Steffor - #20545

July 5th 2010

The Serpent says:

“Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?”

Satan knows what God said.  The Romans read the Old Testament.  The Romans know Gods words. 

In the very beginning of the Bible, God is telling you about the future.  Who else can do that?  God is telling you that Satan is going to make up a story about Jesus thousands of years before it happens. And he tells you that the Church is going to talk from the Stick before it ever happens.

Mel Stefor - #20551

July 5th 2010

Since I am running out of allowed words I will skip over parts of the interpretation and go to the end.  Adam and Eve are bare naked in the garden of Eden.

After Adam and Eve read from the Bible their eyes were opened and everything was revealed.  They realized that being naked was a sin. When God came back to the garden they hid in the bushes because they were ashamed of their Sin.  They lost their innocence.

So what is the original sin of Adam?  Was it being naked or was it because they read the New Testament and took Jesus in?

Virginia - #20552

July 5th 2010

Is that why Jesus had to die on the Cross?  Cause Adam and Eve were bare naked in the Garden reading the Bible?  Or was it because they ate from the tree? I don’t get it.

Mel Stefor - #20561

July 5th 2010

Are they metaphorical representations? Yes,theologian Alister McGrath is brilliant.  Adam and Eve are representatives of each and every one of us.  As representative of all men and women means they are in each and everyone of us but not necessarily by our DNA.

Metaphor:  a figure of speech in which a word for one idea or thing is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them.

Yes, the story about Adam and Eve is a metaphor.  I enjoyed the video greatly and watched it after my posts.  Thank you.

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