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Were Adam and Eve historical figures?

At BioLogos, we are passionately committed to taking the Bible seriously and to seeking a scientific understanding of God’s creation. How do the Bible and science inform our understanding of Adam and Eve?

Traditional de novo view

In one traditional view, Adam and Eve were created de novo—they were created by God as fully formed humans with no ancestors. God made them quickly and completely as fully formed humans with no biological ancestors. Advocates of this view also typically maintain that all humans who have ever lived are direct descendants of this original pair. The Genesis account is taken to be a record of real events similar to the way a journalist would record them today.

However, some features in the biblical text suggest that there are other layers of meaning that this traditional view does not account for. Genesis 4 refers to other people (in cities, Cain’s wife) who do not seem to be descended from Adam and Eve. And some elements of Genesis 2-3 indicate that at least on some level, the text is describing Adam and Eve as archetypal figures—statements about all of us.

When multiple interpretations of Scripture are possible, the church can benefit from considering what God has revealed in the natural world, because a proper interpretation of Scripture will not conflict with what we find there. At BioLogos, we are persuaded by the scientific evidence that human beings evolved, sharing common ancestors with all other life on earth. Furthermore, it increasingly appears that the genetic diversity among humans today could not have come from just two individuals in the past, but a population of thousands.

Traditional interpretations of Scripture should not be lightly dismissed, but neither is it responsible to ignore or dismiss the results of scientific inquiry simply because they conflict with traditional interpretations.

Other Options for Understanding Adam and Eve

There are several options open to those who desire to remain faithful to Scripture and take science seriously. Some Christians, such as Alister McGrath and C.S. Lewis have suggested a non-historical model. In this view, the early chapters of Genesis are symbolic stories in the genre of other ancient Near Eastern literature. In this view, Adam and Eve were not historical figures at all, and the early chapters of Genesis are symbolic stories in the genre of other ancient Near Eastern literature. They convey important and inspired theological truths about God and humanity, but they are not historical in the sense people today use the word.

Other Christian leaders (such as Billy Graham and Tim Keller) are open to models that see evolution as compatible with Adam and Eve as real historical people. In one version, John Stott suggests that God entered into a special relationship with a pair of ancient representatives of humanity about 200,000 years ago in Africa. Genesis retells this historical event using cultural terms that the Hebrews in the ancient Near East could understand.

In another version (defended by Denis Alexander) Adam and Eve are recent representatives, living perhaps 6000 years ago in the ancient Near East rather than Africa. By this time humans had already dispersed throughout the earth. God then revealed himself specially to a pair of farmers we know as Adam and Eve—real people whom God chose as spiritual "recent representatives" for all humanity.

While the de novo creation of Adam and Eve is not compatible with what scientists have found in God’s creation, the other views outlined here are consistent with both sound biblical interpretation and current scientific evidence. Of course there is further theological work to be done on this and other important doctrines such as original sin. BioLogos is actively promoting dialogue and scholarship on this issue. While Christians may disagree about how and when God created the first humans, we can all agree that God made humanity in his image, all people have sinned, and that salvation is found in Christ alone.

Learn more

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Blog series: Interpreting Adam

By Deborah Haarsma and Jim Stump; featuring C. John Collins, Denis Lamoureux, and John Walton
In December 2013, Zondervan published the anthology Four Views on the Historical Adam, featuring the perspectives of four prominent Evangelical scholars. This series features in-depth interviews with three of these scholars about their views on Adam, as well as the broader implications for all of Christian theology.
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Video: Adam and Eve with N.T. Wright

Bishop of Durham and leading New Testament scholar N.T. Wright offers his thoughts on how we should read the first two chapters of Genesis, and why myth does not mean the same thing as “not true”.
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Blog series: Genetics, Theology, and Adam as a Historical Person

By Denis Alexander
Denis Alexander begins this five part series by discussing both what a model is and whether it is appropriate to use one when building a bridge between scientific truths and theological truths. Providing evolutionary facts about the origins of humans as well as discussing the origin and meaning of Adam in Genesis, he constructs what he calls a Retelling model and a Homo divinus model. Both approaches, he concludes, “suggest that human evolution per se is irrelevant to the theological understanding of humankind made in the image of God.”
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Blog article: Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Part 4

By Tim Keller
"One of my favorite Christian writers, C.S.Lewis, did not believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and I do not question the reality or soundness of his personal faith. But my concern is for the church corporately and for its growth and vitality over time. Will the loss of a belief in the historical fall weaken some of our historical, doctrinal commitments at certain crucial points?"
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Blog series: The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ

By Daniel Kirk
In this series, Daniel Kirk looks at Paul’s theological arguments concerning Jesus Christ in Romans and 1 Corinthians 15, exploring to what extent Paul’s statements rest on the historicity of Adam and Eve. He first explains how Old Testament stories relate Israel’s history to the purposes of God in the world. After looking at the Old and New texts, he concludes that Paul is interpreting the Adam narrative in light of Christ and not vice versa. As Kirk finishes his discussion, he scrutinizes Paul’s claims in 1 Corinthians as he searches for their underlying purposes.
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Blog article: Adam is Israel

By Pete Enns
It helps us look at the Adam story from an angle that might be new to some readers here: Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity.
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Blog series: Was Adam a Real Person?

By Denis Lamoureux
In this three part series, Denis O. Lamoureux explores the historicity of the creation account and of Adam. Lamoureux first unpacks ancient near east scientific views, and then argues that the theological meanings of Genesis 1-2 and Romans 5 have deep spiritual significances beyond the question of whether the events in those texts transpired as described.
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Blog article: NT Wright and the Historical Adam: Reviewing “Surprised by Scripture” (Part 2)

By Jim Stump
What does NT Wright have to say about the historical Adam? In this chapter of his new book he homes in on the two drivers for people to believe in a historical Adam: biblical authority and Adam’s role in our understanding of salvation.
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Blog article: What Are We to Make of Adam and Eve?

By Alister McGrath
There are those who would say that Adam and Eve designate specific historical figures. That makes some sense, acknowledges theologian Alister McGrath, but it makes even more sense to say that Adam and Eve are figures that encapsulate the human race as a whole.
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Blog article: Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?

By Daniel Harrell
Adam and Eve are often seen as polarizing figures based on our answer to the following question: Do we understand the Bible’s first couple as literal people or literary figures?
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Blog series: Evolution and Original Sin by Robin Collins

By Ted Davis and Robin Collins

Several recent books from evangelical scholars explore a range of views on Adam and Eve.

(Note: these books cover a wide range of perspectives. Presence on this list does not denote an endorsement from BioLogos.)