Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures?
How do the Bible and science inform our understanding of Adam and Eve?
Traditional de novo view
In a common traditional view, Adam and Eve were created de novo—they were created by God as fully formed humans (Homo sapiens), roughly 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. God made them quickly and completely as fully formed humans with no biological ancestors. In this traditional de novo view, Adam and Eve are “sole progenitors”: they were the first two humans, and they alone gave rise to all other humans. 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 Homo sapiens evolved, arising about 200,000 years ago and 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 Homo sapiens individuals, 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 Christian leaders (such as Billy Graham) are open to models that see evolution as compatible with Adam and Eve as real historical people. In one version, suggested by theologian Henri Blocher and others, God entered into a special relationship with a pair of ancient historical 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 Adam and Eve are recent historical persons, living perhaps 6000 years ago in the ancient Near East rather than Africa. By this time Homo sapiens had already dispersed throughout the earth. God then revealed himself specially to a pair of farmers we know as Adam and Eve. God could have chosen them as spiritual representatives for all humanity. Genealogical science suggests that a pair living at that time and place could be part of the genealogies of all humans living today.
Other Christians, such as Alister McGrath and C.S. Lewis have suggested non-historical models. While in these models Adam and Eve are not historical in the sense people use “historical” today, the Genesis accounts convey important and inspired theological truths about God and humanity. In one view, the early chapters of Genesis are symbolic stories in the genre of other ancient Near Eastern literature. In another, the early chapters of Genesis are a compressed literary depiction of a long historical process.
Therefore, multiple views, including those outlined above, 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.
Did we help answer your question? Try these related questions for more:
If you enjoyed reading this Common Question, we recommend you check out the following:
Adam & Eve