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Reformation21 reprints an essay by Michael Reeves (Theological Adviser for UCCF in the UK) on “Adam and Eve,” from the forthcoming book Should Christians Embrace Evolution? edited by Norman Nevin (IVP-UK, P&R). In particular Dr. Reeves takes on Denis Alexander’s proposed “third way” of understanding Adam and evolution.

Here’s the conclusion:

When theological doctrines are detached from historical moorings, they are always easier to harmonize with other data and ideologies. And, of course, there are a good many doctrines that are not directly historical by nature. However, it has been my contention that the identity of Adam and his role as the physical progenitor of the human race are not such free or detachable doctrines. The historical reality of Adam is an essential means of preserving a Christian account of sin and evil, a Christian under-standing of God, and the rationale for the incarnation, cross and resurrection. His physical fatherhood of all humankind preserves God’s justice in condemning us in Adam (and, by inference, God’s justice in redeeming us in Christ) as well as safeguarding the logic of the incarnation. Neither belief can be reinterpreted without the most severe consequences.

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21 thoughts on “Believing in Adam and Eve”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “Neither belief can be reinterpreted without the most severe consequences.”

    Dr. Reeves is utterly correct.

    Do Enns, Tremper Longman III, and other theistic evolutionists understand the severe negative consequences of what they’re embracing?

    1. pduggie says:

      good question. I wish, in fact, that Enns, Longman, etc, would be more explicit about how the doctrines of Christianity need to change if it is true that Adam as presented in Genesis 2-3 is mythical.

  2. dave bish says:

    You can’t beat a good bit of Mike Reeves!

  3. AerodynamicPenguin says:

    Roy Clouser does have an interesting article wherein he proposes both theistic evolution AND a historical Adam and Eve. It’s about the sixth article down on this page:

    It’s at least interesting to consider his proposal. When things of this nature are discussed, I can never get away from thinking about Galileo, and how terribly wrong the institutional church dealt with him and the idea of a heliocentric universe. I think we need to take Adam and Eve’s historicity seriously, but on the other hand I’m very cautious about being fundamentalistic (is that a word?) about scientific matters, lest we go the way of the medieval church’s response to Galileo.

  4. Food for thought from “Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin” by George Murphy (

    “It is not clear that the writer of Genesis 2–3 thought of “the man” and “the woman” as historical persons. The point in Genesis at which ’adham becomes a proper name, “Adam,” is debated. Adam as the first man is listed in genealogies (Gen. 5:1–5 and 1 Chron. 1:1) and may be referred to in Hos. 6:7. But the fact that Adam is never mentioned in the Old Testament’s recitations of God’s acts in history suggests that Israel in that period did not see him as a historical figure. By the time of Christ, however, Jews were understanding Adam and Eve as historical and their sin as the cause of later human misery. Paul’s statements about Adam are to be read in that context… On one hand, the fact that Judaism of the time, and Paul himself, thought of Adam as a historical figure does not mean that we must. We have a similar situation in Genesis. It speaks of the sky as a “dome”… As Seely has argued [23], citing Calvin, there is accommodation to cultural context in such matters which are inessential to the text’s theological message. This can be seen as condescension by the Holy Spirit who inspired the biblical writers, a type of divine self-limitation which a theology of the cross leads us to expect…In Rom. 5:12–21, Paul’s purpose is to state the importance of Christ for the human problems of sin and death, not to give information about the early history of humanity.”

    I think there may well have been a “historical Adam” but, following Murphy’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s theologically essential. That is, it seems likely that sin entered the world at one distinct event in history and through one particular person, but I am really hesitant to say the rationale for the incarnation, cross, and resurrection hangs on this point. Sin entered the world at some point in history, and regardless of how that happened, sin had to be remedied, and that was accomplished through the historical event of the cross.

    George Murphy does a really good job (both in the above article and in other writings) of bringing together faith and science in a way that puts the cross of Christ at the center and foundation – I highly recommend him.

  5. Kris Shaffer says:

    AerodynamicPenguin and Elliot, thanks for sharing those links. Definitely sound helpful. And I agree with being wary of repeating the mistake the church made with Galileo.

    I actually just wrote about theistic evolution and original sin on my blog last week ( I totally agree with Reeves and others that claim that the historicity of Adam is essential to Reformed Christianity. I also think it’s consistent with evolution and natural selection.

    However, I don’t agree that Adam necessarily has to be the progenitor of all he represented in the Covenant of Works. I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but Reeves’s argument on that point carried a lot of assumptions into Scripture that I don’t share, nor do I see being Scripturally necessary.

    John Stott’s Romans commentary has some helpful stuff on these issues in his chapter on Romans 5.

  6. Grace to You has been having a series on creation and evolution with a significant amount of debate in the comments. Anyone interesting in further reading should check it out:

    1. Garrett League says:

      Significant debate? Nah, just friendly conversation :) Hey Gabriel! Looks like we read the same blogs. Was it you that linked this Ref21 article over at gty? Anyways, this book looks like a good one, though I think I’d have to read Dennis Alexander’s 1st (it was endorsed by J.I. Packer of all people!) since I hear this book functions as a response to some of his arguments. I still think your contention that evolution is “philosophically driven atheistic interpretation of evidence” is precisely was Dawkins, Coyne, et al. want you to believe, but even humanists like Michael Shermer (I saw him debate Hovind at UCI!)and Eugenie Scott admit that evolution is strictly agnostic. I think Elliot Nelson here makes a good point. And you need not accept evolution to make it. You need to distinguish between methodological and philosophical naturalism friend! Plus, even if it were some purely “atheistic” interpretation (“that’s just your interpretation!” is that how we treat the bible?), the question we should be asking is, “Does it happen to be true?” If it is, I frankly could care less how some materialists distort it, if it’s true then it’s God’s truth. Sort of like when people call Darwin a misogynistic Nazi; even if it’s true, what has that got to do with the scientific validity of his theory? That’s the bottom line for me. Is it true? I think all evidence says yes, and in a multitude of ways. You may disagree, but don’t just write it off as atheism. Distinguish between evolution and evolutionism, science and scientism. It’s just the fair thing to do.

  7. The difference between Galileo and evolution is that evolution is a philosophically driven atheistic interpretation of evidence that cannot be proven by means of the scientific method due to the nature of the theory (unobservable and unrepeatable).

    I won’t be checking back here, but see the Grace to You blog for more posts and debate on the issue.

    1. You can let the evidence lead you into a naturalistic philosophy but it would be better not to call that evolution but rather “evolutionary naturalism” or something like that – C. S. Lewis wrote about this somewhere I think. Some thoughts on my blog here:
      I don’t think one needs to be “philosophically driven” in order to find evolution compelling as a scientific theory.

  8. One last thing. So much weight is placed on the proper noun Adam which is also a noun for man. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone who denies the historicity of Adam on that basis explain where Eve fits into that equation.

  9. Daniel H. says:

    Adam was a real guy. But I found his argument about the theological necessity of Adam fathering the whole human race not entirely convincing. He says,

    “However, by divorcing Adam’s federal headship from his natural, physical headship, Alexander runs into what are now familiar problems. The first is that, once again, God is making theological affirmations that have no ontological basis. Adam is being declared to be something (the head of humanity) that he is, in physical reality, not. As a result, God’s imputation of sin to the unsuspecting Australian aborigines just looks arbitrary. There is here no basis for a connection between Adam and the Homo sapiens at the other end of the earth from him, and so God’s declaration that they should share the guilt of Adam rests on nothing other than divine whim.”

    Isn’t it rather the case that “ontological reality” is created precisely by God’s word? If God declares someone to be the head of something, that person is the head of that thing because God said so, and that’s the most important ontological basis one could ask for. God’s word is what creates. Abraham is the father of the faithful, but not all the faithful are Jews. Abraham is still their father. Christ is the head of his people but had NO physical offspring. So we can’t automatically assume that Adam’s headship means everyone needs to be descended from him. Reeves tries to answer this by saying, “Instead, by the Spirit, a real, ontological union is established with Christ and the believer is incorporated into Christ’s body”. That is true, of course, but I’m not finding it convincing for the point Reeves is making. All it proves is that headship can be constituted by other than physical means. Besides, isn’t it the orthodox Calvinistic view that the elect were in Christ by covenantal union BEFORE they ever received the Spirit? The reason Jesus could suffer and die is because He was already the substitute and head of His people on the cross, before the Spirit had been given. And, 1 Corinthians says Israel was baptized into Moses when they crossed the Red Sea, and we know from Scripture that this was a “mixed multitude”. They were not all Jews, and there was no “ontological union” established by the indwelling of the Spirit in each individuals. The basis for union in that case would have been something else

    I’m not saying Reeves is wrong, and he makes other good points about sin and guilt (although, what about “Where there is no law there is no transgression?”?) I just don’t think he has made an airtight case on this point.

    I was only recently exposed to this view, and I definitely don’t want to be anywhere close to quick in jumping on every new idea. But it does make Genesis 4 read more naturally. We had always assumed that Cain married his sister for example, and maybe he did, but the text (especially a bit further down when Cain moves away and builds a city) seems to assume that there were other people around.

  10. That is an excellent quote, Justin!

  11. I’m reminded of something my pastor wrote recently:

    For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation… Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four–hour periods. According to the Reformation hermeneutic, the first option is to follow the plain sense of the text. One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1–2. The confession makes it a point of faith that God created the world in the space of six days. (R.C. Sproul in Truths We Confess)

  12. Glenn says:

    Dr D Martyn Lloyd-Jones declared in a series of sermons on Genesis that if the early chapters of Genesis are not historical then we have no gospel.

    To quote him directly;
    “I take the view of those who say that the greatest hoax of the last hundred and fifty years has been the theory of evolution. It has hoaxed the vast majority of people. It was originally a theory, but it has been turned and twisted as if it were a fact that everybody believes. But it is pure dogmatic assertion. It is nothing beyond a supposition.”
    (The Gospel in Genesis – p 25)

    I am always amazed that so many Christians seem unable to believe what God has said in the beginning of His word, the Bible.

    Either Genesis 1-11 is true, as stated, or we have no basis for all major doctrines or any real answers to the ‘why’ questions.

    I know that some of this will not be palatable to some, but I will place my trust in Him who cannot lie and is infallible.

  13. Scott says:

    The Galileo affair is always looked at as if the Church refused to believe what science clearly had discovered. But this is a misreading of the situation. Actually the church clung tightly to the scientific consensus that the Ptolemaic model was scientific truth. The fact is, the Ptolemaic model made more accurate predictions then the Copernican model did for quite some time. Until, the Copernican model made better predictions regarding the orbits of planets and so forth, the scientific community clung to the Ptolemaic model and so did the church. If one reads Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” you can understand how scientific paradigms work. They are not easily overthrown. Einstein’s view of the universe is starting to crack a bit as new discoveries are made. But it will be quite awhile before Einstein is thrown out regardless of the fact that his theories no longer make accurate predictions based on new data.

    The other problem with equating the evolution debate with the Galileo affair is that one deals with observational science and the verification process whereby theories can be tested by repeatable experiements. We cannot repeat the origin of the universe so any scientific speculation about origins is just that – speculation. New discovereies will always revise scientific speculation and at times overthrow once firmly held theories. It is much better to trust a more reliable source of truth such as Special Divine Revealtion.

  14. Dan Erickson says:

    If Paul was wrong about an historical Adam and Eve, (because of his cultural setting) about what else could he be wrong in his New Testament writings? I’m not sure how biblical authority can be maintained without an historical Adam. It is not so much what Genesis teaches, but what Paul teaches in Romans and 1 Timothy which makes it hard for me to view Adam as a symbolic figure.

    1. I agree that Paul’s writings are a much stronger basis for a historical Adam than Genesis. Certainly Paul could not be wrong about anything he affirms as theological truth. It’s not obvious to me that the the historical existence of the “one man” Adam of Romans 5 is essential to what Paul is saying about sin and death coming into the world. But I am open to being persuaded otherwise – Paul certainly does tie the uniqueness of the “one man” Christ to his relationship with the “one man” Adam. Was the idea of a historical Adam more than a useful analogy for Paul’s teaching about sin and death and Christ’s work? I guess I’m not sure at this point.

      In any case there is not necessarily a conflict between evolution and a historical Adam. I think a historical Adam is likely but am just wary of elevating it to a level equal with Christ’s death and resurrection and what that accomplished.

      1. Scott says:

        I am curious how you explain Gen. 4:25-5:5? If Adam was a historical person who had specific sons and daughters when he was a particular age and then he died at a particular age, how would you indicate that with greater clarity than in this passage? Note the use of the term “generations” (Heb. toledot) which is used throughout Genesis 1-11 to describe the decedandants of what appear to be historical persons including Noah and Abraham. Are these possible mythic figures as well? Since Genesis 1-11 is structured using this term as narrative markers (e.g. 2:4) how do you explain this if the pericope is other than historical narrative? I am baffled by the failure of so many to do real exegesis in Genesis 1-11 when they want to claim Adam may not be a historical person. I am waiting for satisfactory answers to these questions from those who espouse this view. And we are not even out of Genesis yet, let alone finding the need to go to the NT for confirmation.

      2. Andy says:

        I think the strongest argument – even stronger than Paul’s writings – is that Jesus himself affirmed an historical Adam and Eve in Mark 10:6. The argument could also be made that evolution is incompatible with Jesus’ assertion that males and females existed “since the beginning of creation;” i.e. it wasn’t something that evolved along the way.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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