Acts 17:26 says that God made all the nations from one man (Im guessing Adam, or maybe Abraham but probably not) to inhabit the earth. In other words, every nation, or peoples, came from Adam. Does this verse contradict Evolutionary Creation? There are many varying views on Adam and Eve in this community but most if not all agree that there were probably other humans along with Adam and Eve.
Be sure you check the last significant threads of @Swamidass on just this issue.
Mathematically, it is possible that multiple mated pairs, using almost prohibitively conservative assumptions, can become “common ancestral pairs” to all living humans on Earth in less than 2000 years.
An over-emphasis on “preservation of genetic identity” has hi-jacked much of the scholarship on this issue. It is not necessary that all humans have a portion of genetic continuity with a primeval Adam or Eve … it is only necessary that all humans include key mated pairs in their genealogies !
So you are saying that Adam/Eve are somehow related to all humans today? I can definitely see that. The verse though seems to be saying that all nations came from Adam, meaning even the ancient nations came from Adam instead of the ancient nations coming from a different line then mating with Adam’s line. I am probably missing something but I will take a look at @Swamidass
It is pretty clear that Paul referred to Adam as the first person created (in several places), so yes, at face value, there is a contradiction there. I would say it is probably the biggest point of contention in the whole origins theology discussion.
We don’t know exactly what was in Paul’s mind when he made this allusion to Adam. (Did he see Adam as a historical person? a literary figure? a symbol/archetype?) Scot McKnight tries to tease it out some in the book Adam and the Genome.
It is also pretty clear that all people groups are not biological/genetic descendants of a single couple in recent (10,000 years) human history.
When I read verses like that I ask myself what was the rhetorical point that was being made? Is the point to make a claim about human history or is it to make a theological claim about God and his relationship to humanity? In that verse, I think the point of bringing up Adam is to make the claim that all cultures and people groups are accountable to the one true God, who is their source and Creator.
All you need is a little less than 2,000 years.
So if non-Adamite humans existed for 50,000 years (or 200,000, depending on the definition), if Adam & Eve are “pinned” to 6,000 years ago… then subtract 2000 years … that means by around 4,000 years ago, or 2000 BCE, all humans could be the genealogical descendants of the Adam pair, as well as a few hundred other mated pairs from the Adam/Eve time frame.
I know that this verse is pretty obscure but how do you think it challenges or informs the origins issue here:
Luke 3:8New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
this may be hyperbole but does it also not underscore what God can mean by descendants (he does spend a lot of time breaking down the important of inherited religion as Christ supersedes this)
It reminds me of when Jesus spoke of the mustard seed being the smallest seed. Jesus’ object was not about the fine points of botany, but rather the importance of faith. He used a commonly held generalization to make a point, not to affirm whether the seed is the smallest (which of course it is not).
In this passage, Paul is not making a point as to whether the Inca civilization arose through Adam, but appealing to general assumptions to make a point about Jesus. My first thought was he was referring to the nations in the table of nations set out in Genesis, which was pretty much the neighbors of Israel, but as he was speaking in Athens, maybe not, as it was a cosmopolitan setting.
In any case, I think we are sometimes guilty of trying to make scripture say something that it is not trying to say, and I think this is a pretty obvious example where Paul has no intention of making a statement about Adam, but is just trying to find common ground to make his real point about God.
It is interesting that he used this example in an Athen’s setting, which also supports that he was not speaking of Adam or Abraham either one, but was making a general statement about the brotherhood of man.
Yeah, Jesus wasn’t all that impressed by genealogies and that’s not the only place in Scripture that underlines that fact that biological genealogy is irrelevant to God with it comes to spiritual standing. In the OT, there were sanctioned ways of becoming part of the covenant community if you weren’t born into it. Those who converted to Judaism were counted as just as much a part of the community as those who were “biologically” descended from Abraham. Ruth is prominently featured in the genealogy of David and therefore Jesus even though she was “adopted” into the covenant community. In the NT the terms of community membership shift from Torah observance to being united with Christ by the Holy Spirit. And the membership is opened to not just the children of Abraham (by biology or choice/conversion) but to all the Gentiles. The Gentiles are “grafted in” to the tree of Abraham. (Romans 11)
I don’t see why we cannot apply this same thinking about spiritual inheritance to Adam. If we can be grafted into Abraham’s covenantal line regardless of our biology/genes/origin, (apart from anything we have earned but because of God’s divine will and plan) then why can we not be grafted into Adam’s? Why do we have to be biologically descended from him to “inherit” a sin nature or to be redeemed by Christ as the new Adam? The language of spiritual inheritance in the Bible has a lot more to do with God’s adoption and selection than it has to do with who we happen to be genetically related to.
I’m sure the Creationists think that “original sin” cannot be grafted onto a soul… and yet they forget that the soul does not come from one’s parents… it comes from God.
The theology of Original Sin is a blight on the human heart (even more than they imagine an actual Original Sin would be).
Firstly the text does not actually say “from one man”, it says “from one blood”. This means the point is general rather than specific; speaking of ethnicity, rather than an individual. Would Paul’s Greek audience have understood him as referring to Adam anyway? No, they had no knowledge of the Old Testament or Adam; the Greeks did not believe all humans came from one original human pair, and they would have understood Paul was alluding to Greek and Roman writings and thoughts.
Throughout this speech Paul is not quoting the Old Testament or teaching the Greeks facts from the Scriptures; he is listing various Greek ideas (some of them myths), which are close enough to truth for him to make use of in order to lead the Greeks to a better understanding.
- ‘the fixed limits of the places where they would live’ (verse 26)
‘For you have thought it over while paying very little attention to this, namely, that a portion of land has been properly set aside for human habitation as well as for space for use relating to the sentient gods.’, Philo (Grecian Jew), ‘On Abraham’ (2.74), 1st century AD.
- ‘so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him’ (verse 27)
‘For nothing is better than to search for the true God, even if the discovery of him eludes human capacity.’, Philo, ‘The Special Laws’, 1st century AD.
- ‘though he is not far from each one of us’ (verse 27)
‘God is near you, he is with you, he is within you’, Seneca the Younger (Roman philosopher), ‘Letters’, 1st century AD.
- ‘For in him we live and move about and exist’ (verse 28)’
‘For in him we live and move and have our being’, Epimenides of Knossos (Greek philosopher), ‘Cretica’, 6th century BC.
- ‘For we too are his offspring’ (verse 28)
‘And we are his offspring’, Aratus (Greek poet), ‘Phaenomena’, 3rd century BC.
- ‘we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination’ (verse 29)
‘a god is not made with stone, don’t you know that God is not made with hands?’, Pseudo-Heraclitus (attributed uncertainly to Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philosopher, most likely written by a later follower), ‘Letters’, c. 5th century BC.
For example, Paul quotes approvingly the statement ‘For we too are his offspring’ (verse 28). We might understand this as a reference to being children of God by adoption through Christ, or more loosely as children of God as a result of God having made Adam (referred to as ‘the son of God’ in Luke 3:38). But the Greek audience to which Paul was speaking would not have had either of these ideas in mind, and would have interpreted this as a direct reference to their myths which stated that humans were the physical offspring of the gods.
This was a common idea in Paul’s day, having been inherited from earlier Greek philosophers, and was still taught by Seneca (an influential first century Roman philosopher),  and Dio Chrysostom (a famous Greek philosopher who lived just after Paul).  We know that humans are not the physical offspring of God, but that is what the Greeks believed and that is the meaning of the Greek quotation which Paul used.
In the same way, Paul’s statement ‘From one, he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth’ in verse 26, draws on Greek ideas and addresses Greek concerns.  As noted previously, the Greek does not actually say ‘From one man’, it says ‘From one’ (the word ‘man’ is not in the text here). Note that it does not say ‘All people came from one man’, or ‘God made all people from one man’. On the contrary, it refers explicitly to nations rather than the human race; ‘every nation’, not ‘all people’. By ‘from one’, Paul is saying that all ethnic groups come from one common human group (what used to be called ‘the human race’, now understood as the human species).
The Greeks did not believe that all humans came from one man,  and this is not how they would have understood Paul’s statement. They certainly would not have been thinking of Adam (in fact there is no record in Acts of Paul ever teaching anyone about Adam when he first preached to them), a man they had never heard of in a book they had never read.
Traditional Greek thought separated people into ‘Greek’ and ‘barbarian’ (anyone who was not a Greek), considering the Greeks to be uniquely favored by the gods. Addressing this Greek sense of superiority, in his speech to the Areopagites Paul is appealing to the idea found in some Greek philosophers that all people belong to one human race, and that traditional discrimination should therefore be abandoned. He is not referring to Adam as the first human being who ever lived, nor is he saying all humans are the descendants of Adam. He is not referring to Adam at all.
 ‘all persons, if they are traced back to their origin, are descendants of the gods’, Seneca, ‘Moral Epistles’, 44.1, 1st century AD.
 Referring to Zeus as ‘our first and immortal parent’, Chrysostom, ‘Discourse’ 12.42, 1st century AD.
 It does not quote Deuteronomy 32:8, the language of which is very different; in the Septuagint Deuteronomy 32:8 says ‘When the Most High divided the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God’ (the Greek is ‘ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη, ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ, ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ’, which has almost no words in common with the Greek of Acts 17:26, ‘ἐποίησέν τε ἐξ ἑνὸς πᾶν ἔθνος ἀνθρώπων κατοικεῖν ἐπὶ παντὸς προσώπου τῆς γῆς, ὁρίσας προστεταγμένους καιροὺς καὶ τὰς ὁροθεσίας τῆς κατοικίας αὐτῶν’).
 They believed that a combination of the gods and various supernatural forces had produced various groups of humans in a range of different ways, at different times and in different places; some humans from the earth, some from trees, some from stones, some from inside fish, etc.
Great post, Jonathan. I agree that Acts 17 is a strange place to go to show that Paul required a literal view of Adam and Eve. Instead, it seems to show Paul’s willingness to use whatever stories a culture values, as long as he can still end with preaching Christ.
If Paul can use Greek stories like that to Greeks, I wonder if he’s using Genesis as a text esteemed by Jews in places like Romans 5. That would explain why Paul only raises Adam in chapter 5, well after he’s made his central points. The Jewish story of Adam seems to function in Romans much like the Greek stories of Zeus he cites in the Acts 17 speech: they are more illustrative than foundational. Paul isn’t trying to prove that Adam (or Zeus!) is historical, but rather show how their stories point to Jesus.
As you later note, the text doesn’t say “from one blood” either, just “from one” (compare Rom. 5:15 where Paul does say “one man”). Given the phrasing “from one God made all nations,” the question seems to be, “One what?” But while “one man” and “one blood” require adding words not in the text, “one nation” would simply allow the end of the phrase to clarify the beginning.
@Christy Is the Greek more complex here, or is there a nuance that makes “one man” a more likely reading? In a one…all construction, is it reasonable to use the type of the all to define the type of the one (e.g. all nations at the end suggests one nation at the beginning)?
I don’t know Greek well enough to comment on the nuance or about using the type of the all to define the one. It doesn’t look like any translation has made the choice to go with “one nation” and major translation committees know more Greek than me. “One blood” shows up in several. Speaking of relating to the culture, isn’t it more likely their beliefs had an original human instead of an original nation? Greek mythology has Prometheus making man out of clay and Athena breathing life into him.
Or in more distant (~500,000 years) human lineage, according to Swamidass here:
My New Interpreter’s Study Bible states it can mean “one ancestor” but is vague as to what that means, but implies it it talking about nations. Anyway, Jon’s answer expanded on that wonderfully.
The UBS Handbook gives this as one alternative.
“If one adopts the alternative imprecation of this clause, it may be rendered as “God created all the different kinds of people from one single family” or “God created one single clan from which all the different races of people have come.”” 
Pervo says pretty much the same as I’ve said.
“The verse opens with a compressed assertion of the unity of the human race grounded in a common origin from God.102 Representatives of the philosophical tradition had protested against the division of humankind into Greeks and barbarians. Luke applied this concept to the division between Jews and gentiles, overcome by the miraculous action of God rather than from acquiescence to the political ramifications of an intellectual argument,103 but Paul does not point that out on this occasion. The creation of humankind is described without reference to Genesis or to any mythic account, but Christian readers will take it as a summary of Genesis.104 Greek tradition also viewed (a) god as the parent of the human race.” 
FF Bruce likewise says Paul is taking aim at the Athenian idea that they originated de novo from the earth.
The creator of all things in general is creator of the human race in particular. The Athenians might pride themselves on being autochthonous—sprung from the soil of their native Attica68—but this pride was ill-founded. All mankind was one in origin—all created by God and all descended from a common ancestor. This removed all imagined justification for the belief that Greeks were innately superior to barbarians, as it removes all justification for comparable beliefs today." 
 Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on the Acts of the Apostles (UBS Handbook Series; New York: United Bible Societies, 1972), 341.
 Richard I. Pervo, Acts: A Commentary on the Book of Acts (ed. Harold W. Attridge; Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 435–436.
 F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 337.
For what it’s worth, the textual apparatus for this verse does show ἐξ ἑνὸς αἵματός (from one blood) in the Textus Receptus as well as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Alexandrinus. It’s everyone else that omits the αἵματός.
In the Greek word order, “one” and “all nations” are adjacent: εποιησεν τε εξ ενος παν εθνος ανθρωπων. The verb comes first (εποιησεν, “he made”) followed by “from one” (εξ ενος) and then “every nation” (παν εθνος) immediately after. So you don’t even have to wait in between “from one, every”.
Furthermore, the form ενος is ambiguous in terms of gender. It can be masculine (like “man”) or neuter (like “blood” or “nation”).
As with @Christy, I am not a Greek scholar, much less a Greek scholar of the stature of the translation committee members of major modern English translations. But “one nation” doesn’t seem terribly implausible to me. But I would typically want to see at least one respected commentator take my side before I go shouting this from the rooftops.
[Edited to explain what αἵματός means… because not everybody can read Greek…]
I saw that @Jonathan_Burke was replying, and should have waited to see what he said! Looks like there’s some weight behind that reading after all…
Interesting discussion. To me, in the context of Paul’s audience, its seems unlikely that he is referring to Adam, at least overtly, though he may internally be referencing his Torah knowledge as he seeks to a way to touch base with his Greek listeners. It is not easy to separate what we want scripture to say from what it says. This is a good example of what seems plain in some translations is anything but.
Why not guess Noah?
The “one man” in Acts 17:26 is Noah…
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
…because Paul says, “that they should inhabit the whole earth,” which refers to the 70 nations mentioned in Genesis 10…
These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood. (Gen 10:32)
…and says that “he marked out… the boundaries of their lands” which refers to Deuteronomy 32:8…
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. (Deut 32:8)
…which mentions “the number of the sons of Israel” which is also 70 (Gen 26:47)
In his sermon to the Greeks in Athens Paul was not referring to Adam as the father of all humankind, he was stressing that God was the God of all mankind:
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth… 25 he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ … 30 now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world…”