Non literal Adam and Eve

There are many reasons I don’t view Adam as an historical figure.

Certainly the word play of “Adam” and “earth” is evidence.

But the greatest evidence may be that there are two creation stories with different orders and methods of creation. The first creation story, Genesis 1.1-2.4a, and the second creation story, starting in Genesis 2.4b, are incompatible as literal history.

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You just have to listen to Jordan Peterson’s biblical series.
Really helps to show how some of these OT stories are symbolic rather than literal.
He takes a while to get to the point but he really helped me to fit together evolution and the story of Adam, Eve and the fall.

I would like to believe so but in Gen 5 A&E (and offspring) are presented as historical persons, not as symbolic persons.

How do you reconcile?

Look back at Genesis 4. It has a figurative telling of the development of society.

Cain built a city, creating urbanization. (Who lived there?)

Jabal started the nomadic life and herding.

Jubal was the father of music.

Tubal-Cain started metallurgy— skipping the copper age and going simultaneously to iron and bronze.

Lamech started civil law and the right to self defense.

It is a nice story to tell ancient people how things came to be, and to give them a narrative that puts their ancestors in the center of history.


Are the people mentioned in Gen 4 & 5 historical or made up persons?

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Yes, the genealogy is the biggest issue for a symbolic reading of Adam. For me, it’s not enough to overturn the evidence for a symbolic Adam, partly because of Paul’s words against getting too caught up in genealogies, partly because of how genealogies work elsewhere in Scripture, partly because of the fluidity in this particular genealogy, and partly because my view of Scripture doesn’t expect the genealogy to record God’s knowledge.

Dealing with the last first, there’s no reason to expect Moses or some later author to have accurate information about ancestors many generations in their past. If it is accurate, it could only be through God revealing information they didn’t know. From looking at the whole Bible, I don’t think God has chosen to overcome the blind spots and gaps in the human writers to convey scientific or historical information. Since the Holy Spirit didn’t prevent Paul from writing a confused account of whom he baptized (1 Cor. 1:14–16), I have no problem with a genealogy similarly limited to a human author’s understanding.

Next, ancient genealogies were about who made someone who they are, not who provided their genes. That could include mythical creatures, gods and legendary characters – all who were either inspirational to the individual or who they saw as having similar characteristics to themselves. It could include people within their community who helped to nurture them – not just parents, but also uncles or more distant relatives or neighbours. The further a genealogy goes into the mists of forgotten time, the more these legendary elements dominate.

If one allows that God can inspire any genre of literature, even ancient genealogy, then the same thing may be happening in Genesis 5. It may preserve the barest trace of many individuals remembered by Israelites at the time it was written.

If that’s the case, for most individuals we have only a name, some ages, and a connection to another name. And different manuscript lines of Genesis preserve different numbers. (We dug deep into the purpose of the numbers in a recent thread.) And the names in Seth’s line are eerily similar to Cain’s line a chapter earlier: Cain/Kenan, Enoch/Enoch, Irad/Jared, Mehujael/Mahalalel, Methushael/Methuselah, Lamech/Lamech. It looks like both lines are preserving some of the same memories. Both Lamechs are associated with three sevens; one lives to 777 and the other boasts “If Cain is avenged 7 times, Lamech is 77 times.” This kind of fast-and-loose use of numbers and names better fits a human collection of murky legends than divinely-revealed historical details.

As for the Adam of Genesis 5:3–5, I don’t know if this also preserves the memory of some distant individual or whether it simply links the chain of names to Adam/Humanity as described in the previous verses and chapters. Adam was not a common Hebrew name (much as Humanity isn’t that popular in English), so perhaps a real person, name unknown, became fossilized in the text as Seth’s father.

If we don’t force the genealogy to transcend either the writer’s knowledge or the ground rules of ancient genealogy, there’s no reason to see Genesis 5 as confirming a literal Adam. Portraying the human race going back to a man named Adam is no different to how it portrays the nation of Egypt going back to a man named Egypt (Gen. 10:6) and musicians going back to man named Jubal (Gen. 4:21). Our clear distinction between literally descending from someone and symbolically being in someone fades in ancient times when children were thought to actually exist in their father long prior to conception. Noah curses Canaan because that whole nation was “in” Ham when he did whatever he did, just as Levi and all the other Israelites were “in” Abraham when he paid tithes to Melchizedek. That’s not how we look at things, but it was a common ancient perspective that helps explain several texts that otherwise seem mysterious to us.

So I see a close look at the genealogy pointing away from getting historical detail from them, even as it has obviously been shaped to link Adam/Humanity with Noah and all the nations that descend from his sons. Seeing Adam as both Humanity and a first man made sense in an ancient view where men alone carry their entire lineage of children within their loins (hence the harsh punishment towards any who would harm a male organ, and hence the perception that infertility was entirely the woman’s problem, and hence the focus on men in genealogies), but I don’t see reason to hold on to that today. Adam is us; the ancient view that traced every kind back to a first male is best left behind.


We don’t know, do we?

But there are many reasons to know the early chapters of Genesis are not literal history.

And we are pretty certain the same person did not invent working with bronze and working with iron. And we are pretty certain musical instruments were invented far longer than 6000 years ago. Or do you think that happened?

@Marshall thank you for taking the time for time to share your thoughts. I personally have no problem with a historical Adam and Eve - though I’m not willing to die on that particular hill anytime soon. Also, I think you make an extremely good case for a symbolic Adam and admirably demonstrate why it is a legitimate option. Historical or not, I believe we are supposed to read ourselves into the fall account of Gen 3, an application I often draw out when I teach that text. Irregardless of historicity, the account is true because we re-enact it on a daily basis.

I am also with you all the way on your reading of Genesis 5. I don’t think it could have summarised it better myself. As the old saying goes, 'history is another country; they do things differently there." The reality is, all evidence seems to point to genealogies functioning differently in the ancient world. They were not a pre-internet version of I won’t go into the reasons why here since we thrashed out many of them in thread you linked to.

Out of pure personal interest, how do you reconcile a symbolic Adam with Paul’s argument in Romans 5? Hopefully, that is not too off topic?

Well, Gen 4 & 5 does read as if the people mentioned are real historical persons.

I don’t know what happened, I am not YEC neither adhere any form of Christian evolution. I have decided to remain undecided because whatever choices there are each of them has its own buts.

ProDeo, an open mind in this area is a good thing! May God bless you.

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Well, I am not Marshall, but we actually were presented that tonight at a conference, with italics mine as that is what stood out to me:
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned-
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

So, it does not say because Adam sinned, but that because we did, and states clearly that Adam was a pattern, or in other words an archetype. So, while Adam could well be a historical figure, it works equally well, in fact, better in some ways to consider him literary.


Thanks Marshall for a thoughtful reply. So basically the question would be, is Gen 4&5 inspired or a Jewish identity story to close the gap from Adam to Abraham (chapter 12), the start of Israel, God calling Abraham establishing the link to Genesis 1 which obviously is written in a Jewish framework, 6 days of work, rest (the Sabbath) on the 7th day.

Something else as I am new and could not find an answer in the about-section of the forum. How did humans arrive on the planet? Did they descended from an animal? Are humans not descended from animals but are they a special supernatural act of the Lord as Genesis 1 reads?

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This is one puzzling sentence of Paul. No doubt I am a sinner in need for Christ but I (and neither Paul and everybody else) had the same chance as A&E in paradise to stay out of trouble and never die.

Why weren’t we given the same opportunity?

It’s this type of reasoning (among others) why I am inclined to believe in Christian evolution after all, without going there :upside_down_face:

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That is a dividing question, isn’t it. I tend to believe that God created humankind through his sustaining power using evolutionary means. Is that supernatural or natural? I think that is a matter of semantics. As God created nature, it is all the same thing in my eyes.
Now, you can have your cake and eat it too if you go with the genealogical Adam concept put forth by Joshua Swamidass. That idea is basically that Adam and Eve were separated or created separately from existing humanity which had evolved. You can explore that in depth over at his site on Peaceful Science.


I will have to agree with @ProDeo here and say that Adam and Eve are literal people but they are not the first humans to be made. I believe that Adam and Eve (of which was not their original names) were among other early humans during the migration out of Africa. The genealogy is meant to lead up to Abram and the Jewish people.

I don’t see how the first primitive humans can be held accountable for sin.

That’s an interesting assumption about A&E.

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I like to start with the obvious: Romans 5 isn’t the beginning of the letter. By that point Paul has already established how all kinds of people sin and need rescue. Paul doesn’t rest his theology or his thinking about sin, death and salvation on Adam.

Romans 1 retells the Eden story without Adam, Eve, a serpent, a prohibited tree or magic fruit. Yet it still speaks of humans (collectively) having some knowledge of and connection to God from their creation, but breaking that fellowship in a misguided pursuit of wisdom that leaves them confused about creatures and Creator. Certainly there are questions about God’s “wrath” and “giving over”: it’s not an easy passage. But once again, like Eden, both accounts give a theological take on the history of humankind while also confronting us with our own story. Paul just does it with less symbolism and more rhetoric.

In the second half of Romans 5, Paul restates some points he’s already made, now using the figure of Adam parallelled to Christ. And much like his muddle over which Corinthians he baptized, here he seems to recognize the complexity that overwhelms his parallel just after he commits it to paper. Before he finishes his first sentence, he starts clarifying all the ways the two are not equal and opposite. The passage ends up focusing more on differences than similarities, and even the similarities have to blur things to make the two compatible (such as collapsing Jesus’ lifelong obedience into “one man’s act of righteousness,” as @Jay313 noted up-thread).

Since Adam functions as a sermon illustration, not as the evidential basis for Paul’s thinking, the weakness of the parallel doesn’t undermine it. It gives us a mental picture and exposes how much greater Christ is than Adam. Focusing on some of the phrasing, such as “Adam to Moses,” could suggest Adam was a man who lived at a certain time. But when Adam is read as both a symbol for each human and the first humans (much like the “those”/“they” of Romans 1:18–23), “Adam to Moses” can still convey from the beginning of humanity to the giving of the law. A symbolic reading can still make sense of that phrase, and it makes much better sense of how Paul explains death’s dominion by simultaneously pointing to Adam and saying “because all sin.”


Surely an Adam could have existed. He does not have to be the precise Literary one from Genesis.

In English culture the tales of Robin Hood far exceed the probable reality of him and his actions.

It is only if you try to cling to some sort of notion of inerrancy or biblical accuracy that the precision of early Genesis comes in to play.

The Bible works on many levels. We only really run into difficulties when we start trying to impose certain values or ideas onto it instead of taking it at its word. Or understanding what it is teaching us

The question must always be
Does Adam have to be real… for the Gospel?.. For the Story to have meaning? For Jesus or Paul to refer to it?

My answer to all these is no, but there are many who find some of those questions more difficult. (et al)



Yes and Amen. The Bible is a complex collection of documents written to a diverse group of people, who lived a long time ago, who often thought very differently to us, and had many values that we might not naturally share. I think we run into all sorts of problems when try to make the Bible answer 21st Century western questions or impose contemporary values on it.


Well, applying it to current questions and life is the point of reading it isn’t it? I think what you really mean is that we have to take those things into consideration, and read it in its cultural and historical context. I certainly agree with you there, which is why the literal approach loses relevance when applied to modern life.

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