The Spiritual Status of Pre-Adamic Hominids/Humans Outside the Garden & Their Imago Dei?

I think most theistic evolutionists (from my understanding) would agree that there was a time period when pre-Adamic hominids were not considered to be “in the image of God” and were therefore not spiritually responsible beings and could not sin. Then came “Adam and Eve”, which one can interpret literally (there was one historical couple) or symbolically (group of representatives, etc.) where God imparted His image onto hominids, resulting in the first human beings. However, how did this exactly happen and what was the spiritual status of these other hominids?

Specifically, I’m having a really hard time understanding the following problems and would love to get some answers:

  • Did God impart the imago Dei onto every anatomically modern human? And if not: what spiritual status did those have which did not get it? Could they sin? Will God judge them to heaven/hell?
  • If God only gave Adam/Eve or a select group of representatives His image - did this imago Dei then eventually spread to other modern hominids? Or did it only remain within this small “group” and spread genetically/neurologically? As in, did only the children of Adam/Eve or this representative group remain in God’s image. If it did “spread”, how did it spread?
  • If God’s image did eventually “spread” to others, did they immediately inherit a sinful nature/non-righteous standing with God in lieu of original sin? If so, isn’t this unfair? (I’m talking about the theory that some theistic evolutionists posit that Adam = first representative king and doomed all humans).
  • The humans outside the garden (e.g. Cain’s wife, etc.), were they humans in God’s image or were they simply hominids without the imago Dei? And if so, why would God allow for there to be interbreeding between humans and non-human hominids?
  • What would have hypothetically have happened in Adam/Eve/first imago Dei humans didn’t sin?

Sorry for all of my ramblings. I just have a lot of questions. Also, I apologize in advance if I can’t reply to each of you since I’m very busy but I eagerly look forward to reading you guys’ anwers and really appreciate you all :slightly_smiling_face:


Good questions… but tough ones! The core question seems to involve what the “image of God” even is – is it physical? (in which case we have to think about how it may have “spread” biologically), is it spiritual? (or more like a calling than something someone either has or doesn’t have), or both?

I guess it’s the idea of the image of God having to slowly work its way through humanity that somehow doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it shouldn’t seem odd, since evolution is also a gradual process, but since the image of God is something that’s mentioned in Genesis even before Adam and Eve, that makes me think that it’s something distinct from whether someone was inside or outside of Eden. But I don’t think I could ever claim to know at what point hominids made the jump from non-image-bearers to image bearers. But, I appreciate the different ideas these questions cause us to wrestle with.


Thank you for your reply! I’m not a theistic evolutionist (yet) but I am wrestling with some of these questions and what you say really resonates with me. If I were to imagine an evolution model, I agree that it doesn’t sit right if it’s something gradual. I know there is a lot of nuance and grey areas in our moral lives, but it makes sense to me that from God’s perspective we can either sin (are morally responsible) or do not sin (are non-humans or not developed enough). Regarding whether it’s physical or spiritual, I don’t think theologically it makes a difference. It’s just that if it’s physical, there’s an easier understanding of how it can spread (e.g. humans reproducing, passing it on). If it’s spiritual, we’d have to posit that God came down and somehow introduced Himself to more than just Adam/Eve (if we are to assume other anatomically modern humans besides the first imago Dei humans like Adam/Eve were also image bearers). It just doesn’t sit right with me to believe that there were other hominids who also had God’s image or were morally responsible but with whom God never communicated. I think God is a personal God and it’s only because of sin that God distancing Himself happened in my opinion. I just haven’t really found a satisfying answer from theistic evolution that answers these questions unfortunately.

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Can a 2 day old baby sin? or a 2 year old? or a 20 year old? Is there a hard and fast line that a person crosses as they grow that takes them from not responsible to responsible? My point is this is probably a grey area that is different for different people. Same principle would apply to the developing modern humans. I don’t think that accountability for sin and the image of God (what ever that might be) are related.


There are several different ways to think of it. I agree with Laura that having a separate group of image- bearing humans living with non-image bearers is troubling, and one the main objections to the genealogical ideal. Of course, the whole idea of image bearing is something that can be discussed at length, but in this context will take as being in a special relationship with God.
From an evolutionary context, that might well be considered as having evolved the capacity to make moral decisions and becoming capable of being representative of God in creation, and might also be considered a trait as a population rather than as an individual. Indeed, if you look at Genesis 1:27-28, it appears to be describing humanity, rather than individuals. That is really how I tend to see it, and think it is written as such.


I agree that there is a grey area from our perspective and we cannot look into people’s hearts. But I would say that yes, in God’s eyes there’s a day where you cross the line and become morally responsible and can sin. When that day is only God knows but I do think that there is a time. Otherwise how can God judge someone? Either someone is a sinner or they are innocent, I don’t really see that there is an in between.

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Thanks for for answer! So am I correct in understanding that for you, Adam and Eve symbolize all humans as they evolved to a stage where they could be spiritually alive/in the image of God? Do you believe that for each of these humans there was a time where they were “innocent” and then they fell into sin? Did God reveal Himself to them? And was the image of God in your opinion therefore “spread” by the increase in development (as opposed to God somehow spiritually planting it in them)?

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I would agree with that, with the caveat that I’m not sure what that fully entailed.

Probably so, just as in our own lives we grow to the point in our understanding that we consciously reject God’s will and sin.

As he does to us, perhaps in different ways for each of us.

I think that is an artificial distinction, believing in God’s providence whether in evolutionary development or in an instantaneous intervention. And, in distinction to some, I am open to it being either or a combination of both.


Something I would agree with. I also think there are people who never develop the mental capacity to be held responsible. Do you agree? Now apply this to the developing modern humans. Is there any requirement that would require the determination of responsibility to be applied to all humans at the same moment of time? Since it is applied to each individual case I would suggest the responsibility could be applied incrementally and gradually across the human race.

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Oh yeah, I do agree that this responsibility could be applied in different stages. I don’t personally hold to that at the moment but I agree that it’s not inherently a wrong/unbiblical assumption. I’m not arguing that just because Adam/Eve are responsible, that means everyone needed to be immediately. I’m just wondering how that happened and what God’s relationship was to those other hominids. Also, I believe there is a distinction between an image bearer who is not held responsible for their sin for lack of understanding/innocence such as a baby and that of an animal which is not in the image of God and lacks a spiritual responsibility. Humans are not less image bearers just because they are underdeveloped or naive. But there was (if we assume the evolution model to be true) a time period where certain hominids went from being animals, without any spiritual capacity to being image bearers and having a spiritual inheritance. An animal doesn’t get judged and go to heaven or hell but a baby does even if both are equally “innocent” in their actions I believe. I don’t know if that makes sense haha

Thanks for your reply! Do you believe that before the evolving of the imago Dei, that those hominids will be judged and go to heaven/hell after death? As in, was there a time period where (in one geneology or group of evolving people) there was a point at which God said “ok now you have a spiritual inheritance in heaven or hell?” I understand your analogy of using the evolving hominids and our own moral development in life. But I do think there is a distinction (in God’s eyes) between a baby/developing human who is in image of God and will be judged spirituall after death and that of a pre-human hominid which God just sees as an animal. Would you agree?

God hasn’t communicated with the vast majority of humans down through time, or at least not in this life – don’t forget the statement that Jesus went and preached to the spirits “in prison”, and given that eternity is the operative condition there I take it to include everyone who has died or ever will die, so it seems God has all the options covered to make sure everyone hears the message.

I think that’s the wrong question: the real question is “What realm are babies born into?” From what Paul says in Romans we have to answer that with, “The kingdom of death”. Whether babies sin or not is thus really irrelevant; remember that apart from the Law sin isn’t counted, and the Law is in ‘limbo’ at the moment except possibly for Jewish children.
That’s where the perspective of the East is helpful. The West, to a large extent due to St. Augustine, applies almost exclusively the “crime and punishment” model where Jesus pays our debt or takes our sentence, but the East has focused on redemption as rescue, liberation, adoption, and healing. Sins as a major issue thus take a back seat to sin as an infection in us that needs to be cured, so the question, “Can babies sin?” becomes irrelevant because babies are born with the same “disease” and stand as much in need of rescue and adoption and healing as the rest of us.

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The “image of God” came up in another post, so I thought I’d copy my answer here, but with some extension.

  1. The text of Genesis 1:26-27 doesn’t support the concept that individual men and women bear the image of God. Grammatically, the Hebrew is very clear: mankind (the collective noun) was made in the “image and likeness” of God whereupon mankind was separated into the two genders. To clarify this, note that a flock of geese flying south can sometimes be seen as flying in a V formation, i.e., in the image of a V. Now, no individual goose looks like a V. but the flock (a collective noun) of geese can certainly take on that appearance. This view lends itself to the theological understanding that God/Jesus is present when two or more [humans] are together.

I’d be happy to go through the grammar, but I seem to remember doing this once or twice before.

  1. The “image of God” is a motif that is not unique to the ancient Hebrews who wrote the Bible. As a matter of fact, in the ANE, many cultures viewed the ruler(s) to be images of their god. The profound difference between them and the ancient Hebrews, is the Bible democratized the image of God. In Jewish and Christian traditions all humans participate in being the image of God not just our rulers

  2. We really do not know what it means to be made in the “image and likeness of God.” There is very little or no evidence in the Bible to support the interpretations I read (both here and elsewhere). The only text that I know that tells us what it means to be made in the divine image is Genesis 1:26-28, but the reason is an operational one (to rule) having nothing to do with morality, wisdom, etc.

In 1:26 God implies that, in order to have dominion (the verb here is a jussive, i.e., command) over His creation, He’s going to make us in His image and likeness.
in 1:27 He does what He said he would do.
in 1:28, He blesses us and the orders (the three verbs in this verse are in the imperative aspect) us to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

In other words, being in the image and likeness of God is like having a badge announcing that we have the God-given authority to rule of God’s creation in His name, under His authority.



Definitely. The Old Testament has a more fluid definition of “human” than we do these days. We seen the word and our first though is of individuals; in the ancient world one was human by virtue of belonging to humanity. Even in redemption things were far less about the individual and much more about a people; we tend to start with whether the individual is saved and if so then that person belongs to the people of God, whereas in the Old Testament it’s more a matter of a people being saved, and the question is whether a given individual belongs to that people.
So even if in Genesis 1 there was first a male human, in Old Testament thought he was all of humanity, and he had the relationship “image of God” not because of himself but because he was a member of humanity. Then when there was a first female, the two of them were all of humanity, so now with billions of us we are"image of God" because we are part of humanity.
This sense is picked up, by the way, in the idea that we were all “present” in Adam and thus his sin is our sin, though for the last at least five centuries in the West that has been warped into the idea that we are guilty of what Adam did, not just that we are infected by it (which ties back into my last post here).

But we aren’t judged for our individual sins. As Jesus told Nicodemus, the judgment has been reduced to a simple measure: how we respond to Jesus. If someone has responded positively, then judgement passes by (consider how Paul speaks of Jesus as “our Passover”!).
Again I think “When do we become responsible for our sins?” is just as wrong a question as whether babies can sin: that really doesn’t matter because we are born into darkness rather than light, into the kingdom of death rather than or life. I’d say that both questions fall into the same category as "What if…?
questions: things that human curiosity wants answers to but in truth there are no answers because we are looking at it all wrong.

This illustrates something that’s been nagging at me through this whole thread: just how much the discussion reminds me of arguments in philosophy class between Plato’s forms and essences and other philosophers’ view of individuals as discrete. Another way to look at it is whether there is an “essence” that because we partake of it makes us human, or that the sum of what all we individuals are is what defines human. If it comes to an essence, then just by being human we share in whatever that essence is (and in what has happened to it), but if the other is true then we are isolated individuals and there’s no substantive (including in Plato’s model) connection(s). And if it’s about essence, then either all humans are “image of God” merely by being human, but if individual, then some may not be “image of God”.

Of course it helps to keep in mind that in the ancient near eastern view “image of ” was more a role than an attribute; a person was “in the image of ” if he or she represented the deity to others and others to the deity [which, BTW, turns the Genesis 1 statement into a bold and astounding claim, namely that it isn’t just kings and priests who are representatives of God, it’s all of us together!].

I would say that before God spoke to Adam & Eve (breath of life = inspiration), homo sapiens lacked the mental tools which Adam & Eve abused in the self-destructive habits we call sin. I would not say that animals are not responsible or that animals are incapable of evil. I see no evidence of any such thing. Instead I see animals which are capable of both good and evil as well as responsibility in social groups. The point is not that Adam & Eve invented evil but only that they betrayed the hope which God had for them to embrace such ideals as love, justice, and goodness.

The Bible says God created man in His own image. The Bible does not say there is a thing called “God’s image” which Adam & Eve were given. Nor does the Bible say other living things were not created in God’s image. The difference between man and the rest of creation is a quantitative one between “good” and “very good.” We have more capabilities and thus are able to respond more to what God has to give.

The inspiration God imparted to Adam & Eve spread quickly to the rest of the homo sapiens species by human communication.

The self-destructive habits of sin spread with the inspiration of God in the same way. We are not born with sin. It is only that by the time we speak we cannot say we are without sin. We learn by imitation. It is the way we learn to speak and with it comes the ideas of love and justice as well as the self-destructive habits like procrastination, blaming others for our own mistakes, coveting, lying, stealing, murder, mocking, and many more.

The garden of Eden is the earth. Humanity is more than a biological species. We have both a body organized by DNA and a mind organized by language and ideas – each with their own needs and inheritance passed from one generation to another. You can say that the other homo sapiens were potential humans, which is to say they were children who had not yet learned what it is to be human. In this way the potentiality for humanity is more important than actual capabilities because we hold ourselves responsible for teaching children how to be one of us.

It is not a matter of interbreeding but communication.

Then they would have passed the inspiration of God without this example of abuse in these self-destructive habits of sin. Perhaps others may have abused the gifts of God, but I don’t think these self-destructive habits would have dominated and consumed the earth as they did. Those without such habits would have had the chance to shine and show the advantages in a human community without these habits.


I am definitely in the Aristotelian, non-Plato or even anti-Plato camp (and I would pretty much equate the Platonic way thinking with Gnosticism). But I think your juxtaposition with individualism is unjustified. I see Aristotle as the organic philosopher and I would see us united not by imaginary essences but by the organic whole of a community of relationships.

I would also take the existentialist position of existence precedes essence, and say we find our meaning and essence by the choices we make. I would even apply this to God, saying that His essence is not found in the attributes He has by nature but in His choice to value love so much more than power and knowledge that He would cast these latter things away and become a helpless infant who knows nothing.

This might be a helpful podcast episode!

Many people also look at Imago Dei as less of a physical trait and more of a vocation or assignment God has given his creation.


I have come to a different understanding of what being in the image of God means. I believe that a really important part of that idea is that we have the capacity to love. I also believe that one of the most important parts of the whole story of Jesus is that God is LOVE, so much more so than we humans could ever imagine, and so central to His being that He came in the Person of His Son to die for us, more to show how much God loves us than to pay off a debt to a vengeful father.

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The image of God is not really that complex of a thing. Any image of a god is a physical representation of that god/goddess. These idols ( images ) of these gods did not have to even look like them. A fertility goddess could look like an animal, or a pregnant woman and both represented the same image. That’s because the image reflected the attributes of those gods. All idols were man made, they were not living. Our God is a living God. He is alive. He made us in his image as living beings to represent him. So how are we supposed to accurately represent our God and bear his image and cross? It’s by denying ourselves the fruit of the flesh and instead choosing to nurture and bear the fruit of the spirit which is love, truth , kindness and so on.

I believe this started when collectively, our species was at the practical level of cognitive processing and emotional and social intelligence to hear him and be able to see beyond ourselves. He listed out his desires of righteousness. That’s the image of God. Being idols that represent through our life the fruit God wants us to bear.

Now before God drew a line in the sand there was no line. It’s like when you get a puppy. You have to draw A line in the sand to not pee in the house. A puppy won’t just instinctively know not to pee on the carpet. But it can be trained to not do that and if it does, you’ll notice they will lower their heads, tuck their tail and so on because they know they did not please you. I think at some point God, craving a covenant with mankind, came down much like the angels did in the stories of the Bible, and spoke to people. Once he drew the line in the sand, it became possible to disregard it and sin.

As for how it spread I think it spread just like the Gospel did. Other humans being loving and praising God sharing his truth.

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