Why I Think Adam was a Real Person in History

Hm I thought orthodox, Jews and Muslims do/did not?Same Genesis story for the first two. And what about Ezekiel 18? Thanks! Good questions.

I can agree with that, though I tend to see “descended from Adam” to be better understood as “being human.”

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Are you just not clear he means that? Or do you challenge the interpretation?

Genetic descent (vis a vis a specific founder pair), ends when you no longer detect genetic information unique to the founding pair. Naturally, if there is ONLY one pair in the whole world (when reproduction started), then everything must be from them… or a mutation.

But if there is a founding pair in the midst of thousands of other reproductive sources… then genealogy inevitably outstrips genetic status:

Charlemagne could have theoretically fathered more descendants than there are people in Europe… because that is the power of Geneaological “status”.

Well, my point was try to nail down really what it is about genealogy that is significant (as do not think it is significant in and of itself, but the term is meaningful as describing the common human condition, not any metaphysical connection to Adam.


“Federal headship” is, in practical terms, the same as Genealogical origin.

Unless, I suppose, you have contention between rival “Universal Ancestors”… and only ONE can be allowed to represent the ALL.


Then, even if the Highlander and Sean Connery are both part of a mating pair that equally enjoys the status of “Universal Ancestor” of all those alive today… the federal headship would go to the person with the most “authority” - - as defined by God, or as defined by God via Trial by Combat, or some other “Trial By: ______________”.

If it was Trial by Cinematic Magnificence… well, we know it would go to Sean Connery, right!

Could Federal Headship go to someone OTHER than a Universal Common Ancestor? I suppose, if the Bible set up some specific criteria. For example, Noah might be considered by some denominations to have more authority over the rest of Humanity - - because he saved the fate of humanity from total extinction … or whatever funny rule you think would qualify.

Thanks, Kathryn, for going out on a limb to present your view. And you’re right that it will draw fire from both sides, but you should be used to that by now. :wink:

Since you indicated an openness to changing your mind, rather than engaging in debate about ad hoc Adam, I’d actually like to discuss your views.

“All Evolutionary Creationists agree that the scientific evidence indicates that the human population has never dipped below a few thousand within the last 200,000 years.”

I think you can extend that to 500-700,000 years, unless what you’re saying is that the population of H. sapiens has never dipped below a few thousand, in which case you can probably extend it to at least 300,000 years to correspond to the date of the Jebel Irhoud fossil.

I prefer to believe that Adam and Eve were a real couple in history who lived in Mesopotamia, among a larger population of people, perhaps around 6,000 B.C. … Thriving cities existed when Adam and Eve lived. Art, trade, tools, language, and farming were familiar to their contemporaries. … In the fullness of time, God called two people, Adam and Eve, into a special covenantal relationship with himself, and into a one-flesh unity with each other.

Let’s take these one by one. Around 6000 B.C., Mesopotamia was likely the most populous place on Earth. You mention a thriving culture already in existence when Adam and Eve were called into covenantal relationship with God. However, this misses the point of Gen. 4.17-25, which is to show ordinary people as imago Dei founding cities and advancing culture. This is a deliberate contrast with Mesopotamian ideology, which gave the king, as imago Dei, the sole credit and responsibility for cultural advancement. (See Middleton, The Liberating Image.) Furthermore, by 6000 B.C. people already had been living in tents, raising livestock, and playing stringed instruments and pipes (4.20-21) for thousands of years, although working bronze and iron were still a few thousand years away. If you want to consider this portion of Genesis as historical narrative, then the history is wrong whether you date it 200,000 years ago or 6,000 years ago.

On the “special covenantal relationship,” where do you see evidence of a covenant in Gen. 2-3? Honestly, I am (mostly) Reformed in my theology, but if there is a covenant between God and “the man” in the garden, I see no evidence of it. Personally, I think covenant theologians wished it into existence just to make everything nice and symmetrical. haha.

On the “one-flesh unity,” this creates even bigger historical headaches than the cultural advances of Genesis 4. Marriage, as a social contract, existed long before 6000 B.C. In fact, Terrence Deacon proposes in The Symbolic Species that “marriage” – understood as a social contract regulating sex in multi-male/multi-female groups – was one of the driving forces in the evolution of human sociality and symbolic reference. Another way of putting this is that “marriage” has been a feature of human culture since the dawn of mankind, which is where Genesis 2 locates it. Marriage was not instituted by God in 6000 B.C.

They were selves, free to obey or rebel. He gave them rules and consequences for breaking those rules. And they chose, in their freedom, to rebel. Whether or not there was an actual piece of fruit involved is interesting but beside the point: they were after what it represented—knowledge of good and evil.

How do you define “knowledge of good and evil”? What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain that their contemporaries in 6000 B.C. did not possess, other than knowledge of God?

One reason I don’t believe Adam and Eve were the sole progenitors of all humanity is because the Bible itself gives hints that there were other people around when Adam and Eve lived.

Try this one on for size: If ha’adam is a literary archetype, then “the man” represents both the individual and all of mankind, so of course there were other people around! All of humanity is taken up in the symbol.


Well, Jews and Muslims don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God either, so I accept differences there, but don’t feel bound to agree - though there is at least one 2nd temple Jewish source that attributes our sin to Adam:

For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants" (2 Esd 7:48).

As for Orthodox, it depends where and when - in the middle of the last century the Greeks (not the Russians) started to attribute their longstanding doctrine of ancestral sin (as a doctrine) to Augustine, who was “Western” (although accepted as a doctor of the Orthodox church since whenever). In fact, though, it was taught by Irenaeus long before Augustine and even before him - there may be some mention of that at the Dabar conference, I think.

@Jon_Garvey, I think you will find that most theologians acknowledge that Augustine added a formulation to Original Sin that was not present in Irenaeus. I think you are satisfied with the Irenaeus position, because you have rather looser restrictions than the average Roman Catholic. But it was not simply a vague sensation the Greeks were describing when they pointed to Augustine… his contribution was novel in its discipline.

I will see if I can identify a concise description of where Augustine ventured that Irenaeus would not go.

But Phil, is your concept of “being human” a biological definition, a biblical one, or something else? We’ll discount those who exclude those present people lacking cognitive abilities, though medical ethics has a lot to do with that, and we’ll ignore those biologists and anthropologists who argued, on scientific grounds (eg Haeckel), that the “races” were species and that there was a greater gulf between an aborigine and a European than between a man and an ape. Science was wrong on that, and has moved on.

But although we are all Homo sapiens now, that is a taxonomic classification that doesn’t tell us what “human” means. Josh’s work discusses this in detail (as does mine). Since the biblical foundation for the anthropology of our race is Adam, the biblical definition of “human” is “descended from Adam,” rather than vice versa.

My linked article will save you the work, George. The fact remains that the Orthodox church historically accepted Augustine as an authority, though their spin on ancestral sin was more orientated towards the inheritance of mortality than guilt.


So when do you think the Eastern Orthodox definitively rejected Original Sin as the Roman Catholic Church formulated it?

Wrong question - the history of Orthodoxy and Catholicism is the story of parallel development in two languages (Greek and Latin), leading to eventual mutual alienation, and so further doctrinal evolution. In the millennium the two were in communion, doctrines were accepted, argued over, negotiated, understood differently and every combination of those - and not all the differences were regional or linguistic. Irenaeus was a Greek working in the West, Augustine an African working in the West, Jerome a Latin working in the East, Athanasius a Greek Egyptian working wherever he wasn’t exiled at the time.

But for the purpose of Phil’s query, to those from East and West genealogy from Adam was a major issue that Christ’s work dealt with, and the Reformation (being Western) found the Catholic view of inherited sin in their Bibles.

When Kathryn brought up sole progenitor, it was not in the context of discussing Josh’s ideas of genealogical Adam and she even had a footnote clarifying that she was referring to the “the traditional idea that Adam and Eve were the only two people from whom all other people descended.” You objecting to a person talking about their take on the “traditional idea” because it does not interact with some other person’s unique definition of the words is really weird to me. How does choosing to use a definition that is different than someone else’s definition misrepresent their views if you aren’t talking about that person’s views? We are all allowed to talk about Adam without referencing Josh’s definitions and idiosyncratic perspective on things. We are allowed to talk about what most Christians we interact with believe, whether or not Josh or you approve of their definitions. Right?


In this context, my mind was looking at it in the Biblical sense, in relation to our fallen sinful state and Christ’s redemption. It does get intertwined, though, doesn’t it, when you look at the various interpretive scenarios. The recent hoopla looking at bottlenecks sort of brought that out to me, with the contention that a bottleneck not ruled out further back than 700K years was proposed to be significant, implying that humanity in the Biblical sense was around 700K years back, if one ties it to an interpretation of Adam and Eve.
In any case, it is interesting to look at the various interpretations. Who knows, one of them may actually be close to material beginnings.


My “take” on the 700k year figure was slightly different.

Chris Stringer’s 2012 chart showing broad lines of human evolution indicates that even Neanderthals were not yet on the Earth by 700,000. So, when the 700k figure was arrived at (based on an uninterrupted chain of hominid regression back to when there was enough noise to hide a 1-pair bottleneck), it pretty much closed the door on a 1 pair bottleneck during the time of either Homo sapiens OR neanderthalensis!

Note: For those readers new to this controversy, the 700k time frame does not mean there was a bottleneck of 1 pair 700,000 years ago - - it means that there is so much “static” in the numbers 700,000 years ago that there could be one and we would not be able to see it.

That may be true, Christy, but Genealogical Adam is referenced in Deb’s article, and is not quite a private opinion of a couple of random posters.

It was introduced to the Christian world in 2010 by David Opderbeck in a BioLogos article. I picked it up then and discussed it quite a lot in comments over the following years - at BioLogos (before continuing on my own blog). Joshua Swamidass, whilst a “BioLogos voice,” introduced it again in a thorough treatment - at BioLogos, and it has been a major point of discussion at BioLogos for a couple of years - ending in his changing from being a “BioLogos voice” to being banned from the forum. Finally, it is due for a major presentation at the forthcoming Dabar conference - sponsored by BioLogos.

Genealogical Adam, in short, was born and raised at BioLogos over the last 8 years, and so in a presentation on the very eve of the Dabar conference, it is surprising that its treatment was not a greater part of the context.

That said, I started my initial comment with gratitude for the overall content of Deb’s article.

Quite right, @Jon_Garvey! They believed the inheritance from Adam was “the disease of death”… not “Adam’s sin and its repercussions of evil”. Each person was inevitably to sin in his own way, paying the wage of his own destruction, without any recourse to Adam’s specific sin required.

Here’s my latest research on the matter:


In the midst of evolved humanity, God makes a special pair of humans with the same basic genetics… maybe there eyes were a little more blue? Their hair a little more blonde? Oh … wait… these aren’t Aryans, are they!?

But Eden is plunked down in the midst of all this raw “2001: Space Odyssey” scenery … and the drama is played out … and when the couple are evicted… they merge with their fellow genetic humans… who even have the same Image of God stamped on their “being”!

I cannot help but think that so much effort is expended on this subject for so small a return. Gen 1 and 2 are biblical narratives that are part and parcel of Christian doctrine. I also cannot help but admire the writer(s) of Genesis who can convey the faith based message and yet leave many scratching their heads and running in almost any direction that fires their imagination. Kind of reminds me of some parts of the Gospels.


I understand. I just find it weirdly ego-centric (or something) that interacting with a belief that lots and lots of people have is considered inaccurate somehow because it fails to interact at that moment with the opinion of a small minority, no matter how vocal that small minority has been. Referencing genealogical Adam to be fair and inclusive of a range of views is not the same thing as writing a whole article in response to that perspective. And it was Kathryn’s article, not Deb’s. :slight_smile:

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