The Search for the Historical Adam and Eve

June 2011’s Christianity Today ran an article entitles “The Search for the Historical Adam” (I added Eve to my own title) which claims that

The center of the evolution debate has shifted from asking whether we came from earlier animals to whether we could have come from one man and one woman.

So aside from the fact that this implies that the evolution debate is over, and I think looking at our brothers and sisters in the United States shows that it is not over there, it is an intriguing question.  Other than being intriguing, though, my main question: does it matter? I’ve said before, although not on this blog, that I am an evolutionary creationist.  What that essentially means is that first and foremost, we can still credit God for creation.  How she did it doesn’t really matter that much to me, but science definitely points to an evolutionary process so if pressed I’d support that.  And that does lead to also thinking that Adam and Eve were poetic, although I’d argue from the writing style that it is pretty clearly poetic anyway (especially in the Hebrew).  But I’m not offended if somebody thinks otherwise, because I can’t see what changes if they were literal vs poetic figures.

Some in the more evangelical camp might say that it is because if the Bible stops being literal there, it stops being literal everywhere.  Aside from that just being an illogical argument, I contend that nobody actually interprets every single passage of Scripture as literal historical fact.  There is beautiful poetry in the Psalms, in Job, in Song of Solomon.  There is apocalyptic prophecy which uses fantastical images of beasts made from various animals and a giant Whore.  Biblical inerrancy is a relatively new concept in the life of the church, but even most contending for that don’t mean that all of the Bible is one genre.

Ok, so the only other argument I can see for why it shakes your faith is because the church has said this particular passage is literal for the past 500 years or so.  I think some denominations do have it in their statement of faith.  And the Church is incapable of being wrong, right? Ummm…. to me this isn’t much different from saying that the sun revolved around the earth.  Eventually the Church realized they were wrong and that neither Scripture nor any other source of revelation had even supported it in the first place. So if the story is literal, what it mean for us:

  • God created the world.
  • It is a good world – flesh or matter in general is not evil.
  • God created humans in his image.  What exactly that means is debatable (the two main things to me are relationality and choice).
  • We are given stewardship over this good world.
  • Humans are first and foremost made good.
  • Humans do have the choice to make mistakes, though, and we often follow that choice even when we know better.
  • Because we are not perfect, the world around us is not perfect as a result of our actions (the “curse” of Genesis 3).

If the story is poetic, what it means for us:

  • God created the world.
  • It is a good world – flesh or matter in general is not evil.
  • God created humans in his image.  What exactly that means is debatable (the two main things to me are relationality and choice).
  • We are given stewardship over this good world.
  • Humans are first and foremost made good.
  • Humans do have the choice to make mistakes, though, and we often follow that choice even when we know better.
  • Because we are not perfect, the world around us is not perfect as a result of our actions (the “curse” of Genesis 3).

Am I missing something?  Please tell me if so because this really is an issue that I just don’t get why it matters.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.