On Adam and Eve

This is Part III in a series of posts on the apparent conflict between Genesis and modern science. In Part I, we looked at what’s really causing the friction between faith and science. In Part II, I explained why I think the creation account in Genesis 1 is not making a scientific statement about the age of the universe. Now, we will look at the Adam and Eve account in Genesis 2.


Oh yes, I should remind you that I’m discussing this with presidential wannabe and Scopes trial whipping boy, William Jennings Bryan.


First off, Adam and Eve are presented as historical persons. The OT and NT authors assume this, and Adam’s presence in the genealogy of Genesis 5:1 clearly indicates this.

But, like I mentioned last time, there are two sequential time periods in the opening chapter (plus) of Genesis (1:1 and 1:2-2:3). From there, the story of Adam and Eve is told. And there are good reasons to take their story as a sequel to Genesis 1, not a zoomed in account of Day 6.




They could be, but the text doesn’t require them to be.


We covered the meaning of the “creation” (bara) of humans in the last post. In sum, the term does not require that “created” means the creation of material substance. But there are other features in the text that bring us to forks in the interpretive road, and a faithful interpreter could go either way.

The first fork in the road centers on the heading, “This is the account of…” (toledot) in 2:4. This is the same heading that appears in the following genealogies (5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 25:12; 36:1) as well as these major narratives: the flood (6:9), Abraham (11:27), Jacob (25:19), and Joseph (37:2).


toledot usually signifies a sequential story, unless brothers are involved (25:12 and 36:1 are the examples of this). In these instances, the toledot backtracks, probably because the brothers’ timelines overlap.

But in the case of Adam and Eve, the toledot that begins their story is the oddball. If it is used like the other non-brother related toledots, then chapter 2 is linked with the following narratives and is thus a sequel to chapter 1.

However, 2:4 says, “This is the account (toledot) of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,” which is probably recalling chapter 1. So this could indicate that Adam and Eve’s story is a zoomed in recap of Day 6. There are good reasons to go either route.


True, but the ambiguity with toledot does enable us to reconcile other details hinting that the story of Adam and Eve is a sequel to Genesis 1:

  • If Gen 2 is recap of Day 6, then there are sequence problems because there is no vegetation yet (despite it having been prepared in 1:11-12).
  • Also, Genesis 4 poses some problems because, after committing murder, Cain is worried he will be killed by other people. Who would they be?


So the people Cain is worried about are Adam and Eve’s biological children despite the fact that 1) the author of Genesis (Moses) explicitly names the males Cain, Abel, and Seth, 2) Cain is most certainly the firstborn (given Eve’s excitement that she had a kid) and Seth the third (given Eve’s excitement that he is replacing Abel), and 3) Adam is said to have “had other sons and daughters (5:4)” after Seth, not before?


So we’re to believe that the author thought that all the others born before Seth weren’t worth mentioning even though they are relatively important in the narrative?


That’s possible, but not very convincing.


Clearly. But let’s leave the fork in the road in Gen. 4 aside and discuss Adam and Eve themselves. There’s something interesting about the names of these two humans: “Adam” and “Eve” are Hebrew words.


The real Adam and Eve would not have called each other these names because they did not speak Hebrew. The language didn’t develop until much later.


So their names are telling us something.

The Hebrew word adam means “man,” and is used a number of times in the early chapters of Genesis to refer to either 1) general humanity or 2) a specific individual. So Adam is retroactively being assigned the name “the man” by the author Moses. Why? Probably because Adam represents something more than himself. 


John Walton argues that Adam and Eve are archetypes of humanity. As an archetype, it means that what is true of Adam is true of all humanity. This is kind of like how I’m using you, Willie, to represent people who see Genesis as a science book.


Not necessarily. The text doesn’t require these things either. The verb “to form” (yatsar) is not always used to express the creation of something physical (see Zech. 12:1; 2 Kings 19:25; Ps. 33:15; Ps. 74:17; Ps. 94:20). Our modern tendency to understand “to form” in this way has more to do with the assumption that it is describing material creation. That, again, is more of a modern concern. It’s not a matter of taking this verb “literally.” It’s about taking it as it was intended, kind of like when we say that someone “kicked the bucket.”


No, Willie, no buckets are actually being punted. It’s a metaphor.


“Dust” signifies mortality. Later in the OT we see that all humans are created from dust (Job 4:19; Ps. 103:14; Ps. 104:29; Eccl. 12:7). So Adam represents all humans because all humans are mortal – including him. Also, it’s interesting to note that dust can’t be shaped into anything. Other ANE accounts say that man was formed from the “clay” and then shaped like pottery. There is a Hebrew word for clay, but Moses does not use it. Why? Probably because he’s not making a statement about the material composition of Adam like the other ANE accounts are.

And Eve’s creation from Adam’s “rib” (which is better translated “side”) indicates equality between the two genders.


Yes, God did. But the word “good” (tov) does not necessarily mean morally perfect (Eccl. 9:2 is a good example of this). The word is often used to denote something functioning in the way it was designed to function (2 Chron. 6:27; Ps. 133:1).

Here’s a big piece of evidence in the immediate context. In 2:18, God says it is “not good’ is for man to be alone. This indicates that Adam’s loneliness was part of God’s original “good” creation. So it is more reasonable to take his loneliness as indicating incompletion, not moral imperfection.

Also, why else would there be a tree of life in the Garden? Immortal beings do not need an eternal life source.


This is a common argument, but it doesn’t solve the dilemma. Even if it was the means of sustaining them eternally, Adam and Eve would not be intrinsically immortal – which they would have to be if there was no such thing as death in the world.

And there’s one more detail of note. God tells Adam to protect (shamar) the Garden. Protect it from what? Probably from the evil serpent slithering around, who is scheming before Adam’s “fall.” This means that evil is (to some degree) present in God’s “very good” creation. So we cannot claim on the basis of  tov alone that the world of Genesis 1-2 could not have included death (and everything that leads to it, including pain).


Yes, Paul speaks of sin coming into the world through Adam, and “death through sin” (Rom. 5:12).  But Paul is making an argument about representatives through whom humanity is identified, not about biological relationships (i.e. that we are Adam’s great great great . . . great grandchildren).


God’s command to Adam to work the Garden foreshadows priestly service in the temple (Num. 4:26, 28, 31, 33, 1:53; 3:25). When Adam sinned, as representative priest for humanity, unfettered access to God was lost. Adam was tasked to bring life (with the tree as the source). He failed. Death, therefore, became the only possible future for mortal man (i.e. everybody). But Christ, by hanging on the tree, means that humanity has access to eternal life. That’s the point Paul is making.


Sin is distinct from the category of “natural evil” (like earthquakes and other natural disasters) and does not exist apart from “law” (Rom. 5:13). So it is still very true that sin didn’t arrive until after Adam disobeyed God, because God’s command to him was the first “law.” Adam’s sin meant that the antidote to death – the tree of life – became inaccessible.

And a close look at Romans 5 consistently affirms that Paul is not resting his case on a biological argument. In Romans 5:18, one act of disobedience leads to condemnation for “all” men. But then Paul says that one act of righteousness leads to  “justification of life” (dikaiosin zoes) for “all” men. How can this be true if not everyone is in Christ (with all the benefits that confers)? Same goes for 1 Cor 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” If in Adam “all” die, how are “all” made alive in Christ if not everyone is in Christ (i.e. “saved”)?


What this shows that Paul is comparing their roles as representatives of humanity. Paul is saying that where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. It is through Christ that eternal life is possible. That’s the point. His comparison does not require an explanation for how sin spreads biologically, and we don’t have to take a particular view on Adam and Eve to uphold Paul’s comparison of Christ and Adam.


Adam explains humanity’s role as God’s image bearer to steward creation, and to reflect his glory to the world.  His story explains creation’s subjection to sin, which sets up the major theme of Genesis – God initiating his plan to save the world from its rebellion against him. All of this reaches a pinnacle in Christ. In other words, Adam is historical. Adam is Israel. Adam is us. Adam foreshadows Christ. Focusing too much attention on Adam and Eve as biological progenitors distracts from this intended meaning.

So when we read the Bible on its own terms, understand it in its own context, and then apply that to 21st century questions we see that it is not as concerned with explaining the scientific history of human origins as it is with explaining the purpose of humanity, which is to steward God’s world and to reflect his glory. When we sin, we do not do these things.


It was there the whole time, but you were so tethered to Enlightenment thinking that you couldn’t see it. Sorry, Willie.

But let me clarify something. My interpretation that Genesis 2 doesn’t require Adam and Eve to be the first people is still a work in progress. The fact that the Apocrypha supposes Adam as the first human and that humans were created from nothing is significant (Tobit 8:6; 2 Maccabees 7:28). Because of this, I want to say that I am still exploring the evidence.  Consider this a snapshot of my interpretation of Genesis 2, which may not represent my views in the future. But my whole goal is to understand the Bible as God intended it to be understood. This is very difficult at times, and I aim to correct my views in light of Scripture, not the other way around. And, thankfully, a position on creation and the historical Adam is not given in the early Christian creeds (which set the definition of orthodoxy), and church history has not been unified on this topic. Because of this, there is room to explore.


John Walton is the leading voice on this, and I lean heavily on his work. Try The Lost World of Adam and Eve and his contribution in the Counterpoints volume, Four Views on the Historical Adam. Also, check out NT Wright’s chapter on the historical Adam in Surprised by Scripture. 

Thanks for the conversation.


Christian, husband, pastor, father. Occasionally, I try to arrange words into sequences that make a difference.