In recent years, several self-proclaimed evangelicals, or those associated with evangelical institutions, have called into question the historicity of Adam and Eve. It is said that because of genomic research we can no longer believe in a first man called Adam from whom the entire human race has descended.

I’ll point to some books at the end which deal with the science end of the question, but the most important question is what does the Bible teach. Without detailing a complete answer to that question, let me suggest ten reasons why we should believe that Adam was a true historical person and the first human being.

1. The Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology. Of course, Genesis is not a history textbook or a science textbook, but that is far from saying we ought to separate the theological wheat from the historical chaff. Such a division owes to the Enlightenment more than the Bible.

2. The biblical story of creation is meant to supplant other ancient creation stories more than imitate them. Moses wants to show God’s people “this is how things really happened.” The Pentateuch is full of warnings against compromise with the pagan culture. It would be surprising, then, for Genesis to start with one more mythical account of creation like the rest of the ANE.

3. The opening chapters of Genesis are stylized, but they show no signs of being poetry. Compare Genesis 1 with Psalm 104, for example, and you’ll see how different these texts are. It’s simply not accurate to call Genesis poetry. And even if it were, who says poetry has to be less historically accurate?

4. There is a seamless strand of history from Adam in Genesis 2 to Abraham in Genesis 12. You can’t set Genesis 1-11 aside as prehistory, not in the sense of being less than historically true as we normally understand those terms. Moses deliberately connects Abram with all the history that comes before him, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden.

5. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as historical.

6. Paul believed in a historical Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-49). Even some revisionists are honest enough to admit this; they simply maintain that Paul (and Luke) were wrong.

7. The weight of the history of interpretation points to the historicity of Adam. The literature of second temple Judaism affirmed an historical Adam. The history of the church’s interpretation also assumes it.

8. Without a common descent we lose any firm basis for believing that all people regardless of race or ethnicity have the same nature, the same inherent dignity, the same image of God, the same sin problem, and that despite our divisions we are all part of the same family coming from the same parents.

9. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of original sin and guilt does not hold together.

10. Without a historical Adam, Paul’s doctrine of the second Adam does not hold together.

Christians may disagree on the age of the earth, but whether Adam ever existed is a gospel issue. Tim Keller is right:

[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority. . . .If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching. (Christianity Today June 2011)

If you want to read more about the historical Adam debate, check out Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins.

For more on the relationship between faith and science, you may want to look at one of the following:

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Comments:


184 thoughts on “10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam”

  1. JimB says:

    Is Kevin DeYoung a “self-proclaimed” evangelical? I thought he was a Reformed confessionalist? That would seem to be more to the point.

  2. Saskia says:

    I don’t personally find arguments 6, 9 or 10 compelling, as they suggest that Paul’s points only stand if he is talking literally. But a lot of the time he talks symbolically.
    You can claim that he is talking literally but then you would have to be a universalist (how else can one literally read “in Christ all are made alive”?). Seems to be a bit of picking and choosing going on?
    Postscript – I pick and choose too! I think everyone does, both consciously and subconsciously. But to pick and choose while saying that this is precisely not what you are doing is a different story.

  3. Mike Gantt says:

    Saskia,

    You said, “You can claim that he is talking literally but then you would have to be a universalist (how else can one literally read “in Christ all are made alive”?).”

    I do and am.

  4. Keith Plummer says:

    Forgive me if it has already been posted but Peter Enns has responded to Kevin’s post here: http://bit.ly/xoSdDm

  5. Larry Valin says:

    Does Adam’s birth date on Friday of Creation Week March 4001 BC mean anything? My previous post is here based on Chronology of E.W.Faulstich.

    http://biblechronologybooks.com/

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  7. Elin says:

    10 reasons to believe in a historical Adam: to think otherwise may have complications for our theology. Yes, sound reasoning indeed.

    This may sound a bit harsh, but I truly believe this is reasoning backwards. If all the scientific evidence suggest the earth is much older than 6000 years and that we didn’t come from one human pair, then it seems to me the more logical, head on solution should be to wrestle it out. How do we see the general christian story of fall & redemption? Is it possible to hold to Paul’s teachings when you don’t take Adam to be an actual person? Can it still be true if it scetches the general human state without an explaination? Instead, we keep coming up with more of this.

    I think point 3 makes no sense at all; there is far more literary genres than just literal and poetic. I do not think that reading Genesis 1 to be literal is the most logical thing to do. I’ve never read it like that; maybe you have, but you don’t have to be a hard core Enlightment Skeptic to see it as myth. Maybe stories told through the ages about events once happened, but not literal. It’s too obviously mythical to me to have a story that explains where all the languages in the world come from and I do sense a difference between Gen. 1-11 and the rest of the book.

    5,6,7: ‘people used to think he was real’ yes. good for them. They had no reason to think otherwise. We do.

    8. I see no logic in this arguement whatsoever..?

    Yes, this is a tricky point, and yes, it cld have implications, but to deal with them I hounestly think we need more sound reasoning than this.

  8. Beau Quilter says:

    I don’t understand the constant debate on this topic. There is no reason to doubt that the first human was Manu, the progenitor of all humans, also known as Satyavrata, and his wife is Satarupa. We have this knowledge directly from the holy Mahabharata, and there is no misunderstanding in translation from the original Sanskrit.

    We likewise have no reason to doubt that the revered author of this holy text was Veda Vyasa (also known as Krishna Dvaipayana), who in the holiest Vaishnava traditions is regarded to be an Avatar of the highest God Vishnu, himself.

    Why are we so prone to doubt our holy scriptures?

  9. jim says:

    As a devout Christian, and as someone who has taught bible study for over 30 years, I must say that I find Mr. DeYoung’s 10 reasons to be ineffectual. Each is based upon two foundations: if the Bible says it, it must be literally true; and, if it has been taught (and believed by a lot of people) for centuries, it must be true. Thus, we must believe the sun circles the earth, and the predators at one time ate vegetation – their blunt grinding teeth falling out and sharp incisors replacing them after the Fall. Mr. DeYoung, using his article, would not pass an elementary logic class.

    Consider carefully: what is the real effect if Adam and Eve were not historical? In fact, the truth of God, the truth of the nature of man, the truth of the relationship of man and God, and the truth of redemption still are present. By continuing to insist upon literal readings, Christians continue to be open to polite tolerance at best, and harsh ridicule at worst.

    God’s truth lies behind the Bible; he chose to express that truth in many different ways. History, prophecy, poetry, stories, parables, object lessons, prayers, all are used in the Bible to teach truths of God to willful mankind in many cultures over at least 3000 years. I’m willing to accept that God also used a form of myth (used in the scholarly sense, not in today’s popular usage.

  10. Larry says:

    See previous comment.

    Gene Faulstich uses chronology to give creation date of Adam.

    It is logical and does not concern itself with other “logical” arguments against historical Adam. His books are free.
    http://biblechronologybooks.com/

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  12. Andy says:

    Kevin,

    Perhaps this post would be best expanded into a series. Many of your points are stated without much theological meat attached to digest. Readership is forced into an either/or relationship with your comments. For example, you seem to tie historical Adam into the notion of an original pair. I believe in a historical Adam but not that Adam and Eve were an original pair. Federal headship, with a healthy dose of Irenaeus, would be my current position on original sin and total depravity (a so-called “radiation theory” rather than genetic/lineage theory). Therefore, I can fully accept a Historical Adam along with evolutionary theory, an original population (10,000-ish is the current estimate) and have a Reformed doctrine of Original Sin (as a fellow RCA pastor).

    Blessings always,
    Andy

  13. Bibsch says:

    I find DeYoung’s argument for historical adam not convincing and I shall respond here briefly. P 1: Literature includes other genre than history and theology. P 2: It is assumed that Genesis was to warn God’s people against pagan culture. More likely, it is simply telling them where they came from and who created them; simply put, the history of their ancestors. P 3: I agreed that poetry is no less historically accurate. Similarly, by defining Gen 1-11 as non-literal history does not make it less historically accurate. It is just non-literal history. P 4: Seamless? Not sure. Moses simply relates God’s people to their ancestors and that is Adam and Eve. As in any culture, there is a tradition that leads to a mythic history; this is what Moses was attempting to do. Refer to response on P 1. P 5: It may also be read as tradition recount, though mixed with literal and non-literal history. P 6: This is an assumption of Paul’s belief. Apparently, there are many misunderstanding about Paul’s teachings. P 7: It depends on what you have read about the history of interpretation to conclude this so absolutely. One who brought up in western civilisation often failed to understanding ancient cultures such as Jewish and Asians. Second Temple Judaism literature did not prove or disprove the historicity of Adam; they were records of their religious traditions that are not distinctly history or theology. Likewise, church history records are in similar vogue. P 8: This is question asked by a modern scientific mind. The ancients might not have that in mind. Also, the genre of Gen 1-11 does not justify to have that question; this question is beyond the scope of the literature. It is like reading biology into Hobbit; are the Hobbits shorter than average humans? That is, it is not the point. P 9: Whether Adam is historical or not, of which I believed he is, does not affect the doctrine of original sin and guilt. He was the representative of humans. P 10: Even if Adam is non-historical, it does not affect the doctrine of the second Adam. It was a theological tradition in Genesis that passed on this divine teaching about why God and humans were separated and that Christ is the bridge to return to God’s kingdom in NT to us. Again, DeYoung’s argument is flawed by the ideology of distinct history and theology and neglected other extant genres in the literary world.

    Keller has also fallen into the ideology of distinct history and theology, and read Paul with the assumption that he intended to teach Adam and Eve were real historical figures. There is a reason why Paul said that, but I highly doubt that historicity of Adam and Eve is one. Rather, it is theological. Paul’s teachings pertaining to Adam and Christ may be read as a comparative pedagogy, regardless it is historically accurate or not.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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