Now that we have a sense of the genomic evidence for human evolution that is pushing some evangelicals to revise the traditional understanding of Adam ("Adam revisionism"), we now need to get our bearings on the questions that must be asked as we attempt to navigate these troubled waters. There are many questions, but it seems to me that they can be conveniently grouped into five clusters. As you will see, these five clusters of questions are inter-related and overlapping.
First Cluster: Questions Concerning the Historicity of Adam
- Are we to understand the Genesis narratives about Adam and Eve as making a referential claim that these were real, historical individuals?
- Can the opening chapters Genesis be read as claiming that Adam is symbolic of Everyman, or of Israel, or is archetypal, or some combination of these?
- Is the Hebrew word adam in some of its occurrences a designation for "mankind" inclusive of male and female? Most scholars would say that a generic/archetypal meaning obtains in at least some instances (e.g., Gen 1:26-27; 5:2), clearly not in others (e.g., Gen 5:3-5), but what about Gen 2:7?
- When does the Hebrew word adam function as a proper name ("Adam")?
- Do all of the instances of adam with the definite article in Gen 2-3 where it is typically translated "the man" necessarily refer to the individual named Adam or can some of these instances be archetypal?
- Did the other Old Testament authors believe in the historicity of an individual named Adam (1 Chron 1:1; Job 31:33; Hos 6:7)?
- Did Jesus (Matt 19:4-6), Paul (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 11:8-9, 12; 15:22, 45-49; 1 Tim 2:13-14), and other New Testament writers (Luke 3:38; Jude 14), believe in the historicity of an individual named Adam?
- Is their belief part of the Bible's affirmative, authoritative teaching, or merely an incidental feature deriving from the human authors' cultural context?
- If we say it is not incidental but authoritative, how do we deal with Phil 2:10 where Paul refers to a three-tiered cosmos ("in heaven and on earth and under the earth") in an incidental manner?
Second Cluster: Questions Concerning the Interpretation of the Formation Account
The formation account is Gen 2:7, 21-23:
"Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature ... So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.'" (ESV)
- How literally must we interpret this account? What are the exegetical and biblical-theological criteria that should guide us in making that determination?
- Did God literally form Adam's body out of the dust of the ground and then breathe life into him per a literal interpretation of Gen 2:7? Or does "and the man became a living creature" imply that he was not alive prior to God's inbreathing a soul into him?
- Could Gen 2:7 be interpreted less literally to mean that man's body is made out of the common elements of the earth while allowing for intervening biological steps?
- Or could the forming of man "of dust from the ground" merely be affirming man's mortality (Gen 3:19; Ps 90:3; 103:14; Eccl 12:7)?
- Is it permissible to interpret Gen 2:7 in a way that envisions Adam having living ancestors?
- Did God literally put Adam to sleep and form Eve out of Adam’s "rib/side" per a literal interpretation of Gen 2:21-23?
- Or could God's action of "making/building" Adam's "rib/side" into a woman be interpreted less literally, e.g., as some sort of DNA transfer or cloning, or as a symbolic "division" of the archetypal "man" of Gen 1:26-27 into complementary "halves" of male and female?
Third Cluster: Questions Concerning Providentially Guided Natural Processes
- Does the Bible leave room for the idea that God providentially guided and used evolutionary processes to create the human body, which would require that Adam had biological ancestors?
- If Adam did have biological ancestors, should we view them as image-bearing humans having souls, or as pre-human hominids having human-like bodies but lacking souls?
- If we say that God could have used evolutionary processes to form man, were these providentially-guided natural processes sufficient to make human persons who bear the divine image and have souls?
- Or would these natural processes have had to be supplemented by supernatural divine intervention to make human persons who bear the divine image and have souls?
Fourth Cluster: Questions Concerning the Fall and Original Sin
- Are the Augustinian doctrines of the Fall and original sin biblical and crucial to maintain?
- Are the Reformed doctrines of the federal headship of Adam, the covenant of works, the breaking of the covenant of works, and the imputation of Adam's sin biblical and crucial to maintain?
- Do these doctrine require that Adam and Eve existed alone in the pre-Fall situation, or can these doctrines be reformulated in reference to a population of pre-Fall humans?
- Was there a historical moment when all mankind moved from a state of innocence to a state of condemnation (the Fall)?
- Is it theologically permissible to affirm that humans "sinned" in some sense (without guilt being reckoned to their account) before Adam broke the covenant?
- Is it theologically permissible to affirm that humans died before Adam broke the covenant?
- Is original sin and guilt something that came upon the human race at one time because of Adam’s one transgression (Augustine)?
- Or is becoming a sinner something that people experience individually and independently throughout history (Pelagius)?
Fifth Cluster: Questions Concerning the Unity of the Human Race
- What is the theological rationale behind the genetic unity of the human race and the notion that all humans descend from Adam and Eve by ordinary generation?
- Does Acts 17:26 ("he made from one man every nation of mankind") teach that all humans are the biological offspring of Adam (or Noah)?
- Can genetic unity be maintained in some form without affirming that all humans descend from the original male-female pair?
- Was there a population of image-bearing humans alongside Adam and Eve, or must all image-bearing humans be their biological offspring?
- Were the origins of man monogenic (one primal population in one geographic location) or polygenic (multiple populations in various locations that later merged)?
- Does Adam's federal headship and the doctrine of original sin and guilt require that all humans descend from Adam and Eve by ordinary generation?
- Or could Adam have been appointed as federal head over humans not descending from him by ordinary generation?
These are all of the questions I could think of. I am sure there are more. My main purpose in this post is not to give answers, but to analyze the problem by breaking it down into sub-questions. As you can see, it is a much more complex problem than simply asking, "Was Adam a historical person?" The Zondervan book summarizes the debate as "Four Views on the Historical Adam," but when you read the book and start to unpack the problem, many other important questions come into view and demand our attention. We should not think that we have resolved the problem by answering only one of the questions. We must wrestle with all of the questions if we want to do justice to all of the the exegetical, biblical-theological, and systematic implications of the "Adam and Evolution" issue.