Thoughts on Reading Through Genesis – Were Adam and Eve Real?

Intended Audience – Open-minded followers of Jesus who enjoy searching the richness of the Scriptures. This post is not to undermine our faith but rather, to strengthen it. Frankly, I’d rather think about these types of questions as opposed to wonder if Brett Favre is going to retire or what’s going to happen on American Idol. Hope that helps.

As I mentioned in the last post, I have always carried a sense of frustration as I read through the Bible. Some of it is due to my skeptical nature, another part is due to my 21st Century, Western perspectives trying to engage an inspired, ancient, middle-eastern text written in Hebrew. I’m sure there are several other factors but to cut to the chase, I find Genesis to be filled with questions. Know that I love the text, questions and all, because I believe that struggle and prayer lead to a deeper faith.

In the previous post, I asked if the penalty of sin was too severe? At first glance, I believe it is. However, after a better understanding of the character of God, and the severity of sin, the story of the fall of humanity is tragic to say the least. However, I find praising God for His love for humanity and His redemption of all creation and for giving us a choice.

Today I put the question out there, “Were Adam and Eve real people?” It used to anger me that people would even question such a thing. It’s right there in the Bible, is that not good enough? Throughout my upbringing and during my undergraduate, I was taught that if you did not take one part of the Bible literally, than you could not take other parts literally. So if you wanted to the resurrection of Jesus to be literally true, than you needed things like the Creation account to also be literally true.

Here’s why it’s in question for me:

If you read commentaries and studies on Genesis, you will notice there is a lot of figurative language in Genesis 1 especially. (It’s quite beautiful too).  Why is it written that way?

Similar Ancient Near East Accounts. (This is what got me thinking about it this question)
“The description of human beings in the Babylonian Atrahasis. The background to this passage is a strike on the part of the lesser gods who are tired of doing heavy labor on behalf of the major gods. They insist that they be replaced. Belet-ili, the mother god, takes clay and mixes it with the blood of the instigator of the strike, then the text says:

After she had mixed the clay,
She summoned the Anunna, the great gods,
The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.”
(exert taken from this biologos post)

Adam – simply means “mankind”. It may be hairsplitting, but a name like that tends to favor the figurative rather than the literal.

Some of our early church fathers didn’t see Adam and Eve as historical figures.
“Who would be so childish as to think that God was like a human gardener and planted a paradise in Eden facing the east, and in it made a real visible tree, so that one could acquire life by eating its fruit with real teeth or, again, could participate in good and evil by eating what he took from the other tree? And if the text says that God walked in the garden in the evening, or Adam hid himself under the tree, I cannot think that anyone would dispute that these things are said in the figurative sense, in an effort to reveal certain mysteries by means of an apparent historical tale and not by something that actually took place. . . . . ” (First Principles – 4: 16 by Origen of Alexandria) – Ouch – that one hurts.

I know Paul writes about Adam in Romans but if I want to be honest, you could likely justify either presupposition.
However, Romans 5:12 (“Just as sin entered through one man …”) seems to point at a historical Adam. It would have been different to me had he written, “Just as sin entered humanity or mankind or the human race …”

So here’s where I am with this. I am not convinced either way, though I lean towards the historical Adam and am fascinated by the figurative argument. In all honesty, I have no problem that God could have created the universe and all it contains in 6 days, 6 months, 6 million years or 6 seconds.

I have no problem with Adam and Eve (although I do think when if/when I meet them in heaven, I am going to kick Adam in the shins and try to insult Eve by saying something like, “You are not as pretty as the picture my Sunday School teacher showed me on the flannel board” and “So you’re the ones we have to thank for cancer, telemarketers, traffic, death, and country music.” It being heaven and all, I’ll forgive them, hug them, and invite them over for a game of “Apples To Apples” while listening to music by the Cranberries, Lemonheads and Fionna. I’ll have an enormous fruit buffet, all in my beautiful backyard which I call the “Garden of Eatin'” How do you like them app… ;-)

Here’s what I know, I no longer need them to be real. And here’s why. Whenever we equate something non-essential to the Resurrection, we undermine the central foundation of our theology. If I get to heaven and God tells me that Adam and Eve were fictitious characters created to give the children of Israel a frame of reference and exalt the truth that God is the sovereign Creator of all things, I won’t assume that this being  is really the devil and that I am in hell. I’d like to think that I’d chuckle and ask what else was I wrong about and God would spend the time telling me, or maybe He would just spit in the dirt, touch my head and allow the scales to fall off my theological eyes – it’s up to Him.

So in the end, I have two questions, Do you believe Adam and Eve were real? And do you need them to be? And a bonus question, Do you believe that it undermines the Resurrection to equate the Creation account with it? And a bonus, bonus question, Does this threaten your view of inspiration?

Interested in reading more? Check out:
The Biologos Forum – Science and Faith in Dialogue
Scot McKnight’s many excellent posts under “Adam”
and this Youtube Clip


  1. I’m pretty much where you are in this journey. Good thoughts!

    Oh, and I like country music so we must part ways on this issue. ;-)

  2. Thansk Jason – I appreciate that.

    Regarding the country music however, I knew there was something off about you but I just thought it was your friendship with Miguel. Listen, country music is like the forbidden fruit of Eden, run away my friend, run away :)

  3. Khalaf Haddad says:

    Hi Tim,

    Good conversation starter. It’s no surprise that I hold to a literal view of Genesis 1-11. If we don’t, then we run into a few problems.

    One, if this is an allegory or some other story then what is the purpose of the crucifixion or the resurrection of Jesus? That is, if original sin is something made up, then wouldn’t salvation be as well?

    Two, if Jesus Christ is referred to as the Second Adam, and the First Adam is imaginary, then are we open to the possibility that the Second Adam is a fictitious person?

    A little thinking out loud here, obviously. I’d love to hear your feedback.


  4. Khalaf,
    Thanks for reading.
    I know what you are saying and as I mentioned, the Romans 5:12 passage seems to point to a historical Adam.

    But for the sake of conversation, supposing Adam and Eve were not historical but representative, I do not see how the crucifixion and resurrections loses credibility, meaning or power. Those who hold this view contend that the Creation proclaims to the ancient Hebrews that there is a monotheistic God who is the Life-Giver, and Sovereign above all. Also unique to the Jewish tradition is the high value given to humanity. As opposed to being slaves of the gods, mankind is created in the image of God. That’s beautiful.

    Anyway, as you continue reading, He is the God of Abraham. As a present-day Christian Westerner, some of this is lost on me because I have never appreciated monotheism as an ancient Jewish person whose entire world was entrenched in polytheism. So just that previous statement is groundbreaking for them and the story of Adam and Eve would serve a tremendous purpose in providing a frame of origin.

    But I don’t think your second point is logical. Why would Adam’s historicity affect Jesus’? Now this is something that I will contend. We cannot equate the two as equal values because that undermines the central significance of Jesus and the work He came to do. If I only had a copy of say, the Gospel of John, are you saying that I would also need Genesis to truly believe?

    Further, one could still maintain that the Scriptures are still inspired and infallible and not hold that Adam was an actual historical figure. The idea would be that the Holy Spirit knew the truth, and inspired by the writer of the Pentateuch whether he knew or didn’t or regardless to what he actually believe (or didn’t believe).

    Feel free to push back my friend and if you would, pray for our Sr. High Winter Retreat this weekend. Hope you and the family are well.

  5. Man, I love this topic. I have wrestled with it for the last ten years since my seminary days and have followed some of the same lines of thought you have here. I can’t help but answer those questions you concluded with, even if I don’t have time for the bonus questions… :)

    Do you believe Adam and Eve were real?
    Like you, I can’t firmly plant my foot on either side, but I lean toward a more figurative interpretation. I think I see them as representative of what happened to humanity, leaving God’s presence by choosing their own way.

    And do you need them to be real?
    No. And as a reply to Khalaf, I would ask, is a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 necessary in order to believe that we have a sin problem? I would argue that it isn’t. The problem of sin is apparent throughout Scripture and throughout the history of humanity (and acutely apparent in my own life). I need redemption! And I don’t need Adam and Eve to be actual people to know that.

    Thanks, Tim for stirring this discussion. It’s one of my favorite theological topics.

  6. @Jason B
    “I need redemption! And I don’t need Adam and Eve to be actual people to know that.”

    Well said, and I wholeheartedly agree.

    I’m reading a fascinating book right now, which comes at this whole topic from a very interesting angle. It’s called “The Lost World of Genesis One” written by an OT professor from Wheaton College.

    His proposal is that, based on in-depth word study and comparisons to other similar ancient creation texts, the creation account is ancient cosmology, in that the creation of the Earth is described in the “scientific” terms that the original audience understood. And as such, reading it literally is a huge mistake, since our modern scientific findings were completely foreign to them. So asking the Genesis account to describe creation in a material, and scientific form, is a category mistake. The text instead may have been a description of God’s creative act to bring order to the universe, and to give it a purpose and a function, ie: to be His temple/dwelling place and to create humans to be caretakers of His creation, images of Him on Earth.

    I’m about halfway through, and it’s a wild ride so far. Good stuff, I highly recommend it.

  7. The Slothful One says:

    A most thoughtful post, Tim. Hey…wait, aren’t you the same guy who mocked me for believeing the Earth is some 4.5 billion years old ;-p

    Oh, and Country is the new Rock’n’Roll.

  8. Hey my brother, no that was not me.

    Second, as open as I am to dreaming about the possibilities, I am very suspicious of God the million-billion years supposedly needed.

    Third, Social Media is the new Rock ‘n’ Roll – music is now just an accessory.

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