Was Adam a Real Person?

Author Tim Barnett Published on 02/22/2016

Last month I was asked to speak at a church on the question “Should Christians Embrace Evolution?” The way you answer this question depends entirely on what you mean by evolution. Broadly speaking, evolution can be divided into two categories: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution, or small-scale biological change, is obviously true and is virtually accepted by everyone. Macroevolution, on the other hand, is much more controversial. This is the idea that all of the diversity of life is descended from a common ancestor through an unguided, natural process.

In this talk, I give three overarching reasons for why I believe Christians should not embrace macroevolution. The first is a logical argument. I do not believe orthodox neo-Darwinian evolution, as taught by the evolutionists themselves, is logically compatible with a theistic Creator of all biological life. The second is a scientific argument. I do not find the evidence given in favor of macroevolution to be convincing. In fact, I believe there are features of the biological realm that make an intelligent designer absolutely necessary.

The third is a theological argument. This is the argument I’d like to share with you. Most theistic evolutionists believe there is overwhelming evidence for human evolution—enough to confidently reject the existence of a historical Adam. For them, the weight of the scientific evidence demands that Christians reinterpret Adam and Eve as literary figures.

But, is this a valid option? What’s at stake in denying the historicity of an original Adam? Theistic evolutionists insist that there is no great loss. For instance, in his book Evolutionary Creation, Denis Lamoureux states, “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” I adamantly disagree. In fact, I believe that there are serious consequences in rejecting Adam as a historical person.

First, the consistent testimony of Scripture is that the human race goes back to a historical Adam. The authors of the Bible consistently present genealogies that begin with Adam. Genesis 5 provides a lineage of Adam to Noah and his three sons. Genesis 11 picks up this lineage from Noah’s son Shem and continues until Abraham. First Chronicles extends these genealogies even further. In fact, nine chapters are devoted to showing the connection between Adam and the twelve tribes of Israel.

And this isn’t simply an Old Testament thing. The Gospel of Luke also contains a genealogy that goes back to Adam. Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, traces the ancestry from Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). These long genealogies are the verses most people skip over during their morning devotions. It’s reasonable to ask, Why are they even in the Bible? The answer is clear: They are in the Bible to show us that the nation of Israel is biologically connected to a real Adam.

Second, the biblical authors speak as if Adam is a real person. Most notably, Jesus assumes Adam and Eve were real people when He addressed the issue of divorce.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:3–6).

If Adam was not a real person, then either Jesus didn’t know that, or He knowingly deceived the Pharisees to make His point. Both of these options are untenable for the believer. Furthermore, if Adam and Eve were not the first married couple, then it’s hard to see how Jesus’ argument for marriage being a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman holds up. Jesus grounds marriage in the created order, not a fairy tale.

Similarly, the apostle Paul refers to Adam as a historical person on numerous occasions. For instance, during his sermon on Mars Hill to the Athenians, Paul says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:13–14). And in First Corinthians, Paul writes, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21–22).

It is undeniable that Paul believed Adam was a real person. But where does this leave the theistic evolutionist who denies the existence of Adam? Theologian Peter Enns answers this question for us. He says, “One approach that is helpful to me is that I think Paul certainly assumed that Adam was a person and the progenitor of the human race. And I would expect nothing less from Paul being a first-century man.” Theistic evolutionists, like Enns, are left to defend the position that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, got it wrong.

Third, the doctrine of the fall is firmly grounded in a historical event involving a historical Adam. Probably the most important theological passage that relies on a historical Adam is found in Romans 5. What makes this argument so profound is that it contrasts the work of Adam with the work of Jesus. Paul begins by establishing Adam as the originator of human sin and death in the world.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Rom. 5:12–14)

A real historical man brought human sin and death into the world. Adam’s actions had real consequences for everyone who has come after him. If you remove Adam as a historical individual, then you have removed what Paul describes as the cause of sin and death. A myth cannot bring sin into the world; only a real moral agent can do that.

You may be wondering, If there is no Adam, who (or what) brought sin in the world? Theistic evolutionist Karl Giberson clears that up for us in his book Saving Darwin. He argues that sin was there in human beings from the very beginning: “Selfishness...drives the evolutionary process. Unselfish creatures died, and their unselfish genes perished with them. Selfish creatures, who attended to their own needs for food, power, and sex, flourished and passed on these genes to their offspring. After many generations selfishness was so fully programmed in our genomes that it was a significant part of what we now call human nature.”

On this view, there was no Fall. There was no good creation in the beginning. Humanity has evolution to thank for its sinful nature. Humans never became fallen; they always were fallen. The problems don’t stop there. Paul continues:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:18–19)

Notice that Paul is contrasting the consequences of the work of Adam and Christ. This is why he uses the “” terminology. As representative head of the human race, Adam’s sin brought condemnation on all men. When Paul writes that many were made sinners, he literally means that Adam’s sin caused us to be sinners. Adam’s sin was imputed to the whole human race. In the same way, Christ’s righteousness gets imputed to anyone who receives his gift of grace. All are in Adam in virtue of their physical birth because all are biological descendants of Adam. However, only those who undergo new birth are in Christ.

So the historicity and actions of Adam are inextricably linked to the actions of the Redeemer. This means that without a historical Adam, there is no historical fall. And if no fall, then there is no original sin nature that is passed to all men. That is, we are no longer made sinners as Paul puts it. And if we are not made sinners through Adam’s historical disobedience, then the necessity of a historical Redeemer comes into question.

Paul connects our real, historical problem with a real, historical solution.

Let me leave you with an illustration to help drive home Paul’s point. Imagine a young boy sits next to his grandfather, and a large scar across his grandfather’s cheek catches the boy’s attention. The boy asks, “Grandpa, how did you get that scar on your face?” The grandfather replies, “Well, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...” Immediately the boy interrupts his grandfather, “No grandpa, I don’t want a fairy tale, I want to know how you got that real scar on your face.”

The problem of sin is real. We experience it every day. A fictional tale does not explain the fall of humanity into sin.

There are a host of reasons why I believe Christians should not embrace macroevolution. Among the most serious is the theistic evolutionist’s rejection of a historical Adam. As we have seen, denying a real Adam creates many more problems than it solves.