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Continuing Work on the Historical Adam and Eve

December 31, 2019     Time: 16:58
Continuing Work on the Historical Adam and Eve


A special New Year's greeting from Dr. Craig and excerpts from an interview about Adam and Eve.

KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig right here on the brink of the year 2020. I'm Kevin Harris. Happy New Year! Trust us when we tell you that some really interesting and exciting podcasts, videos, and events are coming from Reasonable Faith in the year 2020. Oh, and by the way, here's Dr. Craig with a brief greeting before we get to today's topic.

DR. CRAIG: Hello! This is William Lane Craig. On this final day of the year I feel tremendously grateful to God for all his faithfulness and for the many stories of changed lives that we've been blessed to receive through Reasonable Faith. As we look forward to 2020 it's with a sense of great expectation of everything that is to come. We hope that you'll join with us in our defense and proclamation of the Gospel by supporting Reasonable Faith. Thank you for your faithfulness and your generosity. Jan joins with me in wishing you all a Happy New Year.

KEVIN HARRIS: Thank you, Dr. Craig. Again a quick reminder. Your prayerful and financial support of the work of Reasonable Faith is greatly appreciated. You can donate to this ministry at From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Recently, Dr. Craig was invited on the BioLogos podcast to discuss the historical Adam and Eve.[1] Here are some excerpts from that interview. From Reasonable Faith.

JIM STUMP: Some of the terminology we use here we need to try to sort out to see what we mean by it. Theologically what is often deemed as important in talking about a historical Adam and Eve is that they are the sole progenitors of the human race and that they were created de novo. What do we mean by that, and particularly with the traditional view of Adam and Eve that most of us inherited through Sunday school and growing up in the church? What our assumptions were then about who Adam and Eve were?

DEB HAARSMA: All right. De novo means miraculously created not from other creatures. God said, and then there were Adam and Eve.

KEN KEATHLEY: De novo would be in contrast to something ex nihilo.

DEB HAARSMA: And then the other part is sole progenitor meaning that there were no other people around either. So it's just descendants of Adam and Eve. They were the only parents of all of humanity.

JIM STUMP: They weren't interbreeding, say, with anything else that was around.

DEB HAARSMA: Right. It was only them. So that is the de novo-sole progenitor view.

JIM STUMP: OK. So that traditional view then, if we get into some of the dating of that, and if you add up all the genealogies and the numbers in Scripture, we have a view of putting Adam and Eve around 4000 BC. Maybe you say there were some gaps in the genealogies so maybe 6000 BC. Some will say somewhere in 4 to 6 to 10,000 BC sole progenitor-de novo creation. That’s that traditional view that we're now suggesting might not hold up to more careful scrutiny.

DEB HAARSMA: Yes. Actually there's been questions raised about it for a long time just from Scripture because everybody's wondered “Who was Cain afraid of?” and “Who did he marry?” and “Who was going to kill him?” and “Who lived in this city that he built?” So there is those hints that there were other people around. So this traditional view has its scriptural challenges. But then, yes, scientific issues. There are remains of human activity – human bodies and settlements – all over the planet. So it's pretty clear that whoever our first ancestors were, they went back much further in time.

JIM STUMP: Let's hear what some of our guests have to say about this position. Here's William Lane Craig from Talbot School of Theology.

DR. CRAIG: I don't think that that is a viable position scientifically. I think that that would be a perfectly plausible reading of the biblical text, but it would be one that is in serious conflict with modern science which indicates that humanity is much older than that or else that Adam and Eve were not the progenitors of the entire human race but were just a pair selected out of a wider population. Something's got to give.

JIM STUMP: So is it possible then for us to push that sole progenitor-de novo traditional view of Adam and Eve back a couple of hundred thousand years ago. Lots of scientists will tell us now that our species Homo sapiens has been around for a couple of hundred thousand years and there's some variability and ambiguity and just when you put those dates. But it is pretty clear that anatomically similar people to us have been around on the planet for a long time. Should we just say then that Scripture is setting Adam and Eve in this time period where we already have, say, agriculture that’s up and going and those are just some literary devices that were to tell the story. But theologically, if it's important that we have sole progenitor-de novo creation of Adam and Eve, we can put them back at the very beginning of Homo sapiens and still have all that we want theologically to come out of that?

It seems pretty clear to us and to our guests that the de-novo-sole progenitor view of Adam and Eve (that two humans were miraculously created as the first and only Homo sapiens between six and ten thousand years ago) that that isn't a position one can hold up alongside what science has learned about the world. But if we move Adam and Eve further back in time there's a point where science can no longer rule out the possibility of two individuals. So let's move to a different possibility then. If not sole progenitor-de novo creation, perhaps there was still this literal historical Adam and Eve as real people in a real past that you could bump into but that they were representatives of the rest of us humanity in this theological sense that we think is important. How would that work?

DEB HAARSMA: There's some interesting ways to do this. It could be that Adam and Eve were leaders of their tribe that represented the larger group. And maybe it even has a covenant nature to it that's not explicit in Scripture but we see that pattern in how God related to Noah and Abraham and David. He makes a covenant with a leader but then that affects all of their descendants and a whole group of people. So perhaps Adam and Eve's choice to sin was something that they did that impacted everyone else around them. You do have to think though about the size of groups at that time. They lived in hunter-gatherer tribes.

JIM STUMP: And what time are you referring to here specifically? It seems there are a couple of options and there are pros and cons of each. You could put them more recently so that it coincides with some of the timeline that we find in Scripture, but that has some issues.

DEB HAARSMA: You could put it recently, and you would have Adam and Eve living in the Middle East with agriculture just as you read in early chapters of Genesis, but you also have Homo sapiens living for a couple hundred thousand years prior to that and living and dying and killing each other and doing all sorts of things during that whole time. That raises a bunch of theological questions about the spiritual status of all of those people. There's also questions about how sin spread from Adam and Eve who first sinned to all of the others. Now, what we are sure of from Scripture is that we know that all people sin, but how did that first sin happen and how did that then get applied and how does that get transmitted through people? There's a lot of theological debate about that.

JIM STUMP: So that might lead some people to put this representative Adam and Eve further back in time closer to what we would say would be the origin of our species.

DEB HAARSMA: And that would be the cost then of not aligning as well with Scripture and the sort of cultural depiction of Adam and Eve because now we're back to no agriculture, hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa, and those lived in pretty small groups. But there were a lot of groups. It’s still a population of thousands. So there's still questions there of how the sin would spread within a group to apply to the other groups, but it does feel a little more plausible. It’s a much smaller population contained more geographically. You could spin tales where sin spreads socially. You know sin spreads socially now really easily – you see somebody else sin and then everybody starts copying it. So maybe there's something like that going on. Some people also talk about it was an historical event but it wasn't in a time frame of an hour. Maybe it was over a generation to kind of give time for communication to happen among these groups for the whole community to be making this sort of choice to rebel against God. That allows you to preserve some certain theological things more easily than a recent representative.

DR. CRAIG: While that viewpoint is defensible scientifically, oddly enough, my reservations about it are biblical. I think there are three good reasons to think that Adam and Eve are not simply selected out of a wider population.

JIM STUMP: Here's William Lane Craig. His first reason points to the role of Genesis 1-11 as a whole which is sometimes called the primeval history.

DR. CRAIG: Scholars have asked themselves: Why doesn't the book of Genesis begin with the call of Abraham in Chapter 12 – the origins of the nation of Israel? And the answer that commentators always give is that the primeval history is interested in universalizing God's concern for humanity. He's not concerned with just a select group of people. Rather, he is concerned with all of mankind. Therefore the primordial history is prefixed to the call of Abraham to show that right from the beginning God's concern with humanity is universal and the call of Abraham is simply going to be the means by which God will fulfill his original intention to bless all of humanity. And so that universal interest is incompatible, I think, with this view that God has just selected two special people and their descendants to be the object of his concern.

The second reason would be when you compare Genesis 2 and the creation of humanity to other ancient Near Eastern stories about how mankind was created you find that this is a common interest in ancient Near Eastern mythology. Stories about how mankind came to be. It's not about specific people. It's about how the human race was created by the gods and how they came to exist. And so Genesis would fit into that general interest. It gives a very different answer to the question. In the ancient Near Eastern myths, humanity is usually created as slave labor for the gods, but in the Bible humanity is created as the image of God on Earth – his special co-regents on this planet. He loves us and calls us into relationship with him. But the interest is the same – explaining where humanity comes from – and that's a universal interest.

JIM STUMP: OK. So Bill is saying that Genesis does not portray the creation of Adam and Eve as just a couple of individuals among a wider population, but rather it's presented as the origin story of the entire human race.

DR. CRAIG: And finally the third factor would be the story itself when you read it suggest that there isn't anybody else on Earth at that time. It begins in Genesis 2, When there was as yet no man to till the soil then God created Adam to work the ground. There just doesn't seem to be anybody else on Earth until he creates Adam. And there is no companion found for Adam on Earth until Eve is specially created.

So for those three reasons I think that despite the scientific defensibility of this view that it just doesn't fit with the biblical narratives.

I think that it's plausible to think that the type of literature that Genesis 2 and 3 is, in particular, is a sort that does not need to be taken literally, and that if there is an historical interest in these stories it would be most plausibly carried by the genealogies that connect Adam to Abraham via Noah in unbroken succession. Given that these genealogies melt seamlessly into persons like Abraham who are indisputably intended to be historical it's plausible to think that his ancestors were also intended to be historical figures. So while I think it's a defensible position, I think that it does occasion difficulties with regard to how the genealogies function.

When you bring the New Testament into the discussion, it seems pretty clear that both Paul and significantly, Jesus, regarded Adam and Eve as real people that actually lived. So the person who takes a purely mythological or symbolic approach to these narratives is going to be in the very awkward position of correcting the apostle Paul and even the Lord Jesus himself on matters of doctrine, and that, I think, is an extremely uncomfortable position to be in.

Many people think that the historicity of Adam and Eve is vital because the doctrine of original sin seems to stand or fall with this doctrine. If there wasn't a literal Adam and Eve then obviously there wasn't a literal Fall. I'm not persuaded that that's a very good argument. The doctrine of original sin, by which I mean that Adam's sin was imputed to humanity so that we are guilty for what Adam did, is very weakly attested in Scripture. It's not in the curses pronounced upon man in Genesis 3. You don't get it anywhere else except for Romans chapter 5, and even there it's not clear because what Paul says is that sin spread to all men because all men sinned. It requires the free choice of every person. So while the universality of sin, I think, is essential to Christian faith (no one can be saved apart from the atoning death of Christ), I don't see that the doctrine of original sin and the Fall is all that important. Rather, here's my concern. It's what we've already alluded to. Both Jesus and Paul seem to have believed that these were really historical people. Therefore if they were not we're in a position of having to say that Paul and Jesus held false beliefs about important theological matters, and that's hugely significant because Jesus is supposed to be divine and therefore omniscient and incapable of holding false beliefs. So how do you deal with the deity of Christ? The deity of Christ, in one sense, could be the casualty of the ripple effect of denying the historicity of Adam and Eve. So there is a kind of knock-on or domino effect of this that I think does make it a pretty significant issue.[2]



                  [1] (accessed December 31, 2019).


                  [2]          Total Running Time: 16:57 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)