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#696 The Fate of Those Who Lived Long before Christ

August 23, 2020

Hello Dr. Criag,

I am a Christian but I have been struggling with what to do about Adam and Eve. I believe that God created the world, since the idea that reality just happens to exist seems to me to be an absurdity. I believe your theory, and honestly a sort of modified version of Swamidass's theory, of the historical Adam both work.

But what bothers me as a Christian, and has frankly lead to doubting, is the amount of time between now and the first humans. 500,000 years is quite a long time. Think of all the humanity that existed between Adam and Abraham. There seems to have been just so much time for human life that existed outside of the scope of God's story. How do you think about this? Did God have a plan for all of these men? Did Christ die for them? Will there be a place for them in the New Heavens and the New Earth? I think I would be a fool to ignore the evidence for Christianity because of this. But the time gap deeply bothers me. It just seems like a lot of waste. I'm sure some of these questions have floated through your mind! Thank you!


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Dr. craig’s response


I address this question in my forthcoming book In Quest of the Historical Adam (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021). If Adam and Eve were, as I argue, the ancestors of Neanderthals and other archaic humans, then it follows that they, like Adam and Eve, were created in the image of God, for they are comprised in the generic statements of Genesis 1.26-27. As human beings created in God’s image, Neanderthals and other archaic humans therefore have intrinsic moral value and share in man’s vocation.

The thought that Neanderthals and other archaic humans were created in God’s image and share our vocation brings the startling realization that as members of the human family, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and others were, like us, people whom God loves and for whom Christ died. Paul describes how God “overlooked the times of ignorance” (Acts 17.30) and “passed over former sins” committed prior to Christ’s advent (Romans 3.25). Christ’s death atoned for the sins of past humanity all the way back to Adam’s sin. Unless one embraces the strange teaching of limited atonement, Christ’s atoning death must have therefore encompassed the sins of these archaic humans.

While locating Adam and Eve hundreds of thousands of years before Christ, as I do, may accentuate in our minds the problem of the fate of those who lived prior to Christ, I don’t see how the greater duration of the pre-Christian human era adds anything of philosophical significance to the question.[1] Indeed, the question is not essentially different from the question of the fate of people alive today who have yet to hear the Gospel. Any solution to that problem, such as appeal to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience, can be applied mutatis mutandis to Neanderthals and other archaic humans.[2] Indeed, how do we know that Neanderthals may not have been more receptive to God’s general revelation in nature than, say, Homo sapiens. and thus a great many of them are heirs of eternal life?

We may well see Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other archaic humans in heaven, and I think that we shall be delighted to do so.

[1] It’s also worth remembering that during most of its history the human population of the world numbered merely in the thousands, finally reaching one million only by around 10,000 BC. It was not until the early nineteenth century that the world’s population hit one billion people. Approximately 100 billion people lived between 50,000 BC and the present day. See https://www.worldatlas.com/feature/how-many-people-have-ever-lived-on-earth.html. For estimates of Neanderthal population sizes in the tens of thousands, see “Genetics Spills Secrets from Neanderthals’ Lost History,” Quantamagazine, September 18, 2017, https://www.quantamagazine.org/genetics-spills-secrets-from-neanderthals-lost-history-20170918/. Of the current world population of 7.4 billion, it’s estimated that between 15-25% have yet to hear the Gospel of Christ.

[2] For a discussion of the doctrine of salvation through Christ alone and challenges thereto, see my “‘No Other Name’: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation through Christ,” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/christian-particularism/no-other-name-a-middle-knowledge-perspective-on-the-exclusivity-of-salvatio/ or “How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/christianity-other-faiths/how-can-christ-be-the-only-way-to-god/.


- William Lane Craig