Were Adam & Eve real? Does it matter?

Hi Ethan,

Your post about rethinking theology that we get from our tradition rather than the Bible struck a chord with me. Lately I realized that the idea of the world being created in literally six days was rejected as foolish even by Augustine, our evangelical demigod. Put together with today’s scientific consensus, this would lead us to conclude that evolution is at least probable, and there are many evolutionist Christians. But this raises the issue of the literal Adam and Eve and this is where I started feeling nauseous, because the Bible talks a lot about the first Adam and how we’re all fallen like him and so on. So if we accept that there were no literal Adam and Eve, then the first part of the redemption story changes and the whole meaning of the story changes. For me this is scary because if the foundations are just a metaphor, a story that is trying to tell us something, it seems to me that this is taking away from the strength of the argument and that this road is leading to liberal theology which is not really Christianity.

I’m curious what are your thoughts on this, maybe write a post about it?

Anyway, thanks for putting your thoughts out there, they’ve helped me a lot, several times.

God bless.

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Yes it’s interesting how much we drive a stake into as “orthodoxical boundaries” without giving them a second thought, despite the fact that millions of Christians over the millennia have not shared them, just like Augustine as you mentioned.

As far as Adam and Eve, that’s a tricky one. That’s reaching 4K+ years into the past and trying to figure out how scientifically they kept records (spoiler alert: they didn’t). Even the Hebrew language is supposed to have developed after the exile in Egypt, meaning EVERYTHING prior was verbal stories, for generations. It also begs the question, how did God write on the tablets if the Israelites didn’t even have a written language??


A bunch of thoughts:

Something can be true without being scientifically accurate. When Emily Dickinson writes about “the sunrise painting blue and red streaks across the fields,” do we point our fingers at her and call her a liar? Of course not! Why? Because she’s a poet. She is writing things that are true, but not literal. That’s really the job of poetry, right? The opening chapters of Genesis are written as Hebrew poetry, so to expect 21st century accuracy from them is a little absurd.

We don’t even expect that from poetry written today, yet we never call it ‘untrue.’

In other words, if the Bible WAS written today, yes, it would be scientifically accurate. But it wasn’t. Genesis was conceived during a time when people passed down their truth orally and thus it was preserved orally. And it was tradition to pass down songs and poems and stories, not measurements and specifics (though those appear in other places).

Second, I have to trust that if it was passed down orally, then orally some more, then written in ancient Hebrew, then transcribed to middle Hebrew (think King James Version vs. NIV), God was in that, too, and He ultimately got His truth to us today in 2020. It wasn’t neat, nor was it scientific, but his truth gets communicated to his people. Do you follow?

From the first chapters of Genesis, we may not get an exact year-count; we may not get to know how long these ‘days’ were (the Hebrew word doesn’t necessarily refer to a 24-hour orbit around the sun. Think about the fact that the sun and moon aren’t made until later on in the creation story, so how could we possibly have our modern definition of ‘day’ without them?), but we do learn a lot of truth. These chapters say a LOT about human nature, God and His attributes, and the goodness of His creation. Think about how much it tells us about sin and redemption, about shame and God chasing after His people. There is a lot of TRUTH in these chapters, even if there is not scientific accuracy.

As far as them affecting our own personal faith, I feel the tension there. It seems like a slippery slope, right? But I don’t think it has to be. As I said, when we can agree that something is ‘true,’ we can still interpret that truth through different lenses depending on what we’re reading. If you were to read a scientific textbook about a sunrise, you wouldn’t want it to talk about paintbrushes streaking the fields; you would expect terms like light refraction, pollution particles, wavelengths, etc. Like I said above, we wouldn’t apply the same criterion to Dickinson as to that textbook. There are 5 or 6 different genres in the Bible, yet many people expect the whole thing to read like the textbook.

It doesn’t have to be scary when it’s not textbookish.

It’s not written as one.

It’s written as a poem.

The important thing is that Genesis 1–4 is true, not that it’s scientific. So when Paul refers to it later in Romans, he is using Adam as a true template — an idea, or character which the entire audience would have been familiar with — and then the historic Adam sort of matters less. I’m also not saying that there was no historic Adam. I won’t die on either hill; maybe he existed, maybe he didn’t. Our faith does not predicate itself on him.

It is dependent on the person of Jesus, not the character of Adam.

Hope this helps some,


P.S. Check out the ‘Bible for Normal People’ podcast with Peter Enns. Enns has been accused of being too liberal with scripture, but I think he really loves it and holds it in high regard. He won’t settle for shallow Sunday school answers either and dives into this sort of background. I recommend episode 1, with Rob Bell!

P.P.S. Check out the latest episode of my podcast, Abscond with Ethan Renoe! I just began a series on how to understand the Bible from beginning to end which may also be helpful!

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