Books and Culture sponsored an online symposium that explores that question: Did Adam and Eve exist? This link is to the last essay in a first round of eight which contains links to the other seven. In these essays, eight Christian scholars make a case for their belief about that question. If you have any interest in this subject, you should read these essays; but be prepared: More than half of them answer this question with a “no.” Still the arguments are worth thinking about. All the scholars try to stay within a generally evangelical model, although many of you will think some of them have jumped off and swum far from the evangelical ship.
The issues of Genesis and scientific discoveries about our origins are some of the most contentious in evangelical Christian circles. Evangelicals are generally committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. So the key disagreements among the various views on origins tend to be about what parts of Scripture are subject to some sort of cultural interpretation and which parts are absolute.
The Galileo Analogy
A standard analogy used is the situation Galileo found himself in. His observations confirmed the Copernican theory that the earth moved round the sun and not the other way round. But this belief brought him into conflict with Church authorities committed to a Ptolemaic earth-centric view of the universe. Scripture, particularly Psalm 93:1, was used to support the idea that the earth did not move.
So if Galileo was right, was Scripture wrong? Obviously not. It was our interpretation of the Scripture that was wrong. So in the same way, some argue, we should be careful about holding unwarranted assumptions that come from our interpretations of Scripture in regards to Genesis and origins.
It is good sometimes to reexamine why we believe certain things and why we believe Scripture supports that view. We may find that we have been mistaken at times or that another interpretation could, in fact, be held with fidelity to Scripture, even if we ourselves don’t hold that interpretation.
The question, of course, is where is the line? And how do we know the line has been drawn correctly?
Begging the Question
As one of the symposium participants, Hans Madueme, notes, no one disagrees with the principle that Scripture must be interpreted correctly nor that some Scripture is culturally based or intended metaphorically. But he makes this point:
“My problem is not with the principle of distinguishing the inerrant Scriptures from our fallible interpretations, except to note that using it rhetorically often begs the question, i.e., assumes the truth of what is precisely in question. “
He explains that what he means is you can invoke this disagreement about interpretation any time there is disagreement about the Scripture. He continues:
“Obviously, if you agree with scientists that a historical Adam is impossible, then devising fresh hermeneutical strategies to resolve the tension with Scripture is a logical move. In fact, however, the Bible does very clearly depict a historical Adam; such revisionist exegesis goes against the grain of the text.…”
John Walton’s essay follows up on this idea. He has even written several books trying to help Christians understand the difference between details in the Bible that are culturally significant and details that are theologically significant. I am reading his book The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority right now, and he writes about how an oral society puts ideas and stories into writing. His books The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate and The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate presumably take these ideas and apply them specifically to the origin story in Genesis. I look forward to reading those as well.
Walton is very attuned to cultural significance and in his books he overturns some assumptions evangelicals have repeated for years. But in regards to Adam and Eve, he finds them theologically significant and lets them both live, so to speak. Still you may not find his explanations copacetic with your belief as there appears to be only one true literalist in the crowd, William Vandoodewaard.
Some of the other theologians try to make the case that you can still have a sin problem requiring the blood of Jesus without having an Adam to start the problem off. These essays you will probably find the most problematic.
Leaving Room for Belief and Science
Even if you vehemently disagree with the conclusions of the majority of these scholars, a pivotal idea that evangelical Christians must embrace is that we can disagree with each other without trying to get God to erase each others’ names from the Book of Life (actually, we just like to tell others their names were never written down).
And I say this not for these scholars’ sake but for your and your children’s sake. You may have no problem believing in a six-day-24-hour-per-day-creation week, but your kids may end up having a problem believing that. You have to provide ways that are still theologically viable for them to believe in the Christian message. You can’t close off belief in Christ because they don’t accept a young earth creation scenario. And you can’t set your kids up with the ungodly choice of believing only one interpretation about origins or leaving the faith. I won’t mention some of the Creationists who set up this false dichotomy, but they are out there, and I hear Christians repeating their dangerous message. There are other theologically viable options, and you should explore them and let your kids explore them, too.