In earlier posts on the question of a historical Adam, I provided links to the recent genetics research that has questioned the validity of a historical Adam and its correlate, that humanity had its biological beginnings with a single human pair (Adam and Eve). Since that time, a book has been produced, co-authored by three scientists, that disputes that conclusion on the basis of genetics.1 That’s no surprise. The statistical interpretation of the genetics data is going to be challenged in the years ahead. The issue if far from settled. Setting the scientific debate aside, I want to ask some different questions, worded quite deliberately as follows:
1. Does Genesis 1-2 really teach that all humans came from Adam and Eve?
2. Can Genesis 1-3, taken at face value, be reconciled with the denial that all humans came from a single pair?
These questions might sound silly, but I think you’re in for a surprise. In what follows I’m going to conduct an exercise in taking the text for exactly what it says. The goal is to address both of the above questions. In doing this, readers should know this didn’t take any inventive imagination on my part. The first question is actually an old one within Christianity, before and after Darwin. It’s just that most Christians (including scholars) are unaware of that.2 For those unaccustomed to what I do at this blog (read: why Mike irritates many readers), this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve suggested that Christians (laity and leadership) have misread something for centuries, even millennia. But I’m not marrying myself to a position here (just dating ). I’m proposing a reading that is very straightforward, throwing out how believers (and unbelievers) have understood Genesis 1-2 and just letting the text say what it says without inserting items it doesn’t actually say. Let’s just observe the text and see what happens. For those who like to think and who don’t define biblical theology by their own tradition, that should be fun.
One last note as we begin. I am choosing not to base any reading or conclusion on the editorial process behind Genesis. That is, I’m not going to retreat to any explanation based on how there were originally two creation stories edited together. For this exercise, I don’t care how the text came to be what it is; I only care about what’s in it.
Reading Genesis 1-2 Closely
Let’s begins with some observations from Genesis 1-2. Genesis 1 has no reference to a garden or Eden, while Gen 2 is focused on that place on the earth. In Genesis 2, Eden plainly has geography (Gen 2:10-14). What this means is that Eden is not to be regarded as the whole earth, or even a big part of it. The Bible makes no such claim, though Christians habitually assume it. Further, even the garden into which Adam and Eve are placed isn’t synonymous with Eden. Note what Gen 2:8 actually says: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” The garden is within Eden; it is not, precisely speaking, Eden itself.
In Genesis 1:26-28, humanity is created by God, but the humans are not named. They are given the task of representing God (my view of the image) by being fruitful, multiplying, and filling *the earth* (not Eden), and then subduing it in a stewardship role. God tells the humans that they have every green plant for food, but says nothing about a garden in Eden, a tree of life, or the tree that they should avoid. More particularly, Genesis 1:11-12 says, “And God said, ‘Let the earth (‘erets) sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed (Hebrew; sorry again for the font problem for transliteration: deshe’ ‘eseb mazria’), and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth (‘erets).’ And it was so. The earth (‘erets) brought forth vegetation (deshe’), plants yielding seed (‘eseb mazria’) according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit (‘ets ‘oseh peri) in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” The sixth day brings this creative activity to a close (Gen 1:31). And so these humans were created on the earth to overspread the earth. There isn’t a single reference to any garden or place named Eden. Their creation took place on the sixth day. It’s crystal clear.
When we go to Genesis 2, a different picture emerges. The first three verses read:
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
We learn here that the work God had done – described in Genesis 1 – was finished in six (or seven, depending on how one takes the phrasing) and that God rested on the seventh day. These verses are in effect a “curtain closing” for Genesis 1.
The next verse (Gen 2:4) begins with the refrain “these are the generations,” a phrase that will be repeated throughout Genesis to announce a lineage or genealogy of some kind *that is distinct in its own right* (see Gen 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27: 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9, 37:2).
4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
The statement is a curious one. Traditionally, it has been understood as looking back to Genesis 1, thus co-identifying the activity of the two chapters (i.e., they are about the same set of events). Then, the argument goes, Genesis 2 telescopes on Adam and Eve, so that the two chapters don’t contradict but complement each other. After all, Genesis 2 is describing the same set of events from chapter 1 but in different ways.
Is it? The very next verse argues against that.
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the earth3 and no small plant (‘eseb) of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.
Here’s where things get interesting. Let’s look at verses 5-9 as a unit:
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the earth (‘erets) and no small plant (‘eseb) of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land (‘erets), and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground; 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The clear, face-value reading of this passage informs us that before God created “the man” there were no “small plants” (‘eseb) on the earth(‘erets) – precisely the opposite of what we read in Gen 1:11-12.
Is this a contradiction? Or are we reading about a different, subsequent creation, so that there is no contradiction (i.e., the contradiction idea would extend from the traditional approach)? You might wonder how you could get the latter or what I mean by the suggestion. Bear with me.
The passage could be read as describing God’s creation activity – distinct from the creation acts in Genesis 1. The several references to the earth (‘erets) and ground (‘adamah) in the short passage could be taken to refer to activity at one location on the earth – the garden God planted in Eden. This appears unlikely in the translation I used above (ESV, save for the item noted in footnote 3) because of the way ESV translates verse 8 (“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed”). This rendering gives the impression that verse 8 occurs after the material of verses 5-7 in linear sequence, but that isn’t how the text must be read. In Hebrew we have a simply narrative sequence (a waw consecutive in grammatical lingo). But narrative sequence does not require linear chronology. We could accurately translate the form this way:
So the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.
This rendering gives the impression that verse 8 is a summary of verses 5-7, meaning that the creative acts described in 5-9 are describing a discrete creation in its own right. Any linkage to Genesis 1 is therefore only an assumption and need not be the case. Essentially, here’s what I’m suggesting:
Gen 2:1-3 marks the final curtain of God’s performance in Genesis 1
Gen 2:4 introduces a new creation episode. The traditional view takes “in that day” to mean “at the same time,” so that Gen 2:5-9 is a new way of describing the same events of Gen 1. However, “in that day” could very easily be construed in the sense of “right on the heels of” Gen 2:1-3. That is, right after God was done resting He got busy again- this time creating a special human (male) for a special place (presumably for a special purpose -perhaps to elect them as His own children amid the rest of humanity [created in Genesis 1], thereby providing a point of analogy with his later election of Israel). Later in Genesis 2:21-23 God creates a second special human, the female counterpart to the earlier created male human.
Gen 2:5-9 then describes activity in the garden, with verse 8 being translated in such a way as proposed above to connect the statement of verse 8 with the rest of verses 5-9. It is in these verses that the first references to a tree of life and a forbidden tree (“of the knowledge of good and evil”) occur. These items pertain to God’s activity and will for the two new humans he creates in this chapter.
Contextual and textual support for this approach comes from the fact that Gen 2:1-3 has God resting — in a statement summarizing the events of Genesis 1 — whereas Genesis 2 has no such idea. If Gen 2:4 begins a new generation following the events of Genesis 1, then the creative content of Genesis 2:5-9 would speak for itself as additional activity of God. Again, the point here is that the text could be taken completely at face value, adding nothing, and yield this meaning.
Genesis 2 continues on to give us the specific geography of Eden and the garden which God makes within it (Gen 2:10-14). God places the new man in this garden and gives him commands (Gen 2:15-17). God then decides to create the man’s female partner (Gen 2:21-23), completing the couple.
By way of summary to this point, we’re reading Genesis 1-2, starting afresh and noting only what it says, dispensing with the traditional ways of reading it. The text has told us the following:
1. Genesis 1 describes the creation of human beings. (The process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened).
2. The human beings of Genesis 1 are God’s imagers (again, which I take to mean God’s representatives) on earth.
3. The human beings of Genesis 1 are not in a garden in Eden (there is no garden of Eden in Genesis 1; the command to “subdue the earth” would speak of the whole earth, wherever humans are, not Eden, which is nowhere in view).
4. Genesis 2 describes a distinct and separate creation of two humans. (Again, the process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened).
5. The two humans of Genesis 2 are in a garden in a place called Eden (which is clearly not synonymous with the earth since it has specific geography on the earth).
6. Since the two humans created in Genesis 2 are not the humans created in Genesis 1, the two humans in Genesis 2 cannot be seen as the progenitors of the humans of Genesis 1. The humanity of Genesis 1 was to image God in all the earth, not Eden, and so the Genesis 1 creation speaks of a divine origin (by whatever means) of human life on the planet. The humans of Genesis 2 are parallel to and consistent with those goals, but their story is more specific. They have a more particular purpose, which is revealed in Genesis 3.
7. The humans of Genesis 1 and 2 are qualitatively the same. That is, the two humans in Genesis 2 are no more human than those of Genesis 1. There is nothing in either chapter that differentiates the humans in either chapter. The only thing that distinguishes them are the sequence of creation (two separate acts in an order) and where they live. All the humans in view are (!) human.
It is at this point that readers familiar with my view of Romans 5:12 will be ahead of the curve. If you’re new to the Naked Bible, I advise you to read the posts at this linked archive so you will be able to catch up and follow how my view on that issue dovetails here. For that reason, I’m not going to unpack the full argumentation of what I say in the next section. You’ll just have to catch up.
Reading Genesis 3 in Light of This Approach to Genesis 1-2
Genesis 3 is the story of how the two humans of Gen 2 disobeyed God, a failure that had ramifications for all other humans who would descend from them. Regular readers will know that I understand the “fallout” of the Fall (sorry, just had to say that) as being humankind lost mortality. As mortals, any human who lived long enough (i.e., didn’t die in childbirth or after being aborted) would invariably and inevitably rebel against God or fail to conform to his standards of holiness. The only exception was Jesus, as he was also God incarnate. In other words, humans invariably and inevitably sin/fail to meet God’s standards of holiness, required for eternal life with him in his presence, because they are mortal humans and not God (they do not possess God’s attributes to the extend he does, by definition). Humans did not inherit guilt, the traditional Christian understanding of what happened at the Fall; they are all guilty on their own account, since they are human. It’s a vicious, inescapable cycle that requires divine intervention (a plan of salvation, accomplished only by a sinless Savior, and not involving human merit).
But all that pertains to humans who descended from Adam and Eve, right? After all, they were the ones whose failure resulted in the loss of mortality for all humans … right? So what about all those other humans from Genesis 1 if we’re reading Genesis 1 and 2 as separate creations of human beings?
Ditto for them. The humans of Genesis 1:
- … are not in Eden; they are living in an imperfect world (by definition, since it’s not Eden).4 That is, there is no divine environment to prevent them from offending God or to lead readers to think they could avoid doing so.
- … are mortal; there is nothing in the text to suggest they are immortal since they aren’t in Eden. This is why the humans of Genesis 2 are cast out of Eden and blocked from the tree of life. God’s presence and the tree of life (symbol or otherwise) were the basis of their contingent immortality. Minus both of those, “they shall most assuredly die.” Humans outside of Eden with no access to the tree of life were already in that boat.
Do you see the result? All humans, whether from Genesis 1 or 2, are mortal and will therefore incur guilt before God due to being imperfect creatures (“not God”). Consequently, they are in need of salvation apart from themselves. Though it sounds odd to cast things this way, there’s nothing spectacular or clever about it. The ideas are simple and derive from the text. They just aren’t the thoughts we normally think in these areas.
But all the above shows is that all humans are in the same predicament. We aren’t told in the text (with respect to the reading of it proposed here) whether all humans were offered salvation. We know that the two humans in the garden of Eden were forgiven and redeemed. What about the other humans proposed in this reading?
The answer to this question is found outside Genesis 1-3, and so I don’t want to spend too much time on it here. But I’ll describe it briefly. It is at this point that the notion of Adam’s conceptual and theological correspondence to Israel is telling. Think about it. Adam (and of course Eve) was God’s special human creation. You could consider his special creation as an elective choice of God. God wasn’t content with the humans of Genesis 1. He decided to come to earth in this place called the garden of Eden (and anyone who reads such texts in light of ancient Near Eastern contexts knows that garden imagery is a stock description of “the place where the god/God is.” God decides to come to earth and dwell with humankind. Two humans are created for that purpose, to dwell in God’s presence (and where God is, his divine council is as well — had to throw that in for readers attuned to the divine council theology I’ve spent a good deal of time developing). Adam is therefore the son of God (cp. Luke 3:38) — just like Israel will be called the son of God (Exod 4:23) — just like the king of Israel is called the the son of God (Psalm 2:7) — just like Jesus, the messianic king/servant, is the son of God, so that those who believe in him can be called the sons/children of God (John 1:12; Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:1-3). It isn’t until God’s covenant with Abraham, a later descendant of Adam and Eve, that readers are told that it would be through Abraham, a descendant of Adam (Luke 3:34-38), that the humans outside the elect lineage (which began with Adam) would be redeemed through the descendant(s) of Abraham (and so, the descendants of Adam).
Bottom line for our purposes: the humans of both Genesis 1 and 2 are in the same predicament and in need of salvation, and salvation is extended to all those humans through the decision / grace of God.
What I’ve described is consistent with what I’ve said earlier about what Paul says in Romans 5:12, 18-19:
5:12 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.”
Rom 5:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 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.
In an earlier post, I suggested some thoughts about how these verses could be taken without a historical Adam. Now let me suggest how these verses could be viewed in concert with this “face value” reading I’m suggesting in this post.
Paul’s theology is consistent with the reading proposed here. All humans — whether those created in Genesis 1 or the human family of Adam and Eve, the humans created in Genesis 2, are under condemnation in that they will all sin/fail God because they are mortal and imperfect. They need salvation and cannot save themselves because they are human, inherently flawed, dependent, and contingent. Human salvation was accomplished by Jesus. Though Jesus was a human descendant of Adam, and thus subject to human frailty, he was unique in that he was also God. Only he did not sin like all humans because he was (uniquely) God as well. But he did die. And it was through that voluntary death on the cross that both the plagues of humanity can be solved: mortality yielding to immortality, and the guilt we incur via our own sins being forgiven.
Implications of this “face value” reading of Genesis 1-3
So where does this reading leave us? What if we read Genesis 1-3 so utterly plainly, setting aside the way we have been mentally conditioned by (most of) historic Judeo-Christianity? What if we just look at the Bible … nakedly?
Personally, I think it’s very helpful,5 but it naturally comes with the risk of ostracism from those who want to stick to the traditional reading and do battle with science, or make the Bible into a science book.
What follows are the implications of this reading as I see them. I’m not claiming that the text of Genesis 1-3 produces a scientific reading, or the current scientific view being put forth about human genetics. Readers know I don’t think the biblical writers knew anything about modern science; they were part of the pre-scientific world in which they lived, God having made the choice to use people at that time and place to communicate to their own audience, knowing their theological message (if not the particulars) would extend to readers far future. Rather, I’m claiming that this reading of Genesis 1-3 can certainly co-exist with science, including what many geneticists are now saying.
So, what does this view give us?
1. This view does not require that all human beings come from a single pair of humans. Rather, there were humans on the earth along with the pair known as Adam and Eve. It therefore matters not if the human genome data requires more than a single pair of humans. This view also doesn’t require one specific view of how humans wound up here, so long as God is in the process.
2. This view retains a historical Adam and Eve, the human pair of Genesis 2, co-existing with other humans who did not come from them. This view therefore also creates no tension with Adam being named in Old Testament genealogies.
3. This view allows Paul to affirm a historical Adam and Eve.
4. This view is consistent with other ANE creation stories in that it is a story designed to tell us how humans got here and why they are not gods, and how they can rightly relate to their creator. It is epic myth, which doesn’t mean it’s completely a-historical. (Forgive me for the line … it’s the myth that is true).
5. This view does not alter the universal human need of salvation or the solution to that predicament being found in Jesus Christ.
6. This view makes other passages in the early chapters or Genesis more comprehensible. For example, the classic “conundra” created by Gen 4:8-17 are now easily answered. The question of where Cain’s wife came from is not difficult — she came from the other humans out there in the world into which Adam and Eve were expelled. Other people were already there. When Cain worries (Gen 4:13-14) that someone will find him and kill him after he murdered his brother and is exiled, his worry becomes legitimate — there are lots of people out there in the cold, cruel world, and he has no family now for protection. When Gen 4:17 has Cain building a city (did his wife help?) this view handles that with aplomb — there were lots of other people already living to help him construct his city.6
But what does the view cost?
1. This view requires contending that the Church has misread Genesis 1-3 for a very, very long time.
2. This view requires adopting my view of Romans 5 / the Fall.
3. This view requires surrendering the notion that Genesis is giving us science. You have to be content with it being consistent with science.
- I speak here of Science and Human Origins, by Ann Gauger (PhD in developmental biology; senior research scientist at Biologic Institute; former post-doc at Harvard), Douglas Axe (PhD from CalTech; director of Biologic Institute; former Cambridge post-doc), and Casey Luskin (M.S. in geological sciences; research coordinator at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture). This book has in turn has generated exchanges between the authors and those who disagree with their take. See here and here. ↩
- The intellectual history of the issue raised by question 1 is detailed in the recent scholarly work by David N. Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins (Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context), Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). My phrase “within Christianity” includes what would have, in times past and now, be considered as “believing Christianity” – as opposed to Christianity defined only in its broadest possible terms. Like myself in this and earlier posts, Scot McKnight has also drawn attention to Livingstone’s book with respect to the Adam controversy. While there was no evangelical consensus in the late 19th century (continuing through today) as to how to take Darwin’s theory of evolution, it is important to acknowledge that theologians such as B. B. Warfield were open to certain “pre-Adamism” ideas. The point of my present post is that Genesis 1-2 could be read “literally” to support the idea of non-Adamic humans. ↩
- ESV and other translations cheat here, translating ‘erets as “land” to avoid tension with Gen 1:11-12, where the same word is used when God did indeed have the earth bring forth the plants prior to the creation of humans. See the discussion for my thoughts on the word in this chapter. ↩
- I don’t want to digress here about the presence of “chaos” within all creation, save for Eden. Creation was untamed but still called “very good” by God in Gen 1:31. Again, the idea of a global perfect earth is based on the error that Eden = all the earth. The text never says that. See here for some basic thoughts on this as it pertains to why natural disasters happen. ↩
- One potential problem for this reading is found in ` Cor 15:22 (“as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”). The potential problem would be that this verse seems to encompass all humans, not just the humans descending from Adam. It seems to say that what Adam did affected all humans, as opposed to the notions of the humans from Gen 1 being in need of salvation because of their own mortality and the invariably human propensity to sin. This issue actually depends on what words like “all” mean. That isn’t sophistry. If you look at the analogy in the verse, the “all” wording can be taken by universalists to mean that all humans will be cured of sin by Christ, just as all were put in need of salvation by Adam. But few Christians would be in that camp, and that view of course has problems with other passages. So the meaning of the verse and “all” is *not* self evident. The same thing goes for 1 Tim 2:4 (the verse about God wanting all persons to be saved, which creates tension with other passages that speak of election to salvation of some but not others. One could argue that the “all” of 1 Cor 15:22 actually is restrictive, but that’s beyond the scope of the present post. ↩
- The traditional view has great difficulties in Genesis 4. It must either affirm that only Adam, Eve, and Cain are living after Abel is murdered (and that is the plain implication of Genesis 4) or posit (i.e., invent) long stretches of time for Cain to find a wife also born from Adam and Eve later on, and then more stretches of time to have enough people born and grown so Cain can build a city — something he obviously couldn’t do by himself. These have been classic dilemmas given a traditional approach to Genesis. ↩