Were Adam and Eve Real People?
Innately, we as humans want to know where we came from. Children want to know where babies come from, and as adults, we long to understand our place in history and often look to our ancestry for a place a belonging. Fortunately, the Bible makes our origin clear. As we read the creation story in Genesis 1-2, we encounter the story of the first people God created and the first members of genealogy we all share.
As we read and think critically, however, many questions naturally arise. For example, some biblical scholars disagree with scientists who assert that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that life began 3.5 billion years ago, leading into a long evolutionary process that eventually produced Homo sapiens. Yet, in a plain reading of the Bible, we see that God created humanity as the crown jewel of creation from the very beginning.
So then, what’s true? As with any biblical topics, there isn’t necessarily one clear answer, but there are a few theories worth examining. This is not an exhaustive list, and there are riffs and tweaks on all of these views, but many people fall in or around one of these camps.
Different Views on Adam and Eve
Best described as a literal reading of the passage, this view asserts that God made the first family as two humans, fully formed. They had no ancestors, but they are the ancestors of everyone.
The symbolic view treats the biblical creation story as a parable and Adam and Eve as the main characters. In this view, Adam and Eve weren’t real people, but their story explains a larger theological point: God creates, we sin, and we need a savior to fix it. Reading the passage through this lens means that readers can interact with the creation story without standing in opposition to scientific findings.
The third view on this topic is a sort of combination of theories; essentially, people who maintain this view are of the opinion that a historical Adam and Eve could exist alongside evolution. In short, they don’t see that one view necessarily discredits the other.
It is important, however, to remove this theory’s belief in the biological process of evolution from the evolutionary worldview. We are not just “animals” who are driven by our instincts. That is not in line with the rest of the Bible. If you’re interested in exploring this idea more, Tim Keller has a great series of articles where he explains how buying into the biological process of evolution does not mean buying into the grand theory of evolution.
Another theory surrounding Adam and Eve asserts that perhaps they did exist but as representatives. This allows for the possibility of other humans at the time, with Adam and Eve merely being chosen by God as the figureheads of the biblical story.
Questions About Adam and Eve
Despite there being a number of different views on Adam and Eve, objections exist for all of them. Although we don’t have the space to cover them all here, it’s worth knowing about some of the more popular ones.
One of the most common objections to a historical Adam and Eve is that, on the surface, it seems to promote incest. However, let’s look at the context: humans were designed to procreate (Genesis 1:22), and a perfect creator would have taken this into account. We shouldn’t bring our own baggage into the story. Also, it’s worth acknowledging that Adam and Even were originally pure creations, likely without all of the genetic mutations we have today.
But, if we all came from Adam and Eve, how did we end up with a world full of different ethnicities? In Genesis 11, you see that the Tower of Babel plays into this. Here people rebelled against God, building a huge tower out of bricks to make a name for themselves in an effort to reach the heavens. God breaks up this rebellion by confusing their speech and spreading them out across the Earth, thus making it impossible to finish what the task. So, while delivering judgment, God is also fulfilling part of his plan to bring all of those nations back together again one day—not to rebel against him but to worship him.
Why Do Adam and Eve Matter?
While there is room for disagreement in biblical interpretation among faithful Christians, it is worth asking what we lose if we lose Adam and Eve. As John Piper asserts, if the Adam and Eve story is only allegory, then how do we handle the genealogy in Luke’s gospel that traces Jesus’s family line all the way back to Adam? This is just one of the many implications that should be considered when thinking deeper about this topic.
Ultimately, our encouragement to you is this: go beyond what you hear. Do some wrestling of your own. Not everything in the Bible is literal, and it certainly isn’t all metaphorical. Different passages are intended to be read in different ways, and thankfully, we have the context of the overarching story of the Bible and God’s redemptive plan to help us along as we reflect on what we have read.