I believe it is possible to understand Adam and Eve, Genesis 1, and even the Apostle Paul, in a way that does no violence either to evolution or the Bible. Is it past time for Christianity to get past this issue and stop fighting with science and the evidence. It is high time for the church and her preachers and theologians to seriously deal with this theological issue and adopt an improved understanding that will carry it forward. In the following paragraphs I will put forward a position that I believe will satisfy the demands being made on both sides of the debate.
I have written much in the past on how this is not possible. However, I have recently been inspired in a new direction and I think there is an answer. In any case, there are far more fatal issues with Christianity, although this one is nothing to sneeze at.
I feel like I am putting meat on the bones of pre-existing ideas. That it has not been done to date is due to the seemingly greater problem of getting many Christians to consider evolution at all. As a veteran of the King James Only debate, I see a lot of the same dynamic with this debate—facts and truth are often lost in the rush to dogma. There is often more heat than light.
The trouble with Adam and Eve goes beyond Genesis 1. As a matter of fact, if Genesis 1 were all there was to work with, the issue might be resolved by now. Genesis 1 can be understood in a fully literary or figurative sense. It is the New Testament in the Apostle Paul that is the hard case when reconciling Scripture with evolution. Perhaps it is nowhere harder than in Acts 17:26, which reads:
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”
It is understood that Paul is speaking of the Biblical Adam here. Some translations have “one blood,” while the Greek is literally just “one,” but the conclusion is the same: all nations share an ancestor. In light of the Hebrew Scriptures, that one ancestor would be none other than Adam. The concept of evolution also does not support any such genealogical choke point, and indeed genealogical evidence disproves the idea that we all descended from a single human.
Tim Keller points out a solution offered by Derek Kidner: that Adam as head of the human race is not understood biologically, but spiritually. Adam is not necessarily our biological forefather, but occupies a “federal headship” over humanity as our spiritual forefather.
The Biblical parallel between the first Adam and the second Adam bears this out: if Christ is become the firstfruits of our spiritual awakening, Adam was the firstfruits of our spiritual death. In this way we understand Rom 5:12-14, which reads:
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.”
Christ is not biologically related to us, but that does not change the spiritual reality. So then our biological relationship to Adam is not the issue, but our spiritual inheritance from Adam is.
When sin entered the world, it caused death: not physical death, but spiritual death. There was no spiritual death before Adam because man was not a spiritual being until Adam. The image of God was created in man with the addition of a spiritual nature.
In the same way God also took Eve from among pre-Adamic humanity and made her a spiritual being for the purpose of companionship to Adam. No creature, not even existing humanity, could be Adam’s true companion now that he was become a spiritual being. So then God took Eve from his side(“ribs”), from his existing human community, and made her a spiritual being also, in order that Adam might have a true companion.
Having created this spiritual pair, God set them in the Garden of Eden with instructions. The first command is given in Gen 1:28:
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
The second command is given in Gen 1:29-30:
“I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.”
A third command comes in the form of a commission in Gen 2:15:
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
The fourth command, forbidding the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, comes in Gen 2:16b-17:
“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Taking these commands together reveals that God’s purpose was the caretaking of every creature on the earth. In this mission, spiritual man was given a leadership position. Therefore, Adam and Eve’s commission was to mirror God’s purpose: a benevolent caretaking, rather than a forceful domination. Only after the fall would power dynamics come into play that resulted in domination: of man over the earth, and of Adam over Eve.
God entrusted man with this caretaking, having made man in His image, so that the whole world might be transformed unto His glory. The kingdom of God that Christ spoke of is the renewal of all things and the realization of this transformation that was aborted when Adam and Eve sinned.
At this point there are several loose ends to tie up. One may ask what happened to pre-Adamic man? The positive Biblical evidence seems to indicate that Adam’s children took spouses from among them. (So no, Eve did not have children by her sons, and yes, Adam and Eve had bellybuttons!) The Bible also indicates that Cain fled into one of these communities after killing Abel.
We must recall the providence of God as Paul stated in Acts 17. God decided their times and their boundaries. With the introduction of spiritual man, God brought all of pre-Adamic humanity to a close through two means. The primary means was the spread of spiritual consciousness through interaction with Adam’s line, thus making Adam the spiritual father of us all. As the knowledge of good and evil spread, spiritual death spread. The secondary means was the providential activity of God in assisting human migration so that this spiritual nature could spread.
God intended to ultimately save humanity through Christ, while immediately providing a level of atonement through blood sacrifice. All of mankind had to come under the curse so all of mankind could be redeemed and the new transformation of the world through the kingdom of God could occur.
Pre-Adamic men died as the animals, with no consciousness after death, not being spiritual beings.
There was most certainly biological death before the fall. The apparent capital punishment promised by God for disobedience meant something to Adam and Eve. The commission to subdue the Earth and care for the garden indicates some level of entropy. The eating of plant and vegetable matter by living beings resulted in the death of that matter.
God never promised Adam and Eve eternal biological life. Absent the fall, physical death might have been a time of transformation into a pure spiritual being and not an end of earthly existence. God then had an amazing evolutionary step in mind for mankind—at least until Adam and Eve disobeyed. This putting on of the immortal has now been made possible through Christ.
The immortality of the soul may also seem to come into question. There are some who would insist on the soul being mortal. For the purposes of this discussion, it does not matter. The important point is that if the soul is immortal, it has become so as a result of man coming into the image of God by being made a spiritual being.
It is also appropriate to point out that some tangential issues are actually irrelevant to the present discussion. The issues include Biblical genealogies, Noah’s flood, and early life spans. We are merely concerned with situating Adam and Eve in theology as actual persons.
One more question: was there a tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Did Adam and Eve really eat of that tree? It is possible that this episode is symbolic of some other transgression wherein they sinned and died spiritually. If so, what that would be is speculation, but it does not take away from the fact that Adam and Eve brought sin and death into this world through an initial act of disobedience to God.
However, if there was an actual tree, I do not think that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was inherently evil. It was the act of violating God’s command that was evil, and the carrying out of that act resulted in the knowledge of good and evil. Having transgressed, their eyes were opened—they understood the potential of disobedience to God and their capability to do so. Innocence became fraught with evil potential, and so they covered their bodies in fig leaves.
The breath of life is said to animate both man and beast in Genesis 1. For this reason, the breath of life does not indicate any spiritual status, but merely indicates a state of animation. Nor does the breath of life impart a soul, although the soul is made alive thereby.