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The Historical Adam: John H. Walton

View of Adam and Eve

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I consider it likely that humanity was created en masse in Genesis 1, that the presence of other people is assumed in Genesis 4, and that Genesis 2 does not intend to offer an account of biological human origins. If no theology is dependent on or derived from the traditional assertions of de novo creation or Adam and Eve as the first two humans, alone in the world, and the direct progenitors of the entire human race, and exegetical analysis offers plausible alternative interpretations, we have no reason to be committed to those beliefs; inerrancy and the text would not demand them from us and we hold them by our preference. If it turns out (as I believe it does) that science offers evidence to the contrary, we are free to consider it. In other words, if neither exegesis nor theology demands those conclusions that argue against the modern scientific consensus premised on common descent, we have no reason to contest the science on biblical grounds. That does not mean that all our questions about human origins can now easily be answered.

We can contend that Adam and Eve are theologically and historically significant even if they were not the first humans. We can contend that Adam and Eve are appropriately positioned as fountainheads of humanity even if we are not all their direct biological descendants. We can contend that humanity has a distinct place in the created order, unique among species, even if Adam and Eve are not de novo creations.

The biblical text does not leave theological room for positions affirming God's occasional involvement in an otherwise natural process if they show no concern with human ontology and fail distinguish humans as distinct from animals any more than naturalistic evolution does. Simply popping in a human soul or the image of God is insufficient to distinguish human ontology—it is much more complex. The Bible more easily accommodates positions that maintain that even though there are material aspects of the process of development of humanity that can be deduced and charted, God's involvement is pervasive throughout and the essential connection between ontogeny and ontology is broken.

The most important affirmation that Christians should be making about human origins is that humans are ontologically distinct from other creatures, regardless of the biological processes leading to humans. Humans are not animals, even if they were created from animals. We deny that ontology derives from ontogeny; how we were made does not dictate what we are. Israelites descended from Amorites and Hittites (Ezekiel 16:3), but that is no true indication of who they are. They have been given a specific, unique ontology by virtue of election and covenant, which has nothing to do with their line of descent.

This article is part of our Symposium on the Historical Adam:

John H. Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois. His primary focus is on comparative studies of the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East. He has authored or edited dozens of books and articles, including his most recent publication, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (InterVarsity Press).

Preceding pieces in the first round of the symposium:

Peter Enns
Karl Giberson
Denis O. Lamoureux
Hans Madueme
Harry Lee "Hal" Poe
John Schneider
William VanDoodewaard

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