The only problem with evolution in the Old Testament is if we insist on a literal interpretation of Genesis. But literalism isn’t a biblical doctrine. Creationist think that it is the world’s influence creeping into the church when other Christians accept evolution. But literalism itself is a modern assumption that is projected onto the bible, a bible that shows us that God loves to speak to us both through literal and figurative passages. Jesus Christ did most of his teaching through stories. Literalism is a modern worldview that devalues story as a mean of teaching truth and places the highest value on fact and data. This seems an odd attitude for disciples of the parable teller. Christianity values truth which can come to us through literal passages in scripture and through figurative, and we should not fear it when it come to us through science. Learning about the history of the earth through geology and evolution simply means our literal interpretation of Genesis was mistaken and we need to go back to scripture and find better ways to understand the text.
Adam in the New Testament
While there are no theological issues with evolution in the Old Testament, it is another matter when you get to the New Testament. Although there is no mention of a six day creation, Adam comes up frequently, and much of our theology and understanding of human nature and of redemption is built around these passages. Does an understanding of evolution affect NT theology?
An Evolved Adam
You can have evolution and a literal Adam called by God to be federal head of the human race and most of the traditional understanding of the Fall and Original Sin can still remain unchanged. Obviously you can no longer have the idea animals were originally immortal. But the bible never say this and the only passage that talks of the spread of death after Adam’s sin, talks of death spreading through the human race. Romans 5:12 and so death spread to all men because all sinned. But if death spread through the human race because we sin, how could it spread through animals who don’t sin?
There are a number of options for Adam and Eve having immortality, that it was a special gift of God when he called them or when he gave them a soul, that it came from living in the garden with access to the Tree of Life. Remember, when they sinned they were thrown out of the garden to keep them from the Tree of Life so they couldn’t eat from it and live forever. Or you could simply point out the bible never says they were immortal. When we see the term death in the bible it can be used for physical death or for spiritual death. In fact, Adam was warned he would surely die the day he ate the fruit. Yet he didn’t die physically until many years later. His death on that day was spiritual and immediate, his sin breaking his relationship with God.
Where Adam and Eve, and our understanding of them, has had the greatest impact on our theology, is not dust and ribs and how Adam and Eve were made, but the affect their sin had on the human race, leaving us with Original Sin and corrupt a sin nature. None of the passage in the NT that are used to talk about the fall and Original Sin mention Adam being made from dust, so the idea God might have used evolution to form Adam really doesn’t have affect on the doctrine of Original Sin
Man of dust
There is one passage in the New Testament which talks of Adam being formed from dust. 1Corinthians 15:47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.
48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.
49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. However, it doesn’t mention the fall and doesn’t have any impact on doctrine like Original. While the passage may seem to suggest Paul thought Adam really was formed by God from dust (and did not evolve), we will see later that it actually fits the pattern Paul uses speaking about Adam figuratively. But look at what Paul is telling us in this passage. He says that we are just like Adam, as was the man of dust, so also are we. He is not saying that we are like the fallen Adam. We are like the Adam God created from dust. Paul didn’t seem to have any concept that human nature was changed by the fall.
If the story of Adam being formed from dust isn’t literal, if the human race was never just two individuals, and if the garden and talking snake weren’t literal either, we really need to ask if Adam himself actually existed. There are two main approaches among evangelicals here.
If Adam wasn’t real what do we make of Paul’s statements about him?
(1) It doesn’t matter if Paul was wrong
To understand the background to this approach you need to understand how God speak to us through his word and the relationship between the bible and the surrounding cultures. For many Christians it come as a shock, but the bible is full of ancient cosmology that doesn’t fit what we know from modern science. The earth rests on pillars (1Samuel 2:8, Psalm 75:3) there is a dome above the earth holding back the waters up there (Genesis 1:6), the sun moves across the sky (Joshua 10:12&13, Psalm 19) and when it sets, the sun hurries to the place it is going to rise (Eccl 1:5). This was a view of the universe the Israelites shared with their neighbours in the Ancient Middle East. A mistake Christians make confronted by passages like that is to rush to defend the bible, to find some way to read the text that doesn’t mean it is talking about a flat earth. But God’s word doesn’t need defending. In fact we lose out if we have to force God’s word to make it say what we think it should say. We need to understand what the text is saying before we can understand what it means and start to understand how God speaks to us in his word.
It wasn’t God’s intention to teach his people science, that was something they could learn for themselves in their own good time. Instead God spoke to his people in terms they understood. This isn’t a new idea but Goes back to Calvin and before him Augustine, that God accommodated his message:
God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children (Calvin, Institutes, 1.13.1).
The narrative of the inspired writer brings the matter down to the capacity of children.” Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 2.6
Denis Lamoureux Professor of Science & Religion at the University of Alberta is a born again evangelical Christian who takes this idea and applies it to Adam too. Paul may have thought of Adam was a historical person, but it doesn’t matter, it is the theology, the spiritual message God inspired not Paul’s ideas of history. The spiritual message we read in Paul’s description of Adam is that we are all sinners, not whether there was an original pair of humans the human race is descended from. You can see watch Lamoureux’s Web lectures on ‘The Bible & Ancient Science’, and, ‘’Was Adam a Real Person?’ here: http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/wl.html
(2) Did Paul interpret Adam literally?
Paul certainly wrote about Adam, more than anybody in the bible since Genesis, and the church has a long tradition of reading these passages literally. But is that what Paul was talking about? After all he says in Romans 5:14 (ASV) Adam… is a figure of him that was to come. Could Paul the first century Jewish Rabbi have been talking about Adam figuratively?
He wouldn’t have been alone among first century Jewish if he did. We often assume first century Jews would all have taken Adam literally. But that is simply not the case. We don’t have many examples of first century Jewish writings, yet find Jews from very different background in very different locations interpreting Adam allegorically. Both Philo a Hellenistic Jew in Alexandria and Josephus a priest in Jerusalem thought the story of Adam and Eve was written allegorically. In fact the term Philo used for his allegorical interpretations was tupos, the same word ‘figure’ Paul uses in Romans 5:14
Was Paul’s statement that Adam was a figure of Christ just an aside, with nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the passage? Look at what he is saying in that brief comment. Paul says he has a figurative interpretation of Adam that compares Adam with Christ. But is you read Romans 5, the whole passage from verse 12 all the way to the end is comparing Adam and Christ. Instead of being an off the cuff comment, with no relevance to the rest of what he wrote, it describes the whole passage.
In fact as we read though his epistles, all of Paul’s comments about Adam and Eve are either comparing Adam to Christ (Rom 5:12-21, 1Cor 15:21-22, 45-49 & 2Cor 11:2-3) or that other allegorical interpretation of Adam and Eve as a picture of the relationship between husbands and wives. We see this in 1Cor 11:3-16 about headship and possibly also that enigmatic passage about women being saved through childbirth 1Tim 2:13-15. In Ephesians 5:31 Paul manages to combine both allegorical meanings. He expands from a discussion husbands and wives, via the one flesh quote from Genesis 2:24 to saying it is a profound mystery about Christ and the Church.
Remember Paul wasn’t a modern literalist, he was a fully trained first century Rabbi who even Peter found difficult to understand. Paul could handle a wide range of Jewish interpretations from literal to allegorical and the hidden mystery meaning in scripture. Paul even tell us he uses allegorical interpretation in Galatians 4:24 talking about Hagar and Sarah.
Now this doesn’t mean Paul didn’t also believe in a historical Adam. He believed crossing the Red Sea was literal, 1Corinthians 10:6 Now these things took place… yet he could interpret them figuratively as a picture of baptism, verse 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Paul describes this interpretation as a tupos too, verse 6 …as examples for us. However if we only have figurative interpretations of Adam and Eve from Paul, we simply don’t know if he also though there were historical. Paul may, like Philo, have though the story of Adam and Eve entirely figurative. It ceases to be an issue any more, what is really important is not the historicity of Adam but the fact that when Paul was talking about Adam he was talking figuratively.
The implications of Paul talking discussing Adam figuratively
Paul speaking figuratively when he wrote about Adam, would mean we really need to re-examine our understanding of the Adam passages in Paul’s letters. We have traditionally taken them literally and built much of our theology on a literal interpretation, when Paul wasn’t writing literally at all. Romans 5, where Paul tells us he interpret Adam figuratively, becomes, not a history of how sin began and contaminated the human, but it is talking about Adam figuratively not historically, it is not talking about Original Sin, its whole purpose is simply to tell us more about Christ. Christ came to redeem us from our own sins, not the sin of Adam
It would certainly explain why Adam, Eve and the fall don’t turn up in Acts when Peter, Stephen or Paul preach their New Testament Gospel messages.
This figurative interpretation of Adam explain Paul curious choice of tense in 1Cor 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Why does Paul use the present tense all die, if we all died in Adam back in Eden and have been dead ever since? This sounds more like an ongoing process, people sin and then they die, which is what the bible tells us again and again. It is our own sins we die in Eph 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked. Paul doesn’t say the Ephesians had been dead in Adam’s sin, they were dead in their own sins. How could people still be dying in Adam if Adam was long dead and returned to the dust of the ground. But Adam is also Hebrew for the human race. We are all in Adam because we are all part of the human race. Paul is speaking in figurative terms, the whole human race summed up in two great apocalyptic* figures, Adam with everyone in the human race, and Christ with all the redeemed who are his body.
It also means we need to re-examine the doctrine of Original Sin but that is a subject for another blog.
*John Walton in his book The Lost World of Genesis One uses the term archetype: “In the New Testament, the authors regularly treat Adam and Eve in archetypal terms.”