Ask GOE: Adam and Eve — the first…somethings

"Adam and Eve in Paradise (The Fall)" by Lucas Cranach the Elder (public domain)

From Christopher Garbrandt, via Facebook:

“If Christians believe in evolution and there was no Adam and Eve, what did Jesus need to die for? Could you answer this question here, or make an article about this and post it on your website? A lot of Christians get asked this question by militant atheists and are unable to respond. The atheist then concludes that science and faith are incompatible.”

Chris asks a good question, and a very important one. And one BioLogos beat me to the punch on. Sorry for my delay, Chris. But I’ll toss in my two cents anyway, for what it’s worth.

As BioLogos correctly notes, there is no Christian theology that I’m aware of in which Jesus’ sacrifice would be unnecessary in the absence of a literal Adam and Eve. Traditionally, the fall of man is one of several passages from which theologians derive the idea of original sin, but Christians believe everyone also carries the guilt of their own individual sin before God. As Romans 5:12 says, “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” (emphasis mine).

That doesn’t mean the question of Adam and Eve’s historicity is of no consequence. Christians have grappled with the issue at least since the time of the early theologian Origen, and new ink is being spilled on the topic to this day.

The simple fact remains that it is not an easy question to answer. The BioLogos response includes a handful of essays and videos by well-respected theologians and ministers who are far smarter and more knowledgeable than me, including a few of my personal favorites: Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright and Tim Keller(I would especially encourage Chris to read this short essay on sin and salvation by Keller). Most of them suggested a more symbolic interpretation of Adam and Eve — that they are representative of the entire human race, for example — rather than a historical one, and I do think this gives the text a meaning that is richer and more relevant to our present lives than believing it refers to historical people.

On the other hand, for me, there remains one big question: Where did the soul come from? See “Soul-searching” for more of my thoughts on that.

Tyler Francke