In January’s guest column we considered the scientific data that leads some professing evangelicals to argue Adam cannot have been a real, historical individual; or, at least, not the ancestor of all humans.
We pointed out problems with those arguments and highlighted data supporting the Bible’s claim that humans were separately created from the apes.
But why does the historicity of Adam matter? First, it matters because scriptural authority matters. We cannot raise questions about the historicity of Adam without casting serious doubt on the authority of the Bible, and even the authority of Jesus Christ himself.
The New Testament writers refer to Adam in the same way they refer to other historical figures, such as Abraham and Moses (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Timothy 2:11-14; Jude 14). And in the Gospel of Matthew (19:4-6), the Lord Jesus appealed to events surrounding the creation of Adam and Eve to establish his teaching on marriage and divorce.
At one time only liberal theologians would have dared question whether the apostles were correct in what they wrote, or suggested that the Lord ‘accommodated’ himself to widely held, but supposedly mistaken, ideas of his day. But now we hear professing evangelicals saying these things!
In truth, these scholars are not blazing a new and courageous trail; they are retracing a well-worn path that inevitably leads to theological confusion or worse.
Second, the historicity of Adam matters because the uniqueness of man matters. One cannot read the Genesis text thoughtfully without being struck by its emphasis on the miraculous nature of human origins.
The Bible tells us that Adam was created from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s side (Genesis 2:7, 21-22). There is no hint in these words of an ancestry shared with the apes; evolutionary scenarios receive no support. Human beings were separately created and are, therefore, uniquely different from animals. Indeed, mankind alone is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
Jesus drew attention to this fact when he held up a Roman coin and urged people to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’ (Mark 12:16-17). In other words, the coin belonged to Caesar because it bore his image. Likewise, Jesus implies, we are to give ourselves to our Maker because we bear his image.
Third, the historicity of Adam matters because the gospel matters. Adam plays an indispensable role in how the New Testament presents the good news about Jesus Christ. Consider the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians15:20-27, 45-47.
Here, Paul portrays Christ as the second or last Adam, the counterpart to the first Adam, and draws a number of parallels and contrasts between the two figures.
Adam, he says, was the physical head of the human race, the forebear of all those that are physically alive; but Christ is the spiritual head of humanity, the progenitor of all that are spiritually alive. Adam rebelled against God’s command, bringing death to all mankind; but Christ fully obeyed the law of God, bringing life and resurrection from the dead.
Note that as Paul explains the bad news (in Adam) and the good news (in Christ), it is clear he regards both figures as equally real and historical. Indeed, his argument is incoherent without this presumption.
Finally, the historicity of Adam matters because our salvation matters. Humankind is one family, with one physical head (1 Corinthians 15:45; Acts 17:26). As the writers of the eighteenth century, New England primer put it, ‘In Adam’s fall, we sinned all’. We are sinful and in need of redemption, precisely because we are descendants of Adam and have inherited his sinful nature.
No doubt this notion of corporate solidarity — that we are sinful because of Adam’s actions — seems strange to modern minds used to thinking in individualistic terms. But it is, nevertheless, a profound biblical truth. In fact, we ought to be very grateful for it, because it also means we can be rescued from our sins by the actions of another!
We see this illustrated in another biblical concept unfamiliar to our usual way of thinking, the idea of a kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew go’el). This idea is deeply embedded in Old Testament law and was a means by which the ancient Israelites could protect their families from poverty (Leviticus 25:25; cf. Ruth 4:4-10).
If circumstances forced a person to sell his inheritance, his kinsman was to come and buy it back, so that it would remain in the family and the poor relative would not become destitute.
The Bible presents Jesus Christ as our kinsman-redeemer (Mark 10:45; cf. Isaiah 43:1). In Adam we were sold into slavery to sin and death, but on the cross Jesus paid the ransom price to redeem us from sin and its penalty.
But for Jesus to act as our kinsman-redeemer it is vital that both he and we are members of one family. And that, ultimately, is why Adam, the real man, ancestral to the entire human race, is so important theologically.
The Saviour was not only born of King David’s line, but of Adam’s line (Luke 3:38). Two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son of God, took on our humanity in order to become our kinsman-redeemer.
The gospel is for all of us because we are all members of Adam’s fallen race. And Jesus Christ is able to save us, because in his humanity he too was born of Adam.
Paul Garner MSc, FGS is a researcher and lecturer for Biblical Creation Ministries (www.biblicalcreationministries.org.uk). His Master’s degree is from University College London, where he specialised in palaeobiology. His first book, The New Creationism, was published by Evangelical Press in 2009.