Sinned in a Literal Adam, Raised in a Literal Christ

by Tim Keller

Question: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve, how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in a historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue.

Compared to other questions laypeople ask pastors about creation and evolution, I find the concerns of this question much more well-grounded. Indeed, I must disclose, I share them. Many orthodox Christians who believe God used evolutionary biological processes to bring about human life not only do not take Genesis 1 as history, but also deny that Genesis 2 is an account of real events. Adam and Eve, in their view, were not historical figures but an allegory or symbol of the human race. Genesis 2, then, is a symbolic story or myth that conveys the truth that human beings all have and do turn away from God and are sinners.

Before I share my concerns with this view, let me make a clarification. One of my favorite Christian writers (that’s putting it mildly), C. S.Lewis, did not believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and I do not think the lack of such belief means he cannot be saved. But my concern is for the church corporately and for its growth and vitality over time. Will the loss of a belief in the historical fall weaken some of our historical, doctrinal commitments at certain crucial points? Here are two points where that could happen.

The Trustworthiness of Scripture

The first basic concern has to do with reading the Bible as a trustworthy document. Traditionally, Protestants have understood that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God and that, therefore, discerning the human author’s intended meaning is the way that we discern what God is saying to us in a particular text.[1]

What, then, were the authors of Genesis 2-3 and of Romans 5, who both speak of Adam, intending to convey? Genesis 2-3 does not show any of signs of “exalted prose narrative” or poetry. It reads as the account of real events; it looks like history. This doesn’t mean that Genesis (or any text of the Bible) is history in the modern, positivistic sense. Ancient writers who were telling about historical events felt free to dischronologize and compress time frames—to omit enormous amounts of information that modern historians would consider essential to give “the complete picture.” However, ancient writers of history still believed that the events they were describing actually happened.

Ancient writers also could use much figurative and symbolic language. For example, Bruce Waltke points out that when the psalmist says, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13), he was not saying that he hadn’t developed in the perfectly normal biological ways. It is a figurative way to say that God instituted and guided the biological process of human formation in his mother’s womb. So when we are told that God “formed Adam from the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7), the author might be speaking figuratively in the same way, meaning that God brought man into being through normal biological processes.[2] Hebrew narrative is incredibly spare—it is only interested in telling us what we need to know to learn the teaching the author wants to convey…

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Sinned in a Literal Adam, Raised in a Literal Christ – The Gospel Coalition Blog

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