David Kwon and the Genealogical Adam and Eve

Well, I think that “Mitochondrial Eve” certainly didn’t help, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian before PS that distinguished between sole-genealogical ancestor and sole-genetic ancestor. When people talk about Adam and Eve being the first human, they mean it almost exclusively as all modern humans are descendants solely of an original couple. I feel like GAE (in the larger sense, not just the book) is doing something new, at least in the Christian world, by making the distinction.


Yup, because:

I think @dga471 get’s it right. It took a real cross-cultural lens to tease out what people meant. Many people thought they were using the same words in the same way, but they just weren’t. Most interesting in this story is how both RTB and WLC moved to a genealogical understanding of progenitorship when they understood the distinction. They didn’t know to ask about the distinction. Those who did know, were not clear about the distinction.


You’re right, and I think that’s because of the influence of the traditional creationist model where humans are biologically unique and unable to reproduce with other hominid species. In a sense, one of the most “novel” features of the GAE model is interbreeding with people outside of the Garden.


Note that there is no such thing as “sole-genealogical ancestor”. The point of GAE is that we are descended from a large sample of the people alive at the time of A&E, some of whom have contributed genetic material to the current population, some of whom have not. There is no “sole” for either.

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But those would not be members of a different species. By the supposed time of A&E, all the other hominid species were extinct.

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Yes, but this points to the other problem in interactions between theologians and scientists (which again is a major theme in the book). Theologians and Christian scientists simply assumed that “Adam as the father of all humanity” meant Adam and Eve as the sole ancestors of all biological human species, even though the Bible never defines “human” using those terms. They assumed that the questions that scientists were interested in (e.g. defining a species according to their reproductive compatibility) were the same as what the Bible is talking about, and were dismayed when they found that these didn’t seem to match up. In fact, one could say that this is the root of many clashes between religion and science, including the many forms of creationism.

In contrast, the GAE model recognizes that in the Bible, “human” is only textually defined as “a descendant of Adam and Eve”. It situates Adam as the sole spiritual ancestor of all textual humanity, in the sense that everyone who is a textual human derives their textual humanity by descent from Adam, and not anyone else. This removes the perceived conflict between genetics and Genesis by recognizing that they are talking about completely different things.

(Again, this brings us into the accusations of polygenism. But these problems are dealt with in a creative way in the GAE book - such as recognizing that all biological humans, including those who never met with Adam - could also have had the image of God, as having the image of God is not synonymous with being a textual human. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the argument of the book.)


What do you mean by “all biological human species”, and who is it that assumed this?

I don’t believe that’s true. The bible doesn’t define “human” at all. What the bible actually says is that all men or all living are descended from Adam and Eve, but the implication is that there were no people, ever, who weren’t descended from them. You can’t just make that so by definition. And what does “textual humanity” even mean? Are textual humans any different, in any way, from non-textual humans?

One may hope that the subsurface portions of the iceberg are better than that.

All homo sapiens sapiens, or anatomically modern humans. This is commonly assumed (usually implicitly) by most people in the dialogue about Genesis.

That’s exactly what I meant! I think you are quibbling over the semantics of “definition”. The point is that when the Bible speaks of people, it assumes they were descended from Adam and Eve. Thus its message only applies to these humans. This is why we call them “textual humans”: Humans the Bible was written about and written for.


Oh. I thought you were referring to species, plural.

I don’t see that as a valid reading of the text. And if it were, the people outside the garden would not be people. What would their nature be such that God didn’t care about them? I see “textual human” as a feeble way of reconciling Genesis with science.

Why not?

The book, as I remember, offers the possibility that Genesis 1:26-27 describes the creation (i.e. evolution) of all biological humans, who are thus made in the image of God. The account in Genesis 2 is taken to refer only to the creation of the historical Adam and Eve. Thus A&E are a special subset of biological humanity which are called to a special relationship with God, similar to how Abraham is called (in chapter 12) out of all the nations. So there’s a neat parallel:

Descendants of A&E (textual humans) vs. all biological humans
Descendants of Abraham (Israel) vs. all the nations (including the Gentiles)

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Because the text makes no distinction between the people of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, or between Adam’s progeny and various presumed others, e.g. Seth’s wife, Cain’s wife, the people of Cain’s city, etc. The bible is about the Hebrews and their supposed ancestors, but all manner of other folks appear in it too. The descendants of Abraham are also the only people God supposedly has a deal with, but they aren’t the only “textual humans” either. The bible provides no support for this notion of “textual human”. It’s a transparent excuse for the implications in Genesis 2 that there are no other people outside the garden.

But it’s Adam who, according to some versions of GAE, is supposed to transmit the image of God.

There would be a neat parallel if in fact there were any mention in Genesis 2 of “non-textual humans”, or any mention of what might make Adam different from any of those unmentioned other people. Genesis 2 clearly has no interest in the “textual human” story.

Further, it tells us nothing about what would make Adam different from other humans or make his descendants in any way special.

I think it does. Why do you think there are genealogies in Genesis, which all start from Adam? What is the point of putting them in? (There are also genealogies in Chronicles, Matthew, and Luke too.)

The book develops the image of God in a more complex way. It acknowledges the centuries of theological thought on what the Imago Dei is, and adopts an “open”, multi-faceted view of the Imago Dei, where it consists of substantial, functional, and relational (among others) aspects of humanity. I’d love to talk more about the Imago Dei when I have time, as I’ve read a lot on the subject recently - it’s just hard to do justice to it in one or two sentences, given how much scholarship there has been on this topic.

The difference is clear: Adam is called to be in a special relationship with God in the Garden of Eden, while others are not.

The book’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 (as separate creation accounts, at least when applied to humans) are definitely not the only way of understanding these chapters. Some theologians have tried to harmonize them, for example. But it is one model.

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It’s all about the ancestry of the Hebrews (specifically, the male-line ancestry; women generally don’t count) and the bottleneck at Noah. Ham and Japheth get only a slight mention. If that’s what “textual human” means, sure. But the gentiles aren’t textual humans then.

It would be nice to know more about what that means, as it communicates nothing to me at this point.

The difference is not at all clear. Genesis 2 says nothing whatsoever on that subject. Adam is the only man mentioned, and in order to find a woman it’s necessary to use his rib. The story doesn’t describe a special man, just the only man.

Agreed. I prefer a simpler way: that they are separate stories that relate — perhaps were never intended to relate — any historical facts, just some theological points. In Genesis 1, God is the creator. In Genesis 2, man is sinful and cursed to a hard life. There is no need to reconcile the stories or to reconcile any two stories in the bible, as their purpose is not to present historical truth.

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As a has-been linguist, polysemy is virtually an obsession of mine, especially on Internet forums. I’m been frustrated by it for years. Moreover, sometimes things get even more confusing when homonymy/homophony arises by “linguistic evolution” coincidence—and that mere coincidence disqualifies that instance as polysemy.

I would say that the Hebrew word NEPHILIM has become a confusing polysemy in a lot of discussions.

Even the simple word ark has its ambiguities (Noah’s ark or the ark of the covenant?), as I was reminded with my very first “assignment” when I consulted for the TV quiz show The Weakest Link. The first question they asked me to approve or edit for broadcast was the ambiguous, “In the Bible, who built the ark?”

Yes, I cringed when I first read the term “Mitochondrial Eve” and realized that the public would totally misunderstand it.


Well yes, the Old Testament is primarily about Israel as God’s people, not the Gentiles. It is only in the New Testament that the plan of salvation is enlarged to also include the Gentiles. The Church is now the new Israel, with Gentiles grafted into the “original vine”. However, while the Bible as a whole talks about all the descendants of Adam including Gentiles and Jews, it doesn’t talk about those who are not descended from Adam.

This is on my to-do list. Will require a longer post.

How do we know it is the only man?

OK, but remember that this conversation is not about what you prefer, because obviously you personally don’t need the GAE. Rather, the GAE is more useful for people who have certain pre-imposed limitations on how to read Genesis and the Bible.