David Kwon: Reviewing the Genealogical Adam and Eve

@naclhv posted an excellent review of the book from his position of having come to very similar conclusions long before he learned of us: David Kwon and the Genealogical Adam and Eve.

Perhaps my favorite part of all this is that your poor, pious grandma - who just wanted to believe the Bible and didn’t know or care about science - was right all along. The Bible, interpreted at this level of analysis, can be understood exactly how your grandma would have understood it, and she would have been essentially correct.

The book becomes less focused when Dr. Swamidass moves into the theological portion, but even this works towards his ultimate end. His overall point here is that this new understanding of the Genealogical Adam and Eve opens up a lot of space theologically: of course a single interpretation is not going to be singularly compelling. There are now many, many interpretations of Genesis that work quite well with the scientific accounts, including some quite literal ones, and Christians are now free to explore this much larger space in our search for the right interpretations

…So here, I’m glad that Dr. Swamidass went with an approach that complements mine - a gentler, more minimal approach that merely points out the vastly expanded possibilities, instead of nailing them down.


@naclhv also writes an extended summary and guide to his thoughts on the GAE over the last several years:

It would be interesting for @jongarvey to compare notes with him to see the similarities and differences.


I’ll have a look at his stuff in the light of day tomorrow!

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Right. I’ve had time to read through the link. I basically agree with most of what David says, which perhaps confirms my contention that following the same assumptions rationally (in this case GAE) leads to similar conclusions. Like me he is seeking to work from the Bible primarily, rather than from science. This is not an epistemological preference saying that one “trumps” the other, but a methodological one: Christian doctrine is established from the Bible, not from science).

There are some new insights I like:

(1) I like the comparison of the transition from Genesis 1 to Genesis 2 with John’s transition from John 1:1-18 to what follows: symbolic (or perhaps better, “spiritual”) to literal (or perhaps better, “historic.”) Jn 1:1-18 is not a parallel spiritual account, but a creation account in the same vein as Gen 1 (culminating of course in the incarnation and its meaning). Earthly history then follows. We both agree on Gen 1 as a prologue to Genesis/Torah/Bible, for which I argue at length in Generations.

NB David’s literary parallels are classier than mine - he does Dickens, Shakespeare and the US Constitution: I do the Three Little Pigs (I did include Homer, but ditched him!)

(2) On the literal/figurative discussion of Gen 1, I agree that God as the source of all creation is the core, unmistakeable teaching. And I’m aware of Augustine’s dictum that many individual interpretations are possible for such a deep text, all compatible with the rule of faith.

By exploring ancient worldviews, though, I try to be more precise in showing how the spiritual account of Gen 1 also represents the physical world (eg how “light” in a spiritual sense equates to the creation of “light” in the physical sense) by describing Gen 1 as a phenomenological account using specific temple imagery. This introduces an important biblical-theology theme on which I expand.

(3)“Following this commandment makes the discussion about unreached people moot. Are they unsaved? Go, preach the Gospel to them, so that they may be brought to salvation. Are they saved? Go, preach the Gospel to them, to bring them into a better understanding of the salvation they have. The question about unreached people is of no practical consequence, in light of this commandment we’re given to obey.”

This is a useful insight in the recent PS discussion of the “Tasmanian question.” However, it’s also necessary to deal with the concept from Romans/1 Corinthians that all men sinned in Adam. I believe GAE is adequate to universalise Adamic man. Though science cannot prove it, neither does it give serious reasons to refute it. It is, after all, an historical assertion, and science’s role is only to exclude what is historically impossible, not prove Christianity.

A few minor points of disagreement to help move thgings forward.

(1) “By virtue of being their descendants we also bear the image of God, but also share in their original sin.”

We are close, but not identical, on the question of death and the fall. David seems to suggest that Adam, as the first “ensouled” being in the image of God, gained spiritual life over and above perishable physical life, and that (being more important) is what was principally lost, mankind continuing to die naturally because created thus through evolution.

I see Adam’s formation as largely covenantal: he is granted eternal life (spiritual and bodily) as part of his special calling in Eden. It is that eternal life he loses, symbolised by his return to the perishable realm in which he originated. Adam would have been immortal in spirit and body through the tree of life (which I interpret as, in essence, covenant faithfulness with God, plus or minus a literal tree) - death of both kinds therefore came into the world of Adamic man through sin.

However, we clearly agree on an MRCA/GAE position on Adam and Eve: I think I look in more depth at the genre of the Eden narrative itself, to show that most of the apparently fabulous elements need not be so.

(2) I’m more open (or committted, maybe) than David appears to be to an Augustinian notion of inherited sin. However, I like him explore the social component of sin, through the lens that human beings are fundamentally social. “Rational individuals do not create society: society creates rational individuals.”

(3) I think David’s treatment of hypothetical “non Adamic” humans in our time needs strengthening: I’m not sure what solid grounds he allows for not exploiting such people even though they are “animals,” as Adam was before ensoulment. David seems to depend on their rationality giving us a moral duty to them - but to a lesser extent we can recognise intelligence in dolphins, elephants or octopi, and yet still justify taming them for our purposes. Why would men be different, given that apart from the European abolition of owning people for labour, slavery was a universal practice, and still is in Libya, Uganda and elsewhere.

My own answer is that there is no good reason to deny creation in God’s image to those outside the garden, since that is described in Gen 1: the distinction is more about Adam’s calling than his ensoulment. Therefore Adam must treat all men outside the garden as being in the image of God: his calling was to extend and glorify that image.

This has ramifications about interbreeding, which is in no way condemned by Scripture as “polluting” or “diluting” the image with some inferior form. In my thinking, Adam’s role is to bring a new divine relationship and way of life to mankind already created in God’s image. Like Abraham, or Moses, or Jesus, Adam is called from mankind for mankind. Outgroup marriage would, in all likelihood, have been part of this even had sin not supervened.

Assume that in every other respect David’s scheme is pretty close to mine.


Hello again! I wanted Amazon to post my review (it can take a few days) before I posted it here along with the consolidation of previous posts, so that I can announce it all in a single thread. But thanks for taking the initiative and finding it on your own! It looks like Amazon posted it too, so this is fine.

So, of course, I recommend the book highly, and I actually got a bunch of copies and handed them out as Christmas presents. Not everyone that I gave it to has read it yet, but the general reaction from those who had was basically ‘he’s obviously right’. Like I said in my review, the idea of GAE is so compelling that it’s hard to even remember how I could have thought otherwise.

@jongarvey, I’m also looking forward to your book! Please give me the details here (title, release date, where to buy, etc.)! As for some of my thoughts on your comments:

On Interpreting Genesis through John, I’m really glad that you liked this comparison. It honestly boggles my mind that John 1 isn’t the immediate text that we all jump to when we ask ‘how should we interpret Genesis 1?’ I mean, it’s, like, literally the perfect passage for that.

But the major topic that I think we all can do a lot more work on is the key idea of the “image of God”. This is the question really being asked when we bring up potential ‘non-Adamic’ people. This is at the heart of the ‘Tasmanian question’ and the analogy of the salvation status of unreached people groups.

My view, partially expressed in my blog posts and some other posts in this forum (Another early adopter of the Genealogical Adam), is that God imparts some of his image on everything he creates. C.S. Lewis says as much in Mere Christianity, explaining that even empty space is like God in its hugeness. Above and beyond that, I think certain physical things have a certain structural potential to bear the image of God. So, for instance, empty space is mostly lacking this potential, while a pen and paper have more potential, and a computer program greater potential still. A complete human being has the greatest potential for bearing the image of God: in fact, we know that it’s perfectly sufficient, because it was made specifically for that purpose: to bear not just any image of God, but God himself, in the Incarnation.

Now, as God’s image bearers, we all have a duty to be like him, to the extent that we are able. So like God, we are responsible to emit the image of God to all that we create, influence, or beget, to the fullness of the recipient’s potential.

Of course, all that is pretty speculative, but I think it gives us an excellent guiding principle - not just for the question on non-Adamic people, but for all kinds of questions we may encounter in the future.

So: can we exploit non-Adamic people? Absolutely not. They are fully capable of receiving the image of God, and we have a moral duty to impart it to them.

Can we exploit farm animals, for food, materials, or labor? Well, they are not capable of receiving the full image of God - but even to them, we are to impart it to the extent that we are able, to the limits of their capacity. This prohibits senseless cruelty or needless slaughter of such animals, but it allows for them to be sacrificed for our sustenance, to better preserve something like the ‘total image of God in the system’. Meanwhile, we are to look for ways to better understand and care for the animals under our control, reduce their suffering, and increase their overall capability - but of course, such things have to be constantly balanced against other things we can do with our finite capacity, like respecting the image of God in a fellow human who’s going hungry.

What happens if we develop ‘true AI’, whatever that means? Or what if we meet space aliens who seem at least as intelligent as we are? The answer is the same: impart to them the image of God, to the extent that we are able and they are capable of receiving. We then prioritize the total system to maximize this image of God.

In Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6), the seraphim that stand around God’s throne call out to EACH OTHER, and say, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”. Meaning (I think), they’re constantly revealing and receiving the image of God to and from one another, in a way that each individual is uniquely capable of revealing and receiving.

Now, admittedly I didn’t think of the possibility that the “people outside the garden” also had the image of God. That is one thing I realized upon reading Joshua’s book. But with the above scheme in mind, I think it’s clear that:

  • they have the image of God to some extent,
  • they’re capable of receiving it to the full extent,
  • yet compared to Adam, they’re missing some part of the full image of God,
  • so they’re also missing Adam’s sin - that particular marring of the image of God that resulted from his original sin.

But overall, I agree with Jon that the more work needs to be done, and that the question of how to treat any such “non-Adamic” people needs stronger answers. In fact, I don’t think there’s a limit to how strong we can make the case to love, respect, and uplift such people, hypothetical though they may be. To me, this is VERY closely related to what Christ did for us, and how we are to preach the Gospel.

Anyways, all that is the thoughts of a non-theologian, at the start of what I think will be a new era in these questions. We will surely have lots to talk about!


The Generations of Heaven and Earth - Adam, the Ancient World, and Biblical Theology. Jon Garvey. Eugene, OR: Cascade (306pp).

The cover is yet to do, and Wipf & Stock work on a “queue” system rather than setting target dates, so i expect a month or two more. At that point it will at all good bookshops (ie Amazon), though the publishers tend to offer a discount which might be helpful assuming you’re in the US.

Personally my hope is to see the biblical scholars tossing the paradigm around to see what fits best. As you say, “it’s obvious,” at least if one accepts the baisc historicity of Scripture and the basic historicity of history.


One Philip E. Johnson J.D. is known from starting from John 1:1 too.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:1-4).

Whenever I speak from the pulpit on creation and evolution, this is always my text. I start with the beginning of the gospel of John and not with the beginning of the book of Genesis. The reason that I have made this choice is that the first 14 verses of the gospel of John are really the Bible’s most important teaching on creation. This is where we get the meaning of the doctrine of creation. If you start with Genesis you are immediately led into historical questions, questions of interpretation, and very complex scientific questions: are we talking about 24-hour days or is this symbolic of some different concept? Starting with Genesis gets you into very complex questions that are beyond the capacity of most people to answer. We have to talk about geology and physics and Biblical interpretation and a great many difficult subjects. In John we have the plain meaning of creation and its importance to our lives.

Another problem with starting with the book of Genesis is that many get the impression that the creation/evolution debate is only about the book of Genesis. After all, there are 65 other books in the Bible, so it cannot be that important a debate on that basis. However people settle that issue, we still have all the rest of the Bible with Jesus, sin, salvation, the cross, resurrection, and so on, so it does not really matter very much, does it? Well, that would be a big error, because the debate over creation and evolution is not just a debate about the historical details of Genesis. It is about every single one of those books of the Bible. It is about whether God is real or imaginary. That is what the debate is about. Is God real or imaginary? Did God create man or did man create God? This is the subject.

Evolution And Christian Faith

What do you make of his reading? I think it is a fascinating study in the rhetoric of interpretation.


Get a good cover this time. :slight_smile:

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The general opinion is I got a good cover last time!


@naclhv, good news. His book is out now!

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Thanks for letting me know! I’ve ordered it just now.

I plan on getting back to this Adam and Eve stuff soon - there’s just a lot for me to think about right now, with this coronavirus stuff, Easter coming up, and other such topics!

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