Literal Interpretations and the Genealogical Adam

Continuing the discussion from Bottlenecks and Trans-Species Variation:

Yes, the English translation is misleadingly confused. There may be a reason why as it seems some of the translators were coming to it from an anti-evolutionary point of view. Though, it is just as likely that it is just hard to translate Hebrew into English in the modern world. A few examples of translations that create a great deal of confusion:

  1. “according to their kind” is better translated as “of many kinds”
  2. “earth” is better translated as “land”
  3. the word for “mankind” and “man” in Genesis 1 and 2 is “Adam” in Hebrew. Genesis 2 on is about the rise of the lineage of Adam, not about the biological origin of “human kind” as a whole. Genesis 1 is a different account that describes the creation (which could be by evolution) of a population of “adams” both male and female, not the individual Adam alone.
  4. the scientific term “genetics” was borrowed from biblical terms like “monogenes” etc, which conflates several theological terms (e.g. “monogenesis”) with DNA bound concepts which are entirely extrinsic to Scripture.
  5. There are times where “man” is used to translate terms other than “adam” (e.g. Genesis 6:1-4)

Of note, the terms “human”, Homo sapiens, DNA, and Neandertals do not appear any where in Scripture, nor is any claim made that Adam is the first Sapien, or that there was no one outside the Garden. None of these claims are even made in traditional theology for a very long time. It is only really very recently, in scientific creationism, that the version of YEC at AIG arises. In my view, the problem is not that they have too traditional a reading of Genesis, but they have wildly deviated from the traditional reading.

@deuteroKJ, a scholar here, might join in too with his thoughts. He might have different takes on things, but I’d still contest my assertions here are within the range of ambiguity in the text (though I still stand to be corrected).

Working on that now, though I am not YEC, and that is the wrong way to define this. It is not really that hard to do. A few points:

Theologians have wondered for a long time what was going on outside the garden, including speculating about Cain’s wife. Maybe some of the people God made were out there, and this explains a large number of puzzles in the subsequent text.

The word “world” or “earth” in reference to the flood is actually just “land”, and there is no way they could have been referring to global flood because they had no concept of a globe. Moreover, they describe in Genesis 10-11 the extend of their world, and it does not include the whole globe. Nephilim, also, are not on the ark but also appear after the flood (Numbers 13:33). Likewise, the word “adam” is used here too, emphasizing that this is not all Sapiens, but all those visibly associated with Adam’s lineage. In context, it is clearly about the regional destruction of civilization. There is no way except a pre-committment to a global flood (which we know arises recently, just 150 years ago), that one would conclude that Genesis 6 teaches a global flood. The global flood is a very novel appendage that can be traced directly to Seventh Day Adventism, a relatively small sect that managed to convince Fundamentalists in the 1950s they should all become YEC.

The remaining questions are just about theological coherence, and there are a lot of people working on that now, including people on these forums. Here are a few quotes worth looking at from YECs and OECs so you can see how they are receiving it:

From a YEC scholar:

From a leading OEC scholar with a great deal of influence:

From a historian who is “undeclared” in the origins position (@rcohlers, what is your position?):

And, also, this is part of an in-depth analysis by William Lane Craig, a very influential apologist: William Lane Craig on Historical Adam.

This is only a small subset of positive comments I’ve received from scholars, including several YECs. Most are in contemplation mode, but several have gone public with their openness to this proposal (as you can see). So, I’d say this is really positive.

The conversation is ongoing. I suspect it will sort out in a year or two. At that point, we might have a widely affirmed alternative to YEC that will strongly appeal to YECs, because it is consistent with their literal approach to Scripture.

From what I understand, it seems that most scholars are agreeing that the Genealogical Adam is consistent with a textual analysis of Genesis. There appears to be two classes of objections, one from the right and one from the left.

From the left, they agree it is consistent with Genesis, but do not think several of the details (e.g. historical Adam, original sin, universal descent from Adam, etc.) are required by Scripture. Most people in this camp already affirm evolution and are opposed to traditional theology from the get go, so I’m not engaged with that debate. I do not really care what they think of Adam if they have found a way to come to peace with science.

From the right, the debate seems to be primarily on the theological coherence of traditional theology. I’ve put some ideas out there that have been helpful for some. There are books being written on this now, both myself and by others. Several people seem to think it will ultimately pan out, but I expect it will take more than my effort to close the loop. At this point, I mainly just starting the conversation.

This might be a good primer I recently wrote for a theology student, if you care to catch up on the conversation: Story Three: Recent Sole-Genealogical Progenitor Adam - #34 by swamidass.

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I see a number of problems with this. I also have two questions: where can one find this “traditional theology”, and what is “a very long time”?

Now I doubt that the translators of the King James bible were anti-evolution; I doubt they had ever considered the matter. Of your points, I don’t see #1 as relevant to YEC except as it might remove one claimed reason for rejecting the idea of speciation.

#2 also doesn’t seem relevant, and clearly “land” is what the translators meant by “earth” most of the time anyway.

#3 would need some support beyond the Hebrew meaning of “adam”. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are clearly in contradiction on a number of points, and while Genesis 1 is a grand account of God’s creative power, Genesis 2 is largely a set of just-so stories, any serious reading of which seems as impossible as a serious reading of Kipling. And the clear implication of the Eden story is that it concerns the creation of the first couple, sole ancestors of all, as well as of all the land animals, at least. Any other reading is wishful.

#4 also seems irrelevant; even if DNA is not found in Genesis, we must understand the events of the story, taken literally, in light of modern knowledge. Adam must have had DNA, and so must his rib; any being made from his rib would have that DNA just as much as a graft removed from a fruit tree perpetuates the genome of that tree. Why else use a rib rather than form Eve afresh from the dust of the ground?

#5 also seems irrelevant, as does the absence of the terms “human”, etc. While there is no explicit claim of anything outside the garden, the whole plot of the story makes less sense (if that’s the word) if the first couple are not the only couple. Regarding where Cain got his wife, that objection assumes that the bible is a single, consistent story, which is clearly not true.

Now that’s unworthy of you. Of course they had no concept of a globe, but the story does refer to a worldwide flood, however you choose to describe the world. That’s also the claim of the source material, the Utnapishtim story. I would like to see some support for the claim that the idea of a worldwide flood is recent. What’s the oldest source you know of that claims the flood of Noah was regional?

@John_Harshman it seems that your goal is to demonstrate that a literal interpretation is false. You seem opposed from the outset to see if any literal interpretations could be valid.

Is that an accurate view of your position?

Likewise @John_Harshman, what are your personal views on the Bible? It sounds like you are an atheist or an agnostic, not a Christian. Is that correct?

Basically, yes. I’ll give a few comments (summarizing things I’ve said elsewhere on the blog).

it’s a truism that it is impossible to fully translate from one language to another. Even more so from an ancient language to a modern one.

perhaps, though unlikely IMO. Hebrew has a much easier way to say “of many kinds” than the consistent phrase it does use, which seems to naturally translate as “according to its kind.” Regardless, I reject any position that treats this in a scientific concordist way.

The word 'erets can mean either “earth” or “land.” I’m actually OK with earth/world in the Flood story as long as we don’t think in terms of “globe.” The world under concern is defined by the Table of Nations in Gen 10. Whether this is simply the known world to the author or whether earth/world is used with some intentional hyperbole, the text can’t rule out what we think of as a large regional flood.

All possible. Moreover, the use of 'adam in Gen 1 is most naturally taken collectively (i.e., more than a couple)


Well, technically, “human(ity)” does appear n many translations now that “man” no longer carries a gender-neutral sense for many. But I get your point. I’m not sure what you mean about Adam here, however. Plenty in church history thought Adam & Eve were the first and originally only humans. They did not refer to them as Sapien, of course.

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@deuteroKJ thanks for the great summary.

Yes, and, as you know, I’m making a contextual case that their notion of “human” is bound to Adam’s lineage.

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Look here: The Origin of Young-Earthism 50 Years Ago. As surprising as this may sound, YEC is more defined by a global flood than the age of the earth. We can trace how this idea arises about 150 years ago, and the becomes popular about 50 to 60 years ago. It is a very recent belief.

If you doubt me, try and find the first reference to Noah’s flood covering mount Everest? Or Australia? Or the Americas? Or carving the Grand Canyon? All this is totally new, really within the last couple generations if you care about what most Christians have believed.

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A post was merged into an existing topic: Robert Byers’ Goals Here

No. Is there anyone here who claims a literal interpretation is true? My attempt is to establish what a literal interpretation implies. Now I do think the story is ridiculous, but a clonal Eve is the least of its problems.




Also, “literal” interpretation is not really the most precise term. A better explanation of the hermeneutic in YEC is a historical-grammatical reading that favors a plain reading. Emphasizing a “literal” reading of the English translation is just not a sensible position. The term “literal” reading of genesis is a colloquial term for this type of reading of Scripture.

For example, Genesis does not teach a clonal Eve by this hermeneutic. It does not teach that original sin transmit by DNA. It says nothing about people outside the Garden.

If you want understand the rules of this approach to Hermeneutics, a reasonable summary of the rules are in the Chicago Statements on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics.

That’s unworthy of you. Mt. Everest, Australia, and the Grand Canyon are all quite recent in Western consciousness, and the Americas only a bit less recent. There are thousands of references to phenomena attributed to the Flood of Noah far outside the Near East. Consider, for example, one of the earlier-attested fossils, Homo diluvii testis. Are you familiar with it? Even Cuvier considered the Flood to be the most recent of a series of worldwide catastrophes. What about Bishop Ussher, for that matter? This notion that belief in recent creation and a worldwide flood is recent just isn’t supportable. It became unfashionable during the Enlightenment but had a revival with U.S. Fundamentalism. You’re talking of the Enlightenment position as if it stretched back to the beginning of biblical interpretation.

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It seems that no one claimed that the flood was global till about 150 years ago. Remember, in the 1400’s, the America’s are discovered. No one claimed that the Americas were covered in the flood. It just is not an important point till about 150 years ago.

Yes that is true, but that was driven by other things than theology and Scripture. (1) people found fossils of sea life on mountains, and (2) there were myths of floods floating around in different cultures. No one made it a fundamental point of doctrine or theology that there was a global flood till very recently.

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Granted, but is this quibbling over language very helpful?

Genesis doesn’t teach a clonal Eve; of course Genesis knows nothing about clones. It merely says that Eve was created from Adam’s rib. How else, given our knowledge of genetics, could it work? Genesis of course says nothing about the doctrine of original sin, only that the first couple and their descendants were cursed to suffer in childbirth, have difficulty in farming, etc., and were ejected from the garden so that they wouldn’t eat from the tree of life and live forever. That is indeed the plain reading. That there were no other humans is not explicit, but the story makes much less sense as a story if there were. Among other things, it’s a story about the origin of people. The story of the Elephant’s Child isn’t about how one particular elephant got his trunk.


This is where many of us feel very differently. Many of are convinced it makes more sense as a story this way. To understand why. you’ll have to read more about what has been proposed. It is a new idea, and you haven’t been exposed to it yet.

Yes. You wanted to know what “literal” interpretation is, so I am explaining what it is. There is a difference technically between literal and plain.

I didn’t know we were arguing about whether it was a fundamental point of doctrinal theology. I thought we were arguing about whether people thought it was true. A worldwide flood and recent creation was the common position among Christians up until around the Enlightenment. Agree or disagree?


I do not think they had a concept of “worldwide” that matches our own. Rather, the notion of a worldwide (as we currently understand it) flood arises historically as a reaction against the Enlightenment. You just seem to be unaware of that history.

There is good evidence, for example, that Mesopotamia knew of the Indus Valley Civilization, but they did not mention them in Genesis 10-11. The Indus Valley was not part of their world, even though they knew it existed.

2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Robert Byers’ Goals Here

It seems that there are at least several literal interpretations that could be true, meaning they are not in conflict with evidence.

Whether at least one is true or not depends on uprovable details of the distance past.