Understanding GAE: Why would an evolving humanity need a "special creation" of Adam and Eve?

@swamidass and @jongarvey
This is a question that seems to come up a lot from people who are skeptical of the Genealogical Adam and Eve hypothesis. I’ve seen people say something like, “I don’t think a special creation is necessary,” because they are comfortable with more figurative interpretations of Genesis 2-3. Some also seem to reject the doctrine of Original Sin. Thus, it could be useful to have an online link to point to with a brief synopsis of your ideas on the topic.

While I like other models that allow for a historical Adam and Eve in a priestly or federal headship type of role, I see some nice benefits in the GAE proposal.

The beauty of this genealogical theory is that it allows scientists like us (who accept the evidence of human evolution) hold to a tighter historical Biblical hermeneutic.

  • The theory is a nice way of explaining the differences in the creation stories described in Genesis 1 & 2, by saying that there actually were 2 different creation events.

  • The theory also allows us to understand Jesus and Paul’s teachings as being clear and inerrant when they refer to Adam as a historical figure (e.g. in Romans 5). For anyone reading this who might be new to this topic, Tim Keller nicely explains these hermeneutical challenges in his essay: Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople - Articles - BioLogos

  • By allowing for a special creation of Adam and Eve, we can understand how Adam and Eve were able to commune with God so directly and personally in the Garden. They could have a close relationship with God in the Garden before they sinned. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, they could no longer stay in God’s presence, because God is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and His perfection excludes sinners from His presence (Isaiah 59:2, Romans 6:23). This direct interaction of Adam and Eve with God in the Garden gives us a beautiful picture of what we have lost through our sin, and what has now been made possible for us in heaven due to Jesus’s death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Would you agree with these points, or would you modify them or expand on them in other ways?

Edit: for people to more easily track the following discussion:
here are the links to John Garvey’s book, The Generations of Heaven and Earth (GHE)
and to the publisher’s summary of its main points



The hardest thing for Atheists to grasp (as well as Christians who ALREADY use a figurative interpretation of Genesis!):

That GAE is designed to narrow the gap between Creationists and Christians who accept Evolution as a natural process sometimes used by God to effect the fulfillment of his plan!

Why are you bringing up atheists here?


We’ve discussed this topic before: Why is the de novo creation of Adam and Eve important?. Here are some proposed reasons I could think of the last time:


My problem with this is that New Testament writers don’t hold to a tighter historical hermeneutic, so I don’t see why modern evangelicals feel compelled to adhere to one.


True. #1, for example, assumes a genetic A&E, not a genealogical one.

I would also quibble with #4: Eve coming from Adam’s rib doesn’t make her an equal partner; it makes her a subordinate helper. The symbolism is hard to avoid.


Hi Daniel,
Great to meet you (on line)

Thank you for sharing that previous thread, which I had missed. I’ll have to go back and read through that one.

And I greatly appreciate your helpful summary. Those are all great points!


@Michelle, also keep in mind that the purpose of the GAE is to make space for differences in a civic practice of science, not convince everyone to agree. They don’t see value in de novo created AE, and that is fine. The opportunity now is for them to engage in conversation withe people that do see value and understand them. That is not intuitive, as many people are examining this question from their own point of view, rather than from the point of view of others.

Tighter is relative term. Most scholars seem to think that NT authors read Genesis tightly enough to see AE as real people in a real past.


Well, the GAE does allow for AE in a priestly or federal headship role, right? :slight_smile:



As you’ve already seen, my publisher has put out a list of provocative bullet points on some of the theses of my GHE. These are not quite what you have in mind, and what you suggest may not be the best way into the GAE hypothesis, which I see more as a paradigm for biblical interpretation, but which is in essence simpler than that. I’ll return to your 3 points at the end.

At root, the idea of GAE is that population genetics on a two-parent model gives strong evidence that, if Adam and Eve were historical figures living at or before the most plausible biblical time frame, then they would be almost certain to be universal ancestors of present day mankind, as the churches have always believed.

With that simple fact in place, the theology proceeds according to taste and conviction. I don’t (unlike George) see GAE as “intended for a purpose” - any purpose - but simply as a conclusion from genealogical science.

Historically, before deep time and evolution appeared to spoil the fun, not only were historical A&E assumed by virtually all orthodox theologians, but were deemed necessary to preserve core New Testament doctrines.

My own survey of the theological history suggests that “allegorical Adam” and the rejection of original sin were the direct result of the loss of confidence in biblical history, not equally reputable pre-existing theological options. They have become popular in direct proportion to the belief that A&E can’t be fitted into real history.

That makes GAE’s main contribution the removal of the need to explain away the Eden narrative a-historically, making the rejection of original sin and allegorical A&D compete purely on their theological strengths - which they may find difficulty doing once the key role of the historical Eden event to the biblical metanarrative is once more fully appreciated.

The development of my own ideas follows the track that, if GAE is actually true, then its conclusions about those outside the garden were probably also what the Bible writers took for granted - unlike us, they were not befuddled by controversy over deep time and a genetic mindset. They were not that far removed from the origins of the tradition handed down to them.

I then seek to see how that applies to biblical theology, on which discipline fantastic work has been done in recent decades as the clutter of the old source criticism and evolutionary history of religions theories has been cleared away.

This branch of scholarship, pursued by a bunch of important scholars like John Sailhamer, Greg Beale, and N T wright, plus an increasing number of younger scholars such as Seth Postell and Kevin Chen, sees Messianic teaching as fundamental at the deepest and earliest levels of the Hebrew Bible. What Paul calls “the hope of Israel” was a hope held because of, not in spite of, the Torah, prophets and writings.

And that development addresses Steve Schaffner’s point about NT hermeneutics - it was not at all loose, but following in the theological footsteps of the inspired writers. After all, it was Jesus himself who criticised his religious opponents for not appreciating that the prophets had been writing about him all along. Surely his hermeneutics were in working order, as the promised Messiah?

Returning to GAE, I find that through an interpretive lens that accepts the essential historicity of the Eden account, together with people outside the garden, the Messianic biblical meta-narrative not only comes into sharp focus, but becomes grounded in a salvation history that is also a public history.

On your specific points:

  • I personally agree with the sequential reading of Genesis 1 & 2 for a rich variety of reasons dealt with in my book. However, it isn’t actually essential to GAE, and Josh specifically makes room for recapitulatory interpretations in his book. Jack Collins, for example, holds a recapitulatory view, and offered to endorse my book.

  • Totally agree - I think the attempts to suggest either that Paul didn’t base his argument on Adam’s historicity, or that it doesn’t matter that he was wrong, don’t really work in a biblically-based theology.

  • I would say that it’s the historicity and “specialness” of Adam that makes this important point true, rather than special creation per se. I base this on the fact that the word “create” is only used of A&E in the NT, not in Genesis, and that the range of meaning for the Heb bara (create) is wide enough to include more than de-novo creation from literal dirst and ribs. Isaiah uses it of the creation of Israel, and so some kind of “vocational” understanding of Adam’s creation remains an option.

In this, I find myself more flexible than Josh’s expression of GAE, though I have no theological problem with the special creation of A&E. But once again, Josh’s own book points out that GAE does not entail special creation from dust or ribs - in part, I think their inclusion in his basic presentation is meant to make a bold point on the epistemological limitations of science - nothing in science excludes taking their special creation literally, any more than anything in science can discredit the resurrection of Christ.


No one is required to accept de novo creation, but neither can science reject it. That is flexible, right? :slight_smile:

I think that is right. The fact it is very useful for many purposes doesn’t mean it was merely done for said purposes (and therefore ad hoc).


Apologies for word choice Josh - I was really saying that I would not, in my own laying out of GAE, tend to include “special creation from dust” etc as a bullet point.


John Walton makes a fine distinction between “federal headship” and “participation”, which I pick up in GHE in the light of modern discussion on Pauline soteriology. Suffiice it to say that federal headship does wonderfully well under GAE, but there are even richer veins to tap.


Thanks for explaining your thinking and clarifying those theological points. Very helpful. I’m looking forward to reading your books, which I just got in the mail yesterday…and finishing Josh’s book, which I’m now 3/4 through. If only there were more hours in the day (or if only I could function on less sleep) :slightly_smiling_face:

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22 posts were merged into an existing topic: Is Eve an Equal Partner to Adam?

Yes, my husband (who is the one in the family with actual training in this area, as an MDiv) has made a similar historical point to me as we have discussed why the doctrine of inerrancy is important, and why he thinks a historical Adam and Eve are important.

Thank you for taking the time to lay that out so clearly


17 posts were split to a new topic: Why do Christians Care About Myths?

Hi Steve,
What do you mean by this statement? Are there some verses you could cite?


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I mean that NT authors often show little regard for what OT passages meant in context, and that their interest in them is often typological or analogical rather than historical. Examples:
I Cor 9:9-10
Mark 1:3
Gal. 3:16
Matt. 2:15
Matt. 2:16-18


Thanks for that clarification and those verses. For the interest of others who might read this thread, I found this article by John Piper explaining the difference between typology and analogy:

Yes the NT apostles often spoke typologically about OT events, but they never stated or implied that those OT events did not happen historically. Instead, they said how historical OT events pointed to deeper spiritual truths.