What if Adam was just a character in an Ancient Creation Story?

What if Adam was just a character in an Ancient Creation Story, how would it affect your life and how you live your life? You can certainly assume that Genesis was a God inspired story given to an ancient people -an allegory as some would say. How would you live differently? How would you treat others, your family, loved ones? Would your faith crumble under this realization?


The YEC answer to this question is the pressing concern … and they would say that the Bible’s plan for salvation is completely based on Adam & Eve being 2 historical people. You should read up on the YEC fixation on Original Sin…

I am interested in the personal answers from the folks here.


The Bible informs me that all humanity, regardless of physical differences, faith outllooks, culture or orientation are “made in God’s image,” and are therefore due all the respect and consideration that implies. Making Adam allegorical only starts to give me an out for my own responsibilities therefrom.


Pretty occupied this week, but will get to this eventually. Honestly though, responses from others would be great.

Many Christians do see Adam as allegorical, so it’s not a deal-breaker by any means.

To me, demonstrating the non-existence of Adam would a bit like some major tenet of biology, or another science, being overturned, maybe like fish being descended from land-based tetrapods instead of the reverse.

I’ve spent 50 years or so developing my picture of how the biblical narrative fits together, so I’d be like a biologist having to rethink the entire phylogeny of vertebrates - an exciting challenge when you’re twenty six, but a bit discouraging when you’re sixty six - especially if you wrote the old textbook. However, the biologist wouldn’t have any reason for doubting science (apart maybe from doubting himself for not spotting the truth earlier), and the theologian would have no reason to doubt his faith.

Guy is right to say that some of the foundations for the Christian view of mankind as all one in God’s image would be less firm, and there are some other negatives too - for example human evil becomes something for which the primary responsibility lies in God’s creation, rather than in people, and that in the end tends to erode my respect for my neighbour, and my own conscience.

None of that is inevitable - there is still, after all, the central model of Jesus. But his role as Saviour becomes problematic too (when one considers deeply) - is he saving us from his own mistakes as Creator, or what?

However, it’s hard to envisage that reptiles will turn out to be ancestral to fish, and even more difficult to imagine, in these post-critical days, what kind of evidence could even in principle disprove the existence and life story of one individual living in ancient times. So I’m not anxious about Adam.

Footnote: one needs to remember that the members of this forum are all weirdos with an unusual preoccupation with origins based on their professional or other interests. Ardent Creationists are similarly unusual beasts. I have taught many people in a church setting who don’t think about Adam from one year to the next, because they’re more interested in ministry to the homeless, or youth work, or controlling their temper at home, or whatever.

The words of a church-musician friend, when I told him what I do all day, are worth repeating again: “It’s the kind of thing I’m very glad that somebody else is doing.”


@jongarvey , what do you have published? It sounds like our mutual 50 or so years in the faith have led us to very similar views, and that’s neat. I am seven years your junior, so I might have a little more energy to keep doing some heavy lifting, but it’s not so heavy with Josh, you, Mark, and so many others in this forum around! To God be the glory!


A bunch of magazine articles in ancient medical and Christian magazines that don’t count, a book currently in the bowels of the publisher’s labyrynth, presumably due in the next year or so, and, of course, 2 zillion words in a thousand+ posts on The Hump of the Camel. Also (tell it not in Gath) unpublished songs here. Mr Samizdat, me!


I really like this analogy, @jongarvey. I tend to see more allegory in the Genesis 1-3 passage than most here, particularly in the account of the original sin, but I do believe in a literal Adam and Eve among many other humans at the time. But a completely allegorical (I cringe at using the term “fictional” here) Adam and Eve wouldn’t not have a significant impact on my faith. That’s a very good question, @Patrick.


Even a good allegory works much better if there’s an historical core. Interestingly, the Scriptures DO use “type” language to describe Adam.
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” - Romans 5:12-14
Question: why all the qualifiers if Adam is clearly meant to be understood as the “first human” with no one else around? How did “sin” spread? Who were these ones, who hadn’t sinned in the likeness of Adam, for whom, apparently, moral culpability was not assigned, and why? Was it a lack of moral sophistication, such as is gained when one suddenly acquires “the knowledge of good and evil” illegitimately, defiantly, even? Is this the situational backdrop for these verses?

Thanks, @cwhenderson.

I’m interested in your allegory plus history model - why do you need both?

In (premature) reply, I think it’s important to distinguish archetypes, of which Adam is certainly one, from allegories. Having had this conversation in private correpondence with John Walton before he published his “Adam” book, it makes a significant difference.

The Wright Brothers are archetypes of all who fly in aeroplanes, because
(a) They were the first to do it
(b) They made it possible for the rest of us to do it
(c ) Everybody now is doing what they did first.

It matters that they existed, or are believed to have existed (the anonymous inventor of the bow and arrow would be an archetype).

However, Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress is an “Everyman Allegory” because he represents the experience of every Christian. John Bull is likewise, because he represents someone’s idea of what Every True Englishman should be.

The problem is that at the time when Genesis was written, that kind of Everyman Allegory doesn’t appear to exist as a genre, whereas the archetype does - compare Gilgamesh, the Sumerian forerunner of those who seek and fail to find eternal life. He was believed to exist (and probably did, though perhaps not as the epic describes). And so he is a valid archetype.

So it’s unlikely that Genesis sees Adam as “all sinners,” but likely that he is “the man who introduced sin to us all.” It would be possible that his story is fictional, but that raises issues of inspiration - it’s OK for John Bull to be fictional, because he’s allegorical. But fictional Wright Brothers is another matter.



Can you explain your remarks on the origin of evil in the absence of Adam?


I think there’s a big difference between seeing Genesis 1-11 (yes, not just 1-3)as being about some REAL fall, as a sort of prophecy in reverse and seeing it speaking in very broad strokes (no literal Adam for instance) vs Enns or Lamoureaux’s view which tend to empty it of TOO much.

For example, look at C.S. Lewis’s view of the fall, or Robin Collins’ vs Enns and Lamoureaux. I think there’s a difference.

Collins- http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/Evolution/Evolution%20and%20Original%20Sin.doc

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At some point I would really like to lay out my view of Adam on here in some detail, but not at this point. Soon hopefully


Suppose the very strange scenario that we find ourselves in a situation where we are flying airplanes but don’t have records of how airplanes started.

Suppose a culture put together a myth of the Wright Brothers, and that myth gives a plausible explanation for how the first airplanes came about, and it gets the major details correct.

Instead of 2 guys, it was actually 13 and their names are different, but the process by which the first planes were put together is more-or-less accurate. Moreover, the myth completely resonated with own experience of flying in planes.

Couldn’t this be a meaningful etiology?

Also, I’m asking very sincerely, if most origin myths were taken literally in the sense of talking about real people, then why are they so diverse and what does this mean? For example, there are multiple flood “heroes” right, from all the other origins myths? Which hero was the ACTUAL one and why?

Or was there one dude who the Hebrews labeled as Noah but other stories labeled with a different name?

Similarly, some origins myths begin with more than one person. Did the writers of all these myths think they were writing/speaking of real people? What records were they getting these historical figures from?

Or were they knowingly creating etiologies that made sense to them? For example, the priestly and yahwist authors probably thought "it was probably SOMETHING like this…given our theology, THIS is how the world must be. There had to be a “fall from innocence” etc. because given our theology which we recieve (to the best of our ability) from God, THIS is what makes sense. They didn’t care if they got the numbers or names right, but they definitely cared about getting God right, the gendered nature of humanity right, the nature of humanity right, the nature of the progression of evil right, etc.

That seems plausible to me. That’s why I like Robin Collins phrase “a prophecy in reverse.” Or C.S. Lewis’ phrase “a likely story.”

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I’m not sure exactly what you mean here - I don’t seem to have said much about that in particular in the quoted post. However, the problem of evil in the absence of [Adam], conceived as particular historical human[s], is that it transfers the origin of sin to God. Man (through evolution, or through faulty design) is then bound to sin, as evidenced by the fact that all have. Very kind of God to provide a remedy, but he set up the problem in the first place, despite Pelagian claims that we all had the choice to do good. If every entirely free individual chooses culpable evil, then the system’s to blame.

Note this is pretty different from Irenaeus, who made Satan more culpable than immature A&E, but still saw their sin as the tragedy that imprisoned all their offspring.

The idea of Adam and Eve as actually being Fred and Sylvia, and living in China 100,000 years ago, would preserve many of the important features of Genesis, as indeed would the idea of [Adam] being a group or clan. So it’s a lot better than the “Everyman Allegory” interpretation.

However, that would make Genesis a luckily accurate aetiological tale rather than an unluckily erroneous one that left evolutionary struggle (etc) out of the picture. Whereas (and I’m working on this as a Genealogical Adam project) I believe not only that Gen 1-11 preserves a genuine tradition, but that the whole biblical narrative is built around it. Virtually all the specific historical themes of Genesis 1-11 are developed in the prophetic literature and, additionally, carried into the New Testament.

To take a couple of examples: increasingly scholars are recognising that, in the narrative, Israel is Adam redux, and Christ is Adam + Israel redux. Those like Enns agree, but say that Adam was invented to parallel Israel’s experience in the Exile - but that makes no psychological or didactic or even literary sense to me, whereas the recognition of traditional history repeating itself (given divine oversight and human sin) does.

A second, related, reason why [Adam] as a named, historical individual fits the bill better is that, in the context of covenant or revelation history, it is characteristic of Yahweh to call an individual on behalf of the human race in order to spearhead the blessing.

The principle ones, representing what I see as the three main salvation epochs of the Bible, are Adam, Abraham and Christ. But the same is true of Noah, of the Isaac and Jacob carrying on the Abrahamic covenant, of Moses bringing Israel as a nation into the covenant, and of David as the archetype of the anointed king. The pattern is always that God speaks to individuals to bring blessing to populations. Now of course, that could all be some human tendency of the authors to focus on heroes, read back into Genesis - but at some stage we need to recognise the divine author, and to me the overarching metanarrative of the Bible has the marks of that, even if it weren’t a basic tent of faith.

Genesis, then, is not an aetiological tale either of human origins or of sin, but a key to bibical interpretation as a whole.

The question of origins tales parallels is a complex one, with insufficient information. On the one hand, we can pretty well discount the “world flood stories” approach as artificial. On the other, there is a family of narratives rooted in Mesopotamia in the third millennium, whose later infiltration into, say, the Greek Deucalion myth is easy to understand historically.

There is much evidence of a cultural infiltration from Anatolia into the rest of the ANE and beyond, which broadly corresponds to the Table of Nations. If Genealogical Adam is correct, we would be looking at an Adam within, or even at the start of, that movement. Whether or not we could actually trace it on scanty data, there would be a shared linguistic, religious and literary tradition that helps explains not only parallels to the Genesis proto-history, but also explains shared religious ideas in Canaan in, say, the divided kingdom era.

Is Israel’s version of the tradition just one random variant, or the core historical strand? That, of course, has a lot to do with whether one believes in a divine covenant with Israel, via the genealogical “highway” found in Genesis. But a faithful remnant would not be unparalleled in biblical history: Even after Moses, 10 tribes diverged into the syncretic religion of Samaria. But the Church of Christ was founded on the basis that the southern minority, and a minority of them, preserved the truth more intact: “Salvation is from the Jews,” said the Lord. And in the Church we still opt for the Massoretic and Septuagint tradition over alternatives like the Samaritan text or Islamic traditions.

So to finish on your final point: whilst, on the doctrine of sin, the “C S Lewis” scenario would do some of the work far better than, especially, evolutionary models, I don’t believe it ticks the boxes for the very rich intertextuality of Gen 1-11 with the whole biblical revelation. So I opt for an historical Adam, albeit it that the account we have of him is told in a “mythic” style.


My reply above addresses most of this. I don’t think, actually, that biblical inspiration ever works on the basis of making up facts based on theology.

However, where I would nuance that is in the nature of the Gen 1 account. My own conclusion is that, in literary terms, the creation story functions as the setting for the narrative that begins with Adam (see Breuggemann or Middleton on this). As such, I see it as standing apart from the ensuing narrative (it has, after all, no supportable parallels with any other ANE creation stories), and being added by the author of Genesis to introduce that tradition, in the context of Israel’s origins, the subject of the Pentateuch as a whole.

Now in that context, the particular form of the creation account appears to be to introduce the heavens and the earth as God’s temple, corresponding to the pattern of the tabernacle “shown on the high mountain.” (Now perhaps the mainstream view, as you will know). In that case, a divinely revealed temple theology certainly can shape the thought of the author, as the structure and function of the tri-partite tabernacle is seen to correspond to the familiar phenomenological world around.

One could call that creative theology, in a way different from the preservation and shaping of an historical tradition - but it’s a lot more aligned to the biblical concept of the word of God revealed through the prophets than that of some priest trained in atheological background constructing a fictional world history to match it.

And because it isn’t just a convenient aetiological tale, but a divinely-inspired foundation, Gen 1 becomes a key to unlock the whole biblical narrative: hence all the promises, including those of Christ’s gospel, reflect the creation-ordinance for mankind in Gen 1. The cosmic temple “analogy” is carried right on through to Revelation 22 (see Greg Beale on this).

And so Genesis gives every sign of being the foundation of OT theology, rather than being dependent on it.


I’m very surprised what little traffic this thread has drawn. Isn’t this the crux of a lot of what peaceful science does?

Anyway, why do you feel like Enns’ conclusions regarding Adam being Israel rather than Israel being Adam (to put it crudely) is psychologically, didactically, and literarily unconvincing?

You seem to be saying you see it as illegitimate for God to work that way. Why?

Your hermeneutic has a lot in common with Diodore of Tarsus and how he changes around the Patristic ethos regarding interpretation. For Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Nazianzen, Maximus, and others, whether or not an event literally occured did not prevent the Holy Spirit from using the event depicted in the words of scripture to speak about a Christological reality. Nyssa, as most know, included the killing of the first-born of Egypt in this.

Diodore came along and said, “no, in order to be a legitimate typology, the event has to be rooted in actual history.”

I don’t agree. I think Origen’s hermeneutic is far superior and much more consonant with what we know about old testament criticism today.

Why do you say no?

Although I think Enns has probably just become a mainline Christian because he was never rooted strongly to a catholic tradition, I very much agree with him when he talks about us limiting God by saying, “God wouldn’t have chosen to inspire scripture THAT way. That’s BENEATH God.” A lot of Judeans said the same thing regarding the incarnation. I DO think Enns’ use of the Philippians hymn is VERY relevant here.


C.S. Lewis has a wonderful quote. I would go further and say that the authors of the Song of Songs may have had fairly carnal, lustful purposes behind what they say. But it’s not “about” human marriage. It IS about Christ and the Church. That’s why it’s there. Why couldn’t God do the same thing with the story of Adam and Eve?


“The Scriptures proceed not by conversion of God’s word into literature but by the taking up of a literature to be the vehicle of God’s word … Thus something originally merely natural –the kind of myth that is found among the nations–will have been raised by God above itself, qualified by Him and compelled by Him to serve purposes which of itself it would not have served. Generalizing this, I take it that the whole Old Testament consists of the same sort of material as any other literature –chronicle … poems, moral and political diatribes, romances, and what not; but all taken into the service of God’s word. Not all, I suppose, in the same way. There are prophets who write with the clearest awareness that Divine compulsion is upon them …there are poets like those in the Song of Songs who probably never dreamed of any but a secular and natural purpose in what they composed …On all of these I suppose a Divine Pressure … the human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God.”

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To quote Fr John Behr, if one isn’t reading scripture allegorically, then he/she isn’t even reading scripture AS scripture! Woah!