Commemoration of Adam and Eve – Why Believing That They Were Actual, Historic Persons Matters

December 19th, 2013
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Today is the day appointed in my church to remember and thank God for Adam and Eve. After I share the prayer appointed for this day, please continue reading for why defending and holding fast to their historicity matters, a lot.

We pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, You created Adam in your image and gave him Eve as his helpmate, and after their fall into sin, You promised them a Savior who would crush the devil’s might. By Your mercy, number us among those who have come out of the great tribulation with the seal of the living God on our foreheads, and whose robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I’ve been following debates/arguments/discussions/conversations about the historicity of Adam and Eve. For our Lord Christ, the fact of the creation of Adam and Eve by God, and their union to one another, ordained by God, is the very foundation of marriage and all human sexuality. Precisely because the Lord taught this, this has an enormous impact on how the Church and the faithful, should—no not should, that’s way too soft a word—absolutely must—affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve. Justin Taylor had a blog post recently on this, that puts it rather well.

Reformation21 reprints an essay by Michael Reeves (Theological Adviser for UCCF in the UK) on “Adam and Eve,” from the book Should Christians Embrace Evolution? edited by Norman Nevin (IVP-UK, P&R). In particular Dr. Reeves takes on Denis Alexander’s proposed “third way” of understanding Adam and evolution.

Here’s the conclusion:

When theological doctrines are detached from historical moorings, they are always easier to harmonize with other data and ideologies. And, of course, there are a good many doctrines that are not directly historical by nature. However, it has been my contention that the identity of Adam and his role as the physical progenitor of the human race are not such free or detachable doctrines. The historical reality of Adam is an essential means of preserving a Christian account of sin and evil, a Christian under-standing of God, and the rationale for the incarnation, cross and resurrection. His physical fatherhood of all humankind preserves God’s justice in condemning us in Adam (and, by inference, God’s justice in redeeming us in Christ) as well as safeguarding the logic of the incarnation. Neither belief can be reinterpreted without the most severe consequences.

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  1. May 16th, 2010 at 06:22 | #1

    Dr. Joel Heck’s discussion of Genesis on Issues, Etc. 24 was incredibly helpful on this question. I already believed in a literal Adam and Eve (a belief that CPH was kind enough to publish), but Dr. Heck’s work gave some good basic arguments I’d not heard before.

  2. Robert Buechler
    May 16th, 2010 at 15:52 | #2

    This is such an important point to make. I remember when I was working my way through a major in Wild Life Biology (science background) as a freshman at UW. I had heard all kinds of things about evolution and in my mind I had even found a way to make alot of that hypothesis float with my Christian faith.

    However the one issue that kept kicking me in the head, which evolution could not solve and in fact contradicted, was the problem of death. If the Christian faith is true (and it is) and Jesus died for my sins and was raised for my justification, then death is not something God intended from the beginning but is in fact a result of sin. Evolution posits that death is a natural part of life and in fact helps to created better creatures.

    But if death is “beneficial” according to evolution, and natural, then how could we possibly see it as a problem to be overcome? Yet we do. There is only one answer to this. Genesis is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Adam and Eve were real people who fell, and death came into the world through them, hence the need for sacrificial death. Of course, since Jesus lives that must mean that Adam and Eve are real people, for the Resurrection declares the sacrifice of Jesus to be truly for the remission of sins begun through that fall.

    Rob Buechler

  3. May 17th, 2010 at 20:38 | #3

    The Lord taught this? When and where?

    • May 18th, 2010 at 11:48 | #4

      John, forgive me, but I can’t help but think your query is a tad facetious.

      And in that vein….here’s my answer:

      When? Roughly 30-33 AD.
      Where? Palestine.

      You can find an account this teaching in the Bible, specifically, the Gospels.

  4. David Charlton
    May 18th, 2010 at 11:26 | #5

    This is one of those times that being in the parish, rather than in an academic setting, makes a real difference. Try preaching on Genesis for any length of time and it becomes apparent that the question of the real existence of Adam and Eve matters. Its impossible to get the same message from a myth or legend as you do from real events. Or try preaching with the “second naivete”, speaking “as if” these events happened by really didn’t. You are either left with a timeless pattern to be emulated, or speculation about what God might be like, but not with Good News. In addition, average folks can tell when someone is blowing smoke and when someone believes what they say.

  5. Robert Buechler
    May 18th, 2010 at 13:47 | #7

    ptmccain :John, forgive me, but I can’t help but think your query is a tad facetious.
    And in that vein….here’s my answer:
    When? Roughly 30-33 AD.Where? Palestine.
    You can find an account this teaching in the Bible, specifically, the Gospels.

    And Luther said, “This is most certainly true.”

  6. May 19th, 2010 at 14:15 | #8

    Is there a chapter and verse in which Jesus asserts the historicity of Adam?

    • May 19th, 2010 at 14:43 | #9

      John, we are not playing this game any longer. I’m sure you are fully well aware that our Lord specifically cites the Genesis creation account when he discusses marriage. And I’m sure you know where to find those verses in the Gospels.

  7. May 20th, 2010 at 05:31 | #10

    @John Petty
    Is there a chapter and verse in which Jesus denies the historicity of Adam and points to the creation narrative as myth?

  8. May 21st, 2010 at 21:07 | #11

    Robert Buechler stated “death is not something God intended from the beginning but is in fact a result of sin.” The Scriptures clearly teach that Adam and Eve experienced physical death as a result of sin, but the same cannot be said for animal death. None of the passages used to show that animal death is the result of the fall, such as Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, or 1 Cor 15, say anything at all about animal death. On the other hand, there are passages, such as Psalm 104:21, in which predation is presented as something that glorifies the creator.

    http://geochristian.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/death-before-the-fall-an-old-earth-biblical-perspective/

  9. Grills
    December 19th, 2011 at 08:13 | #12

    Kevin,

    Psalm 104 is filled with references to things that were not in the Garden of Eden. There no reason why verse 21 has to refer to anything from the Creation account.

  10. Grills
    December 19th, 2011 at 08:18 | #13

    For example, Lebanon (Psalm 104:16), ships (Psalm 104:26), and sinners (Psalm 104:35).

  11. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    December 19th, 2011 at 09:35 | #14

    Augustine went on at some length about how the “literal interpretation of Genesis” is not even the literal interpretation of Genesis. What changes re “Adam and Eve” is not death nor marriage but their meaning and consequences, which we would not know apart from revelation, and re “evolution” likewise, its meaning and consequence, that it is not an impersonal push but a Personal pull, something we would not know apart from revelation.

    • December 19th, 2011 at 09:38 | #15

      The Lord Christ and His Holy Apostles assert that Adam and Eve are actual historical persons. We can not but do likewise.

  12. December 19th, 2011 at 10:01 | #16

    @ John Petty: Not only does Jesus allude to the historicity of Adam/Eve in Matthew ch. 19, but since the Holy Spirit, who is One with the Son and the Father, inspired Luke to write about the historicity of Adam in Luke ch. 3 and Paul about the historicity of Adam in Romans ch. 5 and I Cor. ch. 15 (not to mention Eve in II Cor. ch. 11), we see that Jesus DID teach about the historicity of Adam/Eve because He entrusted His teaching to those who wrote the Scriptures. The teaching of Jesus is not limited to the “read letters” in the NT but to ALL of Holy Scripture which is FROM Him and ABOUT Him. When we deny the historicity of Genesis it is reduced to a metaphor that points to something else – and that “something else” is always an idolatrous concept of our own making and not the Gospel located in history.

  13. John Maxfield
    December 19th, 2011 at 10:16 | #17

    Just a thought after a conversation with my daughter this past weekend after she “learnt” in her Theology class that Genesis 1-11 is myth and the rest, legend: Though the are many weighty and indeed conclusive reasons for accepting the historicity of Adam and Eve and the rest of Genesis (as noted in this post and several comments), EVEN IF the inspired accounts in Genesis did have some character of myth or legend (that is, not fully investigatable according to normal canons of historical analysis), that in no way would change their status as canonical authority for the Christian church, the basis of marriage, original sin and its universality, etc. In other words, debates about historicity are often mere distractions from the real goals of critical biblical study and theology, namely to overturn historic, biblical Christian teaching and to substitute for God’s Word some other word.

  14. Bernard
    December 19th, 2011 at 10:23 | #19

    @Kevin – does Psalm 104 describe how God intended creation to function, or how it functions after/despite the effects of the Fall?
    Regarding animal death, Gen 1.29-30 records God giving plants to Adam, Eve, and all animals as food. The wonderful thing about plants is that you (or an animal) can eat the fruit/leafy parts, like leaves, grass, oranges, apples, pumpkins, etc, and the plant itself remains alive. You have a clear picture of a sinless world, pre-Fall, without death of any kind. How would animal death or predation fit into this account? What would the text say about God if that were true?

    Yours in Christ,

    – Bernard

  15. Karen Keil
    December 19th, 2011 at 11:17 | #20

    Gen. 1.29-30 does not say that Adam and Eve were to eat animals for food.

    29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. tYou shall have them for food. 30 And uto every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

    Please note that in verse 29, God tells Adam and Eve that he gives them every plant yielding seed and fruit from trees for food. Then in verse 30, he says that to every animal on earth, he gives them plants for food. The statement says nothing about giving animals to Adam and Eve for meat to eat.

    So in Eden, both people and animals ate plants for food, thus no need to kill animals.

  16. Andy
    December 19th, 2011 at 12:34 | #21

    Did he really just say “humankind?”

  17. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    December 19th, 2011 at 15:59 | #22

    500 or so years ago they were all upset that if the earth moves and revolves around the sun when the Bible “says” it doesn’t, the whole fabric of the faith unravels. But it moves, and the faith is still here without geocentrism read into Scripture as a scientific statement from God. Likewise in 500 years we will look just as silly getting all upset about this. Bad theology from good scientists is not countered by bad science from good theologians.

    • December 19th, 2011 at 20:20 | #23

      So you are denying the historicity of Adam and Eve, Terry?

  18. Michael Mapus
    December 20th, 2011 at 08:07 | #24

    @Pastor Tom Eckstein

    You ROCK Pastor Eckstein!!! Based of your response and many others I have read of yours in the past, I personally consider you the BEST apologist in the LCMS. Why? You do it with scripture, just as our Lutheran forefathers did in the BOC.

  19. John Maxfield
    December 20th, 2011 at 09:39 | #25

    @ptmccain
    Let’s see, is that “facile” as in “achieved with little effort; straightforward, easy” or as in “superficial, simplistic, glib; without depth”?

    I’ll take the former (blogging is not my pasttime) but respond to the latter only by saying that some of the debates today re. the Bible and historicity, or the Bible and science, smack of Thomist Realism and the idea that all sources of Truth (scientific, scriptural) must be reconciled in a reasonable synthesis–e.g. “young earth creationism” etc. Problem is the number of people I have met who did that but were overwhelmed at some point by “scientific evidence” and their faith was left in shambles, and some of them now apostles of various schemes of reconciling the Bible to science (like “old earth theistic evolution”) .

    What I am arguing is merely more scepticism toward “scientific truth” (including “scientific history”) in favor of an Occamist critique of Thomist Realism, and adopting the posture toward God’s revelation in Christ and in Holy Scripture that Luther adopted out of his nominalist training. That is, what God says (or what God can do) is not limited by its correspondence to what (we believe) God has created, but rather God creates whatever He says (and therefore God is totally free, not limited).

    Applied to the present argument, I think my original point stands: Theology (or “theological truth”) is based upon what God has revealed in His Word (creation of man in the image of God; fall/death of mankind through the sin of mankind; redemption of mankind through the Second Adam, etc), and really is not shaped by whether or not we can in our own mind reconcile that with what is currently viewed as “historical” or “scientific.”

    • December 20th, 2011 at 10:05 | #26

      The latter, John. Either we confess with Christ and the Apostles that Adam and Eve were real historical persons, or we do not. All the philosophizing aside, that’s the bottom line. And *that* is a facile, in the former sense, comment.

      :)

  20. John Maxfield
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:34 | #27

    @ptmccain
    Oh my, Paul. I resign myself to the fact that this is your blog.

    • December 20th, 2011 at 13:24 | #28

      John, another facile, and not the good kind, of response.
      :)

  21. December 20th, 2011 at 13:16 | #29

    Not to change the subject, but does anyone know the background of the feast/commemoration for Adam and Eve, particularly among Lutherans?

    • December 20th, 2011 at 13:23 | #30

      When The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod developed its new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, those preparing the new hymnal wanted to give us all chance to rejoice in a greater number of Christians from years past, and so they prepared a rather lengthy list of what we call “commemorations” in the Church Year, and Adam and Eve were put into that category.

  22. Karen Keil
    December 20th, 2011 at 15:24 | #31

    @Bernard
    Just realized that you did not say that Adam and Eve were given meat as well as plants in Genesis 1:29-30. I misread your comments and my apologies here.

  23. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    December 21st, 2011 at 00:51 | #32

    Is it known why 19 December was chosen? Centuries ago, in many places the Feast of Adam and Eve was also Christmas Eve, so that the birth of the “old man” was followed by the birth of the “new man”. The “Paradise tree” with fruit on it is tha ancestor of our ornamented Christmas trees, of relatively late origin.

    As to your other question, answering that would go well beyond a combox comment. I believe God has revealed that He created all things, they did not either randomly come to be or proceed along inherent laws apart from Him; that Man, though a creature of God, precisely because of his capabilities, is not capable of fully co-operating with the intent of God’s creativity and would of himself thus despite his best efforts be lost except for divine intervention; that out of the same love from which God created in the first place he now saves in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, who when he is lifted up he draws all men, all things, unto Himself — ich mache alles neu, nicht nur alle — to fulfill the eternal plan of creation of God, Alpha and Omega.

  24. December 21st, 2011 at 22:18 | #33

    Bernard (#19) and others — For the most part, I think it is pretty easy to refute the young-Earth creationist teaching that there was no animal death before the fall. I already pointed out that none of the passages (Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15) that are used to prove that there was no animal death before the fall actually say anything whatsoever about animals. In this case, young-Earth creationists are guilty of reading something into the text that is not there.

    You bring up a good challenge for us old-Earthers: what about the statement in Genesis 1 where God gives Adam, Eve, and the animals the plants to eat, but doesn’t say that they can eat meat too? I don’t have a complete answer, but I do have a few questions and thoughts.

    – Did plants die before the fall? I can eat an orange without killing the tree, but can I eat a carrot without killing the entire plant? The Bible doesn’t say that plants did not die before the fall, so I don’t think we can either.

    – What constitutes eating an animal? If an earthworm eats a nematode (an even smaller worm) as it sifts the soil, has it violated Genesis 1? Was it OK for animals to eat invertebrates? Or to eat fish? The Bible doesn’t say one way or another.

    – If pre-sin Adam swallowed a gnat or stepped on a beetle by mistake, was that evil?

    – Was Eden the entire Earth, or simply a plot of land in Mesopotamia? Genesis clearly presents Eden as a garden of limited scope. Why do young-Earth creationists want to make it the entire Earth? Could Eden have been a refuge from the death-ridden world outside of the garden? The Earth, after all, is described as a place that needed subduing.

    – If Adam had not seen animal death in the world outside of the Garden, how could he understand the warning that he would die if he ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

    – Is the death of animals a moral evil? If so, why is it suddenly a good thing for Abel to offer animal sacrifices?

    – If in the resurrection, we will be restored to some Edenic state (a parallel that the Scripture itself does not make), and if eating meat is a result of sin, then why does the resurrected Jesus eat fish?

    I may not have convinced you that there was no animal death before the fall, but I hope I at least have shown that one can make a Biblical case that animals could indeed have died, which would have included being eaten, before the fall.

    By the way, I believe in a real, historic Adam.

  25. December 19th, 2012 at 07:17 | #34

    The book mentioned, “Should Christians Embrace Evolution”, is well worth close reading.
    And I’m encouraged to learn that the LCMS commemorates Adam and Eve. I would find it impossible to preach the Gospel if I didn’t believe Adam and Eve were historical persons.

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