Belief in a Historical Adam: A Call to Courage

There are some who make what is real in scripture less real in the church. This is especially true with contemporary challenges to the historical Adam.

Paul ascribes a real transgression to one real man just as he ascribes a real act of righteousness to one real Savior, Jesus (Rom 5:18). Adam is no a mytho-poetic literary construct. If he is then his trespass was not that of a real man and our need for the real obedience of the one man, Jesus, is really unnecessary. Even more, Christ’s resurrection would need no basis in historic fact. A real victory is not needed for an unreal fall.  Our theological beliefs are grounded in historical events. If those events did not happen, our faith is false.


In his classic book, The City of God, fourth century bishop, Aurelius Augustine, discusses a notable abuse of scripture in his day. He speaks of contemporaries who “allegorize all that concerns Paradise itself,” who teach “as if there could not be a real terrestrial Paradise!” (COG, 13.21).

After giving some room for allegorizing, Augustine sets a limit: “…so long as we believe the strict truth of the history, confirmed by its circumstantial narrative of facts.” Our ancient father in the faith goes on to reject any reading of Genesis that makes the first man, Adam, into something other than the first man (COG, 14.1).

In our day we face interpretative challenges similar to Augustine’s. We have men who use their own sophistication to make what is real in scripture less real in the church. This is especially the case with contemporary challenges to the doctrine of the historical Adam.

There are two prominent ways the biblical testimony is dismissed by those who reject a historical Adam, that first human being made by God via an act of special creation (Gen. 2:7).

Some explain Adam as the first evolutionary primate with whom God made a covenant. In this view other primeval creatures just like Adam were around but God approached this one not the others. The argument goes that as God chose Israel as a representative nation from among nations God also chose the hominid Adam from among several thousand other hominids existing at the time.

Others explain Adam and Eve as literary archetypes. They are a figurative couple representative of the aggregate of all evolved humanity at the time. This view is distinct from the previous in that no actual hominid is required for us to benefit from the Adam “symbol” in scripture. Adam is merely a mytho-poetic construct to help us understand God’s dealings with all humanity.

But the biblical testimony that all men descend from one man of special divine creation begins in Genesis.

The text of Genesis 2:7 says, “…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Notably, the Hebrew phrase for “living creature” (nephesh chaya) is used throughout Genesis 1 and 2 to describe fish, birds and other beasts in their final created form and function (Gen. 1:20, 21, 24, 30; 2:19). However, the phrase is not used to describe man until after God has performed two actions exclusive to man: God formed man of dust and breathed into man the breath of life.

This means man was not a “living creature” of any kind – hominid or ape – prior to this special creative act singled out for us in the text by the Spirit. God did not take a “living creature” to make a “living creature.” The Lord would not have us believe He did.

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