A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 5:1-6:23. e). The historicity and death of Adam.
It is fashionable nowadays to regard the biblical story of Adam and Eve as ‘myth’ (whose truth is theological but not historical), rather than ‘significant event’ (whose truth is both). Many people assume that evolution has disproved and discarded the Genesis story as having no basis in history. Since ‘Adam’ is the Hebrew word for ‘man’, they consider that the author of Genesis was deliberately giving a mythical account of human origins, evil and death.
We should certainly be open to the probability that there are symbolic elements in the Bible’s first three chapters. The narrative itself warrants no dogmatism about the six days of creation, since its form and style suggest that it is meant as literary art, not scientific description. As for the identity of the snake and the trees in the garden, since ‘that old serpent’ and ‘the tree of life’ reappear in the book of Revelation, where they are evidently symbolic (e.g. 12:9; 22:2ff.), it seems likely that they are meant to be understood symbolically in Genesis as well.
But the case with Adam and Eve is different. Scripture clearly intends us to accept their historicity as the original human pair. For the biblical genealogies trace the human race back to Adam (Gen. 5:3ff.; 1Ch. 1:1ff.; Lk. 3:38); Jesus himself taught that ‘at the beginning the creator “made them male and female”’ and then instituted marriage (Mt. 19:4ff., quoting Gn. 1:27); Paul told the Athenian philosophers that God had made every nation ‘from one man’ (Acts 17:26); and in particular Paul’s carefully constructed analogy between Adam and Christ depends for its validity on the equal historicity of both. He affirmed that Adam’s disobedience led to condemnation for all, as Christ’s obedience led to justification for all (5:18; cf. 1 Cor. 15:22, 45ff.).
Moreover, nothing in modern science contradicts this. Rather the reverse. All human beings share the same anatomy, physiology and chemistry, and the same genes. Although we belong to different so-called ‘races’ (Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid and Australoid), each of which has adjusted to its own physical environment, we nevertheless constitute a single species, and people of different races can intermarry and interbreed. This homogeneity of the human species is best explained by positing our decent from a common ancestor. ‘Genetic evidence indicates’, writes Dr. Christopher Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum, ‘that all living people are closely related and share a recent common ancestor’. He goes on to express the view that this common ancestor ‘probably lived in Africa’ (though this is not proved) and that from this ancestral group ‘all the living peoples of the world originated’.
But how ‘recent’ was our ‘common ancestor’? The evidence of Genesis 2-4 is that Adam was a Neolithic farmer. The New Stone Age ran from about 10000 to 6000 BC, and its beginning was marked with the introduction of agriculture, the original ‘green revolution’, which seems to have begun in the region of East Turkey, near the head waters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (cf. Gn. 2:10, 14). and which has been described as the most important cultural development in all human history. So Adam cultivated the garden of Eden (Gn. 2:15), and he and Eve made clothing for themselves (Gn. 3:7; cf. 21). Then the next generations, we read, domesticated and reared stock, as well as working the soil and cultivating crops (Gn. 4:2ff.); built a protected settlement, which Genesis graces with the word ‘city’ (Gn. 4:17); made and played musical instruments (Gn. 4:21); and ‘forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron’ (Gn. 4:22).
But surely the human fossil and skeleton records indicates that the genus *homo* existed hundreds of thousands of years before the New Stone Age? Yes. *Homo sapiens* (modern) is usually traced back to about 100,000 years ago, and *homo sapiens* (archaic) to about half a million years ago, *homo erectus* to about 1.8 million years ago, and *homo habilis* even to two million years ago. Moreover, *homo habilis* was already making stone tools in East and South Africa; *homo erectus* was making wooden tools as well and living in caves and camps, while *homo sapiens* (especially in the European Stone Age sub-species Neanderthal man), although still a hunter-gatherer, was beginning to paint, carve and sculpt, and even to care for the sick and bury the dead. But were these species of *homo* ‘human’ in the *biblical* sense, created in the image of God, endowed with rational, moral and spiritual faculties which enabled them to know and love their Creator? Ancient skeletons cannot answer the question; the evidence they supply is anatomical rather than behavioural. Even signs of cultural development do not prove that those involved were authentically human, that is, God-like. The likelihood is that they were all pre-Adamic hominids, still *homo sapiens* and not yet *homo divinus*, if we may so style Adam.
Tomorrow: Romans 5:1 – 6:23. e). The historicity and death of Adam. (continued).