Print this page

1-Was Adam Real?

1. Was Adam for Real?

I was sitting in the airport of Guatemala City, working on the early stages of this book, and I faced a large mural, depicting life among the ancient Mayan Indians. As I sat in that fascinating country, under the shadow of great volcanoes which had been rumbling and muttering all afternoon, and thought of the history of the Mayans--that strange race we know so little about--I felt anew the mystery of history. Civilizations have risen and flourished for centuries and then in a strange way, often for unknown reasons, have died and are now buried in humid jungles, forgotten fragments of ancient history. The question came to me again as it comes to any who think about the past, where did this human race begin? Flow did these strange beings come into existence? For what purpose?

These are questions that have forever fascinated men. To my knowledge there is only one book that gives us a reliable answer to these questions. Scientists, of course, are trying to discover facts from the ancient past, but even they admit that their efforts are but a kind of feeling around in the dark after a few fragments. But this book of God, bearing upon it the seal of authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, has revealed to us all man needs to know to solve the riddle of life. I wish I could impress upon young and old alike the truth of that statement. Here is all we need to know about humanity, revealed in the pages of Scripture, especially designed that we might know the facts about life.

It is no slight exaggeration to say that there are no writings more important for the proper understanding of history and man than the first chapters of Genesis. Here is hidden the secret of man's sinfulness, that terrible mystery of evil and darkness which continually confronts us in this modern world. In this section is the key to the relationship of the sexes, the proper place of man and woman in marriage, the solution to the problem of mounting divorce rates, and other marital issues that abound in modern society.

Here, also, is the explanation for the struggle of life, and here great light is thrown on the problems of work and leisure. In these chapters is the first and fundamental revelation of the meaning of divine redemption and grace, and here the essential groundwork is laid for the understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ. This whole section is unprecedented in its importance.

But because it is so important, it has been heavily attacked. These two chapters have often been rejected outright as simply repugnant to modern man. There are cults which reject them as being utterly inconsistent with what man wants to believe about himself. Sometimes the chapters have been dismissed with contempt as merely a collection of ancient myths or legends with no significance for modern minds.

And sometimes they have been treated as containing important truths, but needing to be (in the favorite word of many today in theological circles) "demythologized." To quote one of the writers of this school:

There is truth of great vitality and power in many passages of which the strictly historical accuracy may be questioned. It is our job therefore to find the truth that maybe buried under some layers of legend.

Before I discuss the meaning and intense significance of these passages with you I must first dispose of these objections. Many are bothered by these problems, and lest we seem to ignore them, I want to deal with them to some extent now, and in subsequent chapters we will come to the actual meaning of the passage.

The Documentary Theory

There are two general lines of attack upon the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. One is an attempt to destroy the literary integrity of the text; the other attempts to deny the historical accuracy of these accounts. The first approach is based upon the claim that this section of Genesis (and probably the whole of the first five books of the Bible) were not written by Moses, as the Bible claims, but that they were actually composed by an unknown editor (whom these scholars call a redactor) who lived long after David and Solomon, and who may have lived even as late as the Babylonian captivity, only some 500 years before Christ.

The critics claim that the redactor was not writing down things that were revealed to him by any divine process, but was only recording certain tales of the women who gathered around the wells and talked over various legends of their past. They claim he collected the tales of travelers and others, and thus recorded for posterity these early legends of man.

The support for this idea arises out of certain changes of style in this passage, and the use of the divine name in a different form. You will notice that in chapter two, verse four the name, "the Lord God" appears for the first time. Previously in Genesis there has only been the name, "God," which is a translation of the Hebrew, "Elohim." But here we have the Lord God, or in Hebrew, Jehovah Elohim, and all through this section that name is used. It has been suggested therefore that you can identify the various stories, and the changes in authorship, by the use of the divine names.

Now, fully developed, this has evolved into what is called today, "the documentary theory of Genesis." Some unknown editor has collected from various sources these documents which can be identified by certain marks within them, and has put them all together, using excerpts from here, and excerpts from there, and blending them together into the books that we now know as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy--the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses.

This whole idea has been supported by certain piecemeal evidence taken from the Scriptures. Scholars have gone through the books and extracted certain ideas of passages that seemed to support their theory, but ignoring others that would contradict it. This documentary theory gained wide support, but has long ago been fully answered by both Jewish and Christian writers. Remarkably enough, it still persists, even though it is increasingly difficult to hold.

Forty years ago, Dr. Lyman Abbott spoke at the University of California at Berkeley. He was, at that time, a noted liberal scholar working on the origin of scriptural books. He said something like this, "Young gentlemen, I feel that perhaps I am as qualified as anyone to speak in this field of the origins of the books of the Bible, and I want to warn you against going too far in basing your conclusions upon the so-called 'assured results of modern scholarship.' As one of these modern scholars, I know that these results are not always as 'assured' as they seem to be. My careful conclusion is that the first five books of the Bible were either written by Moses--or by someone else named Moses!" Perhaps that is about as far as we need to go in laying to rest the documentary theory of the Scriptures.

No Talking Serpent

Now the second attack upon this section is more frequently pressed today. This is the idea that there are great truths about man here--his fears, his evil, his hungers are all set forth in a remarkable way and we can learn much about ourselves--but these truths are conveyed deliberately to us in the language of myth. Perhaps Moses did write this, they say, or some other unknown writers. But at any rate, the authors were attempting to convey to us mighty truths through the language of myth, adopting a kind of parabolic vehicle in order to convey these truths to us. There was, of course, no literal tree in a literal garden; there were no actual beings named Adam and Eve; and, of course, there was no talking serpent or forbidden fruit.

It is all somewhat like the myth of Santa Claus. Everyone today (except Virginia) knows that there is no real Santa Claus, but the idea behind Santa Claus cheerful jollity, a reward for good behavior, and a universal kindness of spirit--are all true. If we forget the myth of Santa Claus we still have left a core of truth which is conveyed to us by the story of Santa Claus. Thus we can treat these opening chapters of Genesis much in the same way. You can take the story of Adam and Eve, they say, and throw away the form by which it is conveyed and you will still have a germ of truth about the human race.

But have you? What do we say to this kind of approach? We must say that we reject the whole approach as biblically untenable, scientifically unsound, and, in the end, totally destructive of truth and faith. Let me give the reasons for this.

First of all, this approach violates the integrity of the Book of Genesis. Where does myth end and history begin? Where is the line of demarcation? If Adam and Eve are a myth, then so is the story of Cain and Abel. And if Cain and Abel are a myth, then so are Noah and the flood. Since the record moves right on without a break into the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are we to assume that these, too, are myths? If so, where does history begin? How can you detect the place where myth, fantasy, and legend end, and actual human history begins?

If we examine the first chapter of Genesis (which is likewise termed myth) we can see that it is not a myth at all. It is in accord with the true discoveries of modern science and, in fact, anticipates and corrects much of modern science. When you begin looking for myths in these Old Testament stories, you will find that it is impossible to draw the line anywhere except where you, for some emotional reason, may choose to draw it.

Such a process carries right over into the New Testament and the story of the virgin birth becomes a myth, and even the story of the incarnation itself. The Christmas story becomes nothing but a beautiful parable, designed to express truth, but not true in history. Also, the stories of the miracles of Jesus and the resurrection and the crucifixion--where do you stop?

Well, the answer is that you do not stop. All these stories have actually been termed myth, which supports my contention that there is no stopping place when you apply this kind of a theory to the biblical records. Of course, if you treat the Bible that way, then you must in all good conscience treat any other ancient document in the same way. If you carry this out to its logical conclusion we are left without any knowledge whatsoever of the ancient world, nothing that we can trust. The theory destroys too much to be acceptable.

There is myth in the Scripture. There are legends which are reported to us in various places in the Bible. But the significant thing is that they are identified as such. You can find them in both the Old and New Testaments, but the writers of the Scripture were aware of their nature as myths and recorded them as such.

Furthermore, there are passages throughout both the Old and New Testaments which warn against believing in myths or taking them seriously. Peter warns against this, saying that the stories he and the other apostles told were not cleverly designed myths, but were actual historic occurrences (2 Peter 1:16). Paul writes to his son in the faith, Timothy, and warns him against being influenced by godless myths and old wives' fables (1 Timothy 4:7). The apostles were aware of this kind of danger to faith and warned against it even in the early days of our Christianity.

Second, this approach of myth contradicts the usage of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the apostles themselves. If you believe that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth then you immediately find yourself clashing with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew it is recorded that our Lord, facing the questions of the Pharisees about divorce, said, "He who made them from the beginning made them male and female" (Matthew 19:4). If you accept that as a statement from One who declared himself to be the truth and who told only the truth, then you must accept this story of Adam and Eve as factual.

Beginning with Moses

The Lord Jesus constantly referred to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch and said, again and again, that what Moses wrote he, himself, fulfilled. In that wonderful scene in Luke, he walks with two men along the Emmaus road after the resurrection, and they do not recognize him. He asks them why they are so downcast and sorrowful, and they tell him of the strange events that have been occurring in Jerusalem, how one was crucified, a Jesus of Nazareth. Then we are told, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). Later on he appeared to them and rebuked them because they had not believed Moses and the prophets in the things written about him.

Never once did our Lord suggest that anything in the Old Testament was to be questioned as to its historical veracity. He refers to most of the miracles that are the source of problems to critics today, and speaks of them in such a way as to confirm and attest the fact that they were historical events, including Jonah and the fish and other stories.

Remember also that the Apostle Paul reminded Timothy that Adam was made first, and then Eve, just as the story in Genesis tells us. He says further that Adam was not deceived, but Eve was, and thus Adam went into sin deliberately, but Eve was blinded (1 Timothy 2:13,14).

In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he refers to the serpent and is afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve, so the thoughts of his readers would be led astray by Satan's cunning (2 Corinthians 11:3). In Romans and First Corinthians he compares Adam and Jesus, and indicates they are both individual men, the heads of two separate races. "As sin came into the world through one man," he said, [by one man]; "Éand spread to all men, so by one man redemption cameÉÓ (Romans 5:12). If Jesus was an individual, then Adam was an individual, too. Again in Corinthians he draws a comparison between these two, pointing out that we were all born in Adam, and if we are born again, we are all in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45). He puts the two on an individual basis. Therefore, if we approach these early chapters of Genesis with the idea that these are myths, legends, not really historical events, we are thus holding that the Apostle Paul knew less than we know about such matters.

Third, the whole idea of myth is ultimately destructive of the teaching of Scripture, of biblical theology. Why do men invent these suggestions of myth? If you investigate their reasons (though they may seldom admit this) it is obviously because they want to square these stories of Adam and Eve with the teachings of evolution. They do not want to admit that there was a couple named Adam and Eve that began the human race, but that there were, rather, a group of hominids who ascended from the animal kingdom and became men. In accordance with the theory of evolution you cannot trace humanity back to only a single couple.

But if evolution as the explanation of man's origin is true, then there never was a fall of man. Either man was created perfect--body, soul, and spirit--as Genesis tells us, or he has been slowly developing from the animal kingdom, and was never perfect. It is either one or the other. Either man fell from perfection or he was never perfect. And if he never has been perfect, then what is the point of redemption? If all we are doing is moving toward an ultimate goal of perfection, then what was the value of the work of Christ upon the cross?

You see, certain fundamental issues come in immediately, certain fundamental questions arise: Do we really need salvation? Are we not moving steadily toward a goal which will ultimately be reached, whether Christ died or not? What is the purpose, therefore, of his redeeming grace? The minute you interject mythical ideas into the opening chapters of Genesis you come into an immediate clash with the doctrine of atonement and of the redemption of man.

Demolished Claims

Finally, this mythical interpretation denies the scientific evidence which does exist to support the historical truths of these events. It has been almost humorous, during the last forty or fifty years, the many, many times the pompous claims of the "higher critics" have been completely demolished by the archaeologist's spade. Again and again evidence has been turned up to prove that what the Bible says is true and what the critics claim has been false. In fact, there has not been one instance of the reverse, in which a biblical event has been proved to be false by archaeology--not one--but scores of instances where the Bible has been substantiated.

There is, for instance, considerable archaeological evidence that Nimrod who is mentioned in the fourth chapter of Genesis, existed as a historical person. Further, Lamech and Zillah, his wife, and Tubalcain, their son, are supported as historical characters by archaeology. In fact, their names have passed into the language, describing some of the activities in which they were engaged. In the fourth chapter of Genesis there is a statement that Cain (this is the son of Adam, remember) went out and built a city and called the name of the city after his son, Enoch.

Interestingly enough, in the ancient cuneiform writings there is reference to a city named Unuk, which is clearly related to this name, Enoch, and it is called simply, "the city." Further, this name Enoch later passed into the language as the word for city. Through a process of philological transliteration (with which any linguist is familiar), this was changed from Enoch to "wark," and later to the word "perg," and then to the word "burgh," and it is still present in our language today in that form, as in Pittsburgh.

It is not unscientific to believe that Adam and Eve were actual, individual human beings; that Cain and Abel were likewise historical personages; that there was a Garden of Eden, and a tree in the midst of it. There is nothing unscientific about these stories and no scientific evidence in any way gainsays them. Any claim of this sort is simply an attack upon this record to try to destroy the historical accuracy of these accounts, and thus to undermine the great and central teaching of the Scriptures concerning the redemption of man.

When you get through analyzing this you stand where Christians have always stood, face to face with a choice: whether to accept the subjectivity of human wisdom, or the authority of the Son of God. It is one or the other. Was Jesus right, or were the critics right? It is either Christ or the critics. It has always been and always will be.

I, for one, do not think there is any reason to even debate the matter. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ stands as authority in every realm in which he speaks. When we consider the extent and nature of his authority, his knowledge of the world in which we live and of the human race and the mind of man; and contrast these with the puny, finite knowledge of struggling, sinful, human beings who see through a glass darkly, and who understand little of what they see, I find there is no real comparison at all.

This is why we must take these passages literally as they are, and treat them as historic accounts which are given to us to open to our understanding the problems we are facing daily. When we do, we discover they unfold to us great and marvelous truths that help us to grasp and understand life, and to rise in victory over the problems that beset us, and the forces that oppose us.

May I therefore urge you, in reading these passages, to do as the Lord Jesus reminded us, to take the place of a little child who is simply listening, carefully, quietly, to what he is told, thoughtfully investigating these things, and not questioning whether they are right or wrong, whether they are historical or unhistorical. There are no minds capable of establishing that today and there is no evidence capable of disproving it. If we settle that, we can come to these accounts, read them carefully through, and open our minds to the teaching of the Holy Spirit so that we might grasp these great and hidden things, remembering that as we come to know the truth about ourselves and the world in which we live, that truth will increasingly set us free.

Prayer: We thank you, our Holy Father, for these stories. We pray for a childlike mind which will trust and believe and always be ready to be instructed; for an open, responsive heart, ready to obey as truth becomes apparent and applicable to our situation. We thank you for the One who has come to speak the truth, who declared himself to be the truth. What a great foundation our faith rests upon in this Holy One. In his name we pray, Amen.

Previous page: Audio Briefings
Next page: 2-The Making of Man