The Antiquity and the Unity
Davis A. Young
of the Human Race Revisited
Department of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546
[From Christian Scholar's Review XXIV:4, 380-396
©1995 by the Christian Scholar's Review
Reprinted in electronic form by permission.
If the data in Genesis
4 are correlated with the cultural setting of the Neolithic Revolution
in the ancient Near East about 8000 to 7500 B.C., then the biblical representation
of Adam as Cain's immediate father suggests that Adam and Eve lived only
about 10,000 years ago. The fossil record of anatomically modern humans,
however, extends at least 100,000 years before the present. There are at
least three solutions to this dilemma. All three alternative solutions pose
difficult exegetical or theological challenges that result either in a refinement
of the doctrine of original sin or a significant departure from traditional
historical readings of Genesis
2-4. Davis A. Young, professor of geology at Calvin
College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, examines and evaluates these solutions
from both a scientific and biblical-theological perspective.
"The fundamental assertion of the Biblical doctrine of
the origin of man is that he owes his being to a creative act of God."
So began Benjamin B. Warfield's classic article, "On the Antiquity
and the Unity of the Human Race."l
Growing out of that fundamental assertion, claimed Warfield, were subsidiary
questions, the most important of which "concerned the method of the
divine procedure in creating man." Discussion of that question, he
argued, could "never sink again into rest until it is thoroughly understood
in all quarters that 'evolution' cannot act as a substitute for creation,
but at best can supply only a theory of the method of the divine providence."
In the more than fourscore years since Warfield wrote, this "subsidiary"
question has not only not sunk into rest within the Christian community
but has repeatedly boiled up with renewed vehemence. Regardless of their
convictions on the antiquity of the earth, the origin of life, the evolution
of plants and animals, the nature and extent of the deluge, and a host of
related matters, Christians typically turn up the intensity level when debating
the question: Is the human race biologically related to non-human forms?
The pivotal significance of that question was underscored recently when
the 1991 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church considered a lengthy report
from its Committee on Creation and Science. Although the report discussed
a variety of issues from the antiquity of the universe to biological evolution,
the Synod singled out for action the matter of human origins. Unwilling
even to concede Warfield's allowance that evolution could supply a theory
of the divine providence in the creation of man, the Synod adopted the following
motion: "The church declares, moreover, that the clear teaching of
Scripture and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as imagebearers
of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality
of evolutionary forebears of the human race."2
The impetus for adopting the declaration stemmed in part from a deep concern
that "the evolutionary idea of an animal ancestry for the human race
does in fact erode the doctrine of the uniqueness of human beings as image
bearers of God."3
What intrigues me, however, is that most evangelical Christians seem to
be unaware that a rejection of the idea of human evolution and an insistence
on a non-evolutionary creation of the human race do not thereby adequately
protect biblical anthropology from possible erosion. Even on the presumption
of the special creation of humanity there is other scientific evidence that
has the potential for affecting our understanding of the doctrine of original
sin. Arising out of Warfield's "fundamental assertion" are his
two additional subsidiary questions concerning the antiquity and the unity
of the human race. Although these questions were discussed vigorously in
the 19th century, Warfield admitted in 1911 that "neither of them can
be said to be burning questions of today." Given the explosion of extra-biblical
evidence bearing on the antiquity and unity of the human race since Warfield's
day, however, it is striking that these questions have received relatively
little recent analysis within the evangelical community. Although anthropologists
have pondered the two questions, Christian scholars in general and theologians
in particular seem poorly informed about the pertinent extra-biblical evidence
and its implications for Christian theology.4
In an effort to fan the flames of interest in these two questions a bit,
this paper aims to offer a fresh restatement of some of the questions surrounding
the antiquity and unity of the human race and to sharpen the focus on the
related theological and exegetical problems in order to encourage sustained
dialogue among Christian theologians, anthropologists, and paleontologists
in respect to these questions.
The Doctrine of Original Sin
At issue is the doctrine of original sin. Both Roman Catholic and Protestant
confessional statements on original sin have incorporated the historic view
that Adam and Eve were the very first human beings and the product of a
special divine creation.5Reflecting that
view, the formulations of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian,
Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, and Baptist churches repeatedly use
such expressions as "first parents," "first man," "hereditary
evil," "hereditary disease," "by propagation of a vicious
nature," "derived or spread from our first parent unto us all,"
"our first father Adam," "posterity," "inherited
damage," "by propagation, not by imitation, transfused into all."
Perhaps the most explicit statement is that of Answer 16 of the Westminster
Shorter Catechism: "The covenant being made with Adam, not only for
himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary
generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression."
Although expressing their convictions in various ways, the framers of these
confessional statements all believed that Adam and Eve were the first human
beings, that all human beings are biological descendants of that original
pair, and that all human beings have somehow inherited sin from them. Furthermore,
they assumed that Adam and Eve were specially created by God. It is understandable
that the writers of these 16th and 17th century documents would hold such
interpretations of the biblical data. There was no scientific information
to compel them to rethink the historic view. Moreover, the traditional Christian
view was generally accepted by western society at large. Now, however, it
is appropriate to discuss whether or not any adjustment in our conception
of original sin is necessary or biblically tenable because the wealth of
information now available from archeology and paleoanthropology has made
it increasingly difficult for contemporary Christians to demonstrate the
direct descent of all living humans from a historically recent Adam and
Warfield on the Antiquity of the Human Race
Warfield confidently asserted that the "question of the antiquity of
man has of itself no theological significance." It was a matter of
"entire indifference" to theology how long humans had been on
earth. The only reason the issue had been raised could be traced to the
contrast between the apparently short human history presented in the biblical
narrative and the great amount of time assigned by "certain schools
of scientific speculation." This discrepancy, however, is "entirely
factitious" because he believed that his Old Testament colleague at
Princeton Theological Seminary, William Henry Green, had demonstrated that
the biblical genealogies may not legitimately be employed for the extraction
of chronological information.6 Characteristic
of biblical genealogies, said Warfield, is the omission of names, and for
all we know, instead of the recorded twenty generations and apparent two
thousand years between creation and the birth of Abraham, there might actually
have been two thousand generations and two hundred thousand years. Thus
as far as the biblical genealogies are concerned, "we may suppose any
length of time to have intervened between these events which may otherwise
appear reasonable." Consequently the matter of the antiquity of the
human race becomes a strictly scientific concern.
Although clearly willing to grant high antiquity to humanity if need be,
Warfield looked askance at scientific speculations demanding hundreds
of millions of years of earth history and at evolutionary speculations
insisting on hundreds of thousands of years of human development. He
embraced Lord Kelvin's calculations of the earth's age at only twenty to
forty million years as giving "pause to the reckless drafts which had
been accustomed to be made on time."7
He sensed, too, that the scientific investigators of his day were acquiescing
in a moderate estimate of human antiquity on the order of ten to twenty
I am suspicious of Warfield's claim that the biblical text is indifferent
to human antiquity. Nor do I think that the issue of human antiquity necessarily
has no theological significance. I suggest that Warfield overlooked biblical
material apart from the genealogies that may place constraints on our estimates
of the antiquity of Adam. As we shall see shortly, the Bible appears to
provide data pertinent to human activity that can be dated archaeologically.
When considered in conjunction with current information on human fossils,
these data may have implications for how we understand the doctrine of original
When Did Adam Live?
Let us assume as the fundamental premise of the following discussion that
Adam and Eve were not only historical persons but also the very first humans,
miraculously created by God in a "supernatural" act that involved
no evolutionary ancestry whatever so that the issues to be raised cannot
be construed as the result of speculative evolutionary scenarios. I suggest
that intriguing scientific challenges still remain for this historic view
of human origins because of the data contained in Genesis
4. 8 There Cain is evidently the firstborn
son of Adam and Eve. As befitted one who "worked the soil," Cain
brought an offering of the fruits of the soil. He sounds like a farmer,
not simply a person who gathered wild fruits and vegetables. His brother
Abel "kept flocks," and so brought an offering "of the firstborn
of his flock." He sounds like a shepherd. After Cain killed his brother,
he escaped to the land of Nod, fathered his son Enoch, built a city, and
named it after his son. At the very least he established some sort of permanent
settlement. Within a few generations, the descendants of Cain were using
musical instruments, working metal, and engaging in the nomadic herdsman
lifestyle. Genesis 4
seems to describe the cultural achievements associated with the Neolithic
revolution, evidence of which is preserved in archeological sites throughout
the Near East.
Let us for the sake of discussion assume that the identification of Genesis
4 with the Neolithic revolution in the ancient Near East is valid. We could
then ask when the various cultural achievements mentioned in Genesis 4 first
occurred. Since Warfield's day, careful stratigraphic and paleontological
control in conjunction with radiocarbon dating, thermoluminescence dating,
fission track dating, and other modern techniques has permitted the documentation
of the appearance of these cultural achievements. Numerous musical instruments
have been found or are artistically portrayed, for example, on pottery at
several Mesopotamian sites dating since at least the fourth millennium B.C.9
Interestingly enough, the oldest known "musical" instrument is
a bone whistle from the Middle Paleolithic site at Haua Fteah in Libya,
perhaps more than 45,000 years old! The earliest known use of worked metal
is at Cayonu Tepesi is southern Turkey where some native copper items were
recovered from levels dated to about 7000 B.C.10
Permanent settlements in the form of villages of large round huts are associated
with the Natufian culture in the Levant perhaps by 9000 B.C. Building in
mud brick was common practice by 8000 B.C.11
The critical component of the cultural world described in Genesis 4, however,
is plant and animal domestication because the apparently immediate offspring
of Adam and Eve are portrayed as a farmer and a shepherd.
The advent of the cultivation of domesticated plants in the ancient Near
East has been well documented. According to Zohari, "the first definite
signs of plant cultivation in the Old World appear in a string of early
Neolithic farming villages that developed in the Near East by 7500-7000
B.C."12 More specifically, Byrd states
that "the onset of cultivation appears to have occurred in the
PPNA [pre-pottery Neolithic A] (radiocarbon dated between 10,000/10,300
- 9,600/9,300 B.C.) or just prior to it."13
The sowing and harvesting of the earliest domesticated plants, the cereals
emmer wheat, barley, and einkorn wheat, are indicated by distinctive morphologies
assumed by these grasses upon cultivation. These dominant cereals were accompanied
by such legumes as lentils and peas. Virtually all of these early domesticated
plants grew in the wild in the limited area of the Near East so that domestication
of those plants could have started only there. From these villages in the
fertile crescent, agriculture quickly spread into southern Europe, western
Asia, and northern Africa. Thus far we have no evidence that plant and animal
domestication occurred earlier elsewhere than in the Near East.14
Plant cultivation in the Near East also occurred more or less simultaneously
with sheep and goat domestication. Cattle and pigs were domesticated soon
afterward.15 If, however, plant and animal
domestication was first established around 7500 B.C. and if Cain and Abel
were a farmer and a shepherd respectively, then Cain and Abel lived around
7500 B.C. And if Cain and Abel were the first offspring of Adam and Eve,
then Adam and Eve must have lived only a very short time before that. After
all, even on a literal reading of the genealogy of Genesis 5, Adam was only
130 years old when Seth was born. And the text suggests that Seth was born
after Cain had slain Abel. In fact, Adam, given the assignments of tending
the garden and naming livestock, seems to be associated with agriculture
and the domestication of animals. On the face of it, the biblical and archeological
evidence suggests that Adam and Eve did not live earlier than around 8000
B.C., that is, roughly 10,000 years ago.
If we accept the historicity of Genesis 2-4, there are at least three ways
to avoid this conclusion, none of which I find very satisfactory. In the
first place, one might claim that future Near Eastern archeological work
will disclose that plant and animal domestication occurred much earlier
than is currently accepted. As we will see shortly, however, revision of
the date for the establishment of agriculture or animal domestication will
not extricate us from very serious difficulties pertaining to the biological
relationship of all humans to Adam unless the time of Adam and Cain
can be pushed back to at least 40,000 years ago. And even that may not be
sufficient. Thus far we have encountered no hint of plant and animal domestication
that long ago.
Secondly, one might claim that the domestication of plants and animals occurred
prior to 10,000 years ago somewhere outside the Near East but that the evidence
has not yet been found. One following this avenue would need to claim that
Genesis 4 describes the development of civilization outside of the Near
East. And this in turn raises the important issue of where Adam lived. The
view that Cain and Abel were not natives of the Near East cannot be sustained
simply because the biblical description of the location of the garden in
Genesis 2 plainly places it within a Near Eastern setting. Moreover, there
is presently no evidence for any civilization earlier than that of the Near
East. If such earlier civilizations did exist they would need to have developed
agriculture at least 40,000 years ago in order to relieve us of the biological
relationship problem just noted.
In the third place, it might be argued that ancient Near Eastern archeological
sites preserve the record of a civilization that developed after the
biblical flood rather than the very earliest civilization of Genesis 4.
On this position, the biblical deluge occurred at least 10,000 years ago.
If so, then the conditions of Genesis 4 would have occurred considerably
before that, and Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel would have lived far more than
10,000 years ago. This option then is a variation on the two previous options
in that it asks us to hope that someday archeology will discover evidence
for a civilization that is much older than the ones we now know about.
But I doubt that this option can be sustained. As evidence gathered from
Near Eastern sites suggests a continuous transition from a hunting and gathering
economy to one based on wheat and barley agriculture, there is no hint of
a break between the preceding hunting-gathering economy and the agricultural
economy that might be the result of a catastrophic event like the deluge.
If Near Eastern archeology preserved the record of the recovery of civilization
after the flood, we would probably expect to find that cultivation of plants
and domestication of animals were reestablished immediately after the flood.
After all, Noah and his family were acquainted with agriculture as indicated
by his planting the vineyard. Noah is described as "a man of the soil"
(Genesis 9:20). Undeniably, too, there were domesticated animals on the
ark. Might not a post-deluge archeological site indicate sudden appearance
of plant cultivation succeeding datable flood deposits? But this is not
what is found.
I suspect that ancient Near Eastern flood epics and Genesis 6-9 are referring
to the same event. The similarity in structure between Genesis 1-11, the
Atrahasis Epic, and the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic renders it
likely that all have the same deluge in mind. If so, the biblical flood
is appropriately identified with a flood that occurred shortly before the
time of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh who lived in the early 3rd millennium
B.C.16 Thus the biblical flood should probably
be dated in the 4th or very early 3rd millennium B.C. Possibly the biblical
flood should be related to some of the flood deposits encountered at a variety
of archeological sites within Mesopotamia. If this is the case, early evidences
of agriculture at ancient Near Eastern sites plainly pre-date the biblical
flood, just what seems to be suggested by Genesis.
Finally, although we have evidence of several later Mesopotamian floods,
there is no identifiable geological evidence in the Near East for a great
flood that cut off Near Eastern civilization before 10,000 years ago. There
is no compelling scientific reason to reject the idea that archeological
sites in the Near East containing the earliest evidences of plant cultivation
should be linked with the events described in Genesis 4.
Relevant Evidence from Paleoanthropology
On the line of reasoning we have just followed, Adam and Eve would have
lived no earlier than about 10,000 years ago. But this suggestion raises
thought provoking exegetical and theological questions if it be assumed
that Adam and Eve were anatomically modern humans because there is ample
evidence that creatures indistinguishable from anatomically modern human
beings occupied much of the world considerably prior to 10,000 years ago.
This claim has nothing to do with evolutionary theories of human origins
or even with such ancient hominids as Homo erectus, Homo habilis, or
the various species of Australopithecus. The claim does not even concern
remains of Neanderthal man. I am dealing solely with the fossil evidence
of anatomically modern humans. That evidence suggests that anatomically
modern humans may have appeared as early as 100,000 years ago in Africa
while elsewhere in the Old World the appearance of anatomically modern humans
occurred somewhat later but surely by 40,000 years before the present.
At several localities throughout southern Africa, fossils of anatomically
modern humans, represented by at least a partial cranium, an infant skeleton,
an adult skull, and several mandibles and teeth, are associated with Middle
Stone Age artifacts. The ages of these remains are believed to be greater
than the 40,000 year limit of conventional radiocarbon dating. The most
recent study, involving amino acid racemization dating, has shown that "the
oldest anatomically modern human fossils from a secure stratigraphic context
(at Klasies River Mouth) date to between 110,000 and 125,000 years ago."17
In the Near East, anatomically modern human remains were found buried in
the floor of Qafzeh Cave south of Nazareth. Although the dating is not absolutely
firm, some writers claim that they are around 40,000 years old while evidence
from thermoluminescence dating suggests an age of about 92,000 years.18
Remains elsewhere in the Near East indicate that anatomically modern humans
had certainly appeared by 40,000 years ago.
The Niah skull of Borneo may be 40,000 years old. In Australia, the Lake
Mungo remains have been dated between 26,000 and 37,000 years old.19
Numerous remains of anatomically modern humans have been recovered throughout
Europe in a variety of contexts including the famous Cro-Magnon fossils.
The European fossils include teeth, jaws, skull fragments, post-cranial
fragments, nearly complete skulls, buried individuals, and even groups of
complete skeletons buried with mammoth bones and grave goods in a communal
grave. Most of these European remains can be dated to between 25,000 and
35,000 years ago.20
Even in North America there is unequivocal evidence of the presence of modern
humans by 12,000 years ago. Evidence for much earlier entry of humans in
the continent is growing.
There is much evidence of human activity besides the skeletal remains. Both
mobiliary and parietal art have been found at sites throughout the Old World.
Mobiliary art in the form of painted, carved, or engraved wood, bone, stone,
ivory, antler, horn, and baked clay commonly occurs in Upper Pleistocene
sites of the Old World. Ornaments such as ivory beads are frequently associated
with Cro-Magnon remains in sites as much as 40,000 years old. Various personal
ornaments have been found on human skeletons buried 26,000 years ago in
Russia. Carved images have been found associated with these ancient humans.21
Some of the art objects are suggestive of religious impulses of those who
Examples of parietal art such as cave paintings, painted stone tablets,
and rock art have been discovered primarily in France, Spain, and Italy
but are also known from central and eastern Europe, Namibia, Tanzania, Australia,
India, and Brazil. Painted stone tablets from Apollo Cave in Namibia may
be as old as 27,500 years.23 Much of the
sophisticated cave art of southern Europe of which Lascaux Cave is representative,
is estimated at about 17,500 years old. Some painted sections of cave wall
that partially collapsed onto the cave floor have been found sandwiched
between two well dated occupation layers. These slabs could be dated to
about 15,000 years ago.24
To make matters more interesting, anthropologist Milford Wolpoff and his
co-workers have vigorously argued for a multi-regional evolution of anatomically
modern humans.25 They have summarized evidence
indicating that modern Australian aboriginals share numerous skull characteristics
with fossil modern Australians of 30,000 to 40,000 years ago and to Indonesian
Homo erectus specimens. Likewise they have argued that modern Orientals
display similar characteristics to Homo erectus remains that have
been uncovered from the Far East. In other words, they claim that Australian
aboriginals are essentially the descendants of Indonesian Homo erectus
and that modern Orientals are essentially the descendants of Oriental
Homo erectus that were already established in those regions more
than 100,000 years ago. The validity of this contention would provide a
convincing demonstration that many modern humans could not possibly be descendants
of an Adam and Eve who lived 10,000 years ago in the Near East. The arguments
of Wolpoff and others, however, have been vigorously disputed by several
anthropologists.26 Christian scholars would
do well to stay tuned to the ongoing discussion.
Even if the proponents of multi-regional evolution are wrong, there remains
an abundance of evidence for anatomically modern human beings throughout
much of the world several tens of thousands of years ago, presumably long
before Adam and Eve lived. I suggest that there are three major 'approaches
to handling the data before us, given the assumptions made thus far.
Adam and Eve as Recent Ancestors
The first approach insists, consistently with the historic confessions,
that the entire human race--all human beings who have ever lived or are
now living, all image-bearers of God--is directly and biologically descendant
from an historical Adam and Eve. This first approach would further maintain
that Adam and Eve were specially created by God about 10,000 years ago.
Several challenges confront the supporters of this view. On the scientific
side, proponents must credibly demonstrate that all living persons could
be descended from an ancestor in the Near East about 10,000 years ago. Such
a demonstration is becoming more difficult in light of current research
on mitochondrial DNA in humans which suggests possible African origins at
least 50,000 years ago.27 But apart from
that, proponents must account for the fossil anatomically modern humans
that lived long before 10,000 years ago. How do we account for the fact
that these "pre-humans" looked like modern humans, buried their
dead in ritualistic ways suggestive of religious impulses and possibly some
conception of an afterlife, engaged in tool-making, and produced cave art
and a variety of beautiful art objects if they had no connection to true
humans? Who were those "people"? Furthermore, proponents must
provide compelling evidence that those "prehumans," anatomically
indistinguishable from living human beings and living throughout much of
the world for tens of thousands of years prior to 10,000 years ago, died
out completely without leaving any survivors.
That brings us to problems with theological overtones. Suppose that the
"pre-humans" have descendants living at present. These descendants
of "prehumans" could not be descendants of an Adam and Eve who
lived about 10,000 years ago and therefore are not human as defined on this
approach even though they might look and act human in many respects such
as artistic endeavor. As they did not descend from Adam and Eve, they are
not image-bearers of God. As non-image-bearers, such "peoples"
are therefore not sinners and are ineligible for salvation. They do not
need it. Missionary activity among such groups is unnecessary. We do not
I find such a view extremely distasteful. Missionary strategists would be
put in the very uncomfortable position of identifying those groups of anatomically
modern "people" who are not descendants of Adam and Eve and thus
not really human. Who among us will decide who these folk are? Who would
care to inform them that they are not human? One can imagine the reaction
among members of group x when informed that they are not genuinely human!
Such blatant selectivity would succeed admirably in making the gospel downright
obnoxious in the eyes of the world. Surely Christianity is not ready to
commit itself to such a repulsive point of view. The fact that there have
been Christian converts among such a wide diversity of "peoples"
is certainly suggestive that all those people that look like humans really
are divine image-bearing human beings.
If there were still descendants of "pre-humans" in the world,
would the possibility exist for inter-breeding between the descendants of
"pre-humans" and genuine human beings? What is the status before
God of the half-human offspring of such interbreeding?
In my judgment, this first approach that all humans are biological descendants
of an Adam and Eve specially created by God about 10,000 years ago is so
fraught with difficulties that it needs to be summarily dismissed. Simply
raising the questions concerning the relationship between humans and "pre-humans"
who looked and acted just like humans strongly suggests the improbability
of the first approach. The only hope for salvaging this approach is to demonstrate
cogently that the historical reconstruction of the past 40,000 years is
so completely without foundation that professional Christian geologists,
archaeologists, molecular biologists, paleontologists, and anthropologists
are convinced of the demolition job. Thus far such efforts to discredit
the historical reconstructions have failed to convince the vast majority
of Christian professionals within these fields.
Adam and Eve as Recent Representatives
The second approach departs from strict conformity to the historic confessions
by regarding Adam and Eve as the parents of the human race in a representative
sense rather than a biological sense.28
This position concedes that anatomically modern human beings have been living
for tens of thousands of years but suggests that about 10,000 years
ago God entered into a new relationship with a representative couple, Adam
and Eve. This view accounts for Cain's wife and those people who Cain was
concerned would kill him by regarding them as descendants of those who preceded
Adam. Only some human beings living during the past 10,000 years were or
are biological descendants of Adam and Eve. The rest were or are descendants
of pre-Adamic people. Whereas the first view safeguards the biological unity
of the human race, this second view seems to threaten that unity. Nonetheless,
the biological unity of humanity can still be preserved by having all humans,
including Adam and Eve, descended from a common pair of ancestors who lived
long before Adam and Eve came on the scene.
On this view the orthodox doctrine of original sin would need to be modified
to emphasize the federal headship of Adam over the human race. In his sinful
rebellion against God, Adam acted as God's representative to his contemporaries,
their descendants, and his descendants, all of whom are biologically descended
from a common pre-Adamic ancestor. These all fell in Adam. The passage in
Romans 5:12-21 which stresses federal rather than biological headship might
be compatible with such a view. The analogy of Romans 5 maintains that the
one man, Jesus Christ, represented his people in his act of obedience as
the one man, Adam, represented his people in his act of disobedience. In
the one case many were constituted righteous by the act of Christ's representative
obedience. In the other case many were constituted sinners by the act of
Adam's representative disobedience. Biological descent is not in view here.
Christians obviously are not biologically descended from Jesus Christ. Why
then is it necessary for all humans to be biologically descended from Adam
for him to represent them? Thus this view eliminates the necessity of hereditary
sin transmitted from Adam even though some people are his biological
The challenges to this view are primarily theological in nature. In general,
the scientific evidence is consistent with this view. The position claims
that Adam and Eve lived 10,000 years ago in the Near East. We know that
people lived in the Near East at that time. It could not be disproved that
God selected or created one man from among those people to serve as a representative
for all humanity at that time. The position also claims the biological unity
of humanity. Warfield had reluctantly acknowledged that the speculative
evolutionary scenarios of his day supported the Bible by concurring in the
unity of the race. Today even apart from evolutionary hypotheses, preliminary
evidence from studies of mitochondrial DNA in humans suggests the derivation
of all humanity from at least a small ancestral founding population that
presumably lived in Africa. The exact time when this ancestral population
lived is still very much a matter of dispute. Christians should look forward
to future research along this line with considerable interest.
The theological difficulties of the position, however, are at least threefold.
First, some biblical texts imply that Adam and Eve were the first biological
ancestors of the race, and proponents need to provide convincing alternative
exegeses of such texts. For example, Acts 17:26 speaks of God having made
all nations from one. Though Adam is not specifically named in that text,
conservatives have traditionally interpreted the text as referring to Adam.
Does the text allow for having all humans biologically descended from "one"
who pre-dated a representative Adam? In Genesis 3:20 Eve is called the mother
of all living. The text has traditionally been interpreted by conservatives
to teach that Eve is the biological ancestor of all humans. But does it
teach that any more than it teaches that she is the biological ancestor
of all living things? Is Eve perhaps the mother of the living in the sense
in which Jabal was the father of cattlemen and Jubal was the father of all
who make music?
Second, proponents of this position need to convince us on biblical grounds
that biological inheritance is not a necessary component of the biblical
view of original sin. And, if it is decided that transmission is essential,
is it necessary that our fallen nature be inherited directly from
only one person? Is it legitimate to argue, assuming the imputation of Adam's
sin to all his contemporaries and all subsequent humanity, that a sinful
nature would be transmitted to their descendants from all of Adam's contemporaries
once they were declared sinners?
A third theological problem concerns the status of those anatomically modern
humans who lived prior to Adam. If God entered into a new relationship with
humans around 10,000 years ago through a representative, Adam, then would
it not follow that the pre-Adamic humans were not image-bearers of God?
But then what do we make of the intimations of religious belief from ancient
art and burials? Is it legitimate to consider Adam serving as a representative
for those who preceded him in the same sense that Christ represented people
who lived before his time? Can humans be image-bearers of God before the
new relationship was established? And if Adam's predecessors are constituted
sinners retroactively by virtue of Adam's rebellion, then were they also
actual sinners? And if actual sinners, would there not have been an earlier
fall? Otherwise would not God have created them as sinners in a sinful condition?
There is much to work out for proponents of this second approach.
Adam and Eve as Ancient Ancestors
The third approach, like the first, insists that Adam and Eve must be the
biological ancestors of the entire human race. This view, however, also
acknowledges the compelling nature of the fossil evidence that anatomically
modern humans have been in the world for tens of thousands of years. This
view preserves the historic confessional view of original sin which includes
transmission of sin by inheritance to all people from Adam. The position,
although claiming that Cain, Abel, Seth, and their contemporaries are to
be identified with the onset of the Neolithic revolution in the ancient
Near East around 10,000 years ago, maintains that Adam and Eve, the very
first anatomically modern humans, must have lived at least tens of thousands
of years ago rather than at the dawn of the advanced civilization implied
by Genesis 4.29
This position faces little challenge on the scientific side in that it accepts
the fossil evidence and is open to the recent evidence from mitochondrial
DNA studies of living humans pointing to descent from a common ancestral
population perhaps several hundred thousand years ago. A potential scientific
difficulty, however, concerns the locale of the origin of the human race.
The mitochondrial DNA hypothesis suggests that human originated in Africa,
and some of the oldest anatomically modern fossils also come from Africa.
It should be observed, however, that Genesis 2 strongly points to the Near
East as the seat of human origins. One could ask if there is geographical
significance to the biblical observation that God made man and then placed
him in the garden. Was he elsewhere first?
The challenges to this third view are primarily exegetical. On this position
Adam, since he lived tens of thousands of years ago, could not possibly
have been the immediate biological father of Cain and Abel who lived at
or after the onset of the Neolithic revolution. Although Warfield had no
problem with an ancient human race, his solution was to stretch the genealogies
by allowing for the possibility that several generations were omitted between
the names in the lists. But probably no amount of stretching genealogies
can salvage that idea because Genesis treats Cain as the immediate son of
Adam and Eve. Genesis 4:1 explicitly states that Adam lay with Eve, she
conceived, and gave birth to Cain. And she acknowledged the help of Yahweh
in bearing Cain. But Cain and Abel lived at the beginning of Near Eastern
civilization if we have understood Genesis 4 rightly, whereas his "father"
Adam is postulated to have lived at least 40,000 year ago. To be sure, the
ages of the biblical patriarchs are very large, but we have no reason to
argue that Adam lived for 30,000 years before begetting Cain! The major
challenge then for this position is to account for a time gap, tens of thousands
of years long, of which the Bible seems to know nothing. Proponents of this
approach should also keep in mind that Adam's role as gardener and namer
of livestock also connects him with the Neolithic revolution, making it
questionable that he lived tens of thousands of years ago.
Is Genesis 4 Unrelated to the Neolithic Revolution?
Earlier in the paper we suggested the identification of the events in Genesis
4 with the Neolithic revolution in the ancient Near East around 10,000 years
ago. That assumption led us to three views. Perhaps the tensions and problems
posed by those three options can be avoided if we reject the assumption
that Genesis 4 reflects the Neolithic civilization.
Thus one alternative approach to the entire issue might be to insist that
Adam and Eve are the biological progenitors of the entire human race, to
insist on the unity of humanity on biblical and scientific grounds, to suggest
that the human race is actually tens of thousands of years old, and to acknowledge
that the human race has displayed abundant evidence of important cultural
achievements long prior to the rise of Near Eastern civilization 10,000
years ago.30 Much before that civilization
developed, anatomically modern humans had used fire, devised numerous stone
and bone tools, created marvelous cave art, and produced ornamentation.
As noted earlier, even simple bone flutes were evidently in use. There was
impressive human cultural achievement well before 10,000 years ago even
though it did not include the construction of permanent settlements, flock
domestication, agriculture, and metallurgy. The argument is that in some
way Genesis 4 is really reflecting on human cultural advance after the time
of Adam and Eve but doing so in terms of cultural development known at the
time of writing. As such the chapter would not need to be taken literally
as to the specific types of cultural advance noted.
This view plainly departs from a literal historical understanding of Genesis
4, and its proponents need to explain why cultural advance that did not
include permanent settlements, agriculture, domestication, and metallurgy
is described as if it did include those elements. The position is also subject
to the same potential problem as option three, namely, the question regarding
where Adam and Eve lived. As noted previously, paleoanthropological
evidence seems to be pointing to human beginnings in Africa rather than
the Near East. Why would the Bible place the origin of humanity in Mesopotamia
if humans really arose in Africa?
Another approach tries to avoid the difficulties by postulating more than
one Adam. This approach maintains a distinction between the Adam of Genesis
2 and 3 and a representative Adam and the Adam of Genesis 4 as an individual.
The representative Adam is viewed as representative of every male while
Eve is representative of every female. Moreover, the representative Adam
may be considered as symbolic.31 The individual
Adam of Genesis 4 may thus be the immediate father of Cain, Abel, and Seth
and thereby connected to the Neolithic civilization. The representative
Adam of Genesis 2 and 3 allows for an extension of the human race still
farther back in time. The text as it stands, however, presents us with the
undeniable impression that the Adam of the garden is the same as the Adam
of Genesis 4.32 Moreover, although we know
from the New Testament that Adam is a representative, he is not simply representative
of every male but of the entire human race. Moreover, referring to Adam
as a symbol raises further thorny questions regarding the nature of the
fall and original sin.
The biblical and scientific data pertaining to the antiquity and unity
of the human race force us toward positions that are fraught with serious
problems. The weaknesses of all these positions are sending a signal that
careful reexamination of some basic exegetical and confessional premises
is in order. Ironically, it would seem that trying to preserve the traditional
confessional idea of the biological descent of the entire human race from
Adam and Eve forces us to adopt positions which require abandonment of aspects
of literal historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Either we need
to interpret the text so that Adam is not the father of Cain or we need
to explain why the culture of Genesis 4 really does not include the elements
therein mentioned. On the other hand, adherence to more literal exegesis
of the text puts us in the position of redefining the traditional position
on original sin.
I suggest that a satisfactory solution of these issues will require close
attention to the literary character of Genesis 2-4. Evangelicals has become
increasingly accustomed to accepting Genesis 1 as a text that reports the
creation even in a manner that utilizes ancient Near Eastern ideas about
the structure of the universe in order to make valid theological points
about the relationship between God and creation without either endorsing
or refuting the physical conceptions about the universe. For example, Genesis
1 makes reference to the widespread belief about a solid firmament and waters
above that firmament, not in order to affirm or deny the reality of a solid
firmament but to make the theological affirmation that God is creator.33
Is something similar happening in Genesis 2-4? Is Genesis 2-4 perhaps adapting
ancient Near Eastern conceptions about the beginnings of humanity and culture
in order to make theological points about the relationship between God and
humans and about the historical event of the fall without necessarily endorsing
all the details? This avenue needs to be examined more thoroughly by evangelicals.
I suspect that it will prove to be fruitful.
But even if we discover that we cannot follow this direction, my aim here
has been not to solve the problem but simply to encourage Christian theologians,
anthropologists, archaeologists, and paleontologists to collaborate in honest,
forthright assessment of the available evidence and to develop a viable
position that preserves the biblical doctrines of man, sin, and salvation.
We can reioice whenever Christian scholars are together driven to a closer
scrutiny and deeper appreciation of the Word and works of God. Warfield
would have concurred.
Once we have solved this issue, perhaps we will be ready to solve the evolution
1 Benjamin B. Warfield, "On the Antiquity
and the Unity of the Human Race," Princeton Theological Review,
9 (1911): 1-25.
2 The report of the Committee on Creation
and Science together with its recommendations may be found in Agenda
for Synod (Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church in North America,
1991), 367-433. The decisions of the synod pertaining to this report may
be found in Acts of Synod (Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church
in North America, 1991), 762-768 and 773-777.
3See Acts of Synod, 1991, 411.
4 Important papers include J. M. Murk, "Evidence
for a Late Pleistocene Creation of Man," Journal of the American
Scientific Affiliation, 17 (1965): 37-49; Paul H. Seely, "Adam
and Anthropology: A Proposed Solution," Journal of the American
Scientific Affiliation, 22 (1970): 88-90; E. K. Victor Pearce, "Proto-Neolithic
Adam and Recent Anthropology," Journal of the American Scientific
Affiliation, 23 (1971): 130-139; and Paul H. Seely, "Not a Viable
Theory," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 23
(1971): 132-136. In contrast, many recent commentators on Genesis fail to
deal with the issue at all. See, for example, Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis
1-15 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987); Allen P. Ross, Creation and
Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988); and Victor P. Hamilton,
The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans,
1990). Some writers show only a slight awareness of the problem; e.g., James
Boice, Genesis, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) and John J.
Davis, Paradise to Prison (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975).
The classic work of Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954) squarely acknowledged the problems
but offered no solution. As theologian Dale Moody observed in The Word
of Truth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981): "Very few theologians
have made any effort to construct a biblical anthropology congenial with
scientific anthropology, but the work desperately needs to be done."
5 See, for example, Augsburg Confession (1530),
Art. rl; Council of Trent, 5th Session (1546); French Confession of Faith
(1559), Art. X; Scotch Confession of Faith (1560), Art. HI; Belgic Confession
(1561), Art. XV; Thirty Nine Articles (1562), Art. IX; Heidelberg Catechism
(1563), Q&A 7; Second Helvetic Confession (1566), Art. VIII; Formula of
Concord (1576), Art. I; Irish Articles of Religion (1615), Art. 23; Canons
of Dort (1619), 3rd and 4th Heads, Art. II; Westminster Confession of Faith
(1647), Ch. VI, VII; Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), Q&A 13, 15, 16;
Confession of the Waldenses (1655), Art. X; Methodist Articles of Religion
(1784), Art. VII; Confession of the Free-will Baptists (1834), Ch. IV. In
addition the Savoy Declaration (1658) and the Baptist Confession (1688)
both use the exact language of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
6 William Henry Green, "Primeval Chronology,"
Bibliotheca Sacra, 47 (1890): 284-303.
7 Ironically, Warfield was unaware that the
methods of radiometric dating just being developed as he was writing his
essay would demolish the basis for Lord Kelvin's estimate of the age of
the earth and would provide for the first time reliable, accurate determinations
of the ages of rocks and minerals, many of which proved to be more than
one billion years old!
8 See Ramm, op. cit. Although theologians
typically have not addressed the issues arising from Genesis 4, Christian
anthropologists have taken note. See, for example, James O. Buswell, "Genesis,
the Neolithic Age, and the Antiquity of Adam," Faith and Thought,
96 (1967): 3-23.
9 C. Leonard Woolley, The Beginnings of
Civilization (New York: New American Library, 1965).
10 John A. J. Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). A valuable summary of metallurgy
in the ancient Near East is Edwin Yamauchi, "Metal Sources and Metallurgy
in the Biblical World," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith,
45 (1993): 252259.
11 John A. J. Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization
(New York: New American Library, 1965).
12 D. Zohari, "The Origin and Early
Spread of Agriculture in the Old World," The Origin and Domestication
of Cultivated Plants, ed. C. Barigozzi (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1986),
3-20. See also Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of Plants
in the Old World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); O. Bar-Yosef and A.
Belfer-Cohen, "From Foraging to Farming in the Mediterranean Levant,"
Transitions to Agriculture in Prehistory, eds. A. B. Gebauer and
T. D. Price (Madison, Wisconsin: Prehistory Press, 1992), 21-48; and M.
Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Near East (New York:
Facts on File, 1990), 18.
13 Brian F. Byrd, "The Dispersal of
Food Production across the Levant," Transitions to Agriculture in
Prehistory, eds. A. B. Gebauer and T. D. Price (Madison, Wisconsin:
Prehistory Press, 1992), 49-61.
14 The domestication of plants developed
independently, for example, in East Asia and Middle America but at a later
date than in the Near East. See K. C. Chang, "In Search of China's
Beginnings," American Scientist, 69 (1981): 148--160 and G.
R. Wiley, "Maya Archeology," Science, 215 (1982): 260-267.
15 W. Herre and M. Rohrs, "Zoological
Consideration on the Origins of Farming and Domestication," Origin
of Agriculture, ed. C. A. Read (The Hague: Mouton, 1977), 245-279.
16 See Jeffrey H. Tigay, The Evolution
of the Gilgamesh Epic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
17 Richard G. Klein, "Biological and
Behavioural Perspectives on Modern Human Origins in Southern Africa,"
in The Human Revolution, eds. P. Mellars and C. Stringer (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1989), 529-546. The amino acid racemization
work can be found in P. E. Hare, Glenn A. Goodfriend, Alison S. Brooks,
Julie E. Kokis, and David W. Von Endt, "Chemical Clocks and Thermometers:
Diagenetic Reactions of Amino Acids in Fossils," Carnegie Institution
of Washington Year Book 92, 80-85.
18 John J. Shea, "A Functional Study
of the Lithic Industries Associated with Hominid Fossils in the Kebara and
Qafzeh Caves, Israel," in The Human Revolution, eds. P. Mellars
and C. Stringer (Princeton: Princeton Unfversity Press, 1989), 611-625.
19 Rhys Jones, "East of Wallace's Line:
Issues and Problems in the Colonization of the Australian Continent,"
in The Human Revolution, eds. P. Mellars and C. Stringer (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1989), 743-782.
20 Fred H. Smith, "Fossil Hominids
from the Upper Pleistocene of Central Europe and the Origin of Modern Europeans,"
in The Origins of Modern Humans: A World Survey of the Fossil Evidence,
eds. F. H. Smith and F. Spencer (New York: Alan R. Liss, Inc., 1984),
21 Randall White, "The Dawn of Adornment,"
Natural History, XXX (May, 1993): 61-66.
22 D. Bruce Dickson, The Dawn of Belief
(Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1990).
24 For a review of Paleolithic cave painting,
see Andre Leroi-Gourhan, The Dawn of European Art (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1982). See also M. W. Conkey, "A Century of Palaeolithic
Cave Art," Archaeology, 34 (1981): 20-28.
25 See, for example, Milford H. Wolpoff,
"Multiregional Evolution: The Fossil Alternative to Eden," in
The Human Revolution, eds. P. Mellars and C. Stringer (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1989), 62-108. Wolpoff's article contains an
extensive bibliography that includes references to several other papers
supporting his multiregional evolution view.
26 See, for example, Phillip J. Habgood,
"The Origin of Anatomically Modern Humans in Australasia," in
The Human Revolution, eds. P. Mellars and C. Stringer (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1989), 245-273. See the bibliography for other
27 Mark Stoneking and Rebecca L. Cann, "African
Origin of Human Mitochondrial DNA," in The Human Revolution, 17-30.
For a recent popular treatment of their view see Allan C. Wilson and Rebecca
L. Cann, "The Recent African Genesis of Humans," Scientific
American (April 1992): 68-73. See also, T. D. Kocher and A. C. Wilson,
"Sequence Evolution of Mitochondrial DNA in Humans and Chimpanzees,"
in Evolution of Life, eds. S. Osawa and T. Honjo (Tokyo: Springer-Verlag,
28 A variant of this position has been adopted
by Roy A. Clouser, "Genesis on the Origin of the Human Race,"
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 43 (1991): 2-13. Another
variant may be found in Dick Fischer, "In Search of the Historical
Adam," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 45 (1993):
241-251 and 46 (1994): 47-57.
29 Although contra this position, Dick Fischer
has pointed out that the Egyptian pyramids of Mer-ne-Re and Nefer-ka-Re
were inscribed with a dedication speaking of a creation and a deified "Atum"
who begot one named "Seth."
30 See Buswell, op. cit.
31 For a statement of this view see Moody,
op. cit., 198-212.
32 See Richard S. Hess, "Splitting
the Adam: The Usage of ADAM in Genesis I-V," Studies in the Pentateuch,
ed. J. A. Emerton, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, XLI (1990):
33 Paul H. Seely, "The Firmament
and the Waters Above," Westminster Theological Journal, 53 (1991):
227-240 and 54 (1992): 3146.