The Antiquity and the Unity
of the Human Race Revisited

Davis A. Young

Department of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546

[From Christian Scholar's Review XXIV:4, 380-396 (May, 1995)]
©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 Eve.

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 thousand years.

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 sin.

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 made them.22

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 evangelize non-humans.

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 descendants.

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 question!


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, 1982).

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), 137-210.

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).

23 Ibid.

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 important references.

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, 1991).
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): 1-15.

33 Paul H. Seely, "The Firmament and the Waters Above," Westminster Theological Journal, 53 (1991): 227-240 and 54 (1992): 3146.