Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Do you believe that every human alive descends exclusively from Adam? That's not what Genesis says.

It's an article of faith among some Christadelphians that every single human who has ever lived descends exclusively from Adam. The motivation for this is the unscriptural belief that there was a physical change in Adam's nature from a so-called 'very good' status to one capable of corruption and death. This view has been clearly refuted by the genomic and fossil evidence which flatly refutes the belief that every human alive descends exclusively from two people living 6000 years ago. The scientific evidence has spoken, and monogenism has been refuted. [1] 

The most damning thing about this argument is that contrary to what its adherents claim, it is made despite, not because of the Biblical evidence. Being refuted by the scientific evidence is one thing, but being falsified by the Biblical data should be enough for those who claim to be Bible students to accept that their belief in universal human descent from Adam is scripturally untenable, and should be abandoned.

That Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two separate creation accounts which if interpreted as literal, sequential creation accounts disagree on the length, order, and duration of creation alone should be enough to remind the honest exegete that the YEC position makes a mockery of Genesis and should be abandoned. As respected OT scholar [2] Peter Enns reminds us:
These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there. [3]
One of the main differences between the two creation narratives that the YECs gloss over in their clumsy attempts at harmonising the creation narratives is the number of humans created in Gen 1 and Gen 2. The first creation narrative does not refer to the creation of Adam and Eve, or even two people. Rather, it refers to the creation of an unspecified number of males and females. Furthermore, the first creation narrative makes no reference to the geographical location, which is a major problem for the special creationist who insists on harmonising Gen 1 with Gen 2. The latter chapter states that the creation of Eve took place in a garden in Eden, whereas Gen 1 is completely silent on that issue. There is also the fact that Gen 1 refers to the simultaneous creation of men and women, while Gen 2 describes the creation of Eve as taking place after Adam. Given that this is apparent even in the English language translation, it is apparent that the YEC is not reading the creation narratives consistently in a literal, plain manner, otherwise they would acknowledge that Gen 1 is teaching the creation of many humans over the entire planet (the absence of a specific geographical location precludes any attempt at localising these humans to one area) while Genesis 2 is teaching the creation of two people in a geographically specific location.

The implication of this is that monogenism - the belief that the entire human race descends exclusively from two people - is not the plain, natural reading of the opening chapters of Genesis. The first chapter if read literally teaches the creation of many humans across the planet, while the second chapter refers to the creation of two people in a geographically specific location. On this point the respected OT scholar Michael Heiser [4] is surely right:
By way of summary to this point, we’re reading Genesis 1-2, starting afresh and noting only what it says, dispensing with the traditional ways of reading it. The text has told us the following: 
1. Genesis 1 describes the creation of human beings. (The process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened). 
2. The human beings of Genesis 1 are God’s imagers (again, which I take to mean God’s representatives) on earth. 
3. The human beings of Genesis 1 are not in a garden in Eden (there is no garden of Eden in Genesis 1; the command to “subdue the earth” would speak of the whole earth, wherever humans are, not Eden, which is nowhere in view). 
4. Genesis 2 describes a distinct and separate creation of two humans. (Again, the process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened). 
5. The two humans of Genesis 2 are in a garden in a place called Eden (which is clearly not synonymous with the earth since it has specific geography on the earth). 
6. Since the two humans created in Genesis 2 are not the humans created in Genesis 1, the two humans in Genesis 2 cannot be seen as the progenitors of the humans of Genesis 1. The humanity of Genesis 1 was to image God in all the earth, not Eden, and so the Genesis 1creation speaks of a divine origin (by whatever means) of human life on the planet. The humans of Genesis 2 are parallel to and consistent with those goals, but their story is more specific. They have a more particular purpose, which is revealed in Genesis 3. 
7. The humans of Genesis 1 and 2 are qualitatively the same. That is, the two humans in Genesis 2 are no more human than those of Genesis 1. There is nothing in either chapter that differentiates the humans in either chapter. The only thing that distinguishes them are the sequence of creation (two separate acts in an order) and where they live. All the humans in view are (!) human.
I should point out that this reading is independent of the precise mechanism employed by God to bring about the diversity of life on this planet. The reference to a solid firmament in Gen 1:6-8 not only reminds us that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology and not modern science, but tells us that Gen 1 is not intended to be a scientifically accurate account of how and when God created. It has far more important lessons to convey than mere science. Whether one believes the humans in Genesis 1 were specially created or arose via evolution is not a question of any theological significance given that these humans were never in Eden, and as such were not the covenant pair, the first to whom God revealed himself.

It also harmonises neatly with Gen 4 which casually alludes to people whom Cain feared would murder him, and refers to his wife without bothering to provide their identity. YEC, far from being honest to the text, is a distortion of the narrative. 


1. Li, H. and Durbin R.  Inference of human population history from individual whole-genome sequences. Nature (2011) 475:493-497.

2. It is only fair to point out that the opinion of a Christadelphian YEC layperson on this point will count for little as they will simply be providing a superficial interpretation of the English text uninformed by a detailed knowledge of the Hebrew text, its socio-cultural background, and its ancient Near Eastern parallels. Too many poorly taught autodidacts in our community think that just because they have had the privilege of inheriting a robust theological position from an earlier generation, they will automatically be correct when they venture to express an opinion outside that narrow theological base which requires familiarity with OT scholarship they arrogantly dismiss as the 'wisdom of men.' That the eisegesis they create is also the 'wisdom' of men (for a given value of wisdom) sadly seems to elude them.

3. Enns, Peter. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012. p 52