Kevin deYoung ‘s post on 10 reasons to believe in a historical Adam has attracted a good deal of attention on the web in the last few days. The comments that follow the article often point to the main reason not to believe in a historical Adam. It is impossible.
Let me soften that a little. It is impossible that Adam was the first human being ever to exist. But possibly there was an Adam somewhere among the ancestors of ancient Israel. Genesis 5:1 says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” It is possible that there was such a book and that it was a source for Genesis. But this Adam would have existed way down the line of human evolution.
In my relatively conservative undergraduate school, one of my professors raised the possibility that the “Bible doesn’t say Adam was the first man; it says he was the first man to till the soil.” You could try to associate Adam with the beginnings of agriculture.
But I don’t see any reason even to be that literal. It is clear to me that the real reason many find it hard to accept DNA evidence, fossil evidence, the history of populations, and the history of language–all of which contradict an Adam-as-the-first-human scenario–is that it goes against Augustinian and Reformed interpretations of Paul. These are deYoung’s reasons 9 and 10. If it was just about the interpretation of Genesis, I don’t think there would be a problem. But it is about the interpretation of Romans 5.
Jerome’s Latin translation of Roman’s 5:12 was wrong. He translated it to say that we all sinned in Adam. In fact it says that sin came into the world through Adam, which is a little different. Verse 14 says that Adam was a type (tupos), so I don’t think Paul requires us to take Adam literally. Maybe we are each our own Adam. Gustav Wingren, a Swedish theologian, had a profound interpretation of human life along these lines.
But Western Christian theology often went with Jerome’s mistranslation (the Eastern Church, of course, did not derive doctrine from a Latin translation, and so has a different understanding). Augustine thought that we all sinned in Adam because we were all present “in Adam’s loins”. And Reformed theology thought that we all sinned in Adam because Adam was the federal head of the human race. He somehow represented us all. Many in the Reformed tradition have interpreted Romans 5 through this Covenant Theology, sometimes called Federal Theology. Some of them think it all falls apart if there wasn’t an Adam who was the first human being who ever lived. They think his nonexistence undermines Christ as the second Adam and endangers their whole understanding of the plan of salvation.
I have run into people who claimed that 1Corinthians 15:45 plainly says that Adam was the first man. But does it really? “So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person‘; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (NET Bible). The most important point is that Jesus is the last Adam, but Jesus is not the last human who ever lived. So why does Adam have to be the first human who ever lived?