Did God really say that Adam was a historical person, and the first at that?
If the question sounds vaguely familiar it is because you have heard something like it before. Jared Oliphant poses the question to suggest how we should hear the increasingly loud discussion going on in some quarters of the visible church about the historicity of Adam (see here and here).
More and more prominent voices are advocating that we dismiss the long held Christian belief that Adam was both a historical man and the first. We are being encouraged to hear of Adam as a sort of an "every-man" metaphor, a literary device to help us all see the lower and weaker side of our own natures.
Oliphant suggests that much of this discussion is diabolical and so his above question is a species of the question the serpent put to Eve: "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1).
The serpent's question was designed to tempt through doubt with the goal of separating man from the Word of God and so from God. Such is the case with many who would take us by the hand into new fields of research on the historicity of Adam. They are saying things like one scholar has said, as he slowly retreats from his former position of biblical fidelity: "The scientific evidence we have for human origins and the literary evidence we have for the nature of ancient stories of origins are so overwhelmingly persuasive that belief in a first human, such as Paul understood him, is not a viable option" (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say About Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Bazos Press, 2012, p. 122).
Much of this troubling shift among once biblically faithful scholars, is due - as I see it - to an inordinate concern to make the Christian faith more meaningful to intellectual and scientific communities. These communities are being shown deference as additional authorities to whom the church must heed when we read, preach and hear the scriptures. The scriptures must not be allowed to speak alone when they speak of historic biological details. They must first be rinsed through the latest scientific orthodoxies and discoveries. This is all terribly wrong.
The trouble of taking such an approach to Adam (or the incarnation and the resurrection for that matter), is that we end up with something far removed from our most holy faith. We end up with just another boutique religion that has adjusted its commitments to the concerns of a generation. Even more so, we end up confirming the lie that men can move toward the truth of God along the trail of their own natural understanding. All they need in order to find God most agreeable to them is for us to remove obstacles they naturally find crude, unenlightened and socially embarrassing. This all advances beliefs that are catastrophic to coming to know God, namely that general revelation is the arbiter of special revelation and God's works are always in accord with a scientific hypothesis.
On the contrary, we trust God more than we trust man. God must take us by the hand and lead us, telling us what he has done and giving us grace to believe him. This is not to disparage all scientific endeavors. Science in and of itself is not opposed to God. God created the world and sustains it in its operations, many of which are observable and predictable. The order in creation invites scientific inquiry and scientific judgments. We have all benefited from these. Science is not opposed to God, man is (see Vern Poythress's essay, Adam Versus Claims from Genetics).
What is it then that God has told us about Adam, that good creation of God's which He gives us grace to believe?
(1) Genesis 2:7 - "...then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."
Quite significant here is that the singular man, Adam, was made a "living creature" like other things of Genesis 1 were made "living creatures." The Hebrew for "living creature" is nephesh chaya and it is used in Genesis 1 to describe the birds and fish and livestock that God also created. If these things are non-metaphorical creations then Adam the "living creature" is a non-metaphorical creation as well, a real man not just an "every-man." More significantly, as Michael Kruger points out: "...if Adam only became a nephesh chaya after God formed him from the dust [as Genesis 2:7 shows], then this rules out the possibility that God simply infused a soul into a hominid or ape. For if God had done so, then Adam would have already been a nephesh chaya prior to God’s activity."
(2) 1 Corinthians 15:45, 47 - "Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.... The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven."
Here Paul is comparing and contrasting Adam and Christ. Adam is clearly set forth in a prototypical sense here, as the covenant head of our race. As the Puritan's rhythmically taught their children, "In Adam's fall, we sinned all." But Paul is not dismissing Adam's historicity here, rather he accents it by calling Adam "the first man." Adam is just as real a singular man of great consequence (death) as Jesus is a real man of great consequence (life).
(3) Romans 5:12 - "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."
Here again Paul explains the consequence of Adam's sin. Note he does not style Adam as merely an aggregate man or a collective man. He says Adam is the "one man" through whom sin came into the world. Adam is not merely a symbol for all humanity in its sinfulness. He is the first sinner. If Paul wished to use Adam as a large categorical referent, he certainly knew how to. In several places he speaks of the Gentiles this way - "you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds" (Eph. 4:17). But Adam's sin is not exactly like the Gentiles' sin. One followed the other. Adam's sin is original and singular and consequential for all men - the Gentiles - for all sinned in their covenant representative, Adam, the first man.
(4) Luke 3:37 - "...the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God."
In this verse we catch the end of a lengthy genealogy that began 13 verses earlier with "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,.... (Lk 3:23). Luke is connecting the dots of Jesus' physical descendants. The trail ends with Adam who has no earthly father. Adam is as much an individual as Seth and Enos. See 1 Chronicles 1 for another genealogy that includes Adam.
(5) Matthew 19:4-5 - He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?"
In this passage Jesus is challenging the Pharisees view of divorce by going back to the foundations. Jesus quotes two verses from Genesis, 1:27 and 2:24. In the first Jesus reminds us that man was created as two genders, male and female. Gender is not the fruit of an evolutionary accident it is, rather, the discriminating design of the Creator. In the second verse, Jesus explains the purpose of this two gender creation - in a word, marriage. This, of course, is not to exclude singleness as God's will for some, but even the single person will have a father and mother. The larger point, however, is that Jesus unequivocally draws from the Old Testament narrative of Adam's and Eve's creation and union to reassert the divine will regarding permanent marriages.
These scriptures sufficiently establish how the apostles and prophets and the Lord understood the historicity of Adam. There is no duplicity or hedging in Word of God - Adam was a historical man and the first at that. God really did say so.
One more thing that sums up what is at stake in this modern debate. In a helpful essay, Dr. Robert Strimple, engages those who believe Adam is simply a literary device of scripture to teach that man was always a sinner before God since man's arrival in evolutionary history. This is the most radical view of Adam that some biblical scholars have tried to maintain (Emil Brunner, Karl Barth). They argue that the "Adam saga" was developed to make sense of humanity's moral weakness, thus Adam was not a real man and the Fall was not a real moral Fall from original righteousness. In his essay Strimple effectively demonstrates that if the Fall is not a real event then man was created with an original weakness/sinfulness (evolutionary or otherwise). If this be true, then there really is no guilt in man because sin is original in his evolutionary creation and if there is no guilt in man then there is no need for a Redeemer.
One can quite easily see how dismantling the biblical foundations of man's origins eventually topples the necessity for Christ's own life and ministry.
By God's grace we will not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doubt that blows against the church. Such blasts of wind are not new. The early church was challenged regarding the divinity of Christ and the two natures of Christ and the persons of the Godhead. The Lord will sustain us as He sustained our fathers and brothers before us.