by Daniel C. Harlow
Recent research in molecular biology, primatology, sociobiology, and phylogenetics indicates that the species Homo sapiens cannot be traced back to a single pair of individuals, and that the earliest human beings did not come on the scene in anything like paradisal physical or moral conditions. It is therefore difficult to read Genesis 1–3 as a factual account of human origins. In current Christian thinking about Adam and Eve, several scenarios are on offer. The most compelling one regards Adam and Eve as strictly literary figures—characters in a divinely inspired story about the imagined past that intends to teach theological, not historical, truths about God, creation, and humanity.
Taking a nonconcordist approach, this article examines Adam and Eve as symbolic- literary figures from the perspective of mainstream biblical scholarship, with attention both to the text of Genesis and ancient Near Eastern parallels. Along the way, it explains why most interpreters do not find the doctrines of the Fall and original sin in the text of Genesis 2–3, but only in later Christian readings of it. This article also examines briefly Paul’s appeal to Adam as a type of Christ. Although a historical Adam and Eve have been very important in the Christian tradition, they are not central to biblical theology as such. The doctrines of the Fall and original sin may be reaffirmed without a historical Adam and Eve, but invite reformulation given the overwhelming evidence for an evolving creation.