Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

C. John (‘Jack’) Collins, Old Testament professor at Covenant Theological, has put out another fantastic book on the early chapters of Genesis. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (2011) is in many ways a companion to Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (2006), though the most recent publication is more focused and less technical. 

While the historicity of Adam and Eve has been the historical consensus of the church through the ages, that consensus has come into question in recent decades. The challenges to the traditional beliefs regarding Adam and Eve have come from the scientific community, represented by men like Francis Collins, renowned geneticist and influential member of the BioLogos forums, and also from the community of exegetes including scholars like W. Sibly Towner, and James Barr. The dual-pronged-challenge leads Jack Collins to a dual-pronged-response.

First, from the text of Genesis (and beyond) he argues Adam and Eve are 1) portrayed as real individuals and 2) that it is incredibly important to the storyline of Scripture, and consequently to the Christian worldview. In the opening pages of introduction, Collins writes, “I agree with those who aregue that we don not change the basic content of Christianity if we revise our these views [regarding the age of the earth, the literalness of the days of Genesis]…May we not study the Bible more closely and revise the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as well, without threat to the faith?” The short answer is, “No.”

Through a rigorous study first of the ‘Story Line of the Bible’ and secondly of specific Biblical texts (both Old Testament and New as well as non-canonical), Collins shows that these authors assumed Adam and Eve to be actual people and that there is much to lose ideologically and theologically in denying this. That argument is the bulk of the first two-thirds of Collins’ book.

The last third is an exploration of possible scenario’s that relate the Biblical assertions to the findings of modern scientists. Throughout the work, Collins is contending for what he calls “mere Adam-and-Eve-ism” – in other words, he is arguing for Adam and Eve as actual persons without much concern for questions like ‘what is the image of God?’, ‘when and where did Adam and Eve live?’, etc.

For that reason, many cut from a conservative cloth will find this section to their disliking. Collins is simply arguing for the essential core – that there was an actual Adam and Eve who were the fountainhead of humanity, that they were in a special way endowed by God with his image (and this not of strictly natural processes), and that this first human pair ‘fell’.

Collins then attempts to fit suggested scenarios around this core, evaluating how well these suggestions account for the truths as presented in Scripture as well as our ‘common human experience’. For example, Jack Collins tests the thesis that there must have been more than a single human pair from which all humanity ‘sprung’. Francis Collins, from the genetic data, argues that the population of humans must have been at least 1000 strong to account for all of the genetic diversity we now see.

Jack Collins, while he does not accept this scenario (and questions the science behind it), contends that it could be fitted to the Biblical data if Adam is viewed as a ‘chieftain’ of the early human tribe. This could account for the ‘in Adam’ language and the Biblical notion of Adam as humanities ‘federal head’. In addition, Collins considers the possibility of Adam being created in the image of God by a supernatural act of God ‘refurbishing’ existing animal (prexisting hominid) into Adam.

Jack Collins’ approach in this book is unique and will prove unsatisfying to those who want quick and neat answers. While he does contend strongly for an actual Adam and Eve, as opposed to simply mythical/fictive persons, he doesn’t do so from a strictly ‘creationist’ standpoint, and certainly not a young earth position. So young-earthers won’t be thrilled.

At the same time, he argues , quite successfully I think, that you cannot set aside the historicity of Adam and Eve without seriously altering the Biblical storyline and undermining the authority of Scripture (whose writers assume Adam and Eve were real persons). Thus, many from the BioLogos perspective will not be excited by Collins’ conclusions.

If you have wrestled with these questions, I highly recommend Collins’ book. It is compelling and at the same time even handed. It is accessible yet scholarly, especially if you pay attention to the footnotes. He does refer to his other works often, probably too often, and three appendices could have been left out entirely (at least the second and third). On the whole, I agree with Collins and am glad I can recommend his presentation to others.