Review: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

Did Adam and Eve Really ExistOrigins matter. Few answers are more enlightening that those that tell us where something—or someone—came from. Origins give us insight into the shape of reality, answering not only the what but the why.

Even if you are a literalist* Bible reader (which I assume most of my readers are), you’ve no doubt heard people—maybe even other Christians—refer to the “Genesis myth,” regarding the Eden story as an attempt by ancient people to explain who we are by means of fiction. Even some traditionalist* Christian scholars see heavy symbolism in Genesis and question whether the Bible actually portrays Adam and Eve as real people rather than symbols—the archetypal “man” and “woman” who represent our tendency to sin and our separation from God but are not figures in real history.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011), by C. John Collins, examines this question from a scholarly perspective, applying scientific, literary, and cultural considerations to the reading of Scripture. Its answer to the question is a resounding yes, primarily because Collins posits that without Adam and Eve as real people standing “at the headwaters of humanity,” the storyline of Scripture—which has now swept us, in Christ, into its flow—makes no sense.

Collins also presents as a central premise the idea that the Adam and Eve story, taken as history, explains something about our state as human beings that cannot be explained any other way: namely, that we universally conceive of sin and death as “wrong” in some way, and that we all have a sense (almost a nostalgic one) that at some point in the past creation was truly good, and so were we. This theme particularly resonated with me; it’s one I’ve explored in my writing, both fiction and nonfiction, maybe more than any other.

Like many scholarly books, this slim and readable volume does not exist in a vacuum. It enters a conversation that has been going on among biblical scholars for some time. Although the author does identify himself as a traditionalist scholar, many of his conclusions and premises may be uncomfortable to readers of a more literalist bent. (He is not, for example, a “young-earth” creationist—and I would include myself in the “literalist” category!)

Yet, I found the book to be a valuable read, giving insight on the importance of the Bible’s storyline, on the necessity of reading historically and not just devotionally, and shedding light on what such a reading means to the gospel. A fault I see in literalist readers, including myself, is a tendency to just read the stories, accept them as true, and fail to think through their implications in our lives. This book does not allow us to do that.

I also enjoyed the appendices, particularly Appendix 1, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts and Genesis 1–11,” which compares Genesis to myths and legends from the ancient Near East (many of these discovered relatively recently). This is a fascinating look at the cultures and times that surrounded the writing of Genesis, helping us to see what is unique about the Bible and how God worked in ancient Hebrew culture.

For readers interested in the ongoing question of whether Adam and Eve really existed, this book may provide valuable and thought-provoking insight. For readers who consider the question settled—but who are willing to listen in on a scholarly debate—the book may likewise prove thought-provoking and valuable, even if in unexpected ways.

*There is no question that the Bible does at times use symbolism. Borrowing the terms from Collins, both “traditionalist” and “literalist” refer to Christians who believe that God inspired Scripture and that its authority must be trusted. However, literalist readers will shy away from interpreting symbolically any passages but those which are most obviously symbolic, while non-literalist traditionalists may feel more comfortable debating things like whether the first several chapters of Genesis are symbolic or not. To my mind (although I think the literalists are right, which is why I am one), both of these are acceptable Christian positions.

(Note: I was provided with a free review copy of this book from Crossway.)



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2 responses to “Review: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?”

  1. Elisabeth Avatar

    The books sounds fascinating. I think it IS important to read scholarly books as well as devotional books about our faith. “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?” sounds like a book that would challenge me (a literalist), without forcing me to wade through 300+ pages of ideas I already know I disagree with – an activity I don’t have time for, which is one reason why I don’t read scholarly books more often. I suppose that begs a question about whether we should or should not be willing to explore, by reading and thinking and talking, ideas that conflict with our own. I think we should (and I do) – because we don’t know everything, because we grow in the depth and breadth of our ideas by challenging and defending them and because, less seriously, it’s a lot of fun debating, even with the author of a book, the big questions we all have about God and faith and creation and man and history and … the list is endless. That said, one of the attractive things you say about this book is that it’s a slim volume, because, when there’s so much to do and it’s impossible to do everything, we have to pick and choose our “arguments” – and our books. A short(er) read, these days, is appreciated! “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?” one may make it onto my wish list.

  2. Rebecca LuElla Miller Avatar

    Interesting post, Rachel, and it sounds like a thought-provoking book, certainly.

    Re the young earth concept, I’ve always wondered why a young earth looking old isn’t a viable option. I mean, we would infer from Scripture that God mad Adam a man, not an infant. So one Day 7, when God was resting, Adam appeared to be … 30 maybe? or 21? or 50, given the long age spans back then.

    So what did a tree look like on its first day of existence? A seed? a sapling? And how about those stars? Did they look “new”?

    Why, then, are we so confounded by the age of the universe? Isn’t it possible that it is unknowable?

    I know, some say God told us its age by listing off the days. But what did He mean by “day” in those periods of creation before He made the sun? I mean, there was no way to measure “hours” that would add up to the literal days we know now.

    Seems to me that we know some things from science, but not all because we can’t actually do the studies science requires for something that had a one time occurrence, and that, before Man existed.

    Seems to me that we also know some things from Scripture, but not all because God chose to withhold elements for His own good purposes.

    Here’s a place where wisdom dictates that we affirm Truth without dogmatically holding onto supposition, I think.


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