Might Adam and Eve be a symbolic representation of a collective fall of man and woman?
I wanted to thank you for your last email and for answering some of the questions I had. I appreciate you taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to do so.It helped me greatly. I hope I do not wear you out with my somewhat simplistic inquiries. The reason for this question is to present a hypothesis and run it by you. Here it is: Is it possible that the story of Adam and Eve does not involve just one couple, but multiple “Adams” and “Eves” as referring to man and woman in the collective sense? I have heard it that Adam can mean “mankind” in Hebrew. Could it be possible that the narrative refers to a collective fall of man and woman at the same time and that the narrative moves from the general “mankind” to the specific “man” when Cain, Abel and, later on, Seth are born?
In Genesis 4, it never mentions how long of a time passed before Adam and Eve conceived, only that it occurred. If there was a singular Adam and singular Eve and she gave birth to others before Cain and Abel, why were they not mentioned? This is the only way I can reconcile why Cain was so afraid of being killed because of his mark. If towns were populated by the offspring of the collective “Adams” and the collective “Eves”, it would justify his fear. It also solves the problem of incest and potential genetic problems. I believe the creation and fall narrative are true, without a doubt. However, I believe that there is imagery and symbolism that, in our 21st century mindset, makes it difficult to understand completely what would have been easily understood during the time Genesis was written and disseminated. I believe it resolves why there are genetic differences in the peoples of the Earth and for Cain’s concern. However, I do find problems with my own hypothesis: 1.) There is no indication that the Genesis story shifts from using a collective Adam and Eve to describe two specific individuals, Cain and Abel. 2.) God can do what He wants and because God did not impose the age limitation he did on mankind after Noah, it is entirely possible that it could have been centuries before Cain and Abel were born and they were only singled out because of the first murder in the Bible. However, I know you propose that since Adam and Eve would not have had genetic flaws or mutations, that their children could have produced offspring that would not have had serious health issues. Even Abraham married his half-sister! But I submit that sin and the fall could have made their offspring not contain the same genetic “perfection” that Adam and Eve had. In addition, I know that some argue that since Jesus used Adam in his teachings, that validates the belief that Adam was a singular person. But I submit that it is possible that since Jesus was speaking to a primarily Jewish audiences who already knew of the Genesis story, he merely communicated to them in a way that was already familiar to them (kind of like saying, “Ben Franklin and the kite” – we may not know the specifics of his experiment, but we understand the general idea behind the term). I want to be clear, though, that I am certainly not dogmatic about this. I have disagreed with others Christians on the interpretation of Genesis and believe they are faithful, Bible-believing followers of Christ. I know that this is a long post and I do not expect a quick answer, but this seems to be the only way in my mind that I can reconcile any perceived “flaws” that non-believers point out: that the story is true, but told in a way that made it readily understandable to the persons living in that age.
I do not doubt for a moment that your idea has merit. To me it is obvious that Adam and Eve are archetypes–that they represent what happens to all of us. All of us are born innocent. All of us choose to eat the forbidden fruit. All of us then lose our place of innocence and fellowship with our creator. All of us are then kept from the presence of God because of our unholiness. All of us can only come back into the “garden”–into an intimate fellowship with our creator–only by a blood sacrifice. In this sense, Adam and Eve is not just a representative of a greater number of people. They are a foreshadow of all of us who sin and lose our place with God.
So, there is no doubt that Adam and Eve are used as symbols. This is clear from Romans 5:12-17 which uses Adam as an archetype. The question to me is not whether there are many Adams and Eves, but whether there was a single primeval couple who were the first to be in this relationship and who, subsequently sinned, and caused en mass, the fall of all those who came after them. My opinion is that there was in fact a first couple and that this couple did in fact sin and lose the ideal relationship with God that God had intended. In other words, I believe that there was a historical first couple. Whether or not we have their actual names or rather names which are used for their symbolical significance, I cannot say for sure and do not think that is important. It appears that Jesus believed in an actual literal first couple and that the writers of the New Testament also believed in a real pair of people Adam and Eve, as well as Cain, Abel, Seth and, presumably, others as well. I do not have a big argument with those who say Adam and Eve represent those who fell, and are not historical actual people, but I disagree with this position. The evidence from Jesus and the presumption of literalness when there is not compelling reason to take something as purely figurative all push me strongly in believing in an original couple.
So, my response is that God, in his amazing wisdom, created a real person Adam and a real person Eve who are at the same time historical (ie real, actual people) figures and serve as a symbolic foreshadow of all men and women who have lost their innocence. I believe that both are true. This is common throughout the Old Testament. Abraham was a real person, yet, at the same time he is a foreshadow of all believers who are saved by faith, not works. Moses is a “type” of Jesus and the people who crossed the Red Sea with him are a “type” of all who are saved by Christ (1 Cor 10:1-4). This is a general principle and I certainly believe that Moses and Abraham were real people, so I assume that Adam and Eve were also real people. I believe this by faith in the Scripture, not necessarily as a scientific imperative. So, my opinion is that Adam is a guy named Adam and, simultaneously, Adam is a “type” of all mankind. Both!
Consistent with this, I also believe that Cain, Abel, Seth, Noah, Ham, Shem, Japheth, Terah, Abraham and Isaac are actual people who lived. It seems rather arbitrary to have Adam be symbolic and his “son” Cain be literal. This is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, but I would not deny the possibility. As to other children, the Bible does not list the other offspring of Adam and Eve but we can almost certainly assume that they had more children. It is possible that they had a lot more children. How many they had and their gender would be total speculation. Whether there were children before Cain and Abel, again, I have no idea and I would prefer to not even guess. If Cain was the first child, then by the time he killed Abel, he might have been 100 years old or even 200 years old and had hundreds of brothers sisters, grand, great grand and great, great grandchildren. If people lived much longer, then most likely they had children much longer as well. All this is guesswork, but it is not hard to see how there could have been hundreds and even thousands alive when Cain sinned. I am not saying this is THE answer to your quandary, but it is a reasonable answer to your question. Like I already said, I do not doubt the symbolism and imagery going on here, but I prefer the conclusion that there is history as well and find no irreconcilable difficulty in the biblical account. Is you explanation possible? Yes, but it is not the one I prefer.
As for genetic differences, the amount of genetic variety in humans is remarkable small. For example, the amount of genetic diversity in dogs is MUCH greater than that in humans. There is strong evidence for a genetic “bottleneck” several tens of thousands of years ago. The amount of variation sufficient to cause the genetic diversity among humans could have happened in many thousands of years by random genetic mutation, at least according to scientists. “Truth in advertising” here. The fact is that geneticists predict the bottleneck was hundreds or a very small number of thousands of people, not just two, but nevertheless, the genetic information points to a very small initial population (admittedly not to two, but two is not an outrageous number if we allow for God to work supernaturally). Again, I see no insurmountable barrier to justifying the science and the literal Genesis account. Might there have been other intelligent, evolved homo sapiens who did not have the image of God alive at the same time as Adam and Eve? Maybe. I am not sure, but, as already stated, I consider the biblical information to be of an actual first couple who rejected obedience to God and all their offspring were affected.
I agree with our points 1) and 2) above, and these are the chief reason I choose to not prefer your theory over what I have said above. You say that perhaps the spiritual fall created a physical “fall” and genetic defects at the same time. I absolutely agree with this as a possibility or perhaps even a probability. Of course, this cannot be proved as a scientific theory, but I believe it is very possible. God can do whatever he chooses and monkeying with human genetics has to be a pretty easy thing for him to do! He created life, so “tweaking” life would not be a big hurdle for him. Of course, this would support my theory as well.
In conclusion, you and I are on the same page here. We both agree that it is unwise to be dogmatic about this and that the Bible has sufficient evidence for its inspiration that it is most reasonable to assume that Genesis 1-4 are also inspired and accurate representations of what happened. We also agree that, as a result, we have a story whose theological implications are easily understood by the educated and the uneducated alike. The only question is how literally to take the account. For several reasons, I take it rather literally, while taking its deeper meaning to be metaphorical at the same time.