1. Genesis in a nutshell.
It is important to note that although the Genesis narrative does read as history (to what extent is debatable) it also implements elements of allegory, metaphor, and symbolism. A reading of Genesis might suggest that Adam and Eve were historical people, that the Garden of Eden was a location, and that God really created the universe via physical forces, and that Cain, should we assume the trustworthiness of the tradition, really mercilessly murdering his brother Abel in the farm fields. Again, there is much debate and disagreement concerning these topics. Many scholars doubt that Adam & Eve were actually historical people, or that there really was an Eden. Again, this is debatable.
However, symbolism is also seen as in the Garden of Eden where Satan is presented as as a snake which probably symbolizes the seductive and narcissistic behavior of sin and that of Satan’s cunning prowess. The tree of ‘good and evil’ was probably not a literal tree as a tree cannot be good and evil. Eve being created from the rib of Adam is probably symbolic of woman being made for man and man being made for woman, and perhaps a message telling us that man and woman are complimentary in nature. In Genesis 2:7 we read of God forming man from the dust, obviously this is not intended to be literal. We are not told how God actually formed man or beast, and given its divine revelation suggests that God doesn’t care to readers of unimportant details. Even the name Eve means “The source of life” or “Mother of All Living”, and Adam simply means “man”.
The point being that the early Genesis creation narrative is rife with symbolism. To this end it is very difficult to know what constitutes history and what doesn’t. This is arguably why there is so much debate on the Bible’s first chapters.
2. Where some probably get it wrong.
The Young Earth Creationist (those who view the Earth as roughly 6000 – 10 000 years old) argues that Adam and Eve’s descendants married their brothers and sisters since this was their only choice. No-one else existed for them to choose from. In other words incest was committed. The general response is that Adam and Eve, and their early descendants, were genetically pure as God made them that way. Therefore, any imperfections or harmful genetic mutations manifested only much later. Could this be possible? Could God somehow make the first humans genetically pure even though they would interbreed? Sure, I don’t suppose that it would be impossible for God, but here lies the problem: nowhere does the biblical record actually suggest that this is what happened. Nowhere does it mention that Adam’s descendants intermarried. It is therefore an effort on the part of some Christians, for example, to fit the narrative into a young Earth interpretation. Later we find out that the Bible condemns incest in Leviticus 20:17: “If a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter, and see her naked, and she sees him naked, it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people.”
This Christian will then go on to say that only later did God deem incest wrong. This is not an impossible conclusion, but I don’t believe the Bible supports it.
3. Cain’s worry.
According to Genesis 4:1-15 Adam and Eve give birth to Cain and Abel. This, according to some Christians, implies that there were only four family members on Earth at that time. Now, after Cain had killed Abel there were only three people, but then after Cain did this deed God appears to him and kicks him out of the Garden of Eden as punishment. Cain then moves to the land of Nod, which is East of Eden, but what Cain then says to God is quite revealing. He tells God that he was worried of being killed by other people who would find him (Genesis 4:15). Then God replies, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:15) God and Cain both imply, for our case, indirectly that there are other humans besides Adam and Eve. If there were no other people, God would not have had to give him a mark in the first place, and Cain would not have had anything to fear.
4. Cain’s wife.
In Genesis 4:16, Cain goes out from God’s presence and finds a wife, and impregnates her: “Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.”
Cain had to find his wife, an act that could only happen if there were people to choose from. Assuming that we can trust this tradition it is way more likely that Cain came upon a town or village that already existed. We then read that Cain was himself “building a city,” which would probably be a small village of sorts. But then why would Cain build a city (village) if it was only him, his wife, and son? A city (village) implies many people inhabiting an area. Thus Cain’s tradition suggest that Adam and Eve were not the only humans alive at the time.
5. Be Fruitful.
In Genesis 1:28 God tells Adam and Eve to: “Be fruitful and multiply, and Replenish the earth.” The word replenish means “to fill”, and one cannot replenish something, in this case the Earth (which would indicate a local area, the Mesopotamian Basin – see points 10, 11 & 12 here), if it was not plenished (filled) to some degree before God’s command was issued. If Adam and Eve were the only two humans then this would make God’s instruction fruitless, instead God could have said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the whole (tebel – which indicates global, not local) earth.”
6. Paul on the first man.
Paul writes in Romans 5:12: “Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed on all men inasmuch as all sinned”
Here, one may argue, death refers to spiritual death and not to physical death. So Adam, perhaps being the first man to be made in the image of God, would be the first human to break God’s trust. There are a variety interpretations of what it means to be made in the image of God but I take it to be humankind’s separation from the animal kingdom. This may include the abilities of advanced communication and rationality which are likewise present in animals on a much more basic level. Many have argued that it is our commission to represent God’s kingdom on Earth, as well as have a relationship with the one true God. In other words, God endowed man with a spiritual dimension and a soul.
7. Paul’s literal view of Adam being the first man:
Paul writes: “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.” (2 Timothy 2:11-14) And: “For indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.” (1 Corinthians 11:9)
Paul clearly implies that man came a single pair of humans, Adam and Eve. Christian biblical scholar Peter Enns argues that Paul assumed that mankind came from Adam and Eve, and that Paul is expressing his own view, as he does throughout his letters. Enns explains that “Paul certainly assumed that Adam was a person and the progenitor of the human race, and I would expect nothing less from Paul being a 1st Century man. And again, God speaks in ways and uses categories that are available to human beings at that time. I don’t expect Paul to have had a conversation with Francis Collins (a leading geneticist, and biologist) about the Genome Project, and how common descent is essential. Technically I don’t expect him to understand that.” Enns goes on to say that “How Paul handles Adam does not determine modern scientific discoveries about the origin of humanity.”
However, Enns’ view is not the only one out there and many Christians would strongly counter his claims. Essentially, as other Christians argue, that to claim that Paul assumed that Adam and Eve were literal historical people is to undermine the very basis upon which Paul argues and constructs his theological views.
The Bible itself implies that God did create other people alongside and before Adam & Eve. By tying it all together we find that:
1. Adam & Eve conceived Cain, their first child (Gen. 4:1).
2. Cain was exiled by God for murdering Abel (Gen 14:6).
3. While exiled Cain worries that he will be killed by strangers (Gen 4:15 = other people).
3. Soon Cain finds a wife & builds a city (Gen 4:17 = other people).
4. Other people existed external to the Garden at this time.
5. Conclusion: Adam & Eve were not the first humans God created.