1. Genesis in a nutshell.
It is important to realize that although the book of Genesis does read as history 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 murdered his brother Abel in the farm fields. But because of this meshing of history, symbolism, and myth there was always bound to be much debate and disagreement concerning the details. Many scholars, for instance, doubt that Adam & Eve were actual historical people, or that there ever really was an Eden. Most scholars don’t actually believe Moses penned the book of Genesis. Again, it is difficult to box scholars as the boundaries are never so clearly cut.
However, we can agree that the author of Genesis clearly used symbolism. We see within the Garden of Eden where Satan is represented as as a snake (Gen. 3:1-2) which probably symbolizes the seductive and narcissistic behavior of sin as well as Satan’s cunning prowess. The tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17) was probably not a literal tree as a tree cannot be good and evil. Eve being created from the rib of Adam (Gen. 2:22) 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. 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 not always so easy to determine what constitutes history and what doesn’t. This is why so much debate exists in the first place.
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 later. Is this possible? Could God have somehow made the first humans genetically pure even though they would go on to 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, or imply that this is what actually occurred. Nowhere does it mention that Adam’s descendants intermarried. It is therefore an effort on the part of some Christians to fit the narrative into a young Earth reading. Later we find out that the Bible condemns incest in Leviticus 20:17. This Christian will go on to say that only later did God deem incest wrong.
When engaging in exegesis one needs to avoid reading what they already believe into the text. One needs to let the text speak for itself, and I think Young Earth Creationists are guilty of failing to do this.
3. Cain’s worry.
According to Genesis 4:1-15, 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 after Cain had slain his brother 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 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 some settlement that already existed. We then read that Cain was himself “building a city,” which would probably be a small settlement of sorts. But then why would Cain build a settlement if it was only him, his wife, and son? The text itself implies that many people inhabited the area. Thus Cain’s narrative suggests 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 according to an ancient), 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 mankind came from 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 Christian scholars would strongly counter his view. Some Christians would argue that to claim that Paul assumed that Adam and Eve were literal historical people is to undermine the very basis upon which he argues and constructs his theological views.
The Bible itself implies that God did create other people alongside and before Adam & Eve. By piecing it all together we find that:
1. Adam & Eve had their first child, Cain (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; strangers being people other than Adam & Eve).
3. Soon Cain finds a wife & builds a settlement. This implies people existed to inhabit the settlement.
4. Other people existed outside of the Garden at this time.
5. Adam & Eve were not the first humans God by created, or the only humans to exist at that time.