On the Genealogical Adam model – and indeed on any model dealing with an historical Adam – one has to account for the fact that humanity appears to have had some kind of religious or spiritual life almost as far back as artifacts can be found.
If one uses this to push back the life of Adam to predate these artifacts, one ends up divorcing the concept of Adam from the whole context of the Bible – even, in some cases, before the origins of Homo sapiens. This would imply that human transgression has been with us for an awfully long time – perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of years – before God took steps to deal with it through Jesus, or even through the older story of the call of Abraham and the foundation of Israel. This is a high cost to pay for sole progenitorship, and in my view doesn’t fit the Bible narrative well.
However, once one is, through Genealogical Adam, open to the idea that Adam could be chosen (or even specially created) in the context of the human race of adam described in chapter 1, and which has left its mark on archaeology and even history, there is actually no need to be surprised that the “adamic people” before Adam had religious awareness. I believe the text not only implies that, but explains how it fits into the big theme of the Bible.
I have said elsewhere (here and here) that the narrative of the Bible is a drama in three parts, the goal of which is the inauguration of the new creation in which “the earth shall be filled with the glory of God”. Against the background of the first, “natural” creation, Adam is called/created for a new and living covenant relationship with Yahweh, in order, as the bearer of God’s image, to reign with him over all things (which you will note is the hope given to us in Christ).
It’s interesting that this “upgrading of man” theme is even present in the early teaching of Irenaeus, in a passage I was pointed to by my old mentor on historical theology, Nick Needham. I need not point out that Irenaeus was, of course, not working with a Genealogical Adam framework, but saw the Eden narrative as occurring immediately after the creation of Adam in Genesis 1, but the sequence is still the common factor.
These three dramatic “scenes”, into which one may place the entire content of the Bible, are the Eden narrative with the consequences of Adam’s failure and exile ending at Babel (Genesis 2:4-11), the story of Israel leading to its failure and exile in Babylon (the rest of the Old Testament), and the story of Christ leading to the defeat of Satan (here, here, and here), the victory over sin, and the final fulfilment of God’s new creation (the prophetic New Covenant teaching after the Exile and the New Testament itself).
On this framework, the narrative function of the creation narrative in Gen 1:1-2:3 is to provide the backdrop to this drama (it does many other things too, but I’m concerned here with its role in story). If, in this way, the creation story is simply to show us the kind of world in which God began to intervene decisively to inaugurate a new creation and a glorified human race, it is less surprising that it tells us nothing of its history.
In fact, knowing through modern discoveries that the world is many more thousands, millions or billions of years old than Ussher’s old-science chronology calculated, Genesis 2:1-3 makes more sense: God was indeed reigning peacefully over his world over its long history, and it was his sovereign decision to change the natural order in Genesis 2 for the spiritual better, that began the conflict of the last few thousand years.
If you doubt that the ancient world we see recorded in the rocks, the genes and the creatures around us matches the goodness described in Genesis, then I beg to disagree and suggest you read my book, God’s Good Earth, when it comes out (better men than I have plugged their own work as shamelessly!).
Under Genealogical Adam, then, the adam created as male and female in Genesis 1 in the image and likeness of God is the mankind we see in ancient evidence, though of course we will come to our own opinions on when and how, and how quickly, that race came into being beforehand (Genesis simply assumes “mankind”), and when and how Adam came and changed the order of things through his trespass.
Now, as I and an increasing number of proper scholars have pointed out, Genesis 1 is in form, a temple inauguration account: its literary aim is to describe the whole cosmos as a place for the worship of God. Mark and I have recently discussed in comments here how there may be some sense of God even in the lower creation, when one escapes from the material reductionism of Descartes and his followers. But even without that, creation worships God by being what it is (such as the little green frog or red snake “doing what he oughta” in the song).
But when man comes on the scene, he comes as a rational being both by deduction from theology and by simply looking at the remains he has left behind. It follows that in God’s good natural creation, mankind would worship naturally, but more rationally than the beasts. We would expect, under Genealogical Adam, to find man as a worshipping creature, because the universe is a worshipping universe.
But what kind of worship would that be? Remember that we must give full weight to the revolution that God was intending to bring through Adam. We must only think of Adam as the originator of sin in the context of his also being the abortive origin of mankind in covenant relationship to God, made aware of his destiny of ruling angels through the tree of knowledge, and of the supernatural possibility of eternal life through the tree of life. None of this was possible before Adam.
I believe the distinction between “primitive old creation religion” and “new creation religion” can be traced through the two distinct types of temple imagery in the Bible. In the new creation, man is in intimate relationship with the triune God, and this is represented in the sacred space of the Garden, where God walks with man; in the theophany of Sinai, where Moses talks with God face to face, and Israel is invited to, but refuses; and in the whole theological imagery of Christ, whose death rips the temple curtain, whose risen body shares God’s throne on his bride’s behalf, and whose Spirit indwells believers as the deposit and guarantee of dwelling in the glory of God in the New Jerusalem.
Israel’s tabernacle, and later the temple, on the other hand, are about separation from God. The tabernacle, with its curtains and inner sanctuary which only the High Priest could enter annually for atonement, was given only because Israel had failed to grasp the opportunity of a garden-like intimacy at Sinai, and had furthermore rebelled ever since. God was faithful to his covenant with them, but (as the New Testament stresses so clearly), kept his distance before, during and after the Exile.
But the tabernacle was constructed “according to the pattern shown you on the mountain,” and as Greg Beale has shown, that pattern was also the pattern of the cosmos, and the cosmos, as described in Genesis 1, was the pattern of the tabernacle. We may deduce, therefore, that the people of adam before Adam had only a distant relationship with a God who dwelt in the Holy of Holies of heaven.
The example of the tabernacle itself shows that worship in such a context can be real and sincere – only remember that the Israeiltes also had the revelation of torah, as Adam had had the revealed command of God that he trangressed, and there was no such torah before Adam. “Early man” had no such revelation but, as far as we know, only God’s good creation itself, and their creaturely propensity for worshipping their Creator. As has been said of many beyond the reach of the Gospel since, “they worshipped according to the light they had.”
The early Fathers taught that creation’s role is to reveal the infinite and invisible God through his works, and not (as so many say today) to conceal him. In the context of the time of Genesis 1, before Adam, this accords with Romans 1, which says that “since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Paul says this in the context of “the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” but it does not follow that this too originated from the creation of the world. Indeed, Paul a few chapters later insists that sin came into the world through Adam, and it was at that point that the chain of human perversion of religion that Paul describes began. Perhaps we may even trace its origin to Adam and Eve’s choice of the word of a snake over that of God.
My conclusion, then – tentative, as all these things must be at present – is that primitive religion was natural theology. They worshipped whom they did not know, but that was sufficient for the nature they had been given. My own impression is that they did not hanker after either intimacy with God, nor life eternal, for those things were only revealed to Adam – and they matter to us because we are all Adamic, and not primitive men and women (and it has to be said that even amongst Adam’s children there are those with little curiosity about realtionship with God or the hereafter).
This leads to an idea I have stressed repeatedly recently, in the Genealogical Adam discussion – we must not think of Adam merely as a good boy who turned bad and messed things up for everyone else around – he was, in fact, a good boy who was first shown extraordinary and unprecedented grace, and went bad despite that, messing up not only his people, but his newly-exalted potential role and the purposes of God for him and for the cosmos. Adam left the world considerably worse off than he found it.
What is remarkable in the log run is that God showed increasing and infinitely costly grace to the sons and daughters of Adam, dealing with rebellion and sin, defeating and destroying the deceiver of mankind, and even carrying out his original intention, first described in Genesis 2, to elevate the rational animal to the co-regency of the universe.