Guest Post by J Penman – The Place of Adam (Pt 2 of 2)


I said that there are several different ways in which we could envisage Adam fitting into an Evolutionary Creationist scenario. The key question is how Adam relates to the rest of the image-bearing race in terms of (i) their original possession of the divine image, and (ii) the transition into a state of sin and death.

My preferred model is as follows – I invite other Evolutionary Creationists who accept Adam to join the discussion and suggest alternatives. First, I envisage God bestowing His image collectively on the whole of the existing race of anatomically modern humans. How far advanced linguistically, technologically, artistically, musically, etc, humans can be without possessing the divine image, I do not fully know. Nor am I sure what immediate and evident effects the bestowal of the image would have brought, in terms of observable differences in the historical record (what should we be looking for?).

However, I postulate this collective bestowal of the divine image on the existing race of anatomically modern humans, which would perhaps have been experienced by them as a collective “quantum leap” into God-consciousness. It seems to me that Genesis 1 is best read as describing the creation of a race – humanity – rather than exclusively of Adam and Eve, who I think first appear in Genesis 2. In my model, then, Adam is not the biological father of all Homo divinus humans. But I see nothing in the text that requires him to be. He is the ancestor of his own line, the Adamic line, through which descends the Promise of the Messianic Seed. The contemporaneous existence of other humans would explain who Cain feared might kill him and where he got his wife.

Two of these newly Homo divinus humans – our historical Adam and Eve – were then taken by God, invested with a royal and priestly dignity over the rest, and placed in the Garden of Eden as a palace-temple. (It seems Adam alone was placed there at first, with Eve coming later: so the text indicates, however we interpret the details.) Adam’s priesthood is entailed by the abundant parallels between the Garden of Eden and the Jerusalem temple, and the cultic language used in Genesis to describe Adam‘s activities in “tending“ and “keeping“ the Garden.. Many studies have developed this theme; I must leave it to the reader to explore them. Adam’s kingship is suggested (for example) by Ezekiel 38:12ff, where the king of Tyre is described in richly Adamic imagery.

To Adam and Eve, as the priestly king and queen of the race, the race’s destiny was committed. These two represented the whole of humankind in God’s presence in the Garden Temple. In this regard, I accept the historic Reformed view of an original covenant between God and humanity in Eden: traditionally “the Covenant of Works”, although I prefer other equally historic descriptions (Covenant of Eden, Covenant of Innocence, Covenant of Life, or perhaps Adamic Covenant, but I’m not sure how historic this last one is). Adam was therefore the kingly, priestly, federal head of the race.

How exactly Adam’s transgression of the Covenant brought about the Fall of the entire race – the mechanism of causation – I do not profess to know. There are unrevealed mysteries here. Any theological model is surely faced with mysteries at this point. My model has been critiqued because it leads to people thousands of miles away from Eden suddenly waking up (as it were), after Adam had sinned, to find themselves sinners-doomed-to-die, without having done a thing personally to bring this about. As an effective critique, I suggest this is a sort of optical illusion, because exactly the same critique can be made (and has been made) of the traditional model. After all, on the traditional model, here we are, not only thousands of miles but thousands of years away from Eden, born as sinners-doomed-to-die, without ourselves having done a thing personally to bring this about!

I see no substantial difference in my model. We all have to deal with the meaningful participation of the whole race in Adam’s sin, when no other individuals were present in the Garden (other than Eve). I doubt whether any model is overwhelmingly successful, at least not in resolving this specific mystery. It remains a biblical fact, however, that Adam’s sin was a race-sin, in whatever way we conceive of the mode of the race’s solidarity with Adam in his sin. We shouldn’t allow our ignorance of the mode (how did the race meaningfully participate in the Edenic sin?) to undermine our belief in the revealed fact (the race did indeed meaningfully participate in the Edenic sin). There are many parallel mysteries, e.g. our ignorance of the precise mode of the union of deity and humanity in Christ, but our belief in the fact. There is a place for mystery and principled theological agnosticism. The art lies in locating the mysteries in the right places.

Even so, the priestly and kingly imagery associated with Adam sheds some light. Both suggest some sort of mediatorial role. Israel’s high priest represented all Israel before God, bearing the names of the twelve tribes on his breastplate (Exodus 28 and 39). He therefore brought the people into God’s presence, and God’s blessing to the people. If Adam and Eve were high priest and priestess of humanity, their presence in the Garden Temple, and their expulsion from it, immediately gain a colossal corporate significance for the race. Similar things could be said about the mediatorial role of Israel’s king. When the king sinned, the land and nation suffered, because king, land, and people were one in God’s sight. Hence the sin of the original high king and high queen of humanity had in-built repercussions for their nation (humankind, now fallen into servitude to sin and death) and for their land (the earth, now defiled by human sin and death).

None of this explains the mystery of human unity, of solidarity with Adam, but it does illustrate it and give it a biblical context. Ultimately, though, we are still left with faith’s confession, expressed eloquently by Ambrose of Milan: “In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of paradise, in Adam I died. How shall the Lord call me back unless He finds me in Adam, so that as I was liable to guilt and owing death in him, so now in Christ I am justified?”

A historical Fall, then, as well as a historical Adam, remains an integral part of my theology. One might ask how human death fits into an Evolutionary Creationist scheme. (I should make it clear that I understand the death to which the Fall has subjected us as physical as well as spiritual in nature.) There is, I would submit, no difficulty here. When God first bestowed His image on humanity, Homo divinus was neither immortal nor doomed-to-die, but (as Augustine said long ago) suspended between the two possibilities. In the weaker sense of “mortality” – capable of dying – Homo divinus was mortal. Had we obeyed, we would have been granted immortality. Disobedience, however, cut off that possibility, so that we became mortal in the stronger sense of “doomed-to-die”.

In that sense, human death is the fruit of the Fall. The Edenic sin has brought it about that humankind is now not merely capable of dying but doomed-to-die: in Augustinian vocabulary, not merely able to die, but unable not to die. Immortality is now no longer possible, except through the intervention of the Second Adam.

There, in a nutshell, is how I personally construe the place of Adam in a wider worldview that accepts Evolutionary Creationism. Embracing the General Theory of Evolution does not require abandoning Adam; we have every biblical and theological reason to retain him. And we can indeed retain him within an Evolutionary Creationist framework. Attempts to eliminate him in the name of evolutionary science are, I would suggest, both gratuitously unnecessary, and inflict grave damage on the theological fabric of orthodox belief. There is a better way. This essay is one effort at envisaging it.

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About James Penman

James is from an Anglican background; more broadly, he considers himself part of the Reformed tradition. He has a special interest in the history of ideas, including the interactions between faith and science. Augustine, Calvin, and B.B.Warfield figure among his spiritual and intellectual heroes.
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10 Responses to Guest Post by J Penman – The Place of Adam (Pt 2 of 2)

  1. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks for these two posts, Penman – I hope others find them helpful too.

    One small point – if one takes Genesis 1 as the creation of mankind in God’s image generally, and Genesis 2 as the representative priest of mankind, then the references to immortality/mortality seem to be related to Adam’s calling and to Eden.

    Do you think, therefore, there’s mileage in the idea that conditional immortality was offered in the first place only to Adam and Eve, and that since he failed in his representational role, the rest of the race simply remained in their “animal” mortality by default, as they became liable to judgement by their corporate responsibility (in your scheme)?

  2. Gregory says:

    Thanks for both parts of this essay, Penman.

    Just a quick question re: disunity or denominationalism and unity. You wrote:
    “I accept the historic Reformed view of an original covenant between God and humanity in Eden.”

    Is this not “the historic Christian view” (or even “the historic Abrahamic view”), i.e. more than just the Reformed accept it?

  3. Avatar photo penman says:

    Jon first….

    I suppose my idea is that immortality was offered to Adam, not as a private individual merely, but in his capacity as the royal-priestly-federal head of the race. When he broke the Edenic Covenant, it meant that both he & the race were left in their naturally mortal state. But, now cut off from the hope of immortality, the natural mortal state of “able to die” was inevitably intensified into “unable not to die”. Does that make sense?

    Gregory…. By the way, good to hear from you! I’ve seen your activities elsewhere but not interacted with you for a while.

    Yes, I think the Reformed view of a covenant in Eden is, in essence, the traditional view. But it tends to be Reformed theology that uses “covenant” language & concepts much more explicitly & densely to express the essential idea. The broad catholic/orthodox view would certainly see humanity’s destiny contingent on Adam’s actions as a race head, but wouldn’t necessarily articulate that in specifically covenantal terms. Personally I’m persuaded that the language & structure of God’s dealings with Adamic humanity in Genesis are indeed rooted in Ancient Near Eastern covenantalism. Henri Blocher expounds this clearly, to my mind, in his In The Beginning.

    (Note: By “Reformed” theology of course I mean the non-Lutheran tradition of Reformation theology flowing from Swiss, south German, & French sources, like Bullinger, Bucer, & Calvin. Just in case anyone didn’t realize.)

  4. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    If I may respond (no doubt penman will if I’m wrong), the early and mediaeval Church made little use of the idea of covenant, though later the work of Christ (in the Mass) began to be seen in covenantal terms and also, Biel developed the idea of a covenant of merit, where God rewards the believer for doing his best.

    The Reformation began to look back at the Bible more: Luther, reacting against the mediaeval “works” idea, distinguished the New Covenant of Grace from the Old Covenant of Law. Zwingli then began to compare God’s covenant with Abraham with the Christian’s relationship to God, but Bullinger saw (I guess largely from passages like Galatians 3) that the whole salvation history of Scripture was, essentially, an outworking of the Abrahamic covenant.

    Calvin considered some early version of the idea (not Scripturally explicit but reasonable) that there was originally a covenant of works with Adam, but two of his students further developed the idea, together with that of an eternal covenant between Father and Son from which everything else derives. So it was that a whole raft of Covenant Theology got into the Westminster Confession and other Reformed teaching.

    I consider this covenant approach to theology very fruitful (and did a popular series of 7 articles on it – see for the first), but it really was a Reformed development, and I’m not sure how much the other major streams have picked up on it. That’s especially so for the Adamic Covenant which is to a considerable extent inferred from, rather than explicit in Scripture.

  5. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Sorry to steal your thunder, penman – your reply was held up in moderation for some unknown reason so I didn’t know you’d answered Gregory!

  6. Cal says:

    Excellent posts!

    I’m not quite Reformed (I’m not sure what I am), but I found this piece excellent.

    My question is thus: Is it possible that Homo divinus was a different kind of human, as in Man vs. hominid, or is the temple imagery strong enough to override this possible, yet less likely view? In my own eyes, it explains the royalty of man as vice-regent of earth/creation and also has some understanding of the mysterious ‘daughters of man’.

    I haven’t made up my mind, but just curious on your thoughts.

  7. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Hi Cal

    I don’t know penman’s position on this, but I’m hesitant to lean any theory too much on the “sons of God/daughters of men” passage, tempting though it is. To me, for reasons I might go into someday, the Eden story is historic in the sense of its setting in space and time. Before the Neolithic, at earliest, it’s hard to envisage any equivalence. That time scale, of course, makes an inter-species event problematic.

    Of course, penman’s H divinus endowment might be seen as occurring much earlier, but then you have to ask why God took so long to reveal himself through Adam. Christologically we need to remember that Christ took on what he redeemed, which would appear not to be Homo habilis.

  8. Avatar photo penman says:

    Hi Cal

    I think the “homo divinus” was what they call “anatomically modern humanity” endowed (supernaturally, by direct creative action of God) with the divine image. So thereafter, I don’t think there were any anatomically modern humans around who lacked the image of God. There may possibly have been others around – outside the category of “anatomically modern humans” – who would have lacked God’s image. But I suspect that the bestowal of the image was relatively recent, i.e. some time between 4,000 and 12,000 BC. Jon can correct me, but I don’t believe other hominid species were still around by then.

    I doubt whether there was any great length of time between the bestowal of the divine image & the setting apart of Adam & Eve in Eden. I’ve always imagined the two events were extremely close in time, if not actually simultaneous.

  9. Cal says:

    That raises a couple questions:

    1) Does the federal humanity, when “awakened” (can’t think of a better term) by the Imago Dei, somehow implicitly know or understand they had a king/representative in a garden somewhere far away? Is this pressing beyond what we’re given? What are your thoughts?

    2) My opinion of the flood was that it was regional, however it placed all of humanity inside this ‘cradle’ (so to speak) of what was the Near East. This wouldn’t have been possible only at a mere 12,000 BC. How do you reconcile the flood and the tower of babel with your account?

    2b) In the time of Israel, there were still Nephilim in the land, does this register in your flood account (ie. not everyone was killed)?

    A thought:
    I find it strange to say that mankind (as we know it) is only some 14,000 years old at your rate, but it does explain why civilization seems to come out of nowhere and the implicit knowledge Adam seems to have in regards to toolmaking and garden management. Interesting.

  10. Avatar photo penman says:

    Hi Cal

    If you’re still there… Had a few days away from the office!

    1) I am agnostic on this, but it’s within the realms of speculative possibility that all humans at that original time had some “mystical” consciousness of their race-unity as embodied in Adam.

    2) The Bible’s language about the Flood is ambivalent. Guided by “mere exegesis”, it could be global or regional. It’s one of those areas where the extra-biblical data settle things in favor of a regional Flood. I suppose it could have wiped out all the Homo Divinus humans, but you’d have to put the Flood extremely early to then accomplish the re-populating of the globe. I prefer to see the Flood as wiping out all those Homo Divinus humans who lived the same region as the Adamic line, since it’s the history of the Adamic line that is being traced (I think) in the OT. Through that line the Promised Seed was preserved, culminating in the New Adam.

    2b) I have no firm opinion on who the Nephilim were. I welcome further light!

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