Joshua Swamidass’s The Genealogical Adam and Eve is one of the most important books in science and religion published in recent decades. It has won deserving praises from scientists and scholars from different worldviews, and has convinced sceptics (e.g., biologist Nathan Lents) and Christians (e.g., biologist Darrel Falk) to change their views concerning the compatibility of evolutionary genetics and the existence of Adam, thus bridging a longstanding divide between faith and science.
The book defends this astonishing thesis:
Entirely consistent with the genetic and archeological evidence, it is possible that Adam was created out of dust, and Eve out of his rib, less than 10,000 years ago. Leaving the garden, their offspring would have blended with those outside it, biologically identical neighbors from the surrounding area. In a few thousand years, they would become genealogical ancestors of everyone (p. 10).
Swamidass demonstrates the above by making good use of the distinctions between genealogical and genetic ancestry, and the different meanings of ‘human’ across divergent areas of inquiry. These moves effectively remove blinders and expand the space of possibilities that are compatible with traditional exegesis and contemporary scientific knowledge. It also makes effective use of scientific studies that have shown that all human beings today could have very recent common ancestors even if substantial forms of population subdivision existed with very low rate of migration.
In addition, the book is written in an accessible style with great humility and grace. In its response to issues that are controversial within the church, it makes constructive recommendations concerning how each group could move forward towards agreement while maintaining their central convictions, so as to work together for the good of God’s people.
Swamidass’s Narrative Experiment
IVP Academic, 2019
Due to limitation of space I shall focus my critical comments on Swamidass’s narrative experiment in chapter 14, which is related to the question concerning whether Adam should be regarded as God’s first image-bearer. As I would like to explain this point in greater detail, the disproportionate space taken up by my explanation below might give the false impression that I have more disagreement than agreement with Swamidass. A complete defence of my own Genealogical Adam and Eve (GAE) model—which I had worked out in 2016 independently of Swamidass’s work—would require an entire book (which is currently under review by publishers). Here I focus on addressing the points that Swamidass raises.
To begin, there are different kinds of GAE models, some postulate Adam as God’s first image-bearer, some do not. Swamidass defends both in his book, but his defense of the latter in chapter 14 is contrary to 1 Corinthians 15:45. It should be emphasized that this criticism is not a fatal objection to Swamidass’s book, since he clarifies that he is not committed to any particular kind of GAE model, rather the emphasis of his book is to explain what science does and does not tell us concerning human origins.
To elaborate on this criticism, on page 175 (chapter 14), Swamidass writes: “In the beginning, Elohim creates biological humans in the image of God . . . Biological humans, the people outside the Garden, arise long before Adam and Eve.”
However, this would not do, because Scripture affirms that God’s image-bearers in Genesis 1:27 were anthropos (Gen 1:27 Septuagint=LXX), and Scripture also affirms that Adam is the first anthropos (1 Cor 15:45). This implies that Adam is the first anthropos with the image of God. It should be noted that the Greek word anthropos existed earlier than the English word ‘human’ which was used to translate it, and that the Greek Septuagint used by first-century Christians (including Paul) used anthropos in Genesis 1:27.
Adam the First Anthropos?
The key issue is what Paul is trying to say to his readers in 1 Corinthians 15:45 when he states that Adam is the first anthropos. Given that he and his readers probably used the LXX which uses anthropos in Genesis 1:27, the most straightforward, simplest, and plausible explanation is that Adam was the first of those. Now one can ask about the meaning of ‘first’ and the temporal/contextual scoping of ‘anthropos,’ but this would need to be determined based on proper hermeneutical principles such as considering the context of the passage and the historical background. While the focus of 1 Corinthians 15:22–49 is not about human origins but the nature of the resurrected body in contrast with the natural body, in the midst of making that contrast Paul affirms Adam as the first human beingTo interpret Scripture properly we need to understand the historical background, and these Second Temple Jewish texts are part of the background. (protos anthropos) which is important for his point of contrasting between the original human state and the final human (resurrected) state. The fact that Paul can be saying that Adam is the first anthropos and alluding to Genesis 2:7 and not 1:26–27, even though he would be well aware of the mention of anthropos in Genesis 1, can be explained by Paul holding to the recapitulation reading of Genesis 1–2 according to which Genesis 1 is describing the creation of the same couple that is created in Genesis 2.
Swamidass’s narrative experiment utilizes a sequential reading according to which Genesis 1 “describes a broad event where people outside the Garden are created. Genesis 2 takes place at a later point in time, describing the creation of a single couple, Adam and Eve” (p. 141), and Swamidass cites Walton for support. Concerning 1 Corinthians 15:45, Walton responds that “Jesus was neither the second man in time and history, nor was he the last man in time and history.”John Walton, The Lost world of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 94. However, while 1 Corinthians 15:45 says “First human (anthropos) Adam”, the context does not say “Last anthropos Adam,” so Walton’s point that there are humans after Jesus would be irrelevant because the text is not saying that Jesus is the last human being. Rather, the text is saying that Jesus is the last universal human representative while Adam is the first, and that Adam is not only the first universal human representative but also the first anthropos.
There is no evidence that Paul or his audience would have understood things differently. On the other hand, other Second Temple Jewish texts also understood Adam to be the ‘first-formed’ human (Wis 7:1; 10:1; Tob 8:6). Now I am not saying that non-canonical Jewish texts should determine Christian theology, rather I am saying that these texts help us understand how Paul’s statement would have been understood by people during his time and what it is that he was trying to convey. To interpret Scripture properly we need to understand the historical background, and these Second Temple Jewish texts are part of the background. Hence I find the alternative GAE model which postulates Adam as the first human being and God’s first image-bearer to be more plausible. That is the model I defend and elaborate in my book.
Swamidass suggests an alternative anachronistic reading (pp. 137, 142, 147) according to which Adam/anthropos is being used anachronistically in Genesis 1:26–27 to refer to the people before Adam and Eve. On page 134, Swamidass writes, “Textual humans are the group of people to whom Scripture refers. I argue that this group is defined by Scripture to be Adam, Eve, and their genealogical descendants.”
In other words, Swamidass is saying that the Genesis 1:26–27 does not intend to convey that those creatures made in the image of God were really anthropos textually/scripturally but were merely labelled as such and that the real scriptural/textual anthropos was Adam in Genesis 2 and that was whom Paul referred to.
However, this view is contrary to Genesis 9:6–7, in which the mentioning of ‘image of God’ and the command to be ‘fruitful and multiply’ is alluding to Genesis 1:26–27. The text is saying that the basis for thinking that murdering other anthropos is wrong is because anthropos are made in the image of God. This shows that, while the text is speaking to people (Noah) who lived after those image-bearers of God in Genesis 1, the text nevertheless implies that those who were created in the image of God (which would include those in Genesis 1) should be taken seriously as genuinely scripturally/textually anthropos rather than merely anachronistically labelled as such.
It should be noted that, for a model to work, suggesting possibilities is not enough; the suggested possibility should also not be implausible. For example, the model should not include ad hoc claims such as postulating possible interference by aliens to explain away the scientific data. But from a historical-exegetical point of view, some of Swamidass’s suggestions of possible exegesis of certain scriptural passages are likewise ad hoc and implausible.
The above criticism is not directed against Swamidass’s book in toto but only against the plausibility of the speculative narrative experiment in chapter 14. Given Swamidass’s clarification on pages 105 and 149 that he is not committed to this experiment, my criticism does not affect the main conclusion of the book, viz. evolutionary genetics and the existence of Adam are compatible. Other than chapter 14 which is not essential to Swamidass’s argument, the rest of the book is great and I pray that God will continue to use his work to bless many people.