Adam and Mankind >>back home

Adam and Eve founded the human race, but its members need not all have sprung directly from them. Their connection is probably broader than that, as was Abraham's both to the nation of Israel, and more widely to the faithful in all ages. The Bible itself often speaks in such terms. For what this means in terms of human solidarity see Chap. XIV.

We must come now to the question of what the Bible tells us positively about the relationship between Adam, Eve and the human race. Does it mean us to understand that all mankind has descended from this single human pair? There would be no difficulty in this from a purely biological point of view; and it has traditionally been held that it does. It is probably the impression still conveyed to the casual reader. It is argued here however that it doesn't, and this chapter will try to justify this conclusion.

The naming of Eve

There are two biblical passages in particular that may be cited as directly relevant to the question at issue. The first is the statement in Gen. 3.20 (RV, for literalness): And the man called his, wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. The second is Paul's assertion in his speech in the Areopagus, that God made of one every nation of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth (Acts 17.26 RV). Two other and longer passages which might be thought relevant are in Rom.5 and 1 Cor.15. They are more theological, and will be briefly referred to later.

We return to the passage in Gen.3. The significant clause is: because she was the mother of all living. This last phrase is probably a comment by the narrator (traditionally Moses), contributed long afterwards as the verb ('was') indicates. Thus it might not express Adam's own thinking, but the point is not critical. What is more significant is that the naming of the wife is attributed to the husband himself and not to God, as it is in significant cases elsewhere in the Bible1. It is probably derived from the Heb. hayya which means 'life' or 'living' ; this will be discussed in a moment. Now the man had been warned beforehand that a certain forbidden act would mean death, and he might well have understood this as immediate death (in the day thou eatest thereof, Gen.2.17 RV). But when as a result of their disobedience judgement was pronounced it was the serpent (3.14) and then the ground (3.17) which were explicitly cursed. It was only after the hint of a male Deliverer ('his'heel, 3.15) had been made that the pair's own punishment was pronounced. Then, the reference at that point to death (all the days of thy life .  . till thou return to the ground, 3.17, 19) was indirect, perhaps to their surprise; for this spoke rather of continued living at least for the present, even if under conditions of toil and sweat. Nor can we overlook the fact that the channel for the Deliverer was to be specifically the woman, for he is named as her seed (3.15) , not, as usual in such connections, the husband's. Paul doubtless had this in mind in Ga1.4.4 where his 'born of (RV; made of, AV) a woman' employs an unusual Gk. word for 'born' in contrast to the usual one in Gal. 4.23. This suggests in the primitive church an early knowledge of the Virgin Birth since the Galatian epistle was written well before the Gospels appeared. With this recognition, what was it that moved Adam to name his wife Eve, 'mother of all life, all living'? For this seems a very relieved response to the divine word 'dust and a return to dust, because he had hearkened to her'2 . His inward reaction may have been: "There's a rescue ahead somehow, and it will come through her; we are not to lose the Creator' s image after all". Many commentators discern faith here3. If the Deliverer mysteriously foreshadowed in Gen.3.15 was the Messiah one day to come, it is not difficult to see here a prophetic reference to the Virgin Birth of the Old and New Testaments.

Reading the biblical account in this way is supported by similar idiomatic usages in other parts of Genesis. Thus Gen.4.20‑22 runs: Jabal was the father of such as dwell in tents .  . Jubal the father of all such as handle the harp and pipe .  . Tuba1‑Cain, the forger of every cutting instrument, or as we might now put it, the father of tent‑living, the father of music‑making, and the father of metal‑working. So Eve was the mother of all truly human living. Again, Adam's faith was responding as Abram's did when God renamed him Abraham. for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee (Gen.17.5 RV), a promise indicating something other and far more than exclusive physical ancestry.

The significant suggestions being made here concern matters outside the ambit of science altogether. They relate to meaning, not mechanism,, and science can make no pronouncements on their level.

Into the Areopagus

We turn now to Paul's words in the Areopagus; 'God made from one (ex henos) every nation of men (pan ethnos anthropon) for to dwell on all the face of the earth' (Acts 17.26 RV). The 'from one' (RSV, RV) is unspecific. The NIV supplies 'man', the REB and JB 'stock'. The 'every nation' could equally well be translated 'the whole race'. Paul has been pressed into addressing the dilettante philosophers of Athens, and he seizes his opportunity. He knows he is not speaking to men immersed in the Jewish scriptures; rather, he is facing, as a Jew, the widely different culture of intellectual Athens. So he seeks to establish as firm a base as he can for his message, a message universal for all men: judgement, repentance and faith in a risen Saviour. He faces the materialistic Epicureans (from whom he can expect little sympathy), the pantheistic Stoics (from whom he can expect a little more), and the polytheistic crowd. He starts with two points at their own level: an Almighty Creator needing no human shelter, help or provision; and the equality of all men before Him. He then proceeds: this God is actively concerned about men. As the Sovereign Architect of their historical circumstances He has a purpose, that all men 'should feel after Him and find Him'. But clearly their seeking has gone astray; their many idols, and the altar to 'An Unknown God' indicate that. In all this Paul is saying in a preliminary way what is essential to his central message, and nothing more; at least, it is reasonable to take it that way. His quoting of two passages from Stoic poets (and none from the Old Testament) shows how anxious he is to establish what common ground he can. Now all this makes it unreasonable to insist that his reference to mankind's origin 'from one' was intended to be interpreted as 'from one human pair'. Paul was too skilled a preacher to have risked loss of the serious attention of a less‑than‑serious audience by introducing such a particular and probably obnoxious red herring. He knew he was already sailing very near to the rocks of prejudice, for the Athenians boasted that they had 'sprung from the soil'. So we may conclude that whatever was Paul's own view in detail of the origin of the human race, his language on this occasion was studiously general. What he asserted indubitably, was that all men share a common standing before God, and a solidarity with one another, nothing more.

The story of Cain

Thus far, we may conclude that though the common view, that the whole human race has descended biologically from a single human pair, may not be inconsistent with the biblical evidence, it is by no means required by it. There are other possibilities to which we must keep our minds open. When Cain had murdered his brother Abel and faced the sentence of banishment and wandering, he was gripped with a terrible fear: 'Whoever finds me will slay me', he said (Gen.4.14). Of whom was he thinking? He was the eldest son, and so far as Scripture tells us, the only other living members of the race were his parents. It seems very unlikely that he was projecting his thoughts forward to the time when a new brother, still not on the scene, had grown up and conceived the idea of avenging Abel, the murdered one he had never known. It seems reasonable to believe that there were other beings (we could provisionally call them 'humans'), who had never been in the Garden nor sinned by breaking a known command as did Adam (Rom.5.14 NIV), and into whose company Cain was now compelled to move (see note 6). If this suggestion is anywhere near the mark, these 'humans', like the animals, were subject to death; they had not yet, perhaps, received access to the 'tree of life'. Cain would naturally fear them, as all men fear the unfamiliar and unknown, especially when they have a guilty conscience.

Cain acquired a wife ‑ from where? The traditional (and legitimate) explanation is that he married an unnamed sister. But it is equally possible that he married a 'human' woman from outside Eden. He had a son, Enoch, possibly his first. After this son he named a city which he built. By 'city' we are not of course to understand a large and (by our standards) considerable centre of population: nevertheless, it hardly does justice to the word to use it of an assembly of a few primitive dwellings. The overall impression of the story of Cain is then, as Kidner remarks, 'of an already populous earth'. This is surprising, since the narrative does not suggest a high rate of growth in the family of Adam, but rather the reverse. As often as not sons are born only when fathers are 100 years old or more.

With the opening of chapter 6 the rate of increase seems to accelerate; so does the rise of evil and violence. Associated with this (and perhaps the cause of it) is a mysterious union of the 'sons of God' with the 'daughters of men'. What the Bible means us to understand by this has long been a matter of dispute. The problem concerns the identity of the two parties involved, the 'sons of God' and the 'daughters of men'. For a good discussion of the suggestions which have been made reference may be made to Blocher7. The significance of the passage in the present discussion turns, however, not so much on its detailed interpretation as on the impression it gives that there were, more on the earth at this time who might be classed as 'human' than simply the biological descendants of Adam. No doubt it is an impression only and could be construed otherwise; but it adds to the plausibility of a rather far‑reaching suggestion the substance of which has often been made before. Briefly, it is that Adam was the head of the human race not in the sense that all men have physically descended from him, but in the sense that, in God's intent, he was to lead the way forward into human life as we know it.

Adam as a 'type' of Christ

In Rom. 5.14 Paul makes the important assertion that Adam was a 'type' (RSV; Gk. tupos) of Jesus Christ, the Coming One. Other modern versions have rendered tupos here by 'pattern', 'foreshadowing' or 'prefiguring'. We may take the last: Adam, in some way, prefigures Jesus Christ; some important characteristics of his life help us to appreciate the meaning of Jesus Christ. But what characteristics? One such is that at some crucial point in history, each 'stands in' for the whole human race, as its representative and head, and brings it to ruin (in the one case) or to glory in the other (1Cor.15.21,22). To qualify for this role there are only two things Scripture implies, which are constitutionally necessary. The first is, to be truly human8; the second is, to be divinely appointed9. Both of these things were true of Adam, and both are true of Jesus Christ. But to be a physical ancestor of subsequent generations was not something essential, for Jesus was never such.

In this particular connection, later biblical history casts further suggestive light on the precise relationship of Adam to the human race. At three points in its record there have been striking new beginnings, all centred on single individuals: Adam, Abraham, and Jesus Christ. This is surely a significant fact about the way in which the biblical writer has been inspired, I believe, to recount these early beginnings. Elements of a common pattern are exhibited by them all. Divinely‑named and called, each was moved to a chosen environment to train as a pioneer ‑ Adam to Eden, Abraham to Canaan, Jesus to Galilee10. Now clearly in the case of Abraham and Jesus Christ, each became the founder of a community where physical descent was not the critical requirement, the sine qua non. In the case of Jesus Christ this is obvious, but even in that of Abraham the remark holds: consider, for instance, what happened to the three hundred and eighteen trained men, 'born in his house', who went with Abram (as he then was) to the rescue of Lot (Gen.14.14). These most likely entered the covenant with him when God renamed him 'Abraham', and probably many of them remained within it and swelled the ranks of what later became Israel (Gen.17.10‑17). There were also strangers such as Caleb, Ruth and the Kenites who became part of Israel11.

For all the foregoing reasons it would surely not be doing violence to the biblical record if it were read as implying that others not descended physically from him were included nevertheless in Adam's race (as the story of Cain for instance suggests). It is a spiritual tie rather than a genetic one which is the decisive one in Scripture, a principle applying to both Israel and to the Church. In this connection Paul's 'in Adam' strikes the same significant note as his 'in Christ' (1Cor.15.22).

The teaching of Romans 5 and 1Corinthians 15

There remain the passages mentioned in Rom.5 and 1Cor.15. These need only brief treatment. The passage in Romans is 5.12‑21, of which verse 14 has already been discussed. Paul is here contrasting Adam with Christ, the disobedience of the one bringing sin, judgement and death, and the obedience of the other, grace, righteousness and life. This contrast Paul is stressing to the utmost of his power, viewing it from as many relevant angles as he can. But the idea that Adam and Eve were the sole progenitors of the human race is not introduced: it is apparently regarded as an irrelevance which would have weakened his impact. Paul's great themes here are rather the "much more!" and the "reigning in life!"; it is these he wants to highlight.

In 1Corinthians 15 Paul has been contrasting the old natural order (Adam begat a son 'in his own image', Gen. 5.3) with the coming one, when after the general resurrection those who are Christ's (15.23) will bear His image (15.49). He has been wholly occupied with the wonderful truth of the final resurrection of believers, apparently being strongly challenged at Corinth; and he has been insisting on it at great length. Paul would hardly encumber his argument with anything contentious and not clearly vital, such as mankind's origin from a single pair. His antithetic adjectives (the first and last Adam, the first and second man) must be allowed to support each other, i.e. to be making the same point. Adam was the 'first' man in a way that makes sense of Christ being called either the 'last' or the 'second' man12. For these reasons it is my conviction that this passage, like the one in Romans, cannot be made to have the meaning in dispute: that is, that all mankind have descended physically from the single pair, Adam and Eve. It neither affirms nor denies this; it is not centre‑stage in the argument, nor even side‑stage.

The consequences of sin

Although it is not directly relevant to the subject of this chapter, it is appropriate to add a note on the expulsion from Eden. The divine verdict (Gen.3.22) must be understood as pointedly ironic: "The man has now become like Us, capable of deciding for himself what is good or evil, beneficial or harmful. Lest he thinks with similar folly that he has the power to take at will the means to secure unending life, it must in mercy be made plain to him that he has not and never will". That is, it seems, the meaning of the divine act of expulsion from the Garden, the loss of free access to the Tree of Life. If it were asked what would be seen and heard in an imaginary video‑recording of all this, the reply might well be, "Perhaps a theophany like that to Abraham in Gen.18; rather more probably an audible Voice (Gen.3.8f); and then most certainly, a disconsolate pair, perhaps already accompanied by others, walking away with anticipated finality from a region of great pleasantness into an uncultivated wilderness. There would probably be little else: Transcendence makes Its presence known to men only as and when It pleases. Judging by what evidence the Bible gives us (and which has been discussed earlier) the couple went away possibly with an existing company of fellow humans, from among whom Adam had been the first to be taken to Eden to be trained as forerunner. But he would come back to share with them not a new life as sons of God, but the knowledge of a Law to which they were now all subject ‑ and subject already as law‑breakers. These suggestions I would not press, but they are in keeping with the sober testimony of Paul about his conversion (see Acts 26 especially vv.12 to 25), repeated on three occasions (Acts 9, 22, and 26); and enlarged on in his teaching in Rom.5.12‑14.


We may summarize the conclusions of this chapter as follows. The prima facie impression given by the Bible is, probably, that the entire human race has descended from the single pair, Adam and Eve. Closer inspection, however. indicates that it makes no unequivocal statement to that effect. On the contrary, it readily allows us to believe that Adam's headship of the race was a representative one, and that universal physical descent from him is nowhere implied. Other fellow‑'humans' may have been similarly 'inbreathed' after Adam and thus been incorporated into the fully human race (see6), the result of 'inbreathing' never being wholly withdrawn after the Fall (Gen.5.1‑3: 6.3; Eccles.3.21). It is this link with the Holy Spirit which is the important one, not their nature in genetic (DNA) terms; to be 'in Adam' means something corresponding to (but distinct from), being 'in Christ'13

The call of Abraham and Sarah too forms an illuminating parallel to the account of Adam and Eve. To Israel God says later,

'Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare. you; for

when he was but one [N.B.] I called him, and I blessed him and made

him many' Isa.51.2 RV).

The settling of Abram in Canaan (perhaps Eden) followed his call. Sarai his wife was with him, and others too ('all the souls that they had gotten in Haran', Gen.12.4ff), but Abram fills the story. In Canaan comes the definitive covenant God makes with him: his name is changed to Abraham, and Sarai's to Sarah, and he is given the covenant sign of circumcision. Significantly, all the souls who came from him and with him, named and unnamed, are included in the covenant too and become the people of God (Gen.17.9,13,27; Exod.3.10f). The Bible often indicates a common pattern in God's ways of dealing with man, and it seems exegetically reasonable to take His way with Adam and his collaterals as first setting this pattern to be later followed by Abraham and Sarah.


1     Cf. Luke 1.13 (where 'John' means 'The Lord is gracious').

2    I am suggesting that the phrase 'mother of all life' or 'all living' is to be taken in the same way semantically as the formally similar phrases in note 4 here; i.e. as referring to a quality not to a sum total of descendants.

3     So E J Young, GENESIS 3. Banner of Truth Trust, 1966; D Kidner, op. cit.; G von Rad, op. cit.

4     'In Him was life' (John 1.4): 'the Son [has] life in Himself (5.26)

5       Rom.4.11,16

6    What I am suggesting is that animals had 'evolved' to the stage where they had many of the outward features of true humans. and some of their arts too; but they had not yet received the Spirit of God imparting 'the image of God'. This was at first 'inbreathed' (Gen.2.7) into a chosen leader, Adam, through whom the others were to receive the same ennoblement. Perhaps what Adam failed to do through his hubris (presumption), would have been something like what the Second Adam (1Cor.15.47) did through His self‑abnegation (John 20.22; cf. also Acts 19.6).

7    Henri Blocher, op. cit. pp.200‑203

8    For Adam see Gen.5.1‑3. For Jesus Christ, see his most frequent self‑designation, 'Son of Man'; see also Heb.2.7,9; 5.1,4,5,10 etc.

9     Adam the individual was given as personal name what was the designation also of our species (ha adam); he was thus appointed representative of the race. For Jesus see 1Tim.2.5; Heb.5.1,5f

10   Adam to Eden, Gen.2.8; Abraham to Canaan, Gen.12.1; Jesus to Galilee, Matt.2.13, 20‑23

11   As the stories of Caleb (a Kenizzite from a leading Edomite family, Gen. 36.11, and a leader in Israel), Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4.13ff), the Kenites (a Midianite tribe, Num.10.29) and others show (see Gen.17.12,13); for the church, see John 10.16; Eph.3.6

12      1Cor.15.45,47

13      1Cor.15.22.