Can Theistic Evolution and Original Sin Coexist?
Belief #1: Adam and Eve were never sinless human beings.
Our friends who hold to theistic evolution maintain that Adam and Eve were ordinary human beings, doing sinful deeds for their entire lives just as all other human beings do. By contrast, the entire story of the creation of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis 1–2 indicates only blessing and favor from God, and gives no hint of the existence of any human sin or God’s judgment on sin.
God created them, and “God blessed them” (Gen. 1:28), and then,
God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Gen. 1:31)
“Very good” in the eyes of a holy God implies there was no sin present in the world.1
Where there is no sin or guilt, there also is no shame, and so the picture of a sinless world is confirmed by this statement that closes the narrative in Genesis 2: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).
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But then sin, and the guilt and shame that accompany sin, begin with Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, and it is only then that “the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8).
This perspective on a sinless creation followed by the fall is also seen in Ecclesiastes: “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccles. 7:29).
In the New Testament, the first entrance of sin into the world through the disobedience of Adam is affirmed when Paul says, “sin came into the world through one man” (Rom. 5:12).2
If sin “came into the world through one man,” and specifically through that “one man’s trespass” (Rom. 5:15), then Paul is affirming that there was no sin in the world before Adam’s sin. This means that God created Adam and Eve as sinless human beings, as the narrative in Genesis 1–2 indicates.
But theistic evolution argues that Adam and Eve (if they existed at all) were never sinless human beings. Therefore theistic evolution once again implies that Paul himself was wrong.
Belief #2: Adam and Eve did not commit the first human sins, for human beings were doing morally evil things long before Adam and Eve.
This is the counterpart to the previous point about God not creating Adam and Eve as sinless people. According to theistic evolution, human beings have always committed morally evil deeds, and therefore human beings were sinning for thousands of years before Adam and Eve.3
But this claim is again in tension with the biblical witness, for just as the Genesis narrative shows that God created Adam and Eve as sinless human beings (see previous section), it also shows that Adam and Eve committed the first human sins in a world that was perfect and free from human sin. God had commanded Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17), but the serpent tempted Eve (Gen. 3:1–6), and she ate of the fruit, and then Adam also ate:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Gen. 3:6)
After that, sin quickly proliferates as the narrative unfolds. God drives Adam and Eve out of the garden (Gen. 3:16–24), and then Cain murders Abel (Gen. 4:8), Lamech murders a man in vengeance (Gen. 4:23), and eventually, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). All this is pictured in Genesis as something that began with the initial sin of Adam and Eve.
A reference to the sin of Adam is also the most likely interpretation of a passage in Hosea:
But like Adam they transgressed the covenant (Hos. 6:7).4
Paul reaffirms that sin began with Adam and Eve5 in an extensive discussion in Romans 5:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man. . . .
For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:12, 15–19).6
Paul also affirms the historicity of the account of the sin of Adam and Eve with reference to a specific detail in Genesis 2: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).7
Paul returns to this theme in a later epistle: “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:14).8
Therefore the theistic evolution claim that thousands of human beings were committing sinful acts long before the time of Adam and Eve would require us again to say that Paul was wrong in what he wrote.
Belief #3: Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin, for human beings existed long before Adam and Eve, and they were always subject to death.
All living things known to evolutionary science, including human beings, eventually die, and therefore theistic evolution requires that human beings have always been subject to death, and that human beings were dying long before Adam and Eve existed.
But according to the biblical narrative, when God first created Adam and Eve, they were not subject to death (as I argued in section 3 above, in response to John Walton’s view of “formed the man of dust from the ground”). The absence of death when Adam and Eve were created is implied by the summary statement at the end of the sixth day of creation, “and God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). In light of later biblical teachings that death is the “last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26), and the prediction that in the age to come, “death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4), the initial “very good” creation should be understood to imply that Adam and Eve were not subject to death when they were first created.
In addition, in the next chapter, God said to Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This implies that death would be the penalty for disobedience, not something to which they were initially subject. (Nothing is implied in Genesis 2 about animal death, for God’s statement directed to Adam implies only human death: “you shall surely die.”) After Adam sinned, God pronounced the promised judgment, which would be carried out over time through a life filled with painful toil, culminating in death:
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
In the New Testament, Paul states explicitly that human death came into the world through Adam’s sin, for he says,
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— (Rom. 5:12).9
Once again, the emphasis is on human death, for Paul’s statement, “and so death spread to all men” uses a plural form of the Greek term anthrōpos, a term that refers only to human beings, not to animals. (The entire Bible says nothing one way or another about the death of animals before the fall.)
In 1 Corinthians, Paul affirms again that death came through Adam’s sin:
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:21–22).10
But theistic evolution requires us to deny that human death began as a result of Adam’s sin,11and this once again requires us to say that the Genesis account is not a trustworthy historical narrative, and that Paul was wrong.
- John Walton argues that “good” (Hebrew tôb) in Genesis 1:31 does not imply freedom from sin or suffering, because “in reality the word never carries this sense of unadulterated, pristine perfection” (Lost World of Adam and Eve, 53). But his argument is unpersuasive because (1) this is a unique, pre-fall context, unlike the post-fall contexts in which the word later occurs; (2) this verse gives an evaluation of what is “very good” in the eyes of an infinitely holy God, not in the eyes of sinful human beings; (3) Walton inexplicably considers only the word tôb, “good,” not the emphatic expression tôb me’od, “very good” which occurs in this verse. It is unthinkable that God would look at a world filled with moral evil and declare it to be “very good.”
- See the extensive discussion of this passage by Guy Waters on pages 104–107 of this volume, especially its implications for the origin of human sin.
- John Walton says, “Anthropological evidence for violence in the earliest populations deemed human would indicate that there was never a time when sinful (= at least personal evil) behavior was not present” (Lost World of Adam and Eve, 154).
- Denis Alexander says, “Most scholars maintain that the ‘Adam’ referred to in Hosea 6:7 refers to a place not a person” (Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, 2nd ed., rev. and updated (Oxford: Monarch, 2014), 475n164). He gives no basis for this assertion. The translation “like Adam” (referring to Adam as a person) is found in ESV, NASB, NLT, and CSB, while the translation “at Adam” is found in NIV, NET, RSV, and NRSV. The ESV Study Bible note says, “to whom or to what does ‘Adam’ refer? Many commentators suggest a geographical locality. The difficulty is that there is no record of covenant breaking at a place called Adam. . . . And it requires a questionable taking of the preposition ‘like’ (Heb. ke-) to mean ‘at’ or ‘in’. . . . It is best to understand ‘Adam’ as the name of the first man” (ESV Study Bible [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008], 1631).
- Although Eve sinned first in the narrative in Genesis 3, Paul focuses on the sin of Adam, apparently because Adam alone had a representative role with respect to the entire human race, a role in which Eve did not share. Similarly, Paul elsewhere says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
- See pages 113–118 for Guy Waters’s answer to Walton’s claim that Romans 5 simply means that people were not accountable for their sin before Adam.
- Guy Waters discusses this passage more fully on pages 81–83.
- See the discussion of this passage by Guy Waters, pages 83–86.
- See Guy Waters’s discussion of this passage and its implications for human death, pages 104–107.
- See Guy Waters’s discussion of this passage and its implications for human death, pages 108–113.
- See, e.g., Walton, Lost World of Adam and Eve, 144; also 72–77 and 159.
This article is by Wayne Grudem and is adapted from A Biblical Case against Theistic Evolution edited by Wayne Grudem.
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