Was Adam a Real Person?
The church has historically affirmed that Adam was a historical man, yet with the acceptance of evolutionary science, some now claim that this is not the case. Those who believe that the earth is millions or billions of years old will not accept that God fully formed the human Adam a few days after creating the universe. However, Genesis presents Adam as a real historical man, not the result of eons of evolution.
Adam’s connection with other historical persons supports the claim that he was indeed a specific person.
The simplest and most natural interpretation of Genesis 1 declares that God created the specific person Adam on the sixth day of creation. Genesis 2 then offers more detail on the creation of Adam and Eve. Adam’s connection with other historical persons supports the claim that he was indeed a specific person. Adam is the father of Cain, Abel, and Seth (Gen. 4:1–2, 25; 5:1–3). Adam is also said to have had conjugal relations with his wife Eve to bear Cain and Seth, and Genesis 5:3 further states that Adam fathered Seth at age 130. These details cannot be legitimately identified as poetic or figurative language describing something other than reality.
The long list of Adam’s descendants who lived and died until Noah in Genesis 5 confirms that Adam is a specific historical person. So Genesis 5:1 explicitly declares, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” Adam is real, just like those who descended from him are actual persons. Not only is Adam’s creation mentioned, so too is his death. Adam died at age 930 (Gen. 5:5).
The theology of seed in Genesis affirms a literal Adam. The Hebrew term for “seed,” zera, is used six times in Genesis 1, all concerning vegetation. The presence of seed means each plant and tree will produce other vegetation after its kind. In Genesis 3:15, God promises that a coming “seed of the woman” (NASB) will eventually defeat the power behind the serpent (Satan).
The rest of Genesis develops the seed theme as God unfolds his plans to save and restore mankind. Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob are part of God’s seed plan. They are the offspring of Adam, and just as they are real persons, so too is Adam, their ancestor. Also, one should not accept the historicity of Genesis 12–50—including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and then disconnect this section historically from the persons in Genesis 1–11. The promised seed line of Genesis 3:15 and its relation to all of Genesis does not allow this separation.
Adam in the New Testament
The New Testament writers also affirm Adam as a historical figure. Jesus’s genealogy in Luke includes Adam (3:38). This is consistent with 1 Chronicles 1:1, which also includes Adam in its genealogy. The apostle Paul clearly believed in a literal Adam. In Romans 5:12 and 14, Paul states, “Sin came into the world through one man [Adam],” and “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam.” Paul treats Adam as a person, just as he treats Moses as a person.
Further, in Romans 5:12–21, Paul makes several comparisons between Adam and Jesus, showing that both are literal heads of humanity who bring certain consequences for mankind. The man Adam brings death, guilt, and condemnation to all who are in him (i.e., all who possess human life, with the exception of the Lord Jesus), while the man Christ Jesus brings life, righteousness, and justification to all who are granted spiritual life through their faith-union with him. If Adam is not a person, then the comparison collapses, including Jesus’s role as the One who represents mankind as Savior. Rejecting the historicity of Adam truly undermines the gospel itself.
In similar fashion, Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus several times in 1 Corinthians 15:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45)
The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [Jesus] is from heaven. (1 Cor. 15:47)
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:49)
Paul’s point is that just as we humans bear the image of Adam, so with the coming glorification we will bear the image of Jesus. The comparison assumes that both Adam and Jesus are historical persons who represent humanity. Jesus as a person can only be a “last Adam” if Adam was also a real human being. Further, in 1 Timothy 2:13, Paul makes an argument for functional distinctions between men and women in the church because “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” His point would make no sense if Adam were merely a symbolic figure.
The historicity of Adam is not a trivial matter. A literal Adam is foundational for understanding the origin and history of the human race, the nature of humanity, the origin of sin, the beginning of human and animal death, the need for salvation, the basis for historical events in Genesis, the reason for functional order within the church, and even the future existence of mankind.1
This article is adapted from Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth by John MacArthur.
1. For a further defense of the historicity of Adam, see William D. Barrick, “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View,” in Four Views on the Historical Adam, ed. Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday, Counterpoints: Bible and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 197–227.
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