On the religion beat, the news often consists of new books about old texts with old stories, and the oldest old story of them all is the Genesis portrayal of Adam and Eve. Their status as the first humans and parents of the entire human race is a big biblical deal, especially for evangelical Protestants.
Since no evangelical school outranks Wheaton College (Illinois) in prestige and influence, journalists should get ready for an incendiary device about to explode in March.
A book by Wheaton Old Testament Professor John H. Walton will upend many traditional -- or certainly "evangelical" -- ideas about Adam and Eve. Moreover, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate” comes from the certifiably evangelical InterVarsity Press. Click here for the online press kit (.pdf).
Walton (Ph.D., Hebrew Union College) formerly taught at the Moody Bible Institute, which professes that “the first human beings were a special and unique creation by God as contrasted to being derived from any pre-existing life forms. Further, God created everything ‘after its kind,’ which excludes any position that allows for any evolutionary process between kinds.” As a Wheaton professor since 2001, he’s required to reaffirm each year the “biblical doctrine” that “God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race,” who were “distinct from all other living creatures.”
The author’s views have been evolving (so to speak) since 1998, when he decided Genesis, like other ancient writings, offers a “functional” rather than biological depiction of God’s creation process. He explained this in “The Lost World of Genesis One” (2009, also from InterVarsity), and a more scholarly version, “Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology” (2011, Eisenbrauns). He then depicted an historical but “archetypal” Adam in “Four Views on the Historical Adam” (2013, Zondervan).
Attention Godbeat professionals: The three other contributors should also be on journalists’ source lists: William Barrick of The Master’s Seminary (historical Adam with “young earth”), C. John Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary (historical Adam with “old earth”), and Denis Lamoureux of the University of Alberta (evolution with no historical Adam).
Walton’s new book says his “faithful readings of Scripture” may “differ somewhat from some traditional readings.” That’s for sure. The book does embrace a Wheaton-style Adam and Eve as “real people involved in real events in a real past.” But they’re not necessarily “the first human beings, the only human beings, or the universal ancestors of all human beings” in the biological as opposed to the spiritual and moral sense.
His approach follows years of growing evangelical debate over new science, including what Walton calls “compelling” genetic evidence that humanity originated in “a pool of common ancestors” rather than one couple. For much more on that, click here.
Genesis chapter 2 is usually seen as an expansion of the human origins depicted in day 6 of Genesis chapter 1. But Walton now considers Genesis 2 a “sequel,” so that the humans in Genesis 1 “may not be Adam and Eve, or at least not only Adam and Eve” and that “there may be other people (in the ‘image of God’)” alongside Adam and Eve and their direct descendants.
Many evangelicals believe in “de novo” creation, a quick and complete formation of all species including homo sapiens, rejecting evolutionary development from common ancestors. Walton asserts that the Bible “does not necessarily make a de novo claim for human origins.” His proposed scenario could include “some theory of evolution” as compatible with the Bible, he says, but not necessarily the thinking of Darwin disciples “as it exists today.”
And so forth. A more comprehensive news article could add in the development of Catholic teaching on human origins since a 1950 encyclical by Pope Pius XII declared that the faithful must reject two opinions: “either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.”