Genesis 2 and the Evolution of Humankind
By Paul Priest | 3 December 2021 |
Nature is God’s creation and it should inform our interpretation of Scripture. Because it is impossible to deny the existence of hominid fossils, they demand to be part of our interpretation of creation. Can we form a model that incorporates both the hominids and Adam? The answer may be in Genesis 2.
Hominid fossils tell a story of a progressive change from knuckle-walking apes to man. Bipedal apes began to appear about 4 million years ago. A bipedal ape named Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis (“southern ape”), lived about 3.2 million years ago. Homo habilis, about 2 million years ago, made tools. (The genus Homo means human-like.) Homo erectus dates to 1.8 million years ago; they made wood tools and lived in camps and caves. Homo Neanderthalis painted, carved and sculpted, cared for their sick and buried their dead.
These fossils show an evolutionary progression from a knuckle-walking ape to upright-walking man to modern Homo sapiens (Rutherford). Anatomically, archaic Homo sapiens goes back to 500,000 years before the present (BP), and anatomically modern Homo sapiens can be traced to about 100,000 BP.
The human genome is 98% identical to the chimpanzee genome, which is evidence that humans and chimpanzees at one time shared a common ancestor. This ancestor was anatomically like knuckle-walking chimps and gorillas today. The human and chimp lineage split from this common ancestor about 5 to 8 million years ago.
Knuckle-walking takes a great deal of energy; measuring the oxygen consumption of chimps on treadmills shows their gait requires four times more energy than humans walking upright for the same distance. Bipedalism was the first of the evolutionary changes leading to Homo sapiens (Jones), and may have evolved to reduce the energy needed to travel long distances while foraging for food.
God made us all
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3 NIV). Taking this text seriously means that God made Australopithecus afarensis, Homo habiles, Homo erectus, Homo Neanderthalus and archaic Homo sapiens.
This sequence of hominid fossils is powerful evidence that God created through evolution.
Furthermore, we carry the evidence of evolution in our genomes. Both Neanderthals and Denisovans mated with Homo sapiens. People of European descent contain 2-3% Neanderthal genes. Melanesians have about 5% Denisovan DNA. That Neanderthals and Denisovans were able to mate with Homo sapiens shows they were closely related.
Two questions arise:
First, how do you explain Adam in the context of these fossils? And second, in the course of evolution, when did Homo sapiens become “in the image of God”?
Most commentators see Genesis 2 as a more detailed account of Genesis 1:27, which speaks to the creation of man in God’s image. The reasoning goes like this: since the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45 refers to Adam as the first man, and man was created on day six, then it must have been Adam (and subsequently Eve) created on day six.
Yet a careful reading of these two stories argues against this interpretation.
Genesis 2 says there were no plants or animals when God created man.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground.
It was only at that point in Genesis 2 that
the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
But in Genesis 1 plants were created on day three and animals were created before man on day six! This makes Genesis 1 and 2 contradictory. They can’t both be true. Consequently, the interpretation that Genesis 2 is an expansion of Genesis 1:27 must be abandoned. Since both stories are part of an inspired Bible, they must be addressing two separate events separated by time. The creation of Genesis 1 ends with a completed global creation. Genesis 2:1 says “the heavens and the earth were completed.” The seventh-day rest of Genesis 2:2-3 also signifies a completed creation (Vine).
The Hebrew word toledot in Genesis 2:4 (translated as “this is the account…”) generally implies the beginning of a new narrative. The use of this phrase in Genesis 2:4 means that what follows came after the creation described in Genesis 1 (Walton). It marks the start of a brand new narrative: a shift from a global creation to a local Garden of Eden.
Jon Paulien in his book The Deep Things of God identifies a pattern in other creation stories recorded in scripture. Each involves a chaotic precondition, water and the Holy Spirit. Paulien identifies the Hebrew word for “wind” with the Holy Spirit (Paulien 33-45).
This pattern is shown in the following table. Although Paulien does not mention the Christian as a new creation, I have added it because it shows the same pattern.
|Creation||Flood||Exodus||Christian, a New Creation|
|Dark, nonfunctional||Nonfunctional||Slavery in Egypt||Slavery to Sin|
|Water covered the earth||Water covered earth||Red Sea||Baptism|
|Spirit moved over the waters||Wind blew over the waters||Wind parted the Red Sea||Holy Spirit|
The Genesis 2 story lacks these elements: it does not begin with chaos, there is no water, and no mention of the Holy Spirit. Based on these criteria, Genesis 2 is not a creation story.
In Genesis 1, man was created in God’s image on the sixth day. It doesn’t make sense that God would create man again in Genesis 2. This leads me to suggest that perhaps the humans created on day six of Genesis 1 were not Adam and Eve. The Genesis 1 hominids were in the image of God in some sense, but they weren’t evolved for the rulership they would eventually be given. God works through the process of time to make them, personally and spiritually, into Adam and Eve, and this happens in Genesis 2.
New Stone Age
So perhaps we can see Genesis 2 as a local event, later than the Genesis 1 creation. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14) place the Genesis 2 story in the Middle East. Genesis 2:5 describes this land as a desert: no shrub or plant existed, because there was no rain. Ussher’s chronology could place this Genesis 2 story at about 6,000 to 10,000 years BP—at about the time of the New Stone Age which is thought to have occurred in that region. Some Bible scholars reject the accuracy of Ussher’s chronology, and suggest a date as early as 20,000 BP.
However, the fossil record indicates that modern Homo sapiens were in that region by 100,000 years ago (Reich), so man was there before the New Stone Age.
The main feature of the New Stone Age was the beginning of agriculture. Genesis 2-4 indicates that Adam cultivated the Garden of Eden (2:15). After his exile he was a farmer. Then the following generations domesticated and raised stock (4:2). They forged tools out of iron and bronze and made musical instruments (4:22). They built settlements or cities (4:17). The Adam and Eve story seems to fit into the New Stone Age period.
Not a man, but humankind
Though Adam can be the name of a person, the word adam is a Hebrew word meaning “human.” The difference is the presence of a definite article. “Hebrew does not use a definite article on personal names,” says Walton. When the definite article is present, adam is generic: it refers to humans as a group—a species. According to Walton, adam in Genesis 2:7 is generic because it has the definite article. It refers to humankind as a species, a population, not to an individual named Adam. Consequently, what is said about Adam tells about humankind in general.
Yet the Genesis 2 story also reads as if Adam is a person even though it retains the definite article. Walton explains that the writers of Genesis made Adam a personification of humankind. He is in this sense an archetype, the embodiment of humankind. As an archetype everything true of Adam would in some sense describe humankind.
- We give things an identity by naming them, such as we do newborns or even pets.
- “Made of dust” implies our mortality (Ecclesiastes 3:19).
- “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” describes God’s intention for the unity of man and wife in marriage.
- The loss of the clothes of light when Adam sinned represents the loss of countenance, and the guilt we experience as the result of sin.
- The fig leaves sewn to cover their nakedness are the excuses we make to cover our sins.
- The talking snake represents our thought patterns that lead us into sin (James. 1:14,15).
- That Adam sinned means that we have all sinned like Adam (Romans 5:12).
All these stories of Adam and Eve represent humankind, and therefore they also describe us.
The elevation of adam
All humans have the same genes, the same anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. We can interbreed. This homogeneity means that we all share a common ancestor. I would suggest that this common ancestor, however, is not a person but a population which originated with the creation of man, as referenced in Genesis 1:27.
The adam story in Genesis 2 is not a creation story. It doesn’t make sense that God would create humans twice. Creation was completed in Genesis 1. The sabbath establishes that. But in spite of being created in the image of God in Genesis 1, humankind wasn’t ready to become Adam until much later. In Genesis 2 adam becomes Adam, the head of humanity, elevated from preexisting Homo sapiens.
This doesn’t mean that Adam and Eve are mere fictions. Adam is used without the definite article in the genealogical section of Genesis 5:3-5, 1 Chronicles and Luke; these genealogies, and Paul’s references to Adam, show that though Genesis 2 uses them as archetypes of humanity, Scripture also regards Adam and Eve as historical individuals. Something—we only know what we read in Genesis 2—happened that changed everything for humankind.
When did the Hominid fossils become “in the image of God”? A common view of the Divine Image is consciousness, the ability to speak, grasp abstract concepts, and exercise creativity. These faculties differentiate humankind from animals and are necessary for us to function as stewards of creation, as God says in Genesis 1:26:
Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over [nature].
What of the spiritual component? When Paul draws parallels between Adam and Christ, is he reminding us that just as Jesus Christ was the express image of God and was in constant communication with God, so Adam before he sinned was cultivating the garden and communicating with God? Archaic Homo sapiens, modern Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Homo erectus were hunter-gatherers. Did humankind take on God’s image when they stopped being hunter-gatherers and began to cultivate the land around the time of the New Stone age? Is this when Adam became the head of humanity?
Not enough information exists to draw a conclusion. John Stott asserts that “These fossils say our bodies are related to primates. Yet our spiritual natures indicate we are related to God.” Perhaps this is what Paul means when he writes,
The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:46).
- Jones, Martin. Unlocking The Past. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001.
- Kirkpatrick, Douglas J. and Futuyma, Mark. Evolution, Fourth Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 2017.
- Lieberman, Daniel E. The Story of the Human Body. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.
- Paulien, Jon. The Deep Things of God. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2004.
- Prothero, Donald R. When Humans Nearly Vanished. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2018.
- Reich, David. Who We Are and How We Got Here. New York: Pantheon Books, 2018.
- Rutherford, Adam. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. New York: The experiment, LLC, 2016.
- Stott, John. Romans. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
- Walton, John H. The Lost World of Adam and Eve. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015.
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Paul Priest earned an Ed.D. from Loma Linda University with emphasis in science education. He taught for 22 years in Adventist academies, and 22 years in public school. He lives in southern California.