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Four Views on the Historical Adam: John Walton Says "A Historical Adam, Archetypal Creation"

Categories Theology

9780310499275This week we are engaging what Richard Ostling calls "a groundbreaking science-and-Scripture dispute." This so-called dispute is over the historical Adam. And a new resource hopes to shepherd this important discussion by offering four leading evangelical scholars as advocates for the dominate positions.

The resource is Four Views on the Historical Adam, featuring key contributors who present their positions, respond to each other’s arguments, and seek to clearly delineate the central biblical and theological issues at stake. This morning we heard from Denis Lamoureux, who argued for no historical Adam and evolutionary creation. This afternoon we want to hear from John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.

Walton believes Adam and Eve were historical people, yet he is persuaded the Bible is more interested in them as archetypal figures who represent all humanity. He argues that Genesis 2, the account of humanity's formation, isn't "addressing their material formation as biological specimens, but [is] addressing the forming of all humanity: we are all formed from dust and we are all gendered halves." (89)

If this is true, Walton goes on to say, "Adam and Eve also may or may not be the first humans or the parents of the entire human race. Such an archetypal focus is theologically viable and is well-represented in the ancient Near East." (89)

Walton distinguishes between prototype and archetype. As a prototype Adam would be considered the "Primeval Man," because he would have been merely a pattern for and the first in a series of humans. But as an archetype Adam serves as the "Everyman," representing all people.

One of the more intriguing elements in Walton's argument is the assertion that Adam and Eve were selected from among those living at the time to serve in this "Everyperson" function. He believes "one of the key questions is whether or not Adam and Eve are presented in the text as the only humans on earth." (108)

Walton draws our attention to the toledoth transition between Gen 1:1–2:3 and 2:4–3:24 to highlight his question. While critical scholarship has treated the accounts as two competing traditions that appeared alongside each other through redaction, and tradition treats them as synoptic, Walton proposes a third option.

Instead of a late redactional addition or synoptic expansion of detail, Walton proposes the second account is sequential to the first. "If this is so, the second account is not detailing the sixth day, but identifying a sequel scenario, that is, recounting events that potentially and arguably could have occurred long after the first account." (109)

Accordingly, such a scenario would serve to tell the story not of the first human parents but the first elected humans, "drawn out of the human population and given a particular representative role in sacred space." (109)

Internally, other Genesis toledoth formulas support such a sequential view. Walton lists ten "This is the account of..." ('elleh toledoth) statements in support: Gen 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, and 37:2. While five of these statements are synoptic, Walton notes they occur when brothers are linked as subjects. The other five statements are sequential, lending credence to his observation that the Adam and Eve of the second account should not be identified as the people in the first account. (110)

In the end, Walton gives us a picture of Adam and Eve as historical people chosen as representatives for humanity, and whose fruit-eating choice "brought disorder into the world, gained accountability for themselves and all humans through them, and lost the hope of life for themselves and all humanity." (115). For him their historicity is important for the theological points concerning sin and death. However, those theological points don't require our first parents to be so materially, only archetypally. (116)


This vigorous, polyvocal discussion is well-treated in the full book, which I would encourage you to order to help you navigate this important discussion that I know your people themselves are having. Tomorrow we pick up the conversation with two more voices: C. John Collins and William Barrick.


Jb_headshotJeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at

Four Views of the Historical Adam: Denis Lamoureux Says "No Historical Adam, Evolutionary Creation"
Four Views of the Historical Adam: Denis Lamoureux Says "No Historical Adam, Evolutionary Creation" For the better part of a decade I have noticed a shift within evangelical origins conversations from merely the temporal...
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