A is for Adam and Eve

Big fat caveat up front; I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s faith, I’m just trying to understand.

Someone I know only online, who I suspect wouldn’t consider herself a particularly religious person, decided to read the Bible. She stopped after Genesis 2. She complained that there were two seemingly contradictory Creation stories. In Genesis 1, the creatures came, then the man and the woman. But in Genesis 2, you get the Adam’s rib version, where the man is seemingly created before the creatures, but definitely before the woman. I say “seemingly”, because the NIV version reads at v. 19 “Now the LORD God HAD formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man…”; the “had” suggests the possibility that the animal had already existed and that the man, hanging out in the garden, simply hadn’t seen them.

The problem, I contended, is that the person was reading the stories as history, as science, not allegory. If you read it as history, and Adam and Eve were in fact the first people, what does it mean in terms of their descendants? Who was Cain’s wife, and who were the people he feared might kill him in Genesis 4? That specific issue confounded me when I was a teenager, and was one of the items that indeed shook my faith at the time.

Once I realized it was not a literal history, it became much easier to understand.


This is why I’m quite puzzled by those who have decided to take Genesis 1 verbatim. The earth and all its creatures, including humans, were formed in six days – possible? Sure, in a “God can do anything” way, but not at all likely. And the order of the creation seems to mesh pretty well with the evolutionary cycle we’ve come to understand, albeit considerably longer. The word “day” may not have meant 24 hours; remember, no one wrote this down at the time, but rather learned it from the oral tradition, transcribing it relatively quite recently, in the last millennium Before the Christian Era. This philosophy, I’ve learned, is called progressive creationism.

What bothers me about the literal Creationists is not that they believe what they believe. It’s that a whole pseudoscience that was created around it, of people walking the earth with the dinosaurs only 4000 years ago, and the planet only 10,000, rather than humans being around for 50,000 to 200,000 years, the dinosaurs having been extinct for 65 million years, and the Earth itself being about 4.6 billion years old. How does this narrative conflict with “some vast eternal plan”, quoting Fiddler on the Roof?

I guess I’m saying that I don’t think science and creation are that much at odds. The shoehorning of a literal six-day earth making – that seems to be a lot more work.

Can someone please explain this to me? Oh, and check out this recent Doonesbury strip, which addresses the issue.

ABC Wednesday team – Round 9

Citation to top piece of artwork.

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49 thoughts on “A is for Adam and Eve

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head in saying that Genesis was an allegory to explain (long ago) those most basic human questions: Who am I? How did I get here? And what is the point?

    Also bear in mind that the Bible was written by many hands, some based on personal experience, then translated into various languages over a long period of time. Imagine how this post would read if it was run through Google Translate even a few times.

    Faith is certainly important as a basis for moral and ethical behaviour, but as you’ve shown, the Bible can get extremely confusing if taken literally!

  2. I suspect that back in ancient times all but the most learned took these stories literally. Perhaps because the stories were written as if they were literal is why today so many people see this stuff as literal. And let’s not forget that until Science came along there were no other alternate creation stories among the Sky God worshippers.

    In Genesis I’ve always been puzzled by the stuff about “household gods” and why the local rulers wanted to take Abraham’s wife to bed and possibly harm or kill him to get possession of her. What was that all about? Especially since if one reads a little further in the Bible anyone who disses the Big Sky God gets rained on with fire, or worse.

    For understanding the first book of the Bible, I highly recommend Robert Crumb’s magnificent illustrated Genesis. Crumb takes each line of Genesis and illustrates it exactly as it is written. (Which is why he has been accused of creating pornography out of Genesis!) This book forces one to consider the strange parts of Genesis, the things we quickly forget about because they make no sense. And Crumb is a great artist, no doubt about that.

  3. Actually, I’ve considered the Bible less allegory than oral history transmitted by a multi-millenial game of “telephone.” If you follow all the “begats” and “gave birth to”s it would appear that Adam and Eve are not the founders of the entire human race, but the ancestors of the House of David, i.e. Israel. In this perspective, where did Cain take a wife from? From some OTHER TRIBE which undoubtedly had their own Creation-mythology.

  4. The bible is such a mixture of literal, poetry, allegory and metaphor that sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell what you’re reading. I have come to think of the first part of Genesis as more allegory that strict historical recording. That said, it doesn’t diminish the meaning or beauty of its message.

  5. Likewise Noah : there is geological evidence of catastophic floods in paleolithic times, likely when ice dams left from Ice Age glaciers broke. It would not be surprising if someone either had the town’s biggest boat, or lashed a few boats together, and filled it with breeding pairs of DOMESTIC livestock : cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, cows – NOT tens of thousands of species! – and rode out the flood waters with them. As for the “whole earth” being flooded, well, a couple of hundred miles constituted primitive man’s world. So, by the process of “fish tale” exxageration we wind up with an arc of so many cubits and every animal on the earth.

    But there are a LOT of people who take these tales literally, and frankly, they’re dangerous people.

  6. I guess I’m one of the dangerous people, I don’t believe the earth and everything was created in six 24 hour days. However, I do believe in the creation account as set out in the Bible. As you read the creation account, everything was done in an orderly fashion, preparing the earth for humankind. And believe me, God is a God of order, not disorder.

    Where did Cain get his wife? Cain probably married one of his sisters. Remember Adam and Eve were created with perfect bodies and health, it wasn’t until Moses received ‘The Laws’ which included the ten commandants that man was told not to marry close relatives. Man was no longer in that perfect state, since all they inherited from Adam was sin and imperfection. I could go on and on, but enough already…

  7. I think you’ve opened a whole can of worms here, Roger, and I think I’m going to come back later to take a look at more comments, but strictly as an observer. (Incidentally, I am currently plowing my way through “The Voyage of the Beagle” because I read the last half first, then had to start at the beginning.)

    —Kay, Alberta, Canada

  8. Terrific, thought provoking post, Roger, as always. I guess I’m one of the dangerous people, too, as I don’t believe the earth and everything was created in six, 24 hour days. But what does it all mean in the end???? Who knows, but in the meantime, we could all practice kindness, generosity and love — then all of our worlds are made more beautiful. Have a wonderful week!

    Sylvia

  9. Love the way you can rattle our cages Roger.
    I guess I am dangerous too, but in the long run I believe God did create everything and is a God of order and not confusion.
    That’s about as far as I will dive in to this discussion.
    Good stuff!!

  10. Great post Roger. My Dad was an Episcopalian minister and I remember him telling a story about when he was at Virginia Theological Seminary the issues of science and creationism came up in a class. The Professor said, wasn’t that clever of God to use science (clearly on the side of not taking the Bible literally). On another topic, in a way, I personally don’t see why any one faith should have to be taken as paramount over others when so many of the holy books from different faiths have similar stories. For a long time I’ve thought that I’m a cultural Christian because the Church of my youth is the one whose music and symbols speak to something inside me, probably due to my upbringing, but that at their best all religions have good things to draw from and at their worse all religions have been used to justify horrific wars.

  11. Amen to Sylvia. Roger, you sneaky fellow… that Doonesbury had me ROTFL! I’m just not going to take the bait. But you’re brave for trying. 😀

  12. Call me dangerous but don’t call me irresponsible, we all need to be firm in our own convictions, even if others don’t agree. …but love to read your great and interesting narrative and appreciate that you do rattle cages and make people think about what they do believe and why! A really great set of comments so far…. will be back later to read more.

  13. Ooh, I loved this post. I think that the Bible is totally open to interpretation, and that it means different things to us at different stages on our faith journey.
    Good one!
    Jane x

  14. I completely agree with you, Roger: Even as a child, I never understood why some people took “day” to mean a literal 24 hours period and not millions or billions of years. As an adult, I’ve never understood the point of Creationism: It doesn’t fool anyone, even Creationists, to try and paste a veneer of faux science on top of their religious beliefs. I always thought they should just embrace their religious beliefs proudly.

    One question, though: You wrote: “…in the last millennium Before the Christian Era.” Were you referring to something other than BCE, the abbreviation for “Before Common Era”? The whole point of BCE (and its complement, CE for “Common Era”, sometimes “Current Era”) is to get away from the Christian-centric “BC” and “AD”. So I was wondering if there was a particular point you were making that was lost on me, or if maybe that was a particular phrase used among Christians when talking about the development of their faith.

  15. Neat post. You bring up good questions and one not mentioned but I think related is WHO wrote the bible? Who initially recounts these stories? Also, one of the things I love about the Bible is the possibility of interpretation.

  16. I think I consider myself to be a “progressive Christian” or something like that. I think I’m also considered to be a “pluralist” in that I will not shove my own “religion” down someone’s else’s throat telling them they’ll go to Hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their Saviour. The Bible has great stories that show us that we actually never learn! Wars and all sorts of evil done by man and we’re still at it. I hardly ever go to church anymore but I still have a strong faith in God (as I see him/it) from a Christian perspective. But after working in a church office for 3 years, I learned it’s all just big business and those who are leaders do not always practise what they preach. LOVE the Doonesbury cartoon, by the way.

    Merle brings up a good point about interpretation. From my understanding, things have been lost in translation over the years and because of that, nowadays some Christians believe the Bible as it now reads. I think everyone has the right to interpret as they see fit in their own lives, allowing for right and wrong, of course.

    This could be a year-long discourse amongst bloggers! lol And I’d sign up for the course myself. 😀

  17. Such a beautiful post to start Round 9 of ABC Roger. You never failed to fascinate me with your entries. My kids has so many questions when we read the Bible once in a while.

  18. I’ve wondered at how the literal creationists can reconcile the discovery of dinosaur bones so long ago with creation. Great food for thought Roger.

  19. Unquestioning Literalists – fundamentalists – of every religion seem to think that they have been authorized to be their deity’s Enforcers toward Other Believers. Belief is about an EMOTIONAL state, not rationalism. This is what makes them dangerous.

  20. I do agree with you, Roger, that science and religion are really not so much at odds, and I think the fundamentalist acceptance of the Bible as literal truth is rather naive, but I’m not sure that people who believe this was are ‘dangerous’ per se.

  21. Allegory and parables. Yep. the teaching tools of the Bible. I agree with you and find that I cannot answer your questions (or, were they merely rhetorical?).
    You’ve brought up fabulous points as you always do and always though provoking. You would make a great leader. If you’re not already.

  22. A really interesting take – I have been trying to work through some of the Bible, due to discussions with Christian friends, and still have a lot of questions.

  23. I was raised with a Bible in my crib, sent to schools with the Bible as the center of teaching. I still don’t understand the book. But the stories fascinate me and that’s where I get some enjoyment at least.

  24. I am one of those evangelical, Christian fundamentalists, (depending on what you mean by ‘fundamentalist’) so I guess that makes me dangerous — or perhaps my beliefs are dangerous. But I wish you knew me. I think if we weren’t talking ‘religion’ you’d actually like me. You might even be surprised to find that I am well educated and ready to hear the other side. But I have some convictions that I have come to through a lot of study and world experience. There is no simple one line answer to all the legitimate questions you raise. We’d have to have a good few lengthy discussions to even begin to answer them, and then we’d find that there are no simple answers to some of them. After all if there really is a God, how could we comprehend Him unless we were also God?
    I sympathize with you about some of the closed minded, brash Christians who seek to ram their beliefs down someone else’s throat. Sometimes I cringe when I meet them. But don’t judge us all by them — or by tele-evangelists!
    The bottom line for me is that I believe the Apostles’ Creed fully and completely and phrase by phrase — not because I’ve been brought up to, (I wasn’t) nor because I’ve been brainwashed. There have been many steps I have taken and questions I have asked along the way, books I have read and other points of view that I have listened to before coming to hold these convictions as I do today. The Apostles’ Creed is based on the Bible so obviously I believe the Bible. To tell you why is far more than I could tell you in a blog comment or a blog or perhaps even a book. But I do believe that if someone genuinely, with an open heart and mind wants to know God, he can find Him in the Bible — or God will find him.
    As someone else has commented, this really is a can of worms –and I don’t want to ‘rise to the bait’ either. I haven’t even touched on the subject of creation yet, so I’d better quit now. But before any of your readers judge evangelicals as dangerous or ignorant (‘though there are some who are both, as in any religion) please look into what we mainstream evangelicals and even fundamentalists, really believe.
    Sorry, I didn’t mean to preach, but you did ask! :}:} :}

    • Chris – note that I never said the thought process was dangerous, only that a literal translation of Genesis 1 – 144 hours of Creation – limits God.

  25. I read the old testament as a book, the one which is very shocking considering fathers sleeping with daughters etc. I think Adam was first created as a draft to make sure that the masterpiece Eve will be perfect !

  26. Phew Roger – a thought provoking post to say the least! My feeling is – it doesn’t matter how the world was created or how long it took – Man was put in charge and that’s where it all went wrong.

    Denise
    ABC Team

  27. Well, I’m with you on this one, Roger. I believe that very little of the Bible is meant to be taken literally, word for word, particularly the Old Testament. Seems to me it was written in the tradition of the people of the day, when history was wrapped in allegory and storytelling, and it was written over a long period of time, during which those traditions perhaps evolved, too.

    I don’t have any problem with science and the Biblical view of the creation co-existing quite nicely, for exactly the reasons you state. 🙂

  28. I know you didn’t Roger and I apologize for getting off your topic and moving into what some of the comments say. It’s a bit of a sore spot with me because those who are true Humanists (yes, with a capital) do say just that. I have also had the unsettling experience of visiting some just ordinary blogs — that is, neither political nor religious — that outright say “I hate evangelicals”. But I don’t hate them so I wonder why! I have a strong interest in apologetics so I guess I did rise to the bait. Truly sorry. Still friends. Chris

  29. This is an interesting topic 🙂 I find the Bible interesting but I am not religious. I hate how the church and fanatic religious people have turned it all upside down!
    I look upon this as culture and man made stories.

  30. Nothing wrong with an occasional can of worms being opened. Can lead to interesting dialogues. I’ll opt to stay out of the fray except to say I’m impressed with the level of civility that has occurred here despite strong opposing positions. Good on you all.

  31. My current pastor is probably a “mainstream evangelical”, and to judge by what some of the students had to say during their faith testimonies this year as part of the confirmation requirements, he believes — and teaches — that evolution is a crock of shit and that the Bible has the story right. This poses a problem for me, because I do NOT want my daughter taught that. I have too much respect for science to endorse the teaching of a pleasant creation story that has zero evidence backing it.

    I suspect that quite a bit of the Bible actually IS meant to be taken literally, at least by the authors of the books. That doesn’t meant that we SHOULD take it literally. I’m sure that the Mayans believe their creation myths should be taken literally, too. So what?

  32. I noted with pleasure the number of reasonable comments on your post. That doesn’t always happen with theology discussions. A hopeful sign…

  33. Thanks for stopping by, Rog!
    What have I not posted since April?
    Please come back and visit again. I am going to explain in upcoming posts. My real cat-mother Cajsa gave birth to kittens, my half-siblings. I got depressed because my Mummy/Mommie spent so much time with them and not with me. But she has tried to make up for it. She sent her kits and Cajsa and her kits away to the farm. So since about a week or so ago she has been spending quality-time with ME and only Me!
    Purrs,
    Sara Cat

  34. I believe in the creation; in the Bible as a whole. I believe that God created Adam from the dust and breathe into him and he became a living soul. And yes, I believe that in order to populate the earth, the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve mated. Further down in that line was Noah, then Abraham, then King David, then came JESUS! I believe what the Bible says that JESUS is GOD come in the flesh to save mankind form their sins. Belief in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and repentance of sins brings salvation to the soul. I believe it all. Hey! read the Bible again; as you read, ask God the Creator to show you its truths. I believe that one day God will restored again his creation to him in perfect fellowship. If all I believe is true and real, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Are you willing to spend an eternity separated from the one that created you to have fellowship with him?

    Would you be willing to accept the alternative?

    Continue the conversation, have your questions, I also believe if you seek the truth with all your heart you will find it! We are not the Creator, only his creation, there are many things we may not understand, but that does not make it NOT true.

  35. The various collections known as the Bible and other names has spawned these religions in pretty much this order Jewish begat Coptic, begat Roman Catholic begat Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. Muslim was spawned as a combo of Coptic-Jewish-Christian without the Jesus-Mary thing, Protestant begat Seventh Adventist and Morman. With the exception of the Coptics, Morman and Seven Days, all of these religions have a history of killing those who did not accept and practice religion as prescribed. The Sevendays and Mormans will alternatly shun and nag until you join or rejoin. They have one thing in common. They all the right and righteous and every body else is wrong. Not all Bibles are the same and are not acceptable in all places and times;.

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