That which seems to be of minor importance may, in fact, have significant ramifications—a little leaven leavens the whole lump. If the Bible is taken to be totally without error of any kind, and if inspiration extends beyond the thoughts to the words themselves (verbal inspiration—cf. Matthew 5:18), it is critical that one’s interpretation be consistent with the Bible. There are many who love the Lord Jesus, claim to believe in inerrancy, yet interpret the Bible in a way which cannot be reconciled with some of the most obvious teachings of both the Old and New Testaments.
Adam is a “watershed” topic concerning the biblical teachings of individual human beings, the sinful state of mankind as a whole, the incarnation of Christ, Christ’s death atoning for sin, and even the relative age of the earth (i.e., billions of years vs six-ordinary-day creation about 6,000 years ago). If taken as a literal human being who was given a real wife and fathered real offspring, all of Scripture concerning the areas mentioned above, including the age of the earth, is consistent with the rest of the Bible. On the other hand, if Adam is considered not to be a real person, or if the earth is considered to be millions of years old as evolutionists and progressive creationists claim, contradictions with clear statements of Scripture are impossible to resolve.
While space does not permit examining all of the issues mentioned above, two of the most obvious examples immediately come to mind: the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, and the age of Adam.
Some of the most basic teachings of the Bible depend upon Adam and Eve being a real, literal couple.Some of the most basic teachings of the Bible depend upon Adam and Eve being a real, literal couple who bore real, literal offspring. After all, Genesis 4:2 teaches that Cain and Abel were real children of this first couple. Are we really to believe that Adam and Eve were figurative, yet had real children? In fact, Cain and Abel were so literal that God accused Cain of shedding Abel’s blood (Gen. 4:10). Abel was such a literal person that Jesus refers to him as a martyred prophet (Luke 11:50–51). As far as I am aware, God never had any figurative prophets who were figuratively martyred.
The genealogies take on even more significance when we realize that the biblical doctrines of the incarnation of Christ and His atonement for sin are based on a literal Adam. The genealogies of both Matthew and Luke assume Adam was a literal person, was the first of the human race, and came directly from God, not via any ape-like ancestor. While Matthew’s gospel does not mention Adam specifically, it starts with Abraham, and Luke places Abraham as a direct descendant of Adam. All those individuals were real people, including Jesus.
Are we expected to believe that those literal, flesh and blood people were descendants of a figurative Adam? I respectfully submit that real people cannot be born of a figurative anyone. Adam had to be real or Jesus could not be his human descendant. Adam had to be real or 1 Cor. 15:22 (“in Adam all die”), and 1 Cor. 15:45, contrasting him with Jesus Christ as the “last Adam”, are meaningless. The only way to maintain a consistent Bible is to take Adam as a real person.
Strange as it may sound, there are those who advocate an old earth but claim Adam was a real person. With all due respect, they have climbed into a cage, locked the door, and thrown away the key. Because of the conclusions of many modern scientists, they maintain that each “day” of creation was actually millions or billions of years long. OK, let’s see where that leads us.
The Bible tells us that man (Adam) was created on the sixth day (Gen. 1:26). If the earth is millions of years old, then Adam lived from whatever point on the sixth “day” he was created through the time remaining (thousands of years?) in the sixth day, then lived through all of the millions of years making up the seventh day. Then after the seventh day, the literal 24-hour day “kicked in” and Adam lived for all the years after that.
It might sound plausible until one continues reading and comes across Genesis 5:5 (KJV). God says, “all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.” Either Adam lived 930 years or he did not; either God meant what He said or He did not. Both cannot be true. If someone wants to start counting the years after the seven days of Creation Week were ended, then God still did not mean what He said, because Gen. 5:5 says “all the days Adam lived …” Adam could not have been thousands or millions of years old because God says otherwise.1
A key to godly discernment and understanding of Scripture is that we be sure an interpretation does not conflict with another clear teaching of the Bible. Unless one wishes to claim that the Bible is mistaken, it is impossible to take Adam as figurative. Equally, it is impossible to take Adam as a real person and have an earth millions of years old.