Friday, August 1, 2014

Ask Pastor Matt: Were There People Before Adam?

Hey Pastor Matt!

Was there life on earth before Adam? I was recently in a Bible Study and we were discussing early Biblical history. I conjectured that it was possible that there were people here before Adam and Eve who were really horrible and they displeased God so much that He wiped them out. I would like to know if maybe that suggestion was off base. Maybe I could help clear that up with my study group.


Thanks for writing, Keri! I love a good challenge for our occasional "Ask Pastor Matt" feature article on Whitefield's Prayer.

The question of life before Adam and Eve is a provocative one indeed. In fact, the answer that we give regarding the possibility of life before our Ancient Parents is one that could spill into other areas of our theology and worldview.

Of course, the Bible teaches unequivocally that there WAS life before Adam and Eve. Humanity was created on the sixth day, and other creatures, fish and birds and such, were made on days prior (Genesis 1:20-23). There is no controversy there. The problem arises with what we might call humanoid or proto-humanoid creatures (ancient man, cavemen, whatever you want to call them).

So to re-state the question: Is it possible that there were other humans before Adam and Eve? 

There are some (indeed many) who conjecture that there were in fact humanoid predecessors to the Biblical Adam and Eve. Some would say there were thousands and thousands of years of human beings--much like ourselves--who lived prior. Most of these scholars tend to dismiss the first few chapters of Genesis as entirely non-historical. Some would even say there was no such thing as Adam and Eve at all. (Of course, most of those who hold this position take quite liberal views on a lot of other matters as well).

The problem with that, as you will see, is that it raises quite a few difficulties for orthodox, Biblical evangelicals such as us.

The Bible certainly presents the story of God's special creation of Adam and Eve as unique, distinct from the other creatures, and original (compare Genesis 1:26-28 & 2:5-9). There are no hints of even the possibility of other fully developed humans before Adam anywhere in the Biblical text itself.

Those who would hold that there were humans before Adam and Eve typically view the second and third chapters of Genesis as mythological, and therefore non-historical. This is to say that the Fall did not happen literally and historically, but is rather a story the ancients told and passed down to explain the problem of human sin. But if we dismiss the creation account as non-historical/mythological, do we do the same thing with other places that recount God's great power such as the resurrection of Jesus as mythological too?

This raises significant problems for evangelicals who hold to the Bible's infallibility and inerrancy as we do. For one, the creation and fall texts do not really read as myths. For instance, actual places and locations are named (2:12-14); some of which can still be identified today. Further, other places in Scripture (1 Chron 1:1; Hosea 6:7; Luke 3:38; Romans 5:14 & etc.) refer to these events as literally historical, and given that Scripture is the best interpretive grid for Scripture, it would seem that the whole scope of the Bible views these events as literal-historical and not mythological.

Not only that, but if the Adam and Eve stories were mythological, how would we then explain the pervasive power of sin in the lives of every human? How did the human race get so corrupt? If there were humans before Adam and Eve how did they fall into sin? Following that line of logic we might even need many "creations" and many "falls."

We can see why many liberal scholars would WANT the story of the Fall to be mythological, though: It would dull the blade of the Bible's teaching on total depravity (the radical nature of sin)--an age old obsession of liberal scholars to free mankind from his guilt.

So my short answer is, "No," I don't think there were humans before Adam and Eve. I believe (and am convinced that the Bible teaches) that they were unique, hand-made, original creations of God with no direct predecessors.

Suppose, however, that a follow-up question is asked: What do thoughtful Christians do with such things as the fossil record? How do we explain the fact that the earth certainly appears to be very old under scientific examination? Why does it seem that all of the various natural sciences agree that the earth is very, very old? Indeed, billions of years old? 

I would answer that by looking carefully at the first few days of creation. Notice that when God makes anything in the six days of creation, He makes them in a state of full maturity. The trees are bearing fruit (Genesis 1:12). The celestial bodies of stars are shining forth (1:14-19). Fish are swarming and birds are flying (Genesis 1:20-22). Notice that none of these things are in their nascent forms (eggs, seeds etc.) but are created fully mature.

A bird or fish would appear to be months old five seconds after God called them into being. A fully mature tree would be called into existence with years of age in its appearance. If we cut down a tree five minutes after God created the first live oak, its trunk would contain rings that make it look decades old. A star in a far away galaxy would appear to be billions of years old, its light penetrating throughout the universe--and yet it is just seconds old!

So too with Adam. When God created him, Adam was created in a state of maturity. Of full manhood. He was old enough to work (Genesis 2:15), marry, speak, love, and procreate.  He was not created an embryo or a fetus, but rather fully mature.

In my view, the best way to understand the scientific analysis of the earth's apparently-very-old-age is to acknowledge that God created the world in a state of complete maturity (appearing billions of years old) while yet holding to the literal six day creation reading of Genesis 1-3.

Pastor Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

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