For some time now, there has been extensive debate in the church on how to understand the early chapters of Genesis. The focus has normally been on the length of the days in chapter one. Is it describing six, literal days? Or is the author just using a “literary framework”? Or is each day an age, or epoch of time?
In the midst of these debates, there lies a more core, and foundational issue, namely whether Adam was a real historical individual, created directly by God, from which all human beings descend. Aside from the length of days, this is the issue on which much theological truth depends.
Without a real, historical Adam, Paul’s discussion about imputed sin in Romans 5 loses its force. If all humanity did not descend from Adam, then there are questions about whether Adam’s guilt and corruption really extended to all people.
One of the best treatments of this issue that I have seen in recent years is the recent lecture given by Dr. Richard Belcher at RTS Charlotte’s convocation: “The Historical Adam: Why it Really Matters.”
He provides an interesting overview of the various challenges to the historical Adam, the varied solutions that people have tried to provide, and a defense of the historical Christian position that in Gen 2:7 Adam was created directly by God from the dust of the earth, and did not infuse a soul into a pre-existing hominid or ape.
Dr. Belcher says:
If all human beings are not descended from Adam, there is no hope of salvation for them. Christ does not and cannot redeem what he has not assumed. What he has assumed is the human nature of those who bear the image of Adam by natural descent. If there is no redemptive history that is credible, then redemptive history is lost in any meaningful sense. Thus the historicity of Adam has implications for the gospel.
I would add one additional argument to Dr. Belcher’s exegesis of Gen 2:7 (which he no doubt would have covered if he had more time). The text tells us that when God created Adam from the dust and breathed life into him, that Adam became a nephesh chaya, a “living being.” This phrase is also used elsewhere in Genesis 1 to describe other living creatures, like animals.
But, if Adam only became a nephesh chaya after God formed him from the dust, then this rules out the possibility that God simply infused a soul into a hominid or ape. For if God had done so, then Adam would have already been a nephesh chaya prior to God’s activity. Put differently, Gen 2:7 makes it clear that God directly created Adam from non-living material.
If you want to listen to Dr. Belcher’s lecture, see here: [download]