4 Views on Historical Adam – Views 2 and 3 (Walton, Collins)

We are continuing in our set of reviews of the book Four Views on the Historical Adam (Zondervan, 2013). Last time we reflected on the first view (no historical Adam), by Denis Lamoureux.

Now, we move on to views #2 and #3 by John Walton and C. John Collins. I am grouping them together here because, in the end, their positions on Adam is quite similar, though they disagree on some key issues regarding how to interpret Genesis, understand the origins of sin, and integrate scientific study.

Let’s start with John Walton. His view is labelled “Archetypal Creation View.” The title is a bit idiosyncratic and only makes sense after you read his essay. Here is Walton’s introductory statement:

In my view, Adam and Eve are historical figures –real people in a real past. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that the biblical text is more interested in them as archetypal figures who represent all of humanity. This is particularly true in the account in Genesis 2 about their formation. I contend that the formation accounts are not addressing their material formation as biological specimens, but are addressing the forming of all of humanity: we are all formed from dust, and we are all gendered halves. If this is true, Genesis 2 is not making claims about biological origins of humanity, and therefore the Bible should not be viewed as offering competing claims against science about human origins. If this is true, 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.

There are four aspects of Walton’s approach (fleshed out [pun intended!] in the rest of the essay) that I want to flag up. First is that he does not see, in Genesis 1-2 itself, a necessity to take language about the creation of Adam and Eve literally (i.e., scientifically or historically in a strict way). Secondly, though, he does think that the Bible itself points to a real Adam and Eve. Importantly, this is because of Walton’s reading of all of Scripture, not just Genesis 1-2. Thirdly, he wants to underscore that, despite the fact he believes the Bible points to a real Adam/Eve, the focus in Genesis is on this pair as “archetypal” figures – representative of all of humanity.

Lastly, Walton tries to theorize how one might reconcile a “real Adam” with scientific notions of human origins. He presents this hypothetical scenario, though he is not personally committed to it. What if humans were a part of the evolutionary process, and then God “undertook a special act of creation” to give humanity the image of God? After some time, we find “Adam and Eve” (among many other humans) who become representatives of humanity. When they disobeyed God, disorder resulted and there was a serious rupture in the divine-human relation: “They and all humanity with them are now in sin and subject to death because, having lost access to the antidote, they are doomed to their inherent mortality. Accountability and disorder become the lot of humanity.” (115).

Responses: I found Collins’ response most informative among the respondents – he especially is concerned with Walton’s approach to sin – where did it come from? Does Walton’s approach make clear “the foreignness of sin in God’s plan” (p. 131)?

Now on to C. John Collins’ chapter, “Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View.” 

Much like Walton, Collins takes much scientific evidence and theories seriously (hence “old earth”), but believes the Bible points to a real historical Adam. Here is Collins’ opening statement.

In this chapter I argue that the best way to account for the biblical presentation of human life is to understand that Adam and Eve were both real persons at the headwaters of humankind. By “biblical presentation,” I refer not only to the story in Genesis and the biblical passages that refer to it, but also to the larger biblical story line, which deals with God’s good creation invaded by sin, for which God has a redemptive plan; of Israel’s calling to be a light to the nations; and of the church’s prospect of successfully bringing God’s light to the whole world. That concerns the unique role and dignity of the human race, which is a matter of daily experience for everyone: All people yearn for God and need him, must depend on him to deal with their sinfulness, and crave a wholesome community for their lives to flourish.

I argue that the nature of the biblical material should keep us from being too literalistic in our reading of Adam and Eve, leaving room for an Earth that is not young, but that the biblical material along with good critical thinking provides certain freedoms and limitations for connecting the Bible’s creation account to a scientific and historical account of human origins. (p. 143).

Notice the language of “headwaters”- this is a major difference between Collins and Walton. Collins is quite insistent that there be a “humankind of actually one family, with one set of ancestors for us all..[and] God acted specially to form our first parents…at the headwaters of the human race;” (164) and they “brought sin and dysfunction into the world of human life” (164).

Responses: Lamoureux and Walton both make the point that, even if Collins’ approach (Adam/Eve as headwaters, first parents solely) seems theologically satisfying, Collins does not (in this book) reconcile that with scientific concerns about how humans originated and in what numbers (surely not beginning with 2 mature, rational humans, many scientists would say).


Walton and Collins are both working at an important level – looking closely at (a) how the Bible works historically (its historical claims), (b) how the worldview of Scripture is constructed over and against other worldviews (and particularly what the worldview-story non-negotiables are), and (c) how compelling scientific facts and theories cause us to think and re-think the testimony of Scripture.

Frankly, I am leaning towards “yes” to a historical Adam (as with Walton, Collins), but not sure how I would conceive of the question of “first two people or not.” At the moment, especially hearing from Lamoureux and Walton, it’s hard to imagine Adam and Eve scientifically as the first parents, the “headwaters” as Collins calls it. I like Walton’s overall approach, though I don’t find his hypothetical scenario compelling.

What is needed (for me) is more study. Always more study.

I had originally not intended to review Barrick’s position (as the traditional viewpoint), but I think now I will say something brief in another post.

10 thoughts on “4 Views on Historical Adam – Views 2 and 3 (Walton, Collins)

    1. Hi Jack – thanks for the note. I may change my mind on this, but Barrick’s is the “traditional” position (young earth, historical Adam), so there is not much new stuff there. Did you find it a disappointment because it seems imbalanced, because I think it would come across as more negative if I did review his essay. BTW – I tried to email you more information, so be checking the address you gave me. Thanks.

  1. “First is that [Walton] does not see, in Genesis 1-2 itself, a necessity to take language about the creation of Adam and Eve literally (i.e., scientifically or historically in a strict way).”

    I must admit that I have not read any of “Four Views on the Historical Adam,” and I suppose it’s possible that Walton doesn’t explain his hermeneutical process, although I would find that very surprising (and indeed disconcerting). Having read some of Walton’s work (particulary “The Lost World of Genesis One” and “Ancient and Near Eastern Thought in the Old Testament”) I find it flabbergasting that someone could make a comment that Walton doesn’t see the need to take the Bible literally. What Walton actually does is go to great lengths to understand how the Bible was meant to be understood in its original context. This is the essence of reading literally. The point that he makes repeatedly is that if we are to understand the Bible rightly then we must learn to read the science and history (and culture and theology and whatever else is there) in strict accordance with the intentions of its original authors, not according to our (post)modern concepts. This *is* the literal reading of the text.

    1. Sorry to upset you to the level of flabbergasting! I was merely using the word “literally” in the way the contributors tend to use the word (also “literal”) in the book (more than 20 times from my count). I know there is debate about how this word should be used, but that is why I tried to clarify with my parenthetical statement. Walton definitely does not take the language of Gen 1-2 as teaching on material origins, which is what I was intending to mean by “literal.” I am not sure Walton in particular uses the word “literal” in this way, but with my clarification in the post I hoped readers would catch what I am saying (alongside the lengthy summary of Walton I quoted).

      I do think you are right that Walton has a good discussion of this language in his work at large. In the 4 views book, Collins tries to make a similar semantic clarification about the word “history.”

  2. Thanks for your response. I don’t think I was upset, just surprised 🙂 It’s unfortunate that some very unhappy theological conflicts owe their beginnings to a misunderstanding of the language that we use with one another often expecting that the other of course knows exactly what we mean!

  3. i find that if some of the ‘biblical text’ proves to be viable; substantiated & this with regards to science & past – present event,s then perhaps a re-look at the ‘controversial areas’ is warranted.

    i find that romans 1: 18-21 is a ‘clue’ to how we might approach the investigation of the reliability of the ‘biblical text’.

    i think approaching the biblical text from the viewpoint of the human authors is a type of ‘stumbling block’. as well, if we consider that every physical phenomenon is a ‘metaphor’ for a spiritual concept perhaps the biblical text, science & documentation of past & present events would be much more congruent.

    perhaps if we considered (presume) that God is omnipotent, omniscient & omnipresent & truly did author the nfo of the biblical txt, perhaps this perspective might explain the ‘3 layered earth’, the ‘ immovable earth’, & ‘rising sun’ as well as the seemingly contentious creation accounts? if we presume that God the Creator did author the nfo written down by human beings; & this using allegorical & metaphorical language then perhaps we could see things differently; from the perspective of an infinite being.

    micro & macro infinity are just some of God’s attributes. what would a physical reality or how might a finite physical reality be described by an micro & macro infinite Being?

    suppose that from God’s perspective God ‘set’ fixed everything; meaning ‘set in motion’, the ‘laws of physics’ & the time; light years & solar-earth years, for their existence? the universe without argument runs according to’ set’ patterns, forces; thus allows for a degree of predictability.

    that is, there is a ‘set dynamics’ to inter-dependency that strives towards a certain range of universal (ecological) homeostasis to maintain sustainability. when the set inter-dependency is substantially disrupted; that certain range of universal homeostasis is adversely affected. is this not true?

    the concept of above, middle & below are relative concepts to help us understand the spiritual order of things. God is above, then there is human kind, then there is death, hades, hell, destruction, below etc.

    the spiritual concept of everlasting, eternity is substantiated about the mathematical reality of infinity…just add one more…or cut in half again.

    the spiritual concept of God existence; no beginning or end is substantiated by the circle.

    the spiritual concept of God’s spiritual reality/physically invisible is substantiated by air; expansion aspect of gases without taste, color; any visible physical attributes; & are only known by their effects.

    the spiritual concept of God being the supreme intellect is substantiated by the fact we consider ourselves as ‘intelligent’.

    all applicable science from my current understanding is based on ’caused & effect’ which we derived, predictability.

    as basic algebra substantiates, the whole set contains all attributes & functions of all of its subsets thus God/the cause of all that we think/perceive that we know must contain all such attributes & functionality but relatively speaking, to an infinite degree.

    genesis 1
    i read the creation story & i perceive that the 7 days of light & darkness were not in any way associated with 7 solar-earth days. day is defined by the pervasive light & night by the impending dark. therefore, a day could be an untold length of time…light years. technically then alaska has 1 day equivalent to 6 mos elsewhere.

    7 exchanges/explosions of stellar activity is most viable.

    as to the supposed contending creation stories what does a potter do first?
    a potter has to gather the ingredients for the clay while keeping in mind the forms that shall be made. the ingredients must be conducive to the formation & functionality of the objects to be formed later.

    the order of the ingredients added as the potter considers the objects to be made, does not have to be the same order that the potter actually forms the objects.

    God created the ingredients & the evolution process & allowed that to ‘marinate’ for some untold time. when all was sufficiently evolved that is the combination of darkness & light, exchanges/stellar explosions, water, the expanse/atmosphere, land; the crystallization process & volcanic process, the greater & lesser lights, all were initiated in the order stated in genesis 1 & each allowed to proceed at various rates of evolution until was such an environment/universe that would produced & sustain life.

    genesis 2

    now God is ready to intervene to actually ‘form by hand’ the animals & adam & eve.

    the special intervention of the Creator to hand form the animals & later ‘adam & eve’ is what…: implausible? not if God is omnipotent, omniscient & omnipresent. once that is established & accepted, we need only to look for the logical thread that unifies science, because as such, God is the Creator of the science laws, principles, forces etc., all past & present events, & the biblical text.

    the detail accounts of genealogy begs the question why?
    the reiteration of ‘from one man, every nation of men was formed’ genesis 3:20, 9:19, malachai 2:10, romans 5: 12-19, 1 corinthians 5: 22, 47

    i suggest that perhaps science theories as to the origin, multiplying & spreading of humankind is currently insufficient & inconsistent within itself to rule out a single lineage for all of humankind. & as if to confront our doubts, God ‘destroys’ all but six persons who supposedly repopulates the earth.

    mathematically, how much time would it take for 1 man & 1 woman barring any sexual restrictions, having gestation rates comparable to modern day, with rate of multiple births higher & sexual maturity starting at about 12 or so, to populate the earth with thousands of pple?

    i don’t claim to understand it all….im just asking if such (all the above) is more or less plausible?

    therefore the ‘triangulation’ if u will, of all three; eliminate biases, acknowledge speculation & theoretical limits, & note inconsistencies within each, then tie all 3 together in a logical thread & i believe a more accurate/congruent picture is likely to emerge.
    terri a.

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