The Generations of Heaven and Earth: Adam, the Ancient World, and Biblical Theology, Jon Garvey. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2020.
Summary: This book presents Jon Garvey’s views of the positive theological implications of a scientifically credible historical Adam and Eve who could have lived in the Ancient Near East around 6,000 years ago and been the genealogical ancestors of everyone living since the time of Christ.
Jon Garvey’s book is a companion volume to S. Joshua Swamidass’s book, “The Genealogical Adam & Eve” (GAE). It is not necessary to have read GAE first, because Garvey includes a summary of the scientific side while presenting the theological implications of an historical Adam who lived around 6,000 years ago.
GAE’s claim is that it is scientifically plausible that a historical couple living in the Ancient Near East, among an existing human population around 6,000 years ago, would almost certainly be common ancestors of everyone living since the time of Christ. This claim is based on detailed computer simulations that consistently showed that our probable most recent genealogical ancestor lived two or three thousand years ago, and that anyone living more than 6,000 years ago, who left any descendants, is a common ancestor for the whole human race.
Garvey has attempted to integrate a genealogical Adam and Eve into a coherent biblical theology without any radical revision of traditional Christian theological doctrine by examining its consistency with a number of issues, including the two creation stories in Genesis, the conflict of good and evil, original sin, atonement theories, and the metanarrative of the Bible. Garvey thinks of this as restoring the plausibility of older teaching which had been made to give ground progressively in the light of the “assured results” of science.
Garvey’s contention is that “Genealogical Adam is not just another concordist theory, attempting to find a fix for the incompatibility of the Bible account with other sources of knowledge, but instead as a means for recovering the original intention of Scripture” (p. xv), which is that Genesis 2 introduces the theme of a new creation that occupies the whole of the rest of the Bible.
Genealogical Adam implies some kind of distinction between Adam and those outside the Garden of Eden and the gradual merging of those distinctions through interbreeding as Adam’s genealogical descendants spread across the world. Garvey concludes that “there is no longer a scientific argument against the existence of the biblical Adam and Eve, provided we are willing to embrace the evidence that other, fully human, people existed “outside the garden” before and alongside Adam.” (p. 250) “If we take Genesis 1 and 2 as sequential, and chapter 1 as describing the creation of mankind en masse, including those who lived before and alongside Adam, then we have a human race created in the image and likeness of God which possesses all the intellectual, artistic, and cultural attainments that scientific and historical research has revealed to be ubiquitous from prehistoric times.” (pp. 116-7)
Garvey proposes that cultural inheritance can be as pervasive as genetic inheritance, and it is quicker and does not depend on any genes becoming fixed in the whole population: just on the spread of a strong idea or a habit. It is culpable sinners who are formed through sinful communities. “[I]t is only possible to become human at all through the absorption of our parents’, and community’s, culture. Our nature is not exclusively “from our genes,” and in fact genetics has a relatively minor role in the inheritance of complex behavior.” (p. 184) “If Adam were indeed the first person to have a true relationship with God, it would have affected every subsequent relationship of his.” (p. 185)
Garvey notes that at some stage the apparently chronological narrative of the Bible has to become history. A Genealogical Adam within history solves the problem of where one places the division of allegory and history by placing it with Adam.
Every chapter ends with a short section titled “Conclusion relative to Genealogical Adam.” The book includes a nine-page bibliography, a general index, and a scriptural index.
It’s going to get really interesting when theologians react to this book and to Swamidass’s “The Genealogical Adam & Eve.” Perhaps those theologians, pastors, and Christian philosophers and scientists who had already come out publically for an historical Adam who was not the first human (e.g., Denis Alexander, Kathryn Applegate, Gleason Archer, Craig L. Blomberg, Roy Clouser, C. John Collins, Gregg Davidson, Darrel Falk, Gary N. Fugle, Daniel M. Harrell, Carol A. Hill, Tim Keller, Kenneth W. Kemp, Derek Kidner, Gavin Ortlund, Alvin Plantinga, Harry Lee Poe, John Polkinghorne, Jeffrey Schloss, John Stott, John H. Walton and N.T. Wright) were on the right track after all.
The book’s strength is that it enables the traditional doctrines associated with Adam to remain intact, while maintaining consistency with secular findings on history, archaeology, and various evolutionary understandings of creation.
I can recommend this book to anyone interested in the issues surrounding a historical Adam and Eve. It is a fresh look which should elicit much commentary in the near future.
This guest review was contributed by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.