“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Is the Adam and Eve story to be understood literally?
Let us assume for a moment that the Adam and Eve story is not to be understood literally. What would be the result? Would Christianity remain essentially the same with a non-literal understanding of the story of Adam and Eve? No. In fact, it would have serious implications for virtually every tenet and doctrine of the Christian faith. If Adam was not a real man, then sin did not enter the world through one man as Romans 5:12 states. How, then, did sin enter the world? Further, if the New Testament is wrong about how sin entered the world, what else is it wrong about? If Romans 5:12 is wrong, how do we know that the entirety of Romans 5:8–15 is not wrong? If the story of Adam and Eve is not to be taken literally—if they did not really exist—then there was no one to rebel, there was no fall into sin. Satan, the great deceiver, would like nothing better than for people to believe that the Bible should not be taken literally and that the story of the fall of man is a myth. Why? Because once we start denying parts of the Bible, we lose our trust in the Bible. Why should we believe anything God’s Word says if we cannot trust everything that it says?
Jesus taught that God created one man and one woman (Mark 10:6) and mentions Abel, a son of Adam and Eve in Luke 11:51. Was Jesus wrong in His beliefs? Or did Jesus know there were no literal Adam and Eve and He was simply accommodating His teaching to the beliefs of the people (i.e., lying)? If Jesus is wrong in His beliefs, He is not God. If Jesus is intentionally deceiving people, He is sinning and therefore cannot be the Savior (1 Peter 1:19).
That is why this is such a serious issue. To deny the literalness of Adam and Eve is to place oneself in opposition to Jesus and the apostle Paul. If one has the audacity to claim he is right and Jesus and Paul are wrong, then Jesus is a sinner, not God and not the Savior; the apostle Paul is a false prophet; and the Bible is not inspired, inerrant, or trustworthy.
The Bible clearly presents Adam and Eve as literal people who existed in a literal Garden of Eden. They literally rebelled against God, they literally believed Satan’s lie, and they were literally cast out of the Garden (Genesis 3:24). They had literal children, all of whom inherited the sin nature, and that nature was passed down to succeeding generations to this very day. Fortunately, God promised a literal Savior to redeem us from that sin nature (Genesis 3:15). That Savior is Jesus Christ, called the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), who died on a literal cross and literally rose again. Those who believe in Christ will have literal salvation and spend eternity in a literal heaven.
Christians who deny the story of Adam and Eve essentially deny their own faith. Rejecting the literal interpretation of the Bible’s historical narratives is a slippery slope. If Adam and Eve did not exist, then were Cain and Abel not real? Did Seth exist, and did he father a godly line that led all the way to Abraham and eventually to Jesus Himself? Where in Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23–38) do the names stop referring to literal people and start referring to mythical characters? To dismiss Adam and Eve as non-literal is to deny the accuracy of Luke’s gospel, cast aspersions on Moses’ record, and remove the foundation of the rest of the Bible.
If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, introducing death into creation, wouldn’t the world have gotten overpopulated?
When God first created Adam and Eve, when they were still in the Garden of Eden, He charged them to be “fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). When He cursed Eve in Genesis 3:16, He told her He would greatly multiply pain in childbirth. Both passages imply that it would have been possible for Adam and Eve to have children in Eden (although there is no indication they did). If death had not entered the world, and if all of Adam and Eve’s descendants had followed God’s admonishment, eventually, the world would have been filled. But would it have been overpopulated?
This is one of those questions that usually come from a deeply entrenched modern mindset. Fear of pollution and famine and unemployment permeates our world. Almost one third of our land mass is desert. It is very likely that, in our world, if fertility rates were untainted by sin, and if no one ever died, the world would indeed become overpopulated.
However, the question does not concern Adam and Eve in a fallen world but in a perfect, sinless world—a creation imbued both with eloquent natural law and God’s miraculous power. Imagine an unfallen world with no desert, no wilderness, no unproductive land at all. Imagine a sinless creation producing many times more than our fallen world ever could. Imagine unfallen, sinless man wisely overseeing the earth’s resources and living in a charitable harmony with each other. Such a world would be completely foreign to us.
Eventually, however, the perfect, sinless world would have been filled. What then? To assume that an unfallen world could slide into something less than ideal is to doubt God’s sovereignty and creative power. He told Adam and Eve to fill the earth, and He would have had a plan once that was accomplished. Perhaps He would have simply stopped births. Or allowed the people to colonize other planets. Or just made Earth bigger.
Ultimately, the question of the unfallen world being overpopulated leads to fanciful and surreal considerations. It’s akin to asking, “If Adam and Eve had not sinned, could their perfection have caused something bad to happen?” As we know, it’s sin that causes bad things to happen, not righteousness; given that overpopulation would be a bad thing, it would not have been caused by perfection. God is perfect and sovereign and all-powerful, and His creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). In His foreknowledge, God even factored in the fall of mankind, and His plan of redemption was already in place (Revelation 13:8). This fact alone makes the concept of a sinless, overpopulated world entirely academic.