The Evolution of Adam

What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins

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Can Christianity and evolution coexist? Traditional Christian teaching presents Jesus as reversing the effects of the fall of Adam. However, an evolutionary view of beginnings doesn't allow for a historical Adam, making evolution seem incompatible with what Genesis and the apostle Paul say about him. For Christians who accept evolution and want to take the Bible seriously, this presents a tension that endangers faith.

Peter Enns offers a way forward by explaining how this tension is caused not by the discoveries of science but by false expectations about the biblical texts. Focusing on key biblical passages in the discussion, Enns demonstrates that the author of Genesis and the apostle Paul wrote to ask and answer ancient questions for ancient people; the fact that they both speak of Adam does not determine whether Christians can accept evolution. This thought-provoking book reconciles the teachings of the Bible with the widely held evolutionary view of beginnings and will appeal to anyone interested in the Christianity-evolution debate, including college and seminary students in science and religion courses.
Part 1: Genesis: An Ancient Story of Israelite Self-Definition
1. Genesis and the Challenges of the Nineteenth Century: Science, Biblical Criticism, and Biblical Archaeology
2. When Was Genesis Written?
3. Israel's Neighbors' Stories of Origins
4. Israel and Primordial Time
Part 2: Understanding Paul's Adam
5. Paul's Adam and the Old Testament
6. Paul as an Ancient Interpreter of the Old Testament
7. Paul's Adam


"The question of the historical Adam is an urgent issue in biblical interpretation and theology today. Recent developments in biology have indicated with impressive evidence that humanity does not go back to a single human couple. Does that mean that the Bible is wrong or that science is wrong? Or perhaps, as Peter Enns argues, we have been misreading the Bible. While not everyone, including myself, agrees with everything that Dr. Enns suggests, his book is an important contribution to the discussion concerning Genesis 1-2 and science."--Tremper Longman III, Westmont College

"The Evolution of Adam not only reflects the evolution of evangelical understandings of Adam, but it also contributes to new perspectives on Paul and the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one concerned with the beauty, glory, and truth of the good news in a scientific world will want to miss out on this landmark book!"--Amos Yong, Fuller Theological Seminary

"The evolution of humans from other organisms has always presented very serious problems for conservative Christians, and the most serious problems have centered on the historicity of Adam. In this splendid book, Peter Enns confronts these problems with remarkable clarity and courage, offering a solution that is both biblically and scientifically informed."--Edward B. Davis, Messiah College

"This is a bold, honest, and direct approach to the questions of origins and the interpretation of the Bible. Pete has battle scars from the journey to his conclusions in The Evolution of Adam, but those battles have made him increasingly sensitive to the plight of the church's struggle with science and the Bible. Here is a theologically alert, pastorally sound, and exegetically informed book that will lead us onward."--Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary

"The Evolution of Adam provides a sure-footed and engaging look at what the Bible says--and does not say--about the first man. Peter Enns, one of America's most important Old Testament scholars, provides a masterful and accessible survey of the relevant biblical scholarship from the past couple of centuries. Enns combines a deep appreciation of the Christian tradition with a courageous willingness to go where most evangelicals fear to tread. I highly recommend this book."--Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

"In this book, Peter Enns deals with one of the most challenging issues facing Christians today--the historicity of Adam. Was there really a man named 'Adam' from whom all men and women descend? How are we to understand the story of Adam? More importantly, how are we to understand Paul's theological use of Adam? Enns is well-equipped to deal with these volatile issues, holding a PhD from Harvard University in Old Testament studies and having taught for 20 years at various evangelical seminaries and colleges. With grace and incisive scholarship he offers a provocative thesis that will certainly interest and challenge the evangelical church. From my perspective, Enns fulfills Jesus's commandment that we 'love the Lord our God with all our mind' (Matt 22:37), and he does so fearlessly and faithfully."--Denis O. Lamoureux, St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta

"In this honest, insightful, informative, and provocative book, Enns offers readers an innovative way of reconciling their faith with evolutionary theory. In the course of fleshing out his argument, he provides readers with very accessible introductions to the historical-critical approach to Scripture as well as to the cultural and literary backgrounds of the Bible's creation stories and of Paul's reflections on Adam. Whether one ends up agreeing with Enns or not, all readers will benefit enormously from reading this book. I heartily recommend The Evolution of Adam!"--Greg Boyd, author of The Myth of a Christian Nation, The Jesus Legend (with Paul Eddy), and Letters from a Skeptic

"For far too long, evangelical Christians have dodged the implications of modern biology for our understanding of the Bible and theology. Foremost, we have failed to face the unassailable fact that death, rather than being the historical consequence of Adam's sin, was a part of the natural cycle that created our human forebears. What shall we do with Genesis and Paul in light of these facts? Enns blazes a trail that engaged Christians can follow."--Kenton L. Sparks, Eastern University

The Author

  1. Peter Enns

    Peter Enns

    Peter Enns (PhD, Harvard University) is the Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He cohosts the popular podcast The Bible for Normal People (7 million downloads over four years) and has more...

    Continue reading about Peter Enns


2012 Book of the Year Award, Foreword Magazine

"[Enns's] basic argument is this: modern creation arguments that focus on either the literal historical truth of the Bible or evolutionary perspectives are wrong. The Bible, including its creation accounts, represents a comprehensive theological worldview. It's neither a literal accounting nor is it science. And it was never intended to be either of these two things. . . . Academically minded Christians looking to bridge this intellectual divide will appreciate the tone and bibliographic references here."--Sandra Collins, Library Journal

"Address[es] some of the thornier issues facing traditional Christianity in the light of evolutionary biology. . . . There's a lot of interest here, in particular Enns's look at how the Genesis account draws from earlier Near Eastern creation myths and sagas. . . . I found it fascinating--and informative."--John Farrell,

"On the basis of what is known about Genesis, its origins, and its subsequent interpretation, Enns argues in this sensitive and highly readable book that modern evolutionary science can coexist with the scriptural account of creation in Christian understanding. Writing with high respect for scripture, he cogently assembles information and perspectives to help Christians understand Genesis on its own terms and navigate the troubled passage between science and theology."--Patricia K. Tull, Christian Century

"Some of the qualities of this book that set it apart from other resources like it [are]: it is written by a critically thinking Evangelical for like-minded readers; despite its scholarly basis, the book's short length makes it accessible to undergraduates, church leaders, and lay Christians; it lacks academic jargon; its writing is clear and humble; when making arguments, its tone is balanced and courteous; . . . it deals almost exclusively with the biblical text; it takes Paul seriously; and the book's aims are succinct in that they center around establishing the context and genre of the creation narratives and their canonical interpretations. Based on these qualities, it is clear that Enns has spent a good deal of time with Evangelicals and other people of faith, listening to their questions and reorienting their thoughts about the Bible. He has provided his target audience with a valuable resource."--Matthew Emile Vaughan, Christian Scholar's Review

"Are the Bible and Evolution compatible? That is a question so many people have endeavored to answer, and Peter Enns offers a useful account in his book. . . . The crux of the book is Enns dealing with Paul's understanding of Adam. . . . Enns's scholarship on this is extremely helpful to the dialogue. . . . Enns is informative and precise in the information he chooses to relay, relying on archeology and other sources to flesh out the type of literature Genesis is, and consequently the kind of information it is prepared to offer. Then, he tackles the big issue of Paul's Adam as seen in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, which is a central concern for many Christians. . . . The Evolution of Adam is an incredibly useful book for Christians who are engaged in this dialogue."--Jasmine Wilson, Englewood Review of Books

"The Evolution of Adam contains much to recommend itself. To make its case, the book lays out the basics of contemporary biblical studies, thus perhaps unwittingly providing very accessible introductions to such scholarly staples as source criticism in Pentateuchal studies and the New Perspective on Paul. Regardless of whether the book fulfills its aim to assuage evangelical readers' worries over the historicity of Adam and Eve, it will certainly increase their biblical literacy. This contribution should be embraced by those of us interested in the science-religion interface who are not trained in biblical studies. . . . Enns' attempt to assuage evangelical anxieties might well be compromised by its incompleteness. However, his uncommon ability to present controversial views in a simultaneously rigorous and pastoral manner should lead us all to hope that there will be a sequel to The Evolution of Adam."--Jonathan Jong, Theology and Science

"Enns raises a relevant and pressing issue for some Christians who are anxious about the tension between the authority of Scripture and scientific accounts of human origin. He also provides valuable insights on how they may re-think of their convictions and let the scientific and biblical creation stories each speak their own language. This book can also be a useful source on the development of biblical criticism, comparative analysis, and studies on Pentateuch and Paul."--Svetlana Khobnya, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"For this reviewer, trained and working in Biblical Studies within the Roman Catholic Tradition, this book offered a clear and enjoyable glimpse into the issues that concern Evangelical Christianity regarding the figure of Adam in the light of recent developments in evolutionary theory. . . . Reading this book provided a fascinating and illuminating experience of how the issues of Biblical inspiration, literary genre, senses of Scripture, and the relationship between history and theology can be negotiated through a (slightly) different confessional frame of reference."--Leo Madden, Catholic Books Review

"This book on the relationship of the biblical stories to the theory of evolution by Peter Enns is one of the clearest I have read on the subject. In particular Enns explores critically the popular idea that Adam and Eve are the original human parents--an idea commonly and illogically held even by some Christians who attempt to assimilate aspects of evolutionary thought. This material will be disturbing to some churchgoers, but life-giving to others. . . . A bold, accessible, and convincing argument . . . Far from being uncomfortable reading, I was left with a sense of increased wonder at the way God trusts himself to the processes of human communication, warts and all; and how the very messiness of scripture ensures that it remains alive in every generation. If we find ourselves worrying about the honor of the scriptures in this skeptical age then this book assures us that God spoke one word, and that word was 'Jesus.'"--Sally Nelson, Regent's Reviews

"In the area of human origins, the theological debate currently brewing is over whether or not the creation story demands a literal, historical Adam and Eve (verses Adam and Eve as a 'prototype' or a literary metaphor referring to human ancestors). The question is not merely a revision of the old liberal/fundamentalist controversy but rather a nuanced conversation about interpreting Scripture properly so that it can have its full authority. Peter Enns is at the center of this current debate, and this volume will give a concise view of one perspective."--Winn Collier, Religious Herald

"As a scientist and Christian I respond very positively to Enns' contribution to the creation-evolution dialogue. Enns' writing style is engaging, clear and direct, yet humble and pastoral. As far as I am concerned, Enns' contribution is timely precisely because the gospel is at stake: we cannot effectively share Christ while denying what has become incontestable: a long history of life on earth, common ancestry, and descent with modification."--Gregory Smith, Jesus Loves Darwin blog

"Enns provides not merely a book about Adam, but also a good general introduction to the history, methods, and essence of scholarly study of the Bible, using Adam as an example. It is thus reasonable to hope that this book will do more than just address concerns that some Christians have related to modern biology. This book may help a larger number of Evangelicals to grasp and embrace Biblical scholarship to a greater extent and less selectively than tends to be the case at present. . . . I highly recommend this book, and am hopeful that the significant number of books by Evangelical scientists and scholars addressing the relevant scientific and textual evidence related to the intersection of evolution and Christian faith will lead to a shift away from deceptive nonsense like young-earth creationism, and towards a serious whole-hearted engagement with the best Biblical scholarship and science."--James F. McGrath, Exploring Our Matrix blog

"I believe the book to be a great contribution to the field of science and religion. . . . After my first reading of it I labeled it a great conversation-starter and thinking about it longer hasn't changed my mind one bit. It's a well-written, well-reasoned, and timely book that will illuminate yet leave you asking questions. It's not the end all be all on this topic, but it wasn't designed to be. It was written to show Christians what the Bible doesn't say about Adam. And once you know what it doesn't say, perhaps you can then begin to realize what it actually does say."--Justin Topp, A Biologist's View of Science & Religion blog

"In my estimation, The Evolution of Adam offers the most significant working view of how to carefully, pastorally, and honorably interpret the early chapters of Genesis and their workings out by Paul, in light of evolution. His reading does nothing to defend biological evolution, but uses the questions raised by science as an opportunity to refine our understandings of God's inspired Word. I invite you to read Pete's prolific book and to decide for yourself if you will also, evolve with Enns."--Kurt Willems, The Pangea Blog

"Enns' goal is to help his readers come to a new way of thinking about Adam in a world informed by evolution. . . . [He] help[s] his readers understand Genesis better and develop a more informed method for reading the Bible. . . . Enns has packed a lot into this little book. . . . No matter which side of the debate you find yourself this is a worthwhile read. Overall I think you will find this to be helpful, informative book that will help you to think in new ways about the function of Genesis and the place of Adam in that story. I think Enns has made a clear argument and if you are wondering about human origins and in particular about how to understand Genesis and Adam then this book is for you. . . . One of the best ways that this book could be read is as part of a small group or Sunday school class. The chapters are small and accessible. With a good leader I could see some fruitful if not challenging conversation coming from reading it. I highly recommend it."--John Byron, The Biblical World blog

"Enns is one of my favorite scholars because he somehow manages to be thorough, personable, and readable all at the same time. In The Evolution of Adam, Enns demonstrates that the author of Genesis and the apostle Paul wrote to ask and answer ancient questions for ancient people; the fact that they both speak of Adam does not determine whether Christians can accept evolution. This may seem like an impossibly complicated topic to cover in a mere 147 pages, but Enns manages to do so with astounding clarity and insight. In The Evolution of Adam, you'll find accessible introductions to everything from source criticism to the New Perspective on Paul."--Rachel Held Evans, blog (

"I approached this book with a genuine sense of intrigue and curiosity as the question of Adam seems to be the greatest looming question in my mind which often is left unanswered by many theistic evolutionists. . . . Enns, in my opinion, has made a major and well deserved contribution to the discussion. . . . This is a book which I commend immensely. You may disagree with many aspects of it, but it cannot be accused of being mere fluff or theological liberalism. It is a serious attempt to reconcile the difficulties which we are now recognizing and I think, along with Dr. Enns, the identity of Adam and the literal interpretations we give Genesis, must be part of the discussion. Pick it up! Read it!"--Randal Hardman, The Bara Initiative blog

"I finished this book with the conclusion that the Gospel does not depend on the historicity of Adam, but that doesn't mean that this discussion is meaningless. A lot has to change for conservative Christians if they decide to abandon the historicity of Adam. Debates over everything from the nature of Scripture, to hermeneutics, to worldview, to gender roles, to eschatology can be impacted by one's understanding of Adam (and Eve). If you are not satisfied with the 'Bible v. Science' paradigm this book may be a useful tool in beginning to reassess how you think about a lot of things."--Brian LePort, Near Emmaus blog

"Certain topics within theological discourse attract heated discussions, and often such polarizing topics deal with fundamental realities of the human existence. Occasionally, a work engages such topics while exhibiting the difficult blend of intelligence and accessibility. Peter Enns's work The Evolution of Adam is one such book. Enns brings his scholarly acumen to bear upon one of the more fiercely debated topics within popular culture in a way that even encourages those who have little to no awareness of biblical scholarship to listen. As one of the more provocative books that I have read in recent memory, it is a necessary read for evangelicals, for it will force them to revisit their position on creation, biblical literature, the nature of Scripture, and evolution. . . . Evangelicals must be willing to discuss publically the intersection of orthodox Christianity and evolutionary theory. However, this happens, Enns is certainly correct that it will require intelligence. . . . To his credit, Enns does not attempt any specific answers. He merely offers fundamental considerations that are rooted in a reading that considers the ancient context of Scripture."--David B. Schreiner, Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament

"Enns has made a substantial and impressive contribution . . . and his book will serve as a lucid and thought-provoking addition to any syllabus that takes questions about faith and science seriously."--Paul Korchin, Review of Biblical Literature

"[An] intriguing work. . . . The highlights of Enns's treatment on the subject are clear. First, there is no other serious evangelical treatment of the issue. Second, he offers some interesting constructive readings of both Genesis and Paul that comprise what he considers essential theological matters. Three, he offers an interesting proposal as to why the motivation exists behind the affirmation of a literal historical Adam and Eve. . . . This book will serve the evangelical community and offers a novel contribution to the evangelical literature on the science and faith debate. Enns offers a way of reading the Bible that is commensurate with what he considers the entailments of evolutionary thought given to us in modern science. While many evangelicals will not be convinced by his constructive proposal, it will serve individuals by way of raising the sorts of questions that need to be raised."--Joshua Farris, Southwestern Journal of Theology

"The book is very well written, easy to understand, and would be at home in an introductory-level classroom. . . . Enns is gentle toward faith issues, but remains challenging. He is asking hard, important questions that cannot be avoided. . . . This is indeed a contentious academic and faith-related topic, and Enns deserves credit for addressing it. . . . This is an honest work asking honest questions. . . . This book would be a welcome addition for classroom discussion."--Jason T. LeCureux, Stone-Campbell Journal

"The Enns book is an excellent discussion from a believing Christian perspective that attempts to reconcile the apparent tension between biblical and scientific accounts of humankind's origin, as well as the place of the historical Adam in that account."--Dave Banack, Times and Seasons blog

"The Enns book is an excellent discussion from a believing Christian perspective that attempts to reconcile the apparent tension between biblical and scientific accounts of humankind's origin, as well as the place of the historical Adam in that account."--Dave Banack, Times and Season blog