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Bible: Man looking at city where people lived before Adam
PURPOSE: Helping Christians engage in intelligent conversations with doubters and unbelievers

Were there people before Adam?

Read Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as two stories

'Adam' has two meanings

In studying Genesis 1-5, it's important to know that the English word 'Adam' is a translation of two different Hebrew words (orange below) and has two different meanings, depending upon context:

  1. A group of humans consisting of at least one male and one female (creation)
  2. An individual human male (the historical Adam in the Garden of Eden)

This is illustrated by the following four examples. The first two say that Adam is a group. The second two say that Adam is an individual.

  • 'So God created man [Hebrew hā·’ā·ḏām] in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them ...' (Genesis 1:27).
  • 'When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female; at the time they were created, he blessed them and called them man [Hebrew ’ā·ḏām]' (Genesis 5:2).
  • 'Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man [Hebrew hā·’ā·ḏām] he had formed' (Genesis 2:8).
  • 'But for Adam [Hebrew hā·’ā·ḏām], no suitable helper was found' (Genesis 2:20).

Tap the Hebrew word (orange underlined) to see exactly how it is used in the original Bible manuscripts.

In Genesis 1, 'Adam' is a generic term meaning mankind. In Genesis 2, 'Adam' is the name of a particular man in the Garden of Eden.

Read Genesis 1-4 as two stories

Most people have been taught that Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth, though few have ever personally studied the actual biblical account of either God's creation or the Garden of Eden.

Most people just assume from tradition that it's a single continuous story, never realizing that it may be TWO STORIES: Creation (Genesis 1:1 thru 2:3) and Eden (Genesis 2:8 thru 3:24), with a summary transition statement (Genesis 2:4-7) and a very long period of time in-between.

This narration pattern is similar to the way many modern movies start with a flashback scene before starting the main story, to place the story in a setting. Genesis Chapter 2 is the main story of God's relationship with humans, but Chapter 1 is a flashback of what had already happened before the story begins.

Similarly, in Genesis Chapter 1, Verses 1 and 2 are a flashback of what had already happened before the main story starts in Verse 3 about Gods six 'days' (stages) of creation. Verses 1 and 2 are not part of Day 1, but preceded it.

A very long period of time may have passed between Genesis 1:1 (God created the universe) and Genesis 1:2 (God focuses on planet earth) ... and then a long time until Genesis 1:3 (God begins forming the earth for life) ... and another long time until Genesis 2:1 (God completes creating life on earth, culminating with humans) ... and still another long time until Genesis 2:8 (God puts a man in the Garden of Eden and begins a personal relationship with humans).

FIRST STORY (Creation – Genesis 1:1 - 2:3)

This is the well-known story of God's six 'days' of creation and seventh 'day' of rest.

The creation of humans occurred on Day 6, but the Eden story occurred on Day 7, as explained in the Bible study here on God's creation days.  

A 'day' (Hebrew yō·wm) as used in the Genesis 1 context is longer than 24 hours.

Genesis 1 says only that God created humans, male and female, but doesn't mention any individuals, choices, or actions.
Genesis 2-4, much later in time, describes named people, their decisions, and their sins.

TRANSITION SUMMARY (Genesis 2:4 - 2:7)

This is the transition summary between the two stories as clearly stated in its preamble: 'This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created' (Genesis 2:4).

It's a brief summary of what happened in Genesis 1, the first story: God created the heavens and the earth ... at first, no life or growth ... mist came up from the ground where water came in contact with earth's hot but cooling crust ... then a wondrous explosion of life forms ... ultimately, in the final act of creation, God formed man (Hebrew hā·’ā·ḏām, meaning mankind) as a special living creature 'in the image of God' (not evolved) from the 'dust of the earth' (ordinary stuff, atoms, not divine or immortal).

This summary of the first story may have covered a very long period of time.

To affirm this understanding of the time gap, consider these three passages from Genesis 2:

Verse 7 (transition, summarizing story 1): 'And the Lord God FORMED man [humans] from the dust of the earth ...'

Verse 8 (in story 2): 'Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man [a male human being] he HAD FORMED.'

Verse 19 (in story 2): 'Now the Lord God HAD FORMED out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man [individual named Adam] to see what he would name them ...'

There seems to be a time gap between FORMED and HAD FORMED; otherwise, we would conclude that God created man first and then created animals for him to name; i.e., that God created man before He created animals, which we know is wrong based on Genesis 1.

From the transition summary forward, the whole focus of the Bible changes from God's creation of the earth and all its life forms to just a single creature: hā·’ā·ḏām (humankind), God's crowning creation.

The transition summary sets the stage for the second story.

SECOND STORY (Eden – Genesis 2:8 - 3:24)

Beginning with verse 8, God places (from the outside) a particular human named Adam in a special place (garden) in the east, in Eden.

There God meets Adam personally in the first-ever encounter between God and man. God gives Adam the first simple law (don't eat this particular fruit) and says the penalty for violation is certain death (the default condition, what normally happens), i.e., no eternal life.

Then God creates a wife for Adam (not from dust of the earth but from Adam's side, a female spiritual clone), the first recorded divine miracle (an exception to the laws of nature. Adam names her Eve and tells her about the law. They are now the first spiritual beings on earth ... life-long married couple (one flesh)... knowing God ... accountable to God ... with opportunity for eternal life (if they choose the Tree of Life).

The second story continues by telling about the commission and consequences of the first human sin and ends by introducing Genesis 5, which shows how this first couple started a new spiritual family line that ran to King David, then split to Mary and to Joseph, but rejoined in the birth of Jesus about 4,000 years later.

As shown in the genealogy chart, Adam and Eve started the human family tree of the Savior. The whole story leads to Jesus.

The Bible clearly states that Adam was the first sinner but does not compel a conclusion that he was the first person.

By explaining to doubters and unbelievers that many Christians believe that the first four chapters of Genesis are two stories, separated by a long time period, a conflict between the Bible and science is eliminated and some of the Bible's lost credibility is recovered.


Thinkers Bible Studies / Topic 1.3


Were there people before Adam?

for an informed answer
Insight 1: Bible credibility

Why it matters

The real issue here is whether or not the Bible is a credible book of truth. People conclude that if the Bible is wrong about our origin, it's probably wrong about our destiny too. This is a big barrier to faith.
Insight 2: yō·wm is Hebrew word for Bible creation day

Read Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as two stories

Adam (’ā·ḏām) in Genesis 1 means 'human.' Adam (hā·’ā·ḏām) in Genesis 2 is a person's name. There may have been a very long period of time between the stories.
Insight 3: What God created in each 'day'

What the Bible actually says

Most people just believe what tradition teaches and have never carefully read Genesis chapters 1-4 for themselves. See for yourself all the verses in the Bible which refer to people before Adam.

What Americans believe about human origin

For 38 years, Gallup Polls have been tracking peoples' beliefs about the beginning of human life on earth. See the poll findings. Most regular church attenders believe that 'God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.'

The time of Adam

Bible genealogies show that Adam lived about 6,000 (maybe 10,000) years ago. See what life was like at that time. Archaeology and DNA show that humans have been on earth for 40,000 years or more.

Here's where we combine five insights to get an informed biblical answer: Were there people before Adam?

The insights here are like pieces of a puzzle. Put the pieces together and see the big picture! Now you'll be prepared to engage intelligently with anyone on the subject of people before Adam.
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Helping Christians engage in intelligent and coherent conversations with doubters and unbelievers