Traditional Christians have taught for centuries that Adam was the first human that God created, the first person on earth.
There are genealogy lists in the Bible – particularly Genesis 10, Matthew 1 and Luke 3 – that make it possible to calculate the approximate number of years elapsed between Adam and Jesus and thus determine that Adam's life began about 4000 BC. Many historians and Bible scholars have done exhaustive research on the genealogies and nearly all come to essentially this same calculation.
God initially created a world in which there was no pain, sorrow or death. It was paradise. Everything we regard as bad is the result of Adam's sin of eating forbidden fruit.
There is now incontrovertible evidence from archaeology and scientific testing that humans have been on earth for tens of thousands of years, long before Adam.
Doubters regard Christians who believe there was no human activity on earth prior to 4000 BC as simply ignorant of the facts – or denying the facts – of modern archaeology, science and historical research.
It is ludicrous to say that the world was perfect and without death until relatively recently when one man sinned and spoiled it all. Even before humans existed, and aside from natural death, dinosaurs and other creatures were killing each other for food and survival. Coal, oil and limestone are massive layers of dead vegetation and other life forms deposited over millions of years.
Genesis 1:27 says, 'God created man [generic] in his own image, male and female he created them.'
In the next chapter, Genesis 2:8 says, 'Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man [individual] he had formed.'
Thousands of years could have elapsed between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and the Bible specifically says that Adam was not created in the Garden of Eden as most traditional Christians believe.
The Bible does not compel an interpretation that makes Adam the first human. Adam was the first sinner (see 1.4) but not necessarily the first person.
Many traditional Christians – and their leaders and institutions – are threatened by discussion about people who lived before Adam because it could disrupt some long-held church doctrines:
• Age of earth and six-day creation
• Perfect world, and no death, before Adam's sin
• Original sin (every human born guilty because of Adam's sin)
However, the question cannot be ignored in light of all that archaeology has uncovered in the past fifty years. The evidence is now overwhelming that there was human activity on earth long before 4000 BC.
Doubters will not respect Christians and the Bible unless Christians are intellectually honest.
Most traditional Christians have a limited view of earth's history and focus almost entirely on events in the Mediterranean/European region during the past four thousand years.
It is helpful to step back and look at the long global picture as God sees it.
From God's perspective, as summarized in the chart below, humans came on the earth a second ago! God just now completed the sixth day of creation and began his pause mode (seventh day) to let humans rule the earth and exercise free will.
There have been other major pivot points – as each day (age) of creation was a pivot point and the birth/life/resurrection of Jesus was a pivot point. The Bible says there will be more pivot points in the future, as Jesus' return/judgment and as creation of a new heaven and new earth.
These changes are all part of a massive unfolding divine plan outlined in the Bible. Only part of it has actually happened so far.
THIS TABLE gives perspective for the number of people alive at time of Adam and at various times ever since. Experts who study populations from ancient to modern estimate that more than 100 billion people have already lived on earth. Tap above for calculations.
Two facts stand out:
'So God created man in his own image' (1:27). People assume that this was Adam, but the passage does not say it. The original Hebrew word is hā·’ā·ḏām, which is a general word not limited to a particular person but usually meaning 'mankind.' The verse says only that God created a human being or human beings.
'... male and female he created them' (1:27). This statement appears before the Adam and Eve story in the next chapter, even before the seventh 'day' of rest. Many thousands of years could have elapsed in that interval. The Bible does not say that Adam and Eve were the first male and female on earth.
Geneticists say that new species never begin and survive from a single male-female pair, but always from a gene pool within a population. This verse could support a view that God created many humans at the same time.
Contrary to what most Christians have been taught, it is clear from scripture that Adam was not created in the Garden of Eden. 'The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it' (2:8). Adam began the work as God directed. 'But for Adam no suitable helper was found' (2:20). That no suitable female 'was found' implies that females already existed. But no spiritual female existed, so God had to create one for Adam.
When God presented Eve to Adam (Genesis 2:23), Adam said, 'she shall be called woman (female, mother).' Adam was able to recognize a female at first sight – apparently had seen women before – and knew she could be a mother. Without prior knowledge, it is unlikely that he could make that distinction in the first day of his life. It is likely that he brought that knowledge from the outside with him when he was placed in the Garden of Eden.
Also, as punishment for Eve's sin, God said: 'I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children' (Genesis 3:16). God said this to Eve before she had children, on the first day of her life. It would be meaningless for God to say that he will 'increase' the pains of childbearing if no woman on earth had ever given birth.
Adam's first-born son, Cain, was a farmer. His second-born child, Abel, was a rancher:
History and archeology reveal a common picture of ancient peoples throughout the world. At first they were hunter-gatherers, moving from place to place, always searching for better food supply. Over long periods of time, they learned how to process seeds, clear ground and plant crops ... and to domesticate sheep, goats and pigs for reproduction and slaughter. This was the result of man's accumulated work and knowledge in patiently nudging genetic changes in agriculture and husbandry over hundreds or thousands of years.
If Adam was the first person on earth, then Cain and Abel were the first two persons ever born. They didn't have any easy vocational advantages over other people, because they had been driven out of the Garden of Eden and were forced to farm and ranch on 'cursed' ground like everyone else.
It is highly unlikely that the first two people ever born – without any agricultural and ranching knowledge, experience or science – could have achieved this level of sophisticated specialized labor so early in a single lifetime, before Adam and Eve had their third child (Genesis 4:25) and before Cain was married (Genesis 4:16-18). It is likely that they learned farming and ranching from generations of other people in the area after they were evicted from the Garden (Genesis 4:13-16).
Adam and Eve's first son, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel, and then this happened:
At that point in time, when life was raw and perilous, other people would have had to exist because it would be impossible to survive as a lone 'restless wanderer on earth' without human assistance of any kind.
Cain was worried that 'whoever finds me will kill me.' Cain was Adam and Eve's first son, but he knew there were already dangerous people out there.
Cain went to a distant land, married a woman and became a builder in the city. Starting from nothing, it takes thousands of years for humans to develop understanding, language, tools and skills to build cities. Cain joined a civilization already in existence and changed careers from farmer to builder. If Cain were the first person ever born, none of this would make any sense. The Bible story makes sense only if other people existed when Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden.
'Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all living' (3:20). This is the commonly quoted wording from the New International Version (NIV), but a more accurate translation – used in most Bible translations of this passage – is 'she WAS mother of all living' (past tense).' Adam said this before Eve conceived (4:1), so his statement could not mean that she would become the female progenitor of every human being on earth; she already WAS mother (the first female of something new). 'Eve' comes from the Hebrew root chaiah which means to be alive. It probably means that she was, and would continue to be, the first woman – like Adam was the first man – in a new line of people with direct connection to God and opportunity for eternal life. Furthermore, Eve could not be the physical 'mother of all living' unless she were also the mother of Adam, who was alive outside the Garden before she even existed.
People are told that Romans 5:12-14 says that Adam was the first human on earth, but a careful reading shows that this is not what the scripture actually says. It names Adam as the first sinner, not necessarily the first human. (See 1.4.3 for deep study of Romans 5.)
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam [Jesus], a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual' (15:44-46). This passage refers to Adam as the first spiritual man, not necessarily the first physical man. Just as the 'LAST Adam' was Jesus, so the 'FIRST man' was Adam, obviously and specifically referring to spirit, not to body, because people have lived before Adam and after Jesus.
Similarly, the biblical city of Jericho, Palestine, was founded approximately 10000 BC and had already been in existence for about 6,000 years before Adam. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements on that site. Bodies of the dead have been found buried under the floors of homes and in the remains of abandoned buildings. Put into perspective, Adam's life was the mid-point between the founding of Jericho and today!
There are more than a dozen scientific methods used for determining dates of bones, artifacts and man-made structures being uncovered by archaeologists. See 1.3.4 for information about modern scientific dating methods. Cross-validation can now be done on the same object with various testing methods.
Some people say that scientific dating is irrelevant because God could have created the universe with 'apparent age' (everything just looks old). See 1.2.3 for why this is a flawed argument.
Archaeologists have unearthed thousands of fossils that look similar to modern humans, most called hominids, some dating back several millions of years ago. (For perspective, dinosaurs vanished from the earth about 63 million years ago).
All human remains dated to the holocene period (approximately 10000 BC to present) are classified by scientists as homo sapiens (modern humans). The fossil evidence keeps growing and scientific testing methods keep improving, and now there is overwhelming evidence that there were human beings on earth long before Adam.
By the time Jesus was born – sometime between 6 BC and 4 BC – every major part of every continent on earth was populated, with population totaling about 250 million people. If Adam were the first human, that means that all the original world-wide human migrations would have had to occur within a span of less than 4000 years ... starting from nothing ... no history or knowledge of the world ... no tools or skills ... brutally hard conditions ...
With reluctance to move unless forced by climate or enemies, and facing almost unimaginable perils and adjustments, including sailing the oceans and crossing frozen land bridges, these migrations would have taken much longer than a few thousand years.
Scientists once had to reconstruct humanity's distant past only from ancient settlements, bones and artifacts, but now DNA and RNA are powerful new ways to read genetic code of our early ancestors.
The DNA of thousands of skeletons of people who lived 2,000 to 12,000 years ago have been sequenced and analyzed by computer to show migration patterns and times, showing beyond doubt that there were humans moving throughout the earth prior to 4000 BC (before Adam).
A primary purpose of the Bible – God's written word – is to help us make sense of our time and place on earth ... to know our origin, purpose and destiny.
This site approaches Bible study with a sense of awe and anticipation for what God wants to tell us. This is not a religious exercise to make us feel good by affirming what we already believe. This is discovery!
We need to be honest with ourselves and with others regarding what the Bible really says ... not repeating just what we have been told it says or what we want it to say. We have a personal responsibility for fact-checking.
When setting aside preconceptions and studying the Bible objectively, we often come to points that are at variance with what we have been taught. This is one of those points:
If Adam was not the first person on earth, then logic compels this conclusion: There was death on earth before Adam sinned; therefore, Adam's sin is not the cause of death.
This is not in line with traditional church doctrine which says that the earth was a perfect paradise until Adam's sin wrecked everything by bringing death into the world. But does the Bible really say that?
Micro Topic 1.3.2 pursues this question to investigate what the Bible really says – and doesn't say – about death before Adam.