Genealogies recorded in the Bible show that Adam lived about 4000 BC. This study is to see what the Bible says about whether or not there could have been human activity on earth prior to that time.
Not all Christians believe that Adam was the first human.
Many Christians believe that there was a long time period between Genesis 1 (when God created male and female in His image) and Genesis 2 (when he placed a man called Adam in the Garden of Eden).
Which is it? This study brings scripture, history and science together to help answer some nagging questions that keep millions of people from believing that the Bible is trustworthy.
At periodic intervals over the last 45 years, Gallup Polls have tracked what American's believe about human origin.
Though the proportion is declining, the most recent poll shows that more than half of church-going Christians still believe that 'God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time WITHIN THE LAST 10,000 YEARS OR SO.'
This is the way doubters and unbelievers see Christians, particularly Protestant Christians, and it is a reminder of people centuries ago who used Bible verses to 'prove' that the earth is stationary and flat.
This sets up a battle between science and the Bible and conveys the idea that we must choose one or the other, but cannot have both.
This is an unfortunate and needless battle, sustained primarily by a misleading translation of the Hebrew word yō·wm into English, as revealed in the Bible study here on God's creation 'days.'
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 Christians seem to believe.
The Bible does not compel an interpretation that makes Adam the first human. Adam was the first sinner but not necessarily the first person. See Bible study here on Garden of Eden.
The Bible, history and science all tell us that the time around 4000 BC was a time of major change on earth, a pivot point when the whole order of life took a new direction:
✦ CIVILIZATION. Primitive cultures were becoming civilized with farming, ranching, mining, specialization of labor, small-scale manufacturing and trade about 4000 BC.
This was a time of synergy as people began learning and working together in community. Populations were becoming centralized with construction projects and governments extending human control over nature and people.
✦ WRITTEN LANGUAGE. Written language systems began surfacing about 4000 BC. This was a huge advance over the drawings and symbols previously carved or painted on cave walls.
This was the start of historical records to document events as they occur and to survive millenniums of time. Written language was a way to share and preserve technical knowledge. Communication became more precise and nuanced.
✦ GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO MAN. After billions of years of preparation, something astounding happens! The Creator of the universe reveals himself to man and initiates a personal relationship!!
The relationship brings a major change to the world – from physical only to physical AND spiritual. Now we have God's command, accountability, sin, punishment and offer of eternal life for humans.
According to Bible genealogies, Adam lived about 4000 BC. See chart here for time calculations based on the genealogies.
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 is the Bible passage people use most often to 'prove' that there were no people before Adam, but that's not what this scripture actually says.
This is a comparison between Adam and Jesus on the spiritual level. This juxtaposition states simply that Adam was first and Jesus was last. For what? We know this is not speaking about physical life because people lived after Jesus; i.e., Jesus obviously was not last to live physically. So just as there are people who lived AFTER Jesus, likewise there may have been people who lived BEFORE Adam.
The context and words – 'there is also a spiritual body – make it clear that this is not about the natural being, but about the spiritual being, which this passage says comes after the natural. Adam was the first spiritual man ... the first to have a personal relationship with God, a command from God and an offer of eternal life from God.
'Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned ...' (5:12). This Bible passage is quoted often to 'prove' that Adam is the first man on earth, but that's not what this scripture actually says.
This verse says only that sin entered the world 'through Adam,' the first sinner, not because Adam sinned but 'because all sinned.'
Thousands of years could have elapsed between God's creation of humans in Genesis 1 and Adam's sin in Genesis 2.
Romans 5 implies that there were people before Adam: '... before the law was given [do not eat from Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil], sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law' (5:13).
This passage does not say that Adam was the first human on earth, only that he was the first sinner. Now it's no longer just physical death for mankind, but 'death through sin' (resurrection, judgment, hell and then final death). A moral and spiritual dimension has been added. See Bible study here on Romans 5.
'So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them' (1:27). People assume that 'man' was a person named Adam, but the passage does not say it. The original Hebrew word is ’ā·ḏām, meaning 'mankind.' The verse says only that God created human beings.
Thousands of years could have elapsed between the creation of humans in Genesis 1 and the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.
Chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are man-made for citation convenience, not part of the original manuscripts. In the origional Hebrew, all text runs together continuously without markings.
When the beginning of Chapter 2 is instead marked at Genesis 2:8, the whole story of Adam and Eve reads differently. Everything prior to that verse is about God's original creation (Days 1-6), detail and summary. Everything after that verse (present Day 7) is about how God first revealed himself personally to mankind and gave the first simple law.
Geneticists say that new species never begin and survive from a single male-female pair but rather from a gene pool within a population. The phrase 'male and female he created THEM' allows for the possibility that God may have initially created many humans at the same time.
Adam was not created in the Garden of Eden but placed there from the outside. '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).
The phrase 'no suitable helper was found' implies that women already existed (outside the Garden, from where Adam came) but were not suitable (spiritual), so God created a special spiritual woman for Adam, to start a new line of people with access to eternal life.
'Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the 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 the living' (title she already had, given to her before pregnancy with first child).
Eve could not be the literal 'mother of all the living' unless she were also the mother of Adam, but he was alive outside the Garden before she even existed (Genesis 2:8).
Eve's first-born son, Cain, murdered his brother, and when God told him that his punishment was banishment from the area, Cain protested: 'I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me' (Genesis 4:14). Who was mother of those people already grown and dispersed?
Cain moved to a city where he found a wife and became a builder (Genesis 4:16-17). Who was mother of those people?
The name Eve was given to her by Adam in Genesis 4 after the punishment and spiritual understanding received in Genesis 3. In ancient Hebrew, Eve is derived from the root word נפש חיה (Chaiah) which means to be alive. Perhaps the name signifies that she was the first woman – like Adam was the first man – to start a new line of people with access to eternal life. Some translations say 'the mother of all who live' and 'the mother of every living soul,' which are more precise meanings.
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 immediately that she could be a mother.
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. It would be meaningless for God to say that he will 'increase' the pains of childbearing if there had never been any childbearing anywhere on earth.
Adam's first-born son, Cain, was a farmer. His second-born child, Abel, was a rancher:
'Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, while Cain was a tiller of the soil. So in the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to the LORD, while Abel brought the best portions of the firstborn of his flock.' – Genesis 4:3-4
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, people learned how to process seeds, clear ground and plant crops ... and how to domesticate sheep, goats and pigs for reproduction and slaughter.
If Adam were the first person on earth, then Cain and Abel were the first two humans ever born. It is highly improbable that they could have achieved this level of sophisticated specialized labor so quickly, before their next sibling was born (Genesis 4:25) and before Cain was married (Genesis 4:16-18). It is likely that they learned farming and ranching from he experiences of generations of other people in the area after they were evicted from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 4:13-16).
Adam and Eve's first son, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel, and then this happened:
[Lord God speaking] 'Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground ... You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.'
'Cain said to the Lord, 'My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on earth and whoever finds me will kill me.'
'But the Lord said to him, 'Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.' Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
'Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.' – Genesis 4:10-17
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 a city. Starting from nothing, it takes thousands of years for humans to develop understanding, language, tools and skills to build cities. Cain, Adam and Eve's first child, joined a civilization already in existence and changed career from farmer to builder.
The Bible says that God created the universe in six 'days' (or periods). Mankind (Hebrew ’ā·ḏām) was created in Day 6: 'male and female he created them' (Genesis 1:27). But the account of the Garden of Eden (starting Genesis 2:8) is in Day 7, which is God's day of 'resting' (pausing) in new physical creations, the day that is still open, the day in which a man named Adam was placed in the Garden. See Bible study here on God's creation 'days.'
We are still in Day 7, continuing until God resumes by creating a new heaven and a new earth. There could have been countless numbers of people early in Day 7 before God revealed himself to Adam.
[Apostle Paul speaking to civic leaders in Athens] 'From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.'
This statement does not align with the preceding verses about people preceding Adam, but it does align with the biblical account of Noah, who lived approximately one thousand years after Adam per genealogy in Genesis 10:1-32.
It is unlikely that the Athenians knew anything about either Adam or Noah, so possibly Paul was just saying that everyone – even the whole mighty Roman empire – can be traced back to the marvelous creation of mankind by the God [the 'unknown god'] he is proclaiming: The God who made the world and everything in it ... so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him ... For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring' (v 24-28).
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. 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), but this is a flawed argument because God is not deceptive.
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).
The real issue here is not whether or not there were people on earth before Adam but whether or not the Bible is a credible book of truth.
To say that there were no people on earth before Adam (approximately 4000 BC) is an indefensible position in light of modern knowledge, and most people think it is just ignorance or mindless religious indoctrination to hear Christians say it.
To ascribe this to the Bible – when the Bible doesn't say it – hinders our mission and is a barrier to Christian faith for millions of people.
The Bible does not preclude the possibility – or even the probability – that there were people before Adam. Adam was the first sinner but not necessarily the first person.
If, based on what Christians say, doubters and unbelievers think (or know) the Bible is wrong about people before Adam, they conclude that it is probably wrong about other matters, too, and that it cannot be trusted as a book of truth.
The data on this chart shows that American Christians are doing the opposite of what Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:19). As share of population, we are losing disciples rather than making disciples.
One reason for this loss is that Christians have added to what the Bible actually says, making claims that educated people know are not factually true – often ludicrous – and thus undercutting credibility of the Bible.
Adding to what the Bible actually says creates unnecessary push-back and argument, reduces confidence in the Bible and hinders our mission of making disciples.