John Frame, in his forthcoming 1,280-page Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (P&R; Nov. 15), writes (805–6):
We should consider the possibility that Adam and Eve, though historical figures, were not literally the first parents of all present-day human beings. C. John Collins considers the suggestion that Adam and Eve may not have been the first human beings, but rather “king and queen” of a tribe. In this case, the passages referring to their special creation (Gen. 2:7; 21–22) would likely (though not necessarily) be intended figuratively, representing God’s investiture of this couple with special qualities (the image of God) and a special vassal kingship, including the covenant headship of Adam over the existing human race.
Covenant headship in Scripture does not necessarily presuppose biological parenthood: the relation of Christ to his people is adoptive. And such a hypothesis would more adequately explain some perplexing data of the Genesis history:
(1) Cain’s fear in Genesis 4:14 that someone might kill him to avenge his murder of Abel;
(2) Cain’s obtaining a wife in 4:17;
(3) Cain’s founding a city in 4:17 and the rapid development of culture, agriculture, and technology thereafter.
These data are not impossible to explain if we assume (as theologians traditionally have done) that Adam and Eve had many, many sons and daughters in addition to Cain, Abel, and Seth. But the supposition of a tribe or community contemporary with Adam and Eve makes the history somewhat easier to understand.
On such an interpretation we would also have to take figuratively the statement in Genesis 3:20 that Eve “was the mother of all living.” Of course in Scripture “father” and “mother” do not always refer to biological parentage. Scripture sometimes refers to kings and other authority figures as fathers and mothers, and certainly adoptive parents have the right to these titles. So it is not inconceivable that Genesis 3:20 refers to Eve as the mother of the human nation, given that status and title by God’s covenant investiture.
But the development of such interpretive hypotheses is in its infancy, and certainly no such interpretation should be made normative in the church.
On the other hand, we must also consider the possibility that the scientific consensus in favor of an original human race of thousands is wrong. Science constantly changes, and there is no place for the cocksureness with which some have insisted on this consensus view. The genetic arguments, like all scientific judgments about the past, are based on models, and the assumptions governing these models can be, and are being questioned.
It is interesting to note that the consensus among evolutionary scientists about the numbers of original humans have actually decreased — from millions to thousands. And if it is true that 150,000 years ago there were, say, 10,000 modern humans on the earth, that is a remarkable fact. Evolutionary scientists have generally thought that common characteristics imply common ancestry. Why should they not seek a genealogy of human characteristics earlier than the 10,000, that would account for the 10,000?
If the 10,000 sprang out of nowhere, their genesis begins to sound much like special creation. But if their genesis had a backstory, a backstory presumably different from the usual process of genetic transmission, couldn’t that backstory lead to a single couple?