Sin before the Fall of Adam?


Published: 24 August 2020 (GMT+10)

Strange as this question might first appear, a logical consequence of ‘old earth’ and theistic evolutionary viewpoints is that the world was rife with sinful thoughts and actions for hundreds of thousands of years of ‘prehistory’, long before the biblical Adam and Eve existed. The following extract from Evolution and the Christian Faith explores this much-overlooked subject.1

Over the years, much of the theological debate between historic special creationists2 and believers in a billions-of-years-old earth has been over the issue of death. Was there death in the world before the Fall? And if so, what kind of death was it, and to which creatures did it apply? These are important questions, but there is a related question that seems to be neglected almost completely. If, as many theistic evolutionists argue, human beings are descended from hominid ancestors—which, going backwards in time, were progressively less human—when do they envisage that sin itself entered the world? For the New Testament is unambiguous: sin came into the world through the historical rebellion of Adam and Eve.

Many theologians accept the prevailing cultural view that, for tens of thousands of years before Adam (whether envisaged as an actual man or a metaphorical figure) there were races of sub-human ancestors (hominids). Although lacking souls and spiritual awareness, these are believed to have been just like us in most other respects. All who hold an evolutionary worldview implicitly believe that such hominids were committing the full range of acts which, today, we moral human beings acknowledge to be sinful—lust, rape, covetousness, theft, murder and much more.

Unlike creationist anthropologists (who believe that most of the fossils assigned to the genus Homo are descendants of Adam3), theistic evolutionists teach that there is a spiritual discontinuity between Homo sapiens and all the species that preceded it. Thus, Homo ergaster, H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis (archaic H. sapiens), H. antecessor, H. neanderthalensis, and H. floresiensis—to name just some of the common alleged ancestors or ancient relatives of man—were all soulless. That is to say, they lacked the moral and spiritual capacities with which people are endowed today. On the other hand, the majority of anthropologists who hold to the historical, special creation viewpoint regard those species of the genus Homo as fully human descendants of Adam. This is based on comparisons of their bony anatomy and even comparisons of DNA sequences in some cases (see Neandertal genome like ours).

Muddying the Image of God

Within a theistic evolutionary framework, and many other ‘old earth’ views too (e.g. progressive creationism and gap theory), all members of Homo sapiens (our own species) who were alive prior to the point when God made them like himself were also soulless. True humanity only ensued when God conferred his image and likeness upon chosen members of the species. After God breathed into these select proto-people, souls were imparted to them—they became ‘Homo divinus’. That being so, at what point in the fossil record do theistic evolutionists look for Adam? Their opinions are inevitably arbitrary and contrary to the biblical teaching of the image of God. Disbelieving in a historical Adam, Denis Lamoureux writes, “A landmark issue of Christianity Today in June 2011 featured a cover with a Neanderthal-looking male and the title ‘The Search for the Historical Adam.’ … This CT article is evidence that the historicity of Adam is not a settled issue.”4

With this example, it is legitimate to ask whether, according to theistic evolutionists, Neanderthals were sinners? Some might come back with the answer, ‘Of course not, they were just animals. Animals are not morally culpable as humans are.’ What, then, are we to make of the fact that the genome (DNA code) of Neanderthals is like our own?5 And what about the considerable evidence that people with classical Neanderthal features (e.g. a more robust skeleton, prominent brow ridges, a more forward projecting mid-face and a bony protuberance like a hair knot at the back of the head) interbred with people just like ourselves?6 In other words, the evidence shows that people with Neanderthal morphology and so-called ‘modern humans’ (who generally lacked those ‘Neanderthal’ features) intermarried.

Sin’s pollution before Eden?

Does not the concept of bipedal human ancestors of Adam (who looked little different from us and were reproductively compatible with modern people) committing incest, rape, murder and cannibalism sit rather uncomfortably? It makes perfect sense that such things followed the Fall. However, within a theistic evolutionary model, our soulless ancestors were supposedly doing these things for hundreds of thousands of years in God’s “very good” world (Genesis 1:31).

Fossil hominid museum exhibit.

Staying with ‘Neanderthal Man’, decades ago, a growing realisation that he was much more human than had been believed hitherto, led two writers to comment that, “ … if he could be reincarnated and placed in a New York subway—provided that he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in modern clothing—it is doubtful whether he would attract any more attention than some of its other denizens.”7 If it was from this Neanderthal stock (or some related stock) that God brought us forth, it would indicate that we are of ‘the same kind’ biologically. Scripture teaches that men are of a different ‘flesh’—are different ‘in kind’—from various sorts of animals (1 Corinthians 15:39).8 Yet, according to theistic evolution, ancestors who very much appear to be of our kind, on the basis of both fossil and DNA evidence, were without souls. Presumably the argument would be that they were not culpable, therefore, for the gross and horrible acts that we consider morally reprehensible today.

Scripture is clear that sin of various sorts actually pollutes the land from God’s point of view (but, happily, all such pollution will be removed in the new earth). Examples are: sexual promiscuity (Jeremiah 3:2), adultery (Jeremiah 3:1), idolatry (Jeremiah 16:18, Acts 15:20), bloodshed (Numbers 35:33), and child sacrifice (Psalm 106:38). Yet, if we imagine going back in time as spectators, and viewing ‘our primitive ancestors’ in this hypothetical less-evolved world, we would observe all these things and more—actions which the Bible teaches are sinful and evil. In God’s “very good” creation, such things would have been a defilement of the land. Referring to, “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness” and idolatry, Paul says, “because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:3, 6). God hates idolatry (Psalm 31:6), robbery, (Isaiah 61:8), falsehood (Psalm 119:104, 163), even evil thoughts and plans (Zechariah 8:17). These attitudes and acts are not merely sin when morally culpable human beings commit them, they are intrinsically wrong, things which God hates.

Animal violence toward people

The brutality that we observe in animals today can be at once fascinating and macabre. Of course, pre-Fall animal death poses questions of its own. When a troop of normally vegetarian chimpanzees catch and tear apart a colobus monkey, or a male lion kills a lioness’ cubs9 (to bring her into oestrus so that he can mate with her), these are aberrations. As such, they would not have been occurring before the Fall. While not morally culpable creatures, animals can still commit acts which make them defiled. Under the Mosaic Law, a person convicted of bestiality was put to death, but so was the animal. Both were deemed guilty of an abominable act: “they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Leviticus 20:16). Also, if an ox gored a person to death, it was itself to be killed (Exodus 21:28, 31–32). Animals were held culpable for such things under the Mosaic law.

In our own societies today it is normal for a dog that has viciously maimed or killed someone to be put down. Obviously, we do not believe that animals possess a sense of good and evil. Nevertheless, euthanasia in such instances is seen as a sensible measure to prevent further harm to people by an animal that has proven dangerous. For some people at least, it is also ‘the right thing to do’, especially as animals are not people. It seems reasonable that animals which have caused great disfigurement or have deprived people of life should forfeit the right to continued life themselves.

Therefore, even if our ‘primitive’ human ancestors are deemed to have been soulless animals, their loathsome and gross acts are incompatible with the goodness and holiness of the Creator God.

Sin redefined

Actually, there is irrefutable evidence that human ancestors of the genus Homo—allegedly soulless ones, according to advocates of theistic evolution—were spiritually aware beings, that they had a concept of an after-life. For instance, numerous deliberate burials of Neanderthals have been documented at sites across Europe and western Asia; one was even buried with flowers.10 There is good evidence that they made jewellery, cooked with herbs, played musical instruments, cared for the disabled and much more.11 Neanderthals have also been found buried alongside anatomically modern humans. And since an appreciation of morality goes hand in hand with spiritual perception, it would be futile to argue that Neanderthals were not culpable for what we recognise as sinful acts.

A Neanderthal woman (reconstruction)—a soulless pre-Adamite without moral culpability?

Yet, by holding to theistic evolution, actions which God hates—brutality, theft, deliberate deception, incest, rape, murder, and more—would have gone on for hundreds of thousands of years before Adam. And, during the last tens of millennia, these things would have been ‘performed’ by people who looked just like us. Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem concurs. He highlights the following key tenet of theistic evolution (which he believes conflicts with biblical teaching) as follows:

“Adam and Eve did not commit the first human sins, for human beings were doing morally evil things long before Adam and Eve.”12

Does not the very proposition, spelt out in this manner, sound ridiculous? More seriously, if God really did set up the world in this way, it sends out a very confusing message regarding his disposition towards sin. Within the teaching of theistic evolution, God’s entire stance regarding sin would seem to have arbitrarily altered when he ‘created’ Adam. No wonder that the doctrine of sin in contemporary theology is far less prominent than it used to be.

This is far from being merely a point of theoretical interest. Today, many people are rejecting traditional Christian moral and ethical standards precisely because they have embraced an evolutionary philosophy. If we are evolved animals and we were not specially created as the Bible teaches, what justifiable reason can be given for arguing that certain things are sinful or that there should be such restraints on our behaviour?

References and notes

  1. Extracted (with a few modifications) from chapter 7 of: Bell, P., Evolution and the Christian Faith: Theistic evolution in the light of scripture, Day One Publications, Leominster, 2018. Return to text.
  2. Another name for biblical creationists. Return to text.
  3. A probable exception, according to most creationist anthropologists, is Homo habilis. Some fossils assigned to H. ergaster have also been questioned in this regard. Return to text.
  4. Lamoureux, D.O., chapter 1, in: Barrett M. & Caneday, A.B. (Eds.), Four Views on the Historical Adam, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2013, p. 39. Return to text.
  5. Carter, R.W., Neandertal genome like ours, 1 June 2010. Recently, Dr Johannes Kraus at University of Tübingen (Germany) stated emphatically, “Neanderthals interbred with H. sapiens”; Barras, C., Losing the plot, New Scientist 3140:28–33, 26 August 2017. Return to text.
  6. See, Butler, F., Neanderthal-Human Hybrids: Old earth apologetics gone real bad, 19 July 2016. Return to text.
  7. Strauss, W. & Cave, A.J.E., Pathology and posture of Neanderthal Man, Quarterly Review of Biology 32:348–363, December 1957. Return to text.
  8. This is developed in detail in chapter 6 (Human flesh or animal flesh?) of: Evolution and the Christian Faith; see ref. 1, pp. 118–144. Return to text.
  9. That is, cubs which this lion has not sired. Return to text.
  10. Solecki, R.S., Shanidar: the first Flower People, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1971. Return to text.
  11. Wieland, C., One Human Family: The Bible, science, race & culture, Creation Book Publishers, Atlanta, GA, 2011, p. 166. Return to text.
  12. Grudem, W., Theistic evolution undermines twelve creation events and several crucial Christian doctrines, chapter 27 in: Moreland, J.P., Meyer, S.C., Shaw, C., Gauger A.K. & Grudem, W. (Eds.), Theistic Evolution: A scientific, philosophical, and theological critique, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2017, p. 806. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Gary H.
Here's how one atheist evolutionist put it:
"Evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus' earthy life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the Son of God. Take away the meaning of his death: If Jesus was not the Redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is for nothing."
- G. Richard Bozarth, in American Atheist, February 1978, p. 30

Theistic evolutionists are only fooling themselves thinking they can hang on to God while adhering to an antichrist doctrine.

Science journalist Denyse O'Leary put it this way on her blog:
"Christian evolutionists, so far as I can tell, live in a sort of unreal world where one espouses Darwinism while pretending not to know what it means."

Nailed it.
Marie A.
It really bothers me that so often we see Biblical pictures showing people (whether Adam and Eve or NT characters) as white, blue-eyed and blonde (maybe not all of those). I wonder why they can’t have their features ‘shaded’ a bit to convey a mid-brown colour (which I believe they were)?
Philip Bell
Yes, it's indeed a shame that this is the case. In CMI we do our part to redress this, see e.g. the image use in our article, Adam and Eve and also read Skin colour surprises.
Peter B.
In all my many discussions with bible skeptics or just honest enquirers I find that the bible loses credibility with all when the issue arises of a young earth and trying to convey to any of them that this earth is only 6- to -10,000 years old.

To me the issue is so simply resolved by just allowing for there being a pre Adamic world with a Luciferian pre Adamic rebellion which resulted in the destruction of the original earth. SIN does NOT begin with Adam and Eve -- but with the serpent ( and evil) already pre existing in the garden. THAT to me seems so obvious and self evident. People like Stephen Meyer, Francis Collins and so many others NOW take that as a given.

I think it is so self defeating for those claiming that this interpretation would be a compromise of scripture when in reality it seems to me - to fit in perfectly with scripture.
Philip Bell
Regarding the sin of the serpent, please see my response to Steve A.

Importantly, the credibility of the Bible is never helped by compromising its truth. Quoting names of people who agree with you frankly doesn't cut it. What matters is not what people say and teach (however erudite and respected within academia) but what God's Word plainly teaches. Francis Collins is a theistic evolutionist whose own position, and that of the organisation he founded, Biologos, is very divergent from the text of Genesis; search this website on Biologos to read why this is.

Jesus taught a number of things which today's 'neo-evangelicals' (properly called liberals) are embarrassed about; simply put, they do not find His words credible. Some face up to this challenge and openly deny the very Saviour they profess to follow. In other words, they acknowledge that, since Jesus (and were the apostles) was a first-century Jew, He was a man of His time: He was simply mistaken in things he taught pertaining to Earth history. If that is the position of anyone reading this response, know that your position is a denial of Christ, tantamount to blasphemy. But don't just take my word for it; Jesus Himself said: "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

Terry D P.
Explanation Re: “Adam was manifestly created on day 6, not day 3.”
That was my interpretation for many years, until I changed my mind several years ago.
I now believe that the pair—male and female—were created on day 6, as God describes in Genesis §2.
Bill P.
Why do mankind think they are so much wiser than The Living God Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in it. From cover to cover The Lord proves Himself over and over again in the O.T. and N.T. Not only does HE prove Himself in His Word, we also see it in the heavens and all over the earth.
I have one question for those who believe they are more wise than The God of Jacob.
If man is so full of wisdom then why could we not save ourselves? For 6000 yrs. we've proved that the only thing we are 'good' at is sinning against GOD, and mistreating or killing our own brothers and sisters.
Only The Creator of ALL things is able to save save us. HE made a way to do so before creation (The Lamb slain before the foundations of the heavens and the earth).
It's a sad thing to see people act and speak as though they know more than The Holy One of Israel.
Steve A.
One must always include the context and emphasis that the Holy Spirit is directing us to. Did Adam sin first, or did Eve sin first ? We obviously can see that Eve sinned first and yet it says sin came in through Adam. And, we clearly can see that Satan ( and likely his followers ) sinned before Eve. Sin came into the world - which world ? Until CMI is willing to admit that Satan and Eve sinned before Adam, it would seem like they have a biased agenda.
Philip Bell
CMI has never denied that Satan's Fall was prior to that of Adam. Neither have we denied that, just as Scripture says (Gen. 3:6), "... when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate."
On the contrary, literally hundreds of articles disseminated by this ministry over the decades have emphasised these points and dealt with them in detail (use the creation.com search engine to locate them).
In very real sense, there is one world, including both the physical (material) and spiritual (unseen) realms. Hence, the Apostle Paul writes of Christ, "For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). Scripture is clear that, although the devil sinned through his pride prior to the Fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve (a sin that took place in heavenly realm), we are to understand the curse of death upon the human race, and even the very ground, as being due to the sin of Adam, not of Eve or of Satan (see Genesis 3:17-19). Paul picks up on this famously in Romans 5:12 when he says, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned..."

The Word of God is emphatic that the Fall of Man (as this doctrine is typically known; aka Original Sin) is rightfully to be thought of as coming 'through' Adam. This is the whole thrust of Pauline NT teaching. For instance, to take just one classic verse, "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Why then the biblical emphasis on Adam rather than Eve? (notice I stressed 'biblical'; this is not CMI's "biased agenda" but simply the crystal clear teaching of the Bible).

Scripture makes clear that Eve took the forbidden fruit first, deceived as she was by the serpent. But Adam was the federal head (to him the command of God was given in Genesis 2:15-17). In fact, Paul writes "... Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Timothy 2:14). In other words, Adam wilfully took the fruit, fully cognizant that he did so in direct rebellion against God's command to him personally. Since Scripture records (and it's something often missed), "and she also gave some to her husband who was with her", it is reasonable to surmise that he might have intervened when he saw her being beguiled by the serpent, for as we've just seen from Scripture, Adam most certainly was not so beguiled. Be that as it may, we can be certain that he failed to exercise is divinely appointed federal headship.

While there are admittedly depths here that the greatest theological minds fail to plumb, we must insist on what is plainly taught concerning the entrance of sin into this world.
Nicholas S.
Finite man limits God to mans' limitations? It's like going back to the Garden of Eden, seeing Adam and Eve, by their own volition, choosing the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, to work out life on their own instead of implicitly trusting God who had even been with them, Genesis 2:15-22. Our dimension and His Dimension dovetailed together, then ripped apart by sin, the fall. Now we see the attempted mix of Creation and evolution and subsequent billions of years theology, of man trying to do it his own way again. Yet we see plainly and clearly that everything in the universe is so interdependent, that Creation all around us, from life dependant on other life forms in the right place and time on the earth, dependant on the right size sun, dependant on the right type of galaxy, dependant on the movement in space of all the other galaxies in non-colliding formation. Everything points to a close time frame Creation of everything i.e. at about the same time. Six days are explicitly ideal for everything to be able to work together, as a synergy of existence.
Considering the Character of God: Sovereign; Righteous; Justice; Love; Eternal Life; Omniscient; Omnipotent; Omnipresent; Unchangeable; Truth, we have to consider how limited our understanding of how God Created everything because we are not the Creator. None of us can limit God by saying he must have taken longer than six days for Creation when, by His limitless Power He could have taken six seconds. However, He enjoyed each day of His Creation to the sixth day, it was very good: Genesis 1:31. My Grandfather would say, "If you don't understand everything about God, just accept it." Paul the Apostle alludes to this: 1 Corinthians 13:12. God's Mind is higher, wider and deeper than the universe, beyond the observable.
Pratha S.
The Bible is clear -- sin only came into the world AFTER man disobeyed God. Up to that time, it was a perfect world and God called His creation 'very good'. It was only after man disobeyed God that sin entered the world and [this] is what man is still struggling with today -- which is why God sent his Son into the world so that man can 'get back to God'. And that is something we all should be thankful for!
Terry D P.
The Bible says in Gen 1-2 that Eve was was built up from a rib taken from Adam's side, after all flora and fauna (in the sea and on land) were created by God on days 3, 5 &6.

If one reads Gen 1-2 closely, one can easily deduce that God must have created Adam on day three, immediately after dry land had appeared, but before causing all vegetation to spring from the earth. All vegetation would have included the Garden of Eden, into which God ‘then’ put the man on day three.

God said it was not good for the man to be alone, so he brought all the animals to Adam for naming, animals that he had created on days 5 & 6. Only after the naming did he create Eve. So all animals were created before Eve was formed from Adam's rib. No symbiotic evolution of male and female man to see here.

Given the Bible is accurate, it is a complete mystery how evolutionists could presume that the first man Adam evolved from non-existent animals. The fact that no suitable mate could be found for Adam until after all the animals were created, also defies the theory of gradual evolution from simians. The Bible, however, simply explains the raison d'ê·tre of evolution as the consequence of ignorant and unstable people (compared to Almighty God, the Creator of the universe) misinterpreting the scriptures :

«/ Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience with us is our salvation, as Paul, our friend and brother, said when he wrote to you with his inspired wisdom. And so he does in all his other letters, wherever he speaks of this subject, though they contain some obscure passages, which the ignorant and unstable misinterpret to their own ruin, as they do the other scriptures. — 2 Peter 3:15-26 /»
Philip Bell
Adam was manifestly created on day 6, not day 3. Nor did the Garden of Eden exist until day 6. There is no hint of the latter in Genesis 1:9-11 (the events of the third day).
Rather, following the events of the fifth day (which close in Genesis 1:23) verse 24 begins with a "waw consecutive" verb, translated as "and" or "then". That is, the events in verse 24 happened after the events of verse 23. These aspects of Hebrew grammar are dealt with in detail here: Syntax and semantics in Genesis 1.

By the same reasoning, human beings (both male and female) were created after the creation of the land animals. Thus Genesis 1:26 (ESV) begins:
"Then [a waw consecutive] God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Immediately the narrative continues, "And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” In other words, prior to the creation of human beings (both sexes), the entirety of the animal creation had been completed, over which humans (both sexes) were to exercise the dominion mandate.

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