Theistic Evolution and Genesis

Herbert Wolf
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To a greater or lesser extent a number of Christians have tried to merge the teaching of the Bible and of evolution without denying the validity of either. Although they accept the reality of a personal God who created the world, they believe that He may have used the mechanism of evolution to bring about the vast variety of life as we now know it. Creation is not necessarily diametrically opposed to evolution, for God may have set the evolutionary process in motion.[1]

Those who hold to theistic evolution interpret the early chapters of Genesis along figurative or poetic lines. If Genesis gives only a general description of beginnings, it may be flexible enough to coexist with evolution. Because of the details given when God made man, some scholars argue that evolution ended before Adam came on the scene as a special creation of God. Others believe that the physical part of man did evolve from the higher animal orders, but at a certain point God endowed this creature with a soul and stamped His own image upon him.

A careful study of Genesis 1 and 2, however, does raise serious questions about the possibility of this latter view of man’s origin. Genesis 2:7 specifically says that “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground.” Nowhere else does “dust” mean “animal” or “hominid.” If “dust” could somehow be interpreted as a metaphor for “animal,” one could argue that the clause “the man became a living being” might mean that a primate was given a soul representing “the image of God” (cf. 1:27) and at that point was transformed into a man. But such a view violates the usage of “living being” (nepes ̆ hiayyâ), which refers to livestock and other animals in 1:24, where it is translated “living creatures” (also cf. 1:20–21). Apparently “living being” refers to physical life rather than mental or spiritual capacity, and the same is true of the reference to putting the breath of life in one’s nostrils (cf. Job 27:3; Isa. 2:22). Adam was not alive in any sense of the word before God fashioned him, and later, when sin had taken its toll, Adam would return to the dust from which he had been made (Gen. 2:19). Clearly this refers to physical death.

After God created the first man, He proceeded to fashion a woman from Adam’s rib. Here again the biblical language is almost impossible to harmonize with an evolutionary hypothesis. The text states that Eve was formed quickly and that she was a separate creation from man (Gen. 2:22). In an article that wrestles with the issue of creation and evolution, Davis Young points out that the temporal priority of Adam before Eve is in itself an argument against an evolutionary approach to the origin of mankind.[2]

[1] Richard H. Bube, “Creation (B): Understanding Creation and Evolution,” JASA 32 (1980): 175–76.

[2] Davis Young, “An Ancient Earth Is Not a Problem; Evolutionary Man Is,” Christianity Today, October 8, 1982, 44.

For Further Reading:

An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch

by Herbert Wolf

The Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—are the vital first books in the Bible. Understanding their scope, meaning,...

book cover for An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch