I mentioned in the last post that Walton suggests that the biblical text does not require us to believe that Adam and Eve are the only humans on earth at the time of Genesis 2, or even that they are the very first humans.
To many, such a claim is no doubt shocking. To some, the notion of Adam and Eve not being the first people borders on heresy, if it hasn’t already leapt way across the line.
Nevertheless, we should always be cautious about our gut reactions to a new interpretation and perform due diligence in testing the idea. After all, Galileo was imprisoned by Pope Paul V, in part, because his heliocentric ideas appeared to conflict with the biblical text (most notably Pss. 93:1; 96:10; 104:5; Ecc. 1:5). That didn’t turn out well for Galileo, who died in chains, even if he has since been vindicated.
There is certainly some textual evidence that points away from Adam as the very first human—the toledoth at Genesis 2:4, suggesting the account of Adam and Eve follows the seven days of creation; the oddity of Cain’s fear of being murdered by others (Gen. 4:14); the question of how closely related Cain might have been to his wife (Gen. 4:17); and the population of Cain’s “city” (Gen. 4:17).
But it will be important, further, to ask a different question of Walton’s interpretation. If Adam and Eve are not the first couple, or if there are many other people on the earth at the same time, then what are we to make of their purpose in the Genesis story? In other words, what is special about them, if it is not that they are the first humans?
For Walton, the unique thing about Adam and Eve has nothing to do with their being the first people ever, but that they are the first people called for a unique purpose. What is that purpose? Adam and Eve are special in that they are the first priests.
Such an argument begins with the garden itself as a temple:
When we consider the Garden of Eden in its ancient context, we find that it is more sacred space than green space. It is the center of order, not perfection, and its significance has more to do with divine presence than human paradise (116, emphasis original).
This is not a new perspective. Eden has been recognized as a prototype for the tabernacle and Temple for a long time in biblical scholarship. (In fact, Walton’s endnote listing a sampling of scholarly background for the view fills an entire page. You could do no better than beginning a similar inquiry here.)
To paint a slightly fuller picture, if we think of the Garden of Eden as the singular place on earth in which the Creator particularly dwells and from which all life and wisdom is to flow, we have then similarly imagined a picture not too far off from the tabernacle in Israel’s early days and the Temple after Solomon.
There is another compelling reason to suppose that Adam and Eve are the world’s first priests and at the same time see their story’s significance in the Hebrew Scriptures. Adam and Eve, as priests, are archetypes of Israel itself.
Here’s a story for you. A people is taken by God and deliberately placed in a very special land. Among the conditions for remaining in that special land is the people’s obedience to God’s commands. The choice is ever before them. They can choose to follow God’s statutes and thereby receive life. Or they can turn against God’s ordinances and reap death. This people, sadly, choose the latter and, as a result, are banished from the special place God had given them.
Whose story is that? It is Adam’s story; it is Israel’s story.
Israel had been God’s priesthood (Exo. 19:6), uniquely called out of the rest of the world in order to display the nature of the Creator to the world. This is a central part of the nation’s identity, and it should not be surprising, then, if in their origins stories, they tell a tale of the very first people given the same purpose in the world. Adam is indeed Israel’s earliest ancestor from a functional perspective. What God was attempting through Israel, he had been up to from the beginning.
But I see you have a question: If Adam and Eve aren’t the first people, what are we to do with original sin?