One of the major issues facing the church today is the debate over the creation of the universe. Much of this conflict centers around whether or not the earth was created by God in a span of six days less than ten thousand years ago. Sometimes this discussion focuses on the existence of a real, historical figure named Adam who was the first human being and the paternal ancestor of all other humans.
In order to be saved does someone have to believe Adam existed? This is no trivial question. The existence of Adam has a direct relation to the story of creation and is applied to key teachings about salvation. Believing in the existence of a historical Adam is not in the same category as believing Gideon led 300 Israelites in successful battle against 135,000 Midianites.
The Bible does not teach that a positive confession of six day creationism or the existence of a historical Adam is necessary for a person to be saved. One can be saved without having given great thought to the genuineness of the existence of Adam.
What about one who denies the existence of a historical Adam? The one who believes God used evolution to create all things is not necessarily excluded from salvation. One may believe Adam is an allegorical character used in the Bible to teach of the awfulness of sin. One may believe that Adam and Eve were the first hominids to be given a soul. One may believe Adam is pure myth and still be saved. However, major theological problems arise when a person denies the existence of a literal Adam and a literal, recent creation.
Romans 5 says that “by one man that sin entered into the world.” The Bible traces the guilt of humanity back to Adam. Because of Adam’s sin all humanity is condemned in sin. If Adam did not exist as described in Genesis the entrance of sin into the world has no explanation. The common sinfulness of all mankind has no basis. If Adam is not a real, historical figure the Biblical truth of sin is undermined.
Adam is a picture of Jesus. (Romans 5:14) Adam pictures Jesus in this way: he acted as the representative for all humanity. In 1 Corinthians 15 the saving work of Jesus is shown to be directly related to the condemning deed of Adam. Just as by Adam’s sin were all men made sinners and brought under the consequences of sin so by Jesus’ death and resurrection all those in Christ are made righteous and given life. If all men were not actually in Adam then the death and resurrection of Jesus is insufficient to redeem all men.
Jesus is the last Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45) Like the first Adam Jesus stands in the place of all humanity. He is able to be mankind’s substitute who suffers the punishment of sin in place of men because He is the physical descendant of Adam and shares the same humanity as all mankind. If there is no literal Adam the doctrines of man’s sin and Jesus’ substitutionary atonement are compromised.