Pre-Adamites — Old and New

Samuel Maresius
Samuel Maresius

One of the most important reasons we need to study church history is because Satan repurposes just about every error and heresy he has ever engineered or promoted. Seldom do you encounter a totally original false teaching. The evil one regularly takes advantage of the fact that human beings have short memories and are easily distracted. But by studying church history, we can equip ourselves to discern and resist his evil ways.

In 1655, two hugely controversial books appeared in Europe. In these two books (which can be found here), Isaac La Peyrère argued that many other human beings had existed before and alongside Adam and Eve. He claimed that Adam was merely the ancestral father of the Jews. However, the Gentiles traced their lineage back to various “pre-Adamites.” To make his case, he appealed to Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, although he did question the authority and authenticity of Scripture in many places.

Today we hear talk again of pre-Adamites, although the arguments have shifted because of the wide acceptance of biological macro-evolution. If human beings have an evolutionary history, then we are necessarily looking at the existence of pre-Adamites. If macro-evolution is true and also applies to our species, then an historical Adam (if there was one) cannot have been immediately created by God from literal dust of the earth (cf. Gen. 2:7). Instead, this historical Adam was biologically created by the normal process of a sperm fertilizing an ovum. In other words, prior to being constituted as a human being (being endowed with the image of God), the being we call Adam had a biological father and mother – pre-Adamites.

Plenty has been written recently to demonstrate that this contemporary argument for pre-Adamites is unbiblical. However, is there anything we can learn from Reformed engagement with previous forms of pre-Adamitism? Francis Turretin addressed La Peyrère’s arguments in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology in 1679. In the English translation, Turretin’s discussion takes up about six pages (pp. 457-462 of volume 1). This is a good summary of the issues, as well as an orthodox biblical response. But it was by far not the only response.

Refutation of the FableJust one year after La Peyrère published his pre-Adamite books, a full-length book response appeared from the pen of Samuel Maresius (1599-1673). Maresius was a Reformed theologian from France (his original surname was De Marets). When he responded to La Peyrère, he was a theology professor at the University of Groningen, in the northern Netherlands. Maresius’ book was entitled, A Refutation of the Fable of the Pre-Adamite: Accomplished in Seven Basic Questions. This volume appeared in several editions – the one I used in preparing this post contained 689 pages (you can find it here).

As the title indicates, Maresius treats the topic through seven basic questions. However, he first of all writes a lengthy (109 pages) preface in which he defends the authenticity and authority of Scripture. That provides a window into his method in this volume. His answers to the questions are based first and foremost on Scripture. Yes, Maresius does bring in other supportive material as well, but the authoritative foundation is Scripture alone.

Let’s now briefly look at the seven questions Maresius asks and see what can be learned from them in terms of our present-day engagement with pre-Adamitism. Even though the background is different, some of the questions have not changed and the answers are still relevant.

1. Is Adam the first of all men and is he to be acknowledged as the parent of the whole human race?

Maresius answers in the affirmative. He supports his answer by appealing to Scripture passages, including Matthew 19:4-5. Matthew 19:4 says that God created male and female (Adam and Eve) at the beginning – which means the beginning of the universe, during the six days of creation. Adam was at the beginning and is therefore the first of all, the parent of the whole human race. Maresius understands that the issues at hand are not solved merely by looking at Genesis 1 and 2. Rather, Scripture must interpret Scripture. Jesus clearly believed that Adam was the first of all men, and therefore we ought to as well.

2. Is the forming of Adam and Eve described in Genesis 2 different in order and time from the creation of man in the image of God referred to in Genesis 1?

This is to be denied, says Maresius. You cannot drive a wedge between the first two chapters of Genesis in an effort to make room for pre-Adamites. The man in Genesis 1 is the same as Adam in Genesis 2. La Peyrère argued to the contrary and it’s important to remember that background. Maresius argues that the first two chapters of Genesis present the same history of human origins from different perspectives. Moreover, he again appeals to other Scripture passages outside of Genesis to support his position.

3. Should the foundation of the world and human affairs be regarded as having taken place long before Adam?

To this Maresius says, “No.” In other words, in answer to La Peyrère, he maintains a young-earth position. Any time someone starts introducing pre-Adamites, we run into the question of the age of the earth. Maresius had to deal with it, and so do we today. The biblical evidence runs in favour of a young earth.

4. Does it follow from what Paul says Romans 5:12-14 that other men existed before Adam?

This was a nearly-clever argument introduced by La Peyrère. He reinterpreted Paul to be saying that there were other human beings before Adam who were lawless and sinful. But their actions were not considered sin until Adam came along and broke God’s command to him. This comes across as a radical attempt to reinterpret a problematic text for La Peyrère and Maresius recognizes it as such. It is simply sloppy exegesis to use Romans 5:12-14 to argue for pre-Adamites. Lesson: beware of the Scripture-twisting needed to support a refusal to believe what Scripture plainly reveals in Genesis 1 and 2.

5. Is it possible for the sin of Adam to be imputed to men not descended from him, or those who are pretended to have existed in the world long before him?

Another way of putting this question: can the imputation of original sin be universal if Adam is not the head of the entire human race? Maresius denies this and argues that universal imputation requires a single head of the human race. In both old and new forms, pre-Adamitism is going to have human beings who are not biologically descended from Adam. If they are not descended from Adam, then Adam’s sin cannot be imputed to them. In La Peyrère’s version of pre-Adamitism, he also has human beings existing before Adam, and these too cannot be regarded as sharing in Adam’s sin. In whatever age pre-Adamites are proposed, it should be noted that a reconfiguration of the imputation of original sin becomes necessary.

6. Scripture frequently distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles. Can it be inferred from this that the latter are not descended from Adam, but instead from pre-Adamites?

This question is peculiar to La Peyrère’s position. While we can note that Maresius denies this, I don’t think there’s anything that can be drawn from this in terms of relevance for our present-day discussions.

7. Was the flood of Noah universal?

Maresius affirms a global flood in the days of Noah, contrary to what La Peyrère argued in his books. Like at least some contemporary advocates of pre-Adamites, La Peyrère maintained that the flood was a local phenomenon. Noah’s family, preserved in the flood, continued to represent the line of Adam. However, the Gentiles continued to exist in other parts of the world, unaffected by the flood in Noah’s locale. But Maresius points out that Scripture simply does not support this view. After all, Genesis 6:12 speaks of what precipitated the flood: universal corruption. Universal corruption requires universal punishment. After the flood, Genesis 10 provides genealogies which account for the existence of all peoples after Noah, including Gentiles. Maresius proves that arguing for a local flood requires the twisting and perversion of Scripture, and his arguments remain applicable today.

Conclusion

There is a bit more to be gleaned from this episode in church history. When La Peyrère wrote his books in 1655, he still identified as a Calvinist and was a member of the French Reformed Churches. He soon ended up being arrested by the Roman Catholics – they regarded him as an enemy of their faith too. Faced with their threats, he apologized to the Pope, recanted his views, and became a Roman Catholic in 1656. “Recanted,” however, is a term that can only be used loosely here. La Peyrère went through intellectual contortions to officially disavow his pre-Adamite views while actually still holding them. He wanted to save his life and his intellectual legacy. He actually wrote a defense in response to Maresius’ book, but did not publish it because of a promise to the Pope not to promote pre-Adamitism. There is sometimes more than meets the eye or ears. Sin is deceitful and the sin of unbelief no less so.

Perhaps you’re wondering: if his views were so wrong, why was La Peyrère never disciplined by the French Reformed Churches? Well, it had been tried. Already in 1626, he was suspected of teaching and holding to unbiblical ideas, although it’s not clear whether pre-Adamitism was on his mind yet. His case went to a provincial synod of the French Reformed Churches. However, some 60 pastors defended him and he was acquitted. In his monograph on La Peyrère, Richard H. Popkin suggests that it was the La Peyrère family name which led to this outcome – they were well-respected and influential. Although no formal discipline took place, La Peyrère’s views were roundly condemned by Reformed theologians like Maresius and Turretin. They did what they could to broker no room for pre-Adamitism in the Reformed Churches of Europe. If there ought to have been no room then for La Peyrère’s form of pre-Adamitism, why should there be room now for a different form of pre-Adamitism with many of the same features?

Extraordinary days = support for theistic evolution?

Quote 1:

As I have pointed out some years ago, there is a striking difference on the interpretation of Genesis 1 between these North-American Reformed theologians and their Dutch colleagues – such as Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, Schilder . . . Are we in danger of forgetting our own Reformed tradition in favour of the American one – both in the interpretation of Genesis 1 and in the inerrancy issue?

Quote 2:

Theistic evolution is not outside the bounds of the Three Forms of Unity.

Comment on quotes 1 & 2: Anyone reading the first quotation on a website that includes the second quotation can be forgiven for thinking (incorrectly) that the theologians here named supported some version of theistic evolution. Arguing towards the thesis of quote two in fact provides the raison d’être for the Reformed Academic blog, from where these quotes are drawn.

Quote 3:

This [the global flood] is a major argument in supporting its [creation science’s] belief that the earth is quite young — some 6,000 to 10,000 years in age, rather than the billions of years acknowledged by most scientists. According to creation-science most of the geological features of the entire earth have been shaped by a global Noahic flood which took place some 5,000 years ago.

Quote 4:

With respect to the results of modern science regarding so-called “origins” questions, we do acknowledge that there are multiple converging lines of evidence in favour of an ancient cosmos and even for the common ancestry of all living things. Now, especially in the latter case we do not consider this evidence to be incontrovertible proof, and we certainly believe God did something special in creating humankind.

Quote 5:

This includes especially the field of paleontology (studying the fossil record, including the use of radioactivity and geology) as well as astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology (these deal with stars and galaxies whose light often takes many years to reach us). These are the disciplines, after all, which have been marshalling the evidence that life has been around for about ¾ of the earth’s 4.54-billion-year history, and that the universe itself is about 13.75 billion years old. And these ages are supposed to contradict a “plain sense” or “traditional” reading of Scripture.

Comment on quotes 3, 4, and 5: Two choices are placed before the reader: either 6,000 to 10,000 years of age for the earth [and universe, I might add], or 13.75 billion years for the universe, 4.54 billion for the earth, and about 3 point something billion years for life on earth. Note: to make the contrast clear, I added the italics to these quotations from the Reformed Academic website.

My concern: For several years, as part of their argument that Reformed Christians need to make room for theistic evolution, Reformed Academic has been appealing to some key continental Reformed theologians—as listed above, Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, and Schilder—and their views on the length of the creation days in Genesis 1. Of course none of the authors at Reformed Academic have argued that these theologians supported theistic evolution as such. In one place, they even correctly state the opposite. Nevertheless, my concern is that by way of repeated rhetorical appeal to the latitude of these men regarding “Genesis 1”—and by using “Genesis 1” as shorthand for their views on the length of the days in Genesis 1—Reformed Academic leaves the impression that they can claim the support of these earlier theologians. I assert that these men neither supported theistic evolution, nor tolerated the deep time required for the supposed evolutionary process—the millions, let alone billions of years of the universe and the earth. Nor should we.

We can all point to a number of theologians who argued that some or all of the days of Genesis 1 were “extraordinary” in length, or that they were “God’s working days,” and “creation days.” Both Max Rogland (2001) and Frederika Oosterhoff (2003) have proved the case for this, and shown that Bavinck, Schilder, and others used primarily exegetical points from Genesis 1 to argue against being bound to the 24-hour view. But the fuller picture requires a more robust affirmation of their adherence to the literal, historical, common-sense reading of Genesis 1. I will explore only two of these figures, Bavinck and Schilder, and I shall follow them up with a quotation from one of the former professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary on the same point.

Herman Bavinck (1854–1921)Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.17.35 AM

Bavinck dealt at some length with evolution in his Reformed Dogmatics, in an essay on Evolution, and in another essay on Creation or Development and in his Our Reasonable Faith.[1] All of these are available in English. In none of them does he endorse theistic evolution, though he certainly appreciates the way in which God made creatures with the ability to adapt. On the idea that humans have biological ancestry with animals, Bavinck writes,

The descendance theory of Darwin may be an indispensable link in the doctrine of development; it finds no support in facts. Man always has and still does form a distinct species in the world of creatures. For this reason there is still room in science for the wondrously beautiful narrative which the opening chapters of the Bible contain concerning the origin of things . . .

And thus the Scripture states it. In an ascending series, covering a period of six days, by the word of his power the Almighty brings all things to appear from the unseen world of thought . . . What an insight into the origin of things! What an exalted simplicity! Here is poetry and truth and religion all in one. This is both natural science and philosophy (859–60).

After offering extensive critique of evolution for usurping the term development, Bavinck points out that the evolutionary worldview has no purpose of the individual person, for humanity as a whole, or for the earth. In this context he adds a point about the “millions of years,” calling it “child’s play,”

Endless duration together with an endless progress is inconceivable for the earth as well as for man. An end must come. To reckon with millions of years, in the past or in the present, is child’s play and unworthy of mature minds, and is at best of no greater value than the gigantic numbers of Indian mythology. All physicists teach that after some millions of years the earth shall come to an end. However rich in provisions, the earth is not inexhaustible.[2]

James Visscher, in a study on Bavinck on creation, includes part of this quote also, and adds in a note, “[Bavinck] considered the figures coming from geologists to be far-fetched. He had little use for Darwin’s ‘incalculable number of years.’ He stated, ‘As a matter of fact, there are other reasons as well why the human race cannot have existed many thousands of years before Christ.”[3]

Benjamin Warfield, in a review of Bavinck’s essay, spoke with great admiration,

[Bavinck] uncovers with great skill the inconsistencies of the evolutionary philosophy and exposes its vast assumptions; and sets over against it the creationism or supernaturalism of the Biblical world-conception. The address divides itself into three parts, in which are contrasted the two views of the world successively with reference to the questions of the origin, nature, and end of things, the result being to show that the evolutionary scheme stands helplessly before each of the three problems. It is a very thorough and very telling exposure of the essential atheism of evolutionism, considered as a philosophy of being.[4]

Perhaps Warfield was more open to the millions of years hypothesis than was Bavinck, for he doesn’t mention that as part of Bavinck’s critique of evolution as a philosophy of being, he also called its appeal to millions—let alone billions!—of years, “child’s play.”

Klaas Schilder (1890–1952)Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.17.00 AM

We needn’t comment extensively on Schilder’s views, as Frederika Oosterhoff has already done this work and I haven’t time to pursue this research deeply. However, the comments of Jacob Kamphuis are helpful, in his study on Schilder on heaven. He writes,

Without compromise Schilder makes his starting point the faith in Scripture, specifically in the historical trustworthiness of the history related in Genesis 2 and 3, dealing with the original state of righteousness and the fall into sin. In this book Schilder does not refer even once to the decisions of the Synod of Assen of 1926 [though he had earlier written much about it] regarding the historical trustworthiness of the narrative in Genesis 2 and 3. Nevertheless, Berkhouwer’s words are strikingly applicable to What is Heaven? “I know of no theologian within the circle of Refomred theology for whom the decision of Assen was of more material significance than it was for Schilder.” Schilder reminds us repeatedly of his position, “With resepect to the beginning of the world we must accept the historicity of the narrative of Genesis 1–3.” This is the starting point.[5]

Jack DeJong (1949–)

One of the professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, now retired and sadly incapable of entering this debate, commented in Clarion some years ago on the length of the creation days. Like Schilder, whom he studied for his dissertation, DeJong argued that we should not be bound to an exact length of 24 hours for our view of the creation days. Not everyone appreciated his position. However, that he in no way intended to make room for millions of years or for theistic evolution is clear from a brief comment he made in a published work for instruction in pre-confession classes, where he wrote,

The world was created in six days, according to the following pattern . . . [he lists the six days]. The theory of evolution says that all present things evolved from original cells through a process spanning millions of years. Although we cannot deny the process of limited change and micro-evolution, we must rule out the possibility of a change from one species to another (macro-evolution). While we cannot accurately determine the age of the earth, an evolutionary process of billions of years does not accord with the testimony of Genesis 1–3 and its relation to the rest of Scripture.[6]

Conclusion

Let’s not be misled to think that the Reformed theologians here mentioned intended to make room within the Reformed faith for millions or even billions of years of prior existence of the universe, earth, and life. All of them did argue that the days of Genesis 1 (the first three days, or even all six of them) should be called “extraordinary days,” “God’s working days,” and “creation days,” because they thought that these days were not necessarily identical in time with our 24-hour days. But they never suggested that their views allowed room for the deep time advocated by evolutionists.[7]

[1] All of these are easily found, but one: Herman Bavinck, “Creation or Development,” The Methodist Review (1901), transl. Hendrik De Vries, 849–74. See  https://archive.org/details/methodistreview8351unse. Accessed November 9, 2015.

[2] I thank Anthon Souman for drawing this quotation to my attention. I have since noticed that Herman Van Barneveld has also raised it in dialogue with Reformed Academic.

[3] James Visscher, “Bavinck on Creation,” Living Waters from Ancient Springs , ed. Jason Van Vliet (Wipf&Stock, 2011), 145, n. 44.

[4] From the Presbyterian and Reformed Review 12 (1901), 507, as quoted in Eric D. Bristley, Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck (RHB, 2008), 75. Checking the original source, I note that Warfield was reviewing the Dutch original, not the translation.

[5] Jacob Kamphuis, “Schilder on Heaven,” Always Obedient, ed. J. Geertsema (P&R, 1995), 102.

[6] Jack DeJong, Credo (Premier Publishing, 1997, etc.), 28–29.

[7] Finally, as a bit of an aside, readers of Reformed Academic’s blogs also repeatedly encounter one or two quotations from John Calvin to the effect that we are to learn astronomy and other disciplines from the scientific experts and not from the Bible. Creation Ministries International replied to this trope some time ago, with a much more wholesome account of Calvin’s views.