Mr. A: Do Christians need a historical Adam and Eve?
Ms. B: Need them for what?
Mr. A: To be good Christians.
Ms. B: How do you mean?
Mr. A: Well, if a Christian interprets the creation and fall of Adam as a mythic story rather than a broadly historical one, what else might a Christian be giving up?
Ms. B: Oh, I see. You're worried that if you conclude Adam and Eve are not real, historical figures, then this will have some unforeseen, perhaps even heretical consequences. Correct?
Mr. A: Basically yes. I mean, for starters, how can you believe in scriptural authority if Adam and Eve are not historical?
Ms. B: That seems a bit strange to ask frankly. When you ask whether Adam and Eve are historical you're really asking a more basic question: Are we obliged to interpret the Genesis creation story literally? But why think that only a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative can maintain scriptural authority? Take the psalms. Nobody today believes the psalms have to be interpreted literally in order to be authoritative.
Mr. A: Well of course, they're poems or songs.
Ms. B: But in the seventeenth century, many Christians interpreted key portions of the psalms literally. As a result, they believed that the psalms taught geocentrism, the view that the earth is fixed at the center of the universe. After all, we read in Psalm 93:1 that "the world is established, firm and secure." So one could say: aren't we undermining the authority of scripture unless we take this passage literally?
Mr. A: Okay, but they were just wrong. When it comes to narratives however, they need to be interpreted historically.
Ms. B: What about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, or of the sower and his seed? Those are narratives. Do you take them literally?
Mr. A: No, of course not. Like you said, they're parables. They're not meant to be taken as literal, historical descriptions.
Ms. B: And so we come back to the question of interpreting Genesis 1-3. There are many non-historical or non-literal types of narrative. Can't one interpret this narrative as non-historical in nature as well and still maintain its authority?
Mr. A: But isn't this a slippery slope? What about Noah? And Abraham? And Moses? And Jesus? Once we start where do we stop?
Ms. B: You say it is a slippery slope. I suspect however that you are proposing a slippery slope fallacy. We need to take each narrative on its own terms. We cannot just assume that every thing from Adam to apocalypse must be literal or the whole Bible becomes a myth. After all, most Christians have no problem distinguishing between the resurrection and ascension as historical, even as they note that Jesus did not literally sit down at the Father's right hand.
Mr. A: What do you mean?
Ms. B: Uh, well the Father doesn't have a right hand or a throne on which he sits. Those are metaphors.
Mr. A: Oh. Well it still seems dangerous to me.
Ms. B: Whether you like it or not, we're all interpreters of the text. Nobody is above the danger of misinterpretation. We must recognize that the "literal" meaning is not a presuppositionless interpretive position. And the fact is that many Christians have concluded after careful study that the Genesis creation and fall narrative, like other such narratives of the ancient near east, is not historical in nature. They may be wrong, but do we know that their interpretation cannot in principle be reconciled with the concept of revelation? I mean what's the problem with God appropriating a non-historical account of human origins and fall as part of his inspired revelation?