The theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) stated that the first ten or eleven chapters of the Bible are written in purely "correspondential," or symbolic, language. He held that there were no literal "Adam" and "Eve" who were individual human beings directly created by God. He saw them instead as personifications, or figures representative of the first group or race of early humans who became spiritual and had a relationship with God.
Swedenborg could not technically be called a theistic evolutionist, since the theory of evolution did not yet exist in his day. However, he was a scientist himself in his earlier years, and he believed strongly, and stated clearly in his later theological writings, that there is no conflict between good science and genuine religion. As a result, the bulk of Swedenborgians today are very comfortable with seeing evolution as the way God brought about the various species on earth, including humans—and would therefore be included among theistic evolutionists.
Here is an answer to the question extracted from my article, "The Mother of All the Living." It was originally preached as a Mother's Day sermon in 1998, when I was still serving as a pastor. And I might add that it was rather controversial at the time in my fairly traditional (by Swedenborgian standards) congregation. If there seem to be some breaks in the flow, that's because I've taken out several sections that don't relate directly to the question. For the full article, please follow the link.
The mother of all the living
In Genesis 3:20, after Adam and Eve have earned themselves a one-way trip out of the Garden of Eden, we read:
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.
If we take this Bible story literally, there can be only one mother of all the living. She is the first woman created by God. As the story goes, she and her husband Adam are the only people created directly by God. All the rest are created through the reproductive ability God gave to humans. So Eve becomes the mother of all the people on earth, in all their succeeding generations, right up to the billions who are on earth today.
Of course, science would never support such a proposition.
Or would it?
There is a scientific theory called "Mitochondrial Eve," which says that we can all be traced back to one woman who lived in ancient prehistoric times.
Of course, the theory does not say that this "Eve" was a special creation of God. And it does not consider her to be the only woman who was alive at that time. Rather, as the theory goes, if you trace back every human being alive today through their mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and so on, all the way back through the matrilineal side, they will all eventually converge on a single woman who lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. (A parallel theory posits a "Y-chromosomal Adam.")
Other women are represented in the genes of various segments of the human race. However, this particular woman would be the ancestor of all people who are alive today, everywhere in the world.
A fascinating theory! And it offers the possibility that there actually was a literal, human "mother of all the living," even if it did not happen quite the way the Bible describes it.
Sometimes religion and science make strange bedfellows!
Who are Eve and Adam?
As fascinating as the Mitochondrial Eve theory is, it only scratches the surface of the "mother of all the living" as found in the Bible. God has no need to give us a textbook of biology and cosmology. We can figure those things out for ourselves. From a spiritual (and Swedenborgian) perspective, arguments about whether the world was literally created in six days, and whether there were two literal individuals named Adam and Eve, are not worth the paper (or the pixels) they are written on.
There is something much more precious in these stories. They offer us the story of our spiritual origins, and of our relationship with God.
The original Hebrew in the book of Genesis suggests that Adam and Eve are not two individual human beings. The Hebrew word sometimes translated as the name "Adam" can also be translated as "humankind." And it is often referred to in the plural: as people, not a single person.
The text itself begs us to think of this narrative as the symbolic story of an early race of human beings and their relationship with God.
Our spiritual mother
At the literal level, perhaps we do have a common biological mother whose genes we all carry. For our spiritual life, though, it really doesn't matter whether there was some literal Eve in our human ancestry.
Moving upward to a more spiritual perspective, we can see a deeper meaning in the idea of Eve as the mother of all the living. Consider that in these early mythological and symbolic stories, the Bible is really talking about the spiritual development of the human race. Adam and Eve represent the development of our earliest spiritual orientation when we first became human beings. They represent our very earliest spiritual era, and our relationship with God at the dawn of humanity.
In Secrets of Heaven #287, Swedenborg explains the meaning Genesis 3:20:
The human [Hebrew adam] here means the individual of the earliest church, or the heavenly person. His wife and the mother of every living thing mean the church. The word mother is used because this was the first church, while the word living is used because this church believed in the Lord, who is life itself.
This brings us to a deeper level of meaning for "the mother of all the living." Spiritually, those who are "living" are those who believe in God, and live according to that belief. Without faith in God, any spiritual life we may think we have is dead because we are cut off from the source of all life and all faith. Our belief in God is what makes us come alive spiritually.
Where do we find that faith?
We find it in our church, our religion, or our spiritual beliefs. Our spiritual beliefs, and the community of people we share them with, are the mother of all who are spiritually living. We learn what it means to believe in God from our spiritual community, and from the spiritual teachers and guides we turn to for understanding and inspiration. Our church or spiritual community nurtures that faith into a living, moving force in our hearts and minds.
If we open ourselves up to that living force and receive it into ourselves, it gradually transforms our entire life so that we can truly be in the image and likeness of God.
We are in the image and likeness of God when:
- We love other people as much as we love ourselves.
- We do our best to understand each other's feelings, thoughts, and
- We serve others' needs in ways that help them and give them
In a spiritual sense, religion and spirituality of all kinds is the mother of all the living. It is from our religion, and from our spiritual beliefs and practices, that we are conceived as spiritual beings. And our church or spiritual community is the mother who cares for us and raises us to spiritual maturity.
In short: From a Swedenborgian perspective, "Eve" represents the church, or the community of believers, which is our common mother spiritually.
Though Adam and Eve represent a whole race of early humans, they are still our ancestors, so there is no conflict tracing Jesus' genealogy back to them. See my related answers to the questions: