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What is the Theistic Evolutionist's interpretation of these passages that seem to indicate that Eve was the first mother, and therefore the mother of all humanity?

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Genesis 3:20 ESV)

The instinctive answer is, "It's a metaphor." But what is the metaphor supposed to allude to? And how does it couple with Luke 3 where Jesus' genealogy is listed as coming directly from Eve (Adam's wife).

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli ... the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:23, 38 ESV)

And Adam knew [Eve] again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him. (Genesis 4:25 ESV)

I'm aiming this question at TE's who assume that the Bible is authoritative scripture.

  • I'd assume that since most of them consider the first few chapters of Genesis to be figurative, they probably assume the name to be chosen as a figurative name that goes well with the story. But it probably varies by OEC adherents, whatever their personal opinion is. – David Stratton Sep 12 '14 at 12:22
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To TEs who don't believe in a literal Adam and Eve, Eve being the mother of living is metaphor, just as Eve existing is metaphor.

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    Metaphor for what? – LCIII Sep 17 '14 at 18:09
  • @LCIII: That would depend on whom you ask. The point is that TEs don't believe they literally existed. – Flimzy Feb 24 '15 at 21:08
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At least one OEC organization -- Hugh Ross's "Reasons to Believe" -- clearly states that they believe in a literal Adam and Eve. This article from their site discusses DNA evidence that there is a single ancestral pair for the entire human race.

[N]umerous studies indicate that humanity originated: (1) recently (around 100,000 years ago, plus or minus 20,000 years or so); (2) at a single location (East Africa)—close to where some Bible scholars think the Garden of Eden was located; and (3) from a small population of individuals.

Moreover, analysis of mitochondrial DNA (which provides insight into the origin of the maternal lineage) indicates that humanity traces back to a single ancestral sequence that could be interpreted as a single woman. Likewise, characterization of Y-chromosomal DNA (which provides insight into the origin of the paternal lineage) indicates that all men trace their origin back to a single ancestral sequence that could be interpreted as a single man.

These astounding results harmonize with a traditional reading of the biblical account of human origins, and suggest that Adam and Eve likely existed as real persons who gave rise to all of humanity.

While the RTB organization rejects theistic evolution (TE), their views on DNA evidence would be consistent with the idea that God selected an existing proto-human and made it (presumably he, the male Adam of Genesis) a "living soul" by giving him the "breath of life", which is the human spirit. The exact relationship with Eve is less clear; she must share what Adam is yet be unique. I think that aspect of it is one of the things that bothered RTB.

This site has more to say about TE. They seem to favor a symbolic meaning:

The controversy never should have made it to a scientific level. The crux of the creation/evolution controversy is a literary interpretation and genre-recognition issue: a hermeneutical dilemma.

More details can be located on the Literary Genre page, but suffice it to say here that Genesis chapter one carries within it a deeper meaning than what a literal interpretation can produce. The text was written as a response to the existence of neighboring viewpoints on origins, as opposed to a play-by-play documentary on how God might have created.

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    This answer is no longer valid since question was edited, since Hugh Ross and RTB do not accept theistic evolution. Their DNA arguments are consistent with God having chosen existing individuals and giving them spiritual characteristics through a special act of creation though. – disciple Sep 12 '14 at 14:11
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Being the mother of all living need not be inconsistent with having peers and ancestors.

Given the way genes disperse, every human being, beyond a certain point back in time, is either the ancestor of all living human beings, or the ancestor of none. A good, relatively recent, case, is that of Ghengis Khan, who is well on his way to becoming the ancestor of every living human! This runs a little contrary to naive intuition, which might suggest that the further back we look, the fewer people of that time represent the ancestors of the next generation; we have a sense of family trees as growing from great-grandparents to grandparents to parents etc.

One way to see how this can work is that, provided there is a person ever to have been the common ancestor of all living humans (this is trivially true unless we believe some very bizarre things), we can find such a point in time as described above.

Denote by 'Eve' the earliest-born common ancestor of all living humans who is not also an ancestor of any extant non-human. It is conceivable that such an individual not exist, but all evidence suggests there is one (otherwise 'Eve' was certainly not a modern human!) Now, the birth of 'Eve' gives a point in time with the property described (every person before then is either an ancestor of all extant humans or of none).

Consider all people born before this time. There are three cases.

  1. they are an ancestor of 'Eve'. Then they too are a common ancestor to all living people, fulfilling the property.
  2. they are not an ancestor of eve, and indeed not an ancestor of any living person, again fulfilling the property.
  3. they are not an ancestor of Eve, but are an ancestor of some living humans, breaking the property. But then, any common ancestor of this person and 'Eve' is a common ancestor of all living humans, born before 'Eve', contradicting our choice of the earliest such person. So this case is impossible.

Note that this 'Eve' is probably not 'Mitochondrial Eve' (it may not be female, anyway!)

This is not to say that all, or even any, of these people's genetic material survives, let alone surviving in every extant individual. Ideed, half of each parent's DNA is not passed on to each offspring, so this is easy to see.

All of this is to say that being the mother of all (extant) is not at all a sufficient condition to be the first mother (although the converse is of course true).

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview of what this site is about, please take the Site Tour. Your answer is fascinating and well-reasoned. However, does it represent the views of theistic evolutionists? Are you personally a theistic evolutionist, and does this express your views as such? If you could provide some link and reference to such a connection, this answer would do better here. See: What makes a good supported answer? – Lee Woofenden Dec 26 '15 at 18:51
  • I say all of this because Christianity.SE is explicitly not a discussion site. See: How we are different than other sites. So if your "answer" doesn't clearly answer the question asked, but is more like a discussion of related issues, it will most likely get deleted as off-topic. – Lee Woofenden Dec 26 '15 at 18:53
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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?

Mitochondrial Eve

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 needs.
  • We serve others' needs in ways that help them and give them happiness.

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:

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