John Walton on Adam and Eve
The ancient world, Israel included, was more interested in how the world was ordered than in how the world was manufactured.
Think about the place you live. You could talk about that place as a house or as a home. You could talk about how it was constructed, or how it became your home, how it functions for you, how it’s ordered for your family. Both stories are important, but they’re different stories. They’re interrelated because you need the house to have the home. The ancients, however, were more interested in the home story—how God ordered this world for us.
I see in Genesis the story of God ordering the cosmos to function for people. He’s going to come in, take up his rest here, dwell here, rule here, and relate to us here. “I go and prepare a place for you,” Jesus said. That wasn’t the first time Christ had done that. This world was prepared for us to relate to God, “that you also may be where I am” [John 14:3].
Genesis 2, however, is concerned with how we are to function in this sacred space in relationship with God. So Eden is not just green space; it’s also sacred space. God is there, and that’s what’s most important. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven out and lost access to God’s presence. That’s how the Israelites would have thought about it. And that theological issue is far more significant than our questions about origins ...
When Paul focuses on why humans are subject to death, he’s not concerned about death at the cellular level, but about why we humans are subject to death. The answer is sin. That’s not the same as saying Adam was created immortal. We often jump to that conclusion. But it wouldn’t make sense for immortal people to have a Tree of Life. That suggests to me that people were created mortal and were given a remedy for their condition [to eat from the Tree of Life]. But when Adam and Eve sinned, we lost access to that remedy. That’s why we are subject to death.
Does this mean there was death before Adam and Eve?
I think so. The fact that God provided a Tree of Life suggests to me that there was death before Adam and Eve. Sin is the reason we lost access to the remedy and are therefore subject to death. It’s not like death came into existence when Adam and Eve sinned. I don’t know if we can even talk about death “existing.” And it’s not that animals, plants, and cells did not experience death. Death at the cellular level is required for development. For those who are willing to accept evolutionary theories, death prior to the Fall is not a problem. While Paul is not addressing our modern issues or concerns, he’s not making a statement that rules them out.