Catholics/Were Adam and Eve 1st?


QUESTION: Genesis 1 King James Version
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 2 King James Version

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

8 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

ANSWER: I detect two questions here. First I think what you are really asking is "Do Catholics have to believe that Adam and Eve were literal people."  Second I think you are also asking "Do Catholics have to believe that Adam and Eve were the FIRST human beings.

The answer is "YES" Catholics MUST believe that Adam and Eve were the FIRST set of parents and "YES" Catholics must believe that Adam and Eve were literal people.  

That is the short and simple answer.  However--below is the nuance and longer more complex answer.

Catholics MAY believe in the theory of evolution provided that Catholics do not believe in the theory of Polygenism.  That is the idea that there were multiple sets of first parents. Catholics CAN accept Monogenism which is the theory that there was a first set of parents from which human beings descended.

Here is the relevant citation:  

"When there is a question of another conjectural opinion, namely, of polygenism so-called, then the sons of the Church in no way enjoy such freedom. For the faithful in Christ cannot accept this view, which holds either that after Adam there existed men on this earth who did not receive their origin by natural generation from him, the first parent of all, or that Adam signifies some kind of multiple first parents; for it is by no means apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with what the sources of revealed truth and the acts of the magisterium of the Church teaches about original sin, which proceeds from a sin truly committed by one Adam, and which is transmitted to all by generation, and exists in each one as his own." (Humani Generis 37 Pope Pius XII)

Richard Dawkins (Militant atheist) correctly pointed out in a "debate" (more like a discussion question and answer) with Cardinal Pell that Original Sin as Catholics believe it cannot be harmonized with Polygenism.  He pointed this out after Cardinal Pell made a rather interesting (to say the least) remark about Adam and Eve being metaphors for earth and creation. Dawkins correctly noted that if such is the case--from WHERE does Original Sin come? Cardinal Pell NEVER answered the question and Dawkins TWICE asked it.

This discussion can easily be watched on Youtube if you are interested in seeing it.  Just go to Youtube and type "Pell Dawkins debate" in the search and you should find it.  My own assessment of the discussion was that while Cardinal Pell made some good points nevertheless I think our side could have done far better with someone more experienced and knowledgeable about the New Atheist movement and their arguments.    

It is because of the understating of Original Sin that Catholic belief (at least in current understanding) cannot be reconciled with Polygenism.  Currently the Church teaches that Original Sin is passed on through propagation. As soon as a new human person is conceived they are tainted by the Sin of Adam and Eve. Original Sin is a defect in our human nature.  Something (God's Life) should be within our souls and it isn't.  In other words we are conceived in a state of enmity with God. This is why Baptism is necessary for salvation.  Baptism washes us clean and brings us into the life of God. While Christ's death and resurrection "redeemed" the human race (meaning that humanity in Christ is now once again united to God--never to be at enmity again) INDIVIDUALS are joined to CHRIST through Baptism.  

Christ joined humanity to God the Father in his own flesh.  Through Baptism man is joined to CHRIST and thus can now approach the Father because he is joined to Christ.   

Here is the relevant citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

390 "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents."

In other words--the story in Genesis is narrating a historical event involving the first set of human beings--but doing so in figurative language.  

Long story short: Evolution may be accepted by Catholics but not the theory of Polygenism.  Adam and Eve while perhaps figurative names for the first two human beings were HISTORICAL people who indeed committed some HISTORICAL sin against God thus meriting death for themselves and their descendants (the human race) The Garden of Eden, talking snakes and magical trees might be figurative--nevertheless they use the figurative language to narrate a HISTORICAL happening involving the very first people God created.

This is about the best and clearest answer I can give you at this time.    



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: In Genesis 1-27
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And then later

In Genesis-2-7
It says he created Adam and later Eve

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

That is what is confusing me

I understand your question.

There are a couple of ways to answer this.

The first way (which is the way I prefer) is to suggest that in Genesis 1 we get the GENERAL pattern of creation.  In other words when it came to the creation of things it isn't detailed.  It simply sets the pattern from least important to most important.

In Genesis 2 we are getting a more detailed picture in how God created man and women.  It is sort of like a "blowing up" of the day 6 of creation.  God created Adam out of the dust of the Earth whereas Eve was created from the side of Adam.  Thus Genesis 2 takes day six of creation and provides more detail.

The second way is making use of modern scholarship. The first five books of the Bible were traditionally held to be written by Moses.  However modern scholarship does not accept this.  A theory called "Documentary Hypothesis"  asserts that the Books of Moses were not written by Moses but by different authors with differing traditions and perspectives.  There were four authors in all called "J, E, P and D."  

Genesis Chapter 1 is seen as the "First" creation story with Genesis 2 being seen as the "Second" creation story.  Genesis 1 is written by a different author than Genesis 2 and each author wanted to stress different aspects of God's characteristics.  Because the different authors are coming from different traditions and choosing to stress different aspects of God's character, hence we see this combined into the differing accounts of creation.  

The Documentary Hypothesis is a hypothesis to explain the differences in the names used for God and the differing linguistic styles in the Books of Moses. Is it correct? The scholars who argue for it certainly think it is!  I don't think it matters since the entire Bible is "Theopneustos" or "God Breathed."  In other words--regardless of who the authors were, how they came together, how the final version was redacted and put together, etc--it doesn't matter.  God is the primary author of Scripture--hence what is written is what God wanted written. What is important is that we understand God's Word  

I hope this helps.  


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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