I think the difficulty in grasping the simplicity of the Bible’s origins debate is rooting in sincere believers not being taught to appreciate symbolism. The YECs may believe they are plainly reading but they are far from doing that. Perhaps there is also a special American Evangelical problem, because the Bible in some sense is considered an American book rather than Ancient Oriental book.
The general Evangelical understanding of the serpent is symptomatic of this. Accepting that the account speaks of a “beast of the field“ (Genesis 3:1) seems very difficult for many people. The serpent even talks! I suggest when something literal is said to act in a way that cannot be literal, then we are dealing with symbolism. The historical Bible accounts are not telling us to bend the reality we can see with our eyes. We have angels appearing as men, and miracles are performed as signs, being signs because they go against the perceived reality we can see with our eyes. The beggar in the “bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22) is another example of symbolism. It is not sound Bible interpretation to assume that when we die, we wake up in the old man Abraham’s lap. Abraham is one of the fathers of the believers according to the New Testament. God and Jesus Christ obviously are and Paul is also said to be so. The lap figure of speech is also used in connection with the Son’s oneness with the Father, the Son is in the Father’s bosom (John 1:18). The symbolism is overly obvious; we can easily imagine a child sitting in a loving father’s lap. Believers are Abraham’s – spiritual – children (Galatians 3:29). The “Lazarus in hell” account is soundly interpreted as an allegory concerning the rejection and hardening of a part of old Israel and the blessing of the new covenant people becoming heirs to the Abrahamic promise. This is a major New Testament theme.
Back to Genesis, there is no evidence that the Bible wishes us to believe there was once a garden with a literal talking serpent and magical fruit trees. On the contrary, reason tells us that it is symbolic. The book of Revelation also speaks of tree of life, bearing 12 fruits and leaves for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). It is symbolic. Paul speaks of the serpent without saying it is something else (2 Corinthians 11:3). I am not leaving Revelation 12:9 out of the picture – there is a literal entity or more behind the figure, but first things come first. First, you consider what the symbolism is saying, and then you can speculate about the literal meaning.
Accepting this, we can safely conclude that the Adam and Eve account is symbolic, speaking of the first biblically revealed covenant between God and man (Genesis 2:16-17). The meaning of the symbolism of Adam made of dust God breathe life into and that Eve was made of the rib of Adam (Genesis 2:7, 22-23) should be obvious.
Job 34:14 If He should set His heart on it, If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, 15 All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.
Genesis 18:27 Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord:
The death of Adam and Eve is safely interpreted as symbolic as the fall is their SPIRITUAL death. There is no other alternative unless you want to add that God did not carry out his sentence for their transgression (Genesis 2:17). God said the day you shall surely die, and the death sentence is further explained to both Adam and Eve and the serpent (Genesis 3:14-19). Spiritual death is fully revealed in the New Testament (John 5:25, Romans 6:6-7, Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 2:5, 1 Peter 3:18, 4:6).
Who were Adam and Eve? Whom were they symbolizing? Here is the great controversy. I suggest the early account has been twisted because Paul’s essential teaching on Adam is misunderstood. Plainly read, the man and woman in Genesis 1:26-27 is not identical to Adam and Eve. I suggest these people are intended to represent all people, quite possibly Adam and Eve included. It does not cause me any trouble if they are Adam and Eve, but it is to me not an obvious reading and major problem about the origins account is that people make it excessively difficult. Then we have the special and still symbolic account of Adam and Eve, whose genealogy in Genesis 5 is traced to Jesus in the New Testament’s origins accounts in Matthew 1 and Luke 1. Genealogy was of extreme importance to old Israel. Were they two literal people? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The important thing is that the origin of Israel is established. Notice that we go from the creation of the heavens and earth in chapter 1 to a very local account in the garden describing some riverheads (Genesis 2:10-14). With this plain reading, the origin of Cain’s wife as well as the people he feared after receiving the mark in Genesis 4 is no issue at all.
Who was the serpent symbolizing?
Revelation 12:9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Doubtless the serpent here is the one from Eden, though there are other serpents mentioned in the Bible (Amos 9:3, Isaiah 27:1). Another symbolic character mentioned is the dragon:
Revelation 12:3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.
These symbols mean something. This is the Roman Empire and possibly also the Edomite priesthood / Pharisee power against God’s people. But they were not in the garden of Eden. To be lumped together, there must be a personal supernatural character or characters against God’s people. Traditionally Christianity’s solution to this is the fallen angel character. Anyone who has studied what the Bible actually says in the alleged proof texts of that particular character knows that the theory has great difficulties. It is – just like much in the origins accounts – not fully explained and it makes men speculate.
What is Paul saying about Adam? We find the essential teachings in 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45 and Romans 5. Adam was the first man and his disobedience brought death to all men just as Christ brings life to all men. The death spoken is spiritual as it is the opposite condition to be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). This is the death Paul is concerned with and the death Christ saves from. The term “first man” is again spiritually discerned no difficulty. The Hebrews did not think in modern biological terms. We have the biblical example of “I will make him my firstborn..” (Psalm 89:27). Israel was the firstborn of God.
Exodus 4:22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.
With wooden literalism, it makes no sense. But it makes sense to speak of Israel as God’s firstborn in special spiritual sense. It also makes sense to speak of Adam this way as Adam was the first man in biblically revealed covenant with God and whom the man Jesus Christ was traced back to. We have to remember that we gentiles were sort of gathered along on “cancellation”:
Acts 28:28 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”
Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.