This conundrum has been long-debated and many think it is unanswerable. I read recently (2010) in a Christian magazine that though Adam was created in one (literal) day, he looked about thirty years old. Thus, the author obviously assumed that in order to get an “egg” you must have a “chicken” to lay it. So the chicken must come first. However, this begs big questions.
For a start, the idea that Adam was created full-grown (or at best was the subject of accelerated growth when God pressed the fast-forward button) leads inevitably to our wondering, first, whether he was a man at all, and, second, what his relationship was with the rest of his posterity. The Bible leads us to believe that since Adam begot children in his own image (Gen. 5:1-3), they must have been like him, ourselves included. It is a matter of like father, like son (cf. John 3:6). But we know for a fact that since we were born babies, we were subject to development. In light of this, it is hard not to conclude that Adam developed too. (The supernatural birth described in Isaiah 66:7-9 clearly stands in contrast with natural birth.) Indeed, careful reading of what Genesis says reveals that like us he began life in total ignorance. Initially, like babies and animals he knew neither the law nor good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22). Furthermore, he was naked, again like a baby!
Adam and Jesus
According to Paul, Adam was a type of him who was to come (Rom. 5:14). If so, Adam must have followed the pattern clearly etched by Jesus, his antitype. Since we know that Jesus through his mother was a son of the first Adam (Luke 3:38) and hence a true man, Adam, the type, must have undergone a similar development to his antitype. In light of this it occasions no surprise when we learn that Adam passed through a period of infantile ignorance before he received and understood the commandment promising (eternal) life (Gen. 2:17) just as Jesus did (cf. Isa. 7:15f.; 8:4). Again, since we know for certain that Jesus was a baby who like Adam had through his mother stemmed from the earth (Eph. 4:9), we cannot but conclude that Adam too must have undergone a similar development. In other words, Adam was an egg (or the seed of mother earth or woman, Gen. 2:7; 3:20; 1 Cor. 15:45) before he became a chicken! Indeed, if this is not so, it is difficult to appreciate how Jesus became the second Adam.
The same can be said with regard to David who also sees himself as originating in the earth (Ps. 139:15) like Adam (cf. Gen. 2:7) before being placed in the womb of his mother (Ps. 139:13). Here, the picture seems to be as it is in Genesis. Just as God had fertilized mother earth and placed Adam as seed in the Garden of Eden to gestate and develop (Gen. 2:8,15), so through his father he placed David in the womb of his mother (cf. Gen. 1:2; Luke 1:35). In other words, David recapitulated Adam’s experience just as Jesus did. The difference between the first and second Adams would appear to be that the first Adam, though spiritually infantile became physically mature while he was still in the process of being nurtured in the Garden. Perhaps this was the mythical golden age? It sounds remarkably like modern scientific theories regarding the early history of man who was less than or pre-human (pre-adamic, if you like) before he became recognizably homo sapiens. And this surely corresponds with the uncovenanted and unconscious fleshly gestation of embryos and foetuses prior to the birth of babies. It further points up the fact that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, that is, the individual recapitulates the history of the race. Mankind and individual alike as flesh emanate from the ground before they are spirit (1 Cor. 15:46.) So we can conclude that when Adam, the paradigm of all his fleshly posterity, had like an infant developed sufficiently on the mental level, he broke the first commandment he received and was ejected permanently from the Garden (Gen. 3:22-24, cf. John 3:4). Morally unfitted though he was, Adam was pushed into the harsh world beyond Eden under orders to till the ground from which he had been taken (Gen. 3:23) as he had done in the Garden itself (2:15). In all the subsequent history of man the pattern is repeated. (Pace Article 9 of the C of E and see my Imitation)
However, David was not alone in recapitulating the pattern set by Adam. Paul apparently underwent the same experience as he indicates in Romans 7:9f. Far from being the victim of original sin, he says he was ‘alive’ as a baby but like Adam before him he broke the parental commandment (Dt. 4:9; Ps. 78:5f.; Prov. 1:8; 4:1-9; 6:20) which promised life when it impinged on his developing mind, and so he ‘died’ (i.e. failed to gain the promised life). By contrast, Jesus as the second Adam did not break the commandment. In fact, he uniquely went on to keep the entire law (cf. Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), the precondition of eternal life (Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:15-20, cf. Gen. 2:17), and so received, and was permanently sealed by, the Spirit (John 6:27) at his baptism (John 1:32). But since it was impossible for him to live eternally on the temporal earth, he was necessarily transformed at his ascension (John 20:17, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-53). So much for naturalistic evolutionism at this point!
Once Jesus had perfectly recapitulated the experience of his forebears (cf. e.g. Mt. 2:15), that is, lived Adamic life sinlessly in the flesh (Rom. 8:3) and gained life (birth from above), he went on to ‘precapitulate’ or pioneer the pilgrimage of his fellows into heaven (Mt.19:21; Heb. 6:1). (Did Jesus ‘recapitulate’ or rather reproduce the life of his heavenly Father? In one sense he did. After all, he was God in the flesh and as flesh he lived the same sort of life that his Father would have done had he been incarnate. Since God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, cf. John 8:12, little wonder that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth, for thereby he proved his pedigree. He was who he claimed to be, the true Son of the Father who was well pleased with him.) As the author of Hebrews strongly stresses, as man he was made perfect (2:10; 5:9; 7:26,28) and so reached in the flesh (Rom. 8:3) the peak of the perfection that characterized his heavenly Father (Lev. 11:44f.; Mt. 5:48; Heb. 1:3, cf. Rev. 3:21). Paul aspired to this (cf. Heb. 6:1) but came short of it (Phil 3:12-14). Needless to say, the rest of us do the same. We all come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). However, through faith in Christ we are more than conquerors. Truly is God a God of grace and the author of our salvation in Christ. And this makes Christ absolutely indispensable (Acts 4:12, etc.).
The doctrine of perfection in itself indicates that at the beginning of earthly life man is naturally immature (a mere egg, so to speak!) who is called to achieve maturity in Christ. Physically, all of us who reach adulthood attain our goal just as a lamb becomes a sheep or an acorn becomes an oak. The problem here is that in a world that is by nature subject to obsolescence (Heb. 1:11), futility (Rom. 8:20) and corruption (Ps. 102:26), physical maturity leads universally to inevitable decline (entropy) and eventual death. (Note that in the natural world, the harvest is dead food, Mark 4:28.) This can only be escaped by spiritual new birth which gives us eternal life (John 3:16). It is attained uniquely by faith in Jesus who having kept the law that promised life himself, died on our behalf and achieved the immortality and incorruption (Gk. 2 Tim. 1:10) that characterized his Father (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), the glory he shared before the world began (John 17:5,24). In this way, he opened the door of the henhouse (or, to use the biblical image, the gate of the sheepfold, John 10:9) for the rest of us who believe in him to become chickens (sheep).
All this teaches us that the egg must precede the chicken. It is the law of the natural world, intrinsic to the plan of salvation. (In other words it is God’s modus operandi, the way he operates, cf. Mark 4:28.) Since as flesh man is creation in miniature, he must like creation begin at the beginning (Gen. 1:1). If he does not develop, evolve, mature or head for perfection (maturity, completion, James 1:4) in some sense, he is not a man at all. (Thus it follows that if a man nurtures his flesh and refuses to develop spiritually, he is ranked with the animals, Eccl. 3:18; 2 Pet. 2:22, and slaughtered, 2 Pet. 2:12.) If this is so, we have all the more reason to accept that Adam must have been subject to the same (limited) development and perfection as all his posterity was (Heb. 6:1). He was in other words an egg before he became a chicken.
But there is more to say. Paul makes it absolutely clear in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 that biblical anthropology, specifically corporeality, involves progress from flesh (dust) to spirit (see espec. v.46). We begin life like Adam as dust (1 Cor. 15:47-49) but we are intended as those who are created in the potential image of God to end our earthly life like Jesus both corporeally and spiritually (cf. Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21). Just as Jesus progressed from ground to glory by conquering and finally shedding his (corruptible) flesh (John 3:13; 6:62; Eph. 4:9f., etc.), so do the rest of us who are ‘in Christ’. Again it is necessary to conclude that recapitulation is involved, but this time the pattern is spiritual and it is established by Jesus, the second Adam. We follow him. What is true of the paradigm is true of the many who are conformed to it, that is, his image (cf. John 17:24; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 5:14f.).
Evolution or Devolution?
Sadly, instead of following Irenaeus who taught recapitulation, the church has since the fifth century followed Augustine who absurdly posited initial perfection followed by a “Fall” and a cosmic curse. In other words, Augustine turned theology on its head. Like the Judaisers with whom Paul remonstrated in Galatians 3:3, he began with the end (perfection) and finished with the beginning (imperfection)! And even today some still think in terms of paradise lost and regained failing to realize that the earthly paradise (the womb) is meant to culminate in the heavenly paradise (the bosom of the Father, John 1:18, alternatively that of Abraham, Luke 16:22).
From a modern scientific point of view Augustine began with the chicken positing devolution instead of with the egg positing evolution. Otherwise expressed, it might be said that ‘in Adam’ we begin with heavenly perfection and after an inexplicable “fall” look for earthly redemption despite the fact that Jesus implied in his conversation with Nicodemus that return to our mother’s womb is impossible! (Compare John 3:4 with Galatians 3:3.) Nowadays some go even further and, positing the redemption of the physical universe, tell us that the eternal God will leave his heavenly throne and come to reign on earth despite its inherent transience! (If it is true that Adam fell from perfection, then it must be equally true that God himself can fall. The thought is both blasphemous and unnerving.) What the Bible teaches is that we all begin in immaturity and attain to maturity in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15; 4:13). We begin far off (heathen), come near (Jews) and as Christ’s brothers and God’s sons we are conformed to Christ’s likeness (Rom. 8:29) and God’s image (2 Cor. 3:18, Christians). (The wicked also achieve maturity in sin and conformity with the devil, Gen. 15:16; John 8:44; 1 Thes. 2:16; Rev. 13. The movement is always forwards not backwards. See my No Going Back) In Christ we receive forgiveness and in the power of the Spirit overcome our defective development. In fact, it is Jesus who provides the pattern of our gradual ascent to heaven, as Paul well recognizes (Phil. 3:14). Thus, B.B.Warfield correctly pointed out (pp.158-166) that the only true and complete human development the world has ever seen was achieved by Jesus himself. It was he who uniquely progressed from ground to glory (Eph. 4:9f.) and brought life and incorruption (Gk) to light (2 Tim. 1:10).
I conclude then that the answer to the conundrum posed in the first paragraph is that the egg precedes the chicken. Just as this is true physically but ends in death, so it is true spiritually where new birth followed by sanctification is crowned with glory (Rom. 6:22f.). The biblical doctrine of perfection alone demands this. It accords with the pattern of life as we experience it. Unlike naturalistic evolution which is epitomized in the individual and heads towards death and destruction, biblical teleology has in view the celestial city where just men are made perfect (Heb. 12:23). It is foundational of the faith. Our earthly (fleshly) beginning (Gen. 1:1) has a heavenly (spiritual) end (Rev. 21:1): we exchange our dusty bodies for spiritual ones (1 Cor. 15:45-49) just as we exchange our sin for Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). (The two are parallel but not identical. Compare our indebtedness to the Jews with our salvation to Jesus.) Just as Jesus having begun in the ground (Eph. 4:9) completed his exodus (Luke 9:31,51) by finishing his work (John 17:4; 19:30) and ascending into heaven (John 3:13; Eph. 4:10), so do the rest of us. As eggs who are predestined to become chickens we eventually arrive home to roost forever in the Father’s house (John 14:2f.; John 17:24; Rom. 8:28-30).
Finally, if the egg comes first, the Augustinian worldview which postulates original perfection, “fall” and restoration is plainly false. It has turned theology on its head.
Additional Explanatory Note
Some readers may still fail to understand how in reality the egg can precede the chicken. Bluntly, the answer lies in creation, evolution and recapitulation. Jesus likens the progress of the kingdom of God to what happens physically in nature (Mark 4:26-29). (I remain utterly at a loss to understand how there can be evolution, or providential development, without creation to kick start it. Richard Dawkins’ insistence that (naturalistic) evolution answers all our questions itself begs a big question.)
Far from springing like Athene full-grown from the head of Zeus, Adam (mankind) began as seed in the ground (mother earth, cf. Ps. 139:15) and was placed by God (Gen. 2:8,15) in the Garden of Eden, the womb of the race, implicitly to develop and grow to maturity. Thus the pattern of creation once established was copied (repeated, recapitulated, imitated and gradually enhanced) in transgenerational procreation. Man who is the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7) sows his seed in the woman’s garden of delight (cf. Ps. 139:13; Ezek. 24:16,21,25) with the same end in view. Thus his seed having fused with her ovum (egg) gestates till birth ensues. After this, development is visible and part of our every day experience (cf. Mark 4:28). We need to note incidentally that the idea of God sowing is by no means alien to the Bible. As Creator the Father sows physically (Gen.1,2; Acts 17:28); as Saviour Christ sows good seed while the devil sows bad (Mt. 13:24-30,36-43). (See further my The Harvest of the Earth.)
(It might be encouraging for men to realize that when they make love to their wives, far from indulging in sinful “carnal concupiscence” as Augustine believed, they are both repeating and doing God’s work, Gen. 2:24; 19:5. In fairness to Augustine it has to be conceded that the primary but not exclusive purpose of sex is procreation. With this in mind, we need to note that homosexual activity is by nature sterile.)
Bearing in mind that the last day is the end of the age (Mt. 28:20) signalling the end of the ages (1 Cor. 10:11, days in the language of Genesis), (1* It is worth noting that God is described as the King of the ages in 1 Tim. 1:17, cf. 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2, etc. The end of the age and the last day, John 12:48, seem to be identical. So much for the fundamentalist notion that the Genesis days are literal 24-hour days!) we can see how from the first egg containing the original DNA , the genetic code is passed on by means of procreation to the next generation and so successively until we arrive by repeated death and procreation at the full-grown chicken. (2* In the Bible there are two things that are said to be “the way of all the earth”:(a) death, Jos. 23:14; 1 K. 2:2; (b) procreation, Gen. 19:31. Truly is death the friend of salvation. It ensures that the ultimate tally of the redeemed is countless, Rev. 7:9.) It needs to be noted here, however, that full physical maturity like that of the animals occurred first. But man is made in the image of God and is potentially like him. So it is imperative to ask about cultural, intellectual and spiritual maturation. These appear to follow the same kind of pattern but as in a baby they come chronologically a distant second. As Paul suggests, we are first (animal) flesh and then having been adopted as sons (= been born again) go on to spiritual manhood on both the individual (1 Cor. 15:46, cf. 13:10; 14:20) and community levels (Eph. 2:15; 4:13f.).
What does all this indicate? Surely it shows that if a foetus encapsulates in miniature (recapitulates) mankind’s early history, then man underwent a long process of pre-adamic life in the flesh before he became self-conscious and morally self-aware. This initial child-like enlightenment is pictured for us in Genesis 2 and 3. (3* Not without reason Goldingay talks of parables here.) Adam and Eve, or corporate mankind, leave the womb (= the Garden of Eden), to face the challenges of the outside world under orders to exercise dominion over it and overcome it. Clearly, like children still in the process of being weaned, they fail but they at least make a start, not least by begetting children who eventually prove more successful especially when they are blessed under the covenant with Noah. But no one is a more dramatic illustration of this ‘evolution’ than the Lord Jesus himself who, as the second Adam, perfectly recapitulated the experience of the first whose son he was through his mother (Luke 3:38). But it is as a Jew that his recapitulation of the experience of his forebears is most vividly illustrated. Indeed, we are virtually told that as the True Vine or the true Israel who originally stemmed from Egypt (Ps. 80:8), he recapitulated Israel’s history when he was circumcised, went as a child to Egypt (Mt. 2:15), became a son of the commandment at his bar mitzvah, lived under and uniquely kept the law and was baptized (born again, acknowledged as God’s Son). It was this that put him in a position to lay down his life for his friends, to rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. In brief he blazed a trail into heaven (Heb. 2:10-13). The so-called father of theology, Irenaeus taught that he progressed through all the stages of human development in order to identify himself with his fellows (cf. Heb. 2:17). And Gregory of Nazianzus claimed that he assumed what he set out to heal. Thus in the words of John he was able to atone for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2) and bring man to perfection (cf. Heb. 6:1), the goal of his evolution. (Not without reason did Jacob Bronowski write a book entitled The Ascent of Man. See my The Ascent of Man)
I conclude then that if you want the perfect(ed) ‘chicken’ (cf. Heb. 5:8-10) you must begin with the egg. Since it is fertilized by God in the ground, we become his offspring (Acts 17:28). And offspring are intended to grow up to mature man/womanhood according to the purpose of God who ‘overlooks’ the ignorance of their ‘youth’. This in essence is what Paul was trying to tell the Athenians. While some believed, others would not listen.
John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010.
B.B.Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings 1, Nutley, 1970.