Alice C. Linsley
In what sense are Adam and Eve real? In biblical parlance they represent the first humans created by God. As such, we must relate them to the oldest known human populations over 3 million years ago. In this sense they are best described as meta-historical.
The first verifiably hsitorical persons in Genesis at the rulers Cain and Seth. They married the daughters of an Proto-Saharan ruler named Nok or Enoch/Enosh. This has been confirmed through analysis of the Genesis 4 and 5 King Lists.
Must Adam and Eve be historical persons to be real? Only if we insist on reading the text as empiricists who are ignorance of the worldview of the people from whom we receive this material.
Adam is from ha-dam, meaning “the blood.” In the original Nilotic and Proto-Saharan context of Abraham’s ancestors “the Blood” simply meant Human. This is why Adam sometimes mean the human/man.
Also Adam is used in parallelism with Enoch/Enosh in Psalm 8:4 – “What is man [enosh] that you are mindful of him, the son of man [ben adam] that you care for him?”
The parallelism makes it clear that the historical Enosh/Enoch is regarded as progenitor (Gen. 4 and 5) just as the archetypal Adam is regarded as progenitor. Among the ancients the historical and the type were both seen as real. Only empirical moderns have trouble with this.
To Abraham's Proto-Saharan and Nilotic ancestors the idea of a meta-historical archetype was not foreign. They did not require that something be historical to be true or real. They were metaphysical thinkers, something that we are not after generations of Pragmatism in American education.
In this essay we look at five approaches to understanding Adam and Eve.
1. Literal Interpretation
In this view, Adam and Eve were the historical first parents of humanity. Many who hold this view also hold to a young earth creationism, placing Adam and Eve only about 6,000 years ago. They are not concerned with reconciling this view with the fact that the oldest human remains are millions of years old or that the Genesis genealogies are actually King Lists, not lsists of the first people living on earth. Analysis of the Genesis 4 and 5 marriage and ascendancy pattern reveals that Cain  and his brother Seth married into the royal house of Nok (Enoch). This would make Nok a contemporary of Adam.
In this view, the story of Adam and Eve explains how humans fell from innocence to a state in which they experience suffering and death. An allegory is a literary and artistic device in which characters represent an idea or a religious or moral principle. Those who hold this view need not insist that Adam and Eve were historical persons. An example of the allegorical approach is Philo's commentary  which looks at the history of mankind, beginning at Genesis 2.
3. Federal Headship
Others view Adam as the “federal head” or head male who brought all of humanity into sin. They argue that Adam must therefore be an historical person. They cite Hebrews 7:9-10: “And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” Here federal headship rests with Abraham, from whom Levi descended. Levi, who received tithes from his brothers, is said to have acted while still in the loins of his "father" Abraham when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20).
Of course, this misses the point that it was Eve who first sinned, not Adam. She who was the crown of creation, who stood upright with her head to the heavens, submitted herself to the will of the lowest of creatures - one that moves with its belly near the earth. Eve's agreement to do the will of the serpent represents an inversion of the hierarchical order of creation.
Likewise, instead of listening to God, Adam listened to his wife and became like the serpent, eating dust all the days of his toil. Adam’s fall recalls his origins from dust: "And God formed man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7).
In Romans 5:14, Paul declares that Adam “is a figure (tupos) of him that was to come”, i.e., Christ. Charles T. Fritsch  wrote that “A type is an institution, historical event or person, ordained by God, which effectively prefigures some truth connected with Christianity.” By this definition we can’t say that Jesus is like Adam or like Melchizedek. Instead we must hold that Adam is a type of the true Man Jesus and Melchizedek is a type of the One Priest whose ministry is Messianic and eternal.
Typology can be approach from another angle. Instead of prefiguring, a type can be understood as a shadow cast on the pages of Old Testament by a reality, embodiment or antitype found in the New Testament. According to this view, Adam is but a shadow (skia, following Colossians 2:17) of the eternal Form Man, who is Christ Jesus.
Typology must always be considered against the backdrop of the pattern of Reality. The use of antitupona, rendered “figures” (KJV) or “pattern” (ASV) in Hebrews 9:24, leads us to explore the pattern shown in Scripture and explored by the Church Fathers. Typology is fruitful because there is a pattern. It is the very weave of Reality and runs deeper than we generally recognize. We discover it when we explore the couplets found in Scripture: Two Passovers and Two Drunken Fathers, 2 Tabernacles: the earthly and heavenly, and 2 trees at the sacred center (here we have another type of the "tree in the midst of the garden" which has as its antitype the Cross at the center of all things, seen and unseen).
Some see the Adam and Eve story as an origin myth. Myths, like dreams, speak in symbols. Symbols pose meaning at the deepest level by presenting relationships. Adam is made from the red earth, which is the meaning of the word adamah. This may also be a reference to the place Adamah in west central Africa and to the ruddy skin color of the Nilotic peoples who give us this origin story. Myths lift up relationships such as flesh to spirit, woman to man, and heaven and earth, and also contain clues to the origin or source of the myth. The Adam and Eve story finds its closest parallels to origin myths of East Africa.
The cultural context of the Genesis creation stories is African . That being so, we must try to understand the story in the context of creation stories held by African tribes. For example, we note the similarities of the Garden of Eden story to the story of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the first ancestors of the Gikuyu (East Africa). Here is a portion of that story:
Now you know that at the beginning of things there was only one man (Gikuyu) and one woman (Mumbi). It was under this Mukuyu that He first put them. And immediately the sun rose and the dark night melted away. The sun shone with a warmth that gave life and activity to all things. The wind and the lightning and thunder stopped. The animals stopped moaning and moved, giving homage to the Creator and to Gikuyu and Mumbi. And the Creator, who is also called Murungu, took Gikuyu and Mumbi from his holy mountain to the country of the ridges near Siriana and there stood them on a big ridge. The He took them to Mukuruwe wa Gathanga about which you have heard so much. But He had shown them all the land - yes, children, God showed Gikuyu and Mumbi all the land and told them: "This land I hand over to you, O Man and Woman. It is yours to rule and to till in serenity, sacrificing only to me, your God, under my sacred tree.
It is evident that Gikuyu and Mumbi are the first ancestors of the Gikuyu. They are not conceived by the Gikuyu as the progenitors of all humanity. Likewise, it is not necessary to insist that Adam and Eve are the progenitors of all humanity. Instead we may understand them as the first ancestors of the people who gave us Genesis. This concept of the first ancestors or heads of tribes and clans is found throughout the Bible. Midian is the head of the Midianites; Jacob is the head of the Israelites, and Lot is the head of the Moabites.
In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible the word adamah is rendered as “land” 105 times, as “ground” 67 times, as “earth” 37 times, as “soil” 6 times, and as “country” twice. It never refers to an historical person.
In what sense may we speak of Adam and Eve as real? The question reveals a shortcoming in the Western approach to Scripture. We tend to equate real with historical, an equation that would have struck the ancients as strange. Our approach is informed by Empiricism which views as real only what is material and finite.
The biblical worldview, on the other hand, allows for metaphysical realness in the Platonic sense (although Plato likely borrowed his binary idea of Form and Image from the ancient Egyptians). Genesis presents Adam as real, not in the Empirical sense, but in the sense of archetypes. In Platonic thought, the temporal and material is a reflection of the eternal and immaterial. The temporal passes away, but the eternal can neither pass away nor can it be corrupted or changed. St. Paul is a great master of the method and he views Adam as the archetype of the God-Man. Adam, the temporal and material points to Jesus Christ. Adam experiences corruption and passes away. Christ is ever without corruption and eternal. When Adam was made in the image of the eternal true Form, he was made in the Divine Image. In His incarnation, Christ our God was eternally 'begotten' of the Father, but without corruption since His existence is from before time.
Adam and Eve as archetype does not necessarily exclude the possibility that they are also ancestors. The ancient Afro-Asiatics regarded ancestors as archetypes and archtypes as ancestors. A problem comes when we insist that they lived as the historical first parnets of all the people in the world. When we make this statement we force the Bible to say something that it doesn't say. In fact, we make it say the opposite of what it says, because analysis of Genesis 4 and 5 reveals that Cain and Seth married the daughters of an African chief name Nok (Enoch) and where there are chiefs, there already exists a social fabric, laws, traditions, language and artifacts. Cain and Seth are themselves associated with the symbols of authority. So if Adam and Eve are ancestors, they are ancestors of the descendants of Cain and Seth whose reigns were in Central East Africa.
1. The genealogical information found in Genesis 4 and 5 reveals that Cain and his brother Seth married sisters. These brides were the daughters of an Chadic-Kushite chief named Nok (Enoch in Hebrew). The Nok civilization is dated between 12,000 and about 2000 years ago and is related to the Naqada civilization. Cain lived close to B.C. 3200 - 3050; the Naqada III civilization; the last century of the Predynastic period of Egypt.
2. Read http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book2.html
3. Read Charles T. Fritch here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/fritsch.html
4. Read Wick Broomall here: http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/126-a-study-of-biblical-typology
5. Read about the cultural context of the Genesis creation stories here.
Reading reading: Lamech Segment Analysis; Between Biblical Literalism and Biblical Illiteracy; Christians Debate Genesis and Evolution; The Genesis King Lists; Bishop Ussher Goofed; Adam and Eve as Archetypal Ancestors; The First Verifiably Historical Persons in Genesis; Eve's Sin