The concept of a pre-Adamic race is the idea that God created a race of humans who lived on the Earth before He created Adam, the first man. This hypothesis has been promoted by various scholars at various times throughout history. Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate (circa A.D. 331–363) and Calvinist theologian Isaac de La Peyrère (1596-1676) are two notable examples.
We will look at two popular facets of the Preadamite Hypothesis: the hypothesis as it was proposed by Isaac de La Peyrère and the form which it takes in the “Gap Theory” (also known as the Ruin-Reconstruction interpretation). According to La Peyrère, God created the Gentiles on the sixth day when He said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). He did not create the Jews until after the seventh day, His day of rest. At some point after the seventh day, God created Adam, the father of the Jews.
La Peyrère cited Scripture to support his hypothesis. Cain’s fear of being lynched, his marriage to an unknown woman and the fact that he founded a city (Genesis 4:14-17) are all interpreted as evidence that another race of men coexisted with Adam and his family.
La Peyrère subsequently reinterpreted other passages of Scripture in light of his peculiar understanding of the Genesis account. Consider a very familiar passage, Romans 5:12-14: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”
This passage is traditionally interpreted as meaning that death began with Adam’s sin and reigned unchecked among men (even among those who haven’t actually eaten the forbidden fruit, those who have sinned but not “in the likeness of the offense of Adam”) until the Law was given to Moses. La Peyrère interpreted this passage another way. According to La Peyrère, the pre-Adamic Gentiles sinned against God, but in a manner less egregious than Adam (which is why Adam’s sin brought death while theirs didn’t). They merely sinned against God’s moral will, while Adam sinned against His Law. Adam disobeyed God’s prohibition by eating the forbidden fruit. He broke what La Peyrère called the Law of Paradise. Thus, according to La Peyrère, the pre-Adamic Gentiles were those who “had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”
By now it’s obvious how misinterpreting one or two passages of Scripture can lead to all kinds of warped perceptions. The Scriptural problems with La Peyrère’s interpretations are numerous.
First, Adam is called the “first man” (1 Corinthians 15:45). This is inconsistent with the idea that God created men before Adam. Second, according to La Peyrère, the Gentiles were to live outside of the Garden of Eden while Adam enjoyed paradise (a privilege which came with the responsibility of obeying the Law of Paradise—not eating the forbidden fruit). Genesis 2:5-8, however, says quite plainly that before God created “the man whom He had formed,” the very same man which He placed in the garden, there were no men upon the earth to cultivate the ground. Third, God created Eve for Adam because he was alone, there was no one else like him around (“It is not good for the man to be alone… but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him” Genesis 2:18, 20). Fourth, Adam named his wife “Eve” “because she was the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). The list goes on, but these passages should suffice to refute La Peyrère’s misinterpretation.
As for Cain’s fear of being lynched, his marriage to an unknown woman and the fact that he founded a city (Genesis 4:14-17), Adam was almost 130 years old by the time that Cain killed Abel (Adam had Seth, his next son after Abel’s death, when he was about 130 years old; Genesis 4:25; 5:3). And we know that Adam had sons and daughters (Genesis 5:3). At 130 he could have had grandkids and great-grandkids by the time that Cain killed Abel. Cain had plenty of family members to be afraid of after killing his brother.
Cain apparently married a family member (a necessity back then) at some point before Abel’s murder. It seems odd to us today, but incest wasn’t outlawed by God until the Law of Moses. It may have been around that time that generations of degenerative genetic mutations began to take a toll on our DNA. God outlawed incest for our protection. It became (and remains) dangerous for close relatives to procreate because of shared genetic defects which become expressed in their children causing severe deformities and other problems.
As for Cain founding a city, if he lived to be the average age back then, he probably lived to be about 900 years old. By the time he died, his family would have been a small city. If Cain had a child at the age of 30, and his child had a child at the age of 30 and so on, Cain could have produced 30 generations by the time he died (30 generations times 30 years each equals 900 years).
The Ruin-Reconstruction interpretation takes a somewhat different approach to the pre-Adamic race theory. According to the Gap Theory, an unspecified amount of time passed between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, during which God created a pre-Adamic race of men who lived upon the earth until God destroyed them in judgment. Other extinct creatures, like the dinosaurs, are said to have also lived during this time. Afterwards, the theory goes, God remodeled the earth in six days. He created Adam on the sixth day, and the rest is history. Some say that Satan’s fall occurred at some point during the ambiguous gap.
A “mistranslation” has contributed to the case for this misinterpretation. In the King James Version of the Bible, God says to Adam, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” Proponents of the Gap Theory emphasize the word “replenish.” They interpret the text as saying that Adam and Eve were to refill the Earth. They were to fill it again. The problem with this view is that, regardless of what it says in English translations, the Hebrew word is mâlê’, and it simply means “to fill” or “to be full.” Moreover, the English translators of the King James Version knew the word means “to fill.” They chose “replenish” because, in 17th-century Elizabethan English, “replenish” meant “to fill” (similar to how in modern English the word “replete” doesn’t mean to “abound again,” it simply means “abundant” or “abounding”). Language is not static, but dynamic. Words change meaning over time. Today “replenish” means “to fill again.” It didn’t mean the same thing in 17th century England. Nearly all modern translations translate mâlê’ as simply “fill” in the passage in question (Genesis 1:28).
Proponents of the Gap Theory respond by pointing out that God said to Noah after the flood, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill [mâlê’] the earth” (Genesis 9:1). It is evident that Noah was meant to refill the earth after the flood. Can’t we then interpret the same command to Adam to mean the same thing—that Adam was to repopulate the earth after God’s judgment? The fact is that, regardless what the condition of the planet was before Noah’s flood, God didn’t tell Noah to “refill” the Earth. He simply said to fill it. God chose the words He chose and no others. If He said “refill,” that would have been something, but since He just said “fill,” that argument falls flat.
The real problem with the Gap Theory is that it places human mortality (pre-Adamic human mortality) before Adam’s sin. The Bible is quite clear that death entered in through Adam’s sin. “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Regardless of whether or not we believe in animal mortality before sin, the Bible is quite explicit about human mortality before Adam’s sin. There wasn’t any. To deny this is to deny a central Christian doctrine.