Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the Ancient Chinese

A number of the posts I have written have largely rested on the assumption that an ‘Adam’ existed. The posts, ‘The Final Countdown: Embedded in the Beginning’, ‘The Signature of the Virgin Birth’, ‘Corrupted (Part 1) … like Orcs of Middle-Earth’, ‘Corrupted (Part 2) … missing our Target’, ‘Why Would God allow suffering and Death?’ all mention Adam directly as having been a real person, while the Post, ‘In the Image of God’, alludes to him indirectly. Clearly Adam is an important person in the Gospel narrative. But of course this begs the question: Did he really exist? Was he a historical person or not?

HG Wells and CK Chesterton agree: This is an important question

Many leading thinkers and writers opposed to the Gospel have centered their skepticism and criticism of the whole Gospel narrative on precisely this question. You can see a good example of this in the following quote from HG Wells. He was mentored by well-known agnostic TH Huxley and became a famous science fiction writer (War of the Worlds, The Time Machine etc.) who profoundly influenced popular thinking in the 1st half of the 20th century. Here is how he framed this question:

‘If all the animals and man had been evolved in this ascendant manner, then there had been no first parents, no Eden, and no Fall. And if there had been no fall, then the entire historical fabric of Christianity, the story of the first sin and the reason for an atonement, upon which the current teaching based Christian emotion and morality, collapsed like a house of cards.’

Wells, H.G., The outline of history — being a plain history of life and mankind, Cassell & Company Ltd, London, UK, (the fourth revision), Vol. 2, p. 616, 1925.

GK Chesterton was an equally influential writer in the 1st half of the 20th century. Taking the opposite view from Wells you will notice though how he, like HG Wells, makes the Garden and Fall the tipping point upon which his thinking pivots. He writes:

Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals … That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.

‘If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.’

Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, John Lane, London, pp. 204–205, 1927.

Testimony of ancient Chinese calligraphy

The question of Adam can be a Great Divide where subsequent ideas built on this foundational one leads one to widely diverging viewpoints, but most of us think that there is no information or data to go on in deciding whether there was an Adam or not. Many years ago I was introduced to a fascinating series of discoveries showing a link in Chinese calligraphy with the Genesis account. I have been sharing this with Chinese speakers over the years with continued enthusiastic response and interest. So I thought I would explain it in this post and then put it to a Google experiment.  In our spirit of ‘considering’ join with me in taking the time to consider Chinese calligraphy and Adam as well as following my experiment that I put the whole theory to by using the modern Google tools at our disposal. If nothing else, it promises to be interesting.

To understand the significance of these calligraphy discoveries we must first understand some background about Chinese (references used are at end of post). Written Chinese arises from the beginning of Chinese civilization, which dates back about 4200 years. This means that the Chinese script was developed about 700 years before Moses edited the book of Genesis (ca 1500 BC). We can recognize Chinese calligraphy when we see it. What many of us don’t know is that the ideograms or pictures of Chinese ‘words’ are constructed from simpler pictures called radicals. It is very similar to how in English we take simple words (like ‘fire’ and ‘truck’) and combine them into compound words (‘firetruck’). Chinese calligraphy has changed very little in thousands of years. We know this from script that is found on ancient pottery and bone artifacts. Only in the 20th century with the rise of the Chinese communist party has the script been simplified.  Today there is a simplified script and a traditional script, with the traditional script going far back in time.

So, for example, take the Chinese ideogram for the abstract concept ‘first’. It is shown here.

'First' in Chinese is a compound of 'alive' + 'dust' (or soil) + 'man'

‘First’ in Chinese is a compound of ‘alive’ + ‘dust’ (or soil) + ‘man’

This ideogram is really a compound of simpler radicals as illustrated.  You can see how these radicals are all found combined in the ideogram ‘first’.   The meaning of each of the radicals is also shown.  So what this means is that a long time ago (around 4200 years ago) when the first Chinese scribes were forming the Chinese calligraphy they joined radicals with the meaning of ‘alive’+’dust’/’soil’+’man’ => ‘first’.  But why?  What innate connection is there between ‘soil’ and ‘first’ for example?  There seems to be little, if any.  However, reflecting on the connection alongside the creation account is striking.

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being  (Genesis 2:7).

The ‘first’ man (Adam) was made alive from dust!  But where did the ancient Chinese get this connection 700 years before Genesis was compiled?  Now consider the following:

Chinese: 'Dust' (or soil) + 'breath' + 'alive' = 'to talk'

Chinese: ‘Dust’ (or soil) + ‘breath’ + ‘alive’ = ‘to talk’

The radicals for ‘dust’ + ‘breath of mouth’ + ‘alive’ are combined to make the ideogram ‘to talk’.  But then ‘to talk’ is itself combined with ‘walking’ to form ‘create’.

Chinese: to talk + walking = to create

Chinese: to talk + walking = to create

But what is the innate connection between ‘dust’, ‘breath of mouth’, ‘alive’, ‘walking’ and ‘create’ that would cause the ancient Chinese to use this construction?  But this also bears a striking parallel with Genesis 2:7 cited above.

This parallel continues.  Notice how the ‘devil’ is formed from “man moving secretly in the garden”.

Chinese: Motion (or alive) + garden + man + private or secret = devil

Chinese: Motion (or alive) + garden + man + private or secret = devil

Garden!? What is the innate relationship between gardens and devils?  They have none at all.


Yet the ancient Chinese then built on this by then combining ‘devil’ with ‘two trees’ for ‘tempter’!

Chinese: 'Devil' + under 'cover' + '2 trees' = 'tempter'

Chinese: ‘Devil’ + under ‘cover’ + ‘2 trees’ = ‘tempter’

So the ‘devil’ under the cover of ‘two trees’ is the ‘tempter’. If I was going to make an innate connection to temptation I might relate it to a tempting woman, or a tempting vice. But why two trees? What does ‘gardens’ and ‘trees’ have to do with ‘devils’ and ‘tempters’? Compare now with the Genesis account:

The LORD God had planted a garden in the east… in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Now the serpent was more crafty… he said to the woman, “Did God really say …” (Genesis 3:1)

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’. Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’? That would be a natural relation. But the Chinese did not do so.

Chinese desire=2trees+woman

Chinese: ‘woman’ + ‘2 trees’ = ‘covet’

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’.  Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’?  That would be a natural relation.  But the Chinese did not do so. The Genesis account though does show a relation between ‘covet’, ‘two trees’ and ‘woman’.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6)

Consider another remarkable parallel. The Chinese ideogram for ‘big boat’ is shown below. The radicals that construct this ideogram are also shown:

Chinese: Big boat = 'eight' + 'persons' + 'vessel'

Chinese: Big boat = ‘eight’ + ‘persons’ + ‘vessel’

They are ‘eight’ ‘people’ in a ‘vessel’. If I was going to depict a big boat why not have 3000 people in a vessel. Why eight? Interesting, in the biblical account of the flood there are eight people in Noah’s Ark (Noah, his three sons and all their wives).

The Ancient Chinese Border Sacrifice to ShangTi – Emperor in Heaven

The Chinese also had perhaps one of the longest running ceremonial traditions that have ever been conducted on earth. From the start of the Chinese civilization (about 2200 BC), the Chinese emperor on the winter solstice always sacrificed a bull to Shang-Ti (‘Emperor in Heaven’, i.e. God). This ceremony was kept up through all the dynasties that the Chinese civilization had. In fact it was only terminated less than a hundred years ago in 1911 when general Sun Yat-sen overthrew the last emperor of the Qing dynasty and China became a republic. This ceremony was conducted annually in the ‘Temple of Heaven’, which is now a high profile tourist attraction in Beijing. So for over 4000 years a bull was sacrificed every year by the Chinese emperor to the Heavenly Emperor. But why? Confucius (551-479 BC) asked this very question. He said:

“He who understands the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth… would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into his palm!”

In other words, what Confucius was saying was that anyone who could unlock that mystery would be wise enough to run the kingdom. So from when the Border Sacrifice (as it was called) began (c.a. 2200) to the time of Confucius (c.a. 500 BC) the significance of the sacrifice had been lost to the Chinese – even though they kept up the tradition another 2400 years to 1911 AD.

Perhaps, if the significance behind the construction of their calligraphy had not also been lost Confucius could have found an answer to his question. Consider the radicals used to construct the word for ‘righteous’.

Chinese: 'dagger' + 'hand' + 'sheep' = 'righteousness'

Chinese: ‘dagger’ + ‘hand’ + ‘sheep’ = ‘righteousness’

Righteousness is a compound of ‘sheep’ on top of ‘me’. And ‘me’ is a compound of ‘hand’ and ‘lance’ or ‘dagger’. It conveys the idea that my hand will kill the lamb and result in my righteousness. The sacrifice or death of the lamb in my place gives me righteousness.

When one reads Genesis one is struck by the animal sacrifices that occur long before the Jewish sacrificial system is started. For example, Abel (Adam’s son) and Noah are offering sacrifices (Genesis 4:4 & 8:20). It seems that early humankind had an understanding that animal sacrifices were pictures to help them understand that a death to substitute for theirs was necessary for righteousness.  But though the ancient Chinese seemed to have started with this understanding, they had lost it by Confucius’ day.  This use of animal sacrifice as a picture to understand the eventual sacrifice of Jesus was forgotten except in the uniquely Mosaic patriarchal accounts of Abraham and Passover.

The parallels between the early Genesis chapters and Chinese calligraphy are remarkable. In my next post I look at some possible explanations and the results of my little Google experiment.

The calligraphy in this post is taken from:

The Discovery of Genesis.  C.H. Kang & Ethel Nelson.  1979

Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve.  Ethel Nelson & Richard Broadberry. 1994

Where does the ‘Christ’ in Jesus Christ come from?

I sometimes ask people what they think Jesus’ last name was. Usually they reply along the lines of, “I guess his last name was ‘Christ’ but I am not sure”. Then I ask, “If that was the case then when Jesus was a little boy did Joseph Christ and Mary Christ take little Jesus Christ to the market?” Put that way, they realize that ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name. So, what is ‘Christ’? Where does it come from? What does it mean? Since we are now in the Christmas season, I hope to sharpen your Christmas experience and embark on some 1st century controversies about Jesus – namely, was he ‘the Christ’?

Translation vs. Transliteration

We do need to first understand some very basic principles of translation. Translators try to capture the best meaning. Thus a word-for-word approach is not always used. For example, in my native Swedish if I was to ask about the time I would say “Hur mycket är klockan?” which translated word-for-word is “How much is the clock?” But we do not speak that way in English so translating that phrase by meaning rather than by literal words is preferred.  But translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning, especially when it comes to names or titles. This is known as transliteration. For example, our English name Peter is a transliteration from the Greek name Petros, which means ‘rock’ in Greek. The name was rendered to English by similar sound rather than by meaning. However, the same name in French is Pierre, which means ‘rock’ in French. So the name was rendered into French from Greek by translation (similar meaning) rather than by transliteration (similar sound). For the Bible, translators had to decide whether words (especially names and titles) would be better in the receiver language through translation (by meaning) or through transliteration (by sound).

The Septuagint

History of the MSSs that give us modern Bibles inc. LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls

Old Testament manuscript timeline: Septuagint (or LXX) was translated from Hebrew ca 250 BC

Now let’s layer these principles onto the history of Biblical translation. The first translation of the Bible was when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek about 250BC. This translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX) and it has exerted an enormous influence. I described the LXX in posts I and II on the Septuagint, and I encourage you to read them because they will help you better follow me from here.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows how all this impacts modern-day Bibles where translation stages are shown in quadrants.

translation steps in development of bible from Hebrew to Greek to Modern language

This shows the translation flow from original to modern-day Bible

The original Hebrew Old Testament is in quadrant #1 and is accessible today in the Masoretic text and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Greek New Testament is in quadrant #2. But because the Septuagint was a Hebrew –> Greek translation it is shown as an arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2 so that #2 contains both Old and New Testaments. In the bottom half (#3) is a modern language, like English, that the Bible is translated into. The translators had to decide whether words were better in the receiver language through transliteration or translation as explained above. This is illustrated with the green arrows labeled transliterate and translate on either side of them, showing that the translators could take either approach. Taken together, this figure shows the process of how the Biblical texts have gone from Hebrew and Greek to modern languages of today.

The Origin of ‘Christ’

In the next figure I again follow the process as above, but this time I am specifically focusing on the word ‘Christ’ that appears in our modern-day New Testaments.

where does 'Christ' come from in the old testament of the bible

Where does ‘Christ’ come from in the Bible

We can see that in the original Hebrew Old Testament the term was ‘mashiyach’ which the Hebrew dictionary defines as an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person. Hebrew priests and kings of the Old Testament period were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they took up their office, thus they were anointed ones or mashiyach. But certain Old Testament prophetic passages also spoke of a specific mashiyach (with a definite article ’the’) who was prophesied to come. When the Septuagint was developed in 250 BC, the translators chose a word in the Greek with a similar meaning, Christos, which came from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil. Therefore the word Christos was translated by meaning (and not transliterated by sound) from the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into the Greek Septuagint to refer to this specific person. The New Testament writers understood Jesus to be this very person that was spoken of in the Septuagint so they continued to use the word Christos in their writings to designate Jesus as this mashiyach.

But when we moved to modern-day English, there was no readily recognized word with a similar meaning so Christos was then transliterated from the Greek into English as ‘Christ’. Thus the English ‘Christ’ is a very specific title with Old Testament roots, derived by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then transliteration from Greek to English. The Hebrew Old Testament is translated directly to English and translators have made different choices in rendering the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into English. Some Translations (like King James Version) transliterated the Hebrew mashiyach to the English word Messiah. Other translations (like New International Version) translated mashiyach by its meaning and so have ‘Anointed One’ in these specific Old Testament passages. Because we do not see the word ‘Christ’ in the English Old Testament this connection to the Old Testament is not readily apparent to us. But from this analysis we know that the Biblical ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’ and that it was a specific title. The original Greek readers of the New Testament would have directly seen the Christos from the Septuagint and would have seen the direct connection, while we have to dig around somewhat to see it.

The Christ anticipated in 1st Century

Armed with this insight, let’s make some observations from the Gospel accounts. Below is the reaction of King Herod when the Magi from the East came looking for the king of the Jews, a well-known part of the Christmas story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Christ, even though it is not referring specifically about Jesus.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

You can see that the very idea of ‘the Christ’ was already commonly accepted between Herod and his religious advisors – even before Jesus was born – and it is used here without referring specifically to Jesus. This is because ‘Christ’ comes from the Old Testament, and it was commonly read by Jews of the 1st century (like Herod and the chief priests of his day) in the Greek Septuagint. ‘Christ’ was (and still is) a title, not a name. From this we can dismiss right away the ridiculous notions that ‘Christ’ was a Christian invention or an invention by someone like Emperor Constantine of 300 AD popularized by movies like Da Vinci Code. The term was in existence hundreds of years before there were any Christians or before Constantine came to power.

Old Testment prophecies of ‘The Christ’

In fact, the term takes on a definitively prophetic title already in the Psalms, written by David ca 1000 BC – far, far before the birth of Jesus. Let’s look at these first occurrences.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Anointed One … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD : He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. …Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:2-7)

The Greek Septuagint was far more widely read than the Hebrew in the first century (for both Jews and Gentiles). Psalm 2 in the Septuagint would read in the following way (I am putting it in English with a transliterated Christos so you can ‘see’ the Christ title like a reader of the Septuagint could)

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Christ … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying …, (Psalm 2)

You can now ‘see’ Christ in this passage like a reader of the 1st century would have. But the Psalms continue with more references to this coming Christ. I put the standard passage side-by-side with a transliterated one with ‘Christ’ in it so you can see it.

Psalm 132- From Hebrew Psalm 132 – From Septuagint
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your anointed one.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your Christ.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my Christ.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”

You can see that Psalm 132 specifically speaks in the future tense (“…I will make a horn for David…”), like so many passages throughout the Old Testament. This is important to remember when assessing the prophecies. It is not just that the New Testament writers grab some ideas from the Old Testament and ‘make’ them fit. It is as clear as words can be that the Old Testament, without even considering the New Testament, makes future-looking claims and predictions. Herod was aware that the Old Testament prophets made predictions about the coming ‘Christ’ – which was why he was ready for this announcement. He just needed his advisers to fill him in on the specifics of these predictions. The Jews have always been known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). The fact that they are waiting or looking for the coming of their Messiah has nothing to do with Jesus or the New Testament (since they ignore that) but rather has everything to do with the explicitly future-looking predictions and prophecies in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament prophecies: Specified like a lock of a lock-n-key system

The fact that the Old Testament writings are explicitly predictive of the future makes them stand in very small company across the vast sea of literature that has been produced through human history. It is like the lock of a door. A lock is designed in a certain shape specification so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the specification can unlock it. In the same way the Old Testament is like a lock. We saw that the specifications are not just in these two Psalms I looked at here but already we have seen others in the posts on Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, Moses’ Passover, and Daniel’s coming Son of Man (please review if they are not familiar).  Psalm 132 adds the specification that ‘the Christ’ would be from the line of David.  So the ‘lock’ has specifications that can be seen to become more and more precise as we survey the prophetic passages across the Old Testament. Given that, here is a question worth asking:  Why is ‘Christ’ so anticipated and so central in both the Old and New Testaments?  In finding the answer you will also see why ‘Christ’ is relevant to you and me today.