The creation stories were written with agendas.
This is not saying anything negative about them. All stories told and preserved and retold are told and preserved and retold because of an agenda.
The story is a model. It is a warning. It is a source of mockery. It is an object of honor.
Biblical stories are not written to preserve historical data, they are written to proclaim the God of Israel and the place of particular people within that God’s story.
What does this mean for the stories of humanity’s creation, in particular?
First of all, Genesis 1-4 tips its hand in several ways that the passage is not to be read as a detached historical statement but rather as a creative envisioning of how the world is such that Israel has come to have a place in the middle of God’s plan for it.
First, there are the obvious indications that the writer of Gen 2-4 did not expect his story to be read as a literal depiction of the beginning of humanity: Cain’s flight to another people, his fear of enemies. Then there are the other genre clues that we are not dealing with “history” as such: talking animals and magic trees.
But still, it provides an apt beginning to a story that, one is to believe, is supposed to come to its resolution in and among and by the people of Israel.
They are the ones given the instruction from God that enables them to find life. They are they ones given the tabernacle where they can walk amongst the trees, past the cherubim, and into the very presence of God in the holy of holies.
They are the ones through whom the land can go from a barren desert to a land flowing with milk and honey, abundance of crops and flourishing fields.
The Adam and Eve story introduces a story that is being worked out in Israel.
Then there’s Genesis 1–a different story from a different source. The very presence of Gen 1 appended to Gen 2-3, should tell us that the Biblical compilers are more interested in shaping a story, shaping our imaginations, than giving the brute facts about the creation of the cosmos.
A story that declares in no uncertain terms that humanity is made in the “image of God” stands before a story where the very failure of humanity was in wanting “to be like God.”
Genesis 1 tells a story of humanity as God’s children and rulers–an apt beginning for a story that would later declare that the Davidic king is “son of God,” that Israel itself is God’s firstborn son.
Genesis 1, in other words, is a story about the cosmos for the purpose of telling us how Israel as God’s elect people is the continuation of God’s plan for humanity.
It has other roles as well, of course, such as subverting competing narratives of humanity as the slaves of the gods.
But the point we must start with as we weigh the value of a “historical Adam,” is that these stories are protology (stories of first things) written to underwrite ecclesiology (stories about the people of God), not protology written to underwrite a generic anthropology (story about humanity).
And whatever Paul may have thought about the historicity of Adam, this is precisely the use he makes of the stories, too.