Why was Lewis not troubled by parallels between the Genesis account of creation and earlier pagan stories? Why did he not discount Genesis like the liberal theologians of his day? Quite simply, Lewis believed those earlier pagan stories foreshadowed the true narrative of Christianity. This idea is familiar to those who interpret Scripture as a history of redemption, in which the narratives in the Old Testament are types or shadows that point forward to Christ. Consider Hebrews 10:1: “[t]he law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” The whole sacrificial system and ceremonial laws pointed to, and were fulfilled by, Christ’s death on the cross.
So, did Lewis believe that the Bible was inerrant? Not in the way most people understand the term today, as meaning “absolutely reliable and precise in matters of fact” (Marsden 1980). In a 1959 letter to Wheaton College professor Clyde S. Kilby, Lewis explained:
That the over-all operation of Scripture is to convey God’s Word to the reader […] I fully believe. That it also gives true answers to all the questions (often religiously irrelevant) which he might ask, I don’t. The very kind of truth we are often demanding was, in my opinion, not even envisaged by the ancients. (Christensen 1979)
While it is critically important to affirm the historicity of certain events recorded in the Bible, it must be noted that the primary purpose of biblical records is not history for history’s sake. John Calvin wrote, “[t]he whole point of Scripture is to bring us to a knowledge of Jesus Christ […] [It] does not, and was never intended to, provide us with an infallible repository of astronomical and medical information” (McGrath 1998). Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that Genesis does not comment on the existence of Adam and Eve’s physical forebears.
Lewis and theistic evolution
So where did Lewis stand on the subject of evolution? Historian of science Ronald Numbers describes Lewis as a theistic evolutionist (Ferngren and Numbers 1996). His view seems to agree best with a type of theistic evolution espoused by B. B. Warfield in the late 19th century, which holds that “Adam’s body was the product of evolutionary development (secondary causes working alone under divine providence), and that his special creation involved the imparting of a rational soul to a highly-developed hominid” (PCA Creation Committee Report 2000). In The Problem of Pain, Lewis proposed a myth to explain how God could have created man. First, Satan corrupted the world and animals began to prey on one other. Then God made Adam’s body by evolution and gifted him with a soul. Lewis wrote,
For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself [….] Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness […] In perfect cyclic movement, being, power and joy descended from God to man in the form of gift and returned from man to God in the form of obedient love and ecstatic adoration. (Lewis, Problem 65)
Finally, Adam fell into sin which, according to Lewis, was not the mere eating of forbidden fruit, but Pride-“the movement whereby a creature (that is, an essentially dependent being […]) tries to set up on its own, to exist for itself” (63). Lewis also wrote about evolution in a series of letters to his friend Captain Bernard Acworth, a strong opponent of evolution. In one 1944 letter, Lewis wrote,
Just as my belief in my own immortal & rational soul does not oblige or qualify me to hold a particular theory of the pre-natal history of my embryo, so my belief that Men in general have immortal & rational souls does not oblige or qualify me to hold a theory of their pre-human organic history-if they have one. (Ferngren and Numbers, 1996)
To Lewis, whether or not humans are genetically distinguishable from other animals is entirely beside the point. We are made in the image of God, we fell into sin, and we are being redeemed by Christ; these, Lewis indicated, are the great lessons from Genesis 1-3.