Can Christians believe in human evolution or is this idea a heresy?
Heresy is a word that gets thrown around too loosely sometimes. Christians should never be quick to accuse people in the church of being heretics.
The word heresy comes from a Greek word that’s used in the Bible in the context of groups breaking off from the church and from biblical teaching. The apostle Paul (1 Cor. 11:18–19) wrote to the Corinthian church, “When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part for, there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Faction here comes from the Greek word heresy. So it’s related to the idea of division in the church. In 2 Peter 2:1, heresy is associated with false and destructive teaching that will lead someone to hell.
So is the belief in human evolution a heresy? Over time, the word heresy came to refer to breaking off from orthodox Christianity thorough rejection of things like the deity of Jesus Christ or the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. If we don’t have those things, we’ve veered into heresy. We’re no longer part of the body of Christ. And if we don’t repent, if we don’t get those things right, then we’re in serious spiritual trouble.
But many theological errors aren’t heresy. And I don’t think the belief in human evolution is a heresy. Even though I disagree with that view, I don’t think those who believe it are necessarily outside the body of Christ.
Genesis 2:7 says, “The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature.” So Adam is a historical person. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 19 in his teaching on divorce. The apostle Paul in Romans 5:12 called Adam the head of the human race, the representative of all humanity through whom sin entered the world. The doctrine of original sin comes from our understanding of Adam’s fall, and Romans 5 contrasts Adam with Christ, the second Adam, who brought grace and the forgiveness of sin.
So it’s important that we affirm a historical Adam. Humans don’t have an animal ancestry. But those who believe we do aren’t heretics if they believe the core doctrines of Christianity. They may believe, for example, that God created the soul of man in an evolving creature—that humans were evolving for a long time and then God created the soul or the spirit. That’s one way people try to fit evolution together with Genesis 2. I don’t take that view, but I don’t believe that those who hold this view aren’t Christians.
So I wouldn’t call belief in human evolution heresy, but I also don’t believe it’s faithful to Scripture.
This article is part of our Frequently Asked Questions series. Listen to Pastor Adriel answer this question on Core Radio here.