5 Questions about Adam's role in Genesis 2 and 3

Here’s a comment someone left on my Facebook wall this week:

Someone explained to me that in Genesis 3:8 -10 God was specifically looking for Adam at this occasion. Also, God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before Eve was ever created and it was Adam’s responsibility to convey this message to Eve. Your thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

I’ve heard these statements before, and others like them. Here’s the reply I left on Facebook which I’ve expanded on.

1. Did God call the man only in Genesis 3:9?

The last few verses of Genesis chapter 2 are all about the mutuality and similarity of the first man and woman. Genesis chapter 3 is a continuation of this narrative, so it’s important to think of Adam and Eve as “a package deal.” Adam and Eve are one flesh (Gen. 2:24) and they are together throughout the Genesis 3 narrative. They were together when the woman was being tempted and they were together when they each ate the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 3:8 it says that “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they, the man and his wife, hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (My italics.) Having said that, in verse 9, God calls out to the man (ha’adam) with no mention of the woman, and God and the man have a conversation recorded in Genesis 3:10-12.

Digression: In Genesis chapters 2-3, the first person to be created is mostly referred to as ha’adam which means “the human being”.  In chapter 3 this person is undeniably a man (male); however this person may have been sexually undifferentiated before the part of the woman was taken out of his side during the “operation” recorded in Genesis 2.21-22. [More on this here.] The first man and woman were very much “a part of each other”. This first human is not technically named “Adam” until later. It is difficult to determine when ha’adam took on, or was given, the proper name “Adam”. The first relatively unambiguous instance of the first man being called “Adam” in the Hebrew text is in Genesis 3:17.

While God does call out to ha’adam in verse 9, I think it would be amiss to interpret this as totally excluding the woman, keeping in mind that we are told that they are one flesh (probably in a way we have never experienced.) Moreover, the woman does enter into the conversation at verse 13.

2. Is it significant that God spoke to the man first in Genesis 3:9-12?

Some people have noted that God speaks to the man (ha’adam) first and the woman second, and they believe this to be significant.

I never want to simply ignore, dismiss or “explain away” any Scripture that, at first glance, doesn’t seem to fit with the ideology of men and women being equal before God. However, I do wonder if the man’s prominence in this narrative (and in other andro-centric biblical narratives) has more to do with the person telling the story, than with how God relates with men and women. Moreover, even though the man is asked first and speaks first, God also asks the woman for her account of what happened. Both the man and the woman have sinned. Both are held accountable by God. And both will suffer the consequences.

3. Did God drive the woman out of Eden too in Genesis 3:22-24?

Another verse that has been pointed out to me as having significance in regard to supposed gender roles is Genesis 3:24 where it says that the Lord God “drove the man out” of the garden. I’ve heard some arguments in response to this verse about the man’s supposed leadership and the woman choosing to follow him instead of God, simply because the verse doesn’t clearly state that the woman herself was also banished by God.

I don’t buy this. I believe that the statements in Genesis 3:22-24 apply equally to both husband and wife. While the one flesh relationship seems to have been immediately tarnished by the Fall, and the “naked and no shame” dynamic was diminished or entirely gone (Gen. 2:25; cf. Gen. 3:21), they were still husband and wife, and bound to each other. The lifelong and exclusive union of a husband and wife is part of God’s ideal plan for marriage. It is unlikely that God is going to bust up this union by driving the man out of the garden and not the woman. To read the last few verses of Genesis 3 as applying to the man only is to read too much into this passage.

4. Was it Adam’s responsibility to convey God’s command to the woman?

The first human received the command not to eat the forbidden fruit before the woman was made (Gen. 2:16-17). However the Bible never says that he was also given the responsibility to tell the woman what God had told him once she was on the scene. The Bible says nothing at all like this.

Implicit in this incorrect notion of Adam’s responsibility is the idea that God didn’t speak to the first woman, but only spoke to her indirectly through the man.  However, the text of Genesis 3:13 and 16 shows us that God did speak to the woman. The Bible has several stories where God, or his angel, spoke directly to a woman, so it should be hardly surprising to think that God spoke to the first woman on several occasions just as he did with the first man, and that he mostly spoke to them as a couple.

It is important to note that when Eve quotes the command to the serpent, the Bible tells us that she quoted God; it does not say that she quoted Adam (Gen. 3:2-3). She does not say, “Adam told me . . . ”  She says, “God said . . .” (Gen. 3:3). [I’ve written more about question 4 here.]

5. Does Adam’s task of naming the animals in Genesis 2:19-20 suggest that he had more authority than the woman? Or even authority over the woman?

Mary Kassian, and other complementarians, would answer “yes” to both these questions.  Here is my answer, taken from a previous article.

Adam naming the animals cannot have been an example of an adult male exercising his exclusive God-given authority, because women have the same authority over the animals (Gen. 1:26-28).  The task of Adam naming the animals may have had another purpose than just giving the animals names.  God gave Adam this task immediately after the statement, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a help (ezer) similar to him”  (Gen. 2:18).  The task may have been designed to help Adam look for another creature who was like him, “but for Adam there was not found a help similar to him”, so God made a woman who was similar to him (Gen. 2:20).  “Similar to him” and “corresponding to him” are the meanings of the Hebrew word kenegdo used in Genesis 2:18 and 20.

Moreover, in the Bible, the act of naming does not necessarily imply authority.  For instance, Hagar (the Egyptian slave of Abraham and Sarah) gave God a name, a significant name that has been recorded in Scripture.  Yet no one can rightly suggest that Hagar had authority over God just because she named him (Ge.n 16:13-14).  From The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”here.

The narrative in Genesis 2 and 3 does not answer all the questions we would like to ask, and there is a danger in filling in the blanks with our own ideas. We need to be careful that we remain objective and look at what the text actually says. This is hard to do, and we are all guilty of adding our own embellishments to the story, and having our own extra-biblical theories. There is simply nothing in the narrative before the Fall, however, which implies that the man and woman had different roles or responsibilities. In Genesis 2 especially, we see the similarities of the man and woman. The concepts of gender roles, different responsibilities, leadership, or submission, are simply not brought up before the Fall.


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