I follow P.OST the blog of scholar and theologian Andrew Perriman who has recently written a couple of articles about Greg Gilbert’s book Who is Jesus? published by Crossway for 9Marks.
In his blog post with the comprehensive title, When Adam names the woman, he does not exert authority over her Perriman critiques Gilbert’s presumptions surrounding Adam naming Eve. I have reposted the second half of Perriman’s post with his permission.
Note that the indented quotations are taken from Greg Gilbert’s book. They are not Andrew’s (or my) thoughts.
Photo: Andrew Perriman
In chapter 6 of his book, Greg Gilbert discusses Adam naming the animals. He points out that God realized that it was not good for the man to be alone, so he created the animals and had Adam name them. Why? Gilbert says that this exercise taught Adam two things: first, that the animals would not be good companions for him; secondly, that his job was to rule over things.
“To name something is a way to exert authority, much as a mother and father have the privilege of naming their child. So in giving names to animals, Adam was actually exerting authority over them. He was carrying out his job as the vice-regent of God’s creation, under God himself.” ~ Gilbert
You can see where this is leading. Because the man names the “woman” and then calls her name “Eve” (Gen. 2:23; 3:20), he likewise has authority over her. So what is God’s scheme?
“He’s instituting a whole system of authority in which Adam is given authority over Eve, and the two of them together as husband and wife are given authority over creation, and all of it is meant to reflect the reality that God sits enthroned above it all.” ~ Gilbert
But where does this idea come from—that by naming a person you exert a continuing authority over her? Gilbert doesn’t say. He merely asserts it as a self-evident fact. But neither the story in Genesis 2 nor other naming texts in the Old Testament lends support to his argument.
First, the Genesis 2 story is not about sovereignty or rule or authority. In Genesis 1 man and woman together in the image and likeness of God are given a God-like dominion over all living creatures. But there is no basis whatsoever for carrying this argument over into the narrative of Genesis 2 in order to construct a hierarchy in which God gives authority to the man to exercise dominion over the woman.
Something quite different is going on in Genesis 2. The naming of the animals is not an expression of the man’s authority over them, as though it corresponds to God’s giving of dominion to the man and woman in Genesis 1:26, 28. It is a way of identifying what the animals are in relation to the man. It forms part of the search for a suitable helper. God resolves to make a “helper fit for him”. He creates the beasts from the ground and brings them to Adam to “see what he would call them.” Adam gives them their names but he fails to identify, in the process, a suitable co-worker or companion. So God creates the woman not from the ground but from Adam’s side, which means that Adam can identify her as ʾisha because she was taken from ʾish (Gen. 2:23).
Secondly, naming in scripture is a way of determining the essential character or identity or purpose of something or someone. This is why we have the frequent formula in the Old Testament: a person or thing is called or named something because…. Here are some examples from Genesis.
- Adam called his wife’s name Eve “because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).
- The city that the descendants of Noah built in the land of Shinar “was called Babel (bavel), because there the LORD confused (bll) the language of all the earth” (Gen 11:9).
- God tells Hagar to call her son “Ishmael” (“God hears”) because “the Lord has listened to your affliction” (Gen. 16:11).
- Remarkably, Hagar then ‘called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). Does this mean that Hagar has authority over God? Of course not. It means that she has identified him, she has discerned for herself his essential character.
- Abraham calls the son born to Sarah Isaac (“he laughs”) because Abraham laughed when God told him that she would give birth (Gen. 17:17, 19).
- When Jacob wakes from his ladder dream, he exclaims, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God….” So he ‘called the name of that place Bethel (“house of God”)’ (Gen. 28:17, 19). He does not have to have authority over the place in order to do this. He has to understand the significance of the place.
One person names another not because he or she has authority over the named person but because he or she is the right person to identify or determine the essential significance of the named person. This is where the “privilege” comes into it. Adam names the woman because he is in the best position to understand the significance of the fact that she was created not from the earth as a different species but from his own bone and flesh. Andrarchy—the rule of the man over the woman—only enters the picture as a consequence of disobedience: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).
Read Andrew Perriman’s full post here.
Postscript: September 18, 2021
Eve’s “Names” and the Hebrew Naming Formula
I like this observation about Eve’s primary and secondary purposes reflected in her “names.” Rabbi Yitshak Armaah comments on the two “names” (or designations) given to the woman in Genesis 2:23 and 3:20 in his book The Binding of Isaac (1961: 73b). Amnon Shapiro refers to those comments here.
In ‘Eve’ he detects connotations of life and birth, which are woman’s secondary and ‘minor purpose’; the name ‘Isha’ [‘woman’] implies equality, the result of ‘the possibility to fully participate in human perfection along with men,’ and this is her primary purpose.
Taken from Amnon Shapira’s paper, “On Woman’s Equal Standing In The Bible—A Sketch: A Feminist Re-Reading of the Hebrew Bible: A Typological View,” Hebrew Studies 51 (2010): 7–42, 13–14. (JSTOR)
The combination of the Hebrew verb qara (“call”) in the Qal form + the Hebrew noun shem (“name”) is used in a formulaic way in the Hebrew Bible when people, places, and some special objects (e.g., manna) are given names. Genesis 2:23 does not use the usual naming formula we see elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. This verse contains the verb for “call” but it is in the Niphal form. So we shouldn’t take “woman” (isha) as a name, a proper noun, as such.
The verb-noun naming formula frequently occurs in Genesis, including Genesis 3:20: “Now the human called (qara) his wife’s name (shem) Eve” (Gen. 3:20). Here’s another example: “he called (qara) his name (shem) Noah (Gen. 5:29). And in Genesis 16:13a it says about Hagar, “She called (qara) the name (shem) of YHWH who spoke to her, “You are El-roi.” See also Genesis 4:17, 25, 26; 5:2; 32:30 cf. 2:19. The formula also occurs a few times in Exodus, for example, “And she called (qara) his name (shem) Moses” (Exod. 2:10).
Postcript: September 8, 2023
Did God name Adam?
The idea that Adam named Eve is often used in discussions about gender roles. Occasionally the idea that God named Adam is also brought into such discussions. But does the Bible say that God named Adam? The only verse I know that might support this idea is Genesis 5:2 where the Hebrew naming formula (qara + shem) is used. (See postscript above.)
Here’s how the ESV translates Genesis 5:1–2.
“This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.” (I’ve added the italics.)
Genesis 5:2 is about humanity as a whole. It’s not just about men or about one person.
Here’s Genesis 5:1–2 in the CEB.
“This is the record of Adam’s descendants. On the day God created humanity, he made them to resemble God and created them male and female. He blessed them and called them humanity on the day they were created.” (I’ve added the italics.)
God does name humanity with the name ‘adam in Genesis 5:2, but he doesn’t name the individual Adam here.
(The Hebrew word ‘adam means human, humanity, man, mankind, or is the proper noun Adam.)
Postscript: July 24, 2023
In Genesis Rabbah, Adam Names God
Genesis Rabbah is a midrash on the Book of Genesis compiled around 500 CE. In chapter 17, Rabbi Acha, who lived in Israel in the fourth century, relates an embellished version of the story of Adam naming the animals. In this story, Adam names the animals as proof that he was more wise than the angels who couldn’t name them. Then, in a conversation between God and Adam, Adam names himself and he names God.
“And you,” [God said], “what is your name?”
[Adam] said to him, “I? It would be right to be called ‘Adam’ since I was created from the ground (adamah).”
“And I,” [God said], “what is my name?”
He [Adam] said to him, “It would be right for you to be called ‘my Lord’ (Adonai), since you are lord (adon) to all the creatures.”
Genesis Rabbah 17:4
Rabbi Acha did not interpret naming the animals as being about Adam’s asserting authority but about Adam demonstrating wisdom. Eve is not mentioned in this midrash on Genesis 2:19–20.
Postscript: October 23, 2022
Did Adam sin when he named Eve? (Genesis 3:20)
I’ve heard a few people suggest that Adam somehow overstepped his authority and even sinned when he named the woman “Eve.” They argue that Adam effectively treated Eve as one of the animals he had previously named in Genesis 2. I disagree. Lots of people give names to other people in the Bible, or rename themselves, without necessarily sinning. Hagar, mentioned above, even named God.
Importantly, the narrator of Genesis 3 gives no hint in the text that Adam sinned when he named Eve or that Adam thought she was an animal.
The exercise in Genesis 2:18–20, where Adam identified and named the animals that God brought to him, was a temporary assignment and concluded immediately before God made the woman. The naming exercise was not about Adam exercising authority. Rather, its purpose was to highlight that no animal was an ezer kenegdo, a vital and compatible partner for Adam.
Eve was unlike the animals; she was an ezer kenegdo. Adam realised this, and when he saw her for the first time he said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh …!” (Gen. 2:23a). (This idiom is used a few times in the Hebrew Bible where it expresses kinship and loyalty.)
“Eve,” which means “life,” is an appropriate name for the woman. Furthermore, considering the unhappy pronouncements given in Genesis 3:15–19 that precede Adam naming Eve, and also the new reality of death (Gen. 3:22 cf. Gen. 2:17), “Eve” is an optimistic and hopeful name. I love the name “Eve” (“life”), especially in view of the context in which it’s given in.
I take Adam recognising, identifying, and naming his wife as “Eve” (“life”) as a positive thing. Moreover, in Genesis 3:20 we are given the reason why Adam named his wife “Eve” and authority is not mentioned. The reason is simply “because she was the mother of all living.” Her name shows recognition and hope; it was not about authority.
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?
Ezer Kenegdo does not mean “a helper subordinate to him”
Is a gender hierarchy implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 2:4–25?
Was it Adam’s responsibility to relay God’s command to Eve?
All my articles about gender in Genesis 1–3 are here.