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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Adam in Genesis

I do feel like a grasshopper - jumping back and forth between 1 Cor. 15 and Genesis 1 - 5. Obviously Paul did know the meaning of Adam's name, that it meant "from the soil/earth", he also knew that not only was Adam a "living soul" but the animals were also "living souls". He knew that the "seed" is not only your line of descendants but also the body that goes down to the grave. These are just a few of the allusions which seem to be lost to the average reader of 1 Cor. 15. Commenter, J.K. Gayle suggests more allusions in comments on this post.

One of the things I like to do is read a text in Hebrew (well, you could hardly call it reading, but stumbling through a diglot) then in Greek, Latin and German. A breath of fresh air and in this case really funny.

Okay, what does it look like. Well, here are a few words and their lexical range. These are greatly abbreviated and don't cover the full extent of their meaning.


אָדָם - Adam, first used without an article in Gen 1:26. One can translate this into English as Adam, the human, or humankind. The scriptures say that it is because he is "from the earth". Paul reiterates this. Formerly in English "man" meant a "human" and "wer" meant an adult male. In English, we lost the word "wer" long ago. Except for werewolves, of course.
הָאָדָם - ha-adam with an article, the human
אִשָּׁה - ishah woman
אִישׁ - ish man
זָכָר - zakar male
נְקֵבָה - neqebah female


Αδαμ - Adam
ἄνθρωπος - human
ἀνήρ - man, husband
γυνὴ - woman, wife
ἄρσεν - male
θῆλυ - female


Adam - Adam
homo - human
vir - man
virago - (the woman that is from man)
mulier - woman
uxor - wife
masculum - male
feminam - female


Mensch - human
Mann - man, husband
Männin - (the woman that is from man)
Weib - woman, wife
male - Mann
female - Weib

I can't really describe how different each language sounds but I will make a few observations.

1. First, none of these translations maintain concordance. I think they could if they tried. It appears to me that no translator set the goal of concordance in these chapters.

2. All these languages have a word for "human" that is distinct from the word for "man". Only French has the same situation as English and has followed a similar route out, now referring to l'être humain.

3. In Gen. 5:2 the Vulgate, LXX, KJV, D-R and JPS all say that the human race is called "Adam". Luther uses Mensch.

4. The German translation lacks words for "male" and "female" so, in German Gen. 1:27 is,
    Und Gott schuf den Menschen ihm zum Bilde, zum Bilde Gottes schuf er ihn; und schuf sie einen Mann und ein Weib.

    And God made the human in his image, in the image of God made he him, and made them a man and a woman.
It would sound very odd with "God made the man ... and made them a man and a woman."

5. In Gen. 2:23 both Latin and German try to recreate the wordplay of the original Hebrew which is "ishah" from "ish". Latin is virago from vir, and German is Männin from Mann. Interesting that they tried this. Sounds quite funny.

6. Of these languages. only English failed to distinguish between the "man" and the "human" until the 1980's.

In view of this pattern of translation I find it very odd that the Colorado Springs Guidelines read,
We can verify that "Man" was indeed used at least once in Gen. 5:2 in the RSV, 1952, to designate the human race. Other than that there isn't much to go on.

Let's look at how people are understanding these chapters with Grudem's help,
    Grudem says that the authority is not only seen in Adam because he names Eve, but because God names the human race after the man. The Hebrew word for “Man” is adam and “Because the idea of naming is so important in the Old Testament, it is significant to notice what God chose for the human race as a whole.”[5] Grudem even shows that in the first chapters of Genesis the word adam is used to represent a male human being and differentiate the male from the female. This fact is important in debating those who say that adam is a gender-neutral term simply referring to humanity as a whole all of the time that it is used. There is a distinct male authority that is placed in the beginning of Genesis and this must not be overlooked in order to promote a certain agenda.
It's true that the human race is named after Adam, but Adam's name has a meaning, "from the earth". Is it not this witness to our humble origin that is important in the name Adam? Should we not have a translation guideline that says the name for the human race must attempt to maintain the semantic content of the original? Well, it makes at least as much sense to me as the "man" idea, which won't fly except in English.

The poster who I quoted above shows up some of what goes along with the "male authority" reading of the creation story.
    Another way that gender roles are distinctly laid out in Genesis 2 is by seeing why God creates Eve. In Genesis 2:18, it says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” The idea of a “helper fit” or “helper suitable” as the description of Eve is very important. God is giving the job description for the wife and how she will interact with her husband. The term “helper” is not a demeaning term, but is often used in other books of the Bible to describe God as our helper (Psalm 33:20, 70:5).[6] When one helps someone, they are putting themselves under the person they are helping.
You can read the end of that paragraph here. He continues,
    Another way that Grudem speaks of the proof that Adam is the head is by his naming of Eve. This naming demonstrates a type of authority because in the same section Adam names all of the animals whom he has dominion over. This authority shown in naming something is still common today. An owner will name his company. A child names her pet.
And Naomi named Obed, and Tamar named Perez. And Hannah named Samuel. In fact, childbearing and inheritance is a domain where women showed a lot of initiative in the Bible. In many great Bible stories the women initiated sex in order to bear children. It was their domain. Think of Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and the mandrakes, Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Hannah, Michal, and Abigail. They all took a crucial initial step to bear children or have sex at least. And Rebecca gave the birthright to Jacob. You can't really point to an unbroken line of uniquely "male authority" in the Bible narratives.

But just think of it. We will soon have a study Bible edited by someone who bases their notions about translation on the 1952 standard, the RSV. This would be my understanding of eisigesis. Reading an idea back into the original documents because one perceives it to be in one of the translations.

Surely we should be able to go back to reading the creation story as the goodness of God:
  • in shaping the created universe
  • in placing within it "living beings" both people and animals made out of the matter of creation but with "life" breathed into them
  • in ensuring that "the human" has an ally, a counterpart, made out of sameness
  • and then ...


At Thu Aug 16, 06:46:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Obviously Paul did know the meaning of Adam's name, ...

Yes, of course, it means "human being" or "humanity" in Hebrew.

... that it meant "from the soil/earth"

Umm... aren't you mixing up 'adam and 'adama? Isn't this the etymological fallacy, on an anyway uncertain etymology? Genesis 2:7 is not a dictionary definition, but a word play, which of course Paul was familiar with.

But just think of it. We will soon have a study Bible edited by someone who bases their notions about translation on the 1952 standard, the RSV.

Well, you can't quite accuse these people of believing that RSV is inspired, in the way that KJV-only people are alleged to believe that KJV is inspired. But perhaps their thinking is that RSV is a close approximation to the lost inspired biblical text (much as I would say that early Greek manuscripts are close to but not identical the original and inspired Greek text of the New Testament), and ESV is their attempt to reconstruct that inspired text. That would explain the very high opinion they have of the significance of their own efforts on ESV.

At Thu Aug 16, 09:34:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Umm... aren't you mixing up 'adam and 'adama? Isn't this the etymological fallacy, on an anyway uncertain etymology?

Yes, it could be. I really have no idea.

At Thu Aug 16, 07:58:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks, Suzanne, for sharing the "breath of fresh air", for taking time to line up so much (even if you think it's "greatly abbreviated"). You've shown what's concordant and not concordant within and across several languages. Yes it is "really funny." (Thanks also for referencing my few comments related).

I was struck, Peter, by your important parenthetical note: "I would say that early Greek manuscripts are close to but not identical [with] the original and inspired Greek text of the New Testament." Isn't is marvelous that we're left with mainly Greek-only texts by eyewitnesses (and, better yet, ear witnesses) of הוֹשֻׁעַ? The words of this Ἰησοῦς are "originally" not Hellenistic, but come to us in The Original Greek text, a translation of his Aramaic Hebraic tongue. Did he also speak Greek? Did he read the LXX too? What did language did he use to write in the sand (as recorded by John in 8:6 and 8:8)? So why the translation of Jesus's/Joshua's Aramaic words and actions into Greek by his apprentice-witnesses (when there was such multi-lingual literacy, as John notes in 19:20)?

At Fri Aug 17, 08:57:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

JK, I take your point. Christians have traditionally taken the Greek text of the New Testament "as originally given", rather than the underlying Aramaic or Hebrew words of Jesus, as inspired and authoritative. But there is room for discussion here. Unfortunately I don't have time for this now as I am going away tomorrow morning.


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