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Genesis 2 Notes

Posted by janet on May 5, 2014

Chapter 2

v. 7: Some people use this verse to claim that what distinguishes humans from animals is the fact that humans have souls and that animals do not, but I disagree with that view.[1] The Hebrew word translated as “breath” in “breath of life” is neshamah,[2] the same word used in Genesis 7:22 to describe the breath of life which is in every living thing, humans and animals.

There is another Hebrew word translated as breath (ruwach), but it seems to be treated as a synonym of neshamah.[3] Genesis 6:17 says, “I am going to bring a flood…on the earth to destroy…all flesh in which is the breath [ruwach[4]] of life,” which exactly parallels neshamah in 7:22.  Ecclesiastes 3:19 says “They [humans and animals] all have the same breath [ruwach],” and 3:21 says, “who knows whether the human spirit [ruwach] goes upward and the spirit [ruwach] of animals goes downward to the earth?”  I quote this passage only to show that the term for spirit is exactly the same when used to reference both human and animal spirits.  As for the fact that the writer questions the fate of human and animal spirits, I think that the question merely demonstrates his uncertainty on the matter and should, for that very reason, not be used to support theories that animals have no souls or that those souls do not return to God after death.

Personally, I believe that everything (other than humans) that has the breath of life is guaranteed a new life with God after it dies.[5] Animals suffer all the evils of death and pain, and yet they had nothing to do with bringing sin into the world.  Adam, their caretaker, was ultimately responsible for that.  Therefore, as they all suffer from the first Adam’s sin, so I believe they will all be redeemed by the second (the last) Adam’s[6] righteousness.  This is what I think Paul meant in Romans 8:19-23 when he wrote,

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

When God makes Adam and breathes the breath of life into him, Adam becomes a nephesh[7], or “living soul.”  This is the equivalent of saying that he makes Adam an animal[8] by breathing the breath of life into him: He, like all other animals, now has a soul which animates his physical body.  Physical breath is a metaphor for the spirit, and sometimes the Bible uses the term “breath of life” to refer to physical breath and sometimes to the spirit.[9]

Other people have claimed that we are distinct from animals in our ability to reason.  Those who hold this belief assume that the actions of animals are guided only by instinct, but this is demonstrably false in the fact that animals can learn skills and solve problems.  Instinct is an irrational impulse that may be overcome or enhanced by learning and training in both humans and animals.  The fight or flight instinct is common to all animals, but humans and other animals can learn how to overcome this instinct, and they may also learn how to fight or flee better with practice and training.   For instance, a young lion may have an instinctive impulse to hunt, but this can be improved upon as he practices and learns from his mistakes.

Nevertheless, I will admit that the human capacity for reason may be considerably greater than that of animals.  After all, no other species has learned how to fly to the moon, live for months under the sea, or split an atom.  But this difference is one of degree, not of kind.  Some may argue that extreme differences in degree constitute differences in kind, but I do not believe this is so.  Consider the capacity for vision in two hypothetical creatures.  The first creature can see with crystal clarity from 1,000 miles away.  The second creature must be one foot away to see with the same clarity.  This is a difference in degree, not in kind.  No amount of playing with the numbers in that scenario will make the difference one of kind.  However, if one of the creatures sees color whereas the other only sees black and white, then there is a difference in kind of vision between the two creatures.  Color-sight is one kind of seeing and clear-sight is another.

I think the Biblical distinction between humans and animals is two-fold.  The most essential distinction between us and animals is in the fact that God has made us to be his wife.[10] This distinguishes us not only from animals but from every other existing creature, even angels.  The other thing that distinguishes us from animals is the stewardship God has given us over the animals.

There is a third quality which distinguishes most humans from animals, but this quality is not common to all humans at all times (unlike the first two).  This third quality is our knowledge of good and evil, which infants and children do not have.

v. 17: Why did God place the tree of knowledge in the garden if he did not want the humans to eat from it?  Judging from 2:9, it and the tree of life were both together “in the midst of the garden.”  Perhaps Paul had this image in mind when he described a law that requires evil to be close at hand whenever we want to do good (Romans 7:21). God has put the universe together in such a way that whenever someone wants to do good, he or she also has the real option of doing (and sometimes the temptation to do) evil.  This struggle to choose good and reject evil is the central concern of our existence, and I believe that the juxtaposition of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge in the center of the garden was a living metaphor of that struggle.  Many people argue that God wants us to face this struggle so that our love for him, which is exhibited in our obedience to him, can be a genuine act of our will.  This seems true to me.

v. 18: Why did God make Adam alone at first?  Since God is perfect, it cannot be that he made a mistake and then corrected it by making the woman.  He had a purpose in making Adam without a mate initially.  I believe he wanted Adam to feel lonely, and I believe he wanted the man to feel lonely so that he could understand God’s motivation for making humanity:  God was lonely as the man was lonely, and he made humans, collectively, to be his wife.[11] This analogy continues throughout the Bible in different forms.  God is described as the husband of the children of Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church is the bride of Christ in the New Testament.

The fact that the man later says, “This one [the woman] shall be called ‘Human,’ for out of [a] Human this one was taken” (2:23) [12] is a comment, I believe, on the essence of what it means for us to be made in the image of God.  The woman, in a very real sense, was made in the physical image of the man; she came directly from the man, unlike any other creature, and had the form of the man, unlike any other creature.  This made her a fit mate for the man.  Similarly, humans (both men and women) are made in the image of God.  In some way that no other creature shares, we come directly from him and are specifically made to be his wife.  Thus, the creation of the first woman as the wife of the first man is a living metaphor of the creation of humanity as the wife of God.

And, thus, God means for the relationship between a human husband and his wife to be analogous to the relationship between God and all of humanity.  This is not at all to say that males are more spiritual or moral than females.  Both sexes are equally and demonstrably frail, weak, and sinful.  But I do believe that God intended for the marriage relationship to teach us about our relationship with God.  It is the primal relationship, the one that best mirrors what our relationship to God should be.  God intended for other relationships to reflect other elements of our relationship to him (sibling to sibling, parent to child, child to parent) but the marriage relationship is the oldest and the closest to a perfect analogy of the way God wishes to relate to us.

However, I believe that men and women have different insights into our relationship as God’s wife.  For instance, all of humanity, men and women, are the wife[13] of God, but women have the best potential for knowing how to be a good wife to God because they can actually be good wives to their husbands.  Husbands, on the other hand, have the best potential to understand God’s love for us since they can feel for their wives something like the love God has for us.  Of course, I cannot, simply using words, describe all the insights we may learn through the marriage relationship.  As Paul says, “This is a great mystery…” (Ephesians 5:32), but I believe every aspect of marriage is layered with potential for understanding what our ideal relationship with God should be.

v. 19: In chapter one, God makes the land animals on the sixth day.  He also makes humans on the sixth day.  The fact that the narrator mentions the making of animals before the making of humans in chapter one does not necessarily mean that the two accounts contradict each other.  One could easily argue that humanity does not come into existence until God makes the woman since God indicates in chapter one that humanity is both male and female.  Thus, the two accounts can be harmonized:  the man came before the land animals on the sixth day, but humanity did not because the woman (whose appearance completes the creation of humanity) comes after the animals.  See notes on 1:28.  See notes on 2:7 and 3:22.

This naming of the animals is very interesting to me.  All naming is either an act of creation or an attempt to reveal the true nature of the thing being named.  Sometimes the two actions occur simultaneously.  As an example of how we create when we name, consider the parents who name their baby before it is born.  In a limited sense, they are creating the baby’s personality before they have any real experience of it.  This is primarily an act of creation.  However, as an example of how the two actions might occur simultaneously, consider the parents who call their son or daughter “beautiful,” or “smart,” or “talented” after it has been born and grown into a child.  At this point, they do have real experience of their son or daughter, and they feel they are revealing the true nature of the child when they give it these labels, but in a very real way, they are also making the child into these things, regardless of his or her natural gifts.  Similarly, the parents who call their child “ugly,” “stupid,” or “talentless” may believe they are revealing the true nature of the child when they give it these labels, but in a very real way, they are also making their son or daughter these things, regardless of the child’s natural gifts.  Of course, we do not have absolute control over the nature of anything by thus naming it.  The natural  intelligence of a child is not stripped from him because his parents call him stupid.  He still has the gift of intelligence as part of his nature; he has only to discover it and rename himself.  God alone has absolute control over the nature of something when he names it.  (Thus, he spoke the universe into existence.)  We also do not have absolute power to reveal the true nature of something when we name it.  This would require us to have absolute knowledge of the thing we are naming, and we do not have this type of knowledge.  Only God does.

And God never tells us these absolute names because no creature of his could understand them.  Note the angel’s response to Manoah in Judges 13:17-18:  “Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, ‘What is your name…?’ But the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.’”  A similar thing happens in Genesis 32:29 when Jacob asks an(other?) angel his name.  The angel responds, “Why is it that you ask my name?” and never answers.  But even the angels, who have greater knowledge than we, do not have absolute knowledge, and the names they have for things are still not the true names that reside in the mind of God.  Just as we cannot understand the angels’ names, so even the angels cannot understand the Absolute Names that God knows.  Those Absolute Names[14] perfectly reflect our natures and are comprehensible only to him who has absolute knowledge to begin with.  On that level, there is no more distinction between understanding, revealing, and creating; they are all one.[15]

Our names for things can be graded based on their relative closeness to these Absolute Names.  For instance, the name “healthy drink” is a poor one when applied to gasoline, but good when applied to water because it accurately describes part of the nature of water.  However, “healthy drink” is not the best label for water because it does not comprehend everything about the nature of water.  For that matter, neither does the word “water.”  Only God knows water’s true name, the name which, if we could only understand it, would reveal the complete nature of water.  Adam, in the process of naming these animals, is attempting to capture their essence in his names.  He is sorting the animals out, attempting to discover and reveal to himself what their true, God-given natures are.  By this process he discovers (as God intended) that none of them are fit mates for him because none are humans.

The story seems to imply that God was curious about what Adam would name each of these animals.  I believe he enjoyed watching Adam learn about the Creation.[16]

Because Adamic, the first language of humanity, came to us directly from God with an initial vocabulary and grammar, one might be tempted to believe that it perfectly captured the essence of things, but, as I argue above, I do not believe this was the case.  It was closer to perfection than any language we have used since; in fact, I believe it must have been as close to perfection as the human mind can comprehend, but even Adamic must have fallen far short of even the language of angels, let alone the eternal Absolute Word that exists in the mind of God and comprehends the nature of all creation perfectly.  Besides, this story demonstrates that Adam added to the language by making up new words.  These new words were the creation of the man, not God, and they would, by definition, be inferior to those that God initially provided.  Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the names Adam devised for these creatures came far closer to capturing their essence than those of the most skilled poets of recorded history.[17]

v. 21: Sleep is often used as a metaphor for death;[18] I wonder if that would apply here as well.  If so, it would be particularly interesting because death itself has not entered the world at this point in the story.

v.23: The Hebrew writer uses two words for human in these first three chapters of Genesis.  In Genesis 1:27, the word is adam:  “So God created humankind [adam] in his image, in the image of God he created them; male [zakar]  and female [neqebah] he created them.”  According to Strong’s Concordance, the denotation of the word adam is “ruddy,” (entry 120) from a verb meaning “to show blood in the face” (entry 119).  It thus designates a human being (male or female) through this physiological feature, and thus, adam should be translated as “human being.”[19] When we refer to the first human being as “Adam” in English, we are simply choosing to use the Hebrew word for “human” as a proper name instead of translating it.    The words for male (zakar) and female (neqebah) are references to gender, not species (just as the English words “male” and “female” are).  Strong’s says, for instance, that zakar means “male” in humans as well as animals (2145), and neqebah has overt reference to the female sexual organ, being derived from the verb naqab (5347), which means “to puncture” (5344).

The second Hebrew word that the writer uses for human in these first three chapters of Genesis is enowsh.  Strong’s says that this is a less dignified term than adam because it has reference to us as mortals, being derived from the verb anash (582) which means “to be frail, feeble…sick, woeful” (605).  When the male human here in 2:21 says, “This one shall be called Woman [ishshah], for out of Man [iysh] this one was taken,” he is using the masculine version of enowsh (which is iysh) to refer to himself and the feminine version (ishshah) to refer to the woman, thus recognizing that she belongs to his own species, unlike the animals that had proven unsuitable mates for him earlier.  It is as if he is saying, “I shall call this new creature ‘human’ because she came from a human.”

But why would the man use a word that refers to our mortality to designate himself and his wife?  This is before the fall of humanity, before death and sickness, before sin, so why would he use such a word?  At this point, the humans were not mortals, strictly speaking.  I think the answer must be that the man was not speaking Hebrew.  Iyshishshah, and enowsh are Hebrew words, but I suspect that the first man did not speak Hebrew to his wife.  The ancient Hebrew language, which the author of Genesis uses to write this story, was a descendant of one of the languages formed at the tower of Babel.  It was not this first language of humanity.  In Adamic,[20] humanity’s first language, the man must refer to his wife with a word that mirrors ishshah in its capacity to expresses his oneness with the woman.  This would be consistent with the story as a whole.  Indeed, the main purpose of 2:18-24 is to say that the man and woman are the same kind of being and expressly made to be one in marriage.  But I do not believe this Adamic word would have referred to our morality (as the Hebrew word apparently does) because “mortal” would have been an incorrect label at that point.  Perhaps the Hebrew writer used the word as a general reference to humanity without thinking of its denotation.  We do this all the time.  For instance, an atheist might know that the word “creature” implies a creator and yet refer to an animal as a “creature” without thinking of the implication.  He would simply be using it as a synonym for “living being” just as the Hebrew writer might have been using ishshah as a synonym for “human being” without thinking about the word’s denotation.  If, however, the writer was thinking about the denotation as he used the word, perhaps he intended to foreshadow the fall of humanity.  If he was not thinking about it, perhaps God had him use the word to foreshadow the fall.

Notice that the man and woman do not have knowledge of good and evil at this point, and yet they are called humans.  From this we can deduce that the essential definition of “human” does not necessarily imply “one who has knowledge of good and evil.”  Children, for instance, are human but do not have this knowledge.  Thus, all creatures of earth who have knowledge of good and evil are humans, but not all humans have knowledge of good and evil.[21] The strict definition of a human, then, is “one of that class of being that has been made to be the wife of God.”  This is the essence of what it means for a human to be made in the image of God, and the creation of the first woman as the wife of the first man is a living metaphor of the creation of humanity as the wife of God.[22]


[1] See also notes on Hebrews 4:12.

[2] Entry 5397 in Strong’s Hebrew dictionary.

[3] See also Isaiah 42:5 where the two terms parallel one another as synonyms.

[4] Entry 7307 in Strong’s Hebrew dictionary.

[5] See also notes on 3:21.

[6] 1st Corinthians 15:45.

[7] Entry 5315 in Strong’s Hebrew dictionary.

[8] The word animal itself has the same denotation: it is derived from the Latin anima, which means spirit, breath, life, living being, or soul.  See also note on 9:4.

[9] See note on 7:22.

[10] See note on 2:18.

[11] It sounds strange to say that God was lonely, and in some sense what we feel when we are lonely cannot be what God felt.  He is perfect, and his thoughts and feelings are ultimately beyond our understanding.  But in another sense, what we feel when we are lonely must come as close to what he felt as we can understand.  The same could be said of the anger and sadness of God.

[12] See 2:23 notes.

[13] If being made “in the image of God” means being the wife of God, and if males and females are equally made “in the image of God” then that means that females are not more feminine (in this deeper, spiritual sense) than males are.  All humans are equally feminine to God’s masculine.

[14] Plato would call these ideal or natural names.  See particularly his Cratylus.

[15] In folklore there is a widespread idea that knowledge of something’s true name gives one power over that thing.  The story of Rumpelstiltskin is one example.  While I do not believe the story of Rumpelstiltskin is literally true, I do believe the principle of gaining power through names is.  Following this line of thought, knowledge of something’s Absolute Name would give one absolute power over that thing; fortunately, only God can ever have this power.  See notes on 32:29.

[16] “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Proverbs 25:2).

[17] For more on Adamic, see notes on 11:9.

[18] See, for instance, John 11:11-14.

[19] It would be wrong to conclude from this word that anyone whose face does not show blood (because its skin is too dark) is not a human.  The word is Hebrew and obviously reflects a quality which the Hebrews noticed in themselves.  I feel a little silly for pointing this out, but I would hate for somebody to be troubled by the thought.  According to Genesis 10, the darker-skinned races are descendants of Ham, son of Noah, and are clearly just as fully human as the descendants of Shem, the son of Noah who fathered the Hebrews.

[20] See note on 2:19.

[21] And not all who have knowledge of good and evil are creatures of earth.  Angels, presumably, have the knowledge.  In that sense, they too are made in the image of God in this general way, but they have not been made to be the wife of God, which the specific way that humans are uniquely “made in the image of God.”

[22] See notes on 2:18.

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