Is ‘adam “Adam”?

Posted By on June 20, 2012

I’ve been thinking (still) about the historical Adam issue. It surprises me that I haven’t seen anyone (yet — perhaps one of you knows an exception) address the grammatical-syntactical issue as it relates to “Adam” in Genesis 1-5. I speak specifically of the fact that Hebrew grammar does not tolerate a definite article with a proper personal noun. I can’t help wondering how this might influence the discussion, so I thought I’d share this with readers.

For those not acquainted with Hebrew grammar, like English, you cannot have the definite article (the word “the”) with a proper personal name. For instance, I’m not “the Mike”; I’m just “Mike.” I brought up this issue before on the blog as it relates to the Hebrew noun satan in the OT. All of the occurrences of this term in Job 1-2 and Zech 3 have the definite article, and so satan is not a proper personal noun (“Satan”) in the OT by rule of Hebrew grammar.1 The well-known Hebrew Jouon-Muraoka biblical Hebrew reference grammar (Par. 137.b) puts it this way:

Proper nouns are in themselves determinate, since they designate unique beings. Therefore they do not take any determining element. Thus they cannot be followed by a determinate (nor indeterminate,  131 no) genitive. Likewise they do not take the article, apart from some whose appellative value is still being felt …

In other words, when a noun has come to be understood as a proper personal name, the article is not used, since its definite character (in this case, as a person) is understood.

All this means that the Hebrew word ‘adam, frequently translated indiscriminately as “Adam” in English Bibles, could (should?) be translated as follows:

1. ‘adam with the definite article (ha-’adam) = avoiding the proper name, and so: “humankind”; “the man”; “humanity”; “man” (definite collective); “the human”; or “this human” (with the article having demonstrative force).

2. ‘adam with no definite article could be rendered either generally as “a man” or “a human,” or as the proper name, “Adam.”

What would this make Genesis look like? Perhaps a better question might be, “How much of the early chapters of Genesis could be read generically as the story of “humankind” (including the female human)?” Or, “at what point does the text require us to use the proper name “Adam”? What follows is experimental, so we can see ourselves. I’ll start with Gen 1:26, boldfacing ha-’adam (the noun with the article) and using blue when ‘adam is without the article. You’ll notice the usage without the article is rare. References to “a woman” are in pink. Alternate words for “man” (e.g., ‘ish) are in green.

Genesis 1

26 Then God said, “Let us make a human in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created the humans in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 2

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. 5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground, 7 then the Lord God formed the human of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the human  whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 The Lord God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the human, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that this human should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the human to see what he would call them. And whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The human gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for a human there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the human, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the human he made into a woman and brought her to the human. 23 Then the human said,

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called “woman,”
because she was taken out of “man” (the word here is not ‘adam, but ‘ish)

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the human and his woman were both naked and were not ashamed.


This brings us to Genesis 3 and the Fall, of course, but a few things are apparent, or at least worth thinking about:

1. It’s quite possible to read Genesis 1-2 without thinking that the two humans in the story are specific people.

2. This generic flavor can be easily maintained in chapter 3 until 3:21 (fully through the fall episode), where the woman is named (chavvah – there is no definite article;”Eve”). However, 3:20 could be rendered thusly:

20The human called his wife’s name “Life,” because she was the mother of all living.

Of more difficulty is 3:21, where ‘adam lacks the article and is awkward to translate as anything other than a proper name:

21And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

The problem here, of course, is that the consonantal text behind “for Adam” (le-’adam) could be pointed with a definite article (the pointing was added in the Middle Ages), since the prefixed preposition subsumes the place of the patach vowel that goes with the “h” definite article when it “collides” with the article in spelling (i.e., it could be pointed la-’adam and thus rendered “When the Lord God made for the human and for his wife …”). All we have is the Masoretic tradition with respect to taking the form “as is” without the definite article.

3. Once we get out of Genesis 3, Adam is very likely a proper name in the following verses:

4:1 – Now the man knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” (This one is odd – although I can’t translate ha-’adam as the proper name “Adam” due to the presence of the article, since it is partnered with “Eve/chavvah his wife,” and chavvah has no article, it clearly points to a particular individual).

4:25 – Adam had sexual relations with his wife again, and she gave birth to another son. (no definite article, plus the children are given proper names)

5:1 – This is the written account of the descendants of Adam. When God created a human, and made them to be like himself (both forms lack the article, but the second cannot be a proper name, since the referent it pluralized “them”; Genesis 5:2′s occurrence of ‘adam without the article must be taken the same way for the same reason: “He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them ‘human‘.”)

5:3 – When Adam was 130 years old, he became the father of a son … (the son is named, so it makes sense for the ‘adam with no article to be specific in meaning as a proper name).

5:4 – After the birth of Seth, Adam lived another 800 years, and he had other sons and daughters (ditto the above reasoning)

5:5 – Adam lived 930 years, and then he died. (humanity is older than 930 years, so this is a proper name!)

4. Even if ‘adam is generic, there are features of the story that are (not surprisingly) un-scientific — that is, they cannot accommodate to evolutionary theory (e.g., the human is able to speak immediately after creation). Sure, there are imaginative ways to explain that, based on certain presumptions (“speech was enabled as part of whatever God did or planned at some evolutionary breakthrough to homo sapiens, and so the story reflects that”), but that is a theological statement (which isn’t a sin, mind you).

5. You have to wonder why there is a switch to ‘ish from ‘adam in Gen 2:23-24. The word appears in Gen 3, 4 in some “husbandly” contexts, but is that how to see it in 2:23-24?

In a future post, we’ll see how this looks if we assume the creation stories of Gen 1 and Gen 2 are distinct, having been written by different hands at different times (deriving from sources or not). Finally, I plan to take a look at the clues within the text as a whole that could genuinely point to non-Adamic humans and how Genesis 1-2 could be read differently taking the text just as it is.

Again, just thinking out loud, so to speak.

  1. See the video here illustrating this point via computer searching.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

About The Author


54 Responses to “Is ‘adam “Adam”?”

  1. Carla says:

    Reading those excerpts, it looks like it could be referring to humans collectively. As in there were more than just Adam & Eve. Then after the fall, the account is about Adam and Eve as individuals specifically.

    As for whether or not the Biblical account leaves room for evolution, I think it’s kind of irrelevant. Science doesn’t leave room for evolution.

    When I look at what I was taught in school about evolution, what “science knew as absolute,” it is completely different than what they know today.

    Whatever construct someone believes in, it has to *explain* and account for *everything.* You can’t use one theory in one aspect of creation and then switch it to fit another.

    In this sermon, Blinded by Science (begins at 16 minutes,) Dr. James Tour ( explains that on a chemical level it is impossible for one life form to evolve into another. He is a professor of chemistry, computer science, mechanical engineering, and materials science at Rice University.

    • MSH says:

      I think the “collective” idea is a helpful trajectory. On the science part, the real science goes well beyond what anyone would learn in high school or an intro college class (like very other subject, including biblical studies, for sure). Those who consider evolution rock solid would marshal a far better case than a high school science lecture (or book), and those who see problems with it could do the same in that direction (while not dismissing evolution per se).

  2. At the risk of becoming Mr Hodge’s PR man…

    I think he sees Adam as being a particular man in both 1 and 2. I’m not swayed either way atm.

    • MSH says:

      I didn’t find this helpful since the issue isn’t word study; it’s about grammatical definiteness (he never mentions the definite article issue). On the literary front, one doesn’t need to appeal to sources or “fancified” literary categories to see that Gen 1 and 2 could be read as separate stories, but that’s for a future post.

      • Hodge says:

        Hi Mike,

        I actually think the definite article issue is irrelevant to what you’re arguing. This is a contextual/referential issue, not a grammatical one. Hence, if what I’ve said is true in the article posted by Benjamin, the text presupposes that Adam is the progenitor of mankind (thus all mankind, even Adam himself, is classified as a group with that name). I agree with your translations above, but leaping to the idea that the presence of the definite article on a noun means it doesn’t refer to the specific person named “Adam” is odd. It’s not a proper name when the def. art. is used (no doubt about that); but the reference has to be gained contextually. Hence, what you really want to argue is that the context of P is not binding upon the context of J, or perhaps the context of R is not binding on either. I find this to be consistent with how modern scholarship sees the book. I just don’t find it convincing in light of the sophisticated theological argument being made, which also assumes the creation in Gen 1 is the same event as that in Gen 2 from different perspectives, and that the male human being in those texts is a person named Adam according to Gen 5.

        The lexical information becomes important, of course, in that if the word does not mean “man,” but only names mankind after its progenitor then as an epomym, it in fact can take the article or function without it to refer to either an individual or collective group. So the grammar may give you more options here, but you have to argue reference from context, and it seems you want to limit context to the original sources (but I could be mistaken there). But without arguing further than this, the data above simply relates the idea that adam with the article should be translated as “man” or “mankind” given the context, and without can refer to Adam or man in general. What it doesn’t do, however, is identify the individual(s) to whom it may refer. I’m sure you agree.

        • MSH says:

          If you read the essay closely I’m not leaping anywhere — I’m just wondering out loud. I think the more interesting trajectory is separate stories (my next post). The article issue really doesn’t seem to tilt in any direction.

          • Hodge says:

            Thanks Mike. I have to disagree that the article issue doesn’t tilt in any direction, as I would say that the translation of adam as “a man” in 2:20 is a bit forced if it is to be taken generically (I’ll likely write a post on that point to show why I think it is). I think we all agree that the article on adam in Gen 2 identifies the species, but the issue is whether it identifies the species of one man or many. The issue within the text then becomes the lack of the article on adam in v. 20. This is not only awkward in English, it is in Hebrew as well. The fact that this appears in narrative description, as opposed to a general statement about man, as in v. 24, which as you know most scholars think to be additional material to the narrative, seems to indicate that the articular adam throughout the passage is not referencing a larger group, but a specific individual named “Adam.” I think this is why the author/editor combines the two in chapt 5, not because it is a secondary conflation, but because chapt 2 evidences it.

            Of course, you can take 1 and 2 as disconnected accounts that have been strung together (if that’s what you mean by “separate”–I still am not sure there), so that Gen 1 is humanity in general and Gen 2 is Adam specifically (I think Dr. Enns does this), and I’ll wait to see your reasons for it, but I do think that a better way to pursue this line of argumentation might be just to say that you think Adam represents humanity in a figurative/mythic narrative, even though the flow of the story within the text itself begins with one man. But, again, I’ll wait to read your further posts. In any case, thank you for thinking out loud and providing the opportunity to discuss this issue.

  3. Nobunaga says:

    My question would be is there any places where it could be translated plural rather than singular as in humankind rather than the human ?

    • MSH says:

      There are no plurals, but the use of the term to encompass both genders shows it can be semantically collective.

      • Nobunaga says:

        plural was a bad choice of word collective fits the bill better. What are the grammatical rules of a collective ? and could they be argued for in any of the mentioned verses.

        • MSH says:

          The “rules” are really semantic. There’s no X construction + Y construction = collective. Some nouns are just used in languages to refer to collections (e.g., “people” is singular in form [no "s'] but obviously means a group; “peoples” would mean several groups).

  4. T.C. Judd says:

    Your thoughts here fall in line with how most contemporary translations handle the differentiation between ‘adam with and without the article. I’m not sure how off topic you’d find it, but I find the contrast with the LXX here interesting. LXX uses Adam (proper name) vs anthropos almost exclusively beginning in 2.16.



    • MSH says:

      I would doubt the shift derives from a different text; rather, it would seem a translation choice — and one that would be paying attention to when the narrative required specificity.

  5. Kirk Shelton says:

    As you know, much relating to how we are to interpret Adam as a historical man and seemingly the original man depends on accurate translation. I can only verify so much of what people claim about the Hebrew, so I’m somewhat relieved to see you tackle this. In typical “naked bible” fashion, I look forward to seeing what the text(s) themselves do and do not require. Even so, any view should consider what the ancients thought about the nature of Adam (historic, progenitor).

  6. Chris says:

    Really interesting. I haven’t seen any particular discussion of the text in the manner of dealing with the definite article and looking at it without Adam being translated as a proper name.

    The thing that strikes me is how early we’re dealing with a singular man. In Genesis 2:15 you are dealing with ‘the human’ or ‘the man’ and then in 16-17 ‘the human’ gets a command. The problem I then have is in vs. 20, that making it indefinite doesn’t flow right. To say ‘The human gave names to all the living creatures but for a human there wasn’t found….’ That switch is awkward and the context doesn’t seem to allow it.

    • MSH says:

      yeah; there are some “awkwardisms” in a translation sense. I can’t help wondering if the passage is generic that might help people see how it could be read as a story whose actual aim is a generic (non-scientific) statement of human origins.

      • Ashley says:

        As always, thanks for the insights – really interesting stuff! I actually wasn’t troubled at all by the switch from definite to generic here – quite the opposite, I found this particularly illuminating. As I read it, God decided that “this man” (as in, one particular guy) needed a mate, and so God brought all of the other animals of creation before “the man” to look for a mate. But there wasn’t anything suitable for “a man” (a human) in that set. In other words, I read this as saying that one guy was looking for a mate, but there wasn’t any mate appropriate for a human (human being a general type of animal) and so God had to make a new mate that would be fit for a human generally, and by extension for this man in particular. I’m probably not being clear, but to me it read as an account of a specific search for a general type, i.e., this one man’s search for a mate that would be of a type that would be appropriate for all humans. When nothing suitable was found already existing, God created women.

  7. roberterasmus says:

    So, you say “once we get out of Genesis 3 Adam is likely a proper name” and I follow. Can you comment on the prospects of Genesis 4:1 (ahead of your 4:25)? You, of course, know the Jewish tradition of “the man” NOT being Adam in this verse and the correlation of this supposed data with 1 John 3:12.

    Are we reaching too far in understanding the Nachash’s reach? I do see the pronominal suffix in 4:1, but who’s to say who’s she was?


  8. NW says:


    Yeah, I’ve thought about all this before.

    Here’s my best guess: In Gen 2-3 we have “the man” and his female counterpart “life” (note the difference between the woman’s name between 3:20 and 4:1 in the LXX); however, these generic titles give way to the names Adam and Eve in Gen 4. What’s going on here is that the final editor of Genesis is gluing together what were initially two different traditions in Gen 2-3 and Gen 4 as part of his larger project of creating a seamless historical account from “the beginning” in 1:1 to the entrance of Israel into Egypt prior to the Exodus event. That this sort of gluing procedure is in fact the case can not only be detected at the level of what the man and his female counterpart are called between Gen 2-3 and Gen 4 but also in that the man and his female counterpart are seemingly the first man and woman of all mankind in Gen 2-3 while Adam and Eve and their descendants only seem to be one family among others in Gen 4 (note 4:14-17). The upshot is that Gen 2-3 might have originally been conceived as a non-historical narrative whose purpose was solely theological, as many imagine to be the case with Job, but was meant to be interpreted as being historical within the context of Genesis by the final editor of the same.

    • MSH says:

      This seems a workable approach. The Gen 4 stuff (which will be in my next post) is quite suggestive of some sort of scenario like this. Some of that in Gen 2 as well. Good stuff! Thanks.

  9. Patrick says:

    This is a “theological” piece of data and not germane to this specific discussion, but, Jesus in Matthew 23-24, I believe acting in His Divinity as Yahweh, pronounced judgment on Jerusalem quite harshly. He applied the culpability for all the “righteous blood from Abel to Zechariah” on that generation.

    If there’s no Adam, there’s no Cain and Abel, no first murder and Jesus used a metaphor as partial justification for a real deadly piece of real business as 70 AD and Josephus details.

    Because of that issue, there’s no way I can conclude Adam is not a historic human. What might happen with me is understanding Adam differently than we have which in fact I already have due to the Romans 5 discussion.

    • MSH says:

      Someone on the other side would simply say Jesus is referring to the contents of the Tanakh, or that Jesus was acquiescing to human ignorance. The latter is referred to in biblical studies as the “divine condescension” idea. For example, take the whole “mustard seed” parable – to the Canaanite/Judean eye it’s the smallest seed, but scientifically it is not. Jesus, as God, would know that, but doesn’t care about the correctness of the idea — to those listening the mustard seed was the smallest seed, and they wouldn’t have known others, so to communicate his point he goes with it. He holds his superior knowledge in check to make the point. The same thing could apply to the Abel reference (in this argument): Jesus knows there was no historical Abel; that the Genesis narrative was the Israelite story God approved as written to communicate the continuance and pervasiveness of sin that was part and parcel of the mortal condition. So rather than give them a cosmic history lesson from the perspective of omniscience, he goes with it.

      Just an illustration to show that your objection wouldn’t phase the other side.

      Interestingly enough, there’s a new book out disputing (apparently – haven’t read it yet) the genomic conclusions of Venema (at least that was how it was blogged). I’ll be posting an Adam update soon.

  10. Richard says:

    C. John Collins in his book “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?” has a brief discussion of the grammatical-syntactical issue you mention. It’s on pages 55-56 with his most direct statement in footnote #11 on page 56.

  11. Patrick says:

    Yea, I guess you’re right.

    Really, with a hermeneutic like this, the entire OT can become a metaphor. I know at least 1 believer who views it that way. She doesn’t think any of it is valid historically.

    I think she doesn’t want to “wrap her brain” around it out of fear honestly. Afraid the idea of the “meany god idea” might be accurate.

  12. Richard Brown says:

    1. Sure happy to see you treat this specific topic, with which I have at least a LITTLE familiarity. The concept I’ve been carrying was something like “Earth” and “Earthling”. The human/man [male? MSH?] was made from the clods. The Woman is decidedly different. Appreciate the Life/Living monikerization

    2. I sure wish this topic had come up here in this very good blog in some/any other way than via Enns. Any web-savvy follower of this blog can search out Enns legacy to date and draw their own assessment of what his and Biologos’ aims may be.

    3. Let us not confuse “Genomics” with a study of origins; that is the complexity of development of inorganic and organic, living [animate] and non-living forms upon this planet. Genomics is a relatively new and specialized field and as I have been reading up on this topic I’m wondering if the ‘experts’ in the field have find other sciences abhorrent. Math? Statistics/Probabilities? Physics? Astrophysics? Quanta? Anthropology [sans genomics]? Paleontology? Geology? Biomechanics?

    4. Personally, MSH, I’m more interested in textual criticism of the Deity. A peculiar, particular Deity is the causative in the account we have. As you have so well pointed out in your studies, this Deity is one among several, or many. Here we are millenia later, as Christians and Jews, calling this peculiar Deity the only legitimate God, which I certainly affirm unto my death. What did He do? Did He breathe into a peculiar/particular Biped Hominid some Inner Being that was then peculiar to that “earthling”, and which quality then was passed on first to his Female derivative, then through procreation to his offspring?

    5. What might Genomics assert about the “sons of God” canonical accounts: the Rephaim, Nephilim, and aftermath? Are there to this day genetic artifacts of this tampering? Why would the aforementioned fields of science just arbitrarily rule-out any consideration of disruption from a [non-Earth] alien source? On what scientific basis? To me this is the proverbial goat’s head: A “God” of the characteristics we here would agree on is by definition “from” outside not only the Earth but the U. IF there was an “evolutionary” progression from inanimate elements to sentient living bio-life [which is not likely from a statistical standpoint], the story at hand speaks of something bizarre that interrupts that progression and introduces a new form of being that is NOT accounted for in the study of new Darwinism. So is the Christology of Jesus of Nazareth: we are dealing with a form of being that did not previously exist and for which there was/is no guide or “evolutionary” referent.

    • MSH says:

      I like the “earth” and “earthling” wordplay.

      On the last point, this would be the case IF Gen 6 were taken literally in the sense of literal copulation. The text can certainly be read that way. But, in the “metaphor vein,” the text could be using mythic epic language to describe something that really occurred but which was deliberately cast in theological terms, not biological terms. (I am not arguing for the Sethite view here, which I think is poorly conceived and even more poorly argued). This mythic view is something I’ve thought about with particular reference to how Gen 6 feeds into the giant clans of Israel’s conquest wars and the issue of the annihilation of certain people groups. I may add it to my Myth book, so I won’t get into it here (at least not now).

      • Richard Brown says:

        Thanks Michael. I admire your work and thanks for letting us less-educated folk “think out loud” with your benevolent provocation!! Hope you do write the Mythos, and maybe sometime somewhere, a compendium to non-human/super-human beings of the Bible ! not all angels and demons are….

  13. Shaun says:

    A bit off topic from your point, but something else no one pays attention to in this debate is v 7.

    “7 then the Lord God formed the human of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature.”

    Everyone assumes this happens in an instant. One second Adam is not there, then a second later ‘poof’ a fully grown man pops into existence.

    Other than the fact that several verses later Adam can talk, what is in the text to justify the assumption that Adam was made instantly? How do we know that “God formed the human of dust from the ground” doesn’t indicate a long process?

    • MSH says:

      We don’t; and then there are the passages that talk about God using the EARTH to create animals and birds (Gen 2:19). This is something that Augustine notice, writing that perhaps the earth had all the ingredients in it necessary for the other life forms (an Augustinian Darwinist!). Genesis 1:24 says the same thing … except for the birds (cp. Gen 1:21; just one of several differences between Gen 1 and 2 that we’ll get to in a post).

  14. Dean says:

    What I don’t get is why would God even bother? If it’s all an allegory to Israel or about sin and the human race – were men that stupid back then (In Moses day when assumed written) compared to Paul’s day when he would explain these issues in detail?

    Why not just explain it instead of coming up with a fantasy? I see the first chapters of Genesis to be completely unnecessary if not telling recounts of actual people and events. Honestly it comes across as a cosmic myth and a bit deceitful to pass it off as real to only later “discover” it was not literal after all.

    I’m not treading into the “It’s not a scientific book” issue. I get that. I just don’t understand why it has to be a fairy tail. There is just no logic in it’s existence in it in my opinion.

    Why not simply say, “I created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it.” and leave it at that. Makes a lot of the details seem pointless if not true.

    • MSH says:

      21st century people, with all our own science, are barely scratching the surface of how life came to be and “works,” so I’m quite skeptical that God could just explain this to pre-scientific people of the 2nd millennium BC. He’d be wasting his time on us, too. And it says too much to call it a fairy tale. If it is indeed some sort of ancient epic story crediting God with the creation of humans, then its basic teaching point is real, and that teaching point (God’s activity) occurred in real time. You don’t get that in fairy tales.

      • Dean says:

        I’m not saying He should have laid out in scientific detail how he did it – although it would be a fascinating read! I’m saying why can we not except what is written as an explanation without specifics of the “how” and not make it allegorical.

        If I we’re writing to people pre-flight (but post automobile) to explain how I flew from New York to L.A. and said “I went from New York to L.A.” – That would be enough. I know they would not understand the detailed description of the aircraft, take off and so on… Like you were saying in your reply.

        However – it would be completely unnecessary to concoct a story of how I drove across country and meet this and that persons on these days and so on – when I flew.

        That is what I am saying when asking what is the point? So what they do not understand – I doesn’t necessitate the creation of false information.

        Maybe I’m reading into what you are implying (or not reading into it enough :) )… If Adam was not real then why come up with the creation story as we have it at all? Why the day cycles, names and – this was created on that day – and so on IF it is not a literal, albeit lacking in details of the “how”?

        That’s what I find unnecessary and illogical.

        By the way – I love your blog – I’m not here to pick a fight. I always enjoy being challenged on why I believe what I do and if it truly holds to what the bible actually says. I appreciate your ministry.


        • MSH says:

          To the original audience none of the information would be “false”; it would be the expression of a truth (God is responsible for the origin of humanity) in their own language / delivery system. The OT wasn’t designed to communicate to 20th century people;; it was designed to communicate to people living in the first millennium BC. Moderns judge it as false since they are arrogant enough to think it was written for them, and so they expect it to conform accordingly.

  15. David Medici says:

    What does this grammatical rule say about ha-elohim in Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9, 11; and many others?

    • MSH says:

      which nouns/names?

      • David Medici says:

        Dr. Heiser, if I correctly understand your comments on the definite article prefixing a personal name, namely, that it never does so, then I wonder how we are to understand the use of ha-elohim. For example, elohim in Genesis 5:22 is clearly functioning as a name, but it is prefixed by the definite article. In fact, ha-elohim appears 366 times in the Hebrew scriptures (if I am correctly using my Logos search facility), the vast majority of them clearly indicating by context the one God, elohim functioning as a name. How then do we explain this feature of the Hebrew text if we also assert that the definite article does not prefix a personal name? Am I misunderstanding something?

        • MSH says:

          ha-elohim means “the God” (par excellence). That title was exclusively associated with the God of Israel. “God” isn’t a name, though we use it that way. It’s a description, a title. And so the God of Israel could be called “elohim” (as though greater than the totality of all other deities) or “THE God” (also marking superiority). “Yahweh” was the proper name of Israel’s God (and “El” in earlier compounds – e.g., El-Shadday, El-Olam, etc.).

          • David Medici says:

            Dr. Heiser, thank you for the reply, and I apologize for the tardy response.

            If ha-elohim is “the God” (par excellence), please point out what in the text of Genesis 5:22 and other scriptures would necessitate the use of a title intended (if I understand your comment correctly) to evoke the “par excellence” of God. I can see nothing. There is nothing in the text or context that is comparing God with any supposed god; if there was, the “par excellence” assertion might have some plausibility. I cannot see how your reply really fits the context of Genesis 5:22, et al., or addresses my query.

            If Genesis 5:22 does not have anything in (con)text that would make the evocation of God “par excellence” plausible then we are left with having to acknowledge that elohim is being used as a name. It is a title, but a title that is a name (a la “Mr. President”). If a name, then ha-elohim does not seem to fit your assertion that names do not take the definite article.

            I’m not trying to be contrary or combative, Dr. Heiser, just careful and accurate in what we assert.

            • MSH says:

              I never said each instance was explained the same way. There is no deity in the entire ancient Near East “named” elohim (as opposed to El, for example). Biblical usage at some point came to substitute it for a name — but that doesn’t make it a proper name in terms of grammar. Those are two different things. For the Israelite, their God was the God par excellence, and at some point it became a circumlocution for their God.

  16. Dan Smedra says:

    “It surprises me that I havent seen anyone (yet perhaps one of you knows an exception) address the grammatical-syntactical issue as it relates to Adam in Genesis 1-5.”

    See: FLAME OF YAHWEH – Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard M. Davidson –

  17. Kirk Shelton says:

    If “adam” with the article cannot be the proper name “Adam,” could it (if contextually appropriate) be translated as “the Adams”?

    I’m trying to adopt the supposition that Adam was historical yet not the very first human being. In reading the text this way, I want to see whether reading “ha ‘adam” as “the Adamites” is altogether illegitimate.
    (Dick Fischer tries to read the text this way here: )

    • MSH says:

      what’s the difference between “Adamites” and humankind? (outside of a two-human-creation view)?

      • Anonymous says:

        If the morphology of the Hebrew word “adam” for “man” is so closely connected with the proper name Adam, such that I am not sure which came first, is it legitimate to reckon “ha ‘adam” to mean something like “the Adams”?
        Outside of a two-creation view the two would be synonyms, yet nuanced in meaning. Like saying “sons of Adam” instead of “sons of mankind.” They are saying the same thing, though not necessarily interchangeable. Is it an improper stretch to see “ha ‘adam” in the creation account as referring to Adam’s people (which can only potentially be differentiated from other people)?
        As your guest poster suggested, I’m starting to wonder if the Genesis text describes Adam as the literal first man as a conceit. *If* this were the case, I wonder if the internal consistency would be intentionally bent in order to leave us implications of other people (e.g. Cain’s lament).

  18. Ken James says:

    Somewhere I have heard all of this conversation before only not quite as detailed as laid out here, Oh yes what I remember goes something like this, Genesis 2:24
    Yea, hath God said
    Really guys if Mr. Peter Enns is right about his views like the Accommodation Theory where he claims Jesus never tried to correct the views of his followers that were just too simple and wrong, then do you not think if Mr. Enns is a smart as he thinks he is he should follow the lead of Jesus and not sow discord among the brethren by bringing up such a flammable debate?
    Really think about what a verse like this means. Numbers 23:19
    God is not a man, that He should lie,
    If all of us did nothing else the rest of our lives but tried to come to the full understanding of the following 2 verses and the relationship that Father wants with us we would have a lot larger impact in our own lives and those around us………Proverbs 1:7

    7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

    1 John 4:18-19
    There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

  19. mobilpriser says:

    I¡¦ve been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this kind of area . Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this web site. Studying this information So i am glad to exhibit that I’ve an incredibly good uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what I needed. I such a lot undoubtedly will make certain to don¡¦t put out of your mind this site and provides it a look on a constant basis.

  20. Doug O says:

    Interesting article in this week’s Economist about this issue. If academics at Wheaton are being fired for not signing a faith statement that God created a literal Adam and Eve as the historical progenitors of the entire human race, one has to ask: is this the a modern Galileo moment?

    • MSH says:

      This session drew attention at ETS, as the article notes (thanks for it – I’ll include it when I blog about the meetings – see my latest post/announcement). All four views at this session (by the same speakers) have been compiled into a book by Zondervan. I’ll post a link to it when I blog it.

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up. Patience is a virtue; there is no need to re-submit your comment.