Adam – Were They the First Human?

08/06/2014 08:16

In follow up to Genesis 5:1, which tells us that God created adam (Hebrew), verse 2 says that God “created them male and female,” and “when they were created, He blessed them and called them adam.” Most Christians today understand the meaning as referring first to the male whose name became Adam, and then subsequently to the creation of the first female, later to be called Eve. But that understanding seems to ignore, or at least slip around, a little of the somewhat confusing way the verse reads. The Hebrew adam is usually translated man and assumed to be male. Genesis 5:2, however, distinctly speaks of both the male and the female as adam—man. Well, we slide by this with a vague nod to a generic “mankind” or “human” meaning for adam. And yet … verse 2 has an odd mixture of singular “him” conjoined with the plural “them.”

Verse 2 actually recites Genesis 1:27. There, in parallel structure, Moses writes, “He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” While here too we usually dismiss the odd coupling of “him” and “them” as the steps that God chose in creating a male first and then creating a female later, the implication of the verse seems to be that this creation of him/them is simultaneous. (And that is supported by Moses’ comment on image. If part of the image is the insistence here on dual male/female gender characteristics, the understanding of sequential creation of the sexes would have to conclude that the initial adam created was not yet fully in the image of God.)

This is not a curiosity upon which only modern-day scholars muse. The simultaneous creation implication of 1:27 set against the sequential creation description of Genesis 2 is a difficulty with which the ancient Jewish scholars grappled. The midrashim Genesis Rabbah and Leviticus Rabbah both address this problem and provide a solution that, to our contemporary mindset, seems wildly outlandish. They suggest that the original adam was created initially as both male and female. When God created woman from adam’s side, he was merely separating the one complete image-bearing human into two sexes.

While at first blush, this may sound preposterous, this solution actually has several points to commend it. To take better hold of the idea or proposition for this discussion, I will restate it: Adam, the first human, was formed without sexual distinction, and thus with both male and female characteristics. When God formed the woman from adam’s side, he separated adam into male and female to allow adam the opportunity for human relationship. (Note that the lowercase and italics used with adam indicate the Hebrew base rather than the name given to this first human.) Before entering fully into this discussion, perhaps some boundaries should be established.

The first boundary on our thinking must be that while such an idea can possibly impel us toward a series of further speculative possibilities, we should limit our speculative extrapolation. This is speculation. Our discussion will not lead us to dogmatic proof. We will end deciding whether there may be reasonable support for this idea, but it will remain speculation. And as speculation, we must be very careful in building other beliefs using this speculation as the foundation. It should always and only be done through careful comparison with the rest of Scripture.

But if this is mere speculation, why even bother with discussing it? Is this not just a waste of time? I don’t think so. We must choose a basis for this original human. If male, the NT references to Adam will be interpreted one way. If androgynous, they will be interpreted another way. And if we simply ignore our current discussion, defaulting to the view that the original adam was merely male, we make that choice (and determine our NT interpretation) on no less speculation than had we in fact considered the androgyne possibility. Therefore, engaging in this discussion should be profitable, giving us firmer basis for our speculative choice either way.

The next boundary is to bury the notion that this idea means God had started out with one plan in mind (e.g., perhaps a race of androgynous beings) and then for some reason changed his mind in favor of differing sexes for his human creation. This is not the way the God of all knowledge operates. If the androgyny idea is true, God intended that creation with the subsequent separation into sexes as a process to provide instruction to adam about who he (God) is. 

Finally, we should not be confusing the separation into sexes as parallel elements to God’s Persons. There is no sexual distinction in the Godhead. God the Father is not male. God the Spirit is not female. All three Persons have the full range of gender characteristics and these characteristics are what our discussion idea proposes were embodied in the one body of the original adam. Actually, the fact that the marriage imagery incorporates a 2-in-1 image to reflect the 3-in-1 God distinctly argues that no sexual correspondence should be understood, but rather that the multiple-into-one idea is what correlates the image to its corresponding entity.

Now to the discussion. As mentioned, the idea was born from an apparent discrepancy of implication between the Genesis 1:27 simultaneous creation and the Genesis chapter 2 sequential description. That problem dissolves if we consider the Genesis 1:27 human creation as both male and female in the one human body. Some of the Hebrew words used to describe the creation seem to support this idea. In Genesis 1:27, the word create is translated from the Hebrew bara, a word meaning to make something new. But Genesis 2:7, in describing the detail of adam’s creation, we are told that he was formed (Hebrew yatsar) from the dust of the ground. This yatsar means to fashion from something that already exists. This different word does not conflict with the original word to create. If a potter presented a vase stating that he created it, we would not scratch our heads wondering how he made it out of nothing. We would rightly understand that he fashioned it from already existing clay. (This, by the way, gives more understanding to Genesis 1 and 2. God first created matter/energy. All else—dry ground, seas, sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, fish, birds, and humans—were formed from this initial matter/energy created out of nothing. And that informs us as to why all physical creation fell when Adam and Eve fell. As part of this physical creation, the man and woman (or man/woman adam) were made caretakers. Their fall was creation’s fall, and now creation groans (Romans 8:22), eagerly awaiting the time of our resurrection.)

However, when move to Genesis 2:22 for the creation/formation of the woman, we find a third word used—Hebrew banah. This word means to build, rebuild, cause to continue. The idea here is not simply a refashioning or reforming as was used before. It is rather the reassembling of materials already fashioned into something else. It is the difference between forming a vase from clay and building a table. And this word banah describing Eve’s assembly rather than the forming word yatsar, helps support the idea that the woman was there in and part of adam, but taken from him to exist separately.

Several other indications support this idea of an original male/female adam. We’ve already mentioned the Genesis 1:27 mixing of the pronouns him and them in referring to the same creature. We’ve talked about the image being male and female. In addition, when we read in Genesis 2 of the set up toward the woman’s creation, we are told that it was “not good for adam to be alone” (2:18). That word alone is translated from the Hebrew bad, which doesn’t necessarily indicate loneliness but rather being solitary—being one. So God first shows the adam all the animals and asks him to consider them (give them names according to their characteristics). Through this exercise, the adam realizes there is none other out there like him with whom to have relationship. God puts the adam to sleep and takes from his side (not his rib) the already fashioned material with which to assemble the woman. When he wakes, God “brought her to adam” (2:22). The Hebrew there actually means more than simply brought.  After all, God made the woman right there next to the sleeping adam. The Hebrew suggests God “brought her to face” adam. In other words, she had been part of him. Now, however, she is separated from him and brought to face him.

This idea provides greater emphasis for the 2-in-1 image of God that we are to see in marriage. The 2-in-1 originally was a two (male/female) in one physical body adam. God separated the two, taking the woman from the man (I Cor 11:8). But immediately upon doing so in Genesis 2, we are then told in verse 24 about the reuniting of the two through sexual activity to maintain that 2-in-1 image. This should shore up our understanding of why sexual relations outside this image are so abhorrent to God. Changing anything about this is doing violence to the image of the Trinity that he is insisting upon with this model. It must be a uniting of spirit (commitment of care—marriage). It must be a uniting of body (physical as well as spiritual oneness through sexual activity). And it must be a reuniting of what was there in the first place (the combination of male and female). This is the established image to show us God. This is why sex outside marriage is wrong. And this is why other forms of sex are wrong whether it is homosexuality or bestiality. This is not to argue that sex can’t be enjoyable in any of these variant forms. It still is sex, and sex is pleasurable. But here’s the thing—although procreation is accomplished through sex, procreation is not the number 1 purpose for sex. That may sound odd, but it is biblically true. The number 1 purpose for sex is the sharing of pleasure with a spouse with whom you have committed yourself in spirit. The sharing of total spiritual and bodily intimacy in ecstasy is the point because it is in this that we only begin to see the glory of unity in the Trinity.   

Through the understanding of an androgynous adam, we have explanation in Genesis 5 for the discussion in verse 2. The chapter is about a line of fathers bearing sons in their image in pursuit of God. And the line begins with God fathering, as it were, Adam. So why the discussion about male and female in verse 2 if that’s not really the point of the chapter? It could be because that first fathering brought forth not merely a male, but the male/female image in adam. This had to be mentioned because of the image emphasis in the context. It is not mentioned again because in verse 3, the post-Eve, male Adam continues in fathering according to his image.

As mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, how we view adam has impact on interpretation of some New Testament passages. Possibly the greatest impact is found in our interpretation of I Corinthians 11:2-16. This passage is difficult no matter what your beliefs about head coverings, patriarchal complementarianism, and biblical egalitarianism. But I think, as far as the biblical egalitarian outlook is concerned, this idea of androgyny in the initial adam can actually help.

We need to rehearse a little background to this passage first. The passage is about head coverings—why, in that time and culture, males should not wear them in worship and why females should. Paul initially commends the Corinthians for following this practice, but it appears that some have been wondering why they were doing it. So, Paul’s purpose is to give them reason. The reason has its basis in verse 3: “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.”

Of course, to understand this verse, we have to decide on the meaning of head. We have at least three possibilities. One is authority (as head in command); one is source (as head of a river); and a third appeals to the actual function of the physical head over the body which is in caregiving (the head watches out for the body). Despite the objections of the patriarchal complementarians, we may dismiss authority outright. Matthew 28 tells us that Christ has all authority, and Matthew 20 tells us that there is no commanding authority among members of the body. Source is a possibility because we can see a source relationship in each grouping of verse 3. But the sourcing seems mixed in some instances of body while in others of spirit. Therefore, I always rejected source because of the apparent inconsistency. Caregiver seemed to me the logical conclusion. While it is not so much explained here, Paul does explain headship as a caregiving relationship of head to body in much greater detail in Ephesians.

If we look at the sequence then, we see that God provides care for the more vulnerable Christ (in his earthly life). We find that Christ provides care for the more vulnerable man, especially through his redemptive work. And the man, created structurally more able to accomplish feats of strength, provides for the more vulnerable woman in the work of gathering, hunting, farming, protecting, etc.—activities that typically have more of a demand for strength.

The usual objection in the headship stream of this verse regarding the caregiving provision for the more vulnerable is that the verse notes Christ’s care for man, but doesn’t Christ also provide care (the same care) for the woman as well? Sure he does, but the sequence of this verse is not to show exclusivity of care. By the same token we could say God not only provides care for Christ but also for the man and the woman as well. There is an overall umbrella sequence in which God cares for all—Christ, man, and woman. Christ, then, cares for man and woman. And man cares for woman (in certain general categories). So, exclusive caregiving is not the point in the groupings. Paul’s point is leading to the difference between the man and the woman in worship headgear, and so he is creating groupings for the sake of comparison. However, a problem along these lines does exist and begins to subtly show itself in verse 7. Before we talk about the problem, let’s make sure we understand the verse.

Remember that the purpose for this whole section (I Cor 11:2-16) is to give the Corinthians a reason for women wearing headcoverings in corporate worship while men should keep their heads bare. The two most important verses of the passage are the key verse 3, which gives the basis of the relational groupings, and verse 7, which takes the basis and applies it as the reason. The rest of the verses are a defense to the reason. Verse 7 reads, “A man, in fact, should not cover his head, because he is God’s image and glory, but woman is man’s glory.” Although there are a couple of words here to define in order for us to understand everything, a cursory read would seem to tell us that Paul is contrasting men and women in their purposes of glory. But clever Paul is not saying that. This verse does not just give the reason for the different instructions to the sexes for headgear, it gives the reason using the head imagery established in verse 3. Look at the first thought: man should not cover his head. We’re talking about headcoverings, and so a literal covering to his literal head is surely in view. But we must also keep in mind the verse 3 metaphor that hides just below the surface in this statement. Paul’s point is that a man covering his literal head is symbolically the same as a man covering his metaphorical head. Man’s metaphorical head (caregiver) is Christ. Therefore, the clause tells us that a man ought not to physically cover his literal head because it would symbolically mean that he is effectively covering (hiding and not concerned with) his metaphorical head Christ in his worship activity. But it is Christ’s caregiving work that makes it possible for man to approach the throne of God. The picture produced by literally covering his head, then, would be wrong and shameful, as if the man were saying he could approach God on his own terms without Christ.

With this being the understanding of that first clause, we need to tread carefully in the next “because” phrase of the verse. It reads, “because he is God’s image and glory.” Who is the “he”? Is it the man? The cursory read says yes. But bearing in mind the controlling metaphorical intent established in verse 3, we must see this “he” as the man’s metaphorical head, Christ. In other words, taken together, Paul is saying, “A man, in fact, should not cover his physical head, which would symbolize covering his metaphorical head, Christ, because he (his metaphorical head, Christ) is God’s image and glory.” Therefore, we see that it is not the man who is spoken of as God’s image and glory, but rather it is Christ shown to be God’s perfect image and glory.

This understanding is supported by the fact of the groupings of verse 3. Paul did not group God and man together. God and Christ are one grouping, and Christ and man are another. Therefore, in verse 7, we should not group God and man by understanding man to be God’s image and glory. No, that would not be consistent. Following the verse 3 grouping of God and Christ, it makes sense that Paul is saying Christ is God’s image and glory.

The second clause concerning the woman argues that she should cover her literal head because symbolically that means in worship she is hiding her metaphorical head, man. The woman has come to worship God, and therefore she does want the man out of the way, so to speak. Although he does provide care, it is not his care that she is worshipping. So she covers up to symbolically hide him.

But what does glory mean? How is Christ God’s glory, and how is woman man’s glory? We have discussed what is meant by glory previously (see John (Part 19): Bread of Life (part 3)). There we concluded that God’s glory is his truth, goodness, and beauty expressed in faith, hope, and love, with love as the preeminent means of that expression. With Christ as the perfect reflection of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty expressed in love, we easily see Christ as God’s glory. In the same way the man is to reflect that truth, goodness, and beauty in love through his care for the more vulnerable woman. And that is why the woman, then, becomes the glory of the man.

Okay, now for the problem with our understanding so far. Although I could defend the pairing to show headship (caregiving) in verse 3 because it was not exclusive, we lose that defense in verse 7. If it is wrong for the man to symbolically hide his caregiver, Christ, with a physical head covering, and the caregiving of Christ is NOT exclusively limited to the man but extends also to the woman, why does her head covering not also symbolically hide Christ as well as the man since both provide care.

I believe the problem is that head here cannot (as it seems to in Ephesians) mean only caregiver. Caregiving certainly is seen, as supported through the discussion of glory in verse 7, so we don’t want to remove that connotation. But perhaps we ought to add to it. We had rejected the meaning of head as source because it seemed that it would have had to be inconsistently applied in some cases with spirit and in some with body. But, if the androgynous adam idea has merit, that inconsistency goes away. We may see both body and spirit as source. Christ came both bodily and in spirit from God. The adam came both bodily and in spirit from Christ (John 1:3). And the woman came both bodily and in spirit from the adam. With this understanding the problem of verse 7 goes away.

Of course, in the I Corinthians 11 passage, the word man is translated from the Greek aner, which does predominantly mean male. However, in our discussion, I have implied that it is referring to the androgynous adam. That, I believe, is not inconsistent. In the Genesis 2 creation of the woman, she is noted as coming from the adam. What is left after she has been taken from the adam is still, in a sense, adam, but now only male. In other words, after the separation into sexes, the male represents the original adam. This is why in the very next verse (8) in I Corinthians 11, Paul argues, “For man did not come from woman, but woman came from man.” He is insisting that the headship of the male as stated in verse 3 is legitimate because the creative picture has woman coming from the adam, leaving the male. Therefore (and since), Paul’s point is to show reason for women having head coverings and men not, and so the male does not wear a headcovering because he represents the adam sourced from Christ and caregiver to the woman.


There is another impact or implication of this idea in I Timothy 2:13. There Paul argues his point by reason of Adam’s creation preceding Eve’s. How is this so if both were created in the original androgynous adam? Paul is naming the two after their sexual separation. Adam was created first because he represents the adam. The woman was taken from him; in other words (and significantly), she was formed from him and not by means of sexual reproduction. In this passage, Paul is arguing against the Ephesian mythology that Gaia (a woman) came first and that the man (Uranus) was born from her also without means of sexual reproduction. Paul’s argument of reality exactly opposes in mirror form the beliefs of the Ephesians, the place where Timothy was ministering (I Tim 1:3).


Additionally, we see that Adam’s defense of eating the fruit has greater meaning if the androgynous adam idea is true. When God asked Adam if he ate of the fruit, Adam answered, “The woman You gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Gen 3:12). Adam’s point was not to deflect blame to the woman. She was his glory. He had not been deceived, we are told, and so Adam knew that Eve had eaten wrongly. But he didn’t want to lose her and be alone. Therefore, he ate so that they would remain together. He tells God, “That’s what you wanted, right? You gave her to be with me, and so I’m ensuring our togetherness. That was right to do … I thought.” Now, if Eve had merely been fashioned as a new creature from the rib of Adam, would Adam have been so desperate? He had plenty more ribs. Adam could have just reasoned that this woman sinned and could be cast away and God could make a new Eve out of another rib.

But think of the fear he would have if Adam knew this Eve to have been his 2-in-1 partner in body from the original creation. He knew if she were to be cast away, he would have no other to take from him. The situation would have been much more dire, and so Adam cries to God in desperation with his faulty attempt at justification.


One last implication is worth noting. We are children of the first adam through the nonsexual creation of Eve. We are children of the second Adam also through nonsexual means as we become children of God.


As mentioned at the beginning, this idea remains conjecture. It is not necessary foundation for any doctrine of God’s revelation. But with that being said, it does have several points in its favor, making certain passages, including the original creation passages, easier to understand.