I am going to review some basic Hebrew with a little help from Gilbert Bilezikian. The lesson will relate directly to Bilezikian’s argument in his book regarding the name of mankind and the image of God. The controversy regarding these verses will be apparent after this little lesson regarding proper names in Hebrew.
We shall call this lesson “Proper Names, Singular Common Nouns, and the Article.” This is a beginner’s lesson, so my apologies to Hebrew aficionados.
The Mara’s Review of Hebrew
The question of the day is how do you tell if a singular noun is a proper name or not? The easiest way to identify a proper name in written English is that the first letter is capitalized; however, that is not the case in Hebrew. But there is a second clue for both Hebrew and English: proper names do not have an article or modifier. All other singular nouns will have an article or modifier such as “the” or “any.” (Plural nouns are a different story and not a part of this lesson).
In English there are a couple of exceptions to the rule. For example, “United States of America” is the proper name for my country. But we typically use an article with it and say “the United States of America.” But what do you expect? It’s English. We like to add “the” to the proper names of countries, bodies of water, and pluralized names. But we almost never use an article in front of any other proper name unless we are joking. For example the title of this post is supposed to be funny. Am I referring to myself as a common noun? Or is a Patagonian rodent learning Hebrew? 1
You probably already thoroughly get this lesson. But here are a few examples. Bilezikian uses the English word “guy” to explain the Hebrew. In English, “Guy” can be a proper name or a common noun. When there is not an article, we know it is a proper name (and in English, the first letter is also capitalized). So when we read, “Guy walked into the store,” we know that “Guy” is the proper name of the person walking into the store, just like my name is Mara. But if we read “the guy walked into the store” or “the mara roamed the grasslands,” then we know that “the guy” is a common noun referring to someone belonging to a category of people identified as guys, not a guy named Guy and “the mara” is a common noun referring to a type of very large rodent from Argentina and Paraguay, not someone whose name is Mara (205).
Similarly, in Hebrew, when the word for man, adam, is used with an article, we know that it is a generic term referring to humankind rather than a proper name. But when there is not an article, adam is a proper name (205). Now we can go to an online Hebrew Bible and look up Genesis 1:26-27 and pick out the places where adam has an article to move onto the discussion of the image of God.
The Image of God
Here is my version of Genesis 1:26-27, highlighting where adam has an article or not. (And here is the link to an online Hebrew-English version).
“26 Let us make Man/Adam (no article/proper name) in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over fish of the sea, over birds of the air, over cattle, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing on the earth.
27 And God created the man/adam (article/common noun) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
At first glance, I was dismayed at verse twenty-six having adam as a proper noun. It is a proper name. Adam/Man was made in the image of God. Is that referring to Adam, the first “Guy”? Is only Adam made in the image of God??
Good old Jack Lewis (aka C.S. Lewis) believed only males bear the image of God. And quite a few other traditionalists agree, too. But not all complementarians (i.e. people who believe men should be the leaders) take that route, including Hurley, the complementarian with whom Bilezikian duels throughout the book. Many complementarians believe that both men and women are created in the image of God and support the the following argument from Bilezikian.
Bilezikian argues no, this is not referring to Adam the first Guy. He argues that by adam not having an article, God is pronouncing the proper name of humanity to be adam or “Man.” And “Man” is comprised of both male and female.
His reasoning is that even though adam is used in the singular and without an article, God immediately refers to this singular adam as “them.”
He also points out that Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make…in our image” This “us” is referring to God who is speaking, emphasizing the nature of God as a plurality of persons. (Very likely this plurality of persons in one God includes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). And he argues that the image of God needs to be represented by a plurality of persons – namely, male and female (18).
Because of the plural pronouns used, I agree that the image of God in humans includes both males and females, yet plurality is not the only defining attribute. Plurality in itself is not necessarily the image of God: the majority of life in the plant and animal world has male and female expressions. Humanity alone was stated in Genesis 1 to be created in the image of God, but sexual differentiation is not limited to humanity.
Perhaps there is something unique to the human male-female relationship. A thing called love? But I know some animal-psychologists are convinced that animals, particularly those with higher-cognitive powers, love, too. I suspect that animals and all that exists reflect aspects of who God is and that humans as the “image” are intended to be the complete model. But moving on – if you are not convinced that both male and female are created in God’s image, you still have verse twenty-seven and a few other references in Genesis to consider.
In my opinion, Genesis 1:27 is open to differing interpretations, but it does work very nicely with the concept of “man” being the proper name of humans. Genesis 1:27 says, “And God created the man (notice it’s a common noun) in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” It is not a proper name here. The common noun, “the man” or “mankind” can very easily include both male and female. Whoever is included among the common noun of “the man” is created in God’s image. Then the second half of the verse describes the sequence of events in Genesis 2: a male human was created in the image of God, and then a female human was created to complete the image of God in humanity (18-19).
Admittedly, verse twenty-seven does not explicitly say “he created male and female in the image of God.” And one could argue that “the man” is referring to all males. But I do not think that is the case. Aside from there being a different word for “male,” Genesis 5:1-2 is the clincher for Bilezikian’s argument that “man” is the name for both male and female. And therefore, both male and female are created in the image of God.
At the back of his book where he reviews other occurrences of adam in Genesis 1-5, he lists following verses, and I will give another annotated rendition of them (205):
- Genesis 3:17 “And to Man/Adam (no article/proper name) God said…”
- Genesis 4:25 “And Man/Adam (no article/proper name) knew his wife…”
- Genesis 5:1a “This is the book of the generations of Man/Adam (no article/proper name)…”
- Genesis 5:1b “In the day when God created Man/Adam (no article/proper name)…”
- Genesis 5:2 “male and female he created them and blessed them and called them Man/Adam (no article/proper name)…”
All five of these verses use adam as a proper name. From the context of the first three verses it is likely that adam is a person named Adam who listened to God, knew his wife, and produced offspring. But take a closer look at Genesis 5:1-2.
Genesis 5:1-2 clearly says that “Adam” is the name for humanity and includes both male and female:
In the day when God created Man/Adam (no article/proper name), male and female he created them and blessed them and called them Man/Adam (no article/proper name).”
While Bilezikian’s interpretation of Genesis 1:26-27 based on the context of plural pronouns is sufficient to prove that both male and female are named Man (and that therefore both male and female are created in the image of God), Genesis 5:1-2 seals the deal. Genesis 1:26-27 is subtle poetry. But Genesis 5:1-2 is clear prose, definitely designating the proper name of humanity as adam.
In his book, Bilezikian brings up the closely related issue of whether God is male or female. He believes that “the male/female differentiation reflects realities contained within the very being of God and derived from him as his image (19).” I agree. He also believes that “femaleness pertains to the image of God as fully as maleness (19).” Thanks, Bilezikian. I feel strangely affirmed by your words.
One important point that Bilezikian does not address in Beyond Sex Roles is how to translate adam when it is the proper name of male and female. In the passages where adam is referring clearly to the male person whose name was Adam, it is easy to use a transliteration of adam to present his name. But the translation of adam as the proper name for humanity (with no article!) in Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:2 is tricky for today’s audience. I think that “man,” “mankind,” and “humanity” are all acceptable translations:
“Let us make man in our image…”
“Let us make mankind in our image…”
“Let us make humanity in our image…”
I think “mankind” or “humanity” are better translations because they clearly communicate both male and female, whereas “man” is too easily confused these days with only males. 2 In the recent past Star Trek could say, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” and everyone understood that “man” meant any person, whether male or female. Star Trek: Next Generation changed their catch phrase to keep up with the vernacular (or maybe to avoid lawsuits). But I’m not the kind of feminist to be offended by “man.” Whether the proper name is “man,” “mankind,” or “humanity,” the point is that all of us are made in God’s image. Yeah!
This is Part 3A in the book review series of Gilbert Bilezikian’s egalitarian gem: Beyond Sex Roles.
This post is edited and revised, August 18, 2013, v3.2.
- For more information regarding proper names and exceptions to the no article rule, click here or here. ↩
- I almost could argue that “mankind” is the best translation because it simultaneously indicates the entire species including both male and female and retains an emphasis on the shared proper name of adam for humanity and the first guy, Adam. But I am not ready to commit to such an assertion until I do further research. ↩