When Adam names the woman, he does not exert authority over her

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I’m trying very hard to like Greg Gilbert’s book Who is Jesus?, really I am, but he is a classic example of someone caught between two paradigms. On the one hand, he wants to take on board new perspectives arising out of biblical studies. On the other, he doesn’t want to let go of core Reformed-evangelical doctrinal commitments. He has set out boldly in search of biblical understanding but has brought so much theological baggage with him that he will have a hard time getting through the narrow exegetical gate that leads to the life of the narrative to come.

His identification of the prince of Tyre and king of Babylon with Satan is one example. I may, at some point, get on to his misrepresentation of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. But here I want to lodge a vigorous complaint against his interpretation of the episode in Genesis 2 when Adam names the woman.

In chapter 6 Gilbert is developing a narrative of supernatural conflict between Satan and humanity—based on his misreading of the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages. He takes the story back to Genesis and relates how God made Adam and placed him in Eden. God realized that it was not good for the man to be alone, so he created the animals and had Adam name them. Why? To teach him two things: first, that the animals would not be good companions for him; secondly, that his job was to rule over things.

To name something is a way to exert authority, much as a mother and father have the privilege of naming their child. So in giving names to animals, Adam was actually exerting authority over them. He was carrying out his job as the vice-regent of God’s creation, under God himself.

You can see where this is leading. Because the man names the “woman” and then calls her name “Eve” (Gen. 2:23; 3:20), he likewise has authority over her. So what is God’s scheme?

He’s instituting a whole system of authority in which Adam is given authority over Eve, and the two of them together as husband and wife are given authority over creation, and all of it is meant to reflect the reality that God sits enthroned above it all.

But where does this idea come from—that by naming a person you exert a continuing authority over her? Gilbert doesn’t say. He merely asserts it as a self-evident fact. But neither the story in Genesis 2 nor other naming texts in the Old Testament lends support his argument.

First, the Genesis 2 story is not about sovereignty or rule or authority. In Genesis 1 man and woman together in the image and likeness of God are given a God-like dominion over all living creatures. But there is no basis whatsoever for carrying this argument over into the narrative of Genesis 2 in order to construct a hierarchy in which God gives authority to the man to exercise dominion over the woman.

Something quite different is going on in Genesis 2. The naming of the animals is not an expression of the man’s authority over them, as though it corresponds to God’s giving of dominion to the man and woman in Genesis 1:26, 28. It is a way of identifying what the animals are in relation to the man. It forms part of the search for a suitable helper. God resolves to make a “helper fit for him”. He creates the beasts from the ground and brings them to Adam to “see what he would call them”. Adam gives them their names but he fails to identify, in the process, a suitable co-worker or companion. So God creates the woman not from the ground but from Adam’s side, which means that Adam can identify her as ʾisha because she was taken from ʾish (Gen. 2:23).

Secondly, naming in scripture is a way of determining the essential character or identity or purpose of something or someone. This is why we have the frequent formula in the Old Testament: a person or thing is called or named something because…. Here are some examples from Genesis.

  • Adam called his wife’s name Eve “because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).
  • The city that the descendants of Noah built in the land of Shinar “was called Babel (bavel), because there the LORD confused (bll) the language of all the earth” (Gen 11:9).
  • God tells Hagar to call her son “Ishmael” (“God hears”) because “the Lord has listened to your affliction” (Gen. 16:11).
  • Remarkably, Hagar then ‘called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). Does this mean that Hagar has authority over God? Of course not. It means that she has identified him, she has discerned for herself his essential character.
  • Abraham calls the son born to Sarah Isaac (“he laughs”) because Abraham laughed when God told him that she would give birth (Gen. 17:17,19).
  • When Jacob wakes from his ladder dream, he exclaims, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God….” So he ‘called the name of that place Bethel (“house of God”)’ (Gen. 28:17, 19). He does not have to have authority over the place in order to do this. He has to understand the significance of the place.

One person names another not because he or she has authority over the named person but because he or she is the right person to identify or determine the essential significance of the named person. This is where the “privilege” comes into it. Adam names the woman because he is in the best position to understand the significance of the fact that she was created not from the earth as a different species but from his own bone and flesh. Andrarchy—the rule of the man over the woman—only enters the picture as a consequence of disobedience: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).

Amazing that intelligent people continue to peddle this nonsense. (I mean Gilbert, not you!)

@Ian Paul:

I also think that Andrew’s perspective has more merit than Gilbert’s. I work daily with Biblical names and I see very little indication that the act of naming has anything to do with assuming authority (also because that would make assigning names to the deity a rather precarious enterprise; but see Gen 32:29 and Judges 13:18).


@Ian Paul:

Ian, I’m glad you said that.

Seriously, if people base their interactions with fellow human beings (loved ones even) on a 3,000-year-old story that is obviously figurative, and on such thin reasoning, they should have their heads examined. 

John Shakespeare | Fri, 02/06/2015 - 17:20 | Permalink

None of the animals in the Peterborough Bestiary looks particularly pleased with its name. The lion is turning to the donkey and saying from the corner of his mouth, “I wanted to be ‘Tiger’.” The (clothed) figure of Adam appears to be pointing to a creature out of view, saying, “You at the back; you’re a camel, and that’s final.” And Adam’s getting all his ideas from the pigeon.

@John Shakespeare:

How long would it take to name every animal in the entire world anyway?  Even if every one was present in one location on the globe to Adam to do it.

It’s totally anachronistic and misleading to say that Adam names Eve and then they are given authority over creation.

When God commanded “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” he was not speaking to Adam and Eve, but to Adam only, who was created as ish and ishah, man and wife. There was no separation between man and wife at this time, only distinction.

“in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

“she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

This name of “ishah” reflects the closeness, the identity, of the man (ish) and the woman(ishah). It identifies the relationship of mutuality and diversity between man and woman.

It’s only after sin enters the world that the woman gets a new name, Eve — ie “Mother of all the living”. This reflects her new role of giving birth to the “seed” who would crush the serpent’s head.

I’ve written a lot more about this here: http://strine.com.au/mother-of-all-the-living/

You cherry pick the Bible and twist it to make up lies as Satan your father does the same. The cases where people are renamed in the Bible are more than a handful and is always by someone with authority over them. Also the words of the apostles directly say this: I do not allow women tp teach or have aurhority over men. And again: for man was created as the image and for the glory of God and the woman was created in the image and for the glory of man. She should have her head covered as sign of the authority of man over her. Women were not made to lead and we can see this by biology as well. The hormone testosterone allows one to fight stress focus and so on all traits essential for leading. It also gives the instinct to sacrifice one self for the good pf your group. There is no greater love than for a MAN to put down his life for his friends. Such sacrificial love can only exist in women through the Holy Spirit as is not their nature to sacrifice themselves for others except maybe their children. Estrogen makes more emotional and more prone to follow strong people around you. All sins are a form of rebelion against the normal chain of authority.


Naming people in the Bible is never presented as an issue of authority. To the best of my knowledge, people do not name someone as a way of claiming authority or of repudiating the claims of others. Often the person who names will be in a position of authority—a parent names a child, typically. But also we see that Hagar names the Lord (Gen. 16:13), and Jacob names a place (Gen. 28:17, 19).

More importantly, the reason given is that the person who names understands something about the person named: ‘Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the LORD”’ (1 Sam. 1:20).

Adam certainly had temporal priority with respect to the woman: he was “formed first” (1 Tim. 2:13). He was therefore in a position to understand her significance. But there is no basis for reading this as an assertion of authority over her.

@Andrew Perriman:

You do not get my point. If you do not have authority over someone you do not have the name to (re)name that person. Every case when someone is renamed is from someone with authority. God renames Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah and Jacob to Israel. Pharaoh renames their subjects and so on. 

About the Adam thing, yes he was formed first but that is not all. It is explicitely stated that Eve was created for him as a helper. In today’s language it would probably be translated to assistant. Someone that is not as skilled as the person it is helping and that follows the direction and is subject to the authority of the other. 

Also if you analyze how testosterone and estrogen buildup affect personality traits and how someone reacts in a stressful situation you will realize men are made to lead and women are made to follow


About the Adam thing, yes he was formed first but that is not all. It is explicitly stated that Eve was created for him as a helper. In today’s language it would probably be translated to assistant. Someone that is not as skilled as the person it is helping and that follows the direction and is subject to the authority of the other.

The Hebrew word translated “helper, help” is ʿezer. More often than not in the Old Testament it is used for God, who is the “helper” of Israel. For example: “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help (ʿezri) and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!” (Ps. 70:5). Obviously, we would not say that God was Israel’s “assistant”. Arguably, the “helper” does something that a person cannot do on his own; the helper makes up for a fundamental deficiency—in this case, companionship and collaboration.

You might also have a look at What is the case against the case against women’s ordination?

@Andrew Perriman:

It is interesting how you ignore both the understanding given by both jewish scholars and apostles o the verse and also ignore the biological proof.


I’m not clear what the scope of that comment is. My approach with respect to the creation of Eve as ʿezer and the naming of her by Adam is to consider the appropriate linguistic and literary evidence. You need to show me why the argument about ʿezer and naming is wrong. For example, how come Hagar names God?

Biology doesn’t come into this, but for the record, I don’t see how testosterone is a necessary qualification for leadership.

@Andrew Perriman:

About how Hagar and other name God is because God allows it. God cannot be named by human language so God allows humans to call him by a number of qualities: El Shaddai , El Eloi Elohim Tzabbaot . The only time He gives a proper name is to Moses saying the name I am which is part of the full description He who was and is and is to come.

About God being called ezer there are two understandings. One God helps the will of men that are holy as an assistant. If you read another segment it says : I have put in front of you life and death and towards which you will you will extend your hand. God gave man free will and if the man choses the good God fills what is missing. That does not change the meaning of Eve being a helper. Just as Eve follows Adam s will so God follows man s will if man choses to follow His law. So there is no contradiction.

Also is how boty rabbis apostles and fathers of the church understood it.

About biology you should read on how testosterone decreases stress and acts with cortisol to create a tunnel effect and how estrogen causes a flight or fight response working with adrenaline. There are a few roles a leader must have to be succesful and by far the most important is making high risk decissions and then dealing with the consenquences if they make a mistake. Something that used to be called being responsible. With a few extremely rare possible exceptions women nwver could do that ie take responsibility.

Also is interesting how generations of people that knew hebrew greek aramaic and dealt almost exclusively with studying that text were wrong but your intepretation is right. I do not say such a situation is impossible just extremely unlikely. In maths if something is less likely than 10^50 is considered impossible.

let’s not over complicate things, context suggests the rule is that naming implies authority although there are exceptions to that rule.


Let’s not over-simplify things, Mark. How does the context suggest that? How do you establish the exceptions? What was wrong with the argument that I put forward about identifying things?

Excellent post. I love your suggestion that Gen 2 is about idenfication rather than authority, but I wonder if Gen 3:20 is about authority? In Gen 2, Adam is not giving her a personal name, but identifying her in relationship to him, as you explained. But in Gen 3:20, he gives her a personal name, used by the narrator in 4:1. I ask because in 3:16, as you noted, we find the introduction of the human ruling his wife as part of the consequences of sin. The very first act he does after that is name her. Is that act of naming part of the broken rulership, or is it on par with the same act of identification in Gen 2? Sorry for asking so long after the original post!


I would have thought the naming of Eve belongs to the pattern of naming statements listed in the post since a clear reason is given: “because she was the mother of all living.” Otherwise, we might expect something like “Adam called his wife’s name Lesser because she is inferior to the man” or “Adam called his wife’s name Servant because she was made to serve the man.” There’s no reason to think that the naming process was corrupted by their disobedience or that every act of naming arose from a distorted relationship.