how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

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

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!)

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, 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.

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.

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/