Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Mistake (Genesis 1:27)

I was looking at the Hebrew of Genesis 1:27 again tonight and noticed it's not quite as obvious as I thought.  I still think the normal interpretation is correct (i.e., that of the NRSV, NIV2011, NLT, Message), over against the ESV and HCSB. It just isn't as obvious as I was saying.

Here's the Hebrew (it goes from right to left):

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָֽאָדָם בְּצַלְמֹו
 in his image    the 'adam          God      and he created = "And God created the 'adam in his image"

בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתֹו
  him   he created    God    in the image of = "In the image of God he created him"

זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָֽם
them   he created  and female male = "male and female he created them"

Where I was wrong is that I thought the "him" of the second line was a "them," but the exegesis is still the same:

1. The "him" of the second line must include both male and female because the third line unpacks the second.

2. Therefore, the 'adam is not a reference to the person Adam or to "man" as a reference to males.  It is a reference to humankind in general.

It is difficult to bring this into English.  I still maintain the NRSV is the best rendition.  Languages like Hebrew have to pick a gender for the object of the second line, and since 'adam is grammatically masculine, "him" was the appropriate grammatical choice.  But in English, him means a male, even though in Hebrew it is not sexual here.

So I stand by my claim that by choosing to go with "him," the ESV and HCSB actually change the meaning into a masculine bias it did not have in Hebrew.


Susan Moore said...

Ok, so since I'm trying to learn these things, let me see if I understand correctly:
In English gender neutral singular is masculine, "When you see a person, ask him if the market is on Main Street." Whereas gender neutral plural is 'them', "When you see people, ask them if the Market..."
But in Hebrew gender neutral plural is translated, "In the image of God He created Him" because there is no English equivalence to gender neutral plural when the subject is voiced singular masculine?

Ken Schenck said...

That's something like what I'm saying. I'm saying that 'adam doesn't just refer to males and that, grammatically, the pronoun in Hebrew you would use to refer to 'adam would be masculine, even if 'adam wasn't being used in a male way.

As Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German, French... grammar books warn, gender in these languages is not the same as sexuality.

Susan Moore said...

Yes, I understand that gender is not the same as sexuality.
Do you know good references for linguistic language-maps for Biblical Hebrew and Greek (Aramaic too)? I found one for modern Greek, but don't know if that is close enough to the same thing. Have not found one for Hebrew. Thanks.

Andrew Chapman said...

But Adam is a man, so he should be referred to as him, surely? Unless you are suggesting an androgynous or hermaphroditic first creature, which is impossible for other reasons.


In the light of 1 Corinthians 11:7, and Genesis 2, it seems to me that the man was formed in the image of God, and then the woman was formed from his side. Genesis 1:27 encapsulates both.

Ken Schenck said...

The word 'adam can refer to the individual Adam, but it can also refer to humanity in general. The same word can have distinct meanings. E.g., "Stick it to the man" and "I saw a man walking down the street" and "No man is an island." The last one means, "No one is an island."