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An in-depth look at the translation of the Hebrew word adam

16 January 2006

In Genesis 1:27.

Why is Adam translated either man or mankind and not Adam?

I believe there is parallelism in this verse. How does this work?

If Adam is translated man or mankind, how does the accusitive pronoun him refer back to mankind/people/man?

It seems to me that Adam was created with the idea of woman eventually being created out of him, thus chapter to being the further explanation of this.

I have not been able to find anything in your writings.

These are honest questions. I am a long time supporter. Believe strongly in your ministry. I am working on my Doc. and can't find anyone addressing this issue.



Thanks for your question.

The Hebrew word adam is translated either as “man” or “Adam” depending on context and on the presence or lack of the definite article (“the” in English, ha in Hebrew).  So “ha-adam” is translated usually as “the man” (referring to either an unspecified man or to mankind as a whole, depending on context), whereas adam (without ha) is translated as “Adam” (referring to the specific man by the name).  So all the way through Gen. 1–3 we have ha-adam and our English Bibles usually translate it as “man” or “the man.”  Some translations give “Adam” for ha-adam in 2:19 or 2:20.  In Gen. 3:17 and 3:21 we have adam (with no ha), which most English Bibles translate as “Adam.”

There is one more exception in this section of Scripture, which can only be understood in context. Gen. 1:26 says “And God said, ‘let us make man [adam, with no ha before it] in our image …’” and 1:27 is parallel to v. 26, giving more definition and precision to the statement in v. 26.  Verse 27 says “so God created man [ha-adam] in His own image, in the image of God he created him.”  So we are thinking of a single man at this point.  But then it adds “male and female he created them” (plural).  So now we see that “man” comes in two forms: male and female.

Notice here that in v. 26 God (singular in English, but a plural noun in Hebrew, sometimes elsewhere translated as “gods”) said (third person singular verb form in Hebrew), “let us (plural) make man in our (plural) image.”  But then in v. 27 God says that He created man in “his” (singular) image.  This is a subtle but very significant witness to the triune nature of God—a plurality in unity.

Something similar is going on with the use of adam—it too is used to convey plurality in unity.  It means a single person (a male member of the human race) or it refers to a plurality in unity (representing the whole human race, just as in English we say “man” to mean mankind or in representing male and female together).  These verses about the creation of man and woman, when taken in harmony with the rest of the teaching of Scripture, convey the oneness of male and female humans as equal bearers of the image of God and equal in status before God (equally able to have a direct personal relationship with God) but they also teach the headship of the male in terms of roles in relationship.  See for example, Gen. 2:7 and 22 (where Adam is created first and then Eve is made from his rib), Gen. 3:8–17 (where Adam is held ultimately responsible for the sin), Gen. 3:20 (Adam named Eve, just as he did the animals), Gen. 5:1–5 (Adam is the fountainhead of the genealogy of the human race traced through men), etc.  The New Testament picks up this teaching and affirms the headship of the male in the home and in the church (e.g. Eph. 5:22ff, 1 Cor. 11:3–12, 1Tim. 2:11–15, Rom. 5:12ff, 1 Tim. 3:1–2, etc.).

You are correct that Gen. 2 gives more detail to understand Gen. 1 and I hope my reply is not confusing, but helpful.

Dr. Terry Mortenson, AiG–USA

Published: 6 February 2006