Archive for August 3rd, 2011
Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. Genesis 2:19 NASB
Name – Adam must have worked overtime. Can you imagine how long it would take to name all the living creatures? Considering that there are approximately 30 million species of insects alone, Adam’s task would have taken more than his lifetime. Obviously, this verse is not about identifying a Genesis taxonomy. But if it’s not about giving names to every living creature, what is it about?
To answer this question, we need to investigate the difference between our view of the structure of the world and the ancient Near Eastern view of the structure of the world. Our view is based on individualization and identification of things. A taxonomy is a list of individual creatures according to identifiable similarities and differences. Our Western worldview sees the world as a collection of entities, causally related within a closed box called the universe. The categories we use to define the world rest on this idea of individual peculiarity. From a linguistic point of view, we see the world as nouns tied together by verb relationships.
But that’s not the way the ancients saw the world. In the ancient worldview, the cosmos is the functional expression of the gods. What mattered was not the existence of individual things but rather the function and role assigned by the gods to various entities. In fact, according to ancient cosmologies, existence itself was tied to function and role. In other words, something came into being when it had a function in the world. This means the existence is defined in terms of external relationships, not in terms of internal concepts. What exists is what can be seen in its function in the world. We actually see this perspective in Genesis 1. The sun does not come into existence until it has a role to play (a sign in the sky), but light comes into existence when it separates. That’s why light can exist without the creation of the sun. Read the opening verses again and you will see that each step of creation is about function. What exists exists because it does something, and that “something” can be observed! Nothing exists without purpose.
When Adam names the living creatures, he does something that is not found in other ancient cosmologies. He functions in the role usually assigned to the gods. He brings into existence what he names because he identifies function. Usually only the gods can do this, but in Hebraic thought, Man cooperates with God in determining the function of other living creatures. In other words, what Adam names expresses the relationship of that creature to Man. What Adam names is what that creature does for him. The point of the verse is not to provide a taxonomy but rather to establish a relationship. Living creatures named by Adam play a role in Adam’s life. Those not named simply don’t “exist” for him. This ancient Near Eastern concept is crucial for understanding the statement that Adam names Havvah.
We tend to think that the Hebraic view of naming is about identifying the essence of the thing named, but what we imply is that naming identifies some internal inherent property of the thing. This is a Greek worldview. What we must realize is that Hebraic naming establishes the external function of the thing named. Naming gives the thing purpose in relationship to the one who names. Naming is about what the thing does because what it does is what it is. It does not exist apart from its purpose. And that purpose can be observed.
Did you get that? Do you see the difference between our Western view and the ancient Semitic view? Now apply this difference to Genesis 1:26. What does it mean to be made in the likeness of God? What does it mean to be named male and female? In other words, what is your purpose? How are you related to the One who named you? What do you do for Him? What are the external, observable functions you fulfill?
Our typical religious language about internal changes and heart relationships, about hidden transformations and spiritual restoration of the soul has no meaning in an Hebraic worldview unless it is accompanied by external, functional, observable evidence. In Semitic thought, no man is saved because his soul is saved. Men are rescued when their lives demonstrate clear differences. Men are verbs, not nouns, and verbs are actions. If you have been rescued, you will act differently because your purpose has changed. It will be obvious to others. You can’t go in two directions at the same time.
Topical Index: name, purpose, function, worldview, Genesis 2:19