The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Genesis 2:23 NASB
Man – Something odd is happening in this story about the first man. Up to this point, the word used for “man” is adam. God formed the adam from the dust of the ground. God breathed life into the adam. The adam was placed in the Garden. The adam walked and talked with God in Eden. God gave the adam the first commandment. God recognized that it was not good for the adam to be alone. But when the adam woke from God’s formation of woman, he (the adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones . . . she shall be called ishshah because she was taken out of ish.” What?! How did the word ish get in there? Everything up to this point is about adam, not ish. The first occurrence of ish is in the mouth of the adam. Why? And even more puzzling, when we come to the principle verse about marriage, the very next verse, the word used is ish, not adam (“an ish shall leave his father and mother and cling to his ishshah”) but the next verse switches back to adam (“and they were both naked, the adam and his ishshah”).
We might suppose that adam is used to describe man in relation to God and ish is used to describe man in relation to other human beings and the world, but the linguistic evidence doesn’t bear this out (e.g., Genesis 4:1 uses adam, not ish. Likewise, Genesis 3 uses adam). But there must be a reason why the word ish, used 2174 times in the Tanakh versus adam, used 562 times, is introduced in this verse. If we look at usage outside of the Genesis story, we find that adam is almost always a collective noun; a word for Mankind. Of course, in the Genesis account it is the name of a particular being, but this isn’t its usual application. In the Genesis account, adam includes several key elements: uniqueness in creation, dependence on God, accountability, and recipient of revelation. But ish also carries essential elements of what it means to be human. Ish is about connection. It is predominately a word about identity in relationship. In other words, in Hebrew thought I am not human simply because God formed me as adam. I myself recognize that an essential part of who I am is the connection created by being ish. In Hebrew thought there are no human islands. We are all part of the same land.
Perhaps we cannot solve the riddle of ish other than to note that it is introduced deliberately to form a connection with ishshah, a connection, by the way, that has no etymological basis. Ishshah is not a linguistic derivative of ish. It is simply a word play. But that doesn’t make it any less crucial. The adam realizes that he needs the ishshah, and when he expresses this need, he calls himself by a word that connects him to her. Think about that for just a moment. He could have said, “She shall be called ishshah because she came from ha-adam” and he would have been correct. But he doesn’t say that. Instead, he alters the description of himself to fit her existence. He changes who he is because of her. Adam becomes ish because there is an ‘ezer kenegdo who is ishshah. Men, do you see what this means? Have you changed who you are because of her? Isn’t that what the next verse, the verse about marriage, is all about. We men are to be transformed into unity with our wives because they are our wives, because of who they are not what they do. We change in order to become one with them. Right?
Topical Index: adam, ish, ishshah, Genesis 2:23, man, woman