man and woman-exegesis of biblical texts

By - manan251

Series. And God said “Let Us make Adam in Our image” Article 2/5. The enigma of Adam being singular and plural.

5 Article Series.    And God said: Let us make Adam in our image.

Article 2.  The enigma of Adam being singular and plural.

The problem

In the previous article, we looked at how the text compels us to translate adam of 1:26 and 2:5, not as mankind, but as Adam. However, if we do so, Genesis 1 seems to say some contradictory things about adam.   It refers to Adam in both the singular and the plural.  

So,   in 1:26 we have “… make adam” where adam is a noun in the singular.    In verse 27 we have “God created ha-adam” once again in the singular, and later in the verse this singularity is re-inforced by “created him” once again in the singular.   Yet, it also speaks of adam in verse 26 in plural terms “let them …” and similarly in v27 “male and female them”. 

So, we have this enigma.  How can Adam  be both singular and plural?   It seems more than an enigma, it sounds nonsensical.     [This singularity / duality enigma is repeated in the repetition of 1:26-27 that is found in 5:1b-2]. It really sounds as if Moses has failed basic Hebrew grammar lesson one.

The translators eminently sensible solution.

The translators have noticed this problem and seem to have decided that it is indeed a nonsense.  They have deemed that the translated text cannot be allowed to stand as it is.  Interpretation and editing is needed.    They assume or somehow determine that adam is being used as a collective noun.    So, they translate adam in 1:26 and 2:5 as either generic man or corporate mankind.   So, in the NIV 1:26  “… make mankind” and 1:27 “God created mankind”.

This seems an eminently sensible solution.

The doubts about this solution.

However, our first point of doubt comes when we see that in v27 they also need to change the singular pronoun “him” to the plural pronoun “them” to match their assumed translation “mankind”.   Here they are not only just choosing one of the possible three options for “adam” – a man, mankind or Adam, they are actually changing the grammar in the rest of the sentences to match their choice of translation. They have decided that Moses has indeed failed basic grammar lesson one and needs to have his poor attempt corrected.

NIV 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Whereas in the Hebrew “them” is in actuality the singular “him”.

There seems to be some more editing going on than the text would reasonably allow.  That they need to manipulate the text like this should be a warning sign that there may be something wrong  with their translation of adam as mankind.   

Our second, the major area of doubt, comes from my arguments in the first article of this 5 part series and in the separate Appendix 1a.  I showed how the text does not seem to have any missing links from Gen 1:26 to Genesis 5 in the identifying of adam and ha-adam as the Adam of 4:25 and 5:1.    I also pointed out how the inclusio of Adam in 5:1a,3-4 around the quotation of Genesis 1:26 in 5:1b-2 is the text telling us that the adam of 1:26 is the very same Adam of 5:1a,3-4.     I further pointed out that 5:2 actually tells us to name adam of 1:26 as Adam.

A third area of doubt comes from the fact that in 1:26,27 God himself is also referred to in both the singular and plural.  So, in 1:26 we have God referring to Himself in the plural “Let Us make …. In Our image”  and in 1:27 we have God being referred to in the singular “God made …. In His image”. If the translators have done away with the singularity of adam, why should they not do the same for God?    Or alternatively, maybe they should do away with the mention of plurality in regard to God?  Fortunately, presumably, out of reverence for God they do not alter the text in either of these ways.    Yet, even though they use mankind for adam and so do away with the singularity/plurality enigma in regard to man, they are still left with the singularity/plurality enigma in relation  to God.  However, if, as I argue we should, we use Adam for 1:26 we are, of course, left with texts singularity/plurality dilemma in relation to both God and man.

A fourth point of doubt comes from closely examining the references to the man as plural. Plural can be either 2 or it can be 3 or more. The translation mankind assumes that it is 3 or more, in fact it assumes it is every person who has ever lived. However, if we look at the text closely there are two ways a plurality is mentioned. First, there are the references to “them” in v26 “let them” and v27 “male and female them” in which the them could possibly be 2 or it could be 3 or more. However, v27 actually defines the them more precisely as “male and female”. Here the plurality is actually defined as a duality. The plurality is not an open-ended corporate plurality “mankind”, but is in fact a definitely defined finite two, a duality. Thus, the translation “mankind” is not warranted from the text of Genesis 1.

Granted v29 does go on to speak of there being more than two “And God blessed them and said to them “Be fruitful and multiply””. But, this plurality is a derived plurality. It is derived from the singularity who is also a duality, male and female. The initial plurality is specifically a duality, not a multiplicity. The multiplicity will come from the singularity/duality. However, the multiplicity must be understood in terms of the singularity/duality and not the other way around. To all too readily translate adam as mankind defines the duality ( and re-defines the singularity) in terms of the multiplicity whereas the text points us to understanding the multiplicity in terms of the singularity/duality enigma. In my introduction I alluded to our modern society’s new definitions of gender, that is their new definitions of man and mankind, and their influence on our reading of the bible. It is precisely at this point of the singularity/duality of mankind that the rubber hits the road. As we translate the singularity “adam” and the duality “male and female” as a multiplicity, as mankind, as every man and woman, then our translation easily becomes a trojan horse for importing society’s understanding of gender and mankind into our reading of the bible.

No solution given for God or man.

The text of 1:26-27 when translated as Adam thus presents  a similar enigma in regard to both adam/Adam and God.   How can adam/Adam be both a singularity and a duality?     How can God be both a singularity and a plurality?

We have to make a choice in regard to this enigma. Either we accept that Moses purposely meant the text to convey this enigma or we give Moses a fail in basic Hebrew grammar and send him back to the NIV and NRSV editors for lessons.

So, we come to the end of Genesis 1 with Adam in his rightful place, but with the parallel enigmas still present and no answer to the enigmas given in the text.

Fortunately, we are told where to find the answer.

If we do translate adam as Adam, then we are left with parallel singularity/plurality enigmas in regard to God and man.  That is, there is a similarity, in terms of singularity / plurality, in how both man and God are presented and described in Genesis 1.   How man is presented as a singularity / duality seems to reflect how God is presented in terms of singularity / duality-plurality. [Note: at this stage in the revelation, all we have indicated is that God is a singularity/plurality. We are not told of the number involved in this plurality. It could be a duality, or a tri-ality or ….. we are not yet told.] In this area there seems to be a correspondence between God and man.

The image of God defined.

I wish to propose that this parallelism/similarity/reflection/correspondence between God and man in regards to singularity / plurality is what the image of God is referring to.   I have argued that the text should read “Let us make Adam in our image”.  It is Adam who is the image of God.   It is Adam who is presented as both a singularity and a duality.  It is Adam who is the image of God who is presented as a singularity / duality and it is God in His singularity/plurality who Adam images in his singularity / duality.

So, even though in Genesis 1 we are not given an answer to the enigma of singularity / plurality in either man or God, we are told where to find the answer.   We are told that Adam is the image of God.    Presumably, if we look at Adam and understand his singularity/duality then we will see something of God, and so we will understand how God can be both singular and plural.

So, where do we see Adam in enough detail to understand what he is like?  

The image revealed.

It is in Genesis 2 that we see Adam in intricate detail.   And it is in article 3 that we will look at Genesis 2.

So, before you read the 3rd article, I would encourage to read Genesis 2.   Take a look at Adam and read of him as the one who is the image of God.     See what is said about him.  Think about what we are told about him there and how and if it tells us anything about how he can be both a singularity and duality.

Footnote: Even if you don’t fully accept that the flow of Genesis 2:7 to 4:25 and the parallelism of 1:26-27 and 2:5-7 definitively indicates that we should translate “adam” as Adam in 1:26 and 2:5, we are still left with 2 options for translation of “adam”, namely, “a man” and “mankind”.

The problems, indicated by the other three doubts mentioned above, of the mankind translation still hold – the need for translators to correct Moses grammar by replacing “him” with “them” in 1:27, and the fact that it is a duality and not a multiplicity that we are told about, and the parallel referencing of “adam” and God in both singularlity and plurality which leaves us with a purposeful enigma in the text.

So, at the very least we should be translating adam of 1:26 as “a man” and the corresponding “ha-adam” of 1:27 as “the man”. This is what Adler does in his own more recent translation where he translates as “a human” and “the human”. Nowhere in Genesis 1 to 4 does Adler translate “adam or ha-adam” as generic mankind. [Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (p. 70). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.]

Gen 1:26

And God said, “Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness, to hold sway over the fish of the sea and the fowl ….

Gen 1:27

And God created the human in his image, 27 in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.

Gen 2:5

and there was no human to till the soil,

Gen 2:7

then the LORD God fashioned the human, humus from the soil,

From 2:7 consistently through to 4:1 Adler translates “ha-adam” as “the human”>

So, whether Adam or a/the man (a/the human), we are left with the text telling us about a real, historic singular person “adam” of whom Moses is relating that there is an enigma to be solved in relation to singularity/duality (male and female) which parallels a similar enigma of singularity/plurality in relation to God. In the due course of the narrative, as I argue above, we do find out that this adam, this individual man who is the man, is indeed the man Adam.

Yet, one could argue against me, that also in further due course (further beyond Genesis 1-12) of the biblical narrative, that adam does in places mean mankind, and may primarily mean mankind. Thus, arguing that, it is a valid option to translate “adam” of Genesis 1:26 and 2:5 as mankind. And I agree that this third use of adam as mankind will be in the (Hebrew) readers mind as they read 1:26 and 2:5 as “a man” and as “Adam”. I agree, this connotation is and should be in the readers mind. That is actually the point of the semantic wordplay and the point of the text. It is to tell us how we should understand both mankind and every man/person who ever existed. But, to import this connotation into the text as the main and primary denotation and translation, is to miss the whole point of the exercise. The text is defining how we are to understand mankind and every man, not mankind defining what the text is saying. It is a matter of which direction the text is coming from. Is it our understanding of mankind that defines who God created by editing adam/Adam out of the text, or is it the man Adam who God created who defines who mankind is? Yes, as 1:29 indicates, the duality who the man Adam is will in due time lead to a multiplicity, but it is only a multiplicity that can be understood in terms of the singular man Adam who is also defined and described as a duality. It is Adam of Gen 1:26,27 and Gen 2 and who tells us who mankind is, not mankind who defines Adam out of the text.

There is a similar singularity/plurality issue that we find in the New Testament. There are texts that seem to point to the universality of salvation to all mankind, to many men. Yet, there are verses that point to the specificity of salvation to those who are in Christ. It is only as one comes to the man the Lord Jesus Christ that one can enter the kingdom of God. It is only the actions of God in the one man the Lord Jesus Christ that salvation comes to other men, to many men. There is a specificity about God’s actions, about his saving actions. Yet, this results in many men coming to God. One cannot, mankind cannot, come to God in any other way than through the one specific man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the New Testament speaks of being in Christ and of being united with Christ that we experience the benefits of who He is and what He has achieved.

Similarly, one cannot understand who man or mankind is without coming through the one historical specific man Adam. Genesis 1 & 2 is about the one specific man Adam. It is only as we understand him aright, as we understand how he is the image of God, as the singularity/duality of male and female, of man and woman, and the consequences of that, that we will come to understand man and mankind aright. I contend that Genesis 1&2 are primarily about this one specific man Adam and not primarily about mankind. Mankind has no independence, no independent existence, apart from the one historical specific man Adam.


Below I have tried to show in diagrammatic form (Diagram 1) the movement of the text of Gen 1:26-28 from the singular man to the dual male and female to the plural mankind.

Then in diagram 2 I try to show the distortion to the contents of the text that occurs by replacing adam with mankind.

Then in diagrams 3A & 3B I try to show what is happening with Christian Egalitarian views of mankind and Transgender type views of mankind.


This concludes the second of the five articles in this series. If you click on this following link, it will take you directly to the third article.

3 thoughts on “Series. And God said “Let Us make Adam in Our image” Article 2/5. The enigma of Adam being singular and plural.

Series. And God said “Let Us make Adam in Our image” Article 1/5. Is it really mankind who is the image of God? – 25 July 2021 at 1:19 am

[…] This concludes the first of the five articles in this series. If you click on this following link, it will take you directly to the second article. […]


Series of 5 Articles: And God said: Let us make Adam in our image. Article 5/5. Adam the image of God – the key to knowing God. – 25 July 2021 at 1:55 am

[…] If you would like to go back to article 2 then click on this link. […]


Appendix 1a. Notes and analysis on all the instances of “adam” and “ha-adam” in Genesis 1 to 5. – 25 July 2021 at 9:55 am

[…] Link forward to Article 2 […]


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