Genesis Chapter 2 Summary: What Does it Mean to Be Human?

Whereas chapter one offers us a liturgical account of creation with God demythologizing the gods of the Babylonian and Canaanite religion, and emphasizing His sovereignty, this account, which begins in chapter 2 verse 4, offers a more intimate version of the creation narrative. In this account, we will see a more detailed description of what being human entails and how the first man and woman came to cultivate their identity in the mind of early Judaism. 

At the beginning of this account, we see the clause “When the Lord God made heaven and earth” repeated again, but this time with an important addition: the Tetragrammaton, YHVH or YHWH. The tetragrammaton is the proper and mysterious name of the God of Israel, which is often translated as LORD. This name is to be contrasted with the more generic form “Elohim” simply meaning “God.”[1] God being known by His special name, YHWH, fits with the overall ethos of divine familiarity in this narrative, as God appears more intimate and anthropomorphic (a term referring to describing God and His actions in human terms). For example, God is seen planting a garden which has the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in its midst. More importantly, God is seen forming man, “adamah,” in Hebrew, or Adam, from the ground. God even breathes into the nostrils of Adam and brings him to the garden of Eden, which is a name that denotes fertility.[2] Adam is unique, being from the earth while also having been endowed with the breath of life. In a sense, he has an element of heaven, the divine breath, and an element of earth, symbolized by the ground. In a nutshell, if the narrative in Genesis 1 is concerned with heaven and earth as the composition of a cosmic temple, the narrative at hand in Genesis 2 is presenting Adam as a microcosm containing heaven and earth within himself. This narrative can be contrasted with Atrahasis, a Babylonian myth where man is made from clay, and mixed with the flesh and blood of a slain god. As such, he is associated with both earth and the realm of the gods.[3]

In the Genesis 1 narrative, God gives a positive commandment to the first humans, “to be fruitful and fill the earth.” The commandment given in this chapter, however, forbids the consumption of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Regardless, the current narrative could not reflect the commandment of procreation rendered in Genesis 1 as the woman is yet to be created. This narrative also differs in the case of the animals and birds being created as potential helpers for Adam after his creation and that of the garden of Eden rather than before, as is the case in Genesis 1. Adam is then tasked with naming all of the living creatures, but he does not find a partner in the animals. While it might not sound very meaningful to us in our modern age, this text is developing an idea that will be fully realized in chapter 3, with the fall of humanity. The concept of naming in the ancient context was not a mere title, but the bestowing of an identity. Name and identity were so closely linked that whenever someone’s name was changed, ancient readers knew that the identity of that individual would change or develop further.[4] Usually, the person naming is greater than the one being named or renamed. For example, God is greater than Abram (whom he renames Abraham) as the latter’s identity changes and he becomes the father of many nations (Genesis 17:1-8). In this passage, Adam, who is the rational creature endowed with the breath of life, names the irrational animals and birds. This establishes his vocation as a ruler over living creatures and his close affinity with the divine. However, when the woman is created from Adam’s rib, he says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Notice how Adam does not say “I call or name her woman;” rather, the sentence is in the passive voice so that Adam is not represented as one having authority over his wife. This would change after the fall where Adam calls his wife Eve (Genesis 3:20) just a few verses after God pronounces the judgement that her husband will rule over her (Genesis 3:16).  

This account aims to explain how God intended for the relationship between man and woman to be. It is written that God made a helper for the man from his rib. The fact that she is designated a “helper” does not necessarily imply subordination to the man, but an indication of her role as complementary to that of the man. Man’s desire for companionship with a woman has been considered by a Talmudic rabbi to mean that even if a man has several sons, he is forbidden to be without a wife.[5]      

It is impossible to know what the Book of Genesis intended to communicate with the creation of woman from man’s rib, beyond the emphasis that it places on the intimacy between man and woman, as creatures who share the same flesh and bones. This intimacy is, ironically, emphasized in the words of Adam regarding a man leaving his father and mother to be joined to his wife. The irony here is twofold as Adam never had parents, and almost no man in the Hebrew Bible leaves his father and mother to find a wife (although a few find wives after leaving their parents for reasons aside from seeking a wife, as in the case of Jacob).[6] As for Adam and Eve, they were naked and did not know due to their ignorance. Such ignorance can be contrasted with the shrewdness of the serpent that will be end up being responsible for their fall which we will examine in future episodes.[7]

[1] Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition, 2 edition (Oxford University Press, 2014), 13.

[2] Berlin and Brettler, 13.

[3] John Collins, INTRODUCTION TO THE HEBREW BIBLE, 1st edition (FORTRESS PRESS, 2018), 72.

[4] John H. Walton, The Lost World Of Adam And Eve, 1st edition (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP ACADEMIC, 2015), 195.

[5] Berlin and Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, 14.


[7] Berlin and Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, 14.