A Comparison of Genesis 2:17 and 3:4 in light of the understanding of the Creation of Man and Woman

In my studies of the New Testament book of Hebrews I have come across some incredibly interesting information. Today, as I am working through Hebrews 2:14-18, I was puzzled at the phrase used in verse 14. We read, “…the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (ESV) This led me on a journey. I am looking at an overview of the devil’s work throughout Scripture.
In keeping with the typical evangelical understanding of the devil, I went straight to Genesis 3. Now, in my reading of Scripture, in both the creation story of humanity (Genesis 1:26-31) and in the fall of humanity (Genesis 3:1-6) man and woman were given the same command to avoid eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequences would be death.

However, in Genesis 2, we see a parenthetical view of the creation of man. In this account, man was formed first, given the commands concerning paradise, and then after naming animals God drew woman from one of his ribs. Below you will find a comparison of the command given to man (Genesis 2:17) and that of the statement made by the serpent to woman (Genesis 3:4).

 

Genesis 2:17

Hebrew Gen 2 14

 

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (ESV)

 

Genesis 3:4

Hebrew Gen 3 4

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” (ESV)

 

I have color-coded our words for ease of reference. The first word found in the almost identical statements by God and the serpent is Maveth.PNG. This word is a Qal infinitive absolute. Arnold and Choi describe this as “both ‘atemporal’ and ‘apersonal,’ meaning that only the context determines the time/aspect features of the action, as well as the subject of the action itself.” (Arnold and Choi, 2003) The word means natural death, and the scope of death in Scripture ranges from human beings to animals and plants. The structure of the Hebrew text, then, offers us further clarification as to who will die and when (relatively speaking).

The next word TMaveth (in Genesis 2:17) and Tmavethn. (in Genesis 3:4) are practically identical.  The only difference (besides the paragogic nun) is the ending. The word in Genesis 2:17 is a Qal Imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, singular. In the context, God is giving man the command that should he eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of God and evil “dying he would die” (author’s translation). The word in Genesis 3:4 is a Qal Imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, plural. The difference is found in the number. God, in Genesis chapter two, speaks to man, singular. In Genesis chapter three, the serpent speaks to woman and man, plural.

This may seem to be an insignificant point, but to me it has great implications. Here are a few:

  • When God created humanity, he created both male and female. This is stressed in Genesis 1:27. When it says that “God created man in his own image” (ESV) the word used for the collective of humanity is the singular word Adam.PNG , from which we derive the proper name Adam. When we look at Genesis 3:9, shortly after woman and man ate the fruit God addresses man (Adam.PNG) and asks him (singular), where he was. It is not until man blames his wife (Genesis 3:12) that God begins to address them individually. Thus, according to the beginning account of humanity, man and woman were so combined as to be seen as one.
  • While it may appear, on the surface of the text, that God only gave the commands to man, this is not the case. Some theologians and scholars use this to prove a complementary view of the male-female relationship. For example, see Andreas Köstenberger, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundations, 24-26; David Lee Talley, “Gender and Sanctification: From Creation to Transformation A Comparative Look at Genesis 1-3, the Creation and Fall of the Man and the Woman, and Ephesians 5, the Sanctification of the Man and the Woman in a Redemptive Marriage Context”, in Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Spring 2003, 6-16. However, the Hebrew reveals that man and woman were oneNow, it is easy to simply take the definition of one and apply it in an incorrect manner. The Hebrew word can mean one in number or a collective of a group. For our understanding of the male-female relationship, it is quite helpful. The man and woman, one, were issued the commands regarding the keeping of the garden.
  • This has further implications for marriage roles today. Rather than seeing the husband as the king of his castle, or wives as subservient, the original Edenic nature of the male-female relationship is equality. Certainly there are physical differences between the sexes, but at creation when “God saw everything that he had made…it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31, ESV)

If you would like more information for an egalitarian point of view, check out this excellent resource: Christians for Biblical Equality.

What are your thoughts? How do you see the creation account’s implications for today?

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6 Comments

  1. I know that the English often fails – in my Spanish Bible, a plural “you” is used. The plural “you” that I know of in English, like y’all isn’t considered sufficiently proper grammar to use in Bible translation. So nine times out of ten, pastors will preach this topic as if Male Headship as assumed as the original design and the serpent is going after the Weak Link (weaker vessel) while the man is away gardening and the woman is alone and is the only one being addressed.

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    Reply

    1. Very true Jamie! One of the difficulties of translating from one language to a different one are certain nuances. As a general rule, Bible translations do a great job. However, the idea of male headship (and a patriarchal society) clearly led some scholars to translate the Genesis account from that perspective. Check out the differences on the translation of Genesis 3:16 in the English Standard Version and the Inclusive Bible translation. It is a world of a difference, and one that clearly illustrates how a male-dominate view affects a translation.

      Thanks for your thoughtful insights!

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