Bible Review 13:6, December 1997

Getting Personal

What names in the Bible teach us

By Richard S. Hess

What’s in a name?

That question has many answers when it’s applied to the Bible.

In the Bible’s beginning, in the story of creation, names provide literary analogies or connections. For example, ’adam in Hebrew means both “person” (Genesis 1:26–28) and “man” (Genesis 2:5–4:1). As the name of the first man, it suggests a generic person, or everyman. It’s not until Genesis 4:25 that Adam is used as the name of a particular human being.1

Moreover, the word ’adam sounds almost exactly like the word for “ground,” ’adamah. In Genesis 2:7, God forms man from the ground, ’adam from ’adamah. And in Genesis 4:17, God curses the ’adamah because ’adam disobeyed God’s command. The Bible contains many examples of similar wordplay.

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