What’s in a Name: Name Giving in Genesis 2

what’s in a name: name giving in genesis 2

By Martin Shields

Last month I heard Thomas R. Schreiner speak at Moore Theological College on the topic of “What the Bible says about Women in Ministry.” While briefly making reference to Genesis 1–3 he made a particular point that the man’s act of naming the animals and the woman is an exercise of authority on his part, and hence demonstrates his position of authority over the animals and the woman.

Frankly I’m surprised that appeal is still made to naming in discussions about women’s roles in the church. Read on for my reasons.

The first thing to note is that while many modern scholars appeal to naming, the New Testament writers never did. Paul does appeal to the order of creation and that the woman was deceived (whatever the significance of those appeals may be), he never mentions that Adam named Eve. If naming was such an obvious and powerful demonstration of dominion, and if the NT writers sought to establish this point, surely they missed a great opportunity here?

Dominion is not fundamental to naming

The problem is that naming is not invariably a demonstration of authority. While it often does seem to express dominion over that which is named, there are some very clear examples where naming clearly does not express dominion.

The first is the most potent. In Gen 16:13 we read the following:

ותקרא שם יהוה הדבר אליה אתה אל ראי

Then [Hagar] named Yhwh who had spoken to her, “You are El-Roi…”

Here Hagar names Yhwh. If naming invariably expresses dominion, then Hagar would here be claiming dominion over Yhwh. The text, however, does not view Hagar’s actions negatively.1

Let me give one other example. Following Solomon’s birth Yhwh sends Nathan the prophet to speak:

‏וישלח ביד נתן הנביא ויקרא את שמו ידידיה בעבור יהוה

Then [Yhwh] sent a message through Nathan the prophet and he named [Solomon] ‘Jedidiah’ for Yhwh’s sake.

Despite Yhwh’s naming the child here, Solomon is never again referred to by this name. If naming invariably expresses dominion then what does it mean that the name chosen by Yhwh is ignored in favour of that chosen by David?

Naming is fundamentally an act of character recognition

As it turns out, however, there is a fundamental feature of naming in the Bible and the ancient Near East. It is not dominion but character recognition. This is apparent in that names virtually always reflect something of the character of that which is being named, or at least it expresses some hopes about the character of that being named. We see this with Noah in Gen 5:29:

‏ויקרא את שמו נח לאמר זה ינחמנו ממעשנו ומעצבון ידינו

Then he named him ‘Noah’, saying “This one will bring us comfort from our work and the toil of our hands…”

The same is evident in many, many other examples of naming.

Why this makes best sense of Genesis 2

This actually makes very good sense of Genesis 2:18–25. The naming takes place immediately after Yhwh identifies a problem: “It is not good that the man is alone. I will make a suitable companion for him.”

Yhwh then proceeds to form all the animals from the ground — in much the same way he had formed the man — and brings them to the man so he can name them. While this could be read as an exercise of authority and fulfilment of Gen 1, it seems odd to find a problem with creation and then delay resolving the problem while doing something largely irrelevant to the problem!

But understood as an act of character recognition, the naming of the animals becomes an integral part of the narrative as an attempt to resolve the problem. The man examines each animal to determine whether it would be a suitable companion. And the task fails as noted in verse 20: “but for the man no suitable companion was found.” It is clear that the naming was all about finding a companion. And it failed.

That it failed is not a slight on Yhwh’s abilities, it is clearly didactic. While a dog may be said to be “man’s best friend,” Genesis 2 makes it clear that a dog cannot replace human companionship. There is only one suitable companion for a man, a woman, and (I have argued), vice-versa. The man (and hopefully the reader) learns this from the failure of the close examination of all the animals Yhwh created.

When the woman is then built from the side of the man and presented to the man, he also names her, and in that act he recognises the long desired missing element in creation: his other half. His words express an awareness of her character, they are not an expression of his dominion over her. After all, in Gen 1 it was man and woman who together shared dominion over the animals, there was nothing there to suggest that man would have dominion over woman.

Furthermore, just because the idea of dominion is introduced in Gen 1 does not mean that all that takes place in Gen 2–3 must give expression to that dominion!

So what’s in a name?

Hopefully it is now clear that the primary function of naming in Gen 2:18–25 is that it represents the act of closely examining the characteristic features of that which is named. This aspect of naming is prominent throughout the Bible, where names reflect something of the character of the named. If naming in Gen 2:18–25 is understood primarily as an expression of dominion it makes the naming episode a largely irrelevant aside to the immediate narrative. If naming reflects a close examination of the character of that which is named, these verses become an integral part of the search for the missing element in creation.

In short, appeals to the first man’s naming of the woman to support the notion that there is a hierarchical relationship between men and women misreads Genesis 2 and is based on a flawed presupposition about the significance of naming.


  1. Likewise naming elsewhere in the ancient Near East fails to express dominion in all cases. For example, on tablet V of Enūma Eliš we read that the gods assigned a name to Marduk:

    (95) Then the great gods convened,
    They made Marduk’s destiny highest, they prostrated themselves.
    They laid upon themselves a curse (if they broke the oath),
    With water and oil they swore, they touched their throats.
    They granted him exercise of kingship over the gods,
    (100) They established him forever for lordship of heaven and earth.
    Anshar gave him an additional name, Asalluhi,
    “When he speaks, we shall all do obeisance,
    At his command the gods shall pay heed.”

    See COS I, p. 401. Here the gods are clearly not claiming dominion over Marduk since Anshar affirms their subordinate status immediately after naming him! In the Standard Babylonian version of the Anzu story there is a record of all the names given to Ninurta in different places. Given that the deity is being named it is again unlikely that there is any hint of dominion over that which is being named.


Ramsey, G. W., “Is Name-Giving an Act of Dominion in Genesis 2–3 and Elsewhere?” CBQ 50.1 (Jan. 1988), 24–35.

Shields, Martin A., Man and Woman in Genesis 1–3, M.Th.(hons) Dissertation, Sydney College of Divinity (1995), chapter 4.

© 5th of June 2016, Martin A. Shields

This article first appeared on “Shields-Up”  here.

Gender is a Kingdom of God Issue

Gender is a Kingdom of God Issue

By Karina Kreminski

Why are we as the people of God not talking a whole lot more about gender?

Here are some comments I have heard recently and increasingly that might help to answer that question;

1. ‘We are so over this, do we have to go over the “gender thing” again?’
2. ‘This is such a contentious issue it only causes division. Let’s just get on with it’
3. ‘Everyone has pretty much made up their minds about this and things are just not going to change’
4. ‘We have already made enough progress the “battle” is won’.
5. ‘I don’t think that the gender thing is a gospel issue so let’s just focus on the important things rather than the peculiarities that separate us’.
6. ‘John Piper says…’ , ‘Mark Driscoll says…’

You might be able to think of some more comments that act to stifle discussion and imagination around this issue. At the moment I can’t think of any public forums and resources that are widely held and circulated in this city which engage with the topic of gender to a level that can inspire and teach people about the kingdom of God perspective on this.

And I do mean the kingdom of God perspective on this.

For me the Kingdom of God has always been a source of inspiration ever since I heard about it when I was studying at Morling Theological college over ten years ago now. The picture of this kingdom of God presented to me as I read Scripture is of justice, beauty, kindness, reconciled relationships. A place where loneliness is banished and violence ceases to exist, abuse is unheard of, talk is peppered with generosity, insecurities are nullified, joy is released, boundaries between rich and poor are taken away and organisations experience renewal. In short the Kingdom of God or the reign of God is an notion which engages the deepest longings  that reside in every human being, sometimes termed in our popular imagination as the desire for utopia.

This kingdom however is not a shadowy ideal but it is an embodied idea, it has invaded the earth through Jesus Christ. Moreover as we all know, the kingdom is “now” but it is also “not yet”. So we have been given a kick start through Jesus and also we have been given  resources needed such as a new nature, the power of the Spirit, a renewed mind to be able to receive and extend more of his kingdom on the earth. This is the “now” aspect of the kingdom and it is where my imagination is ignited visualising all the possibilities of the way our world could be.

The “not yet” aspect of the kingdom can sometimes make me feel discouraged. I know that we will only see the magnificence and unspeakable beauty of the kingdom when Jesus returns. I know that. I know we must still live in a broken world with sickness, death, sin. However if we have been given a new nature, a renewed mind and the power of the Spirit why do we see so little change now? Why is this vision of the kingdom of God so small and seemingly plodding…one step forward, two steps back.

And so this is where I get quite annoyed with the 6 comments written at the beginning of this blog.

To me each comment seems to lack imagination of what could be, To me each comment seems to accept the status quo. To me each comment seems to not understand or see the disparity between what is and what could be. It seems to me that these comments not only show a blind spot regarding gender but also a shortsightedness regarding the theology of the kingdom of God. Seems to me sometimes we would rather narrow down the gospel to a reductionist ‘Jesus saves me from my sins so that I will go to heaven’ type “gospel” rather than understanding that the gospel impacts every aspect of our lives individually and communally, locally and globally. The kingdom vision is that big!

Not only are we sitting in the status quo moreover, if we live out the comments stated we seriously undermine that crucial part of the kingdom of God- reconciled relationships. Jesus came to reconcile humanity with God but he also came to be the source that reconciles us to each other. Some might disagree with me but in terms of human relationships I think the biggest reconciliation that needs to happen is between men and women!

You just need to have a look and listen to popular culture to see the desperate need for reconciliation between men and women. For example the theme for the next Masterchef series a popular cooking show, is the ‘Battle of the sexes’. In the advertisements typical gender stereotypes are perpetuated which only act to inflame and highlight the competition and unresolved resentment between men and women. How can a battle of the sexes be good in any sense? We might laugh and chuckle about it and say that it is a lighthearted attempt to get a competition going. Really? And we hear that sort of terminology like ‘Battle of the sexes’ in our society in general continually.

Even though Christians might be ‘over’ the gender debate most of society is engaging with the issue constantly. We might hear one day on the news that women still do not get paid the same as men, on another day that men are confused by feminism and sometimes act angrily as a response but really they are just trying to work out where they now fit in society. On another day we might hear about how young girls in the majority world are the most disadvantaged people in the whole world, another time we might read about the increase of domestic violence in our nation or the increase of confusion regarding gender roles. The issue around the question ‘Are men and women really different?’ still churns over in people’s minds. People are interested in this.

The reason that the world is interested is because the ‘battle’ between men and women is as old as the Fall itself. A distorted relationship is clearly evident in Genesis 3:16. Whatever your view is on gender clearly there is a sad distortion depicted there that has become ingrained in us forevermore…that is until we remember Jesus and the kingdom of God.

I just love this verse of Scripture:

‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:19-20)

‘ALL THINGS’ is pretty clear and it includes the broken relationship between men and women which is reconciled through the cross of Jesus. That means according to Scripture the world looks to us as followers of Jesus to bring reconciliation! Instead we lag behind the world rather than be at the forefront of change. Personally I find this embarrassing and in my dark moments depressing.

The world might run programs, initiate egalitarian work practices, coach people on gender roles which is all good, yet Scripture tells us that the people of God are responsible through the peacemaking cross of Christ to reconcile the relationship between men and women. And this goes beyond the necessary yet tiresome perpetual debate around complementarian and egalitarian views of women in ministry, it moves to seek deep reconciliation, peace, mutuality between men and women.

No wonder we are having a harder time with issues like homosexuality, singleness, transgender people…if we have not developed a hungry imagination for reconciled relationships as would be embraced in the kingdom of God, then what hope do we have to deal with even more complex issues such as these?

Let’s talk more about gender. It is a kingdom of God issue and the world waits for the solution through the cross of Jesus Christ to bring to fulfillment its deepest longings….longings that God himself has placed there.

© May 23rd 2013, Karina Kreminski

This article was first appeared on karinakreminski.com.au here.

How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality”

How Christian Egalitarians Understand Equality

Equal and Different

A common misunderstanding about what Christian egalitarians believe concerns the words “equal” and “equality”. When egalitarians use the word “equal” it does not mean that we think people are, or should be, all exactly the same or identical. We can see that men and women have some differences, and that men and women complement each other. Egalitarians are not about ignoring, or erasing, the differences between men and women. Rather we are about valuing the talents, gifts, and capabilities of individuals, most of which are not tied to gender.

Equal, Level, Even

The English word for “equal” comes from the Latin word aequalis which, as well as meaning “equal”, also means “level” and “even”. Christian egalitarians use the word “equal” because we see that there is a “level playing field” in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus taught that in his kingdom, the humble are exalted, the lowly are the greatest, and the last are first. In other words, there is a levelling where we each have the same status, the same rights, and, potentially, the same opportunities.

How Christian Egalitarians understand "Equality”

This “level playing field” is free from hierarchies, castes, cliques, and other artificial social distinctions which favour some and discriminate against others—distinctions brought about by various prejudices such as snobbery, misogyny, racism, and even personal preferences. The “level playing field” of the kingdom of Jesus it is open to anyone and everyone who decides to follow Jesus, join in, and use their abilities to worship God and serve people. Ideally this “level playing field”, as well as being evident in the church, also applies in marriage.

Paul and Equality

The apostle Paul alluded to a “level playing field” when he wrote Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Some Christians think that Paul’s statement here is simply a theological statement that has no bearing on our present society or relationships within the community of God’s people. Yet Paul listed social categories in Galatians 3:28 that encompassed the society of his day.

Paul tells his audience in Galatians 3:26-28 that when someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ they take on a new identity: they become a son of God. And when that person is clothed with Jesus Christ in baptism, their new identity overrides the social distinctions that pigeon-hole and divide sectors of society. It is our new identity in Christ that unites us; so it is difficult to see how some Christians honestly believe that our new identity has no bearing on relationships and society (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16-17). It does.

Sameness and Gender Roles

While Egalitarians have occasionally been wrongly accused of ignoring the differences between women and men, there are Christians who ignore the differences among women and the differences among men. These Christians prescribe fixed gender roles which do not take into account the diversity and complexity seen among individuals of both sexes.

Not all women are the same. Not all men are the same. Prescribing rigid gender roles, and saying that all men are leaders and all women are submissive followers—a view held by hierarchical complementarians—is surely ignoring the fact that some men have little to no leadership ability, and some women are excellent leaders.

The view of hierarchical complementarians also ignores the fact that, as Dale Fincher has put it, “Leadership is a fluid and seasonal role you play depending on your responsibility in the moment and the larger task at hand.” Furthermore, complementarianism largely ignores Paul’s directive that Christians are to be mutually submissive to one another (Eph. 5:21 ).


Christian Egalitarians do not advocate for sameness, and we do not ignore difference. Rather, we are about allowing and encouraging individuals to use their different abilities to help resource and further the church’s mission. We believe that our God-given gifts and abilities trump the social distinctions of race, gender, and class, when it comes to working out who does what in marriage, in the church, and in broader society, at any given point in time.

While men and women have many more similarities than differences, Christian Egalitarians simply do not think all people are the same or should be the same.

© March 3rd 2016, Margaret Mowczko

This article first appeared at newlife.id.au here.

Resources on Christian Egalitarianism for Australians