Adam Could Have No Name

Apr 2, 2018

Adam means “man,” and so Adam is not really “the first man,” but simply “the first.” A sad man is actually a “sad Adam.” A beautiful woman is “a beautiful Adam.” I am the Adam Joshua. My wife is the Adam Paula. The first Adam was not a particular Adam, but a universal Adam. To say that Adam was “a man” is redundant. “Adam was man” simply means that “Adam was Adam.” Adam was both “Adam” and beyond “Adam.”

We live at a time wherein a certain man is named “Adam Smith” or “Adam West,” and we know that “Anderson” means “son of man.” However, for the first Adam, “Adam” is a declaration of the universality of God’s image bearer. Adam is not Adam’s name, but the name of the name of man. Similarly, “I am” is not so much the name of God as it is the name of God’s name. Signs inside of signs. There is no more fitting icon of reality than Russian nesting dolls. In many discussions of original sin, Adam’s universality is often reduced to that of a terrible lawyer defending mankind in a cosmic case. However, as the universal man, Adam is not really our representative at all, for the word suggests too great a chasm between us. In truth, I am only Adam because Adam was Adam.    

Adam was not really named in the conventional sense of the word. After the first man, a name distinguished one man from another man, but Adam’s name did not do this. Adam is the title of a species, the qualification of a particular way of being, not a manner of distinguishing one person from another person. Calling Adam “Adam” is not much like naming your second child “Stephen,” but more like calling a certain kind of geometrical shape “a square,” or a hopping marsupial “a kangaroo,” or a flowing body of water “a river.”

The name of Adam and the name of God bear a striking similarity to one another, then, and it makes sense that the image-bearer of an ineffable God would also be (albeit to a lesser degree) ineffable. The ultimate turn comes when St. Paul refers to Christ as the “second Adam.” In describing Christ as such, St. Paul is doing more than drawing a parallel between two men. He is expressing a new universal fountain of man’s identity.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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