Gen. 2:19-20. “God formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field, and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”
Exegesis and Application
The search for Adam’s mate is the usual focus of this portion of scripture. A second major focus is the dominion or authority given to Man over the animals by virtue of his naming of the animals. However, the use of Adamic language in the naming is my focus for Christian journalists.
This extraordinary passage teaches a theistic view of language in that God has given humans the ability to use language to accurately define reality as we name names. The Bible teaches that Man had language from the beginning. He was created with the ability to communicate mental concepts. This naming of the animals indicates his ability to fulfill God’s requirements that he establish dominion over the creation (1:26-28). A part of this dominion is the ability to exercise God-given judgment and discernment, worthy of Man’s image-bearing intelligence. His judgment in naming is evidence of his ability to recognize the animals’ created natures and purposes. It is interesting to note that Man did not name the physical aspects of creation: “lights,” “darkness,” “sky” or “dry land.” Maybe this means that God did not give dominion over the weather but only the other animals on earth.
One thing this passage introduces into the Biblical narrative is the importance of language. It is easy for Christians to read John 1:1 and make the connection between “word” and Christ without understanding the full importance of language to God. There is a direct line between Genesis 2:19-20 and Numbers 30:2, “This is what the LORD commands, ‘When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.’” And John 8:44, “He was murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When the devil lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Such passages teach the supreme importance of verbal communication between humans and between humans and God.
By speaking to Adam in the Garden and particularly by asking him the question (and expecting a verbal answer), “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) God makes human language divine language. As Carl Henry has written, “God’s creation of man for interpersonal communion anticipated his condescension and initiative in the use of human language as an instrument of divine disclosure.”
Gerhard Von Rad has this to say about this passage: “Thus one may say that something is said here about the origin and nature of language. Language itself is an originating, creative, interpretative something, in which arrangement, rearrangement, and regulation most properly occur. Man attacks the confusion of the world; by probing, restricting and combining he brings together what belongs together. That which lies piled up in the confusion of the world does not at the start possess its own form; but rather, what is here distinguished with discrimination receives its own form only as it comes together in the analysis. This naming is thus both an act of copying and an act of appropriative ordering, by which man intellectually objectifies the creatures for himself. The emphasis is place not on the invention of words but on that inner appropriation by recognition and interpretation that takes place in language. Here, interestingly, language is seen not as a means of communication but an as intellectual capacity by means of which man brings conceptual order to his sphere of life.”
There is a sense in which until something is named it does not exist (Is. 40:26; 48:7). Moses told the Israelites that his words were not “empty” (Hebrew “reek”) words but rather life giving (Deut. 32:47; cf. Is. 55:11). The power of language to create reality is enormous and must be handled with care by the journalist.
We Christian journalists have the enormous privilege and responsibility of mantaining human language as the annointed medium of communicating contemporary life to a needy public. Let us be good stewards of that great honor bestowed upon us.