In an earlier post, we explored the use of “Adam” in Genesis, and how common translations obscure the true nature of his name. When that nature is revealed, the sense of the text changes a lot. It turns out that something similar happens with the name “Eve”. In this post, we’ll briefly look at the similar confusion that occurs with her name, and then bring these observations together to see what they suggest about the beginning of Genesis.
Unlike the case of “Adam”, the name “Eve” is not based on a common word, but is a made-up term intended to reflect the general concept of life. Consider the following text, in which Adam names his wife:
The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Genesis 3:20
Have you ever wondered what the name “Eve” has to do with the concept of life?
The Hebrew word used for the woman’s name (chawwah) is similar to other words involving life, such as chawah (“to breath”) or chayah (“to live”). It is a made-up word, not used anywhere else, that clearly evokes the source of life. The Bible clearly points out the life-related meaning behind the term, showing that it is more than just a simple name used only to identify someone.
So in Hebrew (the original language) her name would have been linked to aspects of life.
However, when this made-up Hebrew word is translated into English, it usually results in “Eve”. This comes from a Greek rendering of the Hebrew. A Hebrew word, rendered into Greek, then that Greek word rendered into English. In the process, it loses all sense of the original meaning and becomes just an abstract name, like many other English names. It serves to identify a person, but doesn’t really mean anything.
In English, her name does not link to life as it does in Hebrew. Translation completely changes things.
What would it be like for her name to read closer to the way it would have read to the original audience? Learning Hebrew is not an option for most people, but is there another term that would give a similar result in English? There are many options, but one possibility is to use something like “Liife”. A slight spelling change, but the result still links to ideas of life, as in the original Hebrew.
Consider how our earlier passage changes when we use this approach:
The man called his wife’s name Liife, because she was the mother of all living. Genesis 3:20
Doesn’t the passage make much more sense now that it reflects the same sort of interplay that was in the original Hebrew? In English, there’s no relationship between life and the name “Eve”. But with this change, the relationship is clear, and the sentence makes sense.
In a similar manner, recall from the earlier post how we observed that “Adam” should be read as “Man”. Combining these observations, we see that “Adam and Eve” would have been more like “Man and Liife” in the original language.
The narratives in Genesis 3 tell how Man and Liife were deceived by a talking serpent into eating a fruit with spiritual powers.
Now think about this for a moment — does that sound like something belonging in Chronicles, or in Revelation? Like an eyewitness account, or a vision?
I think most people would agree that it sounds more like Revelation when presented this way, but not so much when we read typical translations. If we read it like the original audience, it sounds one way, but if we read it through the lens of tradition, it sounds different.
When we seek to understand as the original audience, then we draw closer to the original expression of God. We find that God was speaking in figurative terms, consistent with His voice throughout Scripture (ie, Numbers 12:6, Matthew 13:34). However, it was often true that people didn’t like it (ie, Ezekiel 20:49, John 16:29), and such biases today can lead to word choices that reflect literal viewpoints rather than the original text. Thus, traditions get established that make the text sound the way we like, instead of the way it was given.
In a sense, there are multiple voices in the texts we read today — the voice of God, the voices of tradition, and the voices of translators. We need to be discerning about which we are hearing in any given passage.
Which voice are you listening to?