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Published Date: June 1, 2011

Published Date: June 1, 2011

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Primogeniture in Genesis?

Definition of Primogeniture from merriam-webster.com (an online dictionary)

1: the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents

2: an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son

 

The right of inheritance under Mosaic law/Torah was a double portion for the first born son.

NIV Deuteronomy 21:15-17 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

 

Some who believe in gender hierarchy teach that the idea of primogeniture or right of the first born is somehow relevant to the texts in Genesis on the origins of humanity.  For example, Andreas Kostenberger in “Women in the Church” on page 107 claims “The priority of Adam in creation would have naturally suggested his authority over Eve to the original readers.”  However, there are some unstated assumptions in the wording of this claim that turn out to be false, perhaps because these unstated assumptions are often a part of how these stories are taught to children.

Part of the challenge in understanding the text is that there are actually 3 human origins stories at the beginning of Genesis, the first is in Gen 1:1-2:3, the second is in Gen 2:4-4:26 and the third is in Gen 5:1-5:32.  When God inspires Scripture to give multiple accounts of something there can be challenges in how they relate to one another, but one basic interpretation principle is to try our best to let Scripture interpret Scripture.

In Gen 5:2 we learn that the name Adam refers to both the man and the woman, although some translations obscure this, to show this I use the translation from the Jewish Publication Society (JPS).

JPS Gen 5:1-2  “This is the book of the generations of Adam.  In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him;  male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.”

In the above JPS translation, the word translated “man” is “adam,” which means humans or humanity and note that “called his/her/their name” is a very common naming formula in the Bible.  This idea that both the man and the woman are named Adam may sound surprising if one has not noticed this before; it surprised me when it was first pointed out to me.  The man in the garden is a male human and the woman in the garden is a female human, both are in the likeness of God and both are named Adam by God.

In the second human origins story, we find that Adam (the human) is formed from soil and giving functions to tend and guard a garden.  We see from the first story that a way to create a more ordered state from a lesser ordered state is for God to separate things, and this is what God will do in the second story.  God sees that the human is alone and that this state of being alone is not good, so God takes a side from the human and forms 2 humans (which a punster might call “splitting the Adam”), a man (Hebrew ish) and a woman (Hebrew ishshah); and per Gen 5:2 that both are named Adam (and rightly so, as both are human).  Hence, there is no priority of creation for the male, the male Adam was formed at the same time as the female Adam, before that, the human Adam was not differentiated.  So we see that since there was no priority in creation or formation, any idea basing itself on the idea of priority simply does not apply, including the idea of primogeniture.

How are some ways that people misunderstanding the human origins stories in Genesis affected you?