Q&A: Naming the Animals - Genesis 2:18-20

Naming the Animals - Genesis 2:18-20

Question

As atheists point out, isn't it an impossibility for Adam to have named every species of animal on the sixth day of creation? Genesis 2:18-20

Answer

Genesis 2:18-20 The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Now the Lord God had 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. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
While I would agree that it seems like an impossibility that Adam could have named every species of animal in a twenty-four hour period, we should understand that Adam had a perfect unfallen mind at this time. So, his thinking processes and such may have been much more refined than ours today seeing that now we are all fallen beings (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12-19). However this speculation aside, I do not think the Bible teaches that Adam named every "species" of animal.
1. Adam's mission did not include a physical search for all the animals to be named. Gen. 2:19 says God brought them to him. This saved considerable time.

2. In addition, the Bible appears to place certain restrictions on the animals Adam named. Genesis 2:20 does not say that Adam named every animal in the world. Rather, it states: "So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals." While we do not know every kind of animal Adam did name, the process does not appear to include the sea creatures and creeping things (Gen. 1:21, 25).

3. Furthermore, the beasts God brought to Adam are qualified by the phrase "of the field" (hassadeh). Though the exact meaning of the phrase is difficult to qualify, some have asserted that it pertains only to those in the Garden of Eden. If the same qualifying phrase is to be understood concerning "all the birds of the air" also, this could have reduced the number of animals Adam actually named.

4. However, (#3 aside) animals were created according to their "kinds," not "species" (Gen. 1:21). Therefore, Adam could have named the animals according to their groups in general terms rather than their specific species. Surely it was not "these are dogs" versus "this is German Shepherd, this an Alaskan Husky, this an Old English Terrier, and this is a Jack Russell Terrier." It should be noted that Genesis was written before the Linnaean classification system, a biological classification system written by Carl Linnaeus in 1735 (Systema Naturae). Therein there are three kingdoms - animal, vegetable, and mineral - that are then divided into classes, and these in turn into orders, families, genera, and species, etc.

5. Finally, Adam's mission appears to not only be one of naming, but one of looking for a suitable mate too. Note the naming dialogue is sandwiched between "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18) and "But for Adam no suitable helper was found" (Gen. 2:20). In my opinion, this furthers the idea that Adam was naming "kinds" and not "species"; that is, dogs in general would not make a suitable helpmate for Adam. Adam needed a "kind" that was "bone of [his] bones and flesh of [his] flesh" (a woman) as a suitable helpmate (Gen. 2:23).

So, looking at the limitations that Scripture itself appears to place on the naming of the animals, Adam could have easily completed what the Bible - God's inspired Word (2 Tim. 3:16; cf. Num. 23:19; Heb. 6:18) - says he did.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).