I came across some interesting observations of Genesis 3 recently:

  1. Genesis 3:12, "And the adam said , 'the woman whom you gave with me, HE gave [3fs] to me from the tree and I ate'"
  2. Genesis 3:15, [speaking to the serpent god says,] "He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise to HIS heel."
  3. Genesis 3:20, "And the adam called the name of his woman Chavah (later: Eve) because HE was[3fs] mother of all living."

In each of these three places, the masculine pronoun "He" (heb: hu, הוא) is used. Biblehub provides wrong annotation below it on their website.

Now I know that the second one (Genesis 3:15), the "he" is generally thought of as referring to "the seed" which is a masculine noun. But in the second half of 3:15, God says to the serpent "you" shall bite his heel, not "your seed" shall bite the heel of "her seed." Given how the pronoun is used for the woman in 3:12 and 3:20 around this, i'm not so sure now. This "he" could be referring directly to the woman. That certainly matches the second half of the verse about the enmity between the woman and the serpent which will be carried forth in their seed. As in: "Ishshah shall strike his head and Nachash shall strike the woman's heel"

I also believe that "seed of the woman" is a unique concept here (this is the only place the feminine particle is attached to the end of "seed"). Elsewhere there is only the seed of the man that goes on down.

Eve also has a large amount of agency in this story. The serpent has the conversation with her. She is the one that reaches out and acts and gives to "her man" (another striking and unprecedented possessive word - except for Sarah giving Hagar to Abraham in Genesis 16:3).

There seems to be more here than what might be considered "scribal errors" with all this gender confusion in pronouns and agency and seeds in the story. This all seems to "take place" BEFORE Eve is cursed into the role of the breeder (slave to the land of her womb) and Adam into the role of the slave of the land of the dirt.

Can anyone help clarify why these pronouns are as they are? I know there is likely not one direct answer, but I wonder how the learned crowd here at SE have learned to interpret this critical part of the text. It really seems to me to be something more than a mixup by some scribe somewhere.

One initial take I have found involves the idea that Adam was made in the image of God as both "male and female" at once and then split in half into woman and man in Genesis 2. In Genesis 5:2, "male and female he created them" followed by "he called them adam." It could be that there is a sort of play on the male/female blending (androgyne) in a single being which is then divided in the world.

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    To me the question needs more details / clarity. According to Strong's H1931 הוּא is third person singular personal pronoun (he, she, it). – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 Nov 30 '20 at 9:32
  • No. הי is the hebrew pronoun for she and הוא is the hebrew pronoun for he. That is unambiguous. – Gus L. Nov 30 '20 at 15:05
  • @GusL. The MT wasn't voweled based on some theory of the Masorites. It was the traditional pronunciation of its day. The traditional pronunciation differed from the traditional text which could have resulted from either a scribal error or a change in pronunciation. An extremely common scribal error is to lengthen a י into a ו, changing the word היא to הוא. Even if it is supposed to be הוּא, one possible explanation is again that we see this phenomenon in the plural in several instances. We also see הִוא which is pronounced as היא several times in the Hebrew bible. – aefrrs Dec 2 '20 at 20:16
  • @aefrrs ... the masora were added about 3000 years after the text was likely written after massive cultural shifts. I get that it was an honorable transmission path and that the masorestes cared a great deal, but the vowel pointings are absolutely an interpretation layer. There are entire systems of systematic theology that have no issue with the woman being referred to as “he.” Many of these interpretations predate the Aleppo codex by at least 1000 years – Gus L. Dec 2 '20 at 23:48
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. I've retained a few comments about the pointing of vowels as these still feel relevant to the question - it would be better if @aefrrs would submit an Answer with this detail instead, though. – Steve Taylor Dec 4 '20 at 9:31

Did you pay attention to the masora? 3:12 has הִ֛וא, pronounced he meaning she, while 3:15 and 3:20 have ה֚וּא, pronounced hu meaning he.

See the following:


What does "Qr perpetuum" mean?

What is the meaning and function of הַהִוא֒ in Exodus 3:8?

Note: the LXX translates הוא as αὕτη in 3:12. This significantly predates the Masoretes.

I don't have a picture of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, but have a copy of the Hebrew text, and it has ה֯[וא for the pronoun in 3:12. The handwriting was changing quite a bit at that time and especially before.

To emphasize the entry in Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon in Revelation Lad's answer, here is the verses having 3fs pronouns with waw for women in Genesis:

3:12,20 – Eve

4:4,22 – Zillah

12:14,18,19; 20:5 – Sarah

22:10 – Milcah

24:44;25:21;26:9 – Rebekah

38:16,25 – Tamar

This usage is far too regular in the Pentateuch to be a textual error. It appears to be an older Hebrew spelling that changed in later Hebrew to match the spelling of surrounding nations. This seems to show the dedication of the scribes to preserve the original text rather than changing it to match spelling changes.


Here's an example of the Dead Sea Scroll handwriting. You and see what yod and waw looked like in the older handwriting when they wrote YHWH in the older handwriting.

enter image description here enter image description here

The 3pm/fs pronouns appear to be stable over time. Here's Ugaritic (1200 BC)

enter image description here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugaritic_grammar#Independent_personal_pronouns

Note Hebrew 3fs personal pronoun: enter image description here


  • Thanks Perry. This is one much later interpretation. These marks were provided by the Masoretic tradition sometime 3000ish years after this text was likely written. I treat those vowel pointings as “yet another” medieval take on the text... what they inherited was simply the hebrew characters with no markings. This is like demanding we accept the vulgates swapping of he for she in 3:15 ... that was Jerome’s take based on the protoevangelion of Christ, not what is in the text... this is the masculine pronoun not the feminine – Gus L. Nov 29 '20 at 17:16
  • To be clear, if this was the feminine pronoun, the text would read הי, not הוא – Gus L. Nov 29 '20 at 17:21
  • I'm looking for where this is already addressed. – Perry Webb Nov 29 '20 at 17:27
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    This wouldn't necessarily read היא instead of הוא if it was the feminine pronoun. A common scribal error is for the י to lengthen to a ו. – aefrrs Dec 1 '20 at 3:41
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    In 20:5 it is used 5 times, 3 as feminine and 2 as masculine which eliminates the idea it is a scribal error. – Revelation Lad Dec 3 '20 at 23:22

This entry in Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon states the pronoun is either masculine or neuter, but in the Pentateuch it also takes in the feminine as an idiom:

הוּא (A) pron. 3 pers. sing. m. he; neut. it...In the Pentateuch, הוּא also takes in the feminine, and stands instead of הִיא, which (according to the Masora on Gen. 38:25) is found but eleven times in the whole of the Pentateuch. Those who appended the points to the text, not attending to this idiom of the Pentateuch, whenever הוּא is feminine, have treated it as though it were an error, and have pointed it הִוּא, to signify that it ought to be read הִיא; out of the Pentateuch הוּא fem. Is found in 1 Kings 17:15; Job 31:11; Isaiah 30:33, pointed in the same manner.

That the word is used this way is evident in Abimelech's plea to God:

Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”
(Genesis 20:5) [ESV]
הלא הוא אמר־לי אחתי הוא והיא־גם־הוא אמרה אחי הוא בתם־לבבי ובנקין כפי עשיתי זאת

The word is used five times: 3 as "she" and 2 as "he." Moreover, the issue is raised by God who tells Abimelech he has taken a woman who is another man's wife. Clearly, the concern is the issue of normal sexual relations between a man and a woman who is another man's wife.

The LXX also reflects the use of הוא as an idiom in the verses in question:

And Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” (LXX-Genesis 3:12 NETS)
καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Αδαμ ἡ γυνή ἣν ἔδωκας μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ αὕτη μοι ἔδωκεν ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου καὶ ἔφαγον
And Adam called the name of his wife Life, because she is the mother of all the living. (LXX-Genesis 3:20 NETS)
καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ Ζωή ὅτι αὕτη μήτηρ πάντων τῶν ζώντων

And I will put enmity between you and between the woman and between your offspring and between her offspring; he will watch your head and you will watch his heel.” (LXX-Genesis 3:15 NETS)
καὶ ἔχθραν θήσω ἀνὰ μέσον σου καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῆς γυναικὸς καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός σου καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτῆς αὐτός σου τηρήσει κεφαλήν καὶ σὺ τηρήσεις αὐτοῦ πτέρναν

The inadequacy of a system with grammatical rules requiring gender specific pronouns to be used to refer to a gender specific noun is obvious at the outset:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
ויברא אלהים את־האדם בצלמו בצלם אלהים ברא אתו זכר ונקבה ברא אתם

God created man, male and female. The noun is masculine but the physical reality is two individuals with different genders: one male and one female. The rule of grammar cannot be rigidly applied to distort the actual physical situation: a masculine pronoun "them" does not mean the woman is androgyne. Similar examples of "they" אתם (masculine plural) mean male and female are in being blessed (1:22, 28). "They," man, fish, and birds were blessed (1:22) and told to multiply.

The idiomatic use throughout Genesis simply follows the use during the creation narrative. Despite a rule of grammar which says otherwise, "them" is both male and female. As the LXX shows, this was not interpreted as an androgyne. Idiomatically, the two are treated as one and a rule of grammar cannot be used to override physical differences. Rather, we need to acknowledge the inadequacy of some rules of language to accurately describe certain situations.

If the technical rule of language requires the female pronoun, the idiom of using the male pronoun should be taken as another manner of describing the created equality of male and female. Despite being "man" and "them" as masculine noun and pronoun, we are told "they" were created at different times and by different means and ate individually. Yet "they" are always treated and considered as equals despite differences in gender, sequence, eating, or other specific details.

Moreover, if "they" is considered to be referring to the masculine noun "image," then a masculine pronoun should always be used. A retrospective approach might be to ask: "Why is the woman 'he' and not 'she'?" The answer: "Because 'she' is as much 'he' as the man: both were made in the image of God." The post-Garden use of language misstates or misleads one into to replacing that which was present in the beginning with that which is seen in the present.

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    Gesenius didn't get across to Gus, so I added a list to my answer to get it across. – Perry Webb Dec 3 '20 at 22:47

KJV version which is translated from the original tongue only has "his" in Gen 3:15.

The focus here is on the seed. The seed (generations) of Adam is an extension (flesh and bone) of Adam just as with Eve. So, what God is simply trying to say is this: "it (the snake) shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his (Adam's) heel.

  • Franklin, thanks! I don't believe there is any textual support for connecting "He" to the seed. Especially given the incidence of the male pronoun surrounding this in 3:12 and 3:20. I think there is much more support for the fact that it is referring to the woman. There is an entire world of jewish mystical thought that was alive in the first century and which speaks to the union of male and female in people. See Galatians 3:28, "neither jew nor greek; neither slave nor free; nor is there "male and female""... Note the "and" vs "nor"... Paul got the idea of smashing gender categories – Gus L. Nov 30 '20 at 3:08

The word is voweled in verses 12 and 20, by the Masoretic text as הִוא which is supposed to be pronounced the same way as הִיא (she), as if the word has a kethiv of הוא (he), but a qere of היא (she). We see this kethiv-qere pair of הוא and היא frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible, this is not the only place. We see the Masorites' sometimes avoid writing a qere separately even though the spelling would be wrong in other examples such as frequently with the words אליהם and עליהם when they are written as אלהם and עלהם; furthermore, this is also observed in the word נערָ in Genesis 24:14, even though this word should be written נערה.The kethiv is the traditional way of the text being written, but the qere is the traditional way of reading the text. The Masorites did not invent the pronunciation. They received this pronunciation from the tradition of the time and wrote it down with vowel points to preserve it for future generations. Also the scribal error of a י lengthening to a ו is very common and there was no way of fixing the error other than by restarting, and it does not greatly effect the meaning of the text. Thus a היא changing to a הוא is likely a scribal error. Even if this text is not a scribal error, and the traditional pronunciation of the Masorites was wrong in this case, we see a male pronoun being used for a female pronoun in the plural in some places in the Hebrew bible. (See: Ezekiel 1:6-13). This can be done as male is seen as more abstract than female as a female collection cannot contain a male, whereas a male collection can contain a female. This never happens in the opposite direction. It does not have any theological implications.

The text of verse 15 is different, as it reads "וְאֵיבָ֣ה ׀ אָשִׁ֗ית בֵּֽינְךָ֙ וּבֵ֣ין הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וּבֵ֥ין זַרְעֲךָ֖ וּבֵ֣ין זַרְעָ֑הּ ה֚וּא יְשׁוּפְךָ֣ רֹ֔אשׁ וְאַתָּ֖ה תְּשׁוּפֶ֥נּוּ עָקֵֽב׃" "I will put enmity between you and between the woman, and between your decedents (זרע) and between her decedents (זרע), they (הוא) will strike you in the head, and you will strike them (תשופנו) in the heal" (Genesis 3:15). The word הוא and suffix נו here is referring to the decedents which uses the Hebrew word זרע which is in the male singular, and it is not referring to the women. This is also reflected in the MT's use of הוּא instead of הִוא.


It may be because Eve is not a normal human woman but the "help meet for him" (‘ezer kenegdo), which may be the English of that which is later the paraclete -- Jesus is refereed to as a "new paraclete" in John 14:16, and thus, Eve would be some sort of (spiritual?) woman-made-out-of-man and in so far as Eve is made out of a male adam/human, therefore to an extent androgynous -- and hence the particle "he"?

As Gus mentions, The Gospel of Thomas points to the splitting of people as that which needs to be unified, with Jesus' help, in Logia 11 and 22.

  • Hi Timothy Takémoto, welcome. Just requested an edit to your question removing the initial paragraph because in this community it's appropriate for anyone to respond - you, me and anyone else who wants to join. Genesis states that «male and female created he them» (Genesis 1:27, 5:2). Eve is described as «she was the mother of all living» (Genesis 3:20, which is from where her name comes from). While it could have been an interesting theory to explore, the bible describes Eve clearly a woman and not androgynous. She is the first woman, the first wife, and the first mother in the world. – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 Nov 30 '20 at 9:02
  • "The bible describes Eve clearly a woman and not androgynous" would seem to contradict the OP's point that in 2 (or 3) instances Eve is described with a masculine (or neuter) pronoun Genesis 3:12 and 3:20, and as Revelation Lad points out also a neuter this/it in Gen 2:23, The thing or things that were created male and female at 1:27 as made especially clear in Genesis 5:2 was/were Adam/adam, which implies either an original neuter (as in Talmud) from which a female Eve was split, or (my take) males and females to which a helper, neuter Eve was provided. Thank you nixing my 1st paragraph. – Timothy Takémoto Dec 1 '20 at 2:12
  • «which implies either an original neuter (as in Talmud) from which a female Eve was split, or (my take) males and females to which a helper, neuter Eve was provided» not necessarily. If that were the case, when in English you reference "grandparents" what does it say about your grandmother? (I can read from your writing you assume I gave you downvote which wasn't the case either). – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 Dec 1 '20 at 3:51
  • I don't think I made that assumption. If I say my grandparents were nice I mean my grandmother and gramdmother were nice. But, I am not getting this, I am sorry. – Timothy Takémoto Dec 2 '20 at 5:22

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