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When God began creating things he took it upon himself to name the things he had created.

KJV Genesis 1:5

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

KJV Genesis 1:8

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

But when he created the animals/birds/creatures he gave this task to the man

KJV Genesis 2:19-20

19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.

Did this point to some special connection between human beings and animals since he was the one who had named them?

Why did God give this specific task to man?

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    As so often, you ask a simple question that has never occurred to me. Up-voted enthusiastically +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 14, 2022 at 22:34

5 Answers 5

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Why did God give this specific task (naming the animals) to the man?

By working with God to give names to the animals:

  • Adam demonstrated that he was taking on his God given responsibility to get to know the creatures under his care.
  • After the work of naming was complete it became clear that "no suitable helper was found" v20 leading to the creation of Eve.
  • To reveal part of God's nature - that God works with us as we do the work God has given us. He involves us in His work.

In Genesis 1 Adam is given the responsibility of managing God's creation as God's servant.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In Genesis 2 the mission is restated.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Later in Genesis 2 we see Adam working with God to act on his mandate.

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. 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. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

Names were more than just a randomly assigned set of sounds to identify a person - or an animal. A name represented something of the character of that person - or creature. In order to name something Adam would need to learn something about that creature. Naming a creature requires that Adam recognize that creature as God's creation and that the creature has a role to play in the world God created.
As a result of getting to know the character of all God's creatures it became clear that none of them was "a suitable helper" resulting in the creation of Eve.

Naming also implies a limit to the authority Adam was given. Adam gave names to the creatures, but Adam is not the creator. People are to be the manager of God's creation, but we do not own it, we did not create it. As a manager we must look to God's direction for how God's creation should be managed and not act as if we alone are in charge.

Another aspect of the naming task is God revealing something of His nature. From the very beginning of creation God gave worked with and through people to accomplish His will.

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This question caused me to look at the Genesis creation chapters with a view to how names are introduced into the narrative. Your comments pointed in that direction. It was a surprise to me, then, that God keeps referring to this one made in his image as "man", and not "Adam", until 2:19-20, the verses your question is all about.

Seven times God denotes 'man', then in 2:19 God brings the birds and beasts "unto Adam to see what he would call them...". Six times the name 'Adam' is then used, with the word 'man' being reverted to when Adam calls the one taken out of him, 'woman'. He does not say she was taken out of Adam. Nor does he name her 'Eve' until after they have sinned and God has uttered the first prophecy about the seed of the woman. It's as if all the previous naming was designed to lead up to the climax of naming the woman, which was done in faith that she would become the mother of all living. None of the animals had been named in faith, but based on observation. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb.11:1). Woman was named 'Eve', in faith.

That provides the framework for my answer. (Thank you for bearing with me.) Genesis speaks of the first man out of the earth, the earthy man called Adam (a play on words, there), but hints also at another humanity (the last Adam, who is Christ, the man from heaven.) The human named Adam was from the earth, and returned there. Yet before he sinned, God not only gave Adam authority to choose names for the birds and the beasts, but organised their coming before Adam. This is where a helpful quote is found in this book explaining how this event showed the creatures' subjection to man, and his dominion over them:

[God directed] "them to come to man as their master... God put him in possession of his dominion over the creatures. God brought them to him, that he might name them, and so might give, 1. A proof of his knowledge, as a creature endued with the faculties both of reason and speech, and so taught more than the beasts of the earth and made wiser than the fowls of the heaven, Job 35:11. And 2. A proof of his power. It is an act of authority to impose names (Dan.1:7), and of subjection to receive them. The inferior creatures did now, as it were, do homage to their prince at his inauguration...

God gave names to the day and night, to the firmament, to the earth, and to the sea; and he calleth the stars by their names, to show that he is the supreme Lord of these. But he gave Adam leave to name the beasts and fowls, as their subordinate lord; for having made him in his own image, he thus put some of his honour upon him...

God's judgment upon the review: He brought them all together, to see if there were ever a suitable match for Adam in any of the numerous families of the inferior creatures; but there was none. Observe here,

  1. The dignity and excellency of the human nature. On earth there was not its like, nor its peer to be found among all visible creatures...
  2. The vanity of this world and the things of it; put them all together and they will not make a help-meet for man. They will not suit the nature of his soul, nor supply its needs, nor satisfy its just desires... God creates a new thing to be a help-meet for man - not so much the woman as the seed of the woman." Matthew Henry Commentary p8, middle column

This brings me back to the higher, symbolic meaning of names, naming, and the weaving of earthy, physical humanity with the New Humanity of Christ. He came first. The earthy man, Adam, was a figure of the heavenly reality. And, just as the woman was taken from the earthy man's side, so the heavenly seed of the woman requires the second Adam's pierced side for then did arise the Church to be the bride of Christ.

In conclusion of your question, "Why did God give this specific task to the man?": At a surface level, there was no-one else able to perform the task! Angels had not appeared in the narrative; there was the heavenly Creator, and the earthly creatures, of whom the first man was one - a creature. But he was unique. Of the plants the record says the earth brought them forth. Of the sea creatures it says the waters brought them forth, "and fowl that may fly above the earth". Of insects and land creatures it says the earth brought them forth. But God directly created man "to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing" (1:11-26). God could have named them all himself, but in light of having delegated man to have dominion over all of that, permitting the man to name the creatures authenticated that delegation, by the giving of intelligent responsibility. He was to take his cue from his Creator. And we are to take our cue from the Last Adam, the second man, who is the Lord from heaven - 1 Corinthians 15:45-49.

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    +1 Very well-written answer. :)
    – Rajesh
    Jan 13, 2022 at 16:18
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Simple!

GEN 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings so that they are like us. Let them rule over the fish in the seas and the birds in the sky. Let them rule over the livestock and all the wild animals. And let them rule over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

God had previously given man (Adam) dominion over the animals. Therefore only he (Adam) could name them. But, Adam did (as a created ‘man’ would not of had) not have the ‘wisdom’ to be able to that. He needed God’s.

God ‘working through’ the man He had created. Man was never created with the ‘wisdom’ to have dominion - man needed (a) god. That’s why Babel was such an issue.

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To understand the pair of accounts in regard to that pairs concerns for the activity of naming, one must have an at least subconscious sense of what language NATURALLY IS and is NOT: human conversation is NOT primarily about 'nothing in particular'. Much less is it primarily about the specifically academic, 'intellectual' forms of 'deep inquiry', aka the ancient Greek 'Thinker Class'-Ruling Class. Adam was directly faced with a NATURAL world. He was NOT faced with a context-less experience of the 'insides of his own mind'.

The pair of accounts do NOT suggest that the task of naming the animals was a formal instruction (ex: 'Adam', saith God,' Please do name these animals, thank you'. Much LESS do the accounts suggest that the task was a formal COMMAND (ex: 'Adam, saith God,'I command you to name these animals!')

There is no hint of either of these 'possibilities' in all of the Bible.

In fact, the central text in question, Genesis 2:19b, naturally suggests only one, and very particular, way in which Adam even knew what it was the God wanted him to do in relation to the animals. That way is that Adam and God had been naming-conversing with one another all along.

If we wish to think that the text was intended to inform us that God outright told Adam to name (the animals), or even that God commanded Adam to name them, yet the text is utterly contrary to any suggestion that God did so.

For, the text on the whole matter is very short and very specific: it says ONLY that God wanted 'to see what Adam would name them'. A human being NORMALLY has both language capacity and language initiative. A human infant is NOT the prototypical human. A human adult is.

So, more importantly, if Adam was made in God's image in terms of capacity and inclination to have 'dominion over' things, then Adam would have been quite naturally inclined to initiate his own speaking naming, just as God had done.

So, even more importantly, Adam's initiative to speak and name would have best been provoked, inspired, and motivated, by God initiating natural informal conversation with Adam. This does not mean the record that we have specifically of God speaking to Adam (Genesis 2:16-17) is the first time God spoke to Adam. That record is simply of the one and only NON-NORMAL condition of which the reader is to be concerned.

For, the entire Bible PRESUPPOSES all NORMAL conditions, such as, for example, human's natural and rightful ability and inclination for coversational language (especially in the human biologically native sonic form called vocalization, but also implying all forms of language, such as gestural, 'sign' language).

In gesture, there is a certain universally normal core set of gestures that are understood regardless of differing vocal languages. A native Chinese-only person understands that set just as a native English-only person understands it.

Human vocality also has a universal normal set. But this set is much more subtle, and far more context-sensitive than is the human gestural set. Its greater subtlety and sensitivity means it is far more adaptive and malleable than is the gestural set. This also means that one's even being aware of the natural existence of the vocal set requires far more attentiveness, focus, and other such perceptual and cognitive factors.

For, the general, day-to-day concerns are, in a sense, so 'loud' that our sense of the human vocal set is all-but-unheard by anyone. Those general, day-to-day concerns are like an overwhelming amount and loudness of cacophony.

And the human vocal set is like a small whisper of coherence.

Fortunately, the whole human bodily sense of gestural nativity is, normally, very, very 'loud', but coherent. This serves to preserve some basic sense of the very idea of a rich world of native sets of the various modes of language.

The idea if native sets of modes of language is contrary to the 'Ideally Merely Rational Blank Slates' which were the Overlords in Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel, Childhood's End. In the minds of those who have ever liked to feel that those Overlords were the ideal of objectivity and rationality, the idea of developing a language from 'conversational scratch' is imagined to be from a CONTEXT-FREE kind of scratch. But Adam was NOT faced with a featureless world of 'endless blank whiteness'.

A person's capacity to sense even one factor of the human native vocal set requires either or both a lot of 'silence' of general concerns or a lot of focus on the sense that there exists a NATURAL maximal relation between the human vocal-audio set and the basics of the natural, life-affirming environment. For, human conversation is not primarily about 'nothing in particular', much less primarily about the specifically academic, 'intellectual' forms of 'deep inquiry', aka the ancient Greek 'Thinker Class'-Ruling Class.

Genesis 1 and 2 are NOT for the benefit mainly of a 'theological' version of such academic-ism.

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The answer to this question about naming animals, was part of the delegated vice-regent responsibilities given to Adam and Eve immediately after their creation. Note the contrast between the creation of the animals and plants vs the creation of mankind:

  • Air, sea and land creatures were created “according to their kinds”, Gen 1:21, 24, 25
  • Mankind was created, “in our [God’s] image, according to our likeness”, Gen 1:26.

Note also that, unlike the air, land and sea creatures:

  • “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”, Gen 2:7.
  • Mankind was blessed, Gen 1:28
  • Mankind was given vice-regent rulership of the earth, Gen 1:28
  • Adam was asked to name other creatures, Gen 2:19, 20, just as God had named other things before man was created, Gen 1:5, 8, 10.
  • Mankind was tested with a choice of allegiance, Gen 2:16, 17, and thus was given the freedom of moral choice requiring intelligence. It was only that that mankind could be righteous as God is righteous because this involves moral choice.
  • Mankind had personal communion with God, Gen 3:8, 9.
  • Mankind was commanded to pro-create as the vice-regent of God on earth, Gen 1:28. That is, as God created, mankind was to pro-create.

Thus, mankind was fundamentally distinct from all other creatures. Mankind had been made in the image of God and the naming of creatures was part of that responsibility.

The Pulpit commentary says this:

Already man had received from God his first lesson in the exercise of speech, in the naming of the trees and the imposition of the prohibition. This was his second - the opportunity afforded him of using for himself that gift of language and reason with which he had been endowed. In this it is implied that man was created with the faculty of speech, the distinct gift of articulate and rational utterance, and the capacity of attaching words to ideas, though it also seems to infer that the evolution of a language was for him, as it is for the individual yet, a matter of gradual development. Another reason was to manifest his sovereignty or lordship over the inferior creation.

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