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“The Creation of Eve”: A marble relief on the left pier of the façade of the cathedral in Orvieto, Italy. © Georges Jansoone 2008 (Wikimedia Commons). This image illustrates a traditional interpretation of Genesis 2:21-22.
Was the first human being male?
In Genesis 2 we have the creation account of the very first human being. In many English translations of Genesis 2, the first human is simply called “man”. This “man” is understood by most people as referring to a male human rather than to a generic human. However, in the Hebrew text, the first “man” is not specifically referred to as a male human (ish) until after the “operation” mentioned in Genesis 2:21-22 when a part, or side, is taken out of him.
After the “operation”, the now undoubtedly male human sees the female human and says, “This one is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh! She will be called ‘woman’ (ishshah) because she was taken out of ‘man’ (ish)” (Gen. 2:23). The first woman (ishshah) and the first man (ish) may have both been a part of, or one side of, the first human being (ha’adam).
Adam can mean “human” and “humanity”
The Hebrew word adam can mean “human being”, and not necessarily a male human being. For instance, in the Hebrew of Genesis 5:2, humankind—both men and women—are referred to as “ha’adam” by God. In Genesis 1:27 it says that “God created humankind (ha’adam) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In Genesis 2, the first human is fairly consistently referred to as ha’adam (הָאָדָם), especially before the “operation”.
In the screenshots below, I have highlighted every incidence of ha’adam (the human being) in yellow. (N.B. In verse 5 there is no article but the context indicates that adam is not a proper noun.) I have also highlighted every incidence of ish (man) with blue, and ishshah (woman) with pink. By looking at the screenshots below it is evident that it is not until the part that becomes the woman is taken out of the first human that we clearly see an ish, a male person, and not before.
Have a look. Is it clear?
The Hebrew and English texts in the screen shots are used with permission, and taken from mechon-mamre.org I have added the coloured highlights and I have omitted verses 9-14.
I believe that the Genesis 2 creation account was designed to show the equality, compatibility and unity of the first man and woman. It might be we are even meant to understand that they both had the same source, ha’adam, and shared the same flesh, made from the same ground, that had been personally enlivened by God’s own breath (Gen. 2:7). Genesis 2 thus gives further detail regarding the equality of men and women already stated in Genesis 1:26-28.
Genesis 1 tells us that both men and women were given the same authority at creation, and had the same status. No man or woman was given authority over another person. There is also no hint of any gender hierarchy, or a difference in status, among humankind before sin entered the world.
Evidence of a so-called “creation order” in the creation accounts, often used to support the notion of male-only authority, is not clear cut in Genesis 2. Even though we can say that Adam was created first, he was a considerably different person after the “operation” than before. A chunk of him was now missing. It had been taken out by God, and had become an integral part of the first woman. Since a significant part of the first woman was a part, or a side, of the first human, the concept of “the created order” is not clear cut or decisive.
 An integral part of the first woman was literally taken out of the first human. The Hebrew word traditionally translated as “rib” typically means “side”. In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), the Greek word pleura means “side”, particularly the side of the body. The translation from the Septuagint is that God “took one of his sides . . . and he built the side into a woman” (Gen. 2:21-22).
 In the early chapters of Genesis, adam is often used with the definite article, ha’adam, meaning “the human being”. Occasionally, however, adam serves as the proper name “Adam”, usually written without the article. The first unambiguous instance in the Hebrew text of the first human being called “Adam” is not until Genesis 3:17.
In Genesis 2:20 the article may be hidden by the inseparable preposition bet. I suspect the English translation of “Adam” in verse 20 to be incorrect and based on the Masoretic pointing that was not part of the “inspired” biblical text. I am happy to be corrected on this. Many English translations use the proper name “Adam” in Genesis 2:20. Here are a few translations that don’t.
Unfortunately, the Septuagint transliterates (rather than translates) the Hebrew adam into the proper noun “Adam” in every, or most, instances in Genesis 2 (depending on the edition), whether there is an article or not.
Gender in Genesis 1
The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”
A Suitable Helper
A Suitable Helper in the Septuagint
Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?