Knowing in the Biblical Sense

Knowing in the Biblical Sense October 8, 2014

People who don’t know much bout the Bible still know what “knowing in the biblical sense” means. It’s assumed that it’s a common euphemism.

But it isn’t. It’s used only in the first few chapters of Genesis, and then in 1 Samuel.

Adam knows Eve, and she conceives Cain (Genesis 4:1). Cain knows his wife, and she has a son, Enoch (4:17). Then Adam knows his wife again and she gives birth to Seth (4:25). The phrase isn’t used again until 1 Samuel 1:19, when Elkanah knows his wife Hannah, who gives birth to Samuel.

The distribution is intriguing, implying two things at least. First, Adam knows Eve twice, and both times gives birth to a “first” son. Cain is literally the first child in history; Seth is the first child born after the death of Abel, a replacement for Abel and a third-born who, like most third-borns in Genesis, is elevated to first-born status. Cain is the beginning of the human race after the fall; Seth a new beginning; Samuel yet another new beginning, as his birth initiates a series of events that culminates in the establishment of the Davidic dynasty.

Second, the cluster of uses in Genesis 4 structurally matches the use in 1 Samuel. 1 Samuel is a new Genesis. After the “week” of seven books – Genesis to Judges/Ruth – Yahweh starts a new week with another miracle child. Another canonical cycle begins with another man knowing his wife in the biblical sense.

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