In short (TLDR; executive summary; etc.):
- “adam”, like the English word “man”, has different meanings in different contexts
- the two creation narratives in Genesis are decidedly different, each lending different interpretations to the word
The two narratives (approx. 1:1 to 2:4a; then 2:4b onwards) are different in several respects; indeed, markedly so as one digs deeper. (To enumerate that here would be a distraction.) So where the word “adam” appears in them, we should be cautious about forcing a single interpretation across them. Rather like the English word “man”, the word’s interpretation is context-dependent.
Let “adam” have different shades of interpretation in the two different narratives. Imagine, as is quite likely, two different authors writing two different stories with two different context-uses of “adam”, and a later editor joining them together. This is in line with the other differences between the narratives.
(Aside: The first account had been in short and simple sentences. By contrast, this second account opens with one long, complex sentence from 2:4b to the end of 2:7: a massive contrast. This lends further support to two separate narratives being later edited together.)
The first narrative is on a grand-sweep cosmic scale. In it, “adam” seems clearly to have a usage like the English “mankind” (or “humanity”). This openness fits well with the other openness in the first account, such as “let us make [adam]” rather than, say, “let me make [adam]” (v.26), reflecting the openness of the word “Elohim” (God) with its “not-simply-singular” shade of meaning.
The second narrative (2:4b onwards) is more precise. From its very opening, the actions are no longer by “God” but by the much more specific “the LORD God”, who is now pictured as an almost human-like gardener. And the verbs that will be used of his actions are more down-to-earth and craftsman-oriented than the more abstract “create” verbs, etc,. of the first narrative. (And the second narrative is heavily about naming, which is mostly absent from the first narrative; even the “two great lights” had been un-named… this non-naming probably itself had specific, polemic intent.)
So in this second account, “adam” will increasingly lean more towards its male interpretation, as will become clear in the ensuing fashioning of the complementary “eve”.
Additionally, but usually lost in English, is a word-play on the name, brought out in 2:7. Robert Alter’s translation helps restore this wordplay: “then the Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil”. At this point, right at the start of this second narrative (or one might even view it as the editorial between them), “adam” is still quite generic, but the interpretation shifts as Eve is fashioned.
Wordplay is a significant feature across many parts of the Hebrew texts of the Tanakh: as just one example, think of all those occurrences of “called X, which means Y”. The significance of the name, rather than of a gender, is often the intent.
Summary: the word “adam” needs to be read with sensitivity to context… and the contexts of the two creation narratives are different.