Why did God need part of Adam to make Eve when he made Adam from the dust? It’s a Bible question from a female listener to the podcast. We don’t have her name, but we have her question: “Hello, Pastor John! I was just wondering why God chose to do surgery on Adam to remove one of his ribs to craft Eve when, as God, he could have just made Eve entirely from dust in the same way he made Adam. I am very intrigued by this fact in Genesis and wonder if you have any thoughts to explain why it was done this way, and if it carries a particular meaning that he did it this way. Thank you.”
Well, it is intriguing, and there are things to see in the text that we might miss that would make it even more intriguing if we didn’t read more slowly. So, let’s read the passage that she’s referring to, and then I’ll point out some maybe surprising conclusions.
Parade of Beasts
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Genesis 2:18). So, God is going to finish his creation so as to make it completely good. That’s the setup at the beginning of the paragraph: “I’m going to make this completely good. It’s not yet finished. I will make him a helper fit for him.” That word fit means suitable, proper, corresponding to.
I think it’s important to notice that he’s looking for a helper fit for Adam to complete his creation, and he starts by making from the ground animals of the field and every bird of the heavens. “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast . . . and brought them to the man to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19). So the man’s going to name these animals in order to discern their nature, which means their fitness for being a suitable counterpart to him, and he’s going to wind up naming this woman as well. So we’ve got this parallel between, “Let’s start with the animals and see what happens and then move from there.” “And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19).
The man names the beast, discerning its nature — its fitness to be his partner. “The man gave names to all the livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). So the first step that he took was to produce a suitable helper in animals, and that totally failed. We need to ask, Why would God do that? Why would God enter on a process of making animals when he knew that’s not going to work — that’s not going to find a suitable partner?
Someone Like Adam
“So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs” — the word can mean side, so not from his foot and not from his head, but from his side — “and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21). So, he really did surgery. He opened the skin and took out a rib, and he closed it.
“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made” — literally he built — “into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called . . .’” — and that’s reference back to the naming of the animals. “So I found now an essence, a reality, a character, a being like me.” “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:22–23). She shall be called ishah, because she was taken out of ish, in the Hebrew. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:24–25).
No Helper Among the Animals
Now, our friend asks about the significance of the woman being made from the man’s side or rib and not from the ground, and I would say that’s not an incidental part of the text. She’s right to ask. To see the significance, we need to follow what’s happening.
First, Adam is said to be alone, and that’s not good, so the text is designed to tell us how God makes his creation finally good — namely, with Adam not being alone. But the next thing that happens is odd — namely, making all the animals (or pointing out that God had made all the animals) and bringing them to the man. So note three things:
- He says explicitly that they were made from the ground (Genesis 2:19).
- They were brought to the man for naming (Genesis 2:19).
- His naming is connected with whether the animals are fit or suitable helpers for him (Genesis 2:20).
“The text is designed to tell us how God makes his creation finally good — namely, with Adam not being alone.”
So Adam, in naming the animals, is in fact identifying their nature, their fitness or suitability for him as a kind of partner that would make creation finally and fully good. And one might ask, Why did God parade the animals before Adam in search of a helper fit for him since God knew he wouldn’t find one?
And my answer is that he did it precisely because he knew he wouldn’t find one. In other words, he did it to make crystal clear to Adam, “What I have designed for you in my mind — you’re not going to find it among the animals. Don’t even think that you could find what I have prepared among the animals. The kind of helper that I have in mind for you, Adam, isn’t that kind.” “But for Adam there was not found” — among all those animals — “a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20).
So, having made that crystal clear, God puts Adam to sleep and really does surgery. He opens his side, takes a rib, closes up the side, and then it says that God built the rib from his side into a woman, and the word is ishah, and the generic word for Adam is ish — man, ish.
Then it says — and here he uses the very same words from earlier when he brought the animals to Adam to be named — he “brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22). And so we wait to see what he will name her — that is, what nature he will find in her that corresponds to his own nature or not. And here’s what he says: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ishah, because she was taken out of ish” (Genesis 2:23).
“Eve is like Adam and yet perfectly unlike Adam so as to be the exact suitable counterpart for Adam.”
So, unlike the naming of the animals, this creature’s name shows she is of the very nature of the man. The animals were not of the very nature. “And that’s probably why he took them out of the ground and took her out of me,” Adam said. “Therefore, I name her ishah, because she was taken out of ish.” That is, “She is the suitable helper. She fits, she corresponds, she is not an animal. She’s my unique kind, she’s human like me. She’s one flesh with me. Therefore, this concept of helper is not impersonal like an animal, like oxen can be helpers to farmers. She’s different. She will be essentially personal and human like me. She is like me and yet perfectly unlike me so as to be the exact suitable counterpart for me.”
I think that is true not only anatomically for the sake of sexual relations, but far deeper than that in profound personal, psychological ways. They are each other’s perfect, God-designed complement. Together they are good. Now it’s good — creation is good — that man and woman are now both created in the image of God, of the same human nature, “bone of my bones,” “flesh of my flesh,” and he could have said a lot more, I think.
Bone of Bone, Flesh of Flesh
Then the next verse takes this complementary, perfect correspondence into marriage and says that, therefore, because they were made bone of bone and flesh of flesh, this profound oneness of nature is going to be found in marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). So he just said, “She is bone in my bones, flesh of my flesh.” And now in marriage, they become one flesh. The marriage union takes the unity of male and female to its deepest physical, psychological, personal level, and that becomes a picture — a drama, the New Testament says — of Christ and the church.
Now, there’s a lot more to say about the implications of man being made first, the woman being made from man and as his perfectly suited helper, and the woman becoming, in Genesis 3:20, “the mother of all living,” and Paul draws out these implications in 1 Corinthians 11:8–12. But for now, I would say God’s aim in not making the woman from the ground, like the animals, but from Adam’s rib, his side, was to make clear to him and to us that she is radically, gloriously, profoundly human, like Adam, over against all the animals, who were utterly unsuited for man.