The story of “Adam’s rib” is found in the book of Genesis, precisely Genesis 2:18–24 tells the well-known account of how God created the first woman, Eve, by removing a “rib” from Adam’s body and fashioning it into the woman. The creation account clearly indicates that God used Adam’s rib to create Eve instead of making her from the dust of the ground as He had done for Adam earlier. The question also arises as to why God created woman out of Adam’s rib. God apparently had formed male and female animals separately, but the female human was originally part of man—Adam said, “She shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).
God used Adam’s rib to form Eve to show that they were actually the same created being, two halves of a whole. The female was not created as a separate being, second to the male. She was formed as part of the initial man, in order to be a “helper suitable” for the male (Genesis 2:18). While Adam was in a divinely induced sleep, God “took one of the man’s ribs and . . . made a woman” (Genesis 2:21–22). Eve was brought into being to strengthen and powerfully help Adam; she was made from the same “stuff,” and she was every bit as perfect a creation as man and every bit as patterned after God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27).
The woman made of Adam’s rib was designed to be a “suitable helper” for Adam (Genesis 2:20). The Hebrew phrase is translated “help meet” in the KJV and “companion who corresponded” in the NET. It is not synonymous with assistant, servant, minion, or subordinate. The Hebrew phrase, ’ezer kenegdow, in all other instances in the Bible refers to powerful and extensive aid and support. In most cases, the phrase was used to depict dominant military forces or armed men. Other passages, including Deuteronomy 33:7, 29, and Exodus 18:4, use the same phrase to discuss the potent interventions and deliverances of God Himself. Woman, therefore, was created as a complement to man, as an integral part of man, and as a powerful and influential companion for man.
Furthermore, the Hebrew word translated “suitable,” kenegdow, carries much more meaning than simply “fit” or “appropriate.” This word also means “opposite or contrasting.” This implies that the two beings were designed to work and fit together perfectly, not just physically but in all ways. The strengths of each compensated for the weaknesses of the other. It was “not good” for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), but, together, Adam and Eve were something far stronger and more magnificent than either of them could have been alone. Adam had to lose a rib, but he gained so much more.
Why did God use Adam’s rib? A closer examination of the Hebrew also reveals another surprising element of the story. The Hebrew word translated “rib” in Genesis 2 is tsela. The only other instance of the English word rib in the Bible occurs in Daniel 7:5, but the Hebrew word used there is different. In other passages where tsela or its variants are used, the word is translated “side.” For example, in Exodus 25, 27, and 35, the words tselo (variant) and tselot (plural) are used to refer to the “sides” of the Ark of the Covenant or the “sides” of the altar. In 2 Samuel 16:13, David encounters a cursing Shimei moving along the side (tsela) of a hill. In these contexts, translating the word tsela as “rib” would not fit.
This raises the possibility that Eve could have been fashioned of more than just Adam’s rib. In the Genesis 2 passage, tsela could actually be translated as Adam’s “side,” rather than Adam’s “rib.” If the appropriate translation is that God removed Adam’s side, how much of his side did God remove? It is possible that Eve was constructed literally from half of Adam. This would bring added meaning to Adam’s declaration that Eve was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).
Whether God created Eve from Adam’s rib or from his whole side, He accomplished the act in such a way that showed the woman was to complement and complete man in the integral union of marriage. Woman was created to be “beside” man, not beneath or above him. In salvation, man is no more “worthy” and woman is no less a citizen of God’s kingdom. “There is neither . . . male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). They stand side-by-side as fellow “heirs . . . of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
“How was the woman a helper suitable for the man (Genesis 2:18)?”
In Genesis 2:18, we read of the one thing that was not declared “good” in all of God’s creation: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’” The same verse includes God’s solution: “I will make him a helper fit for him.” Eve was the solution to Adam’s deficiency.
Two Hebrew terms in this verse provide important information to better understand the creation of Eve as the first woman. The word translated “helper” is the Hebrew term ‘ezer. This word is even used of God, sometimes, noting that He is our Helper (Psalm 115:9-11). We would certainly not view God, as a Helper, as subservient to humans, nor should we understand the role of “helper” in Genesis 2:18 as a position of subservience. The concept of an “ideal partner” seems to convey the thought best.
The second important Hebrew word in this verse, translated “fit” is kenegdow. It literally means “according to the opposite of him.” In other words, the focus is on an appropriate match. Eve was not created above or below Adam; she was complementary. The animals Adam had named each had an appropriate companion (Genesis 2:20), and Adam was given a fitting companion as well. Eve was “just right” for him.
Further, God’s statement that it was not good for man to be alone implies that Adam was lonely and incomplete by himself. He had been created for relationship, and it is impossible to have relationship alone. With the creation of Eve, Adam experienced the joy of love for another person.
The Bible is unique in its depiction of women’s valued status as a complementary companion. No other ancient text from the Middle East offers commentary on the creation of women. It is in the Bible that we learn of the important role women have had since the beginning of human existence. Both man and woman were made in God’s image, according to Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The apostle Paul refers to Genesis when he says, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). Husband and wife are to live as one, united in love for God and for one another, modeling the love Christ has for His bride, the Church.
“Is the Adam and Eve story to be understood literally?”
Let us assume for a moment that the Adam and Eve story is not to be understood literally. What would be the result? Would Christianity remain essentially the same with a non-literal understanding of the story of Adam and Eve? No. In fact, it would have serious implications for virtually every tenet and doctrine of the Christian faith. If Adam was not a real man, then sin did not enter the world through one man as Romans 5:12states. How, then, did sin enter world? Further, if the New Testament is wrong about how sin entered the world, what else is it wrong about? If Romans 5:12 is wrong, how do we know that the entirety of Romans 5:8–15 is not wrong? If the story of Adam and Eve is not to be taken literally—if they did not really exist—then there was no one to rebel, there was no fall into sin. Satan, the great deceiver, would like nothing better than for people to believe that the Bible should not be taken literally and that the story of the fall of man is a myth. Why? Because once we start denying parts of the Bible, we lose our trust in the Bible. Why should we believe anything God’s Word says if we cannot trust everything that it says?
Jesus taught that God created one man and one woman (Mark 10:6) and mentions Abel, a son of Adam and Eve in Luke 11:51. Was Jesus wrong in His beliefs? Or did Jesus know there were no literal Adam and Eve and He was simply accommodating His teaching to the beliefs of the people (i.e., lying)? If Jesus is wrong in His beliefs, He is not God. If Jesus is intentionally deceiving people, He is sinning and therefore cannot be the Savior (1 Peter 1:19).
That is why this is such a serious issue. To deny the literalness of Adam and Eve is to place oneself in opposition to Jesus and the apostle Paul. If one has the audacity to claim he is right and Jesus and Paul are wrong, then Jesus is a sinner, not God and not the Savior; the apostle Paul is a false prophet; and the Bible is not inspired, inerrant, or trustworthy.
The Bible clearly presents Adam and Eve as literal people who existed in a literal Garden of Eden. They literally rebelled against God, they literally believed Satan’s lie, and they were literally cast out of the Garden (Genesis 3:24). They had literal children, all of whom inherited the sin nature, and that nature was passed down to succeeding generations to this very day. Fortunately, God promised a literal Savior to redeem us from that sin nature (Genesis 3:15). That Savior is Jesus Christ, called the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), who died on a literal cross and literally rose again. Those who believe in Christ will have literal salvation and spend eternity in a literal heaven.
Christians who deny the story of Adam and Eve essentially deny their own faith. Rejecting the literal interpretation of the Bible’s historical narratives is a slippery slope. If Adam and Eve did not exist, then were Cain and Abel not real? Did Seth exist, and did he father a godly line that led all the way to Abraham and eventually to Jesus Himself? Where in Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23–38) do the names stop referring to literal people and start referring to mythical characters? To dismiss Adam and Eve as non-literal is to deny the accuracy of Luke’s gospel, cast aspersions on Moses’ record, and remove the foundation of the rest of the Bible.
God’s Word claims to be true (Psalm 119:160). Jesus Christ declared God’s Word to be truth (John 17:17). All of God’s Word is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These declarations include the biblical account of Adam and Eve.