Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 2:21-23

Genesis 2:21-23

21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the mans side and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23
Then the man said, This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken out of man.
(NET Bible)

A really big moment!

In 1970 an obscure Australian student said, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.[1] Really? If true, that would mean it is good for woman to be alone, even though we already know it is not good for man. That seems an unbiblical conclusion, to say the least!

God was not compelled to create the man and woman for close companionship with each other. Why did he do so? How does Gods creative intention affect us in our attempt to please him?

The deep sleep which God brings upon Adam (Gen. 2:21) occurs rarely in the Bible, and it is not well understood. The standard Hebrew lexicon says it is not only an unusually deep sleep . . . but also a sleep which marks an event as one of the high-points of the actions of Yahweh.[2] The creation of woman is one such high point; others are the making of a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:12), revelations from God to Daniel through an angel (Dan. 8:18, 10:9), Jonahs sleep during the great storm (Jon. 1:5), and a famous encounter of David and Saul (1 Sam. 26:12). The mystery remains as deep as the sleep. But in Genesis 2 we can understand why Adam needed deep sleep!

The NET Bible bravely deviates from saying God used one of the ribs (KJV, ESV, RSV, NASB, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) from the man to make the woman (Gen. 2:21b). Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton says, Gen. 2:21 is the only place in the OT where the modern versions render this [Hebrew] word as rib.[3] They do so due to the power of the King James Version in setting peoples expectations in familiar passages. NIV 2011 only had the courage to put the correct translation in a footnote.

Instead of following the pack, NET offers he took part of the mans side and closed up the place with flesh. In support of this choice the NET translators say: Traditionally translated rib, the Hebrew word actually means side. The Hebrew text reads, and he took one from his sides, which could be rendered part of his sides. That idea may fit better the explanation by the man that the woman is his flesh and bone. The argument is convincing.

Using a verb suitable for a potter, God fashioned Adam from the earth (Gen. 2:7). In Genesis 2:22 the language figuratively shifts to that for a builder when God literally builds Eve from the tissue taken from Adam. Then, in what must have been an unforgettable scene, God presents the woman to Adam.

In Genesis 2:23 — Then the man said, This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken out of man — Adam sounds awestruck, does he not? By expressing his words in poetry, the author captures the emotion of the moment. The phrase at last conveys Adams relief in finding his companion from the vast array of life he has examined.

Concerning the phrase bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, Hamilton says:

[The phrase] speaks not of a common birth but of a common, reciprocal loyalty. Thus when representatives of the northern tribes visit David at Hebron and say to him, we are your bone and flesh (2 Sam. 5:1), this is not a statement of relationship (we have the same roots) but a pledge of loyalty (we will support you in all kinds of circumstances).[4]

The next important issue is whether the fact that the man names the woman means he has authority over her. We agree with the NET Bible Notes, which answer no:

Some argue that naming implies the mans authority or ownership over the woman here. Naming can indicate ownership or authority if one is calling someone or something by ones name and/or calling a name over someone or something (see 2 Sam. 12:28; 2 Chron. 7:14; Isa. 4:1; Jer. 7:14; 15:16), especially if one is conquering and renaming a site. But the idiomatic construction used here . . . does not suggest such an idea.[5]

The reader is already aware that almost every verse in the early chapters of Genesis is awash with thorny issues of interpretation and theology. We have only begun to face the challenges of this amazing book!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Irina Dunn, a student at the University of Sydney (Australia) in 1970.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) tardemah, deep sleep, q.v.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 178.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 180.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:23.


Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 1:27

Genesis 1:27
God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.
(NET Bible)

Don’t Underestimate Gender Differences!

The aging professor of marriage and family life paused as he looked out at the rows of fresh, young faces. It was the first day of his college class, and he knew they would be trying to figure out what would be on the first quiz. His face took on a wry smile when he said, “I’m going to tell you the secret of this whole course. Are you ready?” A hundred ballpoint pens poised over paper and waited for his next words. [Once upon a time we had no laptops!]

He spoke with measured slowness, savoring every word: “Boys . . .  and . . . girls . . . are different.”

When the chorus of groans subsided, the old professor said, “I’m not kidding. You don’t believe me now, but you will.” When all was said and done, the old man was right. We had been clueless. Thank God for the difference! Where did this difference between men and women begin? What are the spiritual implications of the difference? What does God say about the difference?

The first poetic language in the Bible is about God creating humankind in his image. In time we will look more carefully into the physical details of how man was created (Genesis 2). In this verse, however, the stress continues to fall on God’s image permeating all of humanity, both male and female. Consider the following Word Study.

Word Study: “humankind” or “man”

The Hebrew noun ’adam, translated “humankind” by NET in Gen. 1:27, means: 1) “collectively mankind, people,” and 2) “individual man.”[1] In a limited number of cases, the Hebrew word has been rendered as the name of the first man, Adam; this suggests that Adam has a certain priority in setting the pattern of human experience (see Romans 5).

Clearly, the NET Bible views  Gen. 1:27 as an instance of the collective usage. Another clear example of the collective usage occurs in Genesis 5:2. The term “humankind” means “human beings collectively,”[2] and it arose in the seventeenth century as a synonym for “mankind.” The translators of the NET Bible have said, “In all cases the goal for the NET Bible was to be as accurate as possible with regard to gender-related language, faithfully reproducing the original text in clear contemporary English.”[3]

Back to Genesis 1:27

The complete message of our verse has not always been popular in the church. When pagan philosophy, specifically a form of dualism, invaded the church in its earliest centuries, many things were placed in categories according to their perceived value. For example, this erroneous view taught that the spirit was good, but the body was bad; it taught that thought was good, but emotions were bad; and it taught that male was good, but female was bad. Obviously, that last idea runs squarely against the revelation that God created male and female in his own image. To illustrate one value of this concept, Eve did not fall into sin (Genesis 3) because she was inherently evil but because she was deceived and made a choice contrary to what God had said.

Hamilton explains the significance of “male and female” by saying: “Sexuality is not an accident of nature, nor is it simply a biological phenomenon. Instead it is a gift of God. While sexual identity and sexual function are foreign to God’s person, they are nevertheless a part of his will for his image bearers.”[4]

God went to considerable lengths to maintain gender clarity as part of the created order. As part of the theme of deterioration due to sin, discussed in the Introduction to this study, sexual confusion gradually emerges in the account of Genesis. In Genesis 6 we find unsanctioned sexual activity as part of the wickedness running wild in the pre-flood world. After the flood, the evil of sexual perversion again manifests itself in the aggressive homosexuality and fornication in ancient Sodom on the eve of its destruction (Genesis 19).

In the next post on Genesis, we will encounter the sanction of sexual activity between male and female as part of the design God gave to his creation. Meanwhile, the reader may reflect on whether our contemporary society lies closer to the sexual purity of God’s created order or the perversion of it in ancient Sodom.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) ’adam, mankind, man, q.v.

[2] “humankind.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 27 Aug. 2008. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/humankind>.

[3] “Introduction to the First Edition,” NET Bible (Plano: Biblical Studies Press, 2005) 18.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 138–139.