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.
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.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

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