Adam and Eve and pinch my rib

“And the Lord God cast a deep slumber on the human, and he slept, and He took one of his ribs and closed over the flesh where it had been, and the Lord God built the rib he had taken from the human into a woman…” (Genesis 2, translated by Robert Alter directly from the Hebrew)

I am disinclined to write further about the literal interpretation of Genesis in the newspaper; it only seems to draw letters from readers who are either unfamiliar with the evidence or determined to reject it on ideological grounds. So I quote this passage here because it is interesting to speculate with you on the truth which inspired the narrative.

Since sexual evolution has existed for many millions of years, and is of course directly evident in our hominid forebears, it would seem strange indeed for God to have decided to create the female of home sapiens in such a remarkable way. Presumably Eve would have been a near-clone of Adam (a near-clone because she would have had a full set of x chromosomes rather than the denatured y chromosome left in Adam). I can see some real genetic problems here, and these would presumably have caused further difficulties in their immediate descendants.

We are familiar with the King James’ translation “help meet for him”, as the reason for creating Eve, but Alter chooses “sustainer.” The Hebrew is ‘ezer kenegdo. ‘ezer means “active intervention” and kenegdo may best be translated as “counterpart”. Aquinas thought that the conception of woman was a happy accident of God’s providence, but an accident nevertheless. What is the Hebrew for Vive la différence?

So the original does not seem to have any overtones of male superiority, and Genesis1 says quite simply “male and female” he created them. Perhaps this equality is all the more significant because Scripture was written, and so reflects, patriarchal times. Should we place any significance on the fact that the male is mentioned first? Does the way in which Jesus treated men and women have a bearing on our understanding?

It leaves me in a quandary. When I was married, over 50 years ago, my wife promised to obey me. Since this promise no longer has to be made she takes the view that her undertaking has been nullified. Of course I disagree. Not that the question has any practical relevance. We discovered who was boss years ago.

(A note. This piece was temporarily published before I spotted a typo at the top. I had written “one of his fibs”. I was tempted to leave it for someone to spot…)


About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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33 Responses to Adam and Eve and pinch my rib

  1. jimc says:

    The whole point or significance is being missed here – Adam could not mate with any of the other kinds of animals for kind or like can only produce kind or like – Here we have proof there was not nor could be any evolution outside kind[see 1Cor.15:39] -btw not many including Doctors,it seems,know that if a rib is very carefully removed another rib will grow in its place.Ribs and rib tissues, it seems,are used to mend broken bones – btw I am not ribbing or fibbing – jimc

  2. claret says:

    We read of how God created Adam from the dust of the earth. Why did he not create Eve in the same way?
    Why ‘invent’ a creation account that has man and woman created differently? First Adam and then from Adam we have an Eve.
    All seems fairly logical to me but I do find myself querying why God would ban them from eating from the ‘tree of life’ and then be so reckless as to show the tree to a woman!!

  3. jimc says:

    contd ; I cannot see any problem with adam”s xy chromosomes
    – having passed x on to Eve and later when Adam knew Eve the x and y would have come together in Cain and Abel as sons and later on the x and x to produce daughters – for Adam and Eve and their chromosomes would have increased and multiplied over as commanded – jimc

  4. jimc says:

    Claret – I think the explanation I have given explains the differen
    ce in the creation of Adam and Eve. Moreover God perhaps knew that many evolutionists who insist that Adam evolved from a primate would not be able to say that about Eve.Furthermore what is significant here is that they were fully grown adults even before their first birthday – jimc

  5. Of course we can speculate indefinitely on the genetic questions. But I wonder if the deeper meaning of the story is not connected with the “two in one flesh” which mirrors it. They started as two in one flesh through Creation, they return to it through the expression of marriage.
    St Augustine always looked for the deeper meaning of Scripture in terms of the nature of divine love. Such an interpretation would remove a need to take Eve’s genesis literally, but to understand as a truth about married love.

  6. jimc says:

    the two in one flesh again points to kind produces kind or like from like and no evolution possible – in this wise also see 1Cor.15:39 – jimc

  7. Horace says:


    I don’t quite follow “kind produces kind or like from like and no evolution possible”.
    What exactly is the meaning of the words “kind” and “like” here?

    The context of 1Cor.15:39 is an explanation of the Resurrection. In answer to the question:- “How can the dead be raised to life? What kind of body will they have?” we hear :- “. . and the flesh of living beings is not all the same kind of flesh; human beings have one kind of flesh, animals another, birds another, and fish another.”

    Apropos ribs; indeed I did not know that “if a rib is very carefully removed another rib will grow in its place”. Nevertheless this seems quite reasonable since when bone is damaged, new bone, not scar tissue, is regenerated from the periosteum, so that if a rib is shelled out, leaving the periosteum in place then I would expect a new, not necessarily quite normal, rib to be formed.

  8. pnyikos says:

    I side with Quentin on how it is best not to take the passage too literally, and it’s very good to see that St. Augustine felt the same way.

    But if one does take it literally, one still should not conclude anything about the number of ribs in the descendants, just as one should not expect one-legged male offspring of a man who has had a leg amputated.

    Also, as far as women obeying men because of this passage: Alice von Hildebrand, with tongue in cheek, said that women are of a higher order of creation than men: the first man was merely made from the dust of the earth; the first woman, from the body part of a living man!

  9. Horace says that he has difficulty in accepting that like produces like, as jimc remarks. Insofar as jimc find this principle a difficulty with evolution I think he is wrong.
    In sexual reproduction like does not produce like (except arguably in the case of identical twins) because each conception is a unique combination of DNA received from mother and father. That is why siblings are different.

    This is in important contribution towards evolutionary development, known as Genetic Drift. Here, those young who happen to have received advantageous characteristics which help them to survive and breed become more prominent in a population. No mutation is of course required.

    On a larger scale, we should note the major changes in the species which have taken place. For example the development of birds, where we have intermediate species with both reptilian and avian characteristics. We also have the gradual development of the hominid line as it becomes more efficiently bipedal and its skull size increases to house a larger brain. Homo sapiens is the current end term of a long sequence of like not necessarily producing like. Over the 6 millions years involved, brain size increased by approximately 3 times.

    Interesting discoveries have been made quite recently in the identification of intermediate species between fish turning into land animals, and carnivorous land mammals developing flippers like otters etc. This last, Puijila darwini, was predicted by Darwin (which is why its name was chosen) and was only reported last month).

  10. Iona says:

    Quentin, going back to your original article, you say that St Thomas Aquinas considered that “the conception of woman was a happy accident”; – meaning, the CREATION of woman? I am boggling a bit over this. As all mammals – indeed, all vertebrates – exist as both males and females, surely it would be odd (“odd of God”) to create a single human male and not a female couterpart.

    (I am also boggling over the idea of God doing something “by accident”. What DID St Thomas mean?)

    On the totally different question of your domestic arrangements vis-a-vis obedience or otherwise: do you grow rosemary in your garden, and if so which of you cultivates it?

  11. jimc says:

    Quentin – the missing links are still missing for their are no real intermediate species,they are either or or neither but a hoax that is thrown up from time to time.There are mistakes or mutations that do not mutate further but are sterile for mules do not produce mules.When humans mate the result cannot be a monkey or croc or bird or whale or bison etc.Humans are original for Adam named the few original kinds and so Dinosaurs and Primates were in the line up and existed at the same time as humans or came later.The earth and fossils are not millions of years old and the geological column is base over apex – for an update see and then go to R/H column and click on stratification – jimc

  12. Jimc, I think your last contribution must stand as a monument to a certain ideological point of view. And I am pleased that you have posted it because any sincerely held opinion is welcome here.
    Unfortunately, I cannot deal with it without providing a rather hefty article on the evidence for evolution – which is much better done by the experts elsewhere.
    You apparently do not know how new species are formed. You have not read up the careful peer-reviewed studies on intermediate fossils, and prefer to dismiss these as mistakes or hoaxes.You dismiss the finding on stratigraphy, which is a very complex science, using a number of confirmatory methods.
    I would strongly recommend that you visit your public library and read up these matters in the Encyclopedia Britannica. It may well be available, if you are a library member, on line.
    When you have done so, with an open mind, you will, I am sure, be able to ground your views on what evolutionary science has to say, rather than, perhaps, what you imagine it to say.

  13. jimc says:

    Quentin – been there,done it but I am talking about updates and in this wise it would seem that in spite of all the encyclopaedias and current science textbooks another update is “Galileo was wrong” and so of course Cardinal St.Bellarmine,the Church,Tradition,Church Fathers and the word of God were right all the time and of course how could it be otherwise – for international Catholic insight and updates by experts and specialists in both theology and science try and and also – jimc

  14. jimc says:

    correction; try and scroll down to science in L/H column and click – also try and type in “Galileo was wrong” in search box and click,and also do the same at – jimc

  15. tim says:

    The ‘Galileo was wrong’ link is interesting. I hadn’t seen the Michaelson-Morley experiment quoted before as evidence for the earth being at rest – but of course that is the simplest explanation of it. However, it’s far from being the simplest explanation for other phenomena – the earth being at rest requires distant galaxies to move at unimaginable (perhaps that should be ‘almost unimaginable’) speeds. Dingle’s objection is I think fairly easily dealt with. It assumes there is a common absolute time frame for moving objects, which relativity does not admit.

    Newman (I believe) was unhappy with the Galileo affair, and felt the Church might have conceded too much. One might argue that relativity had reduced the question to one of personal preference. If there is no absolute standard of position or motion, it is purely a matter of convenience as to whether you regard the earth as moving round the sun or vice versa. For some purposes (cosmology) the former is convenient: for others (terrestrial navigation) the latter. That would not excuse the Church for condemning Galileo, however.

  16. jimc says:

    Tim – the ruling now, as also in the Galileo/Bellarmine confrontation,is that true Science and Scriptures cannot and do not disagree.If perchance it is suggested they disagree then we have pseudo science which must be rejected and Scriptures accepted – for how could it be otherwise – in this wise see – scroll down L/H column to Science and click on Geocentrism -besides Michelson/Morley there was also the Michelson/Gale and there are also other astronomical observations that indicate that the earth is at the centre of the universe – btw Bouw refers to the work of Rosser who has shown that the universe would not fall apart even if it was spinning at trillions of times per second[for further info see Appendix 8,9 and 10 – True Science Agrees With The Bible – jimc

  17. jimc says:

    btw in passing go to and in R/H column click on A critique on Evolution and on the word of no one etc – jimc

  18. tim says:

    jimc, certainly, true science and the Scriptures cannot disagree. But if they seem to disagree, pseudo-science is only one possibility: the other is that we are misinterpreting the Scriptures. You and I can quite easily do this: only the Church can interpret them authoritatively. And it’s not always clear when she has done so. Many of us do not accept that the Church has authoritatively determined how far Genesis is to be understood literally.

  19. jimc says:

    Oh yes Tim the Church has laid down how far Genesis and all Scripture is to be understood literally thus “the literal and obvious sense must always be accepted first unless reason or necessity dictate otherwise” the onus of proof for any deviation rests with the one who deviates.Many sadly choose,for no good reason to deviate and expect us[me] to accept their no good reason – jimc

  20. Horace says:

    jimc and Quentin – an interesting exchange!

    Thinking about it; I wonder why I believe that the earth is round, and how I should go about explaining this belief in the face of a challenge from a member of the ‘Flat Earth Society’.
    I have never personally tried to validate my belief by scientific experiment (the trivial observation of ships disappearing below the horizon is reassuring but not sufficient). In fact I just go along with what seems to be a reasonable and almost universally held opinion.
    My acceptance of evolution and modern cosmological theories is – I suppose – much the same.

    With regard to the arguments over the interpretation of Genesis, I would go along with St Thomas Aquinas:-
    “since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation, only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it, if it be proved with certainty to be false;” (Summa 68 Art 1 “I answer that . . )

  21. tim says:

    jimc – you do not give me an interpretation of Scripture, but rather a rule for interpreting it. Accepting the rule for the sake of argument (perhaps this is over-cautious, the rule seems reasonable, particularly as qualified by Horace’s maxim from St Thomas) it still has to be applied. You and I may differ about that interpretation (as we clearly do in this case). The Church has the final word – if it chooses to pronounce. To insist on one’s own private interpretation of Scripture is mere Protestantism! ?

  22. Vincent says:

    Tim’s quote from St Thomas is interesting because it continues “…lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.” And Thomas makes specific reference to St Augustine’s views, from which I quoted on 4 April, under “The relation of creation”.
    jimc tells us that the Church requires us to interpret literally, unless there is reason or necessity otherwise.
    The reason is straightforward. The evidence that creation did not take the literal form described in Genesis is certain (however much disagreement there may be on details).
    The necessity is that, unintentionally of course, jimc and his sympathisers are causing scandal, by bringing faith into disrepute. We have already seen how the opponents of faith have made great gains by mocking the “fundamentalist” Protestants. Do we want the same?

  23. jimc says:

    There is no doubt for us as Catholics the Church has the final say,even if we supposedly think with the Church,so it is in this wise we need to know what the Church thinks and even more importantly thought in the past via Tradition[Church Fathers etc] – so this is why I suggested the experts and specialists and not jimc or any other supposed authority and so please have recourse to the websites suggested and to in particular which shows what the Church Fathers taught and accepted as regards creation and origins etc – jimc

  24. tim says:

    jimc, I looked at the link you gave. It certainly assembles an impressive list of quotations from the Fathers! But I did notice that none of these were later than the nineteenth century. This is not chronological snobbery on my part – it is simply that the writers did not have the benefit of more recent scientific knowledge. Had they had such, they would have had “reason or necessity” to interpret Scripture otherwise. When facts change, inferences change also. Look at St Thomas’s opinion, that ‘ensoulment’ occurs 40 days after conception (or 90 days for females). With the benefit of modern knowledge, it’s easy to say he got this wrong.

    In the Introit today, the psalm refers to ‘the ends of the earth’. A sphere has no ends: do we therefore assume that the earth must be flat? You may say this inference is too shaky, but it is only slightly weaker than some of the arguments that your link puts.

    One can put various objections to evolution as a biological mechanism (I don’t believe they’re sound, but I know little enough about it). What I find really difficult is to accept that the earth is only a few thousand years old. That doesn’t fit with biology, geology or astrophysics. In the nineteenth century Gosse had a crisis of faith about geology: the best conclusion he could come to was that, as a test of faith, God had deliberately created fossils 6000 years ago looking as if they were millions of years old (Edmund Gosse, Father and Son). That doesn’t seem a satisfactory answer.

    And there do seem to be some contradictions in Genesis (only minor ones, but if you hold that inspiration is completely literal, I’m not sure how you explain them). How do you explain the first three days, when the sun isn’t made until the fourth day? In Genesis chap 1, the birds are made on the fifth day, and man on the sixth. In chap 2, God makes Adam, then sees he needs company, and then makes all the wild animals and birds.

    I hope I’m not labouring these points too much, but these differences of view seem worth pursuing.

  25. jimc says:

    Tim – what you ask and say are what to creationists are known as FAQs =frequently asked questions.Reasonable and sensible answers are available on most creationist websites via search box etc – jimc

  26. jimc says:

    Tim – just as an example I am surprised that you do not know or have not heard or been told that literally Jesus Christ or God is the light of the world and as it was in the beginning as at Genesis so it shall be at the end according to Rev/Apoc at 21:23 and 22:5 – Genesis 1 & 2 do not contradict each other – see -btw neither the Bible nor the evidence of the Church Fathers would change like science and science textbooks.It seems the Hebrew word for four corners or ends of the earth is translated in a variety of ways but generally means extremity – other words were available and could have been better used to describe four corners etc – btw also try – jimc

  27. tim says:

    jimc, thanks for your further comment. You’ve missed the point of my first quibble. I don’t necessarily identify ‘light’ with the sun. But ‘morning came and evening came.. the second day’ cannot be understood in the normal sense when there is no sun to rise in the morning or set in the evening. You are obliged to read it in some special sense – there is no option. Once you do that, it seems unreasonable not to apply similar non-literal standards elsewhere in these passages.

    I haven’t yet been able to find any comment on the possible contradiction between 1 and 2 Genesis.

    More fundamentally, I don’t believe (and don’t believe the Church requires us to believe) that Scripture is inerrant in the sense you understand it. Scripture (I say) was not given to us as a scientific primer. It is not to tell us how old the earth is, nor how man was made: but to tell us why, and by Whom. I hope we can agree to differ about this:the truths we hold in common are surely much more important.

  28. tim says:

    I should say now that I’ve traced the comment on the ‘contradiction’ between Genesis 1 and 2 on . It doesn’t seem terribly convincing, because it ignores the strong implication in the text that God didn’t make birds and animals until He saw that Adam needed company – which would contradict Genesis 1 (which also has male and female being created apparently simultaneously). Maybe it’s clearer (one way or the other) in the original Hebrew…

  29. Iona says:

    According to the Genesis account, God created light and darkness, day and night, on the first day, and the sun, moon and stars not until the fifth day. The early creation of alternating light and darkness, then, must refer to the creation of time. The Big Bang theory also sees Time as being created at the beginning but not as meaningful “before” the beginning.

    (But I can’t account for the sun, moon and stars not being created until after the plants on the fourth day. Requirement for photosynthesis, maybe?)

  30. JohnBunting says:

    Having taken some interest in this sort of dispute for more years than I care to remember, I’ve concluded, late in life, that provided that you keep certain essentials in mind, a lot of it is a bit beside the point, because we just do not have all the facts that would allow us to reach a firm conclusion on what actually happened. On one hand, we can say that God is free to act in any way that is not self-contradictory, whether or not it is explicable in terms of natural science. On the other, I think of Galileo’s words, that ‘Holy Scripture cannot err, but its interpreters may err in many ways, when they base themselves solely on the literal meaning of the words’. He also said, I think, that scripture was not given to us to show us those things that we could discover by our own God-given intelligence, but to reveal supernatural truths that we could not otherwise know. To tell us, as tim says, why and by Whom we were created.
    What is certain is that God is to be acknowledged as the Creator of all, seen and unseen, quite irrespective of the methods He chose to use. If we keep this in mind, it seems to me we can take a fairly relaxed view of ways and means. To say I am happy with evolution does not mean that I regard it as set in stone for all time. It is simply to recognise that, for the time being at least, it is the overall paradigm within which nearly all biological science takes place. If it’s wrong, it will in the course of time be shown to be wrong: that’s how science works. I suspect that evolution may turn out to be true ‘up to a point’; rather like Newtonian physics, which is not superseded, but incomplete, when seen in the context of later work in quantum mechanics and relativity.

  31. jimc says:

    Tim -first the misconceptions and presumptions and assumptions have to be put aside e.g a 24hr day has nothing to do with sunrise and sunset but it seems one complete rotation of the earth on its axis etc.Another misconception is that there was a big bang at the creation when there was not.There certainly will be a big bang to end creation to prove that big bangs do not create but destroy[see 2Peter 3:10].What we have to ask is why many would rather accept the words of men and demons, WHO ARE FALLEN AND FALLIBLE,rather than the words of an infallible God – btw scriptures as the word/s of God is inerrant in all its parts and though it is neither a science or history text book where it touches on these topics it is inerrant for how could it be otherwise – jimc

  32. jimc says:

    It is often conjectured that the world was created old by God to confuse us.Actually the world is quite young and humans have made out it is old because of a misinterpretation of the geological column.Please also consider that Adam was already old on his first birthday – jimc

  33. AnneV says:

    jimc, I agree with you. If one approaches creation science with an open mind, unblinkered by an evolutionary mindset, all the same evidence is available, and only makes sense when interpreted from the perspective of a creation designed and brought into being by God, Whose intelligence and wisdom are unfathomable by our finite minds.

    How could God say that His creation was “very good”, if it relied on millions of years of death and killing before Adam? Death is an enemy, we were not meant to die, death is an alien intruder. No, God’s creation was perfect, because He is infinite in all perfections, otherwise He would not be God. Adam and Eve were perfect, filled with supernatural grace, and really had no excuse for their fall from grace.

    Only then did this result in the punishment of death, necessitating a Saviour. All our Christian doctrines originate in Genesis.

    Also, no-one has mentioned the creation of the angels, and the fall of many of them, Lucifer (Satan) being their leader, the one who led Adam and Eve to disobey God.

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