Sentimentality is frequently the cause of misinterpretation of Scripture and the fostering of toxic attitudes and destructive actions. The making of a woman in Genesis 2:20-21 is a case in point. The woman was fashioned by God from one of Adam’s ribs, because sentimentality suggests, she is to be his help-mate, and to be close to his heart.
While these sentimental explanations for the mention of woman’s derivation from a man’s rib are heart-warming, they miss the author’s point and blind us to life-changing truth about the value women have in God’s sight. Sentimentality can ignore God’s truth about women and infect our attitudes toward them. But careful analysis of Scripture can inform our minds and shape our conduct. Scripture always trumps tradition and sentimentality when they collide.
20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took one of his ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib 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.”
The English versions hide the important wordplay which provides the explanation for the mention of the ribs.
The phrase, “one of his ribs” (2:21) is a word-play with “bone of my bones” (2:23) In the Hebrew, the consonants that make up the words “rib” and “bone” are simply reversed. It’s easy to spot in the Hebrew Scripture. The wordplay is intentional. We are meant to see the life connection between “rib” and “bone.” When Adam saw Eve, he recognized her likeness to him. They shared the same bones, the same ribs, and the same likeness.
In jubilation, Adam realized his search for a complementary partner, someone who shared exact correspondence to him in nature, substance, and worth, was over with. The woman corresponded to him exactly, precisely, like two interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
The phrase, “closing up of the flesh” (2:21) anticipates Adam’s jubilant cry of recognition, “this one at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” Adam recognized that the woman shared his bones and his flesh.
Man and Woman Share the Same Substance
Moses is not interested in sentimentality. His focus on Adam’s rib and flesh used in fashioning the woman is to show that man and woman share something in common that nothing else in creation shares. Adam’s first words—first words of a human in Scripture--recognized something about himself when he saw Eve. He said, “…bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”
Woman is Prime Rib
But what did he recognize? Adam recognized his own likeness in Eve. He saw jubilantly that she was like him and he was like her! They were like each other! They corresponded to one another exactly. They were made for each other because they were like each other, though different. Eve, the woman God had fashioned from him, and no other creature, is God’s gift of prime rib to the man.
Man and Woman are Equal Partners
The man and the woman share the same exact nature and substance, flesh and bone. In substance, they are not different from one another. They share the same flesh and bone. They are equal in substance and nature. They are equal by God’s design. The man is not superior to the woman. The woman is not inferior to the man. Human existence, then, is an equal partnership of men and women. Men and women are corresponding partners and they are equal partners.
The issue here in Gen 2:20-21 is not physical anatomy or sexuality. That issue has been spelled out earlier in Genesis 1:26-28:
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female. Gen 1:27
The words “male” and “female” are sexually descriptive and completely different in meaning from “man” and “woman.” The image of God is male and female in partnership.
God Made Men and Women as Equals
When women and men read Scripture carefully and ignore sentimentality, we are encouraged to think of each other as equals, equal in substance, equal in nature, equal in value, equal in worth, and equal by divine design. God meant it to be that way. God made us as equals. Humanity is the partnership of man and woman, different yet equal.
Our response as men to God’s design of women is to be modeled on Adam’s response: we too must recognize our sameness and our differences. We must recognize that we are of the same substance and have the same value, worth, and dignity. We must recognize and accept that men and women are equal.
But our response shouldn’t stop with sheer recognition. Like Adam’s response prior to the entrance of sin into his world, we must also respond with jubilation! Adam was thrilled, not intimidated or disappointed, by Eve’s likeness to him or her equality with him.
But sin has entered into our world and, as a result, some women suffer because men—due to pride or misguided teaching—view them as unequal and inferior. When sentimentality or error twists our understanding of Scripture, patterns of abusive behavior can appear.
Even Christian men exercise coercive control based on their feelings of superiority or entitlement in order to maintain power over their wives, daughters, or female co-workers. Men can maintain control over women through subtle tactics that are physical, emotional, verbal, financial, sexual, or even spiritual.
We all grieve when we hear women put down verbally by Christian men just because they’re women. I hope all of my Christian sisters can forgive the unfair and abusive treatment you have received from men who profess to be followers of Jesus, but who use the Bible to keep you in your place and treat you as a child or as subhuman or inferior.
The men, some in Christian leadership, who verbally put down women, bristle when they themselves are put down. They can dish it out, but they can’t take it. The smallest package in the world is a Christian leader or man wrapped up in himself.
I appeal to a higher court, to Scripture, and argue that you should be treated as an equal because God himself made you equal.
We Can Rejoice in our Likeness
So when we recognize, as Adam did, that men and women are of the same substance, and are equal in worth and value, and we rejoice in our likeness to one another, we treat each other with mutual respect, mutual honor, and mutual kindness. God our Creator intended it to be that way. We can be sentimental about that all day long!
Delores Dufner captures the thought.
Radiant risen from the water;
Robed in holiness and light,
Male and female in God’s image,
Male and female God’s delight;
Let us bring the gifts that differ
And in splendid varied ways,
Sing a new church into being,
One in faith and love and praise.
 The phrase “helpmate” is actually not found in Scripture. It is a misread of the Old English phrase, “help meet” which means a “help who is meet,” that is, a help who corresponds to the man. The word “helper” in Genesis 2:18, 20 is the same word used of God in Exod 18:4 and Deut 33:7, Israel’s helper. There is no hint of inferiority in the word when Moses references it in relation to a woman, a corresponding, suitable “helper.” In fact the Septuagint (Greek version of Israel’s Scripture) translates it as βοήθος, elsewhere a word for “physician.” Today’s word “helper,” such as a plumber’s “helper” or a carpenter’s “helper” (a gopher) is foreign to the meaning of the word. “Help” when understood correctly, suggests that the woman provides what is lacking in the man. What he lacks, she supplies. Man is incomplete without her. The human race fulfills its destiny in mutual assistance.
 The word “found” implies that in the naming of the animals, Adam was searching for someone suitable for him, someone who corresponded to him. His search among the animal kingdom was unsuccessful.
 The Hebrew word used here is yasar, the word used to describe the work of a potter who shapes a piece of clay into a vessel. This is a different word from the verb used throughout the Genesis account to describe God’s making of the Land into a place suitable for mankind to live in. That word is “asah,” “to make,” meaning, to take existing materials and either give them purpose or to reshape and refine them.
 The Hebrew word “woman” is “issa” (pronounced, ishah) while the word “man” is “is” (pronounced ish). Although the words come from different roots, they sound similar. This is a case of paranomasia where the author makes a point by means of words that sound similar.
 The phrase “suitable partner” (companion who corresponded to him) is used twice in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 2:18, 20b). It is the Hebrew phrase, “ezer kenegdo,” meaning “exact correspondence.” It took a special act of God to fashion a creature who corresponded exactly to Adam. Nothing else in the creation corresponds to the man.
 Stanza two, Delores Dufner, OSB (20th c.), Sing a New Church.