Man and Woman: God’s Home, Genesis 2:20b-21

Traditionally, it has been understood that God used a rib from Adam’s side to construct the woman (Gen 22:20b-22). Few would disagree with such an assertion. But while this idea finds widespread acceptance today, it is not what Jesus’ Bible actually states. This understanding also completely obscures God’s true design for our identity and purpose in life.


The story of Adam’s rib has given rise to all sorts of sentimental statements uttered at weddings. A common view is that the source of a woman (Adam’s rib) is meant to be indicative of her position with the man, close to his heart—since as the understanding goes—a rib is naturally placed close to his heart.

The English versions of Scripture seem to advocate for this romantic sentiment:

“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” Genesis 2:20b-22

At first, it appears that perhaps we have understood the text correctly and that all those sentimental assertions at weddings were spot on. After all, upon Adam’s first sight of Eve, he exclaims enthusiastically,

“This now is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

Surely bone and rib are connected in some way, aren’t they? Yes, they are connected, but not in the way we assume they are.[1]

While the idea of physical closeness naturally appeals to our romantic tastes, it is not the truth God had in mind. God had something far more profound and life-changing than mere physical closeness, something far more significant that shapes our identity and provides purpose in life.

The Woman’s True Identity Has Been Missed

The true identity and purpose of the woman and man have been obscured. I know, that is a major claim! Maybe it's an exaggeration or overstatement? But no, not an exaggeration, nor is it an overstatement. I’ll unpack the Genesis text and you can decide for yourself.  

I must concede, though, that Bible translators had little choice by which to make Moses’ point clear about the true identity of woman and man to the average English reader. We lack a word in our English language to make an understandable pun from the Hebrew and thus provide readers with clarity.

Analyzing the Biblical Text

But there’s hope. If we approach the biblical text canonically,[2] the main point about the identity and purpose of the man and woman is no longer obscured, but plain to see and can be a great encouragement to us all.

Let’s translate the passage from the original Hebrew:

“He took one of the man’s sides (מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו) and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God fashioned a woman from the side (מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו) He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man.”

I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t appear radically different from the English translation. Instead of man’s “ribs” we find man’s “sides.” Big deal. Right? Well, not so fast. Appearances can be deceiving.

The Hebrew word “side” is used forty times in the Hebrew Bible. With one exception,[3] the noun “side” always refers either to the “side” of the tabernacle, the altar, or some piece of furniture in the tabernacle, or the “side” of the Jerusalem Temple or the Temple in Ezekiel’s vision.

The noun “side” is an architectural term—not a body-part term. We might expect a term for Adam’s body part to be used when God fashioned a woman from him.[4] But God has something far more significant to tell us about ourselves.

The Making of a Woman: A Construction Site

He intentionally used a word for the construction of the tabernacle and Temple, the two dwelling places of God in Israel’s history. It is a term used at temple construction sites. The tabernacle had two sides; the Ark of the Covenant had two sides, the Jerusalem Temple, the more permanent structure built by Solomon, also had two sides (wall-like structures). 

Observe the use of the word “side”:

“…planks for the second side of the tabernacle, the north side…” Exodus 26:20

“The door for the lowest side chamber was on the right side of the temple. They went up a stairway to the middle chamber, and from the middle to the third.” 1 Kings 6:8

“Then he measured the wall of the temple; it was 10 and a half feet thick. The width of the side rooms all around the temple was seven feet. Ezekiel 41:5

Moses intentionally used the same word for the side of the sanctuary and for the side of Adam. Rather than use the standard body-part word for bone or rib, he deliberately used a word from a sanctuary context to describe Adam’s side. That’s huge.

What does God want us to learn? We are meant to understand something about our human identity. Adam’s body is one side of a building. Eve’s body is the other side of the building. Observe carefully, he’s not the roof and she’s not the floor. He’s not the door and she is not a window. He is a side. She is a side. The man and the woman are sides.

What kind of a building are we? Is he? What do the sides suggest about our respective identities and purpose?

Man and Woman Together are God’s Home

When God fashioned a woman from the side of the man, he was constructing more than just a human body. He was building a sanctuary, a two-sided human sanctuary. Adam was taken from sanctuary soil (Gen 2:7) and then Eve was taken from one of his sanctuary sides. One side of the sanctuary is the male body. The other side of the sanctuary is the female body. Two equal parts, two equal sides. Joined together, they are a completed temple of God.

So, when God fashioned a woman from Adam’s side, He was building a home for Himself in the land, a sanctuary, a dwelling place for Himself. He was making something holy, reserved for Himself.  

Together as one flesh, man and woman make one complete home for God. And now, with the temple construction complete, Adam finally had a suitable partner, a corresponding helper, equal in nature, equal in identity, and equal in purpose. God’s home has a male side and a female side.

Male: God’s Unfinished Home

Not only are Adam and Eve viewed as priests[5] in God’s first tabernacle,[6] they are also represented as the holy structure itself. So, Moses’ point is not that the woman is close to a man’s heart, but that God Himself is close to both of them, and they are joined with one another. In partnership, they were designed to be God’s home.

God made us for Himself. As male and female, we were made for Him.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[7]

Together man and woman constitute God’s visible image on earth[8] and are His home on earth. God has tabernacled[9] among us. It is the first case of God incarnated, God living inside humans. Man and woman were meant to be God’s household. This is their true identity.

This is one of the reasons why it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18). In solitude, consisting of one side only, Adam is an unfinished temple, half-done, incomplete. His vocation as a worshiper of God failed to find full fruition until God fashioned a second side of His temple and then brought her to the man.

Our True Identity: Worshipers

God’s original intent for us as men and women is to be temples, His earthly home. That confers enormous significance and indescribable value upon us. It also provides life’s purpose for us. God has ensured that our most important identity as humans is that of worshipers. We, men and women, were meant to be worshipers and worship leaders.

Our Chief Priority: Worship

But while our God-given identity is blueprinted for worship, more immediate concerns seem to occupy our time—staying comfortable, making a living, and living the American dream.

We consider that there are more important things for us to do in life than worship Him. Our daily routines reflect a search for pleasure, happiness, and security. Ironically, though, it is when we worship God and live for His glory that we achieve these desires. So, giving attention to Him should not be an activity we squeeze into our busy schedules on Sunday morning.

Worshiping God is to be our life’s vocation and chief priority.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God with your body.”  1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Our Life Occupation

“…our worship of Him should be the most momentous, urgent, and glorious activity in our lives.”[10] We exist, our bodies exist, for the glory of the triune God.

Thank you for reading.




[1] The terms “bone” and “rib” are not related etymologically, but consonantally. Consonance is pervasive in the idiom of the Hebrew Bible. It is the deliberate repetition of Hebrew consonantal phonemes in diverse combinations between neighboring or more distant linguistic forms. Simplified, the Hebrew writers intentionally use words that sound the same to make connections in a verse or paragraph. Our idea of using a “pun” comes close. So, “rib” and “bone” sound alike to the reader of the Hebrew Bible. Moses was making a “sound” connection between the two words to highlight the identity man and woman share in substance.

[2] The Scriptures were written canonically, both Israel’s Scriptures and the New Testament. Therefore, they must be examined and observed canonically to be interpreted and applied correctly.

[3] 2 Samuel 16:3

[4] God probably did use a rib from Adam when fashioning the woman. But in order for us to understand our true identity and purpose, Moses—under the guidance of the Spirit—intentionally used a term for the construction of the tabernacle and Temple.

[5] The verbs “to put” and “to work and care” in Genesis 2:15 are used always for sanctuary activities of the priests while in God’s presence. Our English translations confuse the issue greatly and in fact violate the rules of Hebrew grammar by their renderings. The tunics that Adam and Eve wear after the entrance of sin (Gen 3:21) are the same exact tunics only worn by the priests while serving inside the tabernacle precincts. In both cases, the tunics are used to cover their nakedness while in God’s presence.

[6] The Garden located in the eastern part of Eden is depicted by Moses as the first holy of holies, sharing many connections to the tabernacle.

[7] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5.

[8] “So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27. The image of God has normally been interpreted to mean God’s immaterial characteristics that are shared with humanity. But this is a mistake. The word Moses uses in Genesis 1:27 (both in Aramaic and Hebrew) always refer to a visible image, something visible to the human eye. God has a visible image. We were made according to that visible image. Observe Paul referring to Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God.” Colossians 1:15. Image is used in direct contrast with the idea of “invisible.”

[9] It is not a coincidence that when John portrayed Jesus Christ becoming a human being, he used the term “tabernacle.”  “He tabernacled (literally, to pitch a tent; ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) among us “(John 1:14) and that Jesus’ scarred sides are emphasized in the upper room after his resurrection (John 20:25,27). John is portraying Jesus as the new Adam whose side was also surgically touched. More on this in part 2 of this blog.

[10] Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional, 2007), p. 35.

Tim Cole