A Famous Observation Regarding the Creation of Eve

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted with permission from Doug Kutilek’s free newsletter “As I See It,” a monthly electronic magazine, and appears here with some editing. AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

One of the most often-quoted devotional comments in Matthew Henry’s (1662-1714) famous commentary on the Bible is his remarks regarding the creation of the first woman from the side of the first man (Genesis 2:21-22)—

[T]he woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved. [italics in original]

Henry’s observation was picked up by later commentators, among them John Gill (1697-1771), who, at Genesis 2:22, reproduces much of Henry’s phrasing:

It is commonly observed, and pertinently enough, that the woman was not made from the superior part of man, that she might not be thought to be above him, and have power over him; nor from any inferior part, as being below him, and to trampled on by him; but out of his side, and from one of his ribs, that she might appear equal to him; and from a part near his heart, and under his arms, to show that she should be affectionately loved by him; and always under his care and protection.

While Henry usually gets credit for this thought, he unquestionably was not the originator of it. Matthew Poole (1624-1679) in his English commentary at Genesis 2:21-22 (published posthumously in 1683) makes an obviously similar and definitely earlier comment:

The woman was taken out of this part [i.e., the side], not out of the higher or lower parts, to show that she is neither to be her husband’s mistress [i.e., dominator], to usurp authority over him, I Timothy 2:12; nor yet to be his slave to be abused, despised, or trampled under his feet; but to be kindly treated, and used like a companion, with moderation, respect, and affection.

That Poole in turn picked up the observation from some earlier writer is probable, but I am at present unable to trace it. David Schaff (in vol. V of History of the Christian Church, p. 634) states that,

In the second book, [Peter] Lombard [d. 1164] makes the famous statement which he quotes from Augustine, and which has often been falsely ascribed to Matthew Henry, that the woman was not taken from Adam’s head, as if she were to rule over him or from his feet as if she were to be his slave, but from his side that she might be his consort.

Unfortunately, Schaff does not give specific references for either the Lombard quote (whose writings I have no access to anyway), or for the quote in the writings of Augustine. I examined the several editions of Augustine’s works (none exhaustive) that I own and could find nothing like the quote as given in Schaff. If in fact it is from Augustine, I could not find it.

But even if Augustine does somewhere express the sentiments claimed by Schaff, he too may not be the ultimate source. In his book Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970 reprint of 1876 edition.  p. 146), Alfred Edersheim notes Rabbinic “exposition” of Genesis 2:21-22:

Similarly, it was observed, that God had not formed woman out of the head, lest she should become proud; nor out of the eye, lest she should lust; nor our of the ear, lest she should be curious; nor out of the mouth, lest she should be talkative; nor out of the heart, lest she should be jealous; nor out of the hand, lest she should be covetous; nor out of the foot, lest she be a busybody; but out of the rib, which was always covered.  Modesty was, therefore, a prime quality.

It is to be observed that this presentation is more expansive and thorough and much more coldly analytical than the Christian exposition (whether originating with Poole or Augustine, or someone in between), as well as being wholly devoid of the dimension of affection. If this rabbinic view preceded and inspired the Christian view, regardless of who among them originally adopted it, it is clear that the observation was very greatly modified in the process. Unfortunately, as with Schaff, Edersheim here utterly fails to give any documentation or reference to sources for his remarks (my preliminary attempts to locate any such sentiments in rabbinic literature have been fruitless).

Finally, we insert the cautionary comment from C. F. Keil in his exposition of Genesis:

If the fact that the woman was formed from a rib, and not from any other part of the man, is significant, all that we can find in this is, that the woman was made to stand as a helpmate by the side of the man, not that there was any allusion to conjugal love.

Since, in Hebrew thinking, the emotions and affections were regularly ascribed to the liver, kidneys and intestines, while the thought processes were ascribed to the heart, Keil’s statement is essentially correct, Henry’s (or whoever’s) observation is made from a Western European perspective, not a Semitic one, and therefore is not technically a valid deduction from this text.

Doug KutilekDoug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, a website dedicated to exposing and refuting the many errors of KJVOism and has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a B.A. in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, Mo.), an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati; and completed all requirements for a Ph.D. except the dissertation); and a Th.M. in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, Minn.). His writings have appeared in numerous publications including The Biblical Evangelist, The Baptist Bible Tribune, The Baptist Preacher’s Journal, Frontline, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and The Wichita Eagle. The father of four grown children and four granddaughters, he resides with his wife Naomi near Wichita, Kansas.


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There are 2 Comments

dan's picture

Doesn't the "Famous Observation" fall into the category of Care Bear Theology?

Like the "Footprints in The Sand" it's warm and fuzzy, but that's about it.

"Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy."
G.K. Chesterton

Stephen Schwenke's picture

If we relegate everything in the Bible to "cultural relevance" then we dismiss the entire Bible. It was the Lord God Himself that inspired the Bible, not the Rabbinical Jews. God inspired it for the stated purposes in II Timothy 3:16-17. He did not limit the interpretation of it to the "current culture" etc. Therefore, the question to be asked in regards to Henry's quotation is whether or not it is true. Certainly, different cultures may emphasize or understand something different from the text, but it does not make Henry's observation any less valid. We are not oriental, thus we do not think in Oriental terms, nor should we. God did not make us Orientals, He made us Westerners, and our differences in all manners of life are clearly evident. Henry's quotation has valid points for us in the western world; they do not in any way contradict Scripture; and Kutilek has shown nothing from Scripture itself to deny the validity of the his comments.

Pastor Steve Schwenke
Liberty Baptist Church
Amarillo, TX