Is Eve an Equal Partner to Adam?

Continuing the discussion from Understanding GAE: Why would an evolving humanity need a "special creation" of Adam and Eve?:

On the contrary - that interpretation of the symbolism was missed for centuries by mainstream theologians.

For example, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (1708-10):

“Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”


Is Henry typical? Did he wonder why Adam was made first and Eve only as an afterthought?

Henry reflects the tradition going back to Luther and probably beyond, if I took the trouble to research it.

Their interpretation was nuanced - it was clearly not third wave feminism, for it recognised that the creation of Adam before Eve - and significantly the apportionment of blame for the first sin to him, rather than to Eve (hence the theological formulations that all sinned in Adam, rather than Eve) - implied some kind of responsibility and headship.

Yet what they drew from the “rib” (or side, equally legitimate) analogy, was consistently the message of equal dignity, worth and spirituality. They simply did not see an excuse for regarding women as inferior in it. But remember they were exploring a text that, in a number of subtle ways, teaches the spiritual equality and complementarity of the sexes - not least in the prophecy that the remedy for the curse of sin would come from the offspring of Eve.

Remember that in Matthew Henry’s non-conformist circles, the percentage increase in literacy between, say, 1650 and 1740 was hugely greater for women than for men. Off hand I think it went up from around 10% to around 40% during that century, as women were increasingly encouraged to take a full role in both church life and educating their families.

Even in my own Baptist church (founded around 1653) the early church books contain examples of women playing very prominent leadership roles in church.


Let’s be clear on this: do you actually mean the tradition or do you mean a tradition. Is this in fact the sole interpretation? Is it the predominant interpretation, and has it always been?

Genesis is unusual among creation stories in that it has the woman created after and from a part of the man, rather than having them created simultaneously as in most other stories (including the Genesis 1 story). It seems clear from the actual story that the woman is intended as an appendage to the man, an afterthought of God’s, and in a subordinate position. And Genesis 3:16 confirms that.


You’d have to ask a church historian for every nuance of interpretation of this passage down the ages. But Matthew Henry could be regarded as “the” commentator of early Evangelicalism. Martin Luther was “the” father of the Reformation.

Let’s go to Thomas Aquinas, “the” “Angelic Doctor of the Church” in mediaeval times and in Catholicism even now:

I answer that, It was right for the woman to be made from a rib of man. First, to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither use authority over man, and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet.
ST, q. 92, a. 3

As a sample from way back, take the earliest of the Church Fathers usually mined for core doctrines, Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century:

  1. And, whilst man dwelt in Paradise, God brought before him all living things and commanded him to give names to them all; and whatsoever Adam called a living soul, that was its name.41 And He determined also to make a helper for the man: for thus God said, It is not good for the man to be alone: let us make for him a helper meet for him.42 For among all the other living things there was not found a helper equal and comparable and like to Adam. But God Himself cast a trance upon Adam and made him sleep;43 and, that work might be accomplished from work, since there was no sleep in Paradise, this was brought upon Adam by the will of God; and God took one of Adam’s ribs and filled up the flesh in its place, and the rib which He took He builded into a woman; 44 and so He brought her to Adam; and he seeing (her) said: This is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken from her husband. Apostolic Preaching

And while I’m at it, I picked St Bede at random as someone in between (7th century) and British:

In the first place, unlike the other animals which he created in their separate kinds not individually but many at a time, God created one male and one female, so that by this the bond of love might bind the human race more tightly to one another, because it remembered that it all arose from one parent. For the sake of this unity, when Holy Scripture said, And God created man, in the image of God he created him , and followed this immediately with, male and female he created them , it declined to add, ‘ in the image of God he created them’ . For the female also was created in the image of God, on account of the fact that she too had a rational mind. But Scripture did not consider that this needed to be added about her, because it left this to be understood about her as well on account of the oneness of their union. Gloss on Genesis 1.

Note that Bede takes the creation of Eve from Adam to be fundamentally about affirming the unity of male and female, and hence the entire race.

To come from a different angle, in the last 50 years I’ve never come across a mainstream interpreter (or indeed any interpreter, apart from you!) who says “It seems clear from the actual story that the woman is intended as an appendage to the man, an afterthought of God’s, and in a subordinate position.”

You yourself point out how in Genesis 1 the image and likeness of God, and the rule of the earth, are distributed between - or even require - both sexes. Like Bede and Irenaeus, many early commentators conflated the Genesis 1 and 2 creation of mankind: they had no concept of having to choose between contradictory sources as in the Victorian source critical approach. Both passages had to be treated with equal weight, and interpretation was guided by the principles of Christianity. It was Shakespeare who said: “ Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye.”



Sociologists have argued that one of the reasons the Industrial Revolution found its origins in the non-Anglican Protestant communities of the UK because Protestants became more widely insistent than Catholic families that mothers teach the children how to read the Bible!

Literacy, once obtained for the Bible, benefitted the whole labor class for adopting new technologies!


The reason I use the term “non-Anglican Protestant” is because it took a little longer for Anglicans to adopt the “non-conformist” view that the Bible was an essential fundamental of home education!

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Well, I didn’t want to stress that, but it’s true. Here’s a passage I wrote for another project based on various authorities:

We need also to remember the dramatic increase in personal literacy that resulted, in part, from the Reformation. Apart from the blossoming of free grammar schools in towns, local communities and particularly churches placed great stress on literacy because of the importance of knowing the Bible.
In the 1640s the overall basic male literacy rate in England was 30%, rising to 60% by 1750. Virtually all the gentry and merchant class were literate, perhaps 50% of yeomanry and 10% of the husbandry. The literacy of women, too, was rapidly increasing, reaching 40% by 1750, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Although the humblest peasants remained unlettered, the example of the Baptist John Bunyan demonstrates how far down the social scale reading ability went. The son of a mere tinker in a small community, Bunyan was sent to school. Even as an impoverished newly-wed, “*“not having so much household stuff as a dish or spoon between us both,””* his wife brought two books to the household, both devotional, which they occasionally read together. Two generations earlier, Richard Baxter’s father, a heavily indebted village yeoman, was converted by reading the Bible at home, and set his young son to reading it too.


That wasn’t Adam and Eve. That was Genesis 1. And here we see a contradiction between the two stories. Bede doesn’t reference Genesis 2 there and so doesn’t consider the matter under discussion.

Did I not point out how many early theologians, assuming that Adam and Eve were the first people, conflated the two accounts? And that is why Bede differentiates man from the animals by suggesting God only created one male and one female, which is from Genesis 2, not Genesis 1.

You asked about the theological tradition: on that question, what matters is that the theologians saw no contradiction, not whether you do, nor even if there is one in actuality.

In my view there is no contradiction because Genesis 1 is a preface to the narrative that begins in Genesis 2 - consistent with GAE as conceived both in Josh’s book and mine.


Yep. But your quote didn’t conflate anything; it just mentioned the first account. Sure, the “one each” bit is from Genesis 2, but it’s not the relevant bit, not the part we were discussing. Again, in Genesis 2, Adam is created first, Eve is an afterthought created from a part of his body, for the purpose of being a helper and subordinate. Whether one should consider both stories to belong to the same event is likewise irrelevant. You aren’t addressing the issue.

In a few minutes research, I gave you direct applications from Matthew Henry, Thomas Aquinas and Irenaeus of Lyons, spanning nearly 1600 years of mainstream interpretation of Eve’s creation. And because Bede, the next person I randomly thought to examine, doesn’t mention that verse directly, though his understanding of the purpose of Eve’s creation is consistent with the others, you say I’m not addressing the issue.

That is not straight dealing. If you want to show that there is a significant history of interpretation along your patriarchal oppression lines, then I think the onus is now on you to find some quotations to prove the positive, rather than for me to prove a negative.


Just for clarity for anyone interested:

“Adam” is simply the Hebrew word for man. Both ADAM and HADAM (“the man”) appear in Genesis 1.

Genesis 1:26 אָדָם (ADAM)
Genesis 1:26 אֶת-הָאָדָם (ET HADAM)

Genesis 1 doesn’t mention Eve by name but, of course, the chapter mentions “male and female.” (The “chapters” per se were a much later convention.)

It is up to the translator to decide whether a particular instance of אָדָם (ADAM) is better rendered and most naturally read as “man” or “Adam”.


yep. but in this case this is his name. this is why any man today called also “adam” (or בן אדם), since his origin was from adam.

I meant that you weren’t addressing the issue at that moment, not that you never had addressed it.

True. I don’t really know that literature. I can only point to the actual societies in which the interpreters, and in fact the writers of Genesis, would have lived.

Thank you @jongarvey for taking the time to pull together all of those quotes from church history about how early theologians interpreted Eve being created out of Adam’s rib. That was a very helpful discussion.

@John_Harshman Those interpretations that Jon Garvey mentioned are what I have also consistently heard during my 20 years of being a Christian. I think it is telling that the converse interpretation that you brought up (namely Eve being an afterthought and subservient to Adam) are ideas that I only heard in my Non-Western Civilization college class where we read a book promoting Goddess religions. That book clearly had an anti-Christian bias and spoke about Christianity and Catholicism as being denigrating to women. The idea was that a Goddess religion would be more egalitarian than Christianity.

However, in my personal experience I have felt the Bible and church life to be uplifting to women. In particular, the high view of the marriage relationship is one that protects women and families. I find my marriage (because I have a very loving husband) gives me a great sense of security. This high view of marriage stands in contrast to secular cultural trends in (e.g. hook-up culture, this year’s sad Super Bowl half-time show, pornography,…), which objectify and denigrate women.

Genesis 2:23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”"

I read this verse to be a beautiful statement of love of Adam for Eve, in which it sounds like he is saying “she was made for me,” and “she is part of me.” Rather than devaluing Eve, this shows the beauty of the gift of friendship and partnership that God gives us in our marriage relationships.


Glad to know. But I’m curious. Are you supposed to obey your husband? Is he in charge? Why has it taken so long for women to be treated equally in Western society (if you suppose that it’s actually happened yet)?

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Maybe in future you could try this method.

  1. Gather evidence.
  2. Make claims.

Instead of your current method.

  1. Make claims.
  2. Do not look for evidence.

That would have avoided your error over the Red Sea, for example.

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As far as I can tell: Western societies have led the way in treating women equally, likely due to historical Christian influence. Of course, such equality is not perfected, because people are all sinners and are often selfish.

The Christian life is one of submission to one another and to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:21
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The Bible actually demands much more of men, than of women in this regard

Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

(aka: husbands should willing to sacrifice their careers, their pride and even their very lives for their wives)

For example: When we married, my husband sold his house and moved so that I could start my career in Boston. That was a big sacrifice for him.

I give my husband respect and love. Women who have been married longer in the church than I have been have told me that with a loving husband, his headship of the family is like getting a tie-breaking vote, which in a loving relationship is rarely needed. In 10 years of marriage, we have yet to be in a situation where we had need of such a tie-breaking vote, because we can discuss and come to an agreement. But should it occur, I would trust that my husband has my best interests at heart, because I have seen his sacrificial love for me.


Are you kidding me? Treating women equally has not been and is still not due to Christian influences. From women suffrage to Roe vs. Wade, it has been secular humanism fighting against Christian influences in law, finance, education, and health care that have made women equal to men in law, divorce, finance, education, reproductive rights. Do a little study, in 1960 a woman couldn’t open a checking account without approval from either her husband or her father. A single woman could not rent an apartment or even a hotel room. My grandmother tells me that she was the first women in town in 1928 to get a driver’s license. And she had to have her father’s approval to get it. A women couldn’t even apply to most colleges and most majors deemed to be for men only like engineering, law, medical school.

Today it is Christians who lead the opposition to women’s reproductive and health care rights. It is Christians who are opposing a women’s right to have a family or not, to have a pregnancy or not, to end an unwanted pregnancy. Given that about 40% of millennial women are Nones, why do Christians get to say what a non-Christian woman can do with her body?

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