‘Adam’s rib’ story emphasizes unity of marriage

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Married persons will sometimes refer to their spouses as their better half.

This way of speaking reflects the deep sense of unity that they feel in their marriage. It also provides a good commentary on the portion of the second creation account, which we hear as Sunday’s first reading — Gn 2:18-24.

That account envisions a kind of surgical operation, in which God removes the rib from the first man, in order to fashion from it the first woman.

This physical connection between the two sexes points to the union of marriage. The reading explains it thus: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”

Interestingly enough, the ancient Greeks told a legend that also sought to account for the differences between the two sexes, as well as their mutual attraction.

Plato includes that legend in his dialogue, “The Symposium.” According to it, Zeus had originally created the first human beings as androgynous, with both male and female joined together, after the fashion of a conjoined twin. These first human beings possessed amazing powers and used them to band together to lead a revolt against the gods.

In response, Zeus splits the human beings into two. The new human beings ended up with reduced powers and also felt a strong attraction for each other: “After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms around each other, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they were on the point of dying from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart.”

While both the Greek legend and the creation account in Genesis share some in common, they part ways on an important point. The Greek legend explains the division of the two sexes as a way to weaken the human race.

In contrast, the story in Genesis explains the creation of the female as a means to provide help and companionship to the male, who will presumably reciprocate. The difference in the two stories reflects an important difference in perspective. The Greek legend views the divine as hostile to humanity. On the other hand, the story in Genesis sees God as wanting to provide help to the newly created human race.

Man and woman will find that help, at least in part, in each other, especially through the institution of marriage, in a lasting and loving union that only death can end.

Leave a Reply