The Wedding in Eden

Anthony Zimmerman
February 3, 1999
Reproduced with Permission

Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18).

When the sacred author refers to "the man" in this passage, he apparently sets him up not as a male individual but as human nature in a mode previous to sexual differentiation. The point of his message is that humans do not function well, in general, without a marriage partner. Mankind lives normally within this supplemental binary bonding. By creating man male and female, God provides a helper to the female as well as to the male. Pope John Paul II explained the passage as indicative that the same humanity is present in masculinity and femininity, "as if in two different incarnations, that is, in two ways of being a body of the same human being, created in the image of God" (General Audience 7 September 1979).

Before the sacred author presents the creation of Eve, he illustrates with a captivating vignette that an animal is not an adequate companion for a human being; life is lonesome for a loner human; to function as he ought, a human needs another human as a companion:

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was his name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him (Gen 2:19-20).

Some theologians have read into this text an inference that Adam, our first ancestor, was an individual with extraordinary intellectual ability because he could assign an onomatopoeic name to each of the animals and birds. The names he gave them expressed their specific natures (cf. Summa Theologica1,96,1). St. Thomas had inherited from some Fathers of the Church the concept that Adam, the first man, had immense intellectual capacities before he committed original sin. "His life was similar to that of the angels" wrote St. Ambrose, for example (De Parad. 42). The opinion is not repeated in the Catholic Catechism today, with good reason.

First of all, the author does not present the Earthling in this passage unambiguously as an individual male with the name of Adam. Rather, he is "mankind" not yet differentiated into male and female. Secondly, the giving of a name in the Bible usually indicates power or superiority over the other, and is not usually a designation of the special nature of the object or person named. Thirdly, it is not possible to invent a species-specific name for each species of animals, even if one is endowed with a super-brain. Written languages have only modest success in shaping a small number of hieroglyphics and ideographs to depict or suggest their meaning. The Japanese kanji for a human being, for example, has two converging lines suggesting bipedalism. Matching sound to meaning becomes even more difficult, and indeed impossible, with the spoken language.

For example, how should Adam designate the nature of a dog by linguistic onomatopoeia? We use different names today for the same animal: Dog in English, Hund in German, Inu in Japanese, Cane and Cania in Italian, Chien in French, Perroin Spanish, Canis in Latin, Skulos in Greek. The dog is the same, but the appellations differ. To imagine that the spelling and sound of the word expresses the specific nature of a dog stretches one's credibility. I believe that we attempt to read into the passage something that the author did not put there if we suppose that he presents an Earthling who had prodigious intellectual powers. The passage does not, therefore, reflect special intellectual acumen of our first ancestor.


We note that the author did not feel a need to explain certain inconsistencies in the text: why God created animals a second time in chapter two, whereas He had already created all of them in chapter one; why God created the fish and birds out of the ground in chapter two, whereas He had already created them in chapter one, but out of water. St. Augustine thought it necessary to iron out the latter discrepancy: the reader should think of "earth" in generic terms as including water, or he should use common sense by supplying the more specific terminology of chapter one to this passage in chapter two (see The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 2,9,1,2). But with our better understanding today that the author of Genesis teaches with symbolic language - somewhat like Christ taught in parables - there is no need to attempt to reconcile such literal differences. If the author saw no need for it, there no need for it at all. He uses both texts to great advantage to celebrate profound mysteries without being distracted by exegetical scruples. Both versions give us new and correct insights into the mystery.

Pope John Paul II, when saluting certain theories of the evolution of the human body from previous animate life, warned us to avoid reading into Scripture what the sacred author did not put there: There is need of "a rigorous hermeneutic for the correct interpretation of the inspired word. It is necessary to determine the proper sense of Scripture, while avoiding any unwarranted interpretations that make it say what it does not intend to say" (Evolution and the Church's Magisterium, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 22 October 1996).

Now back to the beautiful and symbolic vignette in Genesis, in which Adam gives a name to the animals but finds none with whom he can communicate on a human level. A thoughtful reflection in another passage of the Bible illustrates the disadvantages of a loner:

Again I saw vanity under the sun: a person who has no one, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, "For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?" This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together they are warm; but how can one be warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccles 4:7-12).

Back to Genesis: Besides making the point of the undeniable communications gap between humans and animals, it may be possible to read out of the text a second layer of meaning, namely a demonstration aimed at males. The ancient author may be giving a warning lesson to males against treating females as animals. The male, stronger in body, has no right to abuse this strength by treating females as inferior in nature or in rights, or even as pack animals. The author of Genesis, no doubt, was aware of the many abuses inflicted by males upon females in the long history of mankind. He therefore calls up all the animals and finds no woman among them. She is in a different class of beings. He will illustrate this emphatically with the story of the creation of Eve.

Civilization grows out of a friendly male and female relationship which functions normally on a basis of equal rights. She is his equal, not an inferior companion; not a person of a sub-human level. Males ought to blush that the Bible had to spell this truth out for them at all.

On the other hand, we must also recognize that a woman has no right to trivialize her male companion merely because she has a sharper tongue than he has, and possesses greater skills in communication and intuition than he does. She has no right to treat her male companion as an animal, just as he has no right to trample upon her dignity. Male and female are to communicate on a level field, as supplementary binary units of humanity. Civilization and culture are richest when male and female endeavor to make life pleasant and bearable for each other, when they bend their shoulders in mutual eagerness to bear in partnership a yoke of shared joys and sorrows and trials of life. Civilization is impoverished when male and female make life a battleground for gaining unfair advantage over the opposite sex. Boxing matches in the marital relationship may be helpful when they spar with each other according to the rules to set things straight; they must not be attempts to win by a knockout. The author of Genesis is telling us by his stories that God fashioned male and female with deliberate intent and with great care, with concern and love for us.

Boys and girls, dads and moms, priests and nuns make a richer world to grow up in and to appreciate the good things of life, than if God had chosen to create a unisex humankind. As the lunar landscape is drab and dusty, without flowers, birds, forests and fields, so our life on earth would lose precious treasures of human richness if God had chosen to make us lock-in-step uniform people of one sex. Dr. Alphonse Clemens who taught a family life course at Catholic University in Washington a half century ago told the students to watch for the following differences between men and women. They should reckon with these characteristics in their future man and wife unions, and make the most of them rather than trying to wish them away. He observed that:


Men prefer generalities Women prefer details
Men are more objective Women are more subjective
Man tend to be stern Women tend to be tender
Men tend to be forceful Women tend to be tactful
Men prefer essentials Women prefer accidentals
Men are more passionate Women are more romantic
Men are more materialistic Women are more spiritual
Men are more self-contained Women are more social
Men are more egoistic Women are more altruistic
Men tend to dominate Women are more submissive
Men are more steady Women tend to moodiness
Men accept the prosaic Women prefer the poetic
Men are more conceited Women are more jealous
Men are more pugnacious Women are more tenacious
Men have more technical skills Women more social skills
Men are more secretive Women are more talkative
Men prefer abstract thought Women like concrete ideas
Men are more impersonal Women are more personal
Men are more acquisitive Women are more seductive
Men are more progressive Women are more conservative
Men love practically Women love romantically

(Adapted from Clemens, Marriage and the Family, Prentice Hall 1957, pp. 155-6)

You may be inclined to add to the above, or subtract or modify, but in general we all profit from the fact that God made men, and that God made women, and that He joined them together in family life.


So the Lord God caused deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother
and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gen 2:21-24).

Why the deep sleep? Adam sleeps while God prepares his bride-to-be. Eve is also passive and cannot help with her own creation, nor with the creation of Adam. God does not allow either one of them to design and shape the partner. The Creator chose to do the work of fashioning them male and female without consulting them about their private wishes or opinions. The design is all His. Had He asked for their help and opinions, both would likely have botched the job. Neither of them would have the skill to create their opposite sex as well as God. He is THE Master Artist who designed humans as the masterpiece of creation. The sculpted curves are in the right place, erect head and shoulders enhance dignity, bi-pedal structures fit neatly and all the organs are functional. He alone knows all things, including the science of architectural design to heighten the ego-image of male and female; of molecular biology, of genetics and bio-chemistry to render the body functional; of the psychology of male and female in all stages of life from infancy to adulthood and on into the silver years. Individuals must be equipped with drives to shape their characters firmly, yet these drives must be counterbalanced by drives for social outreach. Like the massive pillars of suspension bridges, strong characters are needed to support the structures of organized society.

Pope John Paul II suggests another layer of meaning in the manifold implications of the "sleep" of Adam: it symbolizes a return to a void of existence before man is created a second time around, this time as male and female; it stages a suspension of the previous phase of non-sexual human existence, after which God then re-creates man as male and female:

Perhaps, therefore, the analogy of sleep indicates here not so much a passing from consciousness to subconsciousness, as a specific return to non-being...that is, to the moment preceding the creation, in order that, through God's creative initiative, solitary "man" may emerge from it again in his double unity as male and female (General Audience, November 7, 1979).

The interpretation indicates the author's intention to demonstrate how God realized that a sexless humanity, or a unisex version, was not satisfactory. If left in that state, the work of creating man would be unfinished. God observed that "It is not good that the man should be alone." He therefore went back to the drawing boards, and this time made him male and female. After humanity woke up from its sleep, God "brought her to the man." God leads Eve to Adam much as a father leads his daughter down the aisle to present her to the bridegroom. When they meet, Adam becomes poetic: "Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh," says the man, entirely pleased, incredibly happy, ecstatic. Word play heightens the effect: to make her his own, to seal the unity, he refers to her as Ishah (Woman) because she was taken out of the Ish (Man). The bells rang in the garden of Eden. Life begins for the two-in-one-flesh. The loneliness of man is fully assuaged.

Christ, Son of God, remembered the moment well. God had joined them in monogamous lifetime union. He spoke as a witness, and with authority, when He told the Pharisees:

Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one"? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder (Mt 19:4-6).

The Bible leaves no doubt in our minds that God blesses marriages and the marital embrace. Pope Pius XII explained:

The Creator Who in His goodness and wisdom has willed to conserve and propagate the human race through the instrumentality of man and woman by uniting them in marriage has ordained also that in performing this function, husband and wife should experience pleasure and happiness both in body and soul. In seeking and enjoying this pleasure, therefore, couples do nothing wrong. They accept that which the Creator has given them" (Address to Midwives, Oct. 29, 1951.)

The text of Genesis, and the witness to its authenticity given by Christ, reveal the truth that our first ancestors married monogamously. Revelation teaches clearly that the speculation of some anthropologists suggesting that polygamy or serial monogamy preceded monogamy in human history is incorrect. Would-be social engineers who call for a dismantling of the family system are lesser geniuses than the Lord: "No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the Lord" (Prov 21:30). From the family comes new life, and from its educating function emerges civilization.


Note how the text of Genesis has no message approving consecrated virginity and celibacy. Marriage was the solution for loneliness throughout the Old Testament. It was not until the Blessed Virgin Mary, led by the Holy Spirit, vowed consecrated virginity, that Holy Scripture recognized this way of life as a special vocation given by God. When the angel Gabriel was sent to her to propose that she consent to become the mother of the "Son of the Most High" she needed to know more: "How can this be, since I have no husband?" Or: "Since I am a virgin?" (NIV). In Latin: "Quonian virum non cognosco?" In Greek: "Epei andra ou gignosko." The nuance of the text suggests the fuller reading: "Since you and I know that, under God's inspiration and direction, I am to remain a virgin forever, how am I to become a mother?" She was certain that the previous commitment to virginity had God's approval. Her consecration was a new departure from the ethos of the entire Old Testament, except for the one verse in Isaiah 7:14 which is a prophesy about her miraculous conception: "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

Christ subsequently canonized consecrated virginity and celibacy by His unmistakable approval of this way of life:

And Peter said, "Lo, we have left our homes and followed you." And he said to them: "Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life" (Luke 18:28-30).

The example of the apostles has inspired generous souls to follow their example of consecrated celibacy. Virgin martyrs embellished the vocation with their cheerful dedication. Saint Agnes sang the joys of consecrated virginity as she bared her throat to receive the sword: "I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his beauty" (ICEL, Antiphon, Morning Prayers, Liturgy of the Hours, January 21).

The experience of two thousand years illustrates that Christ, by calling many to a consecrated single life, has thereby also strengthened the bonds of lifetime fidelity for married people. Embattled husbands and wives, upon beholding the courage of consecrated priests, brothers, sisters, members of secular institutes, and consecrated lay virgins, take courage to work out their marriage problems and to carry each other's burdens.

May the consecrated celibates in the Church guard the chastity of the human family; and may happily married couples increase and multiply and fill the earth, and provide us with dedicated priests, brothers and sisters.