Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2021.
On June 7, 2021, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared on Facebook that he and his wife, Patricia, were sharing their 58th wedding anniversary. The post includes tender expressions of love; Elder Holland calls his wife “my life, my help, my hope, my everything” and “the pinnacle of my life’s purpose.” He describes her as the “mother of all living” in his world and praises the way she has served the Church, her community, and their own family.
At the beginning of his post, Elder Holland also mentions an interesting point of Christian doctrine relating to marriage: the idea that Eve was created from a rib taken out of Adam’s side.
Elder Holland writes,
“In the final steps of creation, our Heavenly Father said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.’ Then, with the imagery of a rib taken out of Adam’s side—“bone of [his] bone, and flesh of [his] flesh” would describe their unity—He created a woman whom Adam named Eve, ‘because she was the mother of all living.’ (See Genesis chapters 1–3.)”
Here Elder Holland notes the “imagery of the rib,” perhaps suggesting that it is not to be taken literally. Other Church leaders have spoken similarly. For example, President Spencer W. Kimball said, “The story of the rib, of course, is figurative.” Sister Patricia Holland herself elaborated on that figurative meaning in a 1985 BYU devotional:
“When God brought Adam and Eve together before there was any death to separate them, he said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). To reinforce the imagery of that unity, the scriptures indicate that God had figuratively taken a rib from Adam’s side to make Eve, not from his front that she should lead him and not from his back that she should despise him, but from his side, under his arm, close to his heart. There, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, husband and wife were to be united in every way, side by side. They were to give themselves totally to each other, and to ‘cleave unto [each other] and none else.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 42:22).”
In addition to unity, Adam’s rib can also symbolize equality. In the book “The Man Adam,” Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet write,
“The imagery used to veil the account of Eve's birth is most beautiful, particularly so in a day when there is so much confusion about the role of women. Symbolically, she was not taken from the bones of Adam's head nor from the bones of his heel, for it is not the place of woman to be either above the man or beneath him. Her place is at his side, and so she is taken, in the figurative sense, from his rib—the bone that girds the side and rests closest to the heart. Thus we find Adam declaring: ‘This I know now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man’ (Moses 3:23). Eve, unlike the rest of God's creations, was of Adam's bone and of his flesh, meaning that she was equal to him in powers, faculties, and rights.”
In 1987, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson gave an address called “Lessons from Eve” in which he echoed a similar statement:
“Interesting to me is the fact that animals fashioned by our Creator, such as dogs and cats, have thirteen pairs of ribs, but the human being has one less with only twelve. I presume another bone could have been used, but the rib, coming as it does from the side, seems to denote partnership. The rib signifies neither dominion nor subservience, but a lateral relationship as partners, to work and to live, side by side.”
There are evidently many lessons to be learned from the symbolism of Eve being made from a rib from Adam’s side, and all of them seem to point to the importance of marriage. And after spending 58 years with his wife, Elder Holland clearly understands that importance. To conclude his Facebook post he says of their anniversary, “To say that June 7 is a celebration at our house is an understatement. If you promise not to misunderstand, I will say it’s more like a worship service and a special Thanksgiving combined. I am eternally grateful for the ‘helper’ that God knew was ‘right’ for me. Pat, happy anniversary!”
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