(Genesis 2:21) And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept, and he took one of his ribs and closed up flesh in its place.
I always used to visualize the verse like this:
God puts Adam to sleep
While Adam is sleeping, God opens a hole in his side
God takes out a rib
God closes up the hole in his side (i.e. closes up flesh in its place)
But now, studying the verse in Hebrew, I'm not so sure if my old interpretation was correct. Following this discussion, it seems that the "it" ("in it's place") refers to the rib (grammatically feminine), not to the flesh (grammatically masculine).
Does this mean we should understand "closed up flesh in its place" to be God giving Adam a replacement rib for the one he took? (i.e. either a real rib made out of bone or at least a quasi-rib made out of flesh to fulfill the same function?)
Or, alternatively, maybe "closed up flesh in its place" still refers to closing up the hole in Adam's side (as in my old interpretation) since his side and his ribs are so close together spatially that they can be said to occupy the same place?
Does the Hebrew text force us to pick one interpretation over the other? If it doesn't, does it at least make one interpretation more likely than the other?
Also, I would be interested to know if the Church Fathers had an opinion on the issue. I was reading St. John Chrysostom's Homilies on Genesis† and I think he agrees that the purpose of closing up the flesh was to replace the rib, but I wonder if any other Fathers though differently. (In particular, if there was a hole in Adam's side before it was closed up as in my old interpretation, doesn't it seem like an even closer parallel to Christ's side being pierced with the lance?)
† (From Homily 15) It wasn't simply drowsiness that came upon him nor normal sleep; instead, the wise and skillful creator of our nature was about to remove one of Adam's ribs. Lest the experience cause him pain and afterwards he be badly disposed towards the creature formed him from His rib, and through memory of the pain bear a grudge against this being at its formation, God induced in him this kind of sleep: He caused a drowsiness to come upon him and bid him be weighed down as though by some heavy weight. His purpose was that, far from allowing man to suffer any sense of what was happening, he should, like some excellent craftsman, do away with mere appearances, supply for any deficiencies and in his own loving kindness create what had thus been taken from man. The text says, remember, "God caused drowsiness to come upon Adam, and he slept. God took one of Adam's ribs and closed up the flesh in its place" so that after the release of sleep he could not feel the loss he was suffering. You see, even if (121a) he was unaware at the time of the removal, nevertheless afterwards he would be likely to realize what had happened. So lest he cause him pain in removing it, or the loss of it cause him any distress later, he thus provided for both eventualities by making the removal painless and supplying for the loss without letting him feel anything of what had happened.