Eve, Adam’s Helpmeet

I cringe a little bit when I see people quoting the KJV and thus translating as “helpmeet.” I’ve never heard it used to describe anything positive. It usually isn’t quite as bad when people use a more modern translation and say “helper,” but it does still tend to carry problematic connotations. As my teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey has put it in summarizing this thought: “every golfer needs a caddy, every man needs a woman.” Women are here to help men, so the thought goes. It’s an important job, but it is still a job that is defined entirely by the men in their lives.

We’ve again gotten some things lost in translation from the Hebrew. So what does it mean? Rachel Held Evans discusses this confusion in A Year of Biblical Womanhood and had this to say about the term:

The phrase “helper suitable,” rendered “help meet” in the King James Version, comes from a combination of the words ezer and kenegdo.

Ezer appears twenty-one times int he Old Testament – twice in reference to Eve, three times in reference to nations to whom Israel appealed for military support, and sixteen times in reference to God as the helper of Israel. It means “to help,” connotes both benevolence and strength, and is a popular name for Jewish boys both in the Bible and in modern times.

Kenegdo literally means “as in front of him,” suggesting that the ezer of Genesis 2 is Adam’s perfect match, the yin to his yang, the water to fire, the Brad to his Angelina – you get the idea.

In other words, outside of this text it is used as somebody in a position of power helping somebody in a position without power. If we want to really take the text to say that it is defining gender roles, we have to say that women are the overall better sex. To be fair, you do get some of this language in complementarian circles where the woman is actually a higher creation but has to look after the man’s fragile ego by submitting (ie letting him be “in charge”). Even that seems like a huge stretch to me to see this as a prescription for gender roles, and most don’t take that tact anyway. Instead they say that either the genders are equal in theory but with predefined roles or that the man is designed to hold power, both of which are contradictory to this text.

There’s no indication that this is talking about gender roles at all, though. We do know that Adam and Eve would prop each other up as equals and that Eve would rescue Adam from being alone. We do not know that women will always be the ones who have the power and the obligation to do the rescuing. We do not know that men will always be the ones who need rescuing. That would be reading a lot into the text that isn’t there, and in this case we wouldn’t even consider it because our patriarchal mindset defaults to thinking the opposite. In short, then, we are left with a radical mutuality in this text. We’ll even see only a chapter later when this mutuality is broken and patriarchy is directly expressed to be a result of the Fall, not a result of the creation.

It probably is fair to say that people are designed to be ezer for each other, to prop each other up as equals, rather than operate independently, considering it is in the same context of solving the problem of being alone. I’ll end with one of my all-time favourite quotes which came from Urbana 06 when Oscar Muriu said this:

The purpose of maturity is not independence, but interdependence.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Adam Dickison

    It’s funny this sunday began a study focused on Matt 5:9 (blessed are the peacemakers) and the first thing we did was take a look at “shalom” and what that idea encompasses. Then we went back to the garden to look at shalom before and after the fall. one thing that we noticed, was that prior to the fall there was shalom between man and creation, man and woman (or man and mankind), and between God and man. We sort of focused our discussion on the shalom between Adam and Eve as a way to understand shalom in our marriages, but also in the greater context of with other humans. I wanted to share these thoughts that came out of the conversation.

    When God creates woman and man sees her for the first time, he sings/speaks this beautiful poetry of how they are one. It’s a song of their equality and union and closeness. There is shalom between them, nothing separates them.

    “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

    As time goes on the snake inserts a lie into their relationship with God. Basically the lie was that there was not shalom between man and God. God was keeping things from man to subjugate him. Even though this debt didn’t exist, humankind believed the lie and in response ACTUALLY broke shalom by disobeying God.

    So God comes looking for man and woman and finds them hiding. In response to their disobedience God gives lays out some curses. The curse given to woman (which I think is really given to all humans) is that shalom will be broken between her and her husband (between mankind). Gods says

    “Your desire will be to control your husband and he will dominate you”

    The broken shalom between people is that we try to control and dominate one another. Our relationships have become power based and hierarchical. That is the root of sexism, the root or racism, and just about any other ism you can think of. power dominates.

    The curse given to man is that shalom will be broken between mankind and creation. The perfect creation that mankind was to tend and that was supposed to sustain mankind will be at war. creation will work against mankind and mankind will have to struggle against it to eat. the kicker is that the day man dies he’ll get swallowed up by the thing he fought against all his life. he can’t win.

    Then finally we see shalom broken between God and man when mankind is banished from the garden and their close relationship with God is no more.

    ALL of that, to point out this wonderful insight that was brought up! After the curses are given, particularly the curse that man and woman’s (or mankind) relationships will be predicated on control and domination, adam does something interesting……..he names woman. He can’t wait to exert his power and just like he named all the other animals that he was given “dominion over” he names the woman. The same woman to whom he first sang “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”

    The first fallen act of life within the curse is that adam names his wife just like a common beast of the field. The first act of our fallen natures was to form hierarchy with people, exert power over them, oppress them, and rob them of their humanity and image-bearer status. This idea that God created us hierarchy as men and women (or in any hierarchy) just doesn’t seem to bear out. Surely it may be the way of fallen men, but I can find nothing to support it as people who are called live as children of God.

    • Wow, that’s the first time I’ve noticed that Adam names Eve right after the curse goes into effect. Great comment! Some of the other stuff in there will probably get touched on more later in this series, too 🙂

    • Edna Rabago

      I went back to my Bible after reading this comment. Never really noticed Adam naming Eve after the fall. We do learn new things every day! 😀 Thanks for sharing!

  • stevekimes

    Exactly. Actually, the Hebrew word “helper, help” is used most frequently with God as the subject, like Psalm 30:10, so we certainly can’t say that the word in any way implies a lesser partner.

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  • Gary

    This is a hugely important issue in my neck of the woods, and this word ezer is the crux of it. In addition to what you say, this article says that the help comes from God, not the woman (she is the help God gives) and at least before the fall, she is not subordinate in any way. http://www.cwgministries.org/who-is-the-helper