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.