Eve to the Rescue: Why “Helper” Doesn’t Mean Subordinate

Copyright 2011 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved. superhero_birthdaytheme

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. Genesis 2:18 (NIV)”

The reference to Eve in Genesis as a “helper” is one of those tricky Bible verses—confusing and often misunderstood. And, sadly, it’s even been used to justify women being treated as personal servants or doormats.

Biblical scholar and professor, Gilbert Bilezikian, says in his Book Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Women’s Place in Church and Family that “In the past, uninformed teachers of the Bible seized on the word helper to draw inference of authority/subjection distinctions between men and women.  According to them, helper meant that man was boss and woman his domestic.”

Helper Doesn’t Mean Servant:

Thankfully, though, professor Bilezikian says that careful study of the word helper has “dispelled such misconceptions” because “this Hebrew word for ‘helper’ is not used in the Bible with reference to a subordinate person such as a servant or an underling” (Bilezikian 22). Instead of showing weakness, the word “helper” in this context actually highlights strength.

This Hebrew word for “helper” in the Bible “is generally attributed to God himself when he engages in activities of relief or rescue among his people.  Consequently, the world helper may not be used to draw inferences about subordinate female roles. If anything, the word points to the inadequacy and the helplessness of the man when he was bereft of the woman in Eden” (Bilezikian 22).  Isn’t that interesting?  It’s the same word used to describe God and no one would make the assumption that God was subordinated by his people because he helps them.  The fact God helps illustrates his strength and compassion.

Eve to the Rescue:

By himself Adam wasn’t able to fully reflect God because he was lacking in community. God intended to create people … not just one … for relationships/community. As a result, the fact that Adam was alone was even deemed “not good.”  So God provided Adam “with a ‘rescuer’ to become with him the community that God had intended to create all along” (Bilezikian 22).  Eve wasn’t a second thought, creating community was the plan all along.

Due to the strength of this word, Bilezikian says that “To wrench the word helper from this precise context, where it has the strength of rescuer, and to invest it with connotations of domesticity or female subservience violates the intent of the biblical text” (Bilezikian 22).

It’s funny how “rescuer” sounds more like a firefighter, brave soldier, or a superhero.  But the word “helper,” even though it could mean rescuing someone, tends to be associated with things like personal assistant or maid.  Perhaps in order to more effectively communicate the original intent of the passage, it’d be better if the word was translated “rescuer” or I’ve heard others suggest “lifesaver.”


Other Articles of Interest:

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Book Review: Dating Jesus

campbell-datingjesus_new_02A couple of pages into Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl and I was already in love with Susan Campbell’s witty, raw, and often wry writing voice.  The style of this book really intrigues me—creative nonfiction, a bit of research thrown in for good measure, and it’s written in present tense. 

The book chronicles Campbell’s spiritual and ideological journey.  She was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and saw sexism in both her church and community at large, which profoundly impacted her as a girl.  “I love Jesus,” Campbell writes, “but if all believers are urged to stay on the straight and narrow, there seems to be an especially narrow road built for women” (Campbell 64).

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