The Bible can be confusing. Very confusing.
A single word can send us down a rabbit hole of questions, concerns, and even objections.
In Genesis chapter two, after God had created Adam and placed him in the Garden to cultivate it, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone”. He then formed many animals and brought them to Adam. Then “The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. (Genesis 2:20).
So did God make Eve to be Adam‘s helper?
Yes. It says it right there. End of discussion, right? Not exactly. When it comes to the Bible, our modern ears often deceive us.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
One challenge of reading and interpreting Sacred Scripture is that while God has always known that we would be reading it in English in the 21st century, the human authors wrote in style that was more easily understood in their day than ours. So we need to do our best to view the scriptures through the lens of an ancient audience. This audience was often Jewish and in the first century or earlier.
Another challenge that we face when reading the Bible is the limitations of translation. For years I’ve heard people say that the Greek word “Logos” means “word”. It sounds like a one-to-one translation. For every use of the word Logos written in the Greek, a translator simply changes that to “Word” in the English. But there is a big problem with that. “Logos” (like many Greek and Hebrew words) actually has several meanings, giving it a lot more depth than can be conveyed in just a few English words. Therefore, when it comes to the word “helper”, we need to investigate the root language, which in this case is Hebrew.
If you’d like to learn more about biblical translations, check out this article.
DIGGING TO THE ROOTS
I don’t read or speak Biblical Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or any other language that would help me better understand the Bible. Luckily, there are such experts.
“Helper” or “helpmate” can sound to modern ears like “assistant” or someone lesser meant to serve the master. In the Hebrew, the words translated in Genesis 2:20 as “helper” (sometimes translated as “partner” or “help-mate”) are “ezer kenegdo”. Let’s take those one at a time.
For help on this, I reached out to a priest who is both an expert on biblical languages and a teacher at a seminary.
Ezer can be translated as strength. Most often the term “ezer” is used to mean “help”, but six times in the Old Testament, “ezer” is used to mean “mighty/strength”. This includes instances of military strength. So while it’s clear that this word means “help”, the simple fact that it can be used to describe military strength helps us understand the nature of this help.
This isn’t a servant, slaving away at the whim of the master. The help is truly powerful. In fact, there are passages in the Bible where it reads, “God is my helper” or in the Hebrew, ezer. So Eve provides Adam with strength in a similar way to how God gives strength to Israel. When it comes to the word “ezer”, I like to think of scenes in action movies where it looks like the heroes are going to be defeated when suddenly the reinforcements show up and blow the bad guys away.
So Ezer is a strong help. What then is Kenegdo?
I asked that same language expert about this and he said,
“Kenegdo is a word composed of three elements: a prefix “ke” (which means “as/like”), the root “Neged” (which means “that which is opposite/that which corresponds to/that which is proper to”), and the personal possessive suffix “o” (which means “his”). So, the word here in Genesis encompasses many meanings: that which stands in front of, that which is complimentary, that which is proper to. All three of those shades of meaning are present in Genesis 2:20.”
SO WHO WAS EVE TO ADAM?
Elsewhere in Genesis, we see that God took the rib from Adam’s side to make Eve. God didn’t take part of Adam’s foot so he could stand over her, nor did God take part of Adam’s head so Eve might rule over him.
Eve wasn’t made to fetch Adam his morning cup of coffee or bring him a beer as he reclined after a long day at work. She wasn’t made to cater to his every whim and she certainly wasn’t made to do his laundry. Eve was made to be Adam’s helper, his strength, his companion, his bride. Eve is like him in dignity, she belongs to him and he belongs to her. And this belonging is not as a possession, but in union with the other. And as a married man, I can confirm that a good wife gives a man strength, not by being under his foot, but by standing at his side.