Saturday, August 29, 2009

Genesis 2:18: Ezer Kenegdo

Woman, a helpmate for man?

The phrase in Hebrew is EZER KENEGDO
Genesis 2:18 should be read as, as I see it; “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding [and equal] to man.”

The Creator regarded Adam’s situation as incomplete and deficient while he was living without a proper counterpart. The Creator judged Adam’s situation quite negatively: “It is not good.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 expresses this same opinion about aloneness. Two are better that one…if one falls down…

Which category bears the evidence; we know, or will know soon, what history and custom have rendered to women; but what does tradition say versus scripture: helper for domestic servitude and female inferiority, error prone, subservient, made ontologically the same but in function less capable and hence must follow, lower rank versus strong effective help, rescuer, equal and co-regency, designed for equal merit, corresponding to and in full view of each other, to bond effectively


The role of woman as 'helper' to man in Genesis 2:18 has often been taken to mean a kind of domestic servitude and female inferiority. The term 'help-mate' is a mishearing of the AV phrase, "an help meet for him" and was used in Darby's 1884 translation, "a helpmate, his like". It is NOT a subordinate term as it is also used of God in the majority of its occurrences, (e.g., Psalm 70:5; 121:1-2) "...From where comes my help? My help comes from the Lord...". The older English term "meet", meant "appropriate" or "corresponding to".) Most translations render her (women) to be a ‘helper’ by these translations. (RSB, AB, NKJV, JB, NIV, Coverdale, Message, WEB) However perplexing these modern translations appear in uniformity, the customary translation of the two words ‘ezer k-negdo as “helper fitting him” is almost certainly wrong.

The Hebrew is )zr 'ezer, as in 'eben-ezer, 'stone of help' or Ezra 'help'. The LXX, Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, uses the word bohqos boêthos (Strong's 998) to translate 'ezer. Of its 45 uses, boêthos is used 42 times to refer to help from a stronger one, from a more secure or strengthened position, without need of reciprocal help. This strengthens the idea of 'help' as equal or superior rather than inferior. The possible root behind 'ezer may have been either '-z-r "to rescue, save" (as the Ugaritic) and or 'g-z-r meaning "to be strong". The Hebrew letter ghain probably, like Arabic, having previously had two forms implying two roots that may have later got confused when just one Phoenician sign served for both letters. The use of the root verb )zr 'âzar (Strong's 5826) in the Old Testament extends to some 80 occasions, generally of military aid, help from a position of supply or strength. Although the noun is also used of military aid (e.g., Isaiah 30:5; Ezekial 12:14; Hosea 13:9), it does not always imply a victorious intervention or superior assistance. On one occasion it is paralleled with terms for salvation and support (Isaiah 63:5) in the sense of one being leant.F1 In many of the passages it is used in parallelism to words that clearly denote strength or power. Examples are Deut 33;26 and Deut 33:29 etc.

A survey of 'ezer's 20 or so uses reveals strong contexts and parallel terms for might or power, not one of service or slavery. A better and new translation: "I will make a power/strength corresponding to/equal to man." A relationship of equals. In short, it should be suggested that we translate Genesis 2:18 as “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding [and equal] to man.” F.F. Bruce says and Freedman even suggests on the basis of later Hebrew that the second word in the Hebrew expression found in the verse should be rendered ‘equal to him.’ Heightened in Genesis 2:23 where the phrase “ bone of my bones” has an idiomatic sense of “one of us” or in effect “our equal” or “corresponding sameness.”


The last part of v.18 reads literally as "I will make him for him a helper as in front of him." The phrase 'as in front of him', kenegdô, occurs only here and in v.20, and suggests correspondence, with the new creation (woman) being neither inferior nor superior, but equal. The substantive, negdo, means 'that which is conspicuous, in full view of, in front of', the related noun, nagid, means a 'ruler' or 'prince', and the verb, nagad, means to 'declare, tell, expound, reveal, announce' (interesting in the light of the denial of women teachers by some) or 'go ahead'. This last one suggests 'achievement, pioneering, risk and deliberate thrust into the unknown'.

Thus anyone attempting to use v.18 to put women down or dismiss their ministry is in danger of having the Hebrew words thrown back at them as rather suggesting woman's superiority, ability to declare, teach, expound and reveal, and to be a pioneering leader out in front! In Rabbinic Hebrew, kenegdô is translated as 'corresponding to'. Gretchen Gabelein Hull coins the helpful phrase of woman as "'completer', not his competitor."

Genesis 1:26-28 should be taken as an a priori interpreter of 2:18, as it precedes it, and both are pre-Fall statements. Here, dominion, image, and blessing are conferred upon man, but the text continues, 'let them have dominion ...', 'them' could conceivably refer to all 'male-kind' or the generic inclusive term, 'man-kind'. Since, literally speaking, only Adam and Eve then existed, and the creative blessing to 'go forth and multiply' needed to be spoken over the first couple in order to put the rest of us here on this planet, it would suggest that the 'them' referred to is Adam and Eve. Indeed 1:27-28 elucidates: "male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion ..."
Thus, as Galatians 3:28 ("there is neither male nor female, all are one in Christ") interprets the other New Testament statements of Paul, so Genesis 1:28 interprets other Old Testament statements, for Scripture must interpret Scripture.
The idea of joint dominion as joint heirs is not alien to the rest of the Bible. In the Old Testament women could inherit in the absence of male heirs, and 1 Peter 3:7 speaks of "being heirs together of the grace of life."


Sonship, and its companion ideas of inheritance and access to God as Father, is a privilege of both men and women in Christ (cf. John 1:12; Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Though the politically incorrect use of a male term to describe a male and female privilege does not deny its 'equal opportunities' application (cf. later, where bishop, elder and particularly, deacon, were male terms but could include females such as Phoebe). Further, sonship also implies the priesthood and ministry of all believers (1 Peter 2:9), male and female alike.

So we should neither make man superior nor woman inferior. She corresponds to man as left is to right, different yet equal, taken from his side, not his head nor his foot. The customs and subjugation that suggest woman is lesser and only fit for laborer 'helper' duties would have to place God as a helper and employee also. As I would not consign ‘God is my helper’ only to the kitchen and laundry sink neither is women!


The biblical case against the women having access to various authority depends primarily on three New Testament texts: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (veiling of women); 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (silence of women); 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (silence of women).

Opponents of women’s ordination will often point to Ephesians 5:21-33 (submission of wives to husbands) and Genesis 2 (secondary creation of women) to buttress their position, as well as to Jesus’ choice of twelve males as his most intimate disciples. Now I happen to believe that all of these biblical passages, when rightly understood, actually support the ordination of women. But I will grant that, on the surface, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 14, and 1 Timothy 2 appear to oppose this practice.

Yet the passages I have just mentioned are not all the Bible has to say about women in positions of authority in God’s kingdom. In fact, there are many, many passages that either portray women in positions of authority or provide theological support for this perspective. Let me mention some of the main passages:

Genesis 1:26-28 - Man and woman created in God’s image; Man and woman given the command to fill the earth and subdue it.

Genesis 2:18 - Woman is created as a “helper” for the man. Ezer, the Hebrew word for “helper,” almost always refers to a stronger person, and, in the Old Testament, usually to God.

Judges 4-5 - Deborah was a prophetess and judge of Israel, with obvious and divinely endorsed authority over Israelite men.

Luke 8:1-3 - Jesus had many women among his entourage of disciples. Women were the first at the tomb after the resurrection; and, as such, they were the first to broadcast His victory over death (Luke 23:55-24:11). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all called attention to the loyal women who participated in Jesus' Galilean ministry and followed Him all the way to the cross and the grave. They shared the greatest news: “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5 NRSV).

John 20 - The resurrected Jesus chose a woman to be the first “evangelist” who bore witness to his resurrection.

Acts 2:17-18 - In fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, the Holy Spirit is poured out on men and women, and it is stated that women will prophesy.

Romans 16:1-2 - Phoebe is a minister (Gk. diakonos) and someone whose authority should be respected by the Roman church.

Romans 16:7 - Junia is named as a prominent apostle. (Most likely reading, in my opinion, among several options.)

1 Corinthians 7:4 - A wife has authority over her husband’s body, even as he has authority over hers.

1 Corinthians 11:5 - Women pray and prophesy in church.

Philippians 4:2-3 - Euodia and Syntyche are leaders in the Philippian church and Paul’s co-workers.

Titus 2:3 - Older women are “to teach what is good.”

Revelation 2:18-29 - The church in Thyatira accepts a woman as a prophet and a teacher. This acceptance is never criticized, only the content of her teaching.

Of course I could point to many other passages that, in my opinion, support the ministry of women beyond teaching small children in seperate rooms. And, of course, I realize that those who oppose the principle of women have their own ways of interpreting the passages I have just mentioned. But even the staunchest opponents of women’s use of their talents would have to admit that these passages, at least on the surface, suggest that God can and does use women in positions of distinct authority in his ministry, even in positions of wise complimentary authority over men.

Responsible, respectful, in the lead and with corresponding sameness.


  1. I actually think that the the translation should be

    I will create a entity that is like man yet "un-privates" him.

    1) The Help should not be thought of as someone who actively "helps" in the sense of assisting rather,that entity created is by its nature an entity which God to give man happiness.

    2) Help needs to be thought of as like hired help.
    Help in this sense is used as a noun and not a verb. The help that God creates is a thing.

    3)The "essence" of the help is that it is possessive of characteristics which will make a man happy, but while like man, is not man. It is of different nature.

  2. In fact on further reflection the whole passage should probably be translated as:

    And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make a complementary being as remedy.

  3. Ah this comment is just in time! I'm studying theology and long ago read what has been written here that Ezer Kenegdo actually implies equal helper rather than the 'lesser than' helper that could be construed from this passage. I could not help noticing though, that when checking the word Ezer in my Hebrew dictionary, at a glance it does look awfully like Erek in the Hebrew script which means....equal!! Just as well we can trust those Hebrew scholars!

  4. Ezer in Genesis should be translated as ezer is in all the other parts of the Bible. If God as ezer is not hired help to make the man happy, the domestic organizer, than neither is the woman. The kenegdo modifies her form of help, however, and makes her "meet" or "equal" to the man, not superior as God is as to either.

  5. Random thoughts:

    I, as a man, have come to see that without my wife I would be a basket case. She keeps me in line and complements my weakness. (I also like to think it goes the other way).

    BTW this isn't a justification for traditional roles. She looks after the money as she did accounting as part of her degree and I am dyslexic/dyscalcuate (sp?). I work part time and cook most evening meals for the family and I enjoy this and the freedom of part time work. She works full time as a bank manager.

    Men who have never married, or end up single after a long term relationship tend to get swirly. It is something I fear that in my aged years my wife will die first and that I will degenerate into a weird old man who hordes everything and allows things to get degenerate into chaos.

    A Christian business person once said to me that business go off the rails when the men stop having their wife as chief. This is not to say that the men should "be the man" and women the "accessory". But that men often own/run business and that their key person in the business is their wives, irrespective of any formal employment relationship.

    So what I am trying to say is that I totally agree with you, and that hopefully the above comments might encourage or support your thoughts. Written medium sometimes doesn't give the richness and depth, so feel that my comments could be taken the wrong way as in a justification for the male, being the "man" and the women being the secondary part.

    1. *business go off the rails when the men stop having their wife as chief **Councilor**

  6. The word kenegdo is a compound word. Not only is it composed of negad meaning opposite but also the word ka or ke meaning similar. See The New Strong's Concordance for details