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This Christmas one of my gifts was a copy of the Septuagint, the circa 200–1 BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.[1] Thanks Mum! So far I’ve skimmed through the book of Daniel and I’ve read Psalm 49, for no other reason than the book fell open at Daniel and at Psalm 49.

This morning I decided to begin at the beginning, with the book of Genesis. In my reading I came across the phrase in Genesis 2:18 and 2:20 that is often translated into English as “a suitable helper for him.”

This phrase in Genesis 2:18 of the Septuagint can literally be translated as, “a helper in accordance with, or corresponding to, (kata) him.”
The phrase in Genesis 2:20, however, is slightly different to 2:18 in the Septuagint and can be translated literally as “a helper similar (homoios) to him.”
In another article (here) I look at the use and meaning of kata and homoios in these verses.

In this article, I am particularly interested in the Greek word translated as “helper” in these verses: boēthos. 

There is the same sense of “strength” and “rescue” in this Greek word, boēthos, as there is with the original Hebrew word for “helper”, ezer, used in the Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 & 20.  (I have written about ezer in my first article on A Suitable Helper.)

Boēthos is a noun made up of two words which mean (i) “cry out” or “intense exclamation” and (ii) “run”. The verb of this word boētheō means “come to the rescue” or “supply urgently needed help”. (From HELPS word-studies.) Perschbacher gives the meaning of boētheō as “to run to the aid of those who cry out for help . . . “[2]

The following is every verse in the New Testament where boēthos and its cognates appear[3]:

In Matthew 15:25 and Mark 9:22-24 the word is used where people were crying out to Jesus for help.
In Acts 16:9, 21:28, 27:17 and Revelation 12:16 it is used where strong help and support were required.
In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 2:18, 4:16 and 13:6 it is used in the context of receiving divine help.

There is nothing in these New Testament verses that imply servitude or domestic help.[4] Rather, all these verses refer to a strong, rescuing, even a divine, help.

God is our helper, our ezer and boēthos, but he is not subservient or subordinate to those he helps. Still, Genesis 2:18 and 20 have been almost universally used to teach that women were designed to help their husbands as assistants rather than as equal partners. Furthermore, it is important to note that the Bible does not teach that a woman is to provide unilateral help and support to her husband without receiving mutual help and support herself.[5]

There is nothing in the Genesis creation accounts that identifies specific gender roles for men and for women;[6] neither do these passages suggest that women were (or are) in any way inferior to men. The pre-fall creation accounts actually contain some beautiful expressions of mutuality, equality and unity between the first man and woman (e.g., Gen. 1:26-28, 2:21-24, and 5:1-2).

Moreover, contrary to the views of some Christians, there is nothing in the pre-fall creation accounts which states that Adam was the leader[7] and authority figure and Eve the passive, submissive follower and domestic help. There is nothing passive, submissive, or domestic implied in the word boēthos.

Both the Greek and Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 and 20 relate that the first woman was designed by God to provide valuable and vital strength and assistance to her husband within a relationship of unity and mutuality.


Endnotes

[1] The Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX) is a Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew Scriptures. It also contains Apocryphal books, not contained in the Hebrew Bible. The first five books of the Bible are thought to have been translated in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime (roughly) around 200 BC. The Septuagint was used widely by the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman (formerly Greek) empire, and it was used by the Jews in Israel also. [More on the Septuagint here.]

[2] Wesley J. Perschbacher (ed), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, (1990) 72.

[3] These are all the New Testament verses that contain boēthos and its cognates that I could find.  Please let me know if I’ve missed any.
Here is an exhaustive list of every verse in the Greek Old Testament that contains the word boēthos. Note that the word is only used in the context of rescue, might, and divine help.

[4] There are plenty of other Greek words in the New Testament with the meaning of “help” or “assistance” that have a less lofty, urgent or strong sense.

[5] I have heard even young Christian men and women quote 1 Corinthians 11:9 with a mistaken view that women were made by God for men, for the express purpose of helping men, and not vice versa. These Christians read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:2-9 about men and women, but fail to take into consideration Paul’s more complete and correct statement in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12ff. More on this here and here.

[6] The Bible simply does not command that women, and not men, should cook dinner, wash the dishes, do the laundry or clean the house, etc. The expectation that women should be homemakers is a cultural one. The closest thing to a biblical directive for women to keep house is Paul’s instruction for the Ephesian widows to lead/manage (oikodespotēs) their homes (1 Tim 5:14). Paul wrote this instruction primarily to keep the idle young widows out of trouble.

I don’t advocate slovenliness. Keeping a clean and ordered home is very commendable; however, many women have useful and important talents and abilities other than housekeeping. I don’t believe that women (or men) should keep their talents hidden simply because of preconceived or cultural gender roles. Let me add, I also don’t think that men or women should follow their own interests and ambitions, however godly, at the expense of family members. It is particularly important that children are cared for by parents who have quantity time and not just quality time to spend with their children.

[7] The concept of a ruling husband came as a consequence of sin (Genesis 3:16b), and should not be regarded as the norm.

© 28th of December 2010, Margaret Mowczko


Related Articles

A Suitable Helper (in the Hebrew)
Every verse that contains boēthos in the Septuagint
Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?
Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”
Leading Together in the Home
Submission
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Is Motherhood the highest calling for women?