What did Eve do to help?

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the human to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18; cf. 2:20).

The English words “helper” and “suitable (for him)” do not adequately express the senses of importance and of mutuality in the Hebrew expression ezer kenegdo which is used in Genesis 2:18 and 20 about the creation of first woman. Rather, these English words come across as mundane and even boring.

What’s more, regardless of what language they are translated into, Genesis 2:18 and 20 have been typically interpreted through the lens of lowly attitudes towards women, attitudes evident in many cultures. This cultural bias has blinded many people to the significance of the description of the first woman, and they have failed to appreciate the kind of help she provided. In this post I look at two very different ways of looking at Eve as helper.

Augustine

Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church and Latin Father, 354-430

Augustine believed Eve’s help was solely related to procreation, and he seems puzzled by the biblical description of her as Adam’s suitable helper. This is what he wrote in his work with the English title, The Literal Meaning of Genesis:

I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes procreation. If woman is not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?
De genesi ad literatum 9.5-9 (Italics added)

Yet, according to Genesis 1:27-28, God created and commissioned both women and men for more than procreation. Both were to act as God’s image bearers and take charge of the animals and rule the earth as his representatives.

Furthermore, unlike Genesis 1, Genesis 2 says nothing about procreation. Rather, the task at hand was to cultivate the earth: “The LORD God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it (Gen. 2:15 CEB).

In interpreting Genesis 2:18 and 20, Augustine was looking more at his own culture than at the biblical text, a culture where women were regarded as inferior to men and were very much limited in how they could contribute to society.

David J.A. Clines

Biblical scholar and emeritus professor at the University of Sheffield, b. 1938

David Clines is a scholar who is committed to feminism.[1] Nevertheless, he largely agrees with Augustine’s view of the role of Eve. He believes her help was to have children and not help in farming.

In his chapter What Does Eve Do to Help?[2], Clines discusses Eve’s help and says, “We never actually see Adam tilling the ground, so we cannot tell for sure whether Eve has been lending him a hand. But since nothing in the narrative says it, we doubt it . . .”

Clines’ arguments against Eve sharing in tilling the earth includes the punishments given in Genesis 3: “Adam is sentenced for his guilt to sweat over his work on the land and to struggle with thorns and thistles, and not Eve.”

Unlike what Clines asserts, I cannot see that the respective punishments for Adam and for Eve signify that Adam tilled the earth on his own without any help from Eve, either before or after the first sin, or that Eve went through childbirth on her own without Adam’s help and support. Furthermore, Genesis 5 tells us that Adam was 130 years old when he seemingly had his third son, Seth. What has Eve been doing all these years? It is difficult to accept Cline’s proposition that for decades on end “she is inside having children while Adam is out there sweating and struggling with the soil.”

Clines also believes that only the directive to procreate, given in Genesis 1:27-28, applies to women, while all of them apply to men. He states, “God regards Eve as primarily a child-bearing creature,” and that childbearing is “the one thing she has been created to do.” And he further notes, “Woman’s function as childbearer is denoted by her name Life, Eve.” If child bearing was her only role, however, why isn’t the woman identified immediately or earlier in the narrative as “Eve”?

Eve is primarily identified as a mother in Genesis 3:20, and Adam is identified primarily as a farmer/gardener Genesis 3:23, but, I strongly disagree that Eve’s one and only role was to procreate, any more than Adam’s one and only role was to cultivate the ground.[3]

Kenneth E. Bailey

New Testament scholar, seminary professor, and linguist, 1930-2016.

Kenneth Bailey has commented on Eve’s function as helper, and has an entirely different take on her status and her help compared with that of Augustine and Clines. In his book Paul through Mediterranean Eyes, Bailey, who does not mention procreation at all, writes,

It was not Eve who was lonely, unable to manage and needed help. Instead, it was Adam who could not manage alone. Eve was then created as an ‘ezera [feminine of ezer] . . . a powerful figure who comes to the help/save someone who is in trouble. The Hebrew word ‘ezer is often used for God . . . The word ‘ezer does not refer to a lowly assistant but to a powerful figure who comes to help/save someone who is in trouble. . . . Women, as descendants of Eve, are placed by God in the human scene as the strong who come to help/save the needy (the men). (Bailey’s italics.)[4]

The woman was created to be a strong and able companion for the man. Moreover, within this piece of the creation narrative, there is nothing which specifies how the woman helped apart from alleviating the human’s aloneness by joining him and being united with him in an exclusive relationship (Gen. 2:24).[5]

It is remarkable how different Bailey’s understanding of Eve’s function as ezer kenegdo is compared to that of Augustine and Clines.

What did Eve do to Help?

Genesis 2 says nothing about procreation being an issue. Rather, God himself states, “It is not good for the human to be alone.” God highlights the problem with the naming-of-the-animals exercise which made the human acutely aware that there was no creature on earth that was a kenegdo, his equal and corresponding partner (Gen. 2:18-20).

As soon as God introduced the newly-formed woman to the man, the problem was solved. The man was no longer alone. He had a companion who was perfectly compatible with him.

Despite what some may suggest, there is no mention of permanent or fixed gender roles in Genesis 2. And nothing in Genesis 2 or 3 implies that the woman continues to be primarily identified or defined as Adam’s helper. Likewise, the man does not continue to be primarily identified or defined by his task of naming the animals.

The scriptures give us no reason to think that Eve’s station in life was marked by a one-sided help or service to her husband, or that Adam’s station in life was to receive his wife’s help without also helping her. Furthermore, the idea that women are to help men, but men are not to help women flies in the face of both common sense and the repeated New Testament teaching that we are to love one another. Surely, an obvious expression of loving someone is helping them. Helping someone is not a gender role.

Augustine was wrong. Men do need women, women who have been given the freedom to learn and develop as capable human beings and explore their potential. And women need men. We need each other. Paul understood this and, alluding to Genesis 2, he stated, “In the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Cor. 11:11). Mutuality between men and women, and not a gender hierarchy, is the social paradigm for those who are “in the Lord”.


Endnotes

[1] Clines regards the Bible as sexist and he argues that the Hebrew Bible was written by men, and for men, and is about a male God. (Much of the Bible is andro-centric, in that it largely focuses on male characters, but this does not mean women do not have the same status as their brothers in the New Covenant community of God’s people.) Despite Clines’ assertion that the God of the Hebrew Bible is “a thoroughly male god”, he acknowledges in his paper Alleged Female Language about the Deity in the Hebrew Bible that ”the prophet does indeed use the image of a woman in his depiction of Yahweh” in Isaiah 42:14. And in Isaiah 66:13, God acts “like a mother.” (Cline’s italics.) Source: Academia.edu My article Is God Male or Masculine? here.

[2] All quotations in this section are taken from What Does Eve Do to Help? and Other Readerly Questions to the Old Testament (JSOTSup, 94; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), 25-48. This chapter is available on Academia.edu here.
In this chapter Clines also states, “To say, for example, that women as well as men are created as the image of God is to move beyond the horizon of the text.” I believe, however, Genesis 1:26ff does tell us that both women and men are created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that men and women at creation had the same status, the same authority, and the same purpose.

[3] In Genesis 2, Adam also was given the task of naming the animals, a task he supposedly completed (Gen. 2:18-20).

[4] Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 310.

[5] Fifty years ago, Derek Kidner said this about Adam and Eve and their “roles” in Genesis 2:18-25:

The naming of the animals, a scene which portrays man as monarch of all he surveys, poignantly reveals him as a social being, made for fellowship, not power; he will not live until he loves, giving himself away (Gen. 2:24) to another on his level [cf. Eph. 5:1-2, 25, 28-29, 31]. So the woman is presented wholly as his partner and counterpart; nothing is yet said of her as childbearer. She is valued for herself alone.
Derek Kidner, Genesis (TOTC) (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 65. (Source).
Read selected statements about Adam and Eve, taken from Kidner’s commentary, at Enough Lighthere.


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