Do women have a special obligation to be the helpers of men?

Does Genesis 2:18 and 20 speak about a permanent or defining role for the first woman? Some Christians say “yes”. But I’m not so sure.

The Problem and Solution of Adam’s Solitude

In Genesis 2 we read that the first human, Adam, was alone, and that this was a problem. God highlighted this problem with the naming-of-the-animals exercise, and so Adam became acutely aware there was no creature on earth that was his equal partner or suitable companion.

God then built a woman from a side, or part, taken out from Adam’s own body. The woman was made to help the man, whose only apparent problem was his solitude.

As soon as God introduced the newly–formed woman to Adam, the problem of being alone was solved. It was solved at that very moment because Eve was Adam’s equal partner, perfectly compatible with him.

God’s plan was a success. Eve helped. Adam was no longer alone.

Unlike what some may suggest, there is no mention of permanent or fixed gender roles in Genesis 2. Nothing in Genesis implies that Eve continued to be identified or defined as Adam’s helper. Similarly, Adam is not identified or defined as someone who continued to name animals. That episode was completed and over, and the narrative moves on, but not before giving us a glimpse into the relationship between the first man and woman.

The last few verses of Genesis 2, which could well contain the main points of the creation-of-Eve narrative, are about the profound kinship and unity of the first man and woman (Gen. 2:23-25). These verses are not about roles, let alone distinct gender roles.

Eve’s Identity and Authority

In Genesis 3:20, Adam calls his wife by the name “Eve” for the first time, because he now understands that she will be the “mother of all the living”. Yet I have seldom heard anyone say that being the “mother of all the living” was Eve’s defining role.[1]

It seems that Eve had more than one role, and that her roles changed as circumstances changed.

Most people have many roles in life, and these change as our circumstances change and as we go through different life stages. Nevertheless, some Christians think that Eve, and by extension all women, are fundamentally defined as being the auxiliaries, or subordinate helpers, of men.[2]

The scriptures, however, 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.

Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that men and women were created to work together to do whatever necessary to act as God’s regents, which included ruling the earth and having dominion over the animals. In Genesis 1, men and women are given the exact same commission from God, and they have an identical status, authority, and function. Gender roles are not mentioned before the Fall.

Men and Women Need each Other

It doesn’t make sense to suggest that the first woman was created to help the solitary man, and thus all women are auxiliaries with the function of perpetually serving and assisting men (who are not solitary as Adam was.) It also doesn’t make sense to suggest, as some do, that men have no reciprocal obligation to help women because of the creation order of Adam being made first, before his wife.

Paul addresses these faulty ideas (which he articulates in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9) with:

“Nevertheless (or, except that), in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12 NIV).

Paul states here that men and women, particularly those “in the Lord”, need each other; and that the creation order has no significance in Christian relationships because both men and women ultimately have God as their source.

Loving and Helping One Another 

To say that one sex has a greater obligation to help another sex does not sound like Paul. It also doesn’t sound like Jesus.

Jesus told his followers to love one another. Love is his greatest command. Surely love is most clearly expressed when we help one another, irrespective of the gender of the person helping, and the gender of the person being helped.

Let me spell it out. Depending on the need and the circumstances, men should help men, women should help women, men should help women, women should help men, mixed groups should help mixed groups, etc. Everyone should help anyone with a need, according to their ability and situation.[3]

The Bible simply does not indicate that being a helper is a special obligation or duty of women. Being a helper is not a gender role. Helping is what considerate and caring human beings do.


Endnotes

[1] The Hebrew word for “Eve” probably means “living”

[2] The phrase ezer kenegdo, in the original language of Genesis 2:18 and 20, does not mean “subordinate helper”.

[3] We each have a particular obligation to help those in our family, and to help the weak, vulnerable and disadvantaged, regardless of gender.


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