Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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This Christmas one of my gifts was a copy of the Septuagint, the circa 200–1 BC Greek version of the 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 and I started reading 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 helper suitable for him.”

This phrase in Genesis 2:18 of the Septuagint contains the preposition kata and 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. It doesn’t contain kata but the adjective homoios, 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, however, I am particularly interested in the Greek word translated as “helper”. 

I was delighted to discover that boēthos (“helper”) is used in these verses. There is the same sense of “strength” and “rescue” in this Greek word as there is with the original Hebrew word for “helper” (ezer) used in the Hebrew text of Genesis 2:18 & 20.  (I have written about ezer in a previous article on A Suitable Helper.)

Boēthos is a noun made up of two words which mean (i) “cry out” and (ii) “run”. The related verb 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, boēth– words are used where people were crying out to Jesus for help.
In Acts 16:9, 21:28, 27:17 and Revelation 12:16, boēth– words are used where strong help and support were required.
In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 2:18, 4:16 and 13:6, boēth– words are 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. It is also 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 pre-fall creation accounts that identifies specific gender roles for men and for women;[6] nor do these passages suggest that women were (or are) in any way inferior to men. Rather, the pre-fall creation accounts contain 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).

Contrary to the views of some Christians, there is nothing in the pre-fall creation accounts that states Adam was the leader[7] and authority figure while Eve was 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.

Footnotes

[1] The Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX) is a Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew Scriptures. It also contains Jewish apocryphal books not contained in the Hebrew Bible. The first five books of the Bible are thought to have been translated in Alexandria, Egypt, some time around 200 BC. Other books were translated in following years. The Septuagint was used widely by the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman 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.
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 manage their homes (1 Tim 5:14). Paul wrote this instruction primarily to keep the idle, young and relatively wealthy widows out of trouble. More on this (and Titus 2:4-5) here.

[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

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Related Articles

A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Every verse that contains boēthos in the Septuagint
Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable or similar to the man?
Kenegdo = “Equal to Him” (Genesis 2:18, 20)
Ezer Kenegdo does not mean “a helper subordinate to him”
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?
Three Scholars with Two Views on Eve’s Role as Helper
The Holy Spirit and Eve as Helpers
Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
Is a Gender Hierarchy Implicit in the Creation Narrative of Genesis 2:4-25?”
Leading Together in the Home
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

4 thoughts on ““A Suitable Helper” (in the Septuagint)

  1. As a woman living in today’s society, no matter how hard I tried to make myself feel at peace about that passage, the word “helper” made me feel kind of inferior or unimportant. But the more and more research I do and the more books I read, the more I find how much we lose with our English translations of the Word.

    I was listening to Timothy Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage,” and found out what the original Greek word actually meant – and you’ve compounded on that. It’s totally changed my attitude on that verse. Thanks!

  2. Hi Karyn,

    People have said terribly inaccurate things about the word “helper”. It truly is a strong word whether in the Hebrew or Greek. There is nothing inferior, unimportant or subservient about it.

    I’ve heard several preachers associate a woman’s help with the Holy Spirit. But this cannot be supported scripturally either.

    I think we are all supposed to help each other. And in marriage there should be mutual support, service and help.

    Have you seen my other article on A Suitable Helper in the Hebrew?

    1. People have said terribly inaccurate things about the word “helper”. It truly is a strong word whether in the Hebrew or Greek. There is nothing inferior, unimportant or subservient about it.

      The Word of God does not support the statement as it pertains to leadership. Although I agree that subservient is not the idea, the bible emphatically makes it clear that the husband is the head of the wife. In Ephesians 5:22-33 The Apostle Paul makes this clear, and the proper context of how the marriage relationship should be viewed or practiced.

      It is also clearly pointed out in Col 3:18 points this out as well. This is also made clear by the Apostle peter as well in Chap 3:1-7

      Ephesians 5:23 (KJV 1900)
      23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

      The word ” Head ” kephale (κεφαλή, 2776), besides its natural significance, is used (b) metaphorically, of the authority or direction of God in relation to Christ, of Christ in relation to believing men, of the husband in relation to the wife

      ” I’ve heard several preachers associate a woman’s help with the Holy Spirit. But this cannot be supported scripturally either. ”

      The reason that this is associated is because of the word Ezer being used for the wife as the helper, and also referenced to the Holy Ghost/ Holy Spirit being mans helper as well. This is not something that requires an esoteric rendering, but it is simply based on how the words are used and how they are very much used interchangeably both for the wife and the holy spirit being our helper as. The thing is that the helper usage is related to the wife being her husbands helper, and the the holy spirit being every born again believers helper.

      ” I think we are all supposed to help each other. And in marriage there should be mutual support, service and help. ”

      As I agree that marriage has mutual help and support, the scriptures clearly compare the relationship or marriage to that of Christ and Church. When we see the Phrase ” Let the wives be subject ” hupotasso (ὑποτάσσω, 5293), primarily a military term, “to rank under” (hupo, “under,” tasso, “to arrange”) ” The marriage that the Lord established clearly has a head and a leader just as Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. If we understand this according to the scriptures in context, we could not even attempt to refute this a Gods design for the marriage. In order to embrace that there is no leader and the husband and wife are equal, we fail to see that although equal in Christ, they have different roles as it pertains to familial structure and operation..

      1. Hi Morris, There are several statements I disagree with in your reply, but I’ll focus on just two elements.

        1. Helper

        The word “help/er” (Hebrew: ezer; Greek: boēthos) used of Eve is an entirely different word from the word John uses (paraklētos) of the Holy Spirit. The words have a different range of meanings. I discuss these words here:
        https://margmowczko.com/holy-spirit-eve-helpers/

        2. Christian Submission

        Submission, like meekness and humility, are normal Christian traits, at least they should be (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV). The military sense of hypotassō is rarely used in the New Testament. It is true that the etymology of hypotassō is hypo “under” + tassō “arrange, order”, but etymology is an unreliable, and sometimes misleading, indicator of meaning. Usage determines meaning.

        Submission between Christians, including submission between Christian husbands and wives, is characterised by humility, deference, cooperation, loyalty, and, of course, love. Love should be a fundamental part of all Christian relationships. And ideally, submission and love should be reciprocal. Neither Jesus, Paul, or Peter ever tell husbands that they are the leaders or authorities of their wives. In fact, Paul uses the word “love” 6 times when addressing husbands in Ephesians 5:25ff.

        The instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5 is not that they lead their wives, but that they love their wives! The same is true of Colossians 3:19. And In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter tells husbands to honour their wives.

        Being a Christian is about loving and serving God and loving and serving others. It is not about asserting authority over other capable brothers and sisters in Christ. This obsession that some have about authority is unChristlike. It is not what the New Testament teaches.

        And just quickly, the first phrase in the definition you’ve given for kephalē is correct, there is a sense of “natural significance” in the word. The word is often used by Greek-speaking Jewish authors such as Philo and Josephus, with a sense of prominence. I have never seen kephalē used with the definition of “person in authority” in ancient texts originally written in Greek. All my articles on kephalē (“head”) are here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/kephale/

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