Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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This past week, I was reminded that many Christians still believe that Eve was created to be Adam’s assistant and so she was subordinate to him. Does Eve’s “help” in Genesis 2 have the sense of “assistance”?  And does helping someone require that you subordinate yourself to that person? A few scholars whose essays I’ve read recently would answer these questions with a “yes”. They seem to have a different idea of “help” than I do.

According to Dictionary.com the English verb “help” can have many senses, but the top three are:
1. to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means to; render assistance to; cooperate effectively with; aid; assist.
2. to save; rescue; succor.
3. to make easier or less difficult; contribute to; facilitate.

A helper, then, in English at least, is someone who does some or all of these things.

Eve as an Ezer Kenegdo

Genesis 2 tells us that Adam, who was all alone, needed help, and that a woman, Eve, was created to provide this help. The Hebrew word for “help” used here is ezer, and it is mostly used in the Hebrew Bible for God’s help. (More on ezer and how it’s used in the Hebrew Bible, here.) Importantly, ezer is qualified by the word kenegdo. Kenegdo tells us that Eve was a person who was similar to Adam, who corresponded to him, who was his equal counterpart. (More on kenegdo here.)

Eve was not an afterthought or an extra in God’s scheme. She was not a mere auxiliary or assistant for Adam. The narrative of Genesis 2:18ff, which includes the statement that it was “not good” for the man to be alone, was designed to emphasise the vital necessity of Eve. The naming-of-the-animals exercise highlights her unique compatibility and equality with Adam (Gen. 2:20).

Most Christians today acknowledge that Eve was equal to Adam in her being, or personhood (i.e. she was ontologically Adam’s equal). But she was also equal to Adam in her purpose and function, even if their reciprocal help may have been sometimes expressed in different ways. (Note that I do not use the word “equal” as necessarily, or always, meaning “the same”, especially when it comes to details rather than broad concepts.)

There is no sense of subordination in the Hebrew Bible’s description of Eve as an ezer kenegdo.[1] And there is no sense of subordination in Adam’s words about Eve in Genesis 2:23. Rather, he uses words that express affinity and similarity: “This one now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh;[2] she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” Nevertheless, some Christians maintain that Eve was subordinate to Adam simply because she was a help to him.

Eve as a Subordinate Helper

Below are three quotations from three scholars who believe Eve was created inferior to Adam in purpose and function. After each quotation, I give a brief critique.

Raymond Ortlund

Raymond Ortlund writes that Eve “was Adam’s spiritual equal and, unlike the animals, ‘suitable for him.’ But she was not his equal in that she was his ‘helper.’”[3]

As God’s people, we need to be wary about accepting the proposition that a spiritual reality has little or no bearing on the physical reality. Why wouldn’t spiritual equality have a physical or practical outworking in the relationship between Adam and Eve? Also, Eve was not just Adam’s helper, she was his “helper kenegdo” which does not convey any sense of inequality in either spiritual or practical terms.

David Clines

In his essay entitled What Does Eve do to Help?, David Clines writes,

… though superiors may help inferiors, strong may help weak, gods may help humans, in the act of helping they are being ‘inferior.’ That is to say, they are subjecting themselves to a secondary, subordinate position. Their help may be necessary or crucial, but they are assisting some task that is already someone else’s responsibility. They are not actually doing the task themselves, or even in cooperation, for there is different language for that.[4]

I’ll work backwards through these statements from Clines.

Ezer is used in the Hebrew Bible with a sense of cooperation and joining forces (e.g., Isa. 30:1–5; Dan. 11:13–14 CEB). (Though, in these examples, there is a failure in delivering vital help.) In Isaiah 41:6, the cognate verb azar is used in the context of mutual help among neighbours. In Ezra 10:15, azar is used in the context of forming an alliance. So, ezer and its cognates can be used in the contexts of cooperation.

Furthermore, when we help someone, we can make the task or responsibility our own, or we can share the task or responsibility with the person who originally took it on. Importantly, even if we are helping others and empowering them to succeed in their task, I fail to see how this makes us inferior or subordinate in rank. Helping someone to succeed does not necessarily diminish us or make us subordinate.

Moreover, the superiors, the strong, and the gods in Clines’ statement, are not defined by an inferior or subordinate position to the people they supposedly help. The opposite is true. They remain the superiors. Yet Eve’s “reason for being” is incorrectly summarised by the idea of “a subordinate helper” rather than as an ezer kenegdo.

Douglas Moo

Writing about the statements about the creation and the fall in 1 Timothy 2:13–14, Douglas Moo mentions “the subordinate, helping role envisaged for [women] in creation.”[5]

In this phrase, Dr Moo links subordination with helping, but his idea of subordination is not expressed in Genesis 1 or Genesis 2. As with Ortlund and Clines, Moo seems to think that helping others is the role of a subordinate. (Please note that Dr Moo’s statement comes from a paper published in 1980 and I don’t know if he still holds this view.)

For these three men, Eve’s “reason for being,” her purpose, can be summarised by the description that she is a helper, or assistant, subordinate to Adam, rather than a vital helper equal to him.

Christians as Helpers

I regard myself as a helpful person, but I have never thought that I was being subordinate to the people I help. And when I look around at other people who are helping communities and individuals, I don’t they are subordinating themselves. In fact, some people who help have more authority and power, in certain areas, than the people they are helping, as Clines also admits.

Helping people with less power

Doctors have a level of authority in hospitals where they help their patients to get well. Police officers have a level of authority in their communities where they help to keep their communities safe. Teachers have a level of authority in educational institutions where they help their students to learn. If doctors, police officers, and teachers subordinate themselves and relinquish their positions of authority, they are less able to help the people who need them.

Some of the most beneficial expressions of help are when we assist people who are greatly disadvantaged and have little or no personal power in their community or situation

Helping Equals

More often than not, we help people who are our equals, our peers, where authority is simply not part of the relationship, and status is not a consideration. For instance, if I choose to mop my friend’s floors and do her laundry because she’s hurt her back, I’m not subordinating myself to her. I’m helping her as a friend.

Marriages can be at this level. Ideally, husbands and wives are equal partners who share the same level of authority and responsibility in their homes, and who, day to day, help each other and defer to each other out of mutual respect and love.

Helping people with more power

Some people do help others with more power. Servants and slaves help their masters and are socially subordinate to them. And employees help their employers. The level of authority of employers, however, is restricted in healthy societies, and employers and employees are, hopefully, equal in agency outside of work hours. However, according to some commentators of Genesis 2, unlike employees, Eve never gets a day off. They maintain that she is always Adam’s subordinate helper.

We are all Servants

I simply can’t see that helping someone goes hand in hand with subordinating oneself. I would hope that all of us see ourselves as people ready to help, regardless of gender. It bothers me that the idea of unequal power and the language of subordination has been pulled into conversations about Adam and Eve and into conversations about Christian men and women.

Genuine followers of Jesus are servants, but the people we help are not our masters. Ultimately, we have only one master (Matt. 23:8–12). We are servants of God. In our service, with perhaps a few exceptions, we do not subordinate ourselves to other people, especially to fellow Christians, because we all have the exact same status as both servants of God and children of God.

The Bible never asserts that Adam had a greater level of authority or responsibility than Eve. And while wives are directed in a few New Testament passages to be submissive to their husbands, all Christians are directed to be submissive to one another in Ephesians 5:21 (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV). (I take the Greek verb hypotassō as having a sense of submission, deference, loyalty, and cooperation rather than a sense of subordination and subjection in verses that are about the relationships between Christian brothers and sisters.)

I wish all Christians could actively love, care for, and serve one another, and quit the unnecessary, unhelpful, and un-Christlike obsession with who supposedly has authority and who hasn’t. We must be careful that we do not regard or treat some Christians as though they are either superior or inferior, or of a higher or lower class than others, as all followers of Jesus are equal in being and in purpose.


[1] There is also no sense of subordination in the Septuagint’s excellent translation of ezer kenegdo in Genesis 2:18 and 20. I’ve written about this here.

[2] “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” may be an extension of a Hebrew idiom which refers to a close bond, or close relationship, and signifies loyalty. The Hebrew idiom occurs in the following verses.

In Genesis 29:14 where Laban says to Jacob, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” (Hebrew)
In Judges 9:2 where Jerubaal sends a message to the leaders of Shechem and says, “Remember that I am your bone and your flesh.” (Hebrew)
In 2 Samuel 5:1//1 Chronicles 11:1 where all of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.” (Hebrew of 2 Sam. 5:1 and of 1 Chron. 11:1)
In 2 Samuel 19:12 where David sends a message to the elders of Judah which includes, “You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh.” (Hebrew)
In 2 Samuel 19:13 where David continues, “And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh?” (Hebrew)

The same Hebrew words for “bone” and “flesh” are used in all these verses, including Genesis 2:23. (Hebrew) The Hebrew idiom has a similar sense to the English idiom “flesh and blood,” so some English translations of the verses I’ve cited have “flesh and blood” rather than “bone and flesh.”

Furthermore, Walter Brueggemann argues that because flesh is weak and bones are strong, the picture in this idiom is of loyalty through thick and thin; the two words flesh and bone “express the entire range of intermediate possibilities from the extreme frailty to power.”

With Genesis 2:23 in mind, Brueggemann states, “It is a formula of constancy, of abiding loyalty, which in the first place has nothing to do with biological derivation, as it is often interpreted.” In a footnote, he adds that while he doesn’t discount the element of physical oneness, “clearly the emphasis is placed elsewhere, namely, on belonging to each other because of mutual commitment.”
Walter Brueggemann, “Of the Same Flesh and Bone (Gn 2.23a ),” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 32.4 (October 1970): 532-542, 535 (Online at JSTOR)

[3] Raymond C. Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship, Genesis 1–3”, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, John Piper and Wayne Grudem (eds) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 86–104, 91. More about Raymond Ortlund’s views on gender in Genesis 2 is here.

[4] David J.A. Clines, What Does Eve Do to Help? and Other Readerly Questions to the Old Testament (JSOTSup, 94; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), 25–48. (Available online here.) More about David Clines’ views on Eve as helper, here.

[5] Douglas J. Moo, “1 Timothy 2:11–15: Meaning and Significance,” Trinity Journal NS (1980): 62–83, 68.
More about Moo’s views on the “roles” of men and women and the created order, here.

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Being an Ezer is not a Gender Role
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?
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A Suitable Helper (In the Septuagint)
Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?
Jesus’ teaching on leadership and community in Matthew’s Gospel

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

39 thoughts on “Ezer kenegdo does not mean “a helper subordinate to him”

  1. Thank you for this. Very helpful. Rachel Naomi Remen unpacks the meaning of “helping” and concludes that it represents a relationship between unequals (the helper being the stronger of the two). She makes a compelling argument that could be used to further confound the notion that helping puts one in a position of weakness. ;). I suspect you’ll enjoy the article. Here it is. http://communityservice.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/10/In-the-Service-of-Life.pdf
    See you on Facebook. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Tracy, I’ll take a look.

      I’ve heard some people say that ezer implies that the woman was the stronger of the two, but I feel the word/phrase kenegdo indicates that the couple had an equal strength and a similar capacity for helping.

      I like what Kenneth Bailey says on this topic:
      “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).”
      Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 310.

      I mention this quotation in my article Three scholars with two views on Eve’s role as helper, here.

  2. John 13:5,12-15 [New American Standard Bible] comes to mind, and why I [all women] and the male counterparts freely participate in this ceremony within the church. Outstanding article. We are ALL servants if we truly follow Christ. >> Alison

    1. I wonder it if would make a difference, a good difference, if all churches practised the ceremony of foot-washing. I think it might.

      Thanks, Alison.

  3. To help (if it is of our volition) is to be powerful. (Mopping your friend’s floors with your good back while her’s is injured.)
    But unfortunately “service” is habitually associated with economic compulsion.

    God’s categories are not ours.
    Jesus demonstrates this at The Last Supper.
    John 13;1
    When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

    Jesus helps, but is in no way “subordinate” (in the “human-ranking” sense of the word).
    But, the very essence of Divine love is “not to cling to His Godhead” but “to empty (subordinate) himself”…….
    in The Incarnation,
    being “in-Mary”,
    being born in a stable, and
    “Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was subject to them. But His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”(Luke 2:51)
    Accepting humiliation & death.

    To love, as God (who is infinitely powerful) loves, is to humble oneself.
    God is often paradoxical.
    But it is… to humble oneself for love; …..for love of others.
    To humble oneself for other motives is something else.
    The habitual human categories of power, subordination, ranking, self-loathing are irrelevant to this, but our language is limited & we have to use the same words.

    Jesus helps, but is in no way “subordinate”
    Mary (as The New Eve) helps but is in every way subordinate. (being a creature)
    Eve was “helper”; Mary is “The handmaid of The Lord”
    Eve “facilitated”(helped) the Fall; But Mary “facilitated”(helped) Salvation.
    The God, who humbles himself, put the whole of his salvation-plan (Plan A at least!) at the mercy of Mary’s consent.
    God places man’s salvation in the hands of a Jewish maid (who could be stoned according to the Law for being with child). Gloriously she said “yes” for all humanity

    This is the meaning of Mary as “co-redemptrix” (co-operater-helper).
    Mary’s unique co-operation & participation, with and under, her Divine Son Jesus Christ, in the historic Redemption of humanity.
    So she is the helper “par-excellence”, but she is the first among all creatures.

    1. The word in reference to Eve isn’t “service”, it’s “help” (ezer), and this word is always used in the Hebrew Bible in powerful contexts, and mostly about God’s help.

      I have never seen ezer translated as “service” or “servant”, and it would change the meaning of the verse if someone did.
      For example,
      “There is no God like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to serve you, and on the clouds of His majesty” does not mean the same as “There is no God like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you, and on the clouds of His majesty” (Deut. 33:26).

      If you want to check the context, I list each of the 21 verses that contains ezer at the end of this article: https://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/

      The words used by the translator(s) in the Septuagint gives good insight into the meaning and nuances of ezer kenegdo: https://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper-in-the-septuagint/

  4. In my first blog, I posted a topic about the wives’ role and stated something similar regarding the words “Ezer” and “Kenedgdo” . I even mentioned that in the bible even refers to God as our “ezer” a couple of scriptures and of course God is not our inferior. I agree that helping another doesn’t put you in an inferior position. In fact many times, the stronger helps the weaker whether it’s physically, or a weaker position and status. I agree Eve was created to be Adam’s companion equal to him spiritually, worth and value and function since God created both male and female in his own image. Unfortunately, patriarchy influences on Christianity misinterpreted the scriptures to fit into their mold delegating women to an inferior position. Luckily this is changing even among plenty of complentarians known as soft or moderate complentarians. Another good article and God Bless.

    1. I’m also grateful that many Christians are realising that Eve (and women in general) were not designed to be inferior or subordinate to Adam (or to men in general). In fact, it amazes me that some Christians can still think this way. This is not what Jesus taught. And it’s not what Paul taught.

  5. Thank you so much for your work!
    I’ve had some huge hang ups with Christianity and the supposed inferiority of women. It was VERY damaging to my faith.
    I’m so glad I found your articles. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rachel.
      It’s a real problem that there are forms of Christianity that damage faith. 🙁

  6. Well written and interesting article. Thanks for sharing!

    We recognize that names in Genesis are largely symbolic. Even if you spin all Eve’s symbolic descriptions, you’re talking pre-fall. You’re forgetting Gen. 3:16 and the curses on “Eve”: birthing pains, husband rules. This was not God’s plan for mankind, but it is the unfortunate reality after leaving the garden.

    I’d be curious to know how you read that.

    1. Hi Jared,

      I didn’t forget Genesis 3:16, but it has nothing to do with what the words ezer kenegdo mean.

      Just to be clear, neither Adam or Eve were cursed; it was the serpent and the ground who were cursed. These curses, however, would make life harder and less harmonious for the couple and for humankind.

      Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, humanity needed a saviour, and we got one. As redeemed followers of Jesus, Genesis 3:16 has little bearing on our lives today, even if it did before Jesus’ death and resurrection, and before Pentecost.

      We have a new life in Jesus Christ, a new way of relating. Still, this doesn’t have anything to do with what ezer kenegdo means.

      1. If it’s not a curse, what is it?

        Sandwiched between the curse on the serpent and the curse on the “ground” (obviously meant to inconvenience Adam), God “promises” Eve pain.

        After the fall, Adam names Eve, claiming dominion over her.

        You’re right, none of this has anything to do with what ezer kenegdo means. However, this read less like a language lesson and more like an attempt to convince others Eve was an equal.

        She may have been created ezer kenegdo pre-fall, but that didn’t last long. Again, not God’s plan for us, but the whole story is they lived beyond that.

        1. Consequences and perhaps punishments, but the word for “curse” is not used in regards to the man or the woman in the biblical text. I prefer to stick with the text.

          Adam named his wife Eve, which means “life”. This doesn’t sound like a name for a cursed person given by a cursed person.

          Also, there no reason to presume Adam naming Eve implies dominion. The biblical text doesn’t say he did this as an act of dominion. Again, I prefer to stick with what the text says. Furthermore, Hagar named God in Genesis 16:3, and she didn’t have dominion over God. (More on Adam naming Eve here.)

          “An attempt to convince others Eve was equal”? Adam and Eve were equal at creation but, I agree, it didn’t last. Men and women were also equal in Genesis chapter one: they had the exact same status, the same authority, and the same purpose (Gen 1:26-28). Both men and women were given dominion over animals, but not over each other.

          This post does not include a “language lesson”. I’ve explored the language in previous posts, ezer here and kenegdo here, and the Septuagint’s translation of ezer kenegdo, here.

          This post is primarily a critique of people, including the three scholars I’ve quoted from, who think Eve was created as a subordinate helper even though the biblical text simply does not say this, but instead uses the words ezer kenegdo.

          Thankfullym we live in a time, post-Pentecost, when there is the potential to live with the same kind of harmony and unity that Adam and Eve shared, and men and women can reclaim their original status, authority, and purpose, while we wait for the future fulfilment, the future shalom (Rom. 8:18ff).


  7. I am thankful for your patience and persistence to continuously and clearly explain God’s original design for humankind to work in equal partnership beside one another for His glory. May you have a happy and healthy New Year, Marg! God bless you!

    1. Happy New Year, Kathy! 😀

  8. Thank you for a good article. I also understand that any other time the term Ezer kenegdo is used. I think maybe 16 or so times, it Is in reference to God and more specifically God’s own Presence coming in to a desperate situation for a rescue. God certainly was and is not subordinate to man so that proves your case. As far as rank however Adam came first and she was formed from his rib and not the way he was namely from the ground. There seems to be something implied by this that she was different and still same. From Adam and for Adam. For his need and rescue which elevates her in a sense yet it gives him value as being worth rescuing. Rank is strongly implied here but not an issue until sin entered in. Then the battle to control in all the wrong ways enters too. In pronouncing judgement, it appears she is under subjection but for protection from her own devices and yet protection will come from God not man and that works as she obeys the position mandated by a wise and loving God. Lots to think about. Not about value. They are of quality value. Both are judged by obedience to Gods law or to its provision for lack of obedience, namely the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    1. Hi Maru,

      I’ve included all the verses where the word Ezer occurs here: https://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/

      Some people interpret “Adam first, Eve second” as implying rank. However, a difference in rank between the first man and first woman is not the message of Genesis 2. Rather the similarities between Adam and Eve are explicitly stated. And there is certainly no difference in rank or status in Genesis 1:26-28 where men and women have the same status, the same authority, and the same purpose.

      Also, the traditional English translation “rib” is not the best translation. “Side” is a more accurate translation from the Hebrew (tsela) and from the Greek (pleura). The first woman was made from the side (bone and flesh) of the first human. (See Genesis 2:21-23.)

      Unfortunately, sin did spoil the unity and mutuality of the first couple. But it is incorrect to suggest that Eve, but not Adam, needed to be protected from her own devices. After all, Adam ate the forbidden fruit too. And a “battle of control” is an overstatement. Where is the evidence from history that wives have consistently battled to control their husbands? (There is nothing like a battle to control in my marriage or in my home.)

      Kenegdo has a sense of mutuality and reciprocity, indicating that, while Eve helps Adam, Adam also helps Eve. There is absolutely no sense of elevation or of subjection in kenegdo. The apostle Paul also wrote about this kind of mutuality. In referring to the created order, he notes, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.”

      For those of us who are “in the Lord” mutual interdependence and service is what’s important, not who came first, because God is the source of all, of both men and women.

      Man ruling over woman is a consequence of sin (Gen 3:16b). It is not God’s plan for us. We can do better than this. We can humbly and mutually submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).

  9. You might be interesting in my translation of this curious phrase. In essence I claim that the verse argues that the woman is a kind of savior, in effect, her existence is required for human flourishing, she is the main actor in this verse – not the man, and the relationship she brings to the man is to civilize male promiscuity. I hope you enjoy it,



    1. Interesting Michael. Though I’m not understanding why you think Genesis 2:16-17, and the mention of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, implies “that sexual activity would put his immortality at risk.”

      1. Thanks for your reply and your question. Let me know if my answer is on point:

        You ask, “why [do] you think Genesis 2:16-17, and the mention of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, implies “that sexual activity would put his immortality at risk?”

        Technically, I do not claim that sexual activity puts their immortality at risk. If I worded it that way, I’m wrong and will need to correct it. I apologize if I left you with the wrong impression. So, allow me to clarify: the immortality of the primordial couple is put at risk by the existence of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This risk is ever present in that IF they eat the fruit they will become mortal. Of course, mortality is ultimately a death sentence.

        Once the fruit is eaten, the consequence of their mortality and the reasons behind their expulsion now come into view. These consequences are summarized by a number of scholars, but my answer follows that of Claus Westermann and Marc Zvi Brettler. Brettler, I think, summarizes the idea best when he writes (and I quote – see below):

        “Eating from this tree (the tree of life) would allow people to become both immortal and sexual, creating an overpopulation problem. The first couple was expelled not as punishment, but so that they might not “take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever!” [see NOTE 1]).

        As for sexuality, I believe that most scholars now accept the proposal that the phrase “knowledge of good and evil” means awareness of sexuality [see NOTE 2]. At an allegorical level the story of Adam and Eve is a story of innocence lost and sexuality gained. A good analogy, and one I use in my commentary, is that of adolescents reaching and passing through puberty. Prior to puberty (not having eaten from the tree) they are sexually unaware hence “they were naked and not embarrassed” — not unlike a 3 year-old boy and his 3-year old sister sharing the same bath tub. After eating from the tree, however, they become erotically charged and acquire carnal knowledge (through intercourse). This behavior explains why they cover only their genitals. They have become sexually aware and capable of responding to their natural erotic urges.

        I hope this clarifies. And, by the way, I’m enjoying your writing immensely.

        NOTE 1: Brettler, M.Z., “How to Read the Jewish Bible”, pp 45, 46
        NOTE 2: Claus Westermann, “Genesis 1-11”: on pages 242-243, Westermann summarizes the prevailing theories of the meaning of hada’at tov vara and concludes that this knowledge is sexual or erotic in nature. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I would also like to quote Nahum Sarna on this topic (p. 19, The JPS Torah Commentary): “Ibn Ezra, followed by many modern [scholars], understood carnal knowledge to be intended since the first human experience after eating the fruit is the consciousness of nudity accompanied by shame.”

        1. Thanks for including the sources. I appreciate that some scholars may believe this, but most, at least the ones I’ve seen, don’t. I’m having trouble seeing that there was anything sexual about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But I acknowledge that eating from the tree of life bestowed eternal life, and so the couple needed to be expelled from the garden. Their death sentence had begun.

  10. Marg,
    Thank you so much. I am almost in tears, because I finally found a site to read, that doesn’t scold me or put me down as a woman, while teaching me. I went on a couple of other female-led sites and the writer/teacher got angry with me and other women, but we are not being rude or mean, just asking questions.

    Thank you. Please keep teaching and discussing the Scripture with women.

    1. I’m sorry for your experience, Beryl. There is no scolding here. 🙂

  11. Hi Marg,

    I was wondering, why did God specifically “call out to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (Gen. 3:9) after both Eve and Adam ate the fruit?

    As you of course know, people who believe in female subordination claim this verse shows Adam’s “headship”.

    I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts. God bless.

    1. Hi Jenna, sorry for the delayed reply. It’s been a busy couple of days.

      I’ve written about this here: https://margmowczko.com/questions-about-adams-role-in-genesis-2-and-3/

      1. No problem! Thank you so much for the link.

        Just to clarify since I don’t understand Hebrew grammar, is it possible to read Genesis 3:8 as only Adam hid but not Eve (“he hid himself”), since the verb is masculine singular?

        1. I went down a rabbit hole looking into that, and the short answer is that the singular verb for “hid” encompasses Adam and Eve–they both hid.

          But I still wonder if there’s a slight emphasis on Adam’s hiding, and not Eve’s because of the singular masculine verb. This suggestion has more to do with style than Hebrew grammar.

  12. >>Why did God call for Adam and not Eve, or both?

    My guess is that Adam was the the one who (likely) lied to Eve about touching the tree (this understanding is a midrash which holds tin which when Eve told the serpent that she was not to touch the tree, the serpent pushed Eve into the tree. Seeing that she did not die she then assumed that God’s warning was suspect and so ate from the tree. Of course, the only one who knew the conditions of the warning (do not eat of the fruit)
    was Adam. Eve had not yet been created. Eve’s act was a consequence of Adam changing God’s warning. So,
    while Eve might be the proximate cause, Adam bears the responsibility for the whole fiasco.

    >>Ezer kənegdo does not translate easily into English. However, its meaning is not particularly obscure, i.e., Eve, the female, fulfills a functional/complementary role that Adam, the male, can not accomplish in Eve’s absence. What might be this role, a role that a man cannot fulfill? This is the critical question the story raises. Think of a hand without a glove outside my home in Montana right now… it’s 4 degrees F. The hand is useless without the glove. The glove is pointless without the hand.

    This then is the key to understanding the Hebrew because the author goes out of his way to suggest that Eve complements Adam in a way that is hand-in-glove. She’s the glove! More to the point, Eve is a necessary AND sufficient criteria for mankind to flourish.

    In my commentary on this verse, I make the point that the problem God sought to solve was that Adam,
    on his own, could not procreate. If we think of Adam as a surrogate for mankind, then mankind is incomplete at this point in the story. Mankind cannot reproduce. By characterizing Eve as ezer kənegdo to Adam, the author suggests that the woman’s role is to provide a function that the male alone cannot – procreation.

    As an aside: there is one other aspect to this story that is often overlooked. Nahum Sarna points out that, in all of the creation stories in the ANE (and the world?), this story allocates 6 verses to the creation of the woman. By contrast, the creation of Adam merits only part of one verse. In other creation stories, by contrast, if the creation of the woman
    is even mentioned she is little more than an afterthought.


    For a fuller discussion of this important topic, please see my translation and commentary of this verse here:

    P.S. You might find my translation and commentary for Genesis 3:8 interesting also. But, when your friend responds I would be very grateful if you would post the response.

    1. Hi Michael, I see no hint in the text that Adam lied to Eve, or that Adam changed God’s warning. I really don’t think the author of Genesis 2-3 wanted his readers to think that. And I prefer to stick with the text than look to midrash. I don’t think anyone, apart from the snake, lies in Genesis 2-3. I believe Adam and Eve are honest and candid in their words throughout Genesis 3. (I’ve written about this elsewhere.)

      I really think you need a better analogy. Warm gloves have one seasonal purpose. They are easily lost, replaced, or put away in a drawer for much of the year. Hands are vitally important, are capable of many vital and interesting functions, sometimes intricate and complex functions, and they are necessary almost every hour of the day. To lose a glove is not a big deal, even in Montana, but to lose a hand! Women are not like gloves. Men are not like hands.

      I quite like the idea that qol means thunder in Genesis 3:8. This sounds very plausible. 🙂

      1. Thanks, Marg. I completely understand your misgivings and/or disagreement with my interpretation. On the other hand, I think you may be guilty of the kind of thinking you attribute to me. Let’s see if I can highlight some areas:

        You write:
        >I see no hint in the text that Adam lied to Eve,
        > or that Adam changed God’s warning.

        I would agree with you completely provided you were able to provide a text-based explanation for the discrepancy between the command God gave Adam (not to eat the fruit of the tree) and what Eve told the serpent (not to eat the fruit nor touch the tree)!

        As far as I know, there is neither a doctrinal nor textual explanation for this discrepancy. Only hypothetical ones, the most famous of which is the midrash I cited. On the other hand, if you do not recognize this discrepancy then it may be that your understanding of the text is incomplete.

        As for midrashim, this particular type of midrash (called a midrash aggadah) is nothing more than a hypothetical whose intent is to highlight the discrepancy mentioned above so that students will think more carefully about what is going on – which is the precise purpose of the a midrash aggadah. The m. aggadah is used as a teaching tool. Nothing more. From your comment you may have been thinking of a midrash halacha which is used when establishing law, doctrine, or religious practice.

        However, there is some interesting hypothetical doctrine here. If Adam extended God’s warning then Adam is responsible for Eve’s transgression. Thus, where Eve’s action is the proximate cause of their expulsion, Adam bears the ultimate responsibility.

        >I really don’t think the author of Genesis 2-3
        > wanted his readers to think that.
        But, Marg, how can you know what the author intended beyond the words he wrote? Are you not reading your assumptions into the text?

        >And I prefer to stick with the text than look to midrash.
        Then by all means stick to text (see immediately above). But keep in mind that ignoring an important discrepancy arising FROM the text (i.e., either Eve or Adam lied) is not sticking to the text.

        Again, thanks for the response and the discussion,



        1. Hi Michael, I don’t think the author meant us to think Eve was adding or misquoting as no one later corrects her. No one draws attention to her speech and says she was wrong, even though it is quite different from Genesis 2:16-17 in several regards. She makes her statement and the narrative moves on.

          And Adam is never pulled up for deceiving Eve. Rather, there is an emphasis on Eve being deceived by the snake. If Adam had deceived Eve, this would change the story dramatically. It’s a whole other ball game.


          The author uses dialogue in Genesis 2-3 to move the story forward, to introduce plot points, but also to repeat plot points. Eve’s reply to the snake, for example, repeats the idea about the tree being in the middle of the garden. This piece of information is not mentioned in Genesis 2:16-17, probably because the narrative in Genesis 2 has previously mentioned the tree’s position in Genesis 2:9. (Each important plot point in Genesis 2-3 seems to be repeated only once.)

          There are more than a few episodes in the Hebrew Bible that are repeated in slightly different ways, with less or more information. I write about this here with a few examples.

          The author had a message (or messages) he was trying to convey. I want to look closely at his words and his methods.

          I think we are meant to understand that Eve knew the command full well.

    2. Hi Michael, If you resort to “guessing” as you state, surely anyone can find anything. And one can “imagine” any manner of event to infill the text to fot a preconceived narrative.
      Eve’s conversation with the serpent shows she is full cognisant that God had commanded that she must not eat of the fruit.
      1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
      He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘Youa shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,……

      I see no basis for assuming Adam deceived Eve…… and God’s rebukes in 3:15 include no rebuke to Adam for deceit.

  13. Is it possible we are trying to impose modern, western, liberal categories here & missing a radical, biblical message. I am thinking of Jesus’s radical insistance of what subordination (& conversely Headship/Leadership) means….. He is the Shepherd “who lays down His life for His flock” ……. The Master who “washes the feet of His Disciples”. This is the model for Husband vis-a-vis his Wife perhaps.
    This ideal is retained in the notion of “Civil Servant”. The problem is the inveterate tendancy “to lord it over one another”

    1. Hi Len, Jesus is the role model for all his followers, male and female, husbands and wives. And I firmly believe humility, meekness, and mutual submission and service are Christian virtues. These are qualities all followers of Jesus should emulate. And I write on this quite a bit.

      However, the words ezer and kenegdo have not the slightest hint or nuance of subordination. The meanings of these Hebrew words stay the same regardless of whether one is modern, western, and liberal, or none of these things.

      This article is written in a more conversational style and primarily critiques how three modern authors understand what helping others entails. The article doesn’t explore the biblical text or ancient context as I have previously done that elsewhere. And the section entitled “Christians as Helpers” is written (mostly) with how we “help” today in our contemporary context. (Most of my audience are not westerners, though.)

      I include every verse in the Hebrew Bible that contains the noun ezer at the bottom of this article if you want to check the biblical contexts.

      And a more technical article on kenegdo is here.

      Modern authors and contemporary examples aside, there is no sense of subordination in the Hebrew Bible’s description of Eve as an ezer kenegdo.

  14. […] Ezer kenegdo does not mean “a helper subordinate to him” […]

  15. […] [2] The “one flesh” statement in Genesis 2:24 follows on from Adam’s declaration about the woman, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken from man” (Gen. 5:23). Are we meant to have Adam’s words in mind when we read Ephesians 5:31-32? Does Adam’s statement help us to understand what it means to be “one flesh”? I have a footnote which looks at the use of “bone” and “flesh” in the Hebrew Bible here. […]

  16. Hi Marg
    Robert Alter says, in his translation of The Five Books of Moses, in Genesis 2:18, “…I shall make him a sustainer beside him.” In the footnotes on verse 18, he states — sustainer beside him, The Hebrew ‘ezer kenegdo (King James Version “help meet”) is notoriously difficult to translate. The second term means “along side him,” “opposite him,” “a counterpart to him.” “Help” is too weak because it suggests a merely auxiliary function, whereas ‘ezer elsewhere connotes active intervention on behalf of someone, especially in military contexts, as often in Psalms.

    I was taught by a senior Jewish Christian many many years ago that in his traditional understanding of ‘ezer kenegdo, that is his family and synagogue instruction, the Jewish take on it was/is that Eve was every bit his equal; she was a fire, like a firebrand in military battle and one of power, to be revered and seen as every bit a companion to Adam in all things, and never to be placed beneath Adam, such as is taught in western Christian circles. He was dumbstruck over what was being taught about Eve in churches everywhere. That is what he taught me back in 1984 regarding Eve.

    Anyways…I believe this to be so and have no idea how Moo and the others come up with their ludicrous interpretation/s of Eve as subordinate and weak. The only explanation that I can see is they are following their traditional reading of the text, towing the party line and are all too willing to settle for less regarding females. Sad.

    1. I honestly can’t see how smart people can mistake the phrase ezer kenegdo as implying subordination. The author of Genesis 2 went out of his way to show how similar, compatible, and equal the couple in Eden were, and how necessary the woman was, not as a sidekick, but as a partner and companion.

      I quote Alter briefly here: https://margmowczko.com/a-suitable-helper/

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