Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Introduction

I’ve often seen it pointed out that the first woman is described as a “helper” in Genesis 2:18 and 20 and that the Holy Spirit is described as a “helper” in John 14:16, 26, 15:26 and 16:7. At first glance, this looks like an interesting similarity. In the original languages of the Bible, however, “helper” in Genesis 2 and “helper” in John’s Gospel are unrelated words with a different range of meanings.

Helper (ezer) in Genesis 2

In Genesis 2:18, God is recorded as saying, “It is not good for the (hu)man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him” (cf. Gen. 2:20). The word translated into English as “helper” here is the Hebrew word ezer (pronounced ay-zar).

Ezer occurs twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Twice it is used to describe the first woman. Three times it is used of people helping (or failing to help) in life-threatening situations. Sixteen times it is used in reference to God as a helper. Without exception, these texts are talking about a vital, urgent, powerful kind of help. (You can see these twenty-one verses here.)

When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek over 2000 years ago, ezer was translated as boēthos in Genesis 2:18 and 20. Boēthos has a similar meaning as ezer and so also refers to a vital, urgent, powerful kind of help. (All occurrences of boēthos in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek Old Testament, are here).

Genesis 2 doesn’t tell us what Eve did as ezer/boēthos other than remedy the problem of him being alone.

Helper (paraklētos) in John’s Gospel

The word boēthos occurs only once in the New Testament, in Hebrews 13:6.[1] John uses a different word for the Holy Spirit in his Gospel; four times in his Farewell Discourse he uses the word paraklētos (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Paraklētos has a range of meanings and nuances, but it doesn’t typically have the same senses that ezer and boēthos do.

Paraklētos can refer to an advocate, and the word was sometimes used in legal contexts. Max Turner writes that it means “‘one called alongside,’ especially to offer counsel, support or assistance in a court, or in some other potentially adversarial setting.”[2] And he adds that paraklētoi can act as “intercessors, mediators, or supporting witnesses.”[3]

It is used with this sense when speaking about Jesus in First John.

My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one. 1 John 2:1 CSB

Almost all English translations have the word “advocate” in 1 John 2:1.[4] The Voice translates paraklētos here as “a high-powered defense lawyer”! Only a few translations, however, have “advocate” in John’s Gospel (NET, NIV, NLT, etc). This is because paraklētos can have other meanings.

The word also has the sense of consoling and comforting and is sometimes translated in John’s Gospel as “comforter” (e.g., ERV, KJV). The CSB has “counsellor,” a word that can be used for a person who provides legal advocacy as well as a person who provides emotional support. The ESV, NASB, and others simply have “helper,” while a small number of English Bibles and several Bible commentators leave paraklētos untranslated and use the word “Paraclete” (e.g., DRA).

The Paraclete’s Role

Jesus’ words in John 14-16 were meant to comfort his disciples. He promised they would not be left alone and that another Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, would come and take his place. The Holy Spirit is effectively Jesus’ replacement and representative now Jesus has returned to the Father and is no longer on earth.

Max Turner observes that for John, “Jesus and the Spirit-Paraclete are parallel figures, or at least have parallel functions.”[5] Furthermore, “the functions actually attributed to ‘the Paraclete’ in John are primarily teaching, revealing and interpreting Jesus to the disciples with forensic functions only explicit at 15:26; 16:8-11.”[6] This does not correspond with what Eve did for Adam.

The Holy Spirit stopped the disciples from being left alone as powerless orphans (John 14:18), and Eve stopped Adam from being alone, but I am reluctant to draw more similarities between the Holy Spirit and Eve and their respective descriptions as “helper,” especially as the words ezer and paraklētos have different senses.

One in Christ

Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that both men and women were created in the image and likeness of God. It says this without dividing up the Godhead and implying that women are more like one person of the Godhead and men are more like another. Moreover, in the New Testament, both men and women are called to be transformed and become like Jesus (e.g., 2 Cor. 3:18). And all followers of Jesus are given his Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, regardless of gender.

I do not believe that the role of the Holy Spirit as Paraclete informs our understanding of Eve’s help, and vice versa. Furthermore, I suggest that dividing the Godhead in an effort to understand the relationship between men and women does damage to theology and to our understanding of men and women in Christ.[7] We are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28).


Footnotes

[1] Hebrews 13:6 (“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid . . .”) quotes from Psalm 118:7. The Greek noun boēthos in Hebrews 13:6 translates the Hebrew participle in Psalm 118:7 that is built on the verb azar, a cognate of the noun ezer.

[2] Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009), 77.

[3] Turner, The Holy Spirit, 77.

[4] CEB, CSB, ESV, KJV, NASB, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, etc.

[5] Turner, The Holy Spirit, 77.

[6] Turner, The Holy Spirit, 77-78.

[7] The word for “spirit, breath, wind” in the Hebrew Bible (ruach) is grammatically feminine, so some people believe the Holy Spirit is somehow feminine. The word for “spirit, breath, wind” in the Greek New Testament (pneuma), however, is neuter. Furthermore, the word paraklētos is masculine. The grammatical gender of these words tells us nothing about the actual gender of the Holy Spirit, assuming the Spirit even has gender which is doubtful.

Image Credit

Lukas via Pexels


Related Articles

A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
A Suitable Helper in the Septuagint
Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable or similar to the man?
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?
Ezer kenegdo does not mean “a helper subordinate to him”
Is God Male or Masculine?
The Trinity and Marriage
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)

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

20 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit and Eve as Helpers

  1. Is this common, to equate the understanding of paraclete with ezer? I haven’t run across that yet. I’m glad you laid out the difference between the two words, though. It’s particularly helpful when considering how some use these issues to divide the godhead in order to differentiate between men and women where God has not done so.

    1. I get asked about this from time to time. I was asked about it again yesterday and thought I should just expand my reply and turn it into a blog post to spare repeating myself.

      Most people just see the English word “helper” and make the comparison. They don’t look at what the original words were and what these words meant.

      Also, judging from some of the comments I’ve received over the years, I believe Ignatius of Loyola (16th-century Catholic priest, theologian and founder of the Jesuits) made a big deal about the “helpers” and applied Paraclete to Mary the mother of Jesus. But don’t quote me on that. I need to check this.

    2. Good stuff. I have not studied Genesis 2 for some time but think I remember one of the translations is “ally”. As an ally of Adam, Eve is cast as a colleague to work in harmony or one flesh with him.

      Is my memory failing or correct?

      1. Hi Gary,

        I looked it up and found only one English translation, the Expanded Bible, that uses the word ally:
        Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper [in the sense of a partner or ally; the word does not imply subordinate status; see Ps. 79:9] who is right for [is suitable for; corresponds with] him.” (Source: Bible Gateway)

      2. Although not common, “ally” is a valid translation. I have looked at all the times ezer/azer has been used in its various forms – masculine noun, feminine noun, and verb. It is most often used to refer to God. Another common use is military contexts such as when one nation asks for or comes to the help of another during times of war. Nations that help each other during wartime are allies.

        In Gen. 2:15 Adam is told to “work” and “keep” the garden. “Keep” can also be translated as guard or watch. Adam’s specific purpose to work and guard the garden falls under the broader mandate to be fruitful, rule, and subdue from Gen. 1. God created Eve not only for companionship but also to help Adam work and guard the garden. They were to be allies working together to watch and guard the garden from their common enemy, Satan. We know how that story ended.

        1. Thanks, Joan. Ezer is often used in the Bible when referring to an ally. 🙂

    3. No, it’s not common.
      Without bringing up any of the reasons for why they think Jesus was the new Adam, since they do not matter whatsoever regarding the issue of dividing or gendering the godhead, do you also denounce that idea?
      In fact, Jesus even having a gender essentially is then gendering the godhead and dividing it, which is a bad thing, if I’m understanding this logic clearly?

      1. It seems you are not understanding the second statement in the conclusion, which expands on the preceding statement. The point is that Genesis 1:27-28 does NOT divide the godhead, or mention individual members of it. It speaks about God as one whole. It really is as simple as that.

        Elsewhere in the scriptures, different members of the godhead are mentioned. But they are not mentioned in the context of humanity, male and female, being God’s image-bearers.

  2. My research of the ancient Hebrew word, ‘ezer’ , as it relates to Eve-has found that the translation to ‘helper’ is quite insufficient. In context, its meaning is more aptly understood as: provider, protecter, advocate, aid, one who surrounds. Some scholars even translate it as ‘salvation’. ..and propose Eve’s original purpose was to be the agent of humanity’s salvation. I argue that this “pre-fall” design is tethered to gender roles, since God assigns this role to the ‘wo-man’.

    1. “Helper” is very inadequate. I don’t believe helping, supporting or rescuing people is a gender role, however.
      And neither did Paul: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-11_9-in-a-nutshell/

  3. Thank you for your article on this. I appreciate your care in showing the linguistic basis or lack of linguistic basis in some of the notions that circulate within the church. And I find your research persuasive. However, from my own experience in the Charismatic church, I have observed that attitudes regarding women’s authority in the church seem to correlate with the openness of that church to the Holy Spirit.

    I attribute this correlation to emotional expression. My experience in the Charismatic church has been that openness to the Holy Spirit is accompanied by increased emotional expression. Since emotional expression was and is sometimes viewed suspiciously as a feminine weakness that should be suppressed in favor of intellectual understanding, it can also lead to the suppression of any leading of the Holy Spirit that results in emotional expression.

    So quite aside from the meanings of the words, I wonder if an identification of the feminine with the Holy Spirit arises from the above correlation between emotional expression and the manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit.

    1. Hi Abby,

      My observation is that the people who link the Holy Spirit with feminine qualities are from a range of Christian traditions, and they usually base this feminine identification of the Holy Spirit on the fact that the Hebrew word ruach (“spirit/wind/breath) is a feminine noun. (See note 6.)

      Also, while the Holy Spirit authorises women for ministry, and this is recognised in varying degrees by Pentecostal churches, the same Spirit also authorises men for ministry. But I take your point that emotions are usually associated more with women than with men, and that charismatic expressions of worship are more emotional than worship in many other denominations.

  4. Thank you for your excellent remarks, Marg! I have been blessed in the last year or so, having come across your work. You have given me hope as a woman and granted me fresh insight into the nature of God. Now, I am serving God not only out of appreciation for what He has done but out of love for Jesus as a person. God bless you.

    1. That sounds wonderful, Sigrid. God bless you too!

  5. Thanks for all your very helpful material, Marg. I wonder if you have ever made a comment on the fact that the woman was called”Adam”together with the man as we know from Genesis 5:2. Consequently they were both called “Adam” when everything was still perfect. She was only called “Eve” by the man after the Fall. By this time he (and she) had a sinful nature…

    Loes Tam
    http://www.ministryto-silencedwomen.com

    1. Hi Loes,

      I have two articles about Eve being “in” ha’adam that might interest you:

      https://margmowczko.com/human-man-woman-genesis-2/

      https://margmowczko.com/gender-hierarchy-creation-narrative-genesis-2/

      Humanity, male and female, is called adam before and after the fall.

      1. Thanks, Marg. I will read through your two articles.

        Blessings,
        Loes

  6. I just love you, Marg. I just read the two articles about Eve being “in” Adam at creation. Absolutely wonderful! I’ve believed this for quite some time and was going to ask you for some academic proof of it, and there it was.Thanks for holding tightly to Scriptural integrity. I can trust that you will not embellish the original language of the Scriptures in order to satisfy any bias. Truth always. Thank you, sister in Christ. Shalom to you in every way. Big D

  7. I came across this with no intention to conflate those two uses or wanting to “divide the godhead” but I want to make a point about the well-known concept of Jesus being seen as the new Adam and how that was never seen as a means of dividing the godhead because it never is an issue unless it’s the other gender.
    Do you have an article discussing the idea Jesus being the new Adam is bad as it’s a means of dividing up the godhead? Why wouldn’t the new helper potentially be the new Eve? Would it not make sense?
    I don’t even subscribe to the thought but it seems to make a lot of sense with his being the new Adam?
    Again, the only issue that seems to be a problem as far as gendering of the godhead, is when the gender is a female.
    Do most families you know consist of three Men and no one else?

    1. Hi Allison, I used the phrase “dividing the godhead” because some people think that because Eve was a “helper” and the Holy Spirit is a “helper,” women have a greater affinity or similarity with the Holy Spirit than with God the Father or with Jesus compared with men. However, women are just as much the (undivided) image of God in Genesis 1 as men, and Jesus is just as much the role model for women as for men. I stand by this simple argument.

      The main point of the article, that spend I the bulk of the article discussing, is that ezer and paraklētos have very different meanings even though they are both translated as “helper” in some English translations. If this isn’t your concern, as you suggest, then this article will be f little use to you.

      Jesus as “the new Adam” is not an idea that I’m familiar with. However, does Jesus, as the new Adam, need a helper? He certainly doesn’t need an ezer or a paraklētos.

      I’m more familiar with the idea that Adam is a type of Jesus Christ, but this has little to do with the fact that both Adam and Jesus were/are male. I discuss this idea here: https://margmowczko.com/is-adam-solely-responsible-for-the-first-sin/

      The Trinity is not made up of three men. There is only one man in the Trinity, Jesus. God and the Holy Spirit are not men and they are neither male or female. I write about this more here: https://margmowczko.com/is-god-male-or-masculine/

      I have no idea where you’re coming from; I’m not following your ideas or concerns which have nothing to do with mine. It seems you’re reading much more into my article than what I actually say or intend.

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