The Holy Spirit and Eve as Helpers

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 to help other than show up and be united with the man, thus solving 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, however, uses a different word for the Holy Spirit in his Gospel; he used paraklētos four times in his Farewell Discourse (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 or nuances 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 seem to 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.


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A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
A Suitable Helper in the Septuagint
Kenegdo: Is the women 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)

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