The Problem and Solution of Adam’s Solitude
Tradução em português aqui.
Does the phrase “a helper suitable for him” in Genesis 2:18 and 20 speak about a permanent defining role for the first woman? Some Christians say “yes.” But I’m not so sure.
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: “it is not good for the human to be alone (Gen. 2:18).
As soon as God introduced the newly–formed woman to Adam, the problem of being alone was solved. It was solved at that moment because Eve and Adam were perfectly compatible.
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 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 probably 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. 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 designed to be the auxiliaries, or subordinate helpers, of men even though the Hebrew words used to describe the first woman, ezer kenegdo, say nothing of the sort.
The scriptures 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. There’s no reason to think, for example, that Eve didn’t help Adam with cultivating the ground in Eden, or that Adam didn’t help Eve during her occasional pregnancies which don’t start until Genesis 4 (cf. Gen. 5:3f).
Genesis 1:26-28 indicates that men and women were created to work together and to do what is necessary to act as God’s regents. This includes ruling the earth and having dominion over the animals. In Genesis 1, men and women are given the same commission from God, and they have an identical status, authority, and purpose. 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 Eve.
This thinking is articulated in 1 Corinthians 11:8–9, but for those in the Lord, mutuality is the ideal. Paul writes,
“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 (cf. Gen. 2:22–23), so also man is born of woman (cf. Gen. 4:1 NIV). But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:11–12).
Paul states here that men and women, particularly those “in the Lord,” need each other, they are mutually interdependent. And he states 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, regardless of the gender of the person helping or 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 the situation and their ability.
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.
 John Walton explains that the description “good” (Hebrew: tov) in the creation narratives “refers to a condition in which something is functioning optimally as it was designed to do in an ordered system—it is working the way God intended.” And, “the man’s aloneness means that the functionality of the ordered system is not yet complete.” John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 55.
It must have been a big job caring for the garden in Eden. The woman was made from a chunk or side taken out of the human’s body, so that they could then work together, side by side, and care for the garden which was a sacred space.
 The Hebrew word for “Eve” (Chavvah-חַוָּה) probably means “living.”
 The phrase ezer kenegdo, in the original language of Genesis 2:18 and 20, does not mean “subordinate helper.” The Hebrew word ezer is always used in the Bible in the context of a vital, powerful and rescuing help, and it is usually used of God’s help. It does not refer to ordinary assistance. More on this here.
 Note that Paul asks Christians, both men and women, to help certain women ministers in Romans 16:1-2 and in Philippians 4:2-3.
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Man and woman holding hands by fauxels via Pexels
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable or similar to the man?
Being an ezer is not a gender role
Ezer Kenegdo does not mean “a helper subordinate to him”
Three Scholars with Two Views on Eve’s Role as Helper
The Holy Spirit and Eve as Helpers
The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
1 Corinthians 11:9, in a Nutshell
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
8 thoughts on “Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?”
Be willing to serve each other out of respect for Christ.
Ephesians 5:21 NLT
There are so many “one another” verses in the gospels and in Paul’s letters. It just becomes silly when we say that one gender has a greater responsibility to be loving, or forgiving, or honouring, or whatever.
Let’s just all try and follow the example of Jesus who exemplified these qualities and more. The fruit of the Spirit surely aren’t gender-based.
Love those last two sentences! YES!!!!!!
Thanks Dalaina. 🙂
I am indebted to this blog for so much good. However, in this case, there seems to be an attempt to neutralize the meaning of one or two passages related to female and male. I think we sometimes get fixated only on the words we want to re-define: as in this case, “helper” and “alone.” I do not realize that the word, in anyway, signifies inferiority of some sort in Scripture. The Holy Spirit is also referred to as our “Helper”. Does that make the Holy Spirit in anyway less important. God is also referred to as the “Helper” of Israel, or our Helper in times of need. How does this reduce God?
Going by your analysis, it would seem to me that attempts will also made to redefine the institution of “marriage” in line with the arguments presented above. We could then try to justify that the institution of marriage has evolved with time (from when God first instituted it). This will open up a wide latitude for “sociological” interpretation of Scripture.
That “Grace” is of our of Lord Jesus Christ, “Love” is of God, and “Fellowship” is of the Holy Spirit, does not mean one is more or less important than the other.
Hi Joshua, I’m not understanding what you are trying to say in your second paragraph.
Are you saying that men do not have an obligation to help women when needed?
I have a problem with the use of the word “obligation” or “roles.” These are sociological terms taken from the industrial revolution concept of division of labor. These words are defined only in terms of what profits the owner of the factor and not the factory worker. They are devoid of the meaning of love.- the God kind of love. The words can therefore not be literally applied to the divine relationship established by God.
If both women and men would give heed to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT, we would find the use of the words “obligation” and “role” irrelevant in serving each other.
My premise is that the “neck” does not have to become the “head”, or the “legs” the “hands” in order to be relevant, important or more important. Although one body, we have many parts. When any part is hurting, the whole body hurts. This is what is happening and has become a vogue, unfortunately.
I think when we (men and women) have to desolve our complementary/compatible relationships to “roles” and “obligations”, the love of God is lost. We no longer bear the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, … further amplified in the passage indicated above.
We are in this world but not of this world. Sometimes we find it difficult to untangle our divine and supernatural place from the rat race and dog-eat-dog worldly system.
I hope I am not muddying the waters more!
Hi Josh, Thanks for the clarification. I completely agree.
I use the words “obligation” and “roles” in this post because they are the words others use when they try to shoe-horn all men and all women, of all cultures and periods of history, into two rigid and distinct types of roles. It simply doesn’t work, and the Bible does not support such an idea.