Sadly, throughout Church History theologians have not always understood this principle when looking at certain passages in Scripture. Moreover, they were influenced by their own culture and traditions, as well as by previous cultures, which affected their understanding of Scripture. This even affected the way these men understood certain parts of Genesis One and Genesis Two, the two chapters that we read a little while ago and which, as I have already said, are unique in Scripture in that they are of a time when everything and everyone was perfect, and no particular traditions or cultures had as yet been developed.
We will now turn to these two chapters again. Having taken you through the whole of the Creation Account, I now would like to focus on the Creation Account of the man and the woman, which we can read about in Genesis1:26-28:
Then God said: “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them, and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
From this passage we can know that God created both the man and the woman to rule over creation together. This was to be done in perfect harmony, as a team on an equal basis. No one was to rule over the other; they were to rule over creation together. We can be certain that this kind of rulership did take place exactly as God had designed it. In Genesis Two we have once again the Creation Account, but this time God has given us an intimate glimpse of how the man and the woman came to be. We have not been given such special details in connection with the rest of His creation. It is only in the case of the creation of the man and the woman that God has given us specific insights into His design, thereby indicating to us what great care He has taken in His design of us.
His initial creation act was that of creating the man, as we can read in Genesis 2:7
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Then as we continue reading in Genesis 2 we discover something. We discover that something was not good! This is in contrast to the Creation Account of Genesis 1, where we have read that everything was either good, or very good. But in Genesis 2:18 we read:
It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
Isn’t that an amazing statement for it shows God’s great concern for the man. Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, saw the man’s need, the man’s loneliness, perhaps even without the man fully realising it himself. And God decided to do something about it. And He knew exactly what He was going to do: He was going to provide “a helper” for him.
Now, women may perhaps not be too excited about this choice of God. We might actually want to say to God: “You can’t mean that God. You are supposed to create something very good. Surely You must know that “a helper” is not exactly “something very good” for she is only someone in an inferior position. Have You forgotten that You are supposed to create both the man and the woman to have rulership over creation together, working in perfect harmony, as a team on an equal basis? And that no one was to rule over the other? Or have You changed Your mind since Genesis One for it surely looks that way.” What are we doing here? We are reading into the text something, which it does not necessarily say. Why do we do this? Because of our cultural understanding of the word “helper”. The question is: is that the Biblical understanding of the word “helper”? The way to find out is by studying the original text. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the word “helper” is the Hebrew word “ezer”.
It appears a number of times in the Old Testament and always refers to a significant Being or person, as God, a king, a prince, or a warrior. The word “ezer” underscores how critical, how necessary a helper is. It is someone who is of great importance, who normally will deliver another from an immense problem and who is a loyal companion. It is not the Hebrew word for a slave, a hireling or an assistant. We would not say of God: “God, You’re our Assistant. Instead God is our Helper”.
God The Helper
A number of Scriptures make mention of God as a Helper. Examples are:
But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed supple, because of the Hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel. Because of your father’s God, Who helps you.
I Chronicles 12:18
Then the Spirit came upon Amassai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: “We are yours, O, David. We are with you, O, son of Jesse. Success, success to you. And success to those, who help you. For your God will help you.”
But You, O God, do see trouble and grief. You consider it to take in hand. The victim commits himself to You. You are the Helper of the fatherless.
Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord be my help. Psalm 37:39-40
The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord. He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and He delivers them.
Surely God is my Help, the Lord is the One who sustains me. Psalm 94:17
Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
The Lord is with me; He is my Helper.
I was pushed back and about to fall. But the Lord helped me. Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right Hand.
Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O Little Israel. For I Myself will help you", declares the Lord, "your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, Israel whom I have chosen. This is what the Lord says - He who made you, who formed you in the womb. And who will help you. Do not be afraid, O Jacob, My servant.
This is what the Lord says, "In the time of My favour I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you."
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint. And I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other. Who is my accuser? Let him confront me. It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
From these passages we can learn that perhaps, contrary to what we understand the word “helper” to mean, Scripture indicates that the word “helper” is used for a stronger or superior party to help a weaker or inferior party. Now we may not have too many problems with such an understanding of the word helper in the case of God for He is after all the stronger or superior party compared to any one of us. But Scripture does not only mention God as a Helper.
The Old Testament in various places speaks about armies coming to the help, or being the helper of other armies as in II Chronicles 28:16
At that time king Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria for help.
I Kings 20:1
Now Ben-Hadad, king of Aram mustered his entire army. Accompanied by thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots he went up and besieged Samaria.
Meanwhile, Horam king of Gezer, had come to the help of Lachish…
In these cases the helpers are once again a stronger or superior party and the ones being helped are a weaker or inferior party.
The Woman As The Man’s Helper
Having looked at all these examples of either God as a Helper, or armies as helpers, we will now return to Genesis 2:18 where God said:
"It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him".
Once again, the original text uses the term “ezer”, the same term which we have seen having been used for God, as well as for stronger or superior armies.
Does that mean that the woman as the man’s helper is his superior? No, for that would go against God’s design for the woman and the man. God, therefore, in this case had added to the word “ezer” another word “kenegdo”. This word “kenegdo” is very important for it describes exactly what kind of helper God had given to the man. It was not God’s intention to give the man a helper who would be superior to him. Neither was it God’s intention to give the man a helper who would be inferior to him. No, this helper was going to be formed to be exactly suitable for him, matching him, fitting him, corresponding to him, a counterpart to him, opposite to him.
Throughout the centuries well-known Roman Catholic Church Fathers and Protestant Reformers, influenced by their cultures and traditions, have interpreted this verse to give the woman an inferior role. I’ll give you an example of a Roman Catholic Church Father. His name is Augustine. He lived from 354 A.D. to 430 A.D.
His comment on this passage is as follows:
“If it were not the case that the woman was created to be the man’s helper specifically for the production of children, then why would she have been created as a “helper”? Was it so that she might work the land with him? No…. a man would have made a better assistant. One can only take the position that the reason for her creation as a helper had to do with the companionship she could provide for the man… yet for company and conversation how much more agreeable it is for two men to dwell together than for a man and a woman… I cannot think of any reason for a woman being made as the man’s helper if we dismiss this reason of procreation.”
So, according to Augustine, the woman was not of much use to the man as a co-worker or as a companion, but was really only useful to the man as the person who was to provide him with children.
Another example I’ll give you is that of a Protestant Reformer John Calvin.
He lived from 1509 A.D. to 1564 A.D.
He and other Reformers were men who understood that Scripture was to be read by all people and for that we can only be very grateful.
However, they were still people whose understanding of Scripture was influenced by the culture and traditions of their time as we can see from his comment on this verse, which is as follows:
“God did not create two chiefs of equal power but added to the man an inferior aid.”
Calvin, likewise, simply could not accept the fact that the woman had been created as an equal in every respect to work alongside the man, not under him.
Why do the views of these two men and of others who have had similar views matter to us today? After all they lived a long time ago. Because their views still live on and are still being taught today. A modern day example is a gentleman named Wayne A. Grudem. He is a Research Professor in Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary, Arizona, USA. And he has said the following:
“Whenever someone helps someone else, the person who is helping is occupying a subordinate or inferior position with regard to the person being helped.”
However, as we have already seen, the view that the woman was added to the man as an inferior aid is not a Scriptural view, but is a traditional view since the term “helper” means the one who strengthens. We can be certain that what God spoke into being in Genesis 1:26-28 when He declared that both the man and the woman were to rule over creation together, in perfect harmony, as a team on an equal basis, is confirmed in Genesis 2:18, not denied. For God does not change His mind. What He says He will do.
The Woman As The Man’s Rib
Having understood that the woman as the man’s helper was indeed going to be formed as his equal in all respects, we will now look at how God did this, which will only confirm her equality to the man.
We’ll begin by reading in Genesis 2:19:20
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
So the man gave name to all the livestock, the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
What an amazing scene this parade of animals must have been, passing before the man’s eyes. Can you imagine it? There are these two large animals with huge ears. A perfect name for them would be “elephant”. And then look at these two animals with long, long necks. A perfect name for them would be “giraffe”. Oh, and let’s not forget these funny creatures who jump from one tree to the next. They definitely look like monkeys. I do have to say, I feel somewhat sorry for the animals called “hippopotamus”. It can’t be easy to have to live with such a name. At least that’s what I think. Anyway, I am sure the animals all left very happily for they had been given names so they knew who they were.
On the other hand, after all the animals had left, the man was once again alone. Perhaps this time, after he had watched all the animals appearing before him in pairs, something began to stir within him. A question began to arise within him. The question was: “What about me?” Yes, so far he had been very content to be on his own. There had been so much to discover since God had created him. He had not been dissatisfied in any way with his situation as it was. And he had, of course, a very close relationship with God. But God was God and he was man.
And now seeing all these animals coming to him in pairs. There was something about seeing them in pairs which he could not even express in words. It was just something he was beginning to sense within himself, a realisation that perhaps something was missing from his life, though he knew the animals were not the answer either. For he was man and they were animals.
The wonderful thing was that God was very aware of this situation, as we can read in Genesis 2:21-23
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh.Then the Lord God made the woman from the rib He had taken out of the man and brought her to the man. The man said:“This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.”
Having established that no suitable helper for the man could be found among the animals, God set out to create the perfect helper, the perfect companion for the man. Interestingly, He did not involve the man in this work. Perhaps He did not want the man to come up with some of his own ideas as to what an ideal companion might look like. Instead, God, in His wisdom, put the man to sleep. And then, what did He do, did He take another pile of dust, like He had done with the man? No, he took a part of the man, which has been translated as “rib”. This is the Hebrew word “tselah”, which has been used in other parts of the Old Testament when it has been translated as “side” or “sides”. Examples are:
Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.
Also make crossbars from acacia wood; five for the frames of one side of the tabernacle, five for those on the other side.
The poles are to be inserted into the rings so they will be on two sides of the altar.
In these passages the word “tselah” each time refers to an entire side and not just to a small part of a structure. It is only in Genesis 2:22 that the word “tselah” has been translated as “rib”. Now we know that the woman was indeed made out of the man’s rib or bone for the man exclaimed in Genesis 2:23
“This is now bone of my bones.”
However we know too that there was more to her for the man said as well
“And flesh of my flesh”.
It is very likely that in the case of Genesis 2:22 the word “tselah” has been translated as“rib” not because it is the correct translation but because translators were influenced by a Jewish Rabbi named Joshua, who had written:
“God deliberated from what member He would create woman, and He reasoned within Himself thus:
“I must not create her from Adam’s head, for she would be a proud person, and hold her head high.
If I create her from the eye, then she will wish to pry into all things.
If from an ear, then she will wish to hear all things.
If from the mouth she will talk much.
If from the heart she will envy people.
If from the hand she will desire to make all things.
If from the feet she will be always going around.
Therefore I will create her from a member which is hid; that is, the rib, which is not even seen when man is naked.
However, this points to a very biased view of the woman and is not in line with Scripture. Scripture clearly indicates by the term “tselah” that the woman was taken from the man’s side, which confirms her equal status with the man in every respect.
Furthermore, the man recognised that she was the female“man“, or human, and that he was the male “man“, or human. We see this confirmed in Genesis 5: 2 where we read:
He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created He called them man.
And so God had met the man’s need, the man’s loneliness, and the man was very glad indeed.
We can be certain that they ruled creation together, in perfect harmony, as a team, on an equal basis, as designed by God.
1. What task did God give to the man in Genesis 1:26-28?
2. What task did God give to the woman in Genesis 1:26-28?
3. Who did He create first?
4. What did God decide He would do for the man?
5. Does the term 'helper' imply an inferior aid?
6. Can you give examples of God as Helper in the Scriptures?
7. Can you give examples of armies as helpers?
8. What is unique about the woman as the man’s helper?
9. How have Theologians of the past understood the role of the woman as the man’s helper?
10.Can you give an example of a Roman Catholic Church Father who declared that the
woman had been formed to be inferior to the man?
11. Can you give an example of a Protestant Reformer who declared that the woman
had been formed to be inferior to the man?
12. Do Theologians of today still teach that the woman, as the man’s helper, had been formed to be inferior to the man?
13. Is this a Biblical view?
14. How did God make the woman?
15. Is the term rib the correct translation for the Hebrew word tselah?
16. Why have Bible translators translated the word tselah as rib in Genesis 2:21-23?
17. How had God designed the man and the woman to rule together?