Nazarene Space

Genesis 2:18: Sexist? - Woman as the עזר כנגדו

One scripture that almost never escapes misinterpretation is Genesis 2:18. Because in this verse Eve is called a "help meet" according to the King James Version, eisegetes often use it as proof that she (and by extension all women) was made to be more of a subordinate side-kick than an equal to Adam. But as shall be demonstrated, such an interpretation fails the test of scrutiny when Gn 2:18 is examined in its original tongue -- Hebrew. We now turn to Gn 2:18 which follows.

Hebrew:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לֹא־טֹוב הֱיֹות הָאָדָם לְבַדֹּו אֶעֱשֶׂהּ־לוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדֹּו׃


Transliteration:

Wayyoʼmer Adonai ʼElohim loʼ tov heyoth haʼadam levaddo, ʼe‘esehh lo ‘ezer kenegdo.


Translation:

And Adonai God said its not good that the man be by himself. I will make for him an ‘ezer kenegdo.

 

The first word of the highlighted phrase is עֵזֶר ‘ezer which is often translated as "help". And though "help" is a fair translation of עֵזֶר ‘ezer, it does bear a sense of subordination or inferiority; in contrast, the Hebrew term עֵזֶר ‘ezer carries salvific connotations. Notice how the term is utilized in scripture:

Our soul has waited for Adonai, our help {עֶזְרֵנוּ} and our shield is He... (Ps 33:20)
But I am poor and needy, O God, haste to me, my help {עֶזְרִי} and my deliverer art You, O Adonai, tarry You not! (Ps 70:5)


In both Ps 33:20 and Ps 70:5 the noun עֵזֶר ‘ezer translated as "help" is paired with terms of salvific nature. Psalm 33:20 couples עֵזֶר ‘ezer with מָגֵן magen meaning "shield" -- a tool of protection. This combination is occurs elsewhere too (cf Dt 33:29; Ps 115:9-11). Next, Ps 70:5 pairs עֵזֶר ‘ezer with the substantive participle מְפַלֵּט mephallet meaning "deliverer" or "one who provides escape". In case the reader has overlooked it, the noun עֵזֶר ‘ezeris applied to Adonai which categorically proves it is not a term of subordination -- it wouldn't have been applied to God in that case!

Moving onward, we now come to the second term of investigation: the word כְּנֶגְדּוֹ kenegdo is actually a tripartite construction that is parsed like so:

כְּ = "as" (prepositional prefix)
נֶגֶד = "opposite" (preposition used substantively)
וֹ = "his" (3ms pronominal suffix)


Just as with עֵזֶר ‘ezer, the term נֶגֶד neged -- primarily meaning "opposite" -- does not connote inferiority or subordination. Note the following references:

And it came to pass in Joshua's being by Jericho, that he lifteth up his eyes, and looked, and lo, one standing to his opposite {לְנֶגְדּוֹ lenegdo}, and with his sword drawn in hand, and Joshua went to him, and said to him, 'Are you for us or for our adversaries?' And He said, 'No, as I am Prince of Adonai's host; now I have come;' and Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did obeisance… (Jo 5:13-14)
Lo, they have been as stubble! Fire has burned them. They deliver not themselves from the power of the flame. There is not a coal to warm them, a light to sit before it {נֶגְדּוֹ negdo} (Is 47:14).


Even if used substantively, the term נֶגֶד neged is concerned with relative-location -- not social status. If the opposite were true, the term wouldn't have been applied to the captain of God's army to whom Joshua issued obeisance, as he certainly was not inferior to Joshua.

At this point, the proper sense of עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ ‘ezer kenegdo should be apparent to the reader. The truest sense of this notoriously difficult phrase is something similar to one of the following:

And Adonai God said 'it's not good that the man be by himself. I will make for him a cohort as his counterpart.'
And Adonai God said 'it's not good that the man be by himself. I will make for him an associate as his opposite.'
And Adonai God said 'it's not good that the man be by himself. I will make for him a sustainer as his reciprocal.'


There certainly exists a spiritual hierarchy between male and female according to the Torah and other scripture. This remains uncontested. However, Gn 2:18 requires a restoration back to its proper sense -- particularly among laymen. Too many religious control freaks use this passage as leverage over women while disregarding other essential feats and duties only achieved by the woman: that the woman was the first human to speak God's name (Gn 4:1) or that she was the one to bring forth the seed that crushes the serpent's head (Gn 3:15) are just two cases proximal to Gn 2:18 that illustrate the importance of the woman, let alone the multitudes of other examples spanning the Tanach.

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