Women, Helpers, and Ribs: Part 2 | CBE International

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Women, Helpers, and Ribs: Part 2

On February 16, 2016

This is Part 2 in a series on 1 Timothy 2 and Genesis 1 and 2. Catch up on Part 1

In my last article, "From Timothy to Creation: Part 1," I presented not just a faulty theological argument within the complementarian view, but also a faulty starting point for their theology. While they contend that their understanding of men and women’s roles is established within “the original creation order,” it appears that a particular perspective on 1 Timothy 2 is being imported back into the creation story.

Hence, I’m taking time to examine the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2.

I previously established that Genesis 1 shows the mutual togetherness (or equality) of man and woman. Both were true eikons, or icons/images, of the one true God. Both were set together in the holy of holies, the Garden of Eden, in God’s big temple of creation. Both were given the same commission in Genesis 1:28, and are equally needed to live out this important mandate.

So, we have the mutual equality of male and female.

Now we move to Genesis 2.

In particular, complementarians use verses 18-22 to conclude that: Though men and women are both equally created in God’s image, the male gender is given the greater responsibility of headship and leading.

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. 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. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 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 then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

From this passage, we learn that Adam, the male, was created first. Then Eve, the female, was created. Of course, this connects to the wording in 1 Timothy 2:13: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” To solidify the argument that this “creation order” conveys the headship of man over woman, a few words are highlighted from these verses.

For starters, much is made of the phrase “suitable helper,” which is found in verses 18 and 20 (helper fit for in the ESV; help meet in the KJV). Not only that, but because God created woman out of man by using one of man’s ribs, many complementarians deduce that this points to the subordinate role of woman to man.

So let’s begin by considering the phrase “suitable helper.”

When we think of the word “helper” in our modern context, we imagine someone who is second to another more central person.

The foreman in a construction job is the central lead; all other workers are helpers, assisting the foreman. The pastor is central lead; the elders are helpers, assisting the pastor. I ask my kids to help me clean the kitchen, I’m thinking they’ll do some tasks as much as a six and four year-old can, but I’ll be the one really cleaning. That’s our general framework.

However, that’s not what’s going on in the ancient text of Genesis 2.

The word we translate as helper comes from the Hebrew word ‘ezer. Now, what’s interesting to note is that this word is actually used many times to describe God’s own role with humanity (see Ex 18:4; Deut 33:29; Ps 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11).

Of course, God is our ‘ezer, our helper! Yet this, by no means, gives God a subordinate role to us. Rather, the opposite has been communicated. Therefore, there’s no scriptural precedence to believe that the label of ‘ezer points to woman having a subordinate role to man. Rather, the Genesis narrative is communicating something contrary to our hierarchical understanding of helper.

Millard Erickson summarizes this Hebrew term with these words: “This would suggest that the helper envisioned in Genesis 2:18 is not inferior to the one helped. Rather the helper is to be thought of as a coworker or enabler.”[1]

Woman is a co-laborer with man. She is enabled to fulfill the work of God alongside the man.

The second word to consider is suitable, the Hebrew being kenegdo. There’s a few varying ways to work this word out, but we could literally translate it as “opposite to.”

Think of it this way: A coin has a head and a tail, the two sides of the coin. The head is opposite to the tail; the tail is opposite to the head. Each looks a little different; each carries a different design. But, in something like a coin toss, neither side is more important than the other. Both have the ability to determine who goes first in a sporting event. We might even say that, despite their physical differences, both sides have a corresponding role in the purpose of a coin toss.

This word kenegdo works in a similar way. Woman is opposite to man, but not in an antagonistic, or inferior, way. Rather, she comes as the suitable one for man. Or as other translations have it, she was “fit for” man. Remember, none of the animals measured up to the ‘ezer role God had imagined for man’s great helper. It was woman and woman alone who met the role.

Woman was suitable, fit for, an equal partner for man—which is exactly what we established from Genesis 1.

So, in moving forward, let’s not despise or look down upon this word “helper” at least ‘ezer as God intended it in the original creation order. Emulating her creator, woman was to be the God-ordained ‘ezer for man.

Join me for the next article where I will consider what it meant for God to form woman from the rib, or out of the side, of man (Gen 2:21-22). Then, in light of all of this, we’ll consider anew the words in 1 Timothy 2.

See Part 3

Notes

[1] Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 546.


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