“A Suitable Helper” (in the Septuagint)

LXX Lev_septuagint

This Christmas one of my gifts was a copy of the Septuagint – the (approximately) 200BC Greek translation of the Old Testament.[1]  Thanks Mum!  So far I’ve skimmed through the book of Daniel, and I’ve read Psalm 49, (for no other reason than the book fell open at Psalm 49.)

This morning I decided to begin at the beginning, with the book of Genesis.  In my reading I came across the phrase in Genesis 2:18 & 20 that is often translated into English as: “a suitable helper for him”.  In the Septuagint, this phrase literally says, “a helper in accordance with, or corresponding to, (kata) him” in Genesis 2:18; and “a helper similar (homoios) to him” in Genesis 2:20.  While much can be said about the use and meaning of kata[2] and homoios here, I am particularly interested in the Greek word translated as “helper” in these verses: boēthos. 

There is the same sense of “strength” and “rescue” in this Greek word, boēthos, as there is with the Hebrew word for “helper”, ezer,used in the Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 & 20.   (I have written about ezer in my first article on A Suitable Helper.)

Boēthos is a noun made up of two words which mean (i) “cry out” or “intense exclamation” and (ii) “run”.  The verb of this word boētheō means “come to the rescue” or “supply urgently needed help”. (From HELPS word-studies.)  Perschbacher gives the meaning of boētheō as “to run to the aid of those who cry out for help . . . “[3]

The following is every verse in the New Testament where boēthos (and its cognates) appear[4]:

In Matthew 15:25 and Mark 9:22-24 the word is used where people were crying out to Jesus for help.  In Acts 16:9, 21:28, 27:17 and Revelation 12:16 it is used where strong help and support were required. In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 2:18, 4:16 and 13:6 it is used in the context of receiving divine help.

There is nothing in these New Testament verses that imply servitude or domestic help.[5]  Rather, all these verses refer to a strong, rescuing – even a divine – help.

God is our helper, our ezer and boēthos, but he is not subservient to those he helps.  Still, Genesis 2:18 & 20 has been almost universally used to teach that women were designed to help their husbands in a subservient manner.  Furthermore, it is important to note that the Bible does not teach that a woman is to provide unilateral help and support to her husband without receiving mutual help and support herself.[6]

There is nothing in the Genesis creation accounts that identifies specific roles for men and women;[7] neither do these passages suggest that women were (or are) in any way inferior to men.  The pre-fall creation accounts actually contain some beautiful expressions of mutuality, equality and unity between the first man and woman (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:21-24, and 5:1-2).

Moreover, contrary to the views of some Christians (Complementarians), there is nothing in the pre-fall Creation accounts which states that Adam was the leader[8] and authority figure and Eve the passive, submissive follower and domestic help.  There is nothing passive, submissive, or domestic implied in the word boēthos.  Both the Greek and Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 & 20 relate that the first woman was designed by God to provide valuable and vital strength and assistance to her husband within a relationship of unity and mutuality.


Endnotes:

[1] The Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX) is a Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew Scriptures.  It also contains Apocryphal books, not contained in the Hebrew Bible.  The first five books of the Bible are thought to have been translated in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime (roughly) around 200BC.  The Septuagint was used widely by the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman (formerly Greek) empire.  And it was in Israel also.  [More on the Septuagint here.]

[2] Kata is with the accusative auton (“him”) in Genesis 2:18 and 20.
Daniel Wallace give the standard definition of kata with the accusative (in New Testament Greek) as “in accordance with, corresponding to”. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Zondervan (1996) p.337.
H.W. Smith gives the ordinary meaning of kata with the accusative (in Classical Greek) as “along, over, according to”.  Greek Grammar, Harvard University Press (1984) p.371 & 379-380.
The LSJ, in section B. IV of kata with the accusative, has the subtitle “of fitness or conformity” and gives the primary meaning as  “in accordance with”. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1996)p.883

[3] Perschbacher, Wesley J., (Ed) The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, (1990) p.72.

[4] These are all the New Testament verses that contain boēthos and its cognates that I could find.  Please let me know if I’ve missed any.
Here is an exhaustive list of every verse in the Greek Old Testament that contains the word boēthos.  Note that the word is only used in the context of rescue, might and divine help.

[5] There are plenty of other Greek words in the New Testament with the meaning of “help” or “assistance” that have a less lofty, urgent or strong sense.

[6] I have heard even young Christian men and women quote 1 Corinthians 11:9 with a mistaken view that women were made by God for men, for the express purpose of helping men, and not vice versa.  Many Christians read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:3-9 about men and women, but fail to take into consideration Paul’s more complete and correct statement in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.  More on this here.

[7] The Bible simply does not command that women, and not men, should cook dinner, wash the dishes, do the laundry or clean the house, etc.  The expectation that women should be homemakers is a cultural one.  The closest thing to a biblical directive for women to keep house is Paul’s instruction for the Ephesian widows to lead/manage (oikodespotēs) their homes (1 Tim 5:14).  Paul wrote this instruction primarily to keep the idle widows out of trouble.

I don’t advocate slovenliness.  Keeping a clean and ordered home is very commendable, however, many women have useful and important talents and abilities other than housekeeping.  I don’t believe that women (or men) should keep their talents hidden simply because of preconceived or cultural gender roles.  Let me add, I also don’t think that men or women should follow their own interests and ambitions, however godly, at the expense of their family either.  It is particularly important that children are cared for by parents who have quantity time and not just quality time to spend with their children.

[8] The concept of a ruling husband came as a consequence of sin, and should not be regarded as the norm.

© 28th of December, 2010; Margaret Mowczko

Image is of pages from Leviticus of an ancient manuscript of the Septuagint.


Related Articles

A Suitable Helper (in the Hebrew)
Every verse that contains boēthos in the Septuagint
Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?
Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
The Complementarian Concept of “The Created Order”
Leading Together in the Home
Submission
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Is Motherhood the highest calling for women?

(533 visits since April 1st 2014, 13 in the last seven days)

Posted December 28th, 2010 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, Gender in Genesis 1-3, , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 comments on ““A Suitable Helper” (in the Septuagint)

  1. TL says:

    Excellent research. Would love to see this on our Equality Central blog as well. :)

  2. Paula says:

    And it begs the question: why did Adam desperately need Eve’s help? What was Adam in danger of? What or who was the threat?

    IMHO, it was the serpent. While Adam showed his willingness to side with the serpent without putting up so much as a mild protest, Eve had to be tricked into sinning. The serpent targeted her because if he had targeted Adam, surely Eve would have come to his aid, per her divine purpose. But who came to Eve’s aid? Nobody. And because of all this, it was Eve who was honored by God when He said HER SEED would be the man’s ultimate Rescuer! How’s THAT for coming to someone’s aid? Yet proud men (and the women who follow them) have turned this beautiful picture of God’s view of women upside down.

  3. Marg says:

    I also wonder what was so vital or urgent about the woman’s help.

    It is clear that God did not think it was good for the first human being to be alone (Gen 1:18). This has often been understood that the first person may have been lonely and needed human companionship (rather than the companionship of the already created animals.) However, the Bible never says that first person was lonely. (How could it be possible for the first person – made in the image of God – to be lonely when there was still unhindered access to the presence of God?)

    Paula, maybe you’re right. Maybe the first person was more vulnerable to the serpent’s wiles because he was alone.

  4. [...] related article  “A Suitable Helper” (in the Septuagint) will be posted here [...]

  5. I might add some hebriac insight for you on this topic of “helper”.

    As you noted in the Septuagint, it is a “helper corresponding to him”. In the Hebrew language this word “kngedo” is not really “corresponding” but rather “against”, so the woman was a “helper against him”. In other words we would say that a true helper is one that brings challenges to the relationship. If a man were to think hastily, his wife can be best suited to be an advisory to bring balance in a relationship.

    Man and woman were co-equal in the garden. I do not think it was God’s intent for him to rule over woman but rather due to the fall a carnal nature caused him to exercise his fallen nature in a way that God never intended.

  6. Marg says:

    Thanks Steven.

    My Hebrew is poor so I appreciate what Hebrew readers offer.

    A wife who brings challenge, advice and balance to a marriage relationship sounds much more helpful that a wife who is passive and blindly obedient to her husband.

    Thanks for adding your insight. :)

  7. [...] This article first appeared at newlife.id.au here. Every verse in the Septuagint that contains the word boēthos is here. [...]

  8. Karyn says:

    As a woman living in today’s society, no matter how hard I tried to make myself feel at peace about that passage, the word “helper” made me feel kind of inferior or unimportant. But the more and more research I do and the more books I read, the more I find how much we lose with our English translations of the Word.

    I was listening to Timothy Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage,” and found out what the original Greek word actually meant – and you’ve compounded on that. It’s totally changed my attitude on that verse. Thanks!

  9. Marg says:

    Hi Karyn,

    People have said terribly inaccurate things about the word “helper”. It truly is a strong word whether in the Hebrew or Greek. There is nothing inferior, unimportant or subservient about it.

    I’ve heard several preachers associate a woman’s help with the Holy Spirit. But this cannot be supported scripturally either.

    I think we are all supposed to help each other. And in marriage there should be mutual support, service and help.

    Have you seen my other article on A Suitable Helper in the Hebrew?

  10. [...] ‘A Suitable Helper’ in the Septuagint [...]

  11. […] A Suitable Helper in the Septuagint […]

  12. […] The Hebrew word ezer is used elsewhere in the Old Testament and always refers to a strong, rescuing kind of help. The Greek translation of ezer in the LXX, which is boēthos, has the same strong meaning. Because these two words occur elsewhere in Scripture (and in other literature) we can see how the words are used, and this helps our interpretation and comprehension. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2009–2014   Margaret Mowczko | Powered by WordPress | Theme by Keep2theCode