Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?

Do women have a special obligation to be the helpers of men?

 

Does Genesis 2:18 and 20 speak about a permanent or defining role for the first woman? Some Christians say “yes”. But I’m not so sure.

The Problem and Solution of Adam’s Solitude

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.

As soon as God introduced the newly–formed woman to Adam, the problem of being alone was solved. It was solved at that very moment because Eve was Adam’s equal partner, perfectly compatible with him.

God’s plan was a success. Eve helped. Adam was no longer alone.

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 completed and 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 could well 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.[1]

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 defined as being the auxiliaries, or subordinate helpers, of men.[2]

The scriptures, however, 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.

Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that men and women were created to work together to do whatever necessary to act as God’s regents, which included ruling the earth and having dominion over the animals. In Genesis 1, men and women are given the exact same commission from God, and they have an identical status, authority, and function. 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 his wife.

Paul addresses these faulty ideas (which he articulates in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9) with:

“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, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12 NIV).

Paul states here that men and women, particularly those “in the Lord”, need each other; and 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, irrespective of the gender of the person helping, and 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 their ability and situation.[3]

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.


Endnotes

[1] The Hebrew word for “Eve” probably means “living”

[2] The phrase ezer kenegdo, in the original language of Genesis 2:18 and 20, does not mean “subordinate helper”.

[3] We each have a particular obligation to help those in our family, and to help the weak, vulnerable and disadvantaged, regardless of gender.

My friend Bronwen Speedie writes about gender roles in marriage here.


Related Articles

Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood, and Ministry
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?
The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
1 Corinthians 11:9, in a Nutshell

Posted March 9th, 2016 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Gender in Genesis 1-3, ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

15 comments on “Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?

  1. Christina Renee Crymsen says:

    Be willing to serve each other out of respect for Christ.
    Ephesians 5:21 NLT
    🙂

    • Marg says:

      Exactly.

      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.

  2. Dalaina May says:

    Love those last two sentences! YES!!!!!!

  3. Jan says:

    I agree.
    God is my helper and He is not subordinate.
    Why the woman should be subordinate when she is a helper?
    I love to be a helper but never subordinate. Humans help one another in humility and love.
    Personality disorders like religious narcissism make men speak of authority and not of humility,of superiority and not of justice and sanctification.

    • Marg says:

      It’s such a shame, and completely wrong, that the word “helper” (ezer) has been understood with a lowly sense in Genesis 2 when the exact same word is used of God and military allies in other parts of the Old Testament.

  4. […] Do women have a special obligation to be helpers? […]

  5. […] All Christians, male or female, should seek to emulate our Savior by serving others. Great article here: Do women have a special obligation to be helpers? Being a helper is not a gender role. Helping is what considerate and caring human beings do.] […]

  6. […] Genesis 2 does indeed tell us that the first woman was created for the sake of the first man—to rescue him from being alone (Gen. 2:18). Paul goes on in his letter to the Corinthians, however, to provide more comprehensive statements about the relationship between men and women, in particular, those who are “in the Lord”. […]

  7. Joshua says:

    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.

    • Marg says:

      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?

  8. Josh says:

    Hi Marg,

    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!

    • Marg says:

      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.

  9. Justaservant says:

    Gen 2 20

    Adam was created as well as many other beings hence why God said to them be fruitful and multiply, referring to the other Men/woman of the earth.

    Adam was in search for a companion but did not find a female suitable for him therefore God created a woman that was apart of him (Compliment/helper).

    Adam before the fall of grace had all the godly attributes including Eve. The other beings that were on the earth also were also in awareness of God and the heavens and spirituality intuned to everything. TO be fruitfull and multiply was a natural beautiful event that took place. Solomons love poem to his lover and her love towards him is a perfect way to some it up in regards to the respectful love between man and woman.

    Now when the fall took place with adam and eve because of eve things went pear shaped when they began to procreate. And just like cancer attacks the cells in the body so it did spreading to the people of earth. Sin is like a stone being thrown into water(ripple effect). To some it up yall everyhting that is the oposite of love 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Adams bloodlines and the other beings of earth have been battling with drawing closer to God due to this fall. Christ is the truth and the way , our faith in him is what breaks generational curses and creates better communion with our father through our christ.

    God bless you all.

  10. […] Do women have a special obligation to be helpers? […]

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