Ezer Kenegdo – A look at Genesis 2:18 and a Woman’s “proper” role

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” Genesis 2:18

Our identity and purpose are intertwined with the social concept of gender roles.  Women must examine these roles, what they entail, what freedoms and limitations they provide, and what God’s original intent was for the “fairer sex”.

What does Genesis 2:18 mean? What image does it conjure? Has the term “helper” ever bothered you?

It is crucial to understand that a single word in the English language can have several meanings in Hebrew.  An inaccurate or diluted translation of a word can have a devastating effect on our understanding of scripture.

A more accurate translation of the commonly used “helper” is “helpmeet”.

The Hebrew word Azar/Ezer is translated as help and the word Kenegdo as Meet.

The meaning of Ezer is to protect or Aid.

Kenegdo is a counterpart, equal and sometimes translated as against.

God is referred to as Ezer 17 times in scripture; usually in a time of great need or protection.  The term Ezer is also used when referring to military assistance.  Whereas God is clearly superior to man/woman the addition of Kenegdo (Ezer kenegdo) denotes equality and not a subservient or superior role.

When you think of the word “helper” what image is brought forth?  Santa’s little helper? An assistant? A child?

There’s a certain level of condescension in the word.  It is hardly a term you would ascribe to your protector or someone who comes to your aid.

“oh yes!  Judy dove into the water and rescued me just as I was drowning.  What a good helper!”

“Nick is a volunteer firefighter.  Anytime he gets the call… there he is… running right into the burning building…such a helper!”

Of course you don’t say this.  It doesn’t express the appropriate respect or appreciation.  We honor those who care and protect us.

“The Torah Study for Reform Jews says, “From the time of creation, relationships between spouses have at times been adversarial. In Genesis 2:18, God calls woman an ezer kenegdo, a “helper against him.” The great commentator Rashi takes the term literally to make a wonderful point: “If he [Adam] is worthy, [she will be] a help [ezer]. If he is not worthy [she will be] against him [kenegdo] for strife.” This Jewish study also described man and woman facing each other with arms raised holding an arch between them, giving a beautiful picture of equal responsibility”

God has called women to be so much more than a “helper”.  Just like Eve, the Lord created every woman with a purpose.  The recognized absence of Eve was the first time God said something was not good.  He saw a need for her; a role that could not be filled by man.

More conservative Christian schools of thought have made an art of defining woman’s limited role and authority; something I addressed in a previous post on complementarianism.  In patriarchal Christianity the argument is made that, despite the term Ezer Kenegdo, woman’s inferiority to man can be proven by the act of Adam naming Eve.

Throughout scripture evidence can be found that authority is implied in the naming of another.  It shows ownership, power over etc… This is not inaccurate but one must be careful not to confuse “calling” with “naming”.  Adam calls Eve “woman” in Genesis 2:23 but he does not name her “Eve” until Genesis 3:20.  This occurs only AFTER the fall.

In fact, Genesis offers more evidence to the equal partnership and authority that was intended for man and woman prior to the first sin.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; 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 in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:27-28

Before the fall, not only did Adam not have dominion over Eve, he shared dominion of all other creatures with the being he called “woman”; his Ezer Kenegdo.

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4 thoughts on “Ezer Kenegdo – A look at Genesis 2:18 and a Woman’s “proper” role

  1. i LOVE this. Simply amazing. The idea of defining gender roles within God’s purposes is so interesting to me, and so much more intricate and complex and beautiful than what the world has made it. GREAT post. Thank you.

  2. Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. The issue of gender in relation to faith is of great interest to me. In fact I have been leading a woman’s bible study all summer addressing the issues you rarely see focus on in the church: violence in scripture, women in leadership and power, Female heroines in scripture and early church history etc…

    This Ezer Kenegdo post actually came from the notes I wrote for our first discussion. I will be adding a few more over the coming weeks and if you enjoyed this one I think you will find them interesting as well.

  3. I love this. My friend who introduced me to the idea/translation of Ezer Kenegdo a few years back also pointed out that in the New Testament, it’s mostly women who first ‘get’ Jesus. Once you strip away years of dogma, and human muddling, it really is a simple, inclusive faith.

  4. Yes! it really is! Sometimes people question how I can identify as a feminist and a member of a “misogynistic” faith. It’s because study and research has taught me to distinguish between God’s intentions for men and women and humanity’s distortion of those intentions. Church history, societal standards, etc… will never be how I determine God’s truth. It always must come back to what he teaches me through his word and through prayer.

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