עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo) in Genesis 2:18

I am a firm believer in the distinction that Krister Stendahl made in his famous article in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible between “what the text meant” and “what the text means”.   According to Stendahl, biblical theology must first deal with what the text meant in its original historical and literary context before moving on to what the text might mean for us today.  Stendahl’s formulation of this principle is problematic on a number of levels, but I firmly believe that this distinction is both valid and necessary for biblical theology.

The failure to maintain this distinction and to allow contemporary theological concerns to dominate one’s reading of the text lies at the heart of many of the most egregious misinterpretations of the Bible, both on a scholarly level and on a popular level. This is especially the case when it comes to such hot-button issues as homosexual practice and gender equality.  In this post I would like to focus on a very common (mis)interpretation of the Hebrew phrase עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (ezer kenegdo) in Genesis 2:18.  The purpose of this post is not to evaluate this text from a theological, moral, or sociological perspective or to advocate for a particular position on gender roles in the family, church, or society.  My purpose is simply to show how this phrase has commonly been misunderstood, both on a popular and a scholarly level.

The Argument

The argument goes like this.  The word עֵזֶר (ezer) in Genesis 2:18, which is usually translated “helper”, has wrongly been understood to connote the idea of subordination or inferiority.  However, when you look at the word עֵזֶר (ezer) in the Hebrew Bible it is never used of a subordinate – only of a superior or an equal.  In fact, apart from a few occurrences, the word is always used of God in his role as saviour, rescuer, or protecor (e.g. Ex. 18:14; Deut. 33:7).  So rather than communicating the idea of subordination or inferiority, עֵזֶר (ezer) actually connotes the idea of saving or protecting.  The conclusion, then, is that in Genesis 2:18, Eve functions somehow as Adam’s saviour, rescuer, or protector – with any implications that this might suggest about the male-female relationship and gender roles.

Response

It is important to note that those who argue for this position are right to note that the word עֵזֶר (ezer) does not connote the idea of subordination – at least not by itself.  In fact, עֵזֶר (ezer) by itself does not indicate anything about the person’s superiority, inferiority, or equality.  When the word is being used of a person – it can also be used to simply mean “help”, “assistance”, or “aid” in a more abstract sense (e.g. Ps. 121:1-2) – it simply refers to “a person who makes it easier for another person to do something by rendering their aid”.

That being said, there are a number of problems with this position.  First, the word helper does not by itself mean “saviour”, “rescuer”, “protector”, etc.  Saving, rescuing, and protecting sometimes result from one person helping another person in certain contexts, but these ideas are not communicated by the word itself but by the contexts in which the word is found.  The ideas of saving, rescuing, or protecting cannot be transferred to other contexts where עֵזֶר (ezer) is used if these ideas are not present in the context.  A good example is Ezekiel 12:14, where עֵזֶר (ezer) refers to the Babylonian king’s assistants.  These assistants no doubt make it easier for the king to accomplish his tasks, but they by no means can be considered his saviour, rescuer, or protector – at least not in this context.  It would, therefore, be illegitimate to say that עֵזֶר (ezer) in Genesis 2:18 defines Eve as Adam’s saviour, rescuer, or protector simply because the word עֵזֶר (ezer) is used.

Second, it is illegitimate to say that Eve is not subordinate to Adam in Genesis 2:18 simply because the word עֵזֶר (ezer) is only used of superiors or equals.  Besides the fact that עֵזֶר (ezer) does refer to subordinates in Ezekiel 12:14, those who hold this position fail to take into account the use of the verb עָזַר (azar) and the noun עֶזְרָה (ezrah), both of which come from the same root as עֵזֶר (ezer) and have identical semantic ranges.  In both instances there are plenty of examples where the helper is a subordinate.  A good example is Judges 5:23, where the angelic messenger is chastising the warriors of Meroz for not coming to help YHWH in battle.  As I noted earlier,  עֵזֶר (ezer) says nothing by itself about a person’s superiority, inferiority, or equality – this can only be determined by context.

What, then, can be said about the relationship between the helper and the person being helped?  In every instance – whether for עֵזֶר (ezer), עָזַר (azar), or עֶזְרָה (ezrah) – the person being helped is being presented as the primary person whose interests are at stake in the successful completion of the task.  Let me give a few examples.  (1) In Joshua 1:14, the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh are told to help their brothers conquer the land on the east side of the Jordan River. The primary persons whose interests at stake are the other tribes because it is their inheritance that still needs to be conquered. The Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh provide aid toward accomplishing that task. (2) In Deuteronomy 33:29, God is called Israel’s helper because Israel is being presented as the primary person whose interests are at stake in defeating their enemies.  (3) In Judges 5:23, Meroz is cursed because they did not come to YHWH’s help. In this case, YHWH is being viewed as the primary person whose interests are at stake in the battle.

It follows, then, that the person whose primary interests are at stake in Genesis 2:18,20 is Adam. He is the primary person who is tasked with working and taking care of the Garden (2:15). Eve is being presented as the person who renders assistance to Adam toward that end.

Conclusion

Whenever issues like this are being considered it is important to keep Stendahl’s distinction in mind.  One cannot help but wonder whether or not the interpretation being critiqued here is motivated by contemporary theological concerns.  More charitably, one wonders whether or not contemporary theological concerns have kept those who hold this view from looking at the evidence fairly.  What this text “means” today – in other words, how we evaluate this text and/or apply it today – is a much more complicated issue.  But before we can evaluate the text or find some sort of contemporary significance, we have to do the hard work to figure out what this text “meant” in its original historical and literary context.

Mark Francois

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36 thoughts on “עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (Ezer Kenegdo) in Genesis 2:18

  1. If I thought Jesus was as sexist as you and other misogynists, I would have kissed Christianity goodbye long ago. No wonder women look at the church and laugh in derision. But then again, people like you do not really care about women–only insofar as they are important to men.

      • I agree with the first commentator. You do come across as sexist. However, my problem with your post is that you focused solely on the word ezer. That said, Ezer comes from two different root words that became one over time. One root meant “strength” or “power”, and the later root meant “help, rescue. etc.” A strong rescuer or ally could be a viable translation. However, you did not even focus on Kenegdo at all. This is a double preposition that can be translated “as in front of him” or “as against him”. Rabbis have seen this word as “help-opposite”. Why? Because they say the woman is created to “help” man when he is in line with God’s word, or to “go against” him when he is not. Modern biblical scholars say that kenegdo is in the substantive, or in otherwise, it’s a preposition that functions as a noun. So, in there view, kenegdo can be translated “as his front (one), or as his opposing (one). Btw, the root word of kenegdo does mean “front” or” before” , and it’s also the same root that in the Hebrew word “nagad” that means “leader” or “prince”. No, the woman was not created to be the assistant of the primary person. Sorry, that just doesn’t work when you look at the whole word. All together- ezer kenegdo could be translated as a strong rescuer or ally as his front, or a strength as his front, a strong ally as his opposition. I prefer “a strong ally as his front” because in modern English-front as a noun can mean a “political organization that advocates for or against something”. The original Hebrew words have the same meaning as front, before, against, and according to the Rabbis, the woman is created to help or to be against the man. The woman was created as a strong front to advocate for or against the man. That is important because patriarchy has twisted everything so that the needs, concerns, and rights of women and children are second to that of men. God originally planned for women to be able to assert themselves from a position of strength so that they could assist the men in joint rule (Gen. 1:26).

      • Before I respond to the details of your comments, let me just say one thing. I would really like to challenge you to reread this blog post and show which parts came across as being sexist. Maybe there was something you misunderstood. Or maybe I did say something that was sexist. But we won’t know which one it is unless you point out something specific.

        Now, let me go through your points one-by-one:

        1. First, it’s simply incorrect to say that עֵ֫זֶר (ezer) comes from two different roots, one meaning “strength/power” and the other meaning “help/rescue”. The reason why people associate strength, power, and rescue with עֵ֫זֶר (ezer) is because, in some instances, (a) the person doing the helping is lending the other person their strength/power to assist them or (b) their rendering of their assistance is for the purpose or results in the other person being rescued. In short, strength, power, and rescue are associated with עֵ֫זֶר (ezer) by usage, not because the word is made up of two separate roots. That being said, strength, power, and rescue are inappropriate translations for עֵ֫זֶר (ezer). Like I said in my post, unless עֵ֫זֶר (ezer) is being used abstractly (i.e. help), it refers to someone who makes it easier for another person to do a task by rendering their assistance. These other translations are unjustifiable based on the word’s usage and the usage of the other words related to it. “Strong rescuer” is definitely unjustifiable based on these two factors. “Ally” is better but still doesn’t get at the meaning of the word.

        2. I don’t mean to sound harsh but the person who gave you your information about the word כְּנֶגְדוֹ (kenegdo) seems to have a very poor understanding of Hebrew grammar and translation theory. While it’s true that כְּנֶגְדוֹ (kenegdo) comes from the combination of the preposition כְּ (like, as, according to) and the word נֶ֫גֶד (in front of, opposite to), you cannot simply translate כְּנֶגְדוֹ (kenegdo) by adding up its constituent parts and putting them together (i.e. as in front of him or as against him). That creates a poor English translation (what does “as in front of him” actually mean in English?) and it does not reflect what the word actually means. The context of Genesis 2:18 makes the meaning of the word clear: God made Adam a helper who could be his opposite, someone who corresponded exactly to him (i.e. a human being, rather than an animal). That’s why Adam said in verse 23, “This time [as opposed to when the animals were paraded before him] it is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She will be called woman, because she was taken from the man.”

        3. I’m curious about where your information comes from about how Rabbis have understood the phrase. Are you talking about information from the Mishnah or more recent Rabbis? Either way, “help-opposite” is still a poor translation. That’s not proper English and it doesn’t get at what the phrase means in Hebrew.

        4. The idea that כְּנֶגְדוֹ (kenegdo) communicates the idea that the woman was supposed to help the man when he is in line with God’s word and go against him when he is not simply cannot be supported linguistically. That idea may be true on a theological level (i.e. when you take into account everything that we believe as Christians) but it cannot be supported on the basis of this word. When the word “opposite” is used in Hebrew dictionaries for נֶ֫גֶד (neged), it means “in front of “, not “in opposition to”.

        5. Technically, you’re right: נֶ֫גֶד (neged) does come from the same root as נָגִיד (nagid – “prince, ruler, leader”). However, this has no bearing on the meaning of נֶ֫גֶד (neged). Any connection in meaning would have to be determined by usage. When you look at how these two words are used, their meanings are nowhere near close. To suggest that the meaning of these two words are significant for understanding each other when the usage says otherwise is a classic example of the root fallacy.

        I could go on. I would really suggest that if you’re going to be arguing about Hebrew words that you use more credible sources. I have studied Hebrew for years, taught Hebrew, and have studied several languages related to Hebrew as well (Aramaic, Syriac, Akkadian, Ugaritic). I have also done a lot of reading on historical Hebrew grammar, linguistics, and translation theory. I’m not trying to boast; I’m simply trying to say that when it comes to Hebrew, I base what I’m saying on credible sources and my own experience in working with and translating Hebrew. Of course the issue of gender roles today can’t be settled by Hebrew Grammar – that wasn’t the point of my post. But if we’re going to use Hebrew grammar to argue a certain position on gender roles today, we need to make sure that the information that we are using is accurate. Unfortunately, a lot of the information that you see out there isn’t.

  2. “Maybe there was something you misunderstood. Or maybe I did say something that was sexist. But we won’t know which one it is unless you point out something specific.”:

    “It follows, then, that the person whose primary interests are at stake in Genesis 2:18,20 is Adam. He is the primary person who is tasked with working and taking care of the Garden (2:15). Eve is being presented as the person who renders assistance to Adam toward that end.”

    Seriously? I really have to explain this to you? It’s quite obvious. Women are always marginalized in society, and this line of thinking contributes to that.

    “I would really suggest that if you’re going to be arguing about Hebrew words that you use more credible sources”.

    My sources are quite credible. Thank you. I’ll take their word on what ezer kenegdo means any day. You, on the other hand, did not even consider the meaning of kenegdo in your original post. How can you write a post on the meaning of ezer kenegdo when you only looked at half the phrase? You can’t define the role of women in the creation without looking at the whole thing.

    (1) “First, it’s simply incorrect to say that עֵ֫זֶר (ezer) comes from two different roots, one meaning “strength/power” and the other meaning “help/rescue”. ”

    Rabbi David Freeman. (Jan/Feb., 1983). Woman, A Power Equal to Man. Editor, Hershel Shanks. BAR 09:01 (Jan/Feb 1983). Biblical Archaeology Society, 2002; 2002. Retrieved from http://www.mormonmonastery.org/PDF/equalto.pdf

    “The Hebrew word ezer is a combination of two roots, one -z-r meaning “to rescue,” “to save,” and the other g-z-r meaning “to be strong.” The difference is in the first sign. The raised stands for the letter ayin. Today in Hebrew the letter is often silent. In ancient times it was a guttural sound in the back of the throat. The symbol g stands for the letter ghayyin, a guttural much like ancient Hebrew ayin, but pronounced higher up in the throat. Some ancient Semitic languages distinguished between the two signs; others did not. For example, Ugaritic maintains a distinction between ayin and ghayyin. Hebrew no longer does.* In Phoenicia in about 1500 B.C.E. these two different phonemes, or sounds, began to be written in the same way; that is, they were represented by the same sign. As the scholars would say, the two phonemes merged into one grapheme. Later the pronunciation also merged. In Hebrew the merger appears to have taken place somewhat later, around 1200 B.C.E. Thus, when the Bible was written, what originally had been two roots of e zer, one with an ayin and one with a ghayyin, had merged into one.”

    (2a) “I don’t mean to sound harsh but the person who gave you your information about the word כְּנֶגְדוֹ (kenegdo) seems to have a very poor understanding of Hebrew grammar and translation theory.”

    Thomas F. McDaniel, Ph.D. (2007). Clarifying Baffling Biblical Passages. Palmer Theological Seminary, p.15-16. Retrieved from http://tmcdaniel.palmerseminary.edu/Clarifying%20Baffling%20Biblical%20Passages.pdf

    “The translations of ezer kenegdo in Gen 2:18 as “an help meet
    for him”(KJV) or “a helper fit for him” (RSV) are misleading
    in that they suggests a subordinate role as a “helpmate.”
    Actually, both words indicate an elevated role for the woman.
    The word ezer means a “savior” or a “rescuer” and was used
    to describe God’s being the savior of Israel (Psa 20:3, 121:1–2, 124:8).
    Moreover, the second word in the phrase kenegdo, is a
    composite of (1) the preposition K. “as,” (2) the substantive
    neged “front,” and (3) the suffix A “his,” which together mean
    literally “as his front-one.” For the theologians of Genesis, the
    woman was not beneath or behind the man; she was designed
    to be ahead of him. The noun of the stem ngd is nagad meaning
    “the one in front” or “the leader,” which was used as a title for
    Saul, David, Solomon, and other rulers of Israel and other
    nations.”

    (3) “I’m curious about where your information comes from about how Rabbis have understood the phrase. Are you talking about information from the Mishnah or more recent Rabbis?”

    Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Yebamoth Folio 63a:

    “R. Eleazar further stated: What is the meaning of the Scriptural text, I will make him a help meet for him?6 If he was worthy she is a help to him;7 if he was not worthy she is against him.
    Others say: R. Eleazar pointed out a contradiction: It is written kenegedo9 but we read kenegedo!10 — If he was worthy she is meet for him;10 if he was not worthy she chastises him. “

    Rashi’s Commentary (Medieval French rabbi ). CHABAD.Org. Retrieved from http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8166#v=18&showrashi=true

    And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.”
    “…a helpmate opposite him: If he is worthy, she will be a helpmate. If he is not worthy, she will be against him, to fight him. — [from Gen. Rabbah 17:3, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 12. See also Yev. 63a]”

    (2b) “The context of Genesis 2:18 makes the meaning of the word clear: God made Adam a helper who could be his opposite, someone who corresponded exactly to him (i.e. a human being, rather than an animal). That’s why Adam said in verse 23, “This time [as opposed to when the animals were paraded before him] it is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She will be called woman, because she was taken from the man.”

    This verse does not speak of opposites. This verse is speaking about Adam finding someone like himself-i.e. an intelligent human being-hardly an opposite. That said, the phrase ezer kenegdo is in the substantive-“a strong ally as his front (one)”- it is directional. Adam has Eve in his sight, she is his focus-she is in front of him as a guide to where he should go. Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”. Perfect description of a matrilocal marriage where the husband leaves his family and goes to live with his wife’s people. Unfortunately, patriarchy substituted God’s law with patrilocal marriage, and the results were a disaster to women and children.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond. I really appreciated the links you provided for where you got your information from. Let me go through your points again:

      1. If you look at my post a little bit more carefully, there are a couple of things that you need to notice before labelling it as being sexist.

      First, the post was never meant to say anything about what gender roles should be today. In fact, I didn’t even give my opinion about what gender roles should be today. That’s why I was truly puzzled when the first commenter called me a misogynist, said I was sexist, and said that I didn’t really care about women (your comment was a lot more charitable!). It’s strange because I didn’t actually give my opinion about gender roles today. She could have said that the author of Genesis 2:18 was sexist or she could have said that my interpretation of Genesis 2:18 was simply wrong but, since I didn’t actually give my opinion about gender roles for today, she would have to make some huge assumptions about me to say that I, personally, am sexist. As in all of my posts dealing with gender issues, my main concern isn’t to say anything about gender roles for today; my main concern is methodological: if we’re going to use the Bible to argue for one position or the other, we need to make sure that our arguments aren’t based on a misunderstanding of the text.

      Second, you’ll notice that in my post I never said that Eve was subordinate to Adam or that she was Adam’s servant. The whole point of the post was that the word helper by itself doesn’t say anything about whether the helper is superior, equal, or inferior to the person being helped. The only thing that it says is that the helper makes it easier for the other person to perform the task. The whole issue of whether or not Eve was subordinate to Adam can’t be decided on the basis of the word “helper” – it would have to be determined by context. But notice again that I didn’t say anything about gender roles today. I didn’t say that all women are supposed to be helpers for men, in either a positive or a negative sense. I was simply saying that in this particular story, Eve, as a character in this story, is being presented as a person who makes it easier for Adam to accomplish his task. How we apply this story today is a completely different issue.

      2. I would like to apologize for the way I worded things here: “I would really suggest that if you’re going to be arguing about Hebrew words that you use more credible sources.” After looking at it again, it does sound a little bit condescending. So I apologize for that.

      There are a couple of things that I would like to say about your comments here, though.

      (a) If you look at how I worded the post more carefully, you’ll notice that the issue I was dealing with was not whether or not Eve was subordinate to Adam – the point was whether or not the word “helper” by itself tells us anything about that. Kenegdo may or may not say anything about whether or not Eve was subordinate to Adam but that wasn’t really the point of the post – the main point was that people have used poor arguments from a linguistic perspective to say that the word “helper” by itself can be used to argue the issue one way or the other. So, given the topic I was dealing with, I don’t think it was really that strange not to include a discussion of this word.

      (b) I’ve taken a look at the article by R. David Freedman. A lot of the information in the article was right but there was a lot that was wrong as well. I’m perfectly fine with kenegdo being translated as “equal to him”. That’s the point I was trying to make in my earlier response. However, the author is simply wrong about ezer being derived from two roots. He’s correct about the letters ayin and ghayyin being merged into one in Hebrew. You can see that from how certain words in Hebrew are transliterated in the Septuagint. However, he is completely wrong when he applies this to the word ezer. There is absolutely no evidence that Hebrew ever had a word with the root ǵ-z-r. And there are no instances whatsoever where words from the root ‘-z-r mean “strength”. The arguments that he uses are extremely ad hoc and they would not be acceptable to mainstream biblical scholarship. He offers only two passages, Deuteronomy 33:26 and 33:29, to argue that eser can mean strength. But there is no reason whatsoever to think that the word doesn’t mean “help” in both of these verses. And there is no reason whatsoever to think that it means “strength” in both of these verses. Like I said, both his conclusions and the type of argument he uses would not be acceptable to mainstream biblical scholarship. On top of all of that, even if eser could mean strength, there is no reason to think that it means that in Genesis 2. It is special pleading to think that a peculiar use of eser in a passage like Deuteronomy 33 with all of its peculiarities could be used to illuminate the meaning of the word in a straightforward prose passage like Genesis 2.

      (c) I’ve taken a look at the book you linked by Thomas F. McDaniel, especially chapter 2. Again, McDaniel’s conclusions would not be accepted by mainstream biblical scholarship. His problem isn’t so much that he isn’t knowledgeable about Hebrew and other Semitic languages; his problem is that he uses this knowledge in an extremely ad hoc and undisciplined way. His argument about the verb mashal earlier on in the chapter that you quoted from has many of the same problems that Freedman’s article had. He takes an extremely rare root (mashal I – to be like) that is only attested in poetic passages with rare grammatical forms and rare vocabulary and uses it to determine the meaning of a much more common verb (mashal III – to rule) in a fairly straightforward passage. What’s even worse, mashal I doesn’t even show up once in the Qal (the binyan that occurs in Genesis 3) anywhere in the Hebrew Bible! He even offers the possibility that the vowel pointing is wrong and that it might really be a Piel, a form that’s also not attested for this verb in the Hebrew Bible. He also has to try to explain away the preposition (“b”) that occurs on the next word, a preposition that makes perfect sense with mashal III (to rule) but makes no sense with mashal I (to be like). To explain that away he has to appeal to an Arabic (!) cognate where “to be like” takes the preposition “b”. It’s hard to imagine anything more ad hoc than that!!! The criticisms that I made about his treatment of kenegdo show the same type of argumentation on his part. He may have a PhD from a respected school but mainstream biblical scholarship would look at this kind of argumentation and pull out their collective hair!

      (d) Thanks for the reference from the Talmud. The interpretation in Tractate Yebamoth Folio 63a is based on a later meaning for the root n-g-d that is not attested in biblical Hebrew. This happens quite a bit in post-OT Jewish interpretation (cf. the rendering of certain Hebrew words in the LXX according to the meaning of words with the same spelling in Aramaic). See Jastrow, Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud, and Midrashic Literature, p. 872. This later meaning doesn’t really make any sense Genesis 2:18 anyway (kenegdo modifies eser), which is why the interpretation given by Rabbi Eleazar seems so strained. But if you want to see the quality of Rabbi Eleazar’s interpretations, just at the other things he says in that section. E.g. If a man does not own any land then he is not a proper man. Any man who does not have a wife is not a proper man.

      (e) I think you misunderstood what I meant when I said that Eve would be Adam’s opposite. I didn’t mean opposite in terms of being totally different from each other; I meant opposite in terms of being able to interact with each other on the same level. In other words, Eve was someone who was on the same level as Adam, unlike the animals who were paraded before Adam just after this. I probably should have used a different word to avoid misunderstanding but I meant exactly what you said, that she is an intelligent human being on the same level as Adam.

      (f) I would disagree that Genesis 2:24 refers to men joining his wife’s people, but that’s not really the issue in this discussion. But I thought I would mention that.

      (g) With all of that being said, I don’t think “a strong ally as his front (one)” is a good translation. It’s based on several misunderstandings of the Hebrew. “Helper equal to him” is more accurate, as long as we don’t assume that “helper” means “subordinate” and as long as we don’t assume that this necessarily says anything about gender roles today.

  3. Good article, and as a women I don’t find it sexist at all. I can see silvereyes 1945’s way of thinking put claiming this:

    “It follows, then, that the person whose primary interests are at stake in Genesis 2:18,20 is Adam. He is the primary person who is tasked with working and taking care of the Garden (2:15). Eve is being presented as the person who renders assistance to Adam toward that end.”

    implies what he/she is suggesting is ridiculous. You are clearly looking at the text and not making theological assertions. You base what you said on the grammar and linguistics. The second sentence is based upon the fact that God made Adam and tasked him with that, before Eve was made. So this sexist nonsense is irrelevant to the article where the goal is as stated not to make any grand theological application to gender roles and what not today but simply to examine the text and translation seeking an understanding of it’s original historical and literary context.

    That said, I would enjoy reading/figuring out your opinion on men, women, gender roles, and such greatly. I have not been so fortunate to study the ancient languages well, but I understand English and Japanese and ancient Japanese. I can comprehend the immense task it is to translate something so far away and long ago into something a modern person can read, understand and apply to their life. Based on my experiences I know I must be barely touching the surface of the Bible and so I am trying to dig deeper.

    I also know a bit about scholarship, and how if something doesn’t fit in the “mainline scholarship” as you worded it, it should be seen with skepticism if not hostile dismissal. I disagree, history has shown many times how ideas, theories, what have you, can be be ridiculed and ignored in their time, maybe beyond that a long while, and sometimes they get vindicated. Discernment is the key to me, and not relying on someone else’s, but my own. Letting scripture interpret scripture, seeking truth which comes only from God, and praying seeking wisdom daily. Therefore, I would not dismiss something entirely based on it not being accepted scholarship; I’m sure you know, you even pointed out in one reply, how some things can be correct and others wrong. Gems can often be found hidden in what appears rubble.
    Baby and the bath water, yeah, but as I said one must exercise discernment. This is the only post of yours I have seen, and I don’t know you, so I apologize if I’m redundant.

    Anyway, can you suggest to me other things you have written or posted on this topic? Or perhaps some good articles or books pertinent? Specifically, on the bible and women. Like silvereyes1945, for a modern reader it is very difficult to swallow sometimes a book that references man all the time but rarely talks about someone like you. I am coming to good terms slowly, as I follow God, I trust him absolutely and can see how by giving humans free will patriarchy and all the abuse of men as our rulers (whatever term you wish) is the same as any wrong or evil perpetrated thanks to the freedom of choice we have. It’s true the saying, you can’t have it both ways – you can’t have a perfect or good world and still let people have free will. Some will always choose wrong, and all of us have/do at some point. So I am not out to prove any theories, but to come with open eyes and find truth unclouded by opinions of people as much as possible. I appreciate any suggestions and would love a dialogue if you are so inclined, although as I mentioned I have not been fortunate to study the languages and have to rely on my own resources online and books to dig myself.

    Thanks for the article and letting me learn more about עֵזֶר

    • Thanks for the comments. And thanks for reading the post carefully enough to see what I was trying to get at.

      I can actually relate to what you’re saying about it being difficult to read a book that makes little reference to people like me. But when I think of that I don’t think so much about gender but about race. I’m half black (my dad’s from Trinidad) and half white (my mom’s from Friesland/Holland). There was a point when I was really considering specializing in Syriac literature for my PhD because I love the language and I find the history of Syriac-speaking people so interesting. But every once and awhile the thought would come to my head, “What does any of this stuff have to do with me? Why should I devote so much time studying a language and people that are so far removed from my background?” Sometimes I get that feeling when I’m reading the Bible as well.

      But in the end the biggest question for me is whether or not Christianity is actually true. Is what the Bible says about Jesus actually true? Did he really die for my sins? Did he really rise from the dead? For me that settles everything. Because regardless of whether or not the Bible pays that much attention to black people from the area where my ancestors would have come from (or Dutch people for that matter!), I’m convinced that God is real, that Jesus really rose from the dead, and that the most important thing in this life is whether or not we’re reconciled to Him and our sins are forgiven. That cuts across any concern that we might have about race or gender. So even though my ancestors might not be mentioned in the Bible, the connection that I have with it is Christ – “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” (Rom. 10:12)

      I agree with what you’re saying about mainline scholarship. There are lots of areas where I would disagree with mainline scholarship, especially since I’m an evangelical doing Old Testament studies – a field that isn’t really friendly to evangelicals. However, there are certain areas of Old Testament study that are more objective and less open to debate than others, like textual criticism (for the most part) and linguistics (again, for the most part). Surprisingly, there are a lot of Old Testament scholars who don’t seem to have spent a lot of time on linguistics. That’s because when you’re getting a PhD in Old Testament studies, you can’t specialize in everything, so a lot of important areas, like linguistics, get overlooked. But most people who aren’t in the field or have some understanding of similar fields don’t really understand how Old Testament studies work. Just because someone has a PhD it doesn’t necessarily mean that what they are saying is accurate – you have to look at their actual arguments and the arguments that people bring against it. Saying that mainline Old Testament scholarship wouldn’t agree with the conclusions of the two people I mentioned was a short-form way of saying, “Just because they are educated, it doesn’t mean that anyone takes them seriously.” But you’re right – in the end you have to deal with their actual arguments and not simply appeal to “the majority of scholars”.

      In terms of other posts I’ve written on this topic, there are only two other entries. Both of them can be found on the blog under “gender issues”. I tend not to write a lot on this topic – these posts were all written, for the most part, because someone asked me to respond to something. If there’s a particular question you have, you can send me an e-mail at mark.francois@utoronto.ca. If it’s something that other people might benefit from I would post the answer – otherwise I would just send something back by e-mail.

      In terms of recommending books or articles, it would be difficult to recommend anything specific because the topic is a pretty big one. If there’s a specific issue you’re interested in (e.g. deaconesses in the New Testament, how Deborah in Judges 4-5 fits into the whole issue, etc.) I might be able to recommend something.

      Thanks again for the comments and I look forward to interacting in the future if you’re interested.

  4. Dear Brother … I sincerely appreciate your article! I am studying this issue because I am due to speak on it … I also came across R. David Freedman’s article and I appreciate the light you shed on this very difficult topic and word and the weaknesses in his interpretation.
    I think your article highlights the limitations of the English language and certainly western thought when interpreting an Eastern language.
    I appreciate your heart and thoroughness and did not find the article rude, misogynistic or offensive in any way …simply deeply informative.

    Many Blessings to you!

  5. “It follows, then, that the person whose primary interests are at stake in Genesis 2:18,20 is Adam. He is the primary person who is tasked with working and taking care of the Garden (2:15). Eve is being presented as the person who renders assistance to Adam toward that end.”

    The problem here is that ha adam is a class noun referring to all humankind. The ones whose primary interest is at stake are all humanity. By defining humanity as Adam, a male, you are mistranslating the Hebrew. It is not man, the male whose primary interest is at stake. Usually ha adam refers to a generic human being, or a group of men or women who need to be contrasted with “beasts.” So adam occurs in the phrase “man and beast.” Clearly ha adam has no maleness in its meaning. The text refers to ha adam, not to Adam.

    טו וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ. 15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

    This is a mistranslation, not Adam, but “the human” or “humankind”.

    A seminary student well versed in Hebrew verbs asked me recently what the female counterpart to adam was. I had to break it to him that there was no such thing because women have been human from creation. This is what needs to be pointed out in your post – the humanity of women.

    Ish and ishah although unrelated, are essentially words of affiliation. Ish is a member of the community, and ishah is the comember, his equal ally.

    Ezer, translated as boethos in Greek was a form of address to Christ. In Clement Of Rome we read that Christ is the high priest, champion and defender. The Greek was boethos (Eve) and prostatis (Phoebe). But Eve and Phoebe have been called “helpers” never “champion” and “defender.” Sexism is embedded in translation. One must work from a broad knowledge of word usage in the original languages, and current scholarship on these languages.

    • Suzanne,

      Thank you for the response.

      1. While it’s true that אדם usually refers to humankind as a whole or to people in general, it’s clear that in the narrative of Genesis 2:4-3:24 that אדם refers to an individual. Of course the fact that this individual is called אדם says something about this individual’s relationship to all humanity but it’s clear that in this narrative אדם is an individual. I’m fine with translating האדם as “the human” but translating it as “humankind” is a serious misunderstanding of the plain-sense meaning of the narrative. But, as we’ll see, it’s clear that the human being is male.

      2. While it’s true that אדם frequently refers to a class – humankind vs. animals, etc. – the definite article is probably being used to show that the narrative is speaking about a particular individual in that class. This is often referred to as the distinctive use of the article.

      Williams’ Hebrew Syntax §88 – “Distinctive article. Sometimes the article points to an item that is unique in its class, such that with an article, the class noun becomes a name or title that can only apply to one individual. This is also called the naming use of the article or the solitary use of the article.”

      GKC §125D-F – “On the other hand, not only gentilic names (as denoting the various individuals belonging to the same class), but also all those proper names, of which the appellative sense is still sufficiently evident to the mind, or at least has been handed down from an earlier period of the language, frequently (often as a rule) take the article and may even be followed by a genitive.”

      It’s true that there is no feminine equivalent to אדם but we have to take into consideration the particulars of this narrative. For example, it’s clear that in 2:25, אדם refers to a male.

      3. It’s debatable when אדם is actually used as a proper noun. Interestingly enough, אדם is used without the definite article in 2:20. Of course, the footnote in BHS suggests that it should be read with the article but it is significant that the Masoretes pointed it without the article. It’s also interesting how the LXX sometimes translates אדם as ανθρωπος and sometimes as Αδαμ. That being said, there is nothing wrong with referring to אדם as Adam informally in a blog post – note that this was not a translation – because the narrative itself makes it clear that the individual designated by the term אדם in 2:7ff is the same individual that is referred to later on as Adam.

      4. The real issue that you’re trying to get at, as far as I can see, is whether or not אדם was male, at least before the אשׁה was created. This would also have some bearing on whether or not אדם in 2:7ff refers to the same individual as the person named אדם later on. From my perspective, the text is very clear that אדם is meant to be viewed as a male from the first time he is mentioned in 2:7 (in 1:26, אדם clearly refers to both male and female). There are two easy ways of showing this:

      (a) First, 2:23 says that the person that God formed from Adam would be called אשׁה because she was taken from a man (מאישׁ). This verse makes it clear that אדם was and is an אישׁ, a male individual, both before the woman was created and afterward. This point alone should settle the issue.

      (b) Second, when the אדם speaks in verse 23, it’s clear that אדם is the same person as the person whom God put to sleep in verse 21 to create the woman.

      More reasons could be given, of course, but these reasons seem pretty clear.

      5. Of course women are אדם (human beings) and are created in God’s image. However, in this narrative, the fact that women are human beings is not indicated by the use of the word אדם but by the term כנגדו (equal to him, corresponding to him) and by the fact that the man (Adam) said that she is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. However, this point is extraneous to the main purpose of this post, which was to define what the word “helper” means (someone who makes it easier for another person to accomplish a task) and to show that the word says nothing about the inferiority, superiority, or equality of the helper when compared to the person being helped.

      6. You’ll have to explain to me a little bit more what you meant when you said, “sexism is embedded in translation” when you were talking about the word עזר. I’m not sure what you were trying to say. Sexism can definitely be embedded in how people translate the biblical text but the possibility has to be considered that maybe the text itself is sexist, at least from a certain perspective. In fact, it’s a priori likely that a text like this from the ancient world is likely to espouse views that we would consider sexist today. My impression, at least when it comes to OT studies, is that many writers are afraid to call the text itself sexist so they put the blame on the history of interpretation rather than on the text itself. As a result they produce overly theological and implausible readings of the text rather than admit that they disagree with what the text itself says. In other words, they don’t want the text to be sexist so they’ll do whatever they can to make it not seem sexist. Whether or not this applies to עזר is something that would have to be discussed.

      7. The conclusion that I came to still stands: “It follows, then, that the person whose primary interests are at stake in Genesis 2:18,20 is Adam. He is the primary person who is tasked with working and taking care of the Garden (2:15). Eve is being presented as the person who renders assistance to Adam toward that end.” That is simply the plain-sense meaning of the narrative.

      • I have no difficulty saying both 1) the text is sexist, it describes a sexist society from a sexist point of view, and 2) it is not sexist in the same way that the English is sexist. The English adds a different layer of sexism.

        For example, many translations and commentary interpret ha adam as “the human” and comment that humankind was given dominion over nature, as is found in Gen. 1. The human, male and female of Gen. 1 and 2 represent the human race, it is not a “man,” but an indefinite human. This is a common Jewish interpretation. There is no difference in the mandate given to men and women, otherwise women would not be fully human to the extent that men are. Women exist as single women, and most of global agriculture falls to women. Women were likely the first to till the soil, while men hunted and foraged. Men are not “the main thing” and women just “assistants.”

        However, It is likely that this narrative was written after the invention of the plough, when plough societies divided food production into different gender roles, but always women had their own vital tasks, their own mandate to produce food and feed their family. Is the one who grows the vegetables, grinds corn, keeps the fire, milks the animals, spins and weaves to create tents and clothes an “assistant”? Yes, society did assign land and public governance to men, but in the home, perhaps it is the woman who is in charge of tasks, who directs the production of food, who knows what needs to be done, while the husband is off trying to take over land from some other tribe.

        I think it is preferable to call a woman a “partner” or “ally” and not give the impression that they are just useful extras to be used and lead by men.

        The notion that women exist as the secondary person is not actually stated in so many words in the Hebrew Bible. And women are not to be treated as “secondary” persons today.

        When Adam was called “ish” it was at the same time ishah came into existance. Ish is not a male term, but a term of affiliation, or membership in the community. He became an ish because now there was a human society to belong to, so they were ish and ishah, unrelated words which function as male and female members of the group. But an indefinite ish is always a member of the group, often including both male or female, see the story of the brass snake and the verse which introduces Purim. Lots of cases of ish, male and female.

        See the work of David ES Stein.

      • 1. What ultimately matters is what the text itself says. The text makes it clear that אדם wasn’t genderless. Like I said, verse 23 makes it clear that אדם was male both before and after the woman was created. Genesis 1 does not present אדם as a character in a story – it simply represents human beings, both male and female. But it’s absolutely clear that אדם is used in a different way in Genesis 2:4ff. There is no difference in the mandate given to men and women in Genesis 1:28 but Genesis 2:4ff is a different narrative and it needs to be understood on its own terms. In Genesis 2:4ff אדם is clearly male.

        2. There is a big difference between the word עזר (“helper”) and the word “assistant” in English. The word assistant clearly implies subordination. Like I tried to make clear in the post, עזֶר doesn’t say anything about the superiority, inferiority, or equality of the person doing the helping. Unlike the word “assistant”, the verb “to assist” in English doesn’t necessarily imply subordination. God is called an עזר but God cannot be reduced to a mere assistant. However, when God is referred to as an עזר it is the other person whose interests are primarily at stake. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have anything at stake – far from it. The same thing goes for the woman in Genesis 2:4ff.

        3. My post didn’t really say anything about women being treated as secondary persons today. I didn’t even say that women are being presented as secondary persons in Genesis 2:4ff. The point is that in the narrative of Genesis 2:4ff, אדם was the one assigned the task to work the garden. The woman was assigned to keep the man from being alone and to help him in the task that he was given. It’s perfectly possible from a theological perspective to say that the task now belongs to her as well and that both of their interests are equally at stake but that’s not something that can be established simply from a plain-sense reading of the text.

        4. The information about gender roles in some societies is interesting but, again, what ultimately matters is how things are being presented in the text.

        5. The issue isn’t whether or not “partner” or “ally” is preferable – the issue is what the word עזר means. An עזר can be a partner or an ally but that is not what the word itself communicates. עזר refers to someone who makes it easier for another person to accomplish a task. But עזר doesn’t really mean “partner” or “ally”.

        6. אישׁ is a term that clearly denotes maleness in Genesis 2:23-24. אישׁ can be used in other ways in Hebrew but the context makes the meaning clear here That can be seen from the marriage language that’s used in 2:24. From the perspective of the narrative, regardless of whether or not there was a woman in existence, אדם was still an אישׁ. He was an אישׁ already when the woman was formed. That’s the plain-sense meaning of verse 23. There is really no way of getting around the fact that אדם is clearly being presented as male in Genesis 2:4ff.

      • “Renders assistance” has connotations of “being an assistant” and certainly I was not the only one to find it sexist. I think one needs to move to more neutral language and acknowledge the precedence of the story in Gen. 1.

        I am not entirely sure that the ancient interpretations were as literalist as yours. Here is a citation which expresses this,

        “—In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature:
        While the generic character that the name of Adam has in the older parts of Scripture, where it appears with the article (“the man”), was gradually lost sight of, his typical character as the representative of the unity of mankind was constantly emphasized (compare Sanh. iv. 5; the correct reading in Tosef., Sanh. viii. 4-9):”

        http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/758-adam

        I think the catch is that starting from English, we are limited in how we understand ha adam. We don’t see it as a class noun, that designated humanness, mortality, being formed from and fed from the fruits of the soil. Its a poetic, mythic text.

        As to “ish” I believe it refers to a male here, that now maleness and femaleness enter the narrative. But I don’t think one can say with current scholarship, that “ish” “denotes” a male. Recent scholarship is moving in the direction of “affiliate” “member” “representative” as denotation, but often referring to a male.

        Its only if we think of Adam as an individual who existed historically, which I am not sure the ancients did believe, that we are wrapped up in the necessity of assigning gender. The Hebrew word adam is for a mortal, not an immortal, someone made of matter, and an ish is a member of the community. Gender was important but not encoded into the language in the same way as it is in English.

        Perhaps it helps to know the song, everyone has a name – lechol ish yesh shem, as a holocaust memorial. There is an inclusivity that exists in Hebrew that is not communicated in English. Women are sensitive to phrases which restrict and exclude. There needs to be a lot of scholarly thinking on this, based in Greek and Hebrew, not some wishful thinking on the part of some women. Women need to be treated as, and referred to as equals in agency.

      • Sorry for all of my numbered lists. I’m extremely busy right now so it helps me to organize my thoughts more quickly while I’m taking a break from what I’m doing.

        1. איש can definitely be used to mean “each” in certain contexts, referring to males or females. But it’s very clear when that’s the case. But in Genesis 2:4ff, the איש is a character in the narrative. And like I’ve said a couple of times now, the plain-sense meaning of 2:23 makes it clear that the writer of the narrative understood אדם to be male both before the woman came on the scene and afterward. We have to deal with particular instances of the word איש, not abstract concepts about what the word might mean on either a deeper or more basic level. Here the meaning of the word is absolutely clear and there should really be no debate at all.

        2. I don’t think that the issue really has anything to do with starting from English. In this particular narrative אדם is clearly an individual, regardless of how אדם may be used in other contexts. Of course there is significance in the fact that the word אדם is used – he’s being presented as the first human being, the one from whom every other human being comes – but he’s still being presented as a character in the narrative. Even if the narrative is meant to be understood on a deeper level, the narrative is still coherent and needs to be understood on its own terms.

        3. I don’t think that the issue of gender is caught up with assuming that Adam was an individual who existed historically. Even if we viewed the story as complete fiction, if the author presents the אדם as male then there shouldn’t be any debate. Not believing in a historical Adam does not exclude one from understanding the narrative on its own terms.

        4. You might want to define how you’re using the word “literalist” for me. That word means so many things in biblical studies and theology that you can never really be sure what the other person means unless they spell it out. That being said, early Jewish interpretation can be interesting to read but, in the end, each writer needs to be judged on their own merits. If Rabbinic interpretation does violence to the plain-sense meaning of the text, then it needs to be rejected or at least understood and appreciated for what it is even though it often misunderstands the biblical text.

        5. I really don’t see how “renders assistance” suggests that the person rendering assistance is an assistant. Assistant has developed its own range of meaning that is quite a bit different from the word assistance. A king can render his assistance to a peasant. God can render his assistance to us. A lawyer can render assistance in a legal matter. Rendering assistance is a fairly neutral term. If anything, in English it leads toward the person rendering the assistance being the stronger, more capable person. That’s just what the terms mean in everyday usage – unless things are different where you’re from.

        6. I don’t really think that “sexist” is a useful term in this context given the nature of the post. That kind of charged language tends to skew how we look at the evidence. It’s also imprecise. Am I the one who is sexist? Is the text itself (according to my understanding of the text) sexist? Is it sexist to explain the plain-sense meaning of a sexist text? I found that people who used the word “sexist” with reference to this post didn’t really take the time to read the post properly. But, if you do want to use the word “sexist”, let me know what you mean more specifically. I understand that some people are more sensitive to things that, when misunderstood, might appear sexist as I would be more sensitive to things that might appear to be racist. But, in academic discussion, we need to try to be as dispassionate as we can be and listen to the other person or the text as closely as we can so that we can understand what they/it are saying. We can judge it afterward, if we want, but not before.

  6. Adam is first translated as Adam in Gen, 3:17, when the article is dropped. When you transpose the proper name Adam back to gen. 2:15, you are not working from the text, but from your own cognitive paradigms about men and women. You see Adam in Gen. 2:15, when there is probably no Bible which translates this. They translate, mostly, “the man” which really means either “the indefinite person” or “humanity.” Best to think of adam as an earthling, and women are earthlings too. We will return to dust just as men do. We are in every way fully adam.

  7. For ezer, there is clear sexism in English. Eve and Phoebe have been called “helpers.” However take the Greek words boethos and prostates, and find that they are used to address Christ here:

    These two words βοηθος and προστατης are used as titles for Christ alongside “saviour” and “high priest.” Here is how the words were used in 1 Clement 36:1.

    Αυτη η οδος, αγαπητοι, εν η ευρομεν το σωτεριον ημων, Ιησουν Χρστον, τον αρχιερεα των προσφορων ημων, τον προστατην και βοηθον της ασθενειας ημων.

    This is the way, beloved, in which we found our salvation; even Jesus Christ, the high priest of our oblations, the champion and defender of our weakness. tr. Charles Hoole 1885

    The same Greek words, but how many Bible translations call Eve ” champion” and Phoebe “defender?”

    Because I read Greek and Hebrew I always find English a bit of a shock. Men assign to the male all kinds of powerful words, leaving women as weaklings. How much better if we had had Julia Smith’s translation of Proverbs 31:10 “a woman of power,”
    or the Greek, γυναικα ανδρειαν (courageous woman)
    or י אֵשֶׁת-חַיִל, מִי יִמְצָא; וְרָחֹק מִפְּנִינִים מִכְרָהּ. 10
    A woman of valour who can find? for her price is far above rubies. This is JPS.

    But we were brought up to be women of “virtue” – chaste and discreet, not merchants, providers and leaders.

    Certainly there is sexism in the text, why was this woman not a city leader herself, like the wise woman of Abel? But the sexism now displaying itself in English translation, trading valour in for virtue, claiming men are strong and women are beautiful, – that is just rubbing salt in the wound of what it means to be a woman in certain forms of evangelical Christianity. So sad. I hope you do really do see women as strong partners, and not assistants and perhaps your comment was just a reflection on the text as you see it. But you express one possible interpretation, not the definitive one. I too express a possible interpretation, that’s all.

    Women have their own calling in life, to be Bible translators, doctors, engineers, whatever. They can’t really fill their days, for 50 years, with being “assistants” although I am sure you know this but I was told to only assist and nothing more.

  8. 1) Perhaps I have misread you, but I don’t think there is only one “plain sense” meaning. That is a modern western paradigm.

    2) This sentence sounds suggestive – “Second, it is illegitimate to say that Eve is not subordinate to Adam in Genesis 2:18 simply because the word עֵזֶר (ezer) is only used of superiors or equals.”

    It appears from this that you may wish to argue for the subordination of women. You may not intend this at all. It is just an impression.

    3) the idea that man has an “end” and a “goal” and women may not have their own goals, needs to be expanded on. Is this your opinion? Perhaps you could express your own views on this as well rather than giving the impression that this is how you see it. As you know, we can’t just quote scriptures on slavery without qualifying our views. It is a necessary part of communication.

    I hope you understand my concerns.

    • 1. I think I mentioned in one of the comments below the post that I didn’t word things the best way in that one particular sentence. I can definitely be see how it could be misunderstood. However, it does actually communicate what I was intending to say. The problem is that people were using the word עזר to argue that the woman in Genesis 2:4ff was not subordinate to אדם. She might have been subordinate or she might not have been subordinate but the word עזר by itself can’t be used to decide the issue one way or the other. That would have to be decided by context. That being said, I don’t think the context is really clear on the issue, except maybe for the fact that אדם recognizes her as his equal/counterpart. If I had to guess, I would imagine that their relationship is being presented more as a partnership than anything else.

      2. I think that making normative statements about gender roles today on the basis of Genesis 2:4ff is an extremely complicated issue. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as people think. Two people could completely agree on how to understand Genesis 2:4ff and have completely different views on gender roles today. That’s one reason why I avoided talking about that issue in the post – because I don’t think the issue is straightforward at all. But I do think that the issue I did concentrate on is pretty straightforward. Even if people disagree, it’s easier to pinpoint where the disagreement is and work from there. Complementarians and egalitarians or completely uninterested parties should be able to come to some agreement on it.

      3. I wouldn’t say that man has an end or a goal but that women don’t. I didn’t make any normative theological statements about the text at all. I don’t even think that it could be said that the man in the story had a goal but that the woman didn’t. God gave אדם as the representative of humanity a job to do and one of the reasons why the woman was created in the story was to make that task easier. In the end it was her goal too. It just has to do with the way the story is told. But, again, the problem is that people jump too quickly to normative theological statements. Why should this apply to the priorities of careers in marriages today? That’s a legitimate question to ask but I don’t really see why that should pop out as an immediate application for this text. I don’t really encounter a lot of people who argue that men have ends or goals but that women don’t – so it didn’t really strike me as something I would have to distance myself from.

      4. We definitely just can’t quote scriptures on slavery without some qualification. However, there is a big difference between simply quoting a bible verse and explaining what a particular author’s view was on slavery. If we just quote bible verses, people will assume that we are quoting it because we agree with it. But explaining what a particular author’s view was on a subject doesn’t imply that you agree with it. It’s simply a description. I wrote a paper on slavery for a doctoral seminar in historiography and I had to do this quite a bit. So I definitely agree with you if we’re just quoting individual verses with no context – but it’s totally different if you go into detail and make it clear that you’re describing the author’s point of view.

      5. I don’t think that the idea that there is one plain-sense meaning is a modern western paradigm. But it’s possible that we might be understanding the term in a different sense so I won’t go into what I was planning on saying.

      • I don’t necessarily agree with how the original post was written at the Junia project. However when you used the title “rearming the 1 Tim. 2:12 bomb” it seems to put you firmly in the complementarian camp. The tone of your post was somewhat dismissive of the posts there.

        I disagree also with their use of Wilshires article, but I also firmly disagree with this statement of yours. When you wrote “when you look at how αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) is used by other writers it is clear that it simply means “to have authority over someone else”.[1] this suggests that you are not familiar withe the primary evidence and thus you are not yourself reading the article properly.

        Authentein is never used in terms of leadership but rather as absolute power, the kind pastors must not use in 1 Peter 3:8. I can assure that recently complementarian scholars have given using lexical data to prove anything about 1 Tim. 2:12.

        And I do meet a lot of people who claim that the wife must always suppress her goals to support her husband. The subordination of women is alive and well, so you could explain your own position and defuse that bomb. 🙂

        I also don’t know if you acknowledge the extent to which sexism has affected translation.

      • 1. When I came up with the title “Rearming the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb” I was just trying to be clever. That’s why I put the phrase “kind of” at the end of it. I thought I made it clear at the end of the post that the “bomb” could be disarmed (a la Krister Stendahl) but that the arguments used in the article were not the way to do it. If you detected any annoyance on my part, it didn’t have so much to do with the article itself but with something someone I know said about the article, namely that it was an excellent example of good scholarship. I probably wouldn’t have even read the article if it wasn’t for that comment. And I definitely wouldn’t have written on the article either if it wasn’t for that comment – it doesn’t really line up with the purpose of this blog. So the issue for me wasn’t really my stance on gender issues in the church but with my standard for excellent scholarship. That’s one of the reasons why I left the door open for egalitarianism at the end of my post. I think that Krister Stendahl had a very good argument for women’s ordination. But what impressed me was that he made his argument without suggesting that the author of 1 Timothy or any other author in the New Testament were really egalitarians. Arrogant, maybe; sexist, definitely not.

        2. As for women always suppressing their goals for the sake of their husbands, I don’t think that this is something that can legitimately be drawn from the text on a hermeneutical level. You would think that if a husband loved their wife they would want her to be able to fulfill her goals and be successful and that they would be willing to make sacrifices themselves for the sake of their wives. Now if a woman did decide to suppress their goals for the sake of their husbands that’s fine as well. But they should do it out of love, not because of Genesis 2:4ff. And a husband should be willing to do the same thing too. These are decisions that husbands and wives need to make together. That being said, if I did think that Genesis 2:4ff taught that women should suppress their goals for the sake of their husbands and if the New Testament supported it as well (and if there weren’t any major hermeneutical barriers in the way), I would follow what it taught – even if I didn’t really agree with it on a personal level. But, again, my post wasn’t really about how to apply this text so I don’t think that it would have been appropriate to include my position on this particular way of applying the text into the main body of the post.

        3. I definitely think that there are some instances where English translations show bias against women that cannot be found in the actual biblical text. I think that that’s an important way of wording things. If the text shows bias against women then it should be translated that way, whether we agree with it or not. If the text doesn’t show bias against women, the translation shouldn’t show bias against women. We simply need to translate what’s there. But I’m sure we agree on that point. A good example of bias against women in translation is how Romans 16:1 is often translated. I think it’s pretty clear that Phoebe was a deacon. There is no reason to simply translate it simply as servant. There is clearly an agenda when people do that – unless they’re simply unaware of the issues. But I would have to judge each instance on a case-by-case basis to see whether or not I would say that there’s bias against women in the way a particular passage is translated into English.

        4. I still need to get back to you on authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12. Last week was an extremely busy week (I had to conduct a funeral) so I didn’t get a chance to write on that thread. I will say, though, that I did understand Knight’s article properly – the problem was that Knight himself made a mistake (I’ll have to get back to you on that one when I have time). That’s quite a bit different from what I was talking about with respect to Wilshire’s article. That had to do with not really understanding what Wilshire himself was saying rather than seeing whether or not what Wilshire was saying was accurate. But, again, I’ll have to get back to you on that issue when I get the time.

      • Thanks for your extensive response. I felt involved because the post did reference my article on authentein,

        http://powerscourt.blogspot.ca/2008/05/lcms-report-on-authentein.html

        I do disagree with some of the Junia post, and with much of egalitarian hermeneutics, but not quite as much as I disagree with the way complementarians have rewritten several verses of the BIble for their own convenience.

        Where I felt that you left the straight and narrow of an honest critique was when you wrote “When you look at how αὐθεντεῖv (authentein) is used by other writers it is clear that it simply means “to have authority over someone else”.[1]” Have you ever looked at how other writers use the verb?

        It seemed that you may not have considered the few examples adequately and were not aware that no complemetarians, who are familiar with these examples, will use them any more. As Kostenberger wrote:

        The likelihood was suggested that “exercise authority” (Grk. authentein) carries a neutral or positive connotation, but owing to the scarcity of the term in ancient literature (the only NT occurrence is 1 Tim. 2:12; found only twice preceding the NT in extrabiblical literature) no firm conclusions could be reached on the basis of lexical study alone.

        Believe me, if they make it sound like authentein had a positive connotation they would have gone for it.

        Al Wolters came up with an example where a artisan had mastery of his trade. But I don’t think that a husband should have that kind of mastery over his wife. We tossed this back and forth, and finally, nobody shifted position, but authentein over another human being, is really an unknown for some, and negative for others, and positive for nobody.

        Now to your points,

        1. Krister Stendahl has a slightly more liberal view of the text that most egalitarians. Many egalitarians really do see how complementarias have introduced added negative expressions for women. I don’t myself see the text as being univocal, sometimes gender is just irrelevant to the original, and in English it is written into the text by translating anthropos as “man.”

        2. “That being said, if I did think that Genesis 2:4ff taught that women should suppress their goals for the sake of their husbands and if the New Testament supported it as well (and if there weren’t any major hermeneutical barriers in the way), I would follow what it taught – even if I didn’t really agree with it on a personal level”

        I don’t care how much anybody tried to convince me of slavery, I would not own a slave, no matter what the Bible says, or teaches. So men don’t have to suppress their wives desire for agency, even if they think the Bible teaches that. They could actually think of their wives as like human beings with similar desires and ambitions. They could treat their wives like human beings.

        3. Bias against women in translation.
        NET Bible online
        – Gen. 3:16, Women desire to control their husbands.
        – Romans 16:7. If you look at the primary evidence you will get a little surprise for this one.

        1 Tim. 2:12 which really ought to be “dominate” or some such thing.

        All the times that the ESV translates anthropoi as “men” because we just *know* that women could not do these things. Such arrogance!

        All the times that uioi theou is translated as “sons of God” because it is perfectly alright to have “children of Abraham” but not “children of God.” Of course, this does include women who are in a headship relationship, and women inherit all that men inherit but men inherit the rights of sons on earth, and women don’t. For some, women are also subordinate in heaven, so they never inherit but at least they are redeemed. Lucky women, they get to go to heaven so men can still be over somebody. Perhaps you don’t know that some people teach this.

        I just get sick and tired of being demoted and restricted. It is a life of daily insult, living with complementarianism, which fortunately I left a few years ago.

        On Wilshire, I am not that interested in Wilshire’s work. One just needs to look at the few examples of the verb around that time. Look at this passage:

        Wherefore all shall walk after their own will. And the children will lay hands on their parents. The wife will give up her own husband to death, and the husband will bring his own wife to judgment like a criminal. Savage masters will (authentein) their servants, and servants will assume an unruly demeanour toward their masters. Hippolytus, On the End of the World 7. 2nd century AD

        That is not so sweet. Chrysostom said that a husband should never authentein his wife. I could go on. Who wants a gospel of some people being the cruel masters of other people?

        Jerome translated this as dominor, as in Gen. 3:16, 1 Peter 5:3, Matt. 20:25 and so on. Not the thing to do for men or women.

      • Like I mentioned before, I’ll get back to you later on about authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12. I do appreciate the information, though. If I’m wrong, I definitely do want to be corrected.

        1. I actually taught on Romans 16:7 a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure we probably agree, for the most part, on what this verse is saying.

        2. I don’t use the ESV or the NET. I think that the ESV is a bad translation overall – I really have no idea why people think it’s such a good translation. Right now I use the NRSV and the new NIV. If the text is meant to be understood in a gender neutral way, it should be translated in a gender neutral way. So I’m sure that we have no disagreement here.

        3. I agree that the idea that women would be subordinate to men in heaven (or the new creation) is pretty ridiculous. I don’t even know why anyone would find it necessary to try to make that point.

        4. I definitely wouldn’t own a slave either even if the Bible permitted it. But if I lived in the first century and I was a pastor, I wouldn’t be able to excommunicate someone for owning a slave. Slavery wasn’t a requirement but it was permitted, which makes this scenario a little bit different from the one I mentioned. And I would agree that even in the scenario that I mentioned, men wouldn’t have to suppress their wives’ desire for agency. A loving husband would want his wife to be able to fulfill her goals and to succeed in whatever she wants to do. That’s what I want for my wife and that’s what I want for my daughter as well. My point – though I might not have expressed it the best – was that I want to be faithful to scripture even if there are parts that I don’t like.

      • On authentein, I pulled about 75% of the original data and saw how weak the argument was. On Junia I reviewed at least 90% of the data. In both cases, I saw how poorly data was handled, and how much it was manipulated. There is no cause to say Junia was “possibly” an apostle. There is no valid evidence that she was not. I had considerable interaction with Burer and Wallace on this and they said they would write to modify/amend their data and defend their hypothesis, but they never did.

        The Greek Vamva NT from the 1900’s says Junia was metaxu the apostles. She has always been a female apostle for the Greeks.

        Linda Belleville is very good on both of these, but I personally reviewed all the data myself. Of course, what it meant that Junia was an apostle – we don’t know.

        We do agree on Bible translations although the Common English bible is also good.

        People are sometimes confused. One ought not to have a slave but one ought to have a wife. But remember that God said to Hosea

        16And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali.

        A woman should have an ishi, but not a baali. A woman needs a partner/husband, but not a master/husband. Its the same thing as “no slavery.”

      • I’m actually not sure why I put the word “possibly” there. When I taught on it a couple of weeks ago I said that Junia was definitely a woman and definitely an apostle (in whatever way Paul was using that term). If I remember correctly, I might have used the word “possibly” to avoid getting into a debate over the issue because I hadn’t fully looked at the arguments from the other side at that point. But I have always assumed that Junia was a woman and that she was called an apostle. I’ll take out the word “possibly”.

      • You can look up more on Junia some day if you want to feel really confident.

        Anyway, some women have experienced serious trauma on this front so its best to be careful in criticizing them. Net.org and the Sydney Anglican diocese strongly encourage women to vow to obey/ submit, and some women have been traumatized by threats of divorce if they don’t obey every tiny detail all day long, and others sadly, slapped and battered to the recitation of Bible verses. Collateral damage or friendly fire, lives ruined in defence of a plain sense reading of the text,

        I know its hard to imagine but when you take on egalitarians, chances are some of those women have been violated and they fight with what they have.

        I have to run. Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. I’ll check in later if you research authentein.

      • Thanks for the discussion Suzanne. I’ll try to keep those things in mind (the way women have been abused using these texts) the next time I write or teach on this subject. You never know what the women you are interacting with have gone through. Thanks again.

  9. I did not myself call your post “sexist” but I am commenting on some of the phrases that could make someone think that. Its best just to say straight out what your personal bias is, especially when you critique posts that clearly have a position, in this case, egalitarian. If I haven’t made it clear, I am myself egalitarian.

  10. If you are a woman living in patriarchy, hell is hell, and heaven is hell, too!

    “First, consider the argument concerning man and woman as originally created. There is virtually universal agreement that man and woman are ontologically equal, equal in essence and worth, because both were created in the image of God. In the ordering of his creation, however, God formed the man first and gave him responsibility and authority as the head of the human race.41 This headship, far from being a result of the fall-feminist and egalitarian claims notwithstanding-is a central feature of the divine created order.42 Because the new creation is, fundamentally, a return to the divine order that prevailed before the fall, it follows that male headship will remain in the new creation.”

    Mark David Walton http://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/11-1.pdf

  11. Scanned as a reference for my upcoming article concerning #LoveWins. Went past the previous comments just to say THANK YOU for being such a blessing! 🙂

  12. Enthralling article followed by informed debate. What an Internet blessing! And for the record, I’m a Sydney Anglican clergyman, but have been called much worse than what Suzanne said. Blessings to Mark and Suzanne.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I went to an Anglican school here in Canada – I can only imagine the kinds of debates and discussions that you have, both inside the church and outside of it. Blessings on your ministry there.

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