Tuesday evening started off like any other day of the week. I went to work, spent time with my wife and kids and had to pick up the books for finishing up a long belated bachelor’s degree. Now, in between my required college readings, I like to poke my nose into apologetics books to keep my skills sharp as a Christian ambassador. It was during such a break, that I picked up a book by Hugh Ross which I was sorely behind on finishing called Navigating Genesis.
My eyes stumbled upon a paragraph that ruined my evening. Well, it wasn’t ruined, but it was certainly set on another path. Ross claimed that the normal translation of Gen 2:18 (NIV) which says, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” is not a great translation. According to him, where Eve is referred to as a helper, the Hebrew word Ezer, ought to be translated as ‘ally’, “one that’s essential for victory or for the completion of an assigned task.” (Ross, 107)
Now I’ve been around Christian circles enough to see this passage used with a sort of ‘underling’ connotation that almost seems inferred by the English rendering of ezer as helper. So I sprung into action and broke out my Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (Yes, I am a nerd like that) and sought out where the word is also used in the bible to try and get a clearer understanding (Youngs, 475). For those who don’t know, such a Concordance points out every single use of that specific word in the bible and its corresponding verse. What I found shocked me. If anything, Ross was underselling the appropriate rendering of the word.
Verses with the Hebrew word Ezer in addition to Gen 2:18 (NIV):
1. Exodus 18:4 4 and the other was named Eliezer, [a] for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
2. Deut 33:7 7 And this he said about Judah: “Hear, LORD, the cry of Judah; bring him to his people. With his own hands he defends his cause. Oh, be his help against his foes!”
3. Deut 33:26 “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.
4. Deut 33:29 Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.
5. Psalms 20:2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
6. Psalm 33:20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
7. Psalm 70:5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay.
8. Psalm 89:19 Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said: “I have bestowed strength (In this case strength is translated from ezer) on a warrior; I have raised up a young man from among the people.
9. Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
10. Psalm 121:2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
11. Psalm 115:9-11 All you Israelites, trust in the LORD— he is their help and shield. (+ 2 more)
12. Psalm 124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
13. Psalm 146:5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.
14. Isaiah 30:5 – Refers to the help of allies
15. Ezekiel 12:14 – Refers to allies
16. Daniel 11:34 – Refers to allies
17. Hosea 13:9 “You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.
Culture understandings of words matter.
While English connotations tend to sometimes reflect the word “helper” as a subservient role, according to Duvall and Hays in Grasping God’s Word, this could fall into the English-Only Fallacy or the Time-Frame Fallacy of word studies (Hays & Duvall 164, 165).
- The English only Fallacy: The English-Only Fallacy occurs when you base your word study on the English word rather than the underlying Greek or Hebrew word and as a result draw unreliable conclusions.
- The Time-Frame Fallacy: Occurs when we latch onto a late word meaning (Usually popular in our own time) and read it back into the Bible.
The Concordance I used helps to avoid such fallacies (though it’s not fool proof) by comparing the use of the exact original word throughout scripture. The comparison above shows that the word Ezer is not translated as ‘subservient helper’ in all other scripture references. It’s not even close to the right meaning. There are 18 other references that use the same word, 15 of which point to a dependence on something greater, a help from a higher source, a can’t live without sort of dependence – like oxygen – or a shield sort of thing. The other three uses specifically address human allies – often in times of war. There is not a single instance where it’s used as a reflection of looking down on the helper, as a servant or something akin, but always higher or at least equal to.
It seems that if God wanted Moses to convey any sort of subservient role, he would not have used the Hebrew word Ezer – as it was never used for that purpose – but would have used any of the Hebrew words for servant or perhaps subject. After such research I had to wonder: was I alone in coming to this conclusion? It turns out I am not!
Evangelical Biblical Scholar Marvin R. Wilson from Gordon College noted in his book on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith that Ezer was better understood in Genesis as supporting a symbolic match (Wilson, 201). Further, Walter Kaiser Jr., who’s a distinguished Old Testament Scholar, supports this rendering, “So, rather than saying a woman is to be a “helper corresponding to the man,” instead, the text teaches that the woman has been given “authority”, “Strength”, or “power” that is “equal to [man’s].”(Kaiser). Not to be outdone, the former dean of King of Kings College in Jerusalem, Hebrew Scholar Rabbi David Freedman, points out that, “it is that God made up for the inadequacy of His original creation of man—an inadequacy that He admits to by saying “It is not good for the man to be alone”—by creating the female of the species, who is intended to be >ezer kenegdô, “a power equal to him” (Freedman, 58). In other words, us fellas are basically inadequate without a woman!
“And the two shall become one flesh..” – Gen 2:24
This deeper understanding also sheds more light upon Jesus rendering of the ‘One Flesh’ concept in Matt 19:4-6 (NIV):
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Thus, it seems that Hugh Ross was correct; modern English should at least convey helper as an ally – at minimum – if not more like one’s right arm or left ventricle. That’s amazing! It’s awesome to know the deeper we dig into scripture, the more beauty and truth shine through. Eve was never to be thought of as an ‘assistant’, but as a Godsend.
You might be asking yourself, “So what does a single word, with more nuance, have to do with my screaming four year old, or my relationship with my spouse?” Well first off, digging deeper into scripture is always a good thing. And secondly:
My wife is a Godsend!
As a military guy with a successful career this concept makes total sense to me. I’ve often joked that my wife deserves most of my awards and decorations. You see, in our lives we are often alone and isolated as a family due to our constant moving around. It’s a total recipe for disaster unless she steps up as my ally, my left ventricle. And many good military men with families would echo me in saying that. I literally could not do it without her. Her loyalty as my ally and partner also encourages me to strive harder at whatever I do. It drives me. The thought of her as just a ‘helper’ in the modern sense is selling short everything she does. But that is not how God thinks of her. According to Him, she is my ally, my equal with different strengths. God knows that you too are necessary for creation in order for it to be good! That’s how much you matter.
The Unmarried are also God’s instruments
The fact that God sees you as a battle-worthy ally against the powers and principalities of this world shows that if you are unmarried you are just as necessary and have the capability to affect the world for Christ as much as any Adam. This is true whether you run a ministry, volunteer for church, assist those in need, are drawing deeper to God in scripture, or are a mother raising the next generation of culture changers. Remember that when God created the world, women were the finishing touch, the necessary crux to bring His goodness into the world. You are chosen to represent that goodness, which you will when you exude his love to others – and that is never a subservient thing; it is God’s heartbeat.
The Amplified Bible similarly sheds light on the Genesis mention of Eve by showing the range of meaning similar to my hermeneutical exploration – “Now the Lord God said, ‘It is not good (beneficial) for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [one who balances him—a counterpart who is] suitable and complementary for him.’” Genesis 2:18 AMP
*Gen 2:20 Also used ezer in the same context.
Freedman, R. David. “Woman, a Power Equal to Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9, no. 1 (1983): 56–58.
Hays, J. Daniel, and J. Scott Duvall. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. Zondervan Academic, 2012.
Kaiser Jr., Walter C. “Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women.” Correcting caricatures women in the Bible. Accessed April 6, 2021. www.walterckaiserjr.com/women.html.
New International Version (NIV) – Version Information – BibleGateway.com. Accessed April 6, 2021. https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/.
Ross, Hugh. Navigating Genesis: A Scientist]s Journey through Genesis 1-11. Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2014.
Wilson, Marvin R. Our Father Abraham Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans u.a., 1994.
Young, Robert. Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2014.
Written by Jerimiah Richardson, who is passionately pursuing higher education in apologetics, loves studying the rich Jewish history of the Christian faith, and serves our country in the Army, all with the gracious support of his beautiful wife and two sons.