Avoiding the Subordination of Men in the Creation Account of Women

God said something that sounds odd, at least at first glance. There he is creating all creation and announcing that everything is good, and then he looks at the human he has made and says there’s something about the situation that is not good.

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.)

In the King James version from 1611, the verse is rendered:

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Either way, the meaning is clear. Something was wrong in paradise. But what is that word “meet” doing in place of “suitable”? It’s an archaic way of saying the same thing:

Meet – adjective: 1. suitable; fitting; proper.
origin: before 1000; Middle English mete …; representing Old English gemǣte suitable … . (Dictionary.com)

The way to understand the English language phrase “helper suitable” or “help meet” is by looking at the original Hebrew words ezer (help or helper) and kenegdo (suitable, fit, corresponding). (Marg Mowczko, Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?)

Ezer was used many times in the Old Testament and usually in reference to God rescuing his people or helping them when they were helpless to do anything for themselves. (Id.) This means that when reading the word in Hebrew the context would dictate what type of help or helper is meant, and it would not be surprising if the helper was viewed as much more powerful than the person being helped. The reader would need to examine the context to see if something other than a helper more powerful were meant.

In this passage from Genesis, the adjective kenegdo provides that context. The woman God created to rectify a “not good” situation (the man being alone) was to be ezer to the man, but not one he would then bow down to or be subordinate to. The modifier kenegdo was necessary in light of how often God is said to be our ezer, a powerful help and rescuer when we are powerless to help or rescue ourselves. If Genesis 2 didn’t have kenegdo modifying ezer it would suggest that women are more powerful – perhaps even loftier – than men. But kenegdo shows that women are in the same status as men rather than above them.

Neither would she be subordinate to him. The choice of the word kenegdo shows they would be equal to one another: suitable, meet and corresponding. Kenegdo doesn’t subordinate* women, but rather keeps men from being the ones subordinated so they are considered equal to women.


*Occasionally you’ll read someone who insists that God made Eve as a helpmate because the person doesn’t know the meaning of the word meet and so substitutes in a word they do know. This leads them to then talk about Eve’s role as being Adam’s little helper, created to follow his direction and leadership. That’s not what the Hebrew means, of course, but they don’t know that.

Misreading God’s word out of ignorance is one thing but then teaching something that is unarguably not scriptural is dangerous, elevating men to a position God did not put them in while subordinating women to a position of oppression God never intended them to occupy. What a horrible thing to do to the women and men God created to be alongside each other in his creation.


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29 Responses to Avoiding the Subordination of Men in the Creation Account of Women

  1. Micki Allen says:

    Excellent thoughts on the subject. And, especially important for someone like myself who works with male/female dynamics concerning relationships. Thank you for sharing your insights and this wonderful food for thought.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Micki. What type of relationships do you typically coach?

      • Micki Allen says:

        Well, the official title is Intimacy and Relationship coaching — that’s sort of a keyword for the more delicate aspects of relationships. You know, sex. Mostly I work with clients who have sex- and body-esteem issues. It’s an unfortunate truth that many people, women especially, have been religiously and culturally repressed when it comes to their sexuality. I rely on the Christian gospel of abundant love, joy, and grace to work with women (and sometimes their partners) to strengthen and invigorate their most intimate personal and interpersonal relationships. Thank you so much for asking. And, best wishes in your continued survival of “one train wreck after another.”

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “Misreading God’s word out of ignorance is one thing but then teaching something that is unarguably not scriptural is dangerous, elevating men to a position God did not put them in while subordinating women to a position of oppression God never intended them to occupy. What a horrible thing to do to the women and men God created to be alongside each other in his creation.”

    But when you’re the one who personally benefits from such misreading…

  3. Carolyn G. says:

    So…..if “Kenegdo doesn’t subordinate women…..” (quoting from above), then it probably does not mean, therefore, that women are “subservient”, as was preached from our pulpit a couple of years ago, right? I’ve likely mentioned on another occasion that this was the morning I rushed out of church after the final “amen”, and got to the car in time to burst into tears. I was a mess before I got to Red Lobster!” It’s ok. I’m over it now! LOL I love such word studies!! They often make ALL the difference!!

  4. Terri says:

    In light of your title and word study, it’s interesting to note that when God spoke of marriage, He said in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 that the *man was to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Not the other way around. Of course, the context of the verse (and the context of the Bible) clearly shows the husband is not to be marginalized as might be thought from reading that passage, but as we know, these things can be twisted…

    • Tim says:

      Right. There’s nothing to support patriarchy in the instruction to leave his home and join with her. In fact, patriarchy would require she go live in his father’s house, which is exactly what happened in Bronze Age patriarchy.

      • roscuro says:

        That practice of patriarchy was not just relegated to the Bronze Age. I have watched some Hindi-language films (which are well worth watching for the quality of the story telling) and I was interested to observe portrayals of the traditional Hindu family structure. The married sons live with their parents, while married daughters leave their families. The daughter in law becomes a daughter of her husbands’ family – even after being widowed, she remains in her in-laws’ house as their daughter. These are recent films. The family is upheld as the highest ideal, with much being said about how the parents represent God to the children. To dishonour the family is the greatest of sins. It gave me a clearer idea of what Jesus meant when he said that the one who followed him would have to hate his father and his mother. Even the family may become an idol.

  5. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    So interesting, Tim! When I read that word ezer I thought of Eben-ezer, “stone of help,” which would of course refer to God, the higher power, being the helper. I like how you show that kenegdo makes man equal to (not subordinate to) woman in the context of the passage.

  6. Anu Riley says:

    This was wonderful brother. Please keep sharing! Yes, ignorance is a real thing out there, and knowledge of the Word (and word studies) are the antidote.

    The more we rightly divide the truth, the more the devil is on the run. He lives to keep people in the dark, and as ignorant as possible!

    For those who have no interest in His truth and don’t want to hear things that will challenge their deeply rooted, man-made, culturally crafted stereotypes—well, I feel sorry for such persons.

    You’re missing out on knowing the Living God! On seeing what He is really like, and what He truly intends for His children. Is that really worth being a slave to “sacred cows?”

  7. Lea says:

    Thanks, Tim. It’s crazy the way this ‘help’ thing has been twisted. Help doesn’t say that someone is lower even in English! I help people who know less than I do, I help people who are not as strong. Sure, we have the other meaning, in that children ‘help’ but I think it’s mostly an esteem thing for *them* that they are big enough to help!

    And people help me, when I am not strong enough, or have no experience in a topic. So, subordinate? No.

  8. Tim Cole says:

    Perhaps this might strengthen your view (ehich is correct) that “help meet” does not advocate subordination. The prep. kenegdo means “in front of” while the prep. k means “corresponding to” BDB, 617, Together it denotes “exact correspondence”. With the woman, the man is able to carry out the commission of Gen 1:28 (be fruitful) & “to obey and worship” (Gen 2:15). In both areas, family and worship, man needs the woman’s help. This is why it is not good, Tov—beneficial, helpful—for the man to be alone. Subordination, of course, is not implied or expressed in these particular terms. Humanity is an equal partnership of worshipers of God.

  9. Julie Frady says:

    The very first time I read that ‘ezer was used of GOD some 17 times in the Old Testament and so could not mean “subordinate,” I felt chains (that I had not known were there before) fall off my heart.

  10. Ruth says:

    As a girl, I used to read the story of Adam and Eve, and just assumed that ‘help meet’ meant an equal! Maybe lots of classic reading made that term make sense to me from an historical stand point in literature. Then I heard this odd teaching about Eve and her inferior creation and thought – well, if God made everything perfect, then saw Adam was lonely, He just made another perfect addition to His Creation. I never believed God could create inferiority in and situation, so how or why or would he especially pick one single part of Creation to be flawed?

  11. stefrozitis says:

    Thanks for the good scholarship put so simply!

  12. Pingback: I just like this article for the way he explains something (biblical) | shecallsme

  13. Jennifer Cummins says:

    Good study and a good word. Thanks you for caring to take the time for this.

  14. ashokbhatia says:

    Men who believe that they are the Lords and the Masters and that women were created merely to serve them and beget children need to understand this important message.

  15. ad says:

    This goes to show that all the subordination passages of wives in the NT are cultural. Even Ephesians 5 describes a patron-client relationship that upheld Greco-Roman values. Ephesians 5:22-33 has a social-economic structure that is lost to use without understanding their culture.

    What is uniquely Christian about Eph 5, is verse 21. When it actually gets into the marriage part, it describes the cultural practices of patronage between the husband and wife. Yes, it tells the husband to love his wife and give himself up for her, but this does not negate the cultural aspects of the passage which is the backbone of the text.

    Eph 5:29 describes the functions of a patron, and it lines up in chiasmus with 5:23 where head is defined as the savior of the body. Material preservation and provision is in view here. The head is the top status in society between the husband and wife unit. The husband’s top status in their society enables him to return benefit to his wife for her livelihood and bodily needs. It is really that simple, and the passage points back to Eph 1:20-23 where Christ’s top status above the other realms enables Him to return benefit for the growth of His body. Neither Christ nor the husband are depicted as using their higher social status over the wife or church, rather they use it towards the outside world or realms to return benefit to their metaphorical bodies.

    Eph 1:22 has a dative benefit hiding in the Greek that is lost in English. So it does not say Head “over” all things. The way it reads with the dative benefit is below.

    In contrast to the lowest status of feet, God gave Christ as head, top status, for the advantage and benefit of all things to the church, his body, the all in all filling.

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