Monday, October 08, 2012

Women are Suitable Helpers to Men

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

See? ;)

Of course, suitable is better translated "corresponding to" and helper actually means savior (more on that below). And contextually, the arrival of the woman was so that the "not good" thing that popped up in creation could be remedied and turned into "very good." 

Let me back up a chapter. At each stage of creation (except the water/chaos separation of Day 2, which I'll address in a future post) God called the world-forming work that was accomplished "good." Light? Good. Plants? Good. Moon and Sun? Good. Water creatures, winged creatures? Good. Wild beasts? Good. Humanity (male and female) made in God's image to cap it all off? Very good.

That's Genesis 1, the big picture of creation. Genesis 2 zooms in on an event that occurred in 1:26. God makes human beings. Makes us from the same stuff as cattle and beasts, in fact - dirt (2:7 and 2:19). We're all "creatures" - the term that's translated as "living being" in 2:7 is the same term rendered "living creature" in 2:19. 

But here's the thing, when the man is made from dirt something occurs that is "not good" in all of God's good creation - he is alone. Alone? He's got fellow dirt creatures to keep him company! Ah, not the same thing. We are different dirt creatures from the beasts of the field. So what does God do? God makes a companion that will salvage the situation. Woman.

Note this helper (the woman) "saves" the day and is a companion that corresponds to the man. The word helper is used in Psalm 121 (and elsewhere) in connection with Yahweh. "Where does my help (my salvation) come from? My help comes from Yahweh, the maker of heaven and earth." The woman provides the same kind of help in Gen 2:18. Without her, man is in deep doo-doo.

(Just to belabor the point, the way modern English speakers use the word helper has nothing to do with how the bible uses it. Today the word implies a subordinate, some auxiliary or assistant that plays second fiddle to "the Man." I was a plumber's helper during seminary - and believe me, I did the dirty work and got paid a pittance while the master plumber made the cash. The bible uses the word helper to indicate a work of extreme and salvific intervention.)

So Woman is a companion who saves Man from "not good," transforming the situation into "very good." But wait, there's more! It's how God makes woman that is so superb - it's a stroke of pure genius and demonstrates male/female image equality and co-regency (a la 1:26-29). God takes one of man's ribs and fashions woman from the rib. Love it. It means we're made of the same stuff. It doesn't mean "man" was made first and "woman" second. Remember, Gen 2 is a zoom lens on a section of Gen 1 - and explains how the male/female is one creature! One living being. If God wanted to emphasize male domination he would have formed another mound of mud. But men and women are of the same stuff as 1:23, 24 affirms.

Women are suitable helpers! Corresponding companions who saved the day way back at creation, prompting God to declare it all very good.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting interpretation. But this doesn't take into account the version from the Talmud and other sources that cite Lilith as Adamn's first wife, not Eve. Who was "another mound of mud" as you refer to them, although you could still argue that they are of the same stuff because Lilith and Adam were both made of dirt. A point she tried to make to him according to the tales, whereas he refused to accept anything but her submission.

Also, isn't it Eve who kind of ruins things for both herself and Adam? So how does this affect the idea of woman saving the day at creation but then subsequently ruining it?

I am genuinely interested in your response, by the way. I've never met a Christian yet that's either been able or willing to discuss this without just changing the topic.

-Andi

Lyn Perry said...

Andi, first, thanks for not being spam and linking to some home business. lol I'll respond this evening after work, but quickly I would say Lilith doesn't factor into the Genesis account in any way, shape, or form. Her tradition stems from the 6th century of the Common Era! - some 2500 years after this piece of literature was written, so it's pure fancy and quite diversionary, influencing our conception of Eve quite unnecessarily. So thanks for the questions and I'll respond regarding Eve later tonight.

The Gray Monk said...

Well said, Lyn. The 'Lilith' mythology is what is cited by the Romany (Gypsy) people of Eastern Europe to support their claim to be able to help themselves to anyone else's possessions, avoid paying train and bus fares and a whole lot more. According to their tradition they are the children of Lilith and therefore not subject to the 'curse' of the sons of Adam and Eve - that we should labour for our bread. This is why in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and many other European countries they are regarded with distrust, dislike and deep suspicion.

It certainly does not feature in either the Torah or the Talmud (which Andi may not be aware is actually a sort of Commentary on the whole Old Testament though the title is often used to refer to the OT Books.

The Gray Monk said...

Sorry, typing fingers running ahead of thought process there - that should be Pentateuch and Torah - the Talmud was compiled in Babylon.

Lyn Perry said...

Thanks, Gray Monk (and for the mention on your blog! ;). That's correct. The Mishna is the Jewish commentary on the Torah that solidified by around 200 CE and the Talmud (both the Palestinian Talmud of 400 CE and the Babylonian Talmud of 600 CE) is a commentary on the commentary! The Mishna makes no mention of Lilith - and neither does the bible (despite the same three consonants appearing in Isaiah in reference to something else entirely). So let's lay to rest Lilith, she has nothing to do with anything biblical except to serve some later patriarchal religious fancies.

As for Eve, I'll do a post on the curse in Gen 3 soon and that should provide some more food for thought. But for now, suffice it to say that I believe a plain reading of Gen 3 demonstrates the culpability of both Adam and Eve. The point of the passage is that they both ate, right?

If anything, Adam is more "at fault" - he's the first to pass the buck (v12); he was with her when the serpent tempted her (v6) and could have intervened; and may in fact have "taught" Eve wrong(although this is a bit of stretch) about the command of God (1:17) - God didn't tell the Man not to "touch" the fruit, but Eve told the serpent that that was a prohibition (v2). So Adam seemingly dropped the ball in his "leadership role" (if that's what he had).

The Apostle Paul, although he mentions Eve as the one who took the fruit in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (I'll have to address that one later), really focuses theologically on "the first man" who sinned in contrast with "the second Man" (Christ) who provides salvation. So it's not a he did/she did argument - it's a they did. Both sinned.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your responses, I do appreciate them. I shall have to do some more readings, I've read much that puts Lilith before the dates you've offered, but you've also given me some new stuff to think of. So thanks.

The reason I ask not is because of the bible, but because pretty much all Christians I've met are very eager to pin the blame on Eve, and not so much on Adam or even equally both of them. The Christian position on women has always seemed very contradictory to me. Again, thanks for your answers, have a good day both of you.

-Andi

The Gray Monk said...

Once again, Lyn, you've put it in a nutshell. The 'sin' which is so often interpreted as a 'sexual' one these days, is in fact the disobedience they both display. And, as you rightly say, they both took, they both ate and Adam is probably the more at fault for trying to shift the blame and failing to provide proper "leadership."

We can't know claim "headship" on the back of that failure!

Lyn Perry said...

Andi, glad to provide grist for the mill. Not all Christians subscribe to a hierarchical relationship between the sexes - and in fact it is not a Christian position. The bible teaches equality, mutuality, interdependence. Eve has definitely been treated unfairly. The "headship" issue in the NT has been misinterpreted and mishandled incredibly.

And Pat, thanks. Your comment reminds me that even in the "curse" passage (Gen 3:14-19) late translators abused their privilege - "desire" (having a sexual connotation) is nowhere found in vs 16. The word is better translated "turning" - meaning, because of sin the woman will turn away from God and look for guidance elsewhere...as will the man! We're idol factories (as Calvin said) afterall. And next week I'll address that phrase "he will rule over you." That's wrongly translated as well, imo.