I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Christian Feminism? Exploring the Implications of God Making Man’s “Help” (Part I)

In Genesis 2:18a, Yahweh said, “It is not good that the man should be alone...” Few good men would argue this point. Ironically, the Hebrew term back of “alone” here is bad. This is fitting. Alone is bad in most cases. The Hebrew here is typically elastic. The term bad occurs 189 times, being translated by 13 different English words in the AV. It often connotes separation and alienation; it can mean that deep, hit-you-in-the-soul, I-have-no-one sense of alone. It means help-less.

Men, thank our God for the next clause! “I will make him an help (Heb.‛êzer) meet for him” (18b).

If this clause evokes the unfortunate—even oppressive—image of a woman in the kitchen, pregnant and barefoot; or worse, a “friend with benefits,” a cohabitator, then this clause is of little concern for you. However, if you understand, or better intuit and feel, what the first clause meant (alone in the help-less-ness sense), then “help” is on the way!

As many times as this traditional proof-text for a barefooted-pregnant wife has been used as such, it has been grossly misused. And whenever it has been used, it has been out of sheer ignorance—ignorance of what it really means.   

Interestingly, the English word “help” smacks of an inferior, an assistant, one that supplements those few attributes or abilities that the man she is “helping” may lack. While such images are better than the barefoot mama nonsense, they are still miles from the sense of the biblical term for the wife, ‛êzer. The corrective to our wrong-headed readings of this concept is a contextual look at its Old Testament usage.

This word is used a total of 22 times throughout the Old Testament, always as “help(er)” in the AV. Consequently, it has a relatively determinate and static semantic range. Setting aside its application to the wife for a moment, it doesn’t take too long to survey the 19 other occurrences.

Tomorrow, I’ll post part two (see here), which will explore the uses of êzer in all three parts of the Tanach, “which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms” (Lk. 24:44).

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