I pointed out yesterday that there is no reason to read “he shall rule over you” in Genesis 3:16 as the corruption of an original good andrarchy. In response to this Nigel Dutson asked about the interpretation of Genesis 2:18, where God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” He says: “No mention of domineering control to be sure but certainly the idea that woman was created with man’s interest in mind and not vice versa.”
The word for “helper” is ʿēzer. More often than not in the Old Testament it refers to God, who is Israel’s “helper” in times of trouble. For example: “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!” (Ps. 70:5). It describes a person who runs to the aid of another in difficulties. It does not signify a person in the position of servant or assistant; nor does it convey the idea of subordination. The “helper” is “an independent person who makes up a significant deficiency or helplessness in the other”.1 The word says more about the unsatisfactory condition of the man than the status of the woman.
The helper must be as a “counterpart” or an “opposite” to the man (kenegdō). The animals, which like Adam are made from the ground, do not meet this requirement, though no reason is given. It seems likely that the phrase looks ahead to the marriage relationship. The woman is a proper “counterpart” to the man because the woman is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”; therefore, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (2:24). There is a complementarity at work here, but it is sexual rather than hierarchical.
Gordon Wenham thinks that the naming of the woman by the man (2:23) renders her subordinate to him, which he suggests is “an important presupposition of the ensuing narrative”.2 But clearly the subordination of the woman in Genesis 3:16 presupposes not an original hierarchy but the judgment on the woman’s disobedience. Further, nothing in the text suggests that naming establishes authority over that which is named. Something quite different is going on:
In Genesis 1 God ‘names’ the various elements as they are created (vv.5, 8, 10), and in so doing establishes their identity and differentiates between them. In each case the naming accompanies an explicit separation of one element from another. Likewise, by naming the animals (2:19-20) Adam does not demonstrate his rule over them but rather differentiates and identifies each creature in hope of finding one suitable to be a ‘helper’. It is in the process of naming that they are found to be inadequate. The woman, however, is recognized as corresponding to the man and is named accordingly: ‘this one shall be called woman, because this one was taken out of the man’. By naming her Adam marks her out as being fundamentally both different from the animals and related to himself. This is an act of recognition, not of rule; the only advantage he has is that he preceded her.3