Are Men and Women Equal in the Bible?

In my studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, I am currently studying Women in Islam. This week we are starting to look at the way the Qur’an and Hadith deal with women.  The Qur’an’s account of creation indicate that women are inferior to men as they were taken out of men – so males are the fullness of the creation and women are like a second generation photocopy of the original: Not quite the same quality. (Qur’an 7:189, 39:6). The Qur’an also uses a possessive construct when talking about women – meaning they are possessions of men (Wadud 1999:32) and always when speaking of a woman – links her to a man (Wadud 1999:33). In the Hadith, it says that if a woman or a black dog walks in front of a man who is praying – his prayers are ineffective.

So it led to an interesting discussion around the equality of men and women in the bible. In my research I came across the following article dealing with the word “Helper” that is used to describe women at creation. I found it very informative and thought I would share it. The  author of this is Shawna Atteberry

The second creation account found in Gen. 2:5-25, where woman is created to be an “ezer cenegdo” to the man. If the Hebrew phrase simply meant, “helper” then could a woman hold a leadership position in the church, let alone a single woman?  Dr. Coleson said the translators who translated our Bibles into English know that “helpmate” is a gross mistranslation of the Hebrew phrase, and he did not see how they could look themselves in the mirror day-to-day keeping that misintepretation in the Bible.  So what does this little Hebrew phrase mean?

Ezer is used 20 times in the Old Testament: seventeen times to describe God and three times to describe a military ally or aide. “Help” or”helper” is an adequate translation, but English has different nuances than the Hebrew does. In English “helper” implies someone who is learning, or under a person in authority. In the Hebrew “help” comes from one who has the power to give help–it refers to someone in a superior position. That is why God can help Israel: God has the power to do so. God helps Israel because they do not have the power to help themselves.

There is another possible definition for ezer: “power” or “strength.” Both words are from the same Hebrew root and the nouns would be identical. We see this when ezer is translated as either “helper” or “power/strength” in the name of the the Judean king, Uzziah. Uzziah means “God is my strength.” The other spelling of his name, Azariah, means “God is my help.” There are also poetic passages where “power” or “strength” are the only logical translations of ezer. It is clear that in some passages the root for ezer is “helper,” and in others it is the root for “power.”

Cenegdo is two prepositions: together their literal meaning is “facing.” ke is the first preposition, and it means “like” or “corresponding to.” Negdo means to stand in someone’s presence. Paired with ke it means to be in the presence of an equal. Together these two prepositions show the relationship between two people: it means they are standing or sitting facing each other, which shows they are equals. Ezer cenegdo does not mean–or even imply to mean–that one who is subordinate or inferior in creation or in function. Woman was created to be a power equal to man; an autonomous being that God created so that the man would have someone like him, and equal to him, to share his life with.

The man acknowledged this when he saw the woman. In the second poetic passage in the Bible he proclaimed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”! He knew at last an ezer cenegdo had been brought to him. His speech reinforces the woman as his equal. Unlike the animals she corresponds to him–she is like him; there is mutuality, unity and solidarity. The man recognized what God had done by calling her woman and saying she came from man. The narrator then stated, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This seems odd saying considering that in all Near Eastern cultures it was the woman who left her family to live with her husband and his family. Again we see that one is not above the other. Flying in the face of patriarchal culture, the mandate for marriage is one where the man leaves his family and clings to his wife.

I hope you have learnt something by reading that:- as I certainly did.

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Categories: Theology

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6 replies

  1. Curiously, I’ve always thought of “helper” as in the superior, not inferior sense of the word e.g. man really needs help! Not sure why it never occured to me that this word even had an inferior connotation. Probably, because God had already ruled that man, on his own, was “not good”.

  2. Shawna R. B. Atteberry is an author, theologian, and storyteller. She writes both feminist theology and urban fantasy. Her first book What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down was released in February 2013. She is now working on her second book, Career Women of the Bible, and her first novel, a feminist vampire story.


    • Do you disagree with what she wrote here

      • Sorry Peter, just saw this question, but my initial answer is “not enough information to agree or disagree”.

        POINT #1

        The quote starts “The second creation account found in Gen. 2:5-25, where woman is created to be an “ezer cenegdo” to the man” but the Blue Letter Bible (KJV) says

        — asah (I will make) ezer (him a help meet) neged (for him)

        Where does “cenegdo” come from?

        POINT #2

        What is not addressed is “what is meant by ‘equal”?

        You and I are both born again and so are equally righteous before God, but our personal relationships with Him aren’t “equal”; neither is our influence in the Church; nor our authority in the Church etc.

        Adam named Eve indicating that he had authority over her. They were certainly not ‘equal’ in authority, or in purpose as God gave Adam the responsibility of looking after the garden (v15) well before He created Eve to help him in that role (V22)

        POINT #3

        Shawna R. B. Atteberry writes feminist theology so what is “feminist theology”?

        quoting from

        “The starting point of feminist theology is women’s experience, and the rejection of ‘patriarchy’ (the structure of society whereby men rule women). Women, it is argued, will only become truly human, with the ending of patriarchy. The Bible is a patriarchal text through and through. Some feminist theologians regard the whole text as toxic, others believe that there is a core of helpful teaching that can be retrieved”

        o- “The Bible is a patriarchal text”
        It sure is and it’s “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2Tim 3:16 – God set up the world as a patriarchial system. I can’t remember anywhere in the Bible where we see God choosing a woman for a ruling position.

        o- “The starting point of feminist theology is … the rejection of ‘patriarchy’ ”
        See the last point

        o- “Women, it is argued, will only become truly human, with the ending of patriarchy”
        See the first point

        o- “Some feminist theologians regard the whole text (that is The Bible …adg) as toxic”
        See the first point

        Back to you (in sunny QLD as it’s still raining down here) do you AGREE with what she wrote here?


  1. Blogs I Have Written about Issues Related to Women Posted Here For International Women’s Day. « peterpilt

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