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.
You may also be interested in reading
- My Sermon Notes on Islam – Essential Basic Information
- Jesus in the Qur’an by Geoffrey Parrinder
- Is Obama Biblically Hostile?