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The role of Eve in relation to Adam is dramatically changed by the interpretation of the sections I have bolded below, from Genesis 2:18:

The verse as most people learned it:

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Gen 2:18 KJV)

The new interpretation:

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ (Gen 2:18 NRSV)

Both suggest that Eve was created a) because God did not want Adam to be alone and b) to help Adam.

However, the NRSV describes this as a "partnership" -- but does that merely reflect modern sensibilities about how marriage should work, or is there anything in the text to suggest what we might call "equality" between Adam and Eve?

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I used a "helpmate complementing him" which I think is closest. –  Ron Maimon Apr 6 '12 at 4:28

4 Answers 4

I believe Adam and Eve were a "picture" or "type" of a man himself. Together they were one unit, but each represented separate parts of man. Adam is man's Spirit which is considered the more dominant or male part who communes or talks directly with God. Eve is man's soul, the more feminine, submissive part and the Spirit's "helper". Notice she does not receive direct commands from God and must hear them from Adam (the Spirit)? It is only through the spirit that our soul can hear from God. Also, she was created differently. She was created OUT of Adam's flesh and it never says that she had the "breath of life" breathed into her. She was created out of Adam's "flesh" which is how our soul first appeared - when God breathed our spirit into our body. In other words, she didn't have God's Spirit directly, but was dependent on Adam or the Spirit of man for life and access to God. This is how our human soul works too. It is dependent on our Spirit for life and hears from God through our Spirit. Our human soul is our spirit's "helper" so it can interact with this environment. They appeared separately in Genesis, but they were intended to be one human or one mankind, one Adam.

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As for why the KJV used the term "meet", the Old English adjective form means "proper", "suitable" or "precisely adapted to". See the definitions on Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster.com and TheFreeDictionary.com. I think that in some cases people have reacted to this rather strongly (and unnecessarily) because of the passing resemblance to "meat" - See, God says that men should treat women like a chunk of flesh, not an equal! - when in reality that wasn't the message at all.

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To add to Ami's answer...

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

No other creature was created in God's image - in the context of the creation account here in Genesis 1, we can infer the nature of mankind is more like God than any other created thing.

It follows that, relative to all other created beings, Adam and Eve were equals.

In light of the fact that God made male and female in his image, I believe adding the "I will make him a helper as his partner" is not out of line (nor out of context).

That being said, I think Ami's break down of "kenegdo" is sufficient to show that the scripture does reveal that Adam and Eve are equals in the eyes of God.

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"we can infer the nature of mankind is more like God than any other created thing", but only in the sense of authority or 'dominion', right? –  Jack Douglas Oct 5 '11 at 15:48
    
I would say it goes beyond the sense of authority or dominion. Authority or dominion was a position in creation that was given to man by God (Gen 1:26). However made in the image seems to refer to the nature of man which is in contrast to the other creatures. Take a look at how Gen 1:25-26 reads - all the animals were made after their own kind whereas man was made in God's image. –  Jed Oct 5 '11 at 16:12
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I think you are making a false distinction between our 'position' and our 'nature'. We were created for authority over the animals, therefore it is in our nature to have that authority - even if we abdicate the position. Either way the author of Genesis 1 does not himself explain the terms image/likeness, except in the context of authority, so I'd prefer to be cautious about reading in any other concept unless supported by other texts, eg 1 Corinthians 11:7 (but the context here is also about authority IMO) –  Jack Douglas Oct 5 '11 at 16:27
    
@JackDouglas - I was specifically responding to the question or is there anything in the text to suggest what we might call "equality" between Adam and Eve?. The key term might call. I failed to clarify that I did not consider/respond to the generalized title-question What was Eve's role in relation to Adam?. If I were to reply to that particular question, then I would have certainly mentioned the authority position that Adam has been given over Eve - which, I believe is clearly taught in Genesis and the Bible as a whole. –  Jed Oct 5 '11 at 22:10
    
I just came across a verse that seems to contradict my thoughts regarding "created in the image of God" is applied to both male and female. The verse being 1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. I'm not sure if there is a connection there, but I thought it was worth throwing it out there. –  Jed Oct 6 '11 at 20:46

The Hebrew words in question are עזר כנגדו (ezer kenegdo).

The Hebrew root עזר means “help” and the word kenegdo comes from the root word נגד (neged). Neged in the OT always means "opposite" or "across from" and negdo means across from him. In Exodus 19:2, Israel encamp neged hahar, opposite to Mount Sinai.

The form kenegedo doesn't appear anywhere else in the Old Testament but is often used by the Sages of the Talmud to mean “corresponding to.” In his "The Art of Biblical Narrative," Robert Alter offers the translation “a sustainer beside him” and the more literal translation: "an aid opposite him."

Here is some of Alter's discussion of this passage:

"It is not good for man to be alone. I shall make him a sustainer beside him (2:18)." [Following this verse] there occurs a peculiar interruption. We have been conditioned by the previous version of cosmogony to expect an immediate act of creation to flow from the divine utterance that is introduced by the formula, "And God said." Here, however, we must wait two verses for the promised creation of a helpmate while we follow the process of the first human's giving names to all living creatures. These verses (Gen. 2:19-20) are marked, as a formal seal of their integration in the story, by an envelope structure, being immediately preceded by the thematically crucial phrase 'ezer kenegdo (literally, "an aid opposite him"), and concluding with the same phrase...

Eve has been promised. She is then withheld for two carefully framed verses while God allows the human creature to perform his unique function of bestower of names on things. There is an implicit irony in this order of narrated events. Man is superior to all other living creatures because only he can invent language, only he has the level of consciousness that makes him capable of linguistic ordering. But this very consciousness makes him aware of his solitude in contrast to the rest of the zoological kingdom...

His whole exposition is extremely beautiful and enlightening and I highly recommend reading it. Available on google books here.

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That still sounds like Eve's purpose in life is to help Adam. Or is "opposite" interpreted as "complement"? I guess another (related) question is whether we get any other sense of "partnership" vs "helper" between them. I'm not aware of any, and the story moves beyond their "relationship" fairly quickly. –  TJ Luoma Oct 5 '11 at 14:22
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"Complement" is a good way to understand it. Adam and Chava (Eve) are not identical and both are needed. –  Gone Quiet Oct 21 '11 at 20:42

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