What Does the Biblical Phrase Ezer Kenegdo Mean for Gender Roles Today? (2024)

The issue of personal identity is a hot topic of debate and discussion in today’s culture. Generally speaking, humans define themselves using a complex formula of beliefs, ideas, and perspectives. Most Christians rely on God’s Word to inform our beliefs, shape our ideas, and gain our Creator’s perspective. In scripture’s first pages, the origin of humanity unfolds as God forms the first man and the man’s ezer kenegdo, both in God’s image. But what does this ancient Hebrew term really mean?

Where Does the Bible Use the Phrase Ezer Kenegdo?

The phrase ezer kenegdo appears only once in scripture as an integral part of humanity’s origin story. On the first day of creation, God spoke light into existence. He separated the light from the darkness and labeled the two—day and night. On the second day, He formed the sky to separate the heavens from the earth.

On the third day, God sequestered all the groundwater into vast pools to distinguish it from the dry ground. He called these two formations land and sea. He then created vegetation—classifying all the varieties into seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees.

On the fourth day, God created two giant orbs of light—one to govern the daytime and the other to govern the nighttime. Together, in harmony with the stars, they would help delineate time and mark the separation between light and darkness. On the fifth day, God created two types of creatures: those living in the sea and flying in the air.

On the sixth day, God created land creatures. Then, as a grand finale before He took a day of rest, God fashioned man and woman in His own image (Genesis 1:27). Gathering the dust from the earth, He formed the first man, Adam, and breathed life into his nostrils. Seeing that it was not good for Adam to be alone, God said, “I will make a helper [ezer] suitable [kenegdo] for him” (Genesis 2:18).

To accomplish this, God placed Adam into a deep sleep and removed one of his ribs. He did not use the bone to clone Adam, but instead as the building block to create a brand new, separate being unique in form and function. When Adam awakened and saw God’s masterpiece, he said, “This is now bone of my bones; and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).

God placed the first couple in a garden filled with lush vegetation, a flowing river, and trees that bore various delicious fruit. They lived together in complete freedom there, naked and unashamed, while caring for their paradise home. God issued only one restriction for the first man and woman. He warned them not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or they would die (Genesis 2:17).

What Does Ezer Kenegdo Mean?

In every mainstream version of the Bible, the phrase ezer kenegdo (in Hebrew, עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ) is translated from the original Hebrew to mean (some variation of) “a suitable helper” or “help meet.” Here are just a few examples:

“I will make a helper suitable for him.”(Genesis 2:18b, NIV)

"I will make him a helper suitable for him.”(Genesis 2:18b, NASB)

“I will make himahelp meet for him.”(Genesis 2:18b, KJV)

“I will make him a helper fit for him.”(Genesis 2:18b, ESV)

In 1983, R. David Freedman, a Religious Studies professor at the University of California at Davis, wrote an article that disputed the traditional meaning of ezer kenegdo. In the article, Freedman asserts:

“I believe the customary translation of these two words, despite its near universal adoption, is wrong. That is not what the words are intended to convey. They should be translated instead to mean approximately, ‘a power equal to man.’” – “Woman, a Power Equal to Man”

In his article, Freedman analyzes the root words ezer kenegdo and cross-references each with correlating scripture passages to support his position that “God made up for the for the inadequacy of his original creation of man …by creating the female of the species to be ezer kenegdo, a power equal to man.”

Other Biblical scholars have reinterpreted ezer kenegdo in recent yearsto mean something other than “helper.”However, sinceFreedman’s article was first published in 1983, his linguistic analysis of ezer kenegdo has frequently been quoted as fact in academic papers, Christian books, articles, and blogs. Today, a simple internet search for “ezer kenegdo” reveals the wide-reaching acceptance of Freedman’s re-interpretation by Christian pop culture.

Dr. Mark Steven Francois, a linguist whose Ph.D. is in Old Testament theology, vehemently disagrees with Freedman’s article. In his 2019 video “Ezer Kenegdo in Genesis 2:18 - A Power Equal to Him?” Francois goes point-by-point through Freedman’s interpretation of ezer kenegdo and argues Freedman’s interpretation is linguistically flawed.

Why Does the Meaning of Ezer Kenegdo Matter and Why the Controversy?

Although the Hebrew words ezerandkenegdo appear together only once in scripture, the term is important. The phrase’s meaning helps Christians discern God’s original plan and purpose for creating women. But more importantly, the term helps us better understand our Creator’s faithful provision for all humanity.


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The controversy about the meaning of ezer kenegdopeaked at a pivotal time in Christian history. For decades, two opposing viewpoints about biblical manhood and womanhood had churned beneath the surface of evangelical Christianity. In the late 1980s, leaders from the opposing camps arose to form two separate national organizations to represent their deeply held Biblical convictions about God’s purpose for men and women.

On one side was the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), formed in 1987. The CBMW described itself as concerned about radical feminism leading to widespread unbiblical teaching on gender. Its mission statement describes the organization as existing to “set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.”

On the other side of the spectrum was Christians for Biblical Equality, founded in 1988. Its mission statement describes the group as founded over concerns about “the shallow biblical premise used by churches, organizations, and mission groups to exclude the gifts of women.” The CBE was founded to “promote the biblical message that God calls women and men of all cultures, races, and classes to share authority equally in service and leadership in the home, church, and world. CBE’s mission is to eliminate the power imbalance between men and women resulting from theological patriarchy.”

These two organizations represent opposing theological viewpoints, which have come to be known as complementarianism and egalitarianism. In a nutshell, complementarians and egalitarians both believe that men and women are equal in standing and worth with God. But complementarians believe that God designed men and women to play separate roles in the home and the Church; egalitarians believe that in Christ, there are no gender-based restrictions for roles in the home or the Church.

Complementarians tend to favor the traditional translation of ezer kenegdo as helper. Egalitarians typically embrace the modern translations that describe women as a power, rescuer, or savior.

What Can We Learn from the Phrase Ezer Kenegdo Today?

In 2 Timothy 2:14-15, Paul tells his young protégé Timothy to warn people about the utter uselessness of arguing about words because there is no value in the exercise, and it only ruins those who listen. Paul instructs Timothy to do everything he can to gain God’s approval as a worker who accurately and unashamedly handles the word of truth.

If you’re a Christian and confused about the meaning of ezer kenegdo or your identity and purpose, lay aside the controversy and camps and prayerfully take your questions directly to God. He promises that if we lack wisdom, we need only ask (James 1:5-8). Resist the urge to cringe when Biblical words like helper, servant, or meek irritate your culturally sensitized perception. Remember that God’s perspective differs from ours (1 Corinthians 1:28, Matthew 20:26-28, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Matthew 5:5).

Be wary of the enemy’s age-old tactics from the Garden of Eden: the never-ending question, “Did God really say …?” (Genesis 3:3) We’ve already been there and done that. Be wary when traditions of man are equated with commands of God and used to excuse sin (Mark 7:7-13). When we seek God with our whole heart, we can trust that His Holy Spirit will lead us into the truth of His Word and teach us the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).

We don’t have to be linguists or Bible scholars to understand who God created us to be. Our purpose, worth, and identity are hidden treasures. We need only seek Jesus to find them. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone” (Ephesians 1:11).

Photo Credit:©GettyImages/pcess609

What Does the Biblical Phrase Ezer Kenegdo Mean for Gender Roles Today? (2)Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.

This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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What Does the Biblical Phrase Ezer Kenegdo Mean for Gender Roles Today? (2024)
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