What Does 'Helpmate' Really Mean in Marriage?

Bethany Verrett

Husband kissing wife while giving her flowers. Thursday, May 7, 2020

In the English translations of Genesis 2:18, the word used to describe Eve, the partner Adam needs, is typically translated three different ways. The original word in the Hebrew is the noun ezer, עֵזֶר. The translation changes most commonly between, helper, helpmate, and helpmeet in the King James Bible.

All three words mean the same thing, it is a person who provides needed help and assistance. Ezer is found in other parts of the Bible, often referring to the Lord as help. It is used this way often in the Psalms, such as in Psalms 115:9 “O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.” The selection between the three words is based more on the time of the translation, as older versions use helpmate and helpmeet, and more contemporary ones use helper.

Husband kissing wife while giving her flowers.

What Does It Mean That Eve Is a Helpmate for Adam?

Eve completed Adam in a special way. She was made to “fit for him.” (Genesis 2:20b), because God did not want Adam to be alone. She was also made to join Adam in having children, made differently from him, yet the same. As a triune God - a Trinity made of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - God knew that being alone would not be good for Adam.

Just as each person in the Trinity serves a different role, Adam and Eve, man and woman, both were part of one unit, acting in different ways to accomplish the same goal. Before the Fall and the first sin, this purpose would have been the tending of the Garden. Marriage was ordained here, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

In the first chapter of Genesis, in the shorter account of man’s creation, God commanded them to be fruitful, and have children, making Eve an equal partner with Adam in creating the first family, his helper in raising children. Though the Garden of Eden is lost to history, husbands and wives still work together as two parts of a whole to create new families and serve a mutual purpose. 

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Husband kissing wife while giving her flowers.

Is Eve Subordinate to, or Less Than Adam?

The question of whether or not Eve’s status as a helpmate makes her subordinate to Adam is one that can be controversial. Looking at the timeline in Genesis, God created her as Adam’s helper before the Fall, with no implication that she was subject to him. As stated previously, the noun for helper used in Genesis would be used in other parts of the Bible to show how God helped those who called out to Him for assistance, implying that women’s help can be valuable and worthy.

She was also created in God’s image as much as Adam was, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The Lord values men and women equally. Paul clarifies this truth with the statement, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Though their roles and strengths may have been different, Adam and Eve were two equal halves of a whole.

Much changed in the world after the Fall of man. Eve fell for the temptations of the devil, of the desire to be like God, and Adam followed suit. Sin entered the world, beasts turned on one another, and mankind was separated from their previously intimate relationship with God. Where they could once walk side by side with Him, they now hid. The serpent, Adam, and Eve each faced ramifications from their choices, and “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16).

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Husband kissing wife while giving her flowers.

How Did the Fall Impact Marriages?

Childbirth became painful, and the dynamic between men and women changed. There is some debate, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, about what it means that a woman’s desire will be contrary to her husband, but he will have rule over her. To understand this tension, it is important to note that Adam was held more responsible for listening to Eve, than she was for enticing Adam to eat of the fruit:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall   return (Genesis 3:17-19).

Combining this level of responsibility that God placed upon Adam, that he must eat by the sweat of his brow and return to dust because of his choice, with the New Testament descriptions of the role of the man, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25) shows that man’s headship in marriage was intended by God from the start. The implication that man shall rule over her probably does not mean that because of the Fall, the husband is the head of the marriage.

There are two common perceptions of what Genesis 3:16 means. Some see it that women would want to master and control their husbands, but cannot. Others argue that it means that women would desire their husbands, but that desire would be frustrated by his authority. There are other, similar interpretations. Whichever is correct, the more important takeaway is the nature of the marital relationship was permanently changed. Rather than being one of love, unity, where woman acts as man’s perfect helpmate, there would be tension and conflict to overcome.

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Husband kissing wife while giving her flowers.

What Is a Wife's Role As a Helpmate Today?

Though the Fall added burdens and troubles to marriage, the Bible shows what wives can do to fill their role as helpmates. There are many verses available for study to learn more about the role of a wife.

Verses that address the role of women in marriage include:

Ephesians 5:22-24 - "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

This verse addresses the role of the wife submitting to her husband in respect, as the church submits to the leadership of Jesus Christ.

Titus 2:4-5 - "Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."

Here, Paul encourages younger women to be faithful to their husbands, and hard-working, to build a happy life.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 - "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up."

This passage is often used at weddings. Marriage is compared to three chords, often seen as the man, the woman, and God. The woman is called to be an equal partner in a strong relationship.

Proverbs 31:10-31 In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a good wife. The good wife is a wise woman who is productive, a loving wife and mother, a planner, and many other wonderful traits. 

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Husband kissing wife while giving her flowers.

How Should Godly Husbands and Wives 'Help' Each Other?

Ultimately, the strife between men and women, between mankind and its sinful nature, can only be reconciled through Jesus Christ. A wife on her own cannot make a marriage work, nor can it work if only the husband is trying. If both spouses strive to be more Christ-like, then they will take on more of His characteristics such as love, kindness, and patience.

No relationship and no marriage will be perfect because we live in a fallen world, but couples in a loving marriage can lean on the Lord for guidance. Both spouses should be available for one another, and strive to understand the other. Healthy marriages are the responsibility of both partners, both individuals coming together to honor God with their lives and support one another.

Christian marriage is meant to show the love between Christ and His church to a fallen world; the key is that the husband and wife submit to their Savior first, and then seek one another out in the love of God to build a strong relationship, and help one another.

Sources

Ortlund, Raymond C. Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.

Prager, Dennis. The Rational Bible Genesis. Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2019.

Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2007.

Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.

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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.

Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.

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