A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)

By Margaret Mowczko

This Christmas one of my gifts was a copy of the Septuagint – the (approximately) 200BC Greek translation of the Old Testament.[1]  Thanks Mum!  So far I’ve skimmed through the book of Daniel, and I’ve read Psalm 49, (for no other reason than the book fell open at Psalm 49.)

This morning I decided to begin at the beginning, with the book of Genesis.  In my reading I came across the phrase in Genesis 2:18 & 20 that is often translated into English as: “a suitable helper for him”.  In the Septuagint, this phrase literally says, “a helper corresponding to (kata) him” in Genesis 2:18; and “a helper similar (homoios) to him” in Genesis 2:20.  While much can be said about the use and meaning of kata[2] and homoios here, I am particularly interested in the Greek word translated as “helper” in these verses: boēthos.

There is the same sense of “strength” and “rescue” in this Greek word, boēthos, as there is with the Hebrew word for “helper”, ezer, used in the Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 & 20.   (I have written about ezer in my first article on A Suitable Helper.)

Boēthos is a noun made up of two words which mean (i) “cry out” or “intense exclamation” and (ii) “run”.  The verb of this word boētheō means “come to the rescue” or “supply urgently needed help”. (From HELPS word-studies.)  Perschbacher gives the meaning of boētheō as “to run to the aid of those who cry out for help . . . “[3]

The following is every verse in the New Testament where boēthos (and its cognates) appear[4]:

In Matthew 15:25 and Mark 9:22-24 the word is used where people were crying out to Jesus for help.  In Acts 16:9, 21:28, 27:17 and Revelation 12:16 it is used where strong help and support were required. In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 2:18, 4:16 and 13:6 it is used in the context of receiving divine help.

There is nothing in these New Testament verses that imply servitude or domestic help.[5]  Rather, all these verses refer to a strong, rescuing – even a divine – help.

God is our helper, our ezer and boēthos, but he is not subservient to those he helps.  Still, Genesis 2:18 & 20 has been almost universally used to teach that women were designed to help their husbands in a subservient manner.  And it is important to note that the Bible does not teach that a woman is to provide unilateral help and support to her husband without receiving mutual help and support.[6]

There is nothing in the Genesis creation accounts that identifies specific roles of men and women;[7] neither do these passages suggest that women were (or are) in any way inferior to men.  The pre-fall creation accounts actually contain some beautiful expressions of mutuality, equality and unity between the first man and woman (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:21-24, and 5:1-2).

Moreover, contrary to the views of some Christians (Complementarians), there is nothing in the pre-fall Creation accounts which states that Adam was the leader[8] and authority figure and Eve the passive, submissive follower and domestic help.  There is nothing passive, submissive, or domestic implied in the word boēthos.  Both the Greek and Hebrew texts of Genesis 2:18 & 20 relate that the first woman was designed by God to provide valuable and vital strength and assistance to her husband within a relationship of unity and mutuality.


Endnotes:

[1] The Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX) is a Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew Scriptures.  It also contains Apocryphal books, not contained in the Hebrew Bible.  The Septuagint is thought to have been translated in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime (roughly) around 200BC.  It was highly regarded and used widely by the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman (formerly Greek) empire.  It was most likely used by the Hellenised Jews in Israel also.

[2] Kata is with the accusative auton.

[3] Perschbacher, Wesley J., (Ed) The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990.

[4] These are all the New Testament verses that contain boēthos and its cognates that I could find.  Please let me know if I’ve missed any.  Here is an exhaustive list of every verse in the Greek Old Testament that contains the word boēthos.  Note that the word is only used in the context of rescue, might and divine help.

[5] There are plenty of other Greek words in the New Testament with the meaning of “help” or “assistance” that have a less lofty, urgent or strong sense.

[6] I have heard even young Christian men and women quote 1 Corinthians 11:9 with a mistaken view that women were made by God for men, for the express purpose of helping men, and not vice versa.  Many Christians read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:3-9 about men and women, but fail to take into consideration Paul’s more complete and correct statement in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.

[7] The Bible simply does not command that women, and not men, should cook dinner, wash the dishes, do the laundry or clean the house, etc.  The expectation that women should be homemakers is a cultural one.  The closest thing to a biblical directive for women to keep house is Paul’s instruction for the Ephesian widows to lead/manage (oikodespotēs) their homes (1 Tim 5:14).  Paul wrote this instruction primarily to keep the idle widows out of trouble.

[8] The concept of a ruling husband came as a consequence of sin, and should not be regarded as the norm.

© 28th of December, 2010; Margaret Mowczko

This article first appeared at newlife.id.au here.

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2 Responses to A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)

  1. Kristen says:

    Thank you for this confirmation, Marg. If there were any doubts that “ezer” was a word conveying strength, the fact that the Septuagint translators saw it that way, should dispel them.

  2. Marg says:

    Kristen, have you seen the link (in footnote 4) to the page of all the OT verses where boethos appears? I posted that page because people had said wishy-washy things about the word. I find the use of the word, usually in the context of divine or strong help, compelling.

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