Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
–Genesis 2:18 (ESV)
Some insist that when God said God will make a “helper” for Adam (referring to Eve), God indicated females will forever give “submissive assistance” to males, with “the female functioning in a submissive role under the leadership and authority of the male,” i.e., submissive and subordinate.
Such a view is known as the “complementarian” view.
The Complementarian View
Other words typically come along with the expression of the complementarian view, such as “male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature,” but there is always a “but” or other caveat eventually when the view is expressed and, at bottom, the complementarian view is one of subordination and submissiveness for females and leadership and authority for males.
It is advocated by a variety of organizations, most vocally by various Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated groups (not all of them) and The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It is opposed by others, including CBE International.
That’s a Narrow View of “Helper”
Of course, a “helper” is not necessarily one who is subordinate and submissive.
Walk up to a police officer on the street—there to be a helper to you—and describe to the officer how he or she is your subordinate and must be submissive to you. Add in how you are the authority over the officer. Good luck!
Ezer: The “Strong Partner” Kind of Helper
The Hebrew word in Genesis 2:18 translated as “helper” is ezer.
Dr. Linda L. Belleville, a highly respected professor of religion, theologian, and scholar, explains that all nineteen occurrences of ezer in the Old Testament are about “assistance that one of strength offers to one in need (i.e., help from God, the king, an ally, or an army). There is no exception.”
In other words, a ezer in the Old Testament is a helper but not one who is helping someone with authority over the helper.
She goes on, “fifteen of the nineteen references speak of the help that God alone can provide.” (citing, for example, Psalm 121:1-2: “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”).
God, of course, is not subordinate and submissive to those God is helping.
Thus, the “helper” Genesis 2:18 describes is one created to relieve man’s aloneness “through strong partnership,” in the words of Dr. Belleville.
But What About Other Places in the Bible?
In Genesis 3:16b, God says to Eve, after she disobeyed God, that “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Dr. Belleville notes this verse probably expresses what is going to happen, not a prescriptive command from God, and it “is not cited even once” in the entire Bible as such a command.
1 Corinthians 11:3 expresses that “the head of the woman is man,” but Dr. Belleville points out that us 21st century readers too quickly think of “head” as in-charge and says that “head” in verse 3 is more in the sense of “source” (as in headwaters), pointing to verse 8 which refers to woman coming from man, rather than man coming from woman.
Complementarians also frequently quote 1 Corinthians 11:9-10, sometimes chopping off the last part of verse 10 and often using select translations, such as this from the NASB:
“man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head”
But here are examples of other translations of 1 Corinthians 11:9-10:
So there is disagreement over the appropriate translation. Should we use this verse to declare women subordinate to men?
What about verses in Biblical books with highly disputed authorship (like Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy)? Should they be used to insist that women be subordinate to men?
What about submission? Ephesians, in the passage directed to husbands and wives to which complementarians point, begins with “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (5:21) Again, an indication of a helper in the nature of a “strong partner,” not a subordinate.
And 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, the very next verses in 1 Corinthians after the ones to which complementarians like to point, says:
Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.
But everything comes from God.
Sources & Notes
complementarian view: “‘submissive assistance … with ‘the female functioning in a submissive role …’”: https://cbmw.org/uncategorized/summaries-of-the-egalitarian-and-complementarian-positions/
Ezer section and after: Linda L. Belleville, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry (Revised Edition), ed. by Stanley N. Gundry (series editor) Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2005), page 27; 33-35 (rule over)
“Head” (kephalē in Greek) in 1 Cor 11:3 most likely means a sense of (a) source (as in headwater) and (b) first representative of (non-hierarchical) (as in head of a line of kids at school).
It probably doesn’t mean a sense of (c) authority over (as in head of a company) or (d) a physical head (as in the head on your body).
#1) You can see in the rest of 1 Cor 11:1-17—- the context — that Paul is talking about(a) source and (b) representation (the glory of, dishonor, etc.) the whole time, not authority.
Here’s the text with an (a) or (b) after each time talking about source/rep below; some are both:
“5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head (b) — … 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God (b); but woman is the glory of man (b). 8 For man did not come from woman (a), but woman from man (a); 9 neither was man created (a) for woman, but woman for man (a). 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. [v. 10 is a mystery and translated 30 different ways. Notice that Paul uses the actual word for authority here, indicating that if he meant authority in v. 3, he could have used the word for authority, not head.] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. (b) 12 For as woman came from man (a), so also man is born of woman (a). But everything comes from God. (a) …”
So the text is emphasizing source and representation.
#2) Paul uses the normal word for hierarchical authority in 1 Cor 11:10, just 7 verses later (exousian). If he meant such authority in verse 3, he could have easily used that word. Instead, he used kephale, indicating he meant something different. Verses 10-12 are unclear but may very well mean that a woman is to have hierarchical authority over her own self; it’s just that she’s not independent of man like man isn’t independent of woman.
#3) God is not “the authority over” Christ. Christ is God (see John 1). So, “authority over” can’t be the meaning.
God is “the source of” / “representative of” Christ, as God is one God existing in three persons, the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and Christ came to us, to Earth, from God. “Source of” / “representative of” also fits the rest of the 11:3 (man is the source of woman (Eve coming from Adam’s side here; Adam created in “our” likeness here) and the rest of chapter 11.
#4) Interpreting v. 3 to mean man must have authority over women is inconsistent with Ephesians 5:21 (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”) However, the interpretation of (a) and/or (b) above is consistent with the instruction to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
#5) The order of pairings in verse 3 also suggests it is not authority / hierarchical.
Updated: Added the cite to Ephesians regarding submission; note re 1 Cor 11:3.
Added: Argument that kephale does not mean source in Ephesians 5:23 (not sure it the premises here are true): (1) Only Liddell and Scott, a dictionary of classical usage, lists this as a possibility. Many of L&S’s references are far outside the NT period (centuries before Paul) and meanings of words change over time. (2) Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker (2000; page 541-42) do not cite source as a possible meaning; standard dictionaries for NT study. (3) Grudem has published it is a very rare possible meaning. See Recovering Biblical Manhood and Woman, 425-68. (4) Some commentaries reject it as a possible meaning. See Best, Ephesians, ICC 535, and Lincoln, WBC, 42: 368-69. This isn’t a particularly impressive argument, given history.
It’s obvious that kephale in 1 Cor 11:3 does not mean “authority.”
1 Cor 11:3 says “But I want you to realize that the head [kephale] of every man is Christ, and the head [kephale] of the woman is man and the head [kephale] of Christ is God.”
Notice it says “the head [kephale] of Christ is God.”
Your claim is this means “the authority over Christ is God.”
God is ** not ** “the authority over” Christ.
Christ *is* God (see John 1). God *is* Christ. To assert God is the authority over Christ is heretical.
God and Christ are one in the same. They are not one having authority over the other.
You can see this plainly in John 1. See, e.g., verse 1: “… the Word was God.” And verse 18: “… the one and only Son, who is himself God ….”
So, “authority” can’t be the meaning of kephale in 1 Cor 11:3.
Third, you ignore the context of 1 Cor 11:3, a sure sign you have mishandled the Word.
Before leaving John 1, I will note for you the following regarding the nature of Christ as *source* of man and the *source* of all things, as well as Christ as *representative* of God (e.g., light, making known) and God as the *source* of Christ (e.g., coming from, relationship):
John 1: “2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness ….
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, … 12 … to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. …
… grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
The context of the passage in which 1 Cor 11:3 resides is a theme of *source* and *representative*.
****** “Head” (kephalē in Greek), viewed in context there, means a sense of (a) source (as in headwater, like beginning of or origin of) and (b) first representative of (non-hierarchical) (as in head of a line of kids at school).
It doesn’t mean a sense of (c) authority over (as in head of a company) or (d) a physical head (as in the head on your body).
Here are several reasons:
#1) You can see in the rest of 1 Cor 11:1-17—- the context — that Paul is using a metaphorical word play on “head” (kephale) to talk about (a) source and (b) representation (the glory of, dishonor, etc.) the whole time, not authority.
Here’s parts of the text with an (a) or (b) after each time talking about in the sense of (a) source or (b) representation below (some are both, I just mark one):
“….. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head (b) — … 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God (b); but woman is the glory of man (b). 8 For man did not come from woman (a), but woman from man (a); 9 neither was man created (a) for woman, but woman for man (a). 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. [v. 10 is translated 30 different ways. See below for comment on it.] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man (b), nor is man independent of woman. (b) 12 For as woman came from man (a), so also man is born of woman (a). But everything comes from God. (a) …”
So the text is emphasizing source and representation. The passage is about source and representation.
#2) Paul uses the normal word for authority in 1 Cor 11:10, just 7 verses later (exousian). If he meant authority in verse 3, he would have used that word. Instead, he used kephale, indicating he meant something different.
Verses 10 is unclear but likely means that a woman is to have authority over her own self (her own physical head); it’s just that she’s not independent of man, just like man is not independent of woman.
Notice that Paul seems to use head in v.10 in the literal sense, meaning authority over her own head, her own self.
#3) “Source” / “representative” fits the rest of v. 3.
God is “the source of” / “representative of” Christ, as God is one God existing in three persons, the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and Christ came to us, to Earth, from God.
“Source of” / “representative of” also fits the rest of the 11:3. Man is the source of woman (Eve coming from Adam’s side here).
Christ is present at the beginning (see John 1). Adam is created in “our” likeness in Genesis (i.e., including Christ’s).
Thus Christ is the source of man.
#4) Interpreting v. 3 to mean man has authority over women is inconsistent with other parts of the Bible.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
As to sexual relations, a husband ‘does not have authority’ over his body—his wife has authority over him. 1 Cor 7:4.
Deborah had authority over many men. Judges 4-5.
Jesus told Mary to tell the disciples what the Word wanted them to do. John 20:16-17; Matt 28:9-10.
Female prophets speak for God to men and women.
There are many instances in which women have authority over men, given by God, in the Bible. See https://authentictheology.com/2018/09/03/20-scripture-passages-telling-women-to-speak-teach-lead-and-have-authority-over-men-in-the-assembly-and-elsewhere/
Interpretation that of v. 3 to mean that man must have authority over women is inconsistent with these and other parts of the Bible.
But the interpretation of v.3 in which kephale/ head means the sense of source / representation is consistent with the rest of the Bible, including John 1, the instruction to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” etc.
#5) The order of pairings in 1 Cor 11:3 also suggests it is not authority/ hierierchical. If Paul had meant “authority,” he would have most naturally put it in order of God-Christ, Christ-man, man-woman. Instead the order is in order of appearance in flesh on Earth, as in their source/representation on Earth: Christ-man, man-woman, God-Christ.
Christ created Adam on Earth, then Eve, then Christ born.
The Liddel, Scott & Jones lexicon, one of the respected lexicons of Ancient Greek, “does not give “authority” or “leader” as meanings of kephalē. It does, however, give “source”, “origin” and “starting point” as possible meanings ….” See, e.g., https://margmowczko.com/lsj-definitions-of-kephale/>
Early church fathers, for example:
“Athanasius (296-373), bishop of Alexandria, quoted from the First Creed of Sirmium which states,
For the Son is the Head, namely the beginning of all: and God is the Head, namely the beginning of Christ . . .
John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407) was adamant that “head” doesn’t mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3. He said that if we take “head” with the sense of governing, the passage won’t make sense and it will lead to false ideas about Jesus Christ, which is his primary concern. (Homily 26 on First Corinthians)
Cyril (376-444), Archbishop of Alexandria, in De Recta Fide ad Pulcheriam et Eudociam wrote:
… [Adam] became first head, which is source, … Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as head, which is source, of those who through Him have been formed anew …. Therefore he himself our source, which is head, has appeared as a human being. … Because head means source, he establishes the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the head of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore as God according to his nature, the one Christ and Son and Lord has as his head the heavenly Father, having himself become our head because he is of the same stock according to the flesh.
(See Patrologia Graeca 76, pp.1336-1420.)”
God, throughout the Bible, asks women to speak to, lead, teach, and have authority over men. Here are 20+ passages in which God does so. https://authentictheology.com/2018/09/03/20-scripture-passages-telling-women-to-speak-teach-lead-and-have-authority-over-men-in-the-assembly-and-elsewhere/
Jesus, the Word, asks women to go, tell assembled men what the Word revealed to the women and what the Word wants the men to do. See, e.g., John 20:16-17; Matthew 28:9-10.
It is a direct contradiction to what God asks of women to demand that women and girls do the opposite of what God asks of them, demanding that women and girls be silent and subservient to men. You have bought into a twisting and misconstruing of a handful of sentences, like 1 Cor 11:3, in trying to uphold a tradition of man.
You cite Philippians 2:1-11, but you didn’t quote it. Here it is:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
What you have missed, in a major way, are these three things: (1) Christ is God. (2) Christ “made himself” and “humbled himself ….” Christ decided to become human. Christ decided to go to the cross. Christ decided to become obedient to death …. Christ decided …. Christ had the freedom to decide and to make decisions about his own self. (3) v. 5 says “in your relationships with one another”: Any voluntary service or submissiveness is a two-way street. Indeed, Philippians 2:1-11 reflects what Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” I pointed this out in my response. But you ignored it.
(i) No one says men and women are identical. Individual men and individual women can choose to submit and serve one another. This is obvious. And this can be in different ways at different times. They can decide. And yes, when Jesus prayed, he was not only having a conversation with the Father but also with himself.
(ii) Even ultra-conservative Churches of Christ scholars recognize the Holy Spirit is properly worshiped and prayed to, too. See, e.g., https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1102-is-the-holy-spirit-worthy-of-worship (“But Professor Cottrell, whom I respect though not always agreeing with him, then says: “there are no biblical examples or precedents for addressing the Holy Spirit directly in praise or prayer.” With due respect, we believe the evidence introduced above demonstrates otherwise. Besides, if one cannot directly praise the Holy Spirit — either in song or prayer — how is such worship to be rendered?”).