GCTS LogoWalter C. Kaiser Jr.



Kerith Farm


The Bible is  inspired and inerrant. Hermeneutics rooted in grammatical-historical method.  Promise Theology.  Expository preaching-Exegetical Theology with the meaning and message of the Biblical text. "Keep your finger on the TEXT!"

Correcting Caricatures:

The Biblical Teaching on Women


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            If we all approach the text of Scripture, each having his or her own framework of understanding (even when we share a view of the Bible that it is inerrant and true in all it affirms and teaches), is there any hope that we can ever reach a “correct” or “objectively valid” interpretation, [i] especially on passages that are so sensitive as those that deal with the place and privilege of women in the body of Christ today?  Surely, no one particular set of presuppositions is to be favored in and of itself over any other set of presuppositions as the proper preparation for understanding a text.  And no one starts with a tabula rasa, a “blank mind.”  So does this mean we are hopelessly deadlocked with no possibility for a resolution?

          But evangelicals do argue, nevertheless, that despite the acknowledgement that we all begin with a certain number of presuppositions, this does not demolish the possibility of our reaching a correct interpretation.  Our pre-understandings are changeable and, therefore, they can and should be altered by the text of Scripture.  Just as one must not involve one’s self in a hopeless contradiction by declaring that “absolutely, there are no absolutes”, in the same manner, to declare, “objectively, there are no objective or correct meanings possible for interpreting a passage of Scripture”, is to decry exactly what is being affirmed.  The way out of this quandary of both the relativist or the perspectivalist conundrum is to identify  the presence of those aspects of thought that are self-evident first principles of thought that transcend every perspective, and act the same way for all people, all times, and all cultures.[ii] This is not to say that a correct, or an objective, interpretation is always reached in every attempted interpretation.  But, for those who accept the God who has created all mortals and given us the gift of language when he gave us the “image of God”, it is not a stretch to say that a “correct” and “objective understanding” is possible for subsequent readers of the earlier revelation of God.  The God who made the world is the same God who made our minds, thus, a direct connection between my mind and the world is possible.  To deny objectivity would be self-defeating, for it would again reduce itself to a violation of the law of non-contradiction. Accordingly, there is real hope for realizing an objective meaning and deciding between various truth claims and even between differing perspectives and different worldviews. [iii]

         All this must serve as a preface to our remarks, for some have grown so weary of this discussion that they have just given up and decided that nothing more can be said that will move any others from their entrenched positions. But an evangelical must not either surrender to the status quo of a multiplicity of competing interpretations or reject simply out of hand honest discussion of the key points of Scripture on these matters.  All correct interpretations will stand both the test of challenges as well as the test of time. So, let me review the scriptural teaching on the place and gifts God has given to women.  Scripture, after all, is our only final arbiter on all such matters.[iv]

1.      Genesis 2:18. Woman as possessing “power” or “strength” corresponding to the man.

     Adam was regarded by his Creator as incomplete and deficient as he lived at first without the benefit of a proper counterpart.  He was without community. God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). So, as Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 expressed it, “Two are better than one….” Accordingly, in order to end man’s loneliness, God formed “for Adam [a] suitable helper” (Gen 2:18)-or at least that is the way most have rendered the Hebrew word ‘ēzer.

      Now, there is nothing pejorative about the translation “helper”, for the same word is used for God, but it is also variously translated as “strength”, as in “He is your shield and helper [=strength]  (‘ēzer)” in Deuteronomy 33:29; 33:26.

      But R. David Freedman[v]  has argued quite convincingly that our Hebrew Word ‘ēzer is a combination of two older Hebrew/Canaanite roots, one ‘-z-r, meaning “to rescue, to save,” and the other, ģ-z-r, meaning “to be strong,” to use their verbal forms for the moment. The difference between the two is in the first Hebrew letter that is today somewhat silent in pronunciation and coming where the letter “o” comes in the English alphabet. The initial Ancient Hebrew letter for Ghayyin, or ģhayyin, fell together in the Hebrew alphabet and was represented by the one sign ע, or ‘ayyin. However, we do know that both letters were originally pronounced separately, for their sounds are preserved in the “g” sound still preserved in English today, as in such place names as Gaza or Gomorrah, both of which are now spelled in Hebrew with the same letter, ‘ayyin. Ugartitic, a Canaanite tongue, which shares about sixty percent of its vocabulary with Hebrew, did distinguish between the ģhayyin and the ‘ayyin in its alphabet of thirty letters, as it represents the language around 1500 to 1200 B.C. It seems that somewhere around 1500 B.C. the two phonemes merged into one grapheme and, thus, the two roots merged into one.  Moreover, the Hebrew word ‘ēzer appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament, often in parallelism with words denoting “strength” or “power”, thereby suggesting that two individual words were still being represented under the common single spelling.  Therefore, I believe it is best to translate Genesis 2:18 as “I will make [the woman] a power [or strength] corresponding to the man”.

     The proof for this rendering seems to be indicated in 1 Corinthians 11:10, where Paul argued, “For this reason, a woman ought to have power [or authority] on her head.” Everywhere Paul uses the Greek word exousia in 1 Corinthians it means “authority”, or “power”. Moreover, never is it used in the passive sense, but only in the active sense (1Cor. 7:37; 8:9; 9:4,5). But in one of the weirdest twists in translation history, this one word was rendered “a veil, a symbol of authority” on her head!! But, Katharine C. Bushnell showed in early years of the twentieth century, the substitution of “veil” for “power” goes all the way back to the Gnostic Alexandrian teacher known as Valentinus, who founded a sect named after himself sometime between A.D. 140 and his death on Cyprus in A.D. 160.  His native tongue was Coptic, and, in Coptic, the word for “power” and the word for “veil” bore a close resemblance in sound and in print: ouershishi, meaning “power, authority”, and ouershoun, meaning “veil”.  Both Clement and Origen also came from Alexandria, Egypt, so they too made the same mistake, possibly off the same Coptic type of manuscripts or influence of Valentinus in that city of Alexandria.

     This debacle continues right down to our own day.  For example, the NIV insists on saying “the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (emphasis ours). Even though the unwarranted word “veil” has dropped out, the expanded “sign of authority” for exousia remains!

     But let the word stand as it should and the question arises: where did Paul find that “power” or “authority” was placed on the head of woman?  In Genesis 2:18-that’s where!!

        So, rather than saying a woman is to be a “helper corresponding to the man,” instead, the text teaches that the woman has been given “authority”, “Strength”, or “power” that is “equal to [man’s].” The full Hebrew expression is  ‘ēzer kĕnegdÔ. If later Hebrew is of any help here, this second Hebrew word, often translated as “corresponding to him”, is used in later Hebrew as meaning “equal to him”. Surely, that would assuage Adam’s loneliness.

     That line of reasoning would also be borne out in Genesis 2:23, where Adam says to Eve, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman', for she was taken out of man”. This idiomatic expression points to family propinquity, one’s own close relative, or, in effect, “my equal”.

     Finally, woman was never meant to be a “helpmate”, no matter which force is given to this word  ‘ēzer. The Old English “meet” or “suitable to” slipped to a new English word, “mate”. But what God had intended was to make her a “power” or “strength,” who would in every respect “correspond to” the man, that is to be “his equal”. Next Page Button