Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jesus: "The Help" and the "Helpmeet"


In this post, I'm just going to follow the logic of the "biblically" sexist doctrine of men such as Denny Burk, Wayne Grudem, and Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. to conclude that Jesus is functionally equal with an African American maid for whites and that Jesus is, likewise, functionally equal with a wife who must help her husband while following her husband's leadership.


Here's a little homework you may want to do first, before you read my blogpost.  Read Kathryn Stockett's The Help (or go see the film based on her book); and read Suzanne McCarthy's brilliant and important post, "The Help"; and read Genesis chapters 1, 2, and 3 in the Hebrew; and read the book of Hebrews in the Greek.  If you really want to go crazy with preliminary research, then also read Autumn Sandeen's essay that might have you asking what sign Jesus surely had to follow before drinking water in public or when entering the public bathrooms.

Maybe read how Jesus spoke about sex (but do know that you may have to read the Bible some here then).

All done?  Okay.  Here we go.


Let's review the logic of the "biblically" sexist doctrine:
Helping speaks to difference. The text says that God created her to be a “helper”–a role that involves aiding and supporting the leadership of her husband. God did not assign this role to the man. He assigned it only to the woman. Thus before there is any sin in the world, God creates man and woman to be equal with respect to their humanity (being created in the image of God) but to be different with respect to their roles. The woman is to be the helper.
-- Denny Burk, in a blogpost

Whenever someone helps someone else the person who is helping is occupying a subordinate or inferior position with regard to the person being helped.
-- Wayne Grudem, in a book of systematic theology introducing "biblical" doctrine

The paradox is this: God created male and female in His image equally, but He also made the male the head and the female the helper....

What will now emerge clearly from Genesis 2 is that male-female equality does not constitute an undifferentiated sameness. Male and female are equal as God’s image-bearers. They are spiritually equal, which is quite sufficient a basis for mutual respect between the sexes. But the very fact that God created human beings in the dual modality of male and female cautions us against an unqualified equation of the two sexes. This profound and beautiful distinction, which some belittle “as a matter of mere anatomy,” is not a biological triviality or accident. It is God who wants men to be men and women to be women; and He can teach us the meaning of each, if we want to be taught. We ourselves can feel intuitively the importance of distinct sexual identity when we see, for example, a transvestite. A man trying to be a woman repulses us, and rightly so. We know that this is perverse. Sexual confusion is a significant, not a slight, personal problem, because our distinct sexual identity defines who we are and why we are here and how God calls us to serve Him....

On the other side of the paradox, the woman is the man’s helper. The man was not created to help the woman, but the reverse. Doesn’t this striking fact suggest that manhood and womanhood are distinct and non-reversible? Doesn’t this make sense if we allow that, while the man and the woman are to love each other as equals, they are not to love each other in the same way? The man is to love his wife by accepting the primary responsibility for making their partnership a platform displaying God’s glory, and the woman is to love her husband by supporting him in that godly undertaking.

So, was Eve Adam’s equal? Yes and no. She was his spiritual equal and, unlike the animals, “suitable for him.” But she was not his equal in that she was his helper. God did not create man and woman in an undifferentiated way, and their mere maleness and femaleness identify their respective roles. A man, just by virtue of his manhood, is called to lead for God. A woman, just by virtue of her womanhood, is called to help for God.

-- Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., in a chapter in a book written to recover "biblical" manhood and womanhood
Do we need a summary?  The "biblical" sexist logic of Burk, Grudem, and Orlund is this:

Women may well be created equal with men ontologically
But women are designed functionally even biologically to help men;
Therefore: men are over women functionally and biologically.

This is exactly the separationist sort of logic that Aristotle used in his Politics and in his biological treatises to separate the sexes naturally.  It's the differentiating logic that Nancy Mairs calls the binary or the fundamental structure of the patriarchy.  It's the logic not only of sexists but also of racists:  of the European and American owners of African people as their slaves; of Adolf Hitler and his Nazis rounding up and mass murdering Jewish people; of the defenders of apartheid in South Africa and of the apologists for the Jim Crow laws in the southern states of the United States of America.  It's the logic that appeals to marked bodily difference in order to order society in such a way that the marked ones are lower than the default ones.  "Separate but equal" - is that phrase, that old mantra, which orders the separateness of bodies first, but then "equality."  And now the words of power, the wedge of separation of the "equals", are purportedly "biblical."  Notice, if you can, how the sexist, separational logic of Burk, Grudem, and Orlund drives their interpretation of the Bible and its words.  It drove the interpretation of Warren Jeffs, who said:
“I can see more clearly why John Taylor went into hiding as the government and the courts would demand he betray the Lord’s trust and also to take his life as they did Joseph Smith, as the world did against Joseph Smith, and the Lord has shown me this, that my enemies don’t just want me to be taken prisoner, but they want me dead. But the Lord has directed that I go into deeper hiding, and continue to gather the faithful, develop the lands of refuge and keep the redemption of Zion mission progressing. I have been instructed of the Lord to have my scribe and helpmate Naomie, get better disguise clothes. And we are working on whatever the Lord directs.” (Priesthood Record, July 30, 2004)
"A good wife is trained for her husband and follows the spirit of peace,"


In the Intro of this post, I said we'd follow the logic of the "biblically" sexist doctrine of men such as Burk, Grudem, and Ortlund to conclude that Jesus is an African American maid for whites and that Jesus is a wife who must help her husband while following his leadership.  Let's do this.

For homework, I suggested you read Genesis 1, 2, and 3 in the Hebrew.  I probably should have suggested you read all of the Hebrew references to God as "the help," references made by just a single word, עזר `ezer.  There are the two references to the first woman as "the help" of the first man.  There are sixteen references to God as "the help" of his people.  By Wayne Grudem's system of theology, by his doctrine, "Whenever someone helps someone else the person who is helping is occupying a subordinate or inferior position with regard to the person being helped."  This is certainly true logic in the USA during the Jim Crow era, when women who were of African descent were "the help" of white families.  My own family, for example, "hired" Nancy in Corsicana, Texas as "the help"; my siblings and I were young children and just babies, and Nancy took care us of when my white father and mother needed her help.  She was not paid what a white nanny and cook and janitor was paid.  And she occupied a subordinate and an inferior position in our household.  But does the "position" of helper necessarily mean that that person must submit to the one being helped?  If you read all of the Hebrew "help" references in the Bible, then just two apply to the woman and sixteen apply to God.

So now we can follow on to the book of Hebrews and then to Jesus.  As you noticed in doing your homework, the writer of the book of Hebrews (in chapter 13, verse 6) quotes Psalms 118:6, which has a phrase, now in Greek translation, that goes like this:

Κύριος ἐμοὶ βοηθός

In the most accurate English translation available to Burk, Grudem, and Orlund, that goes like this:

"The Lord is my helper" (ESV)

Well, this isn't exactly referring to Jesus.  "The Lord" or Κύριος refers to the unspoken name of God, or as the psalmist writes it, to יהוה.  But what we should notice is that Greek word for "helper"; it's βοηθος.  When other Jewish writers were using Greek to translate the Hebrew of the Bible, then they frequently used βοηθός to mean "the help."  For example, Genesis 2:18 and Genesis 2:20, the references to the woman as "the help" are both translated with βοηθος.  And Psalms 33:20, which uses the same Hebrew word for "the help" as do the Genesis verses for the woman, is also translated with βοηθος.  Of course, for Psalms 33:20, "the help" refers to God again in that position of helping humans, the psalmist and his people.  In the most accurate English translation Burk, Grudem, and Orlund can find, that Psalm goes like this:

"Our soul waits for the LORD;
   he is our help and our shield."(ESV)

So what?  Well, as you noticed when you did your homework, the writer of the book of Hebrews uses the same Greek word for "the help" for Jesus as was used.  Hebrews 4:16, as you recall, goes something like this:

"14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  (ESV)

In Greek, that last bit goes like this:

Προσερχώμεθα οὖν μετὰ παρρησίας τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος, ἵνα λάβωμεν  ἔλεον [or ἔλεος], καὶ χάριν εὕρωμεν εἰς εὔκαιρον βοήθειαν.

And from whom do the readers find this "grace to help"?  Jesus.  Jesus is "the help" here.

Just like God, equally "the help," ontologically and functionally and biblically.


Again we look at Hebrews, and again we read about Jesus there.  Again, the original biblical language for this man is functionally equal to the original biblical language used functionally for Eve, for the wife of Adam, for woman, to separate her from man.  Just as the woman is designed to be the helpmeet of the man, so Jesus is naturally born according to the writer of Hebrews to be the helpmeet of the offspring of Abraham, the people, those who are tempted.  Here it is:

16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help [βοηθῆσαι] those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2, ESV)


The twist on all this sexist, masculinist logic is not that there's a slippery slope where nobody can distinguish any body else's body.  It's not that bathroom labels are going to be ever so more confusing or that wives cannot help their husbands from time to time.  It's not that Jesus really is a black woman or a submissive wife.  Rather, it's just that the language that's actually biblical makes Jesus functionally what Denny Burk, Wayne Grudem, and Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.say he, as a man, cannot be.  Jesus functionally and ontologically is a human being like any woman.  According to the Bible and its language, he is the help and is a helpmeet.


R.A. said...

Jesus is inferior to Grudem. Great. We're all doomed.

Katherine said...

Thank you for such a great post.

" a human being like any woman".

I so rarely get to hear statements like that. I know you were making something of a different point, but that statement itself was such a comfort to me. Thank you thank you thank you. That has made my week.

Shawna Atteberry said...

Kurk you are brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! I'm so excited I'm about to start jumping up and down. Brilliant!

Kristen said...

This is excellent. You may enjoy my words over at Baptist Women for Equality, which Shirley Taylor was kind enough to host as a guest blog:

In short, all these doctrines are just another assertion of "divine right." That they should end in turning Jesus into "the help" is the logical end of this thinking; but since Jesus by his own words did not come to be served, but to serve, it is perhaps according to Jesus' own wishes that we should by this, more thoroughly understand the overturning of power structures which he actually intended to be the nature of the kingdom of God.

Paula said...

Yes, excellent work. But like the excellent work of others such as Groothuis who demonstrated the logical impossibility of the catchphrase, "equal in essence, unequal in role", no amount of work (of the "home" or any other kind) will put a dent in the ivory tower. To borrow a line from Pirates of the Caribbean, "Reason's got nothing to do with it". It was never about reason, logic, scripture, or godliness; it was always about privilege. But that very Bible says, "The last will be first"; "God uses the weak to humiliate the strong"; "not so among you".

I'm truly torn about this: should I continue to assail the ivory tower, or just let them keep a jealous grip on the top run of the ladder, since at the judgment they'll find out that God will turn the thing upside down? "'Vengeance is mine, I will repay', says the Lord". But with Paul I must say that it is better for others that I stay, because there are still women in bondage, and it might just help a few of them. The tower will not fall in this life, but I'll pull as many women out from under it as I can while we're here.

J. K. Gayle said...


I'm so very glad the statement resonated with you, the understanding that Jesus is a human being like any woman is. (I myself get sick and tired of preachers and teachers who overemphasize the maleness of Jesus, and of his chosen 12 disciples, mainly just to validate their own sexism.)

You are very very kind! Now I'm about to start jumping up and down! Thank you!

Thank you always for your wonderful insights. Yes, I never thought of the (white) male privilege in terms of divine right. How important your observation:

“God-given responsibility.” Yep. Just a euphemism for “divine right.” It also used to be called “the white man’s burden” and “noblesse oblige.”

Dress it up however you like, FoF. It’s still an assertion of the divine right of males.

I'm glad commenters were able to see your blogging name KR Wordgazer to make connections with other things you'd said, here (

Such important points. The ivory tower and logic, reason, scripture, godliness? Ouch, you're dealing with sacred cows here. But then you go for the big one: privilege. Your statement about the need to "turn the thing upside down" is making me want to blog more. Thanks for the insights and the inspiration, the encouragement to many, to press on.

Paula said...

Is the next blog title going to be named after the old soul group Tower of Power?

(just trying to "help"...)


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for trying to help, Paula. Look what that did. :)