What was a “help meet” (Gen 2:18)?

A suitable helper. “Helper” (עֵ֖זֶר, ezer) means what it says, but the word rendered variously “meet,” “suitable,” “just right,” and “fit” (כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, kenegdow) is troublesome, because the root word simply means “in front of” or “opposite to.” And this is important, because it is the first description in the Bible of women, and also goes to the whole important issue of the relationship between men and women. Young’s Literal drops its literality and resorts to a paraphrase: “as his counterpart.” That strikes me as right. As one commentator says, all the other marshaled animals had male and female counterparts, but Adam did not.

So then does Gen 2:18 suggest that women are merely helpers for men?

Not even the very verse in question, let alone the whole Bible, says anything so demeaning. God regretted that Adam was alone, so this person was to be good company for Adam—and then, since company is good only if it is reciprocal, that entails that he would have to be good company for her. More to the point, obviously, since woman is described as having many other functions, we must not assume that the Bible is suggesting that the whole Biblical role of women is exhausted by “companion helper,” which sounds something like a slave.

Why does Genesis 2:19 suddenly switch back to the creation story?

It does not. It spends a grand total of one verse describing God’s creative activity again. God is seeking a “help meet” for Adam, while killing two birds with one stone by inviting him to name the animals. Of course, none of the animals will do the job: “there was not found an help meet for him” (Gen 2:20) among the animals he named.

But does the text not entail at 2:19 that the animals were created just before Adam named them?

That would pose a problem insofar as the birds were made on a previous day, the fifth. But this is no problem; the situation is very similar to that noted above, regarding 1:4: these are just a few small details needed to contextualize the account of Adam and his activity. There is no need to insist rigidly that the birds and land animals were created just before Adam named them. The point, rather, is that in God’s natural economy, in his design, they were created for man, who by naming them, exercised dominion over them (cf. Gen 1:26-28).

What is the significance of naming? Why does God have Adam do it, and why is this activity described at all?

Because Adam, in addition to being a tiller of the land, is also a practicer of animal husbandry, and this naturally requires some notice in an origin account. As man was already said (Gen 1:26-28) to have dominion over animals of various kinds, here is the first instance of exercising that dominion. Throughout the Bible, naming is associated with authority. So, for example, Daniel and his friends are renamed by a chief official (Dan. 1:7); and Jesus renames Simon as Cephas (translated to Greek and then to English, Peter; e.g., John 1:42). In the same way, by naming animals, Adam (at God’s behest) claims authority over them.

What is the significance of the fact that Eve was created out of Adam’s own flesh?

She was not, first of all, made anew. As a child comes from his parents, so Eve was not a new creation. In this way, as with “helper” (Gen 2:18), the text signals that Eve was dependent upon and subordinate to Adam. The same point is underscored when Adam exults, “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:23) This might be an offensive notion to today’s feminists, but it is clearly what the text means to show.

Is this not yet another example of a problematic pattern to be found in Genesis, in which an origin story contradicts known science?

Indeed, there is no scientific evidence that the female of the species was made this way. Probably, if the Bible is entirely true, we will not understand what precisely is meant by the text, or have compelling answers to skeptical scientific questions, until we meet our maker. It is entirely possible, but not falsifiable by science, that what happened is exactly what the text says. Ribs do contain DNA and some manner of genetic engineering is conceivable (although for this, a whole rib would not be needed). What is easier for modern science to conceive is that there were two homo sapiens who gave rise to the rest. In fact, statistical analysis of reproduction patterns show that just 2,000 to 5,000 years ago, there was some person who can be found in every human being’s family tree. Beyond that, some 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, everyone alive on earth today had exactly the same set of ancestors. The conclusion actually follows mathematically. That hardly means Eve was created from Adam’s rib, but it does make the whole “mankind from small number of ancestors” narrative of Genesis 1-11 more plausible.

In Adam’s little song of joy at Gen 1:23, is Adam naming Eve?

Yes, but as a woman, not as “Eve,” here (she is named later by Adam at Gen 3:20). In so doing, he is also, through the act of naming, demonstrating the sort of “dominion” he is said to have over animals. That is, he is naming a creation that God has brought before him, just as he had been naming animals God brought before him earlier. But this creature is received particularly joyously because she is a help meet, who came from his own flesh.

Why were they not ashamed by their nakedness (Gen 2:25)?

Their lack of shame at their nakedness shows how like children Adam and Eve were. The suggestion is that “knowledge of good and evil”—whatever this is, precisely (see below)—also brings a sense of shame at nakedness. Presumably, though in some sense perhaps it is no shame for the innocent, it becomes shameful for the sinful. Again, precisely what difference is discovered is not (as far as I can tell) actually explained in the text; the reader is left to fall back on his own adult sense of shame.

Why does the text note that they were not ashamed (Gen 2:25)? Why is this significant?

This is a slightly different issue. The narrative clearly wishes to draw a great contrast between their innocence and lack of shame (not to say exhibitionist “shamelessness”) before the Fall, in Gen 2, and their later, sinful state, “knowing good and evil,” so that they “knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:7) and in need of clothes. In short, the contrast dramatically underscores Adam’s and Eve’s innocence before the Fall, and the need for their resulting sinful state to be covered, literally as well as figuratively, by God (Gen 3:21). Note, Adam’s and Eve’s own fig leaf coverings are evidently not adequate, in God’s eyes.