In previous posts in this series I have been critical of Wayne Grudem’s interpretations of Gen 1-3:
- Biblical understandings of human gender: Part One: Beginnings
- Biblical understandings of human gender: How to read the Bible: Larger passages trump verses
- Biblical understandings of human gender: Part Two: The creation of human gender
- Biblical understandings of human gender: Part Four: Grudem on Adam and Eve
- Biblical understandings of human gender: Part Five: Grudem on Adam and Eve ii
It is pleasant therefore to write a post in which we largely agree.
The KJV rendered the last word in Gen 2:18 knegdo as “meet for him” giving rise to the neologism “helpmeet” to describe women and their role with respect to men. The KJV translators did not create this neologism, they merely placed together the two words “help” and “meet” meaning “appropriate”, thus (as we’ll see) accurately rendering the Hebrew. The new conjoint word “helpmeet” was however in use before the end of the 17th century, and rewritten as “helpmate” in the next century.1
The misappropriation of the KJV’s “help meet” to present a subservient role for women has led to a backlash, which Grudem’s book presents as typified by Aída Besançon Spencer’s claims in her 1989 work Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry. Spenser (a New Testament scholar who ought therefore to have known better) translated “I will make for him a helper as if in front of him“. Then she leaped from this over-literal monstrosity to claim that “[f]ront or visible seems to suggest superiority or equality” the second is clearly true of any sensible rendering of the phrase, the first is evidently false, as Grudem notes.2
But on the other hand, and again as Grudem recognises knegdo does mean “corresponding to” and so implies equality and complementarity (i.e. mutuality) rather than some hierachy. In the second half of this sentence Grudem and I begin to part company, but since the reasons concern our understanding of “helper” ‘ezer rather than “meet” I’ll save that discussion for another post.
While it is true that knegdo is a rare construction found only in this chapter the core of the expression neged meaning beside or in front of, so here over-literally something like “as beside him” the implication of “corresponding to him” or “fitting for him” is fairly clear and the choice of all commonly accepted Bible translations in English.
The conclusion of this post is that knegdo means corresponding and implies that men and women are both equal and complementary (in the sense that we can fill out what the other lacks). It is in how these two truths can be held together without one in practice denying the other that the complexity of our topic lies. My next post on “helper” ‘ezer will begin to explore some aspects of this.