I find it interesting that two of the most crucial texts in the Bible that influence our understanding of the status of women in marriage and ministry each contain a keyword that occurs nowhere else in Scripture.

In the New Testament, which was originally written in Koine Greek, 1 Timothy 2:12 contains the unique word authentein, a word I have already written about several times.

In the Old Testament, which was originally written in Hebrew, Genesis 2:18-20 contains the word kenegdô, twice, which is usually translated into English as “suitable for him”, “meet for him”, “corresponding to him”, etc.

When a particular word is used in only one biblical text, and there is no other usage and context we can draw on for comparison, it is difficult to determine with certainty what the biblical authors meant when they used that particular word.[1] Despite the difficulties, in this article I look at what the Hebrew word kenegdô might mean. My Hebrew is basic, and I am more comfortable with Greek; so, as well as looking at what Hebrew experts say, I am also using the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (also known as LXX), to further help my understanding of the meaning of kenegdô.  [From this point I will use the simpler “kenegdo“.]

Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?

The Hebrew word Kenegdo כְּנֶגְדּוֹ in Genesis 2:18-20

In Genesis 2:18-20 God speaks and says that he will provide an ezer kenegdo for the solitary human he has created. This ezer kenegdo will provide a level of companionship that the animals are incapable of, and will alleviate the human’s unsatisfactory (“not good”) solitude (Gen. 2:18).

The Hebrew word ezer is used elsewhere in the Old Testament and always refers to a strong, rescuing kind of help. The Greek translation of ezer in the LXX, which is boēthos, has the same strong meaning. Because ezer and boēthos occur elsewhere in Scripture (and in other literature) we can see how the words are used, which helps our interpretation and comprehension.

The meaning of the word kenegdo is less clear. Kenegdo comes from the word neged (Strong’s number 5048).[2] The Hebrew lexicon Brown, Driver and Briggs (BDB) gives the primary meanings of neged as “in front of”, “in sight of”, or “opposite to” when the word functions as a preposition (or adverb), as it does in Genesis 2:18 and 20.

But the word in verse 18 and 20 isn’t simply “neged”; it has both a prefix and a suffix. The כּ (kaf) prefix is an inseparable preposition which is typically translated as “like”, “as”, and “according to”, and it affects and alters the meaning of neged.[3] The pronominal וֹ (holem vav) suffix is equivalent to the pronoun “him”.  So the word kenegdo is effectively made up of two prepositions plus a pronoun,[4] and can be called a prepositional phrase.[5]

BDB goes on to give the definition of kenegdo as “to what is in front of = according to”, and it translates Genesis 2:18 as “I will make him a help corresponding to him i.e. equal and adequate to himself”. (My underline.)[6]  The Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon notes that while kenegdo is not used elsewhere in the Bible, it is used a few times in Rabbinic texts (with or without a pronominal suffix) where it “is often used of things which are like one another.”[7]  So, in Rabbinic texts, the word means “similar”.

The King James Version adequately translates ezer kenegdo as “a help meet for him”, but people have misunderstood “help meet” and inferred from this expression that God made the woman to unilaterally serve or assist the man, or even be confined to a subordinate or domestic role. Walter Kaiser addresses this misunderstanding and states that “the woman was never meant to be an assistant or “helpmate” to the man. The word mate slipped into English since it was so close to Old English meet, which means ‘fit to’ or ‘corresponding to’ the man. . . . What God had intended then was to make a ‘power’ or ‘strength’ [i.e. ezer] for the man who would in every way ‘correspond to him’ or even ‘be his equal’.”[8] Similarly, Carrie Miles notes that in using the words ezer kenegdo, “God says that the lonely ha’adam [human] needs a source of strength on the same level, face-to-face—not a housemaid.”[9]

Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?

The Greek Translation of Kenegdo in the Septuagint

The Hebrew inseparable preposition kaf, at the beginning of kenegdo, has a somewhat similar range of meanings to the Greek preposition kata (when kata is used with an accusative as it is in Genesis 2:18). And in Genesis 2:18 of the LXX, kenegdo is translated into Greek simply as kata (plus the accusative masculine pronoun auton, “him”.) In verse 20, however, the translator has chosen to use a different word to translate kenegdo. He has chosen the Greek word homoios which means “similar” or “having the same nature” (plus the dative masculine pronoun autō, “to him”.) It seems that the translator has used two different words, kata and homoios, to express the breadth of meaning of kenegdo. I think this is an excellent and helpful translation choice. Genesius comments that the LXX translation of kenegdo in Genesis 2:18 and 20 is “well rendered.”[10]

Thus, in the LXX, we have boēthon kat’ auton “a help corresponding/according to him” in verse 18, and boēthos homoios autō “a help similar to him” in verse 20.

I have read some books and articles on Genesis 2:18 and 20 which highlight the meaning of “opposite” in the word neged; but “opposite to him”, or “in opposition to him”, does not seem to be a meaning of kenegdo or the meaning of the Greek translation. Rather the ideas expressed are of “similarity” and “correspondence”. These ideas continue with the man’s description of the first woman who was formed from a part taken out of his own body: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The first man noticed the similarities, that they had the same nature, that the woman was his “counterpart, complement, companion and partner”.[11]

Conclusion

There is nothing whatsoever in the expression ezer kenegdo that implies a subordination of women. Instead, it has the meanings of strength and similarity. Each of the creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 5, highlight the similarity, unity and equality of men and women, and tell us that their joint task involves being God’s regents of the world he created; this includes ruling the animals (Gen. 1: 26-30).

We must stop trying to place women in a different sphere or lower rank than men. And we must stop using a faulty interpretation of Scripture to support faulty, hierarchical ideologies of gender. Men and women have some differences, but we are also very similar. “Similar to him” and “corresponding with him” are the meanings of kenegdo, the word God used when making the first woman.


Endnotes

[1] In circa first-century Greek literature, other than the New Testament, there are several instances of the verb authenteō, and the nouns authentēs and authentia, which can help us to understand authentein. There are a very few extra-biblical examples of kenegdo in Rabbinic writings.

[2] Neged (5048) comes from a primitive root nagad (5046) which means “front”, etc. Nagid and nagiyd (5057), also come from this same root word and can mean “leader (lit. probably one in front), ruler, prince.” James Strong, Strong’s Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary (MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.), 76. (Note that Strongs is not a dependable source of information.)

[3]  Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Baker Academic, 2001), 47.

[4] To clarify: The word kenegdo contains a kaf prefix, the main word neged, plus the holem vav suffix which has an “o” sound. Adding the prefix changes the syllables and vowels so k+neged+ô becomes kenegdô.

[5] Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender, edited by Kristen E. Kvam, Linda S. Schearing, Valarie H. Ziegler (Indiana University Press, 1999), 28.

[6] Francis Brown, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Hendrickson, 2007), 617.

[7] Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, German to English translation by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1857)  (Online Source)

[8] “Genesis”, Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred Brauch (InterVarsity Press, 1996), 94.

[9] Carrie A. Miles, “Gender”, The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and Economic, Paul Oslington (ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2014), 608.

[10] The translators of the Septuagint were a mixed bunch. Some were excellent translators with a good grasp of both Hebrew and Greek, others were not. The translators of the first five books of the Bible were especially scrupulous in their translations, and the LXX version of the Pentateuch is very literal. However I disagree with the translator’s choice of occasionally transliterating ha’adam in Genesis 2 with the proper noun “Adam”. More on the Septuagint here.

[11] Derek and Diane Tidball, The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender (InterVarsity Press, 2012), 37.


Related Articles

Kenegdo = Equal to Him (Genesis 2:18 & 20)
A Suitable Helper

A Suitable Helper in the Septuagint
Every verse in the Septuagint that contains boēthos
Men and Women in Genesis 1
Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16
Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
Articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3, here.
Articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.