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Kenegdo suitable helpmeet equal Genesis 2:18 2:20

Image is a screenshot taken of Google Translate™ translating gelyke into “equal”.

I thought the following snippet of information was worth sharing.

My internet friend Retha, who blogs at Biblical Personhood, is South African and her native tongue is Afrikaans. I recently read a short post where she mentions the translation of the Hebrew word kenegdo. This word-phrase occurs only in Genesis 2:18 and 20 in the Bible (in the context of the creation of Eve) and is usually translated into English as “suitable for him” or “meet for him,” etc. Retha, however, comments on how kenegdo is translated in Afrikaans.

The following information is adapted from Retha’s post and from a conversation I had with her.

In Genesis 2:18 of the 1983 Nuwe Afrikaanse Vertaling (New Afrikaans Translation), kenegdo is translated as sy gelyke, which means “his equal.” (Retha tells me that the Nuwe Afrikaanse Vertaling is a widely read translation, and without a particular egalitarian agenda.)

Here is Genesis 2:18b and 20b in the Nuwe Afrikaanse Vertaling (underlines added.)

Genesis 2:18b: Ek sal vir hom iemand maak wat hom kan help, sy gelyke.
Translation: “I will make him someone who can help him, his equal.”
Genesis 2:20b: . . . maar vir homself het hy nie ‘n helper, ‘n gelyke, gekry nie.
Translation: “But he did not find a helper, an equal, for himself.”

Some may be surprised to see the word “equal” plainly used in connection with the creation of Eve, but the understanding that kenegdo means “equal to him” is not novel. The reputable Hebrew lexicon Brown-Driver-Briggs, focusing on kenegdo, translates Genesis 2:18 as “I will make him a help corresponding to him i.e. equal and adequate to himself.” (Underline added.)[1]

The senses of kenegdo are “similar to him,” “corresponding to him,” and “equal to him.” The woman was neither superior nor inferior to the man; their relationship was one of equality and mutuality.[2] The Nuwe Afrikaanse Vertaling explicitly conveys this meaning with the use of the word gelyke (= “equal”). It’s a shame most English Bibles do not convey this meaning more clearly.

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[1] Francis Brown, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Hendrickson, 2007), 617. This lexicon was first published in 1906. Some information on BDB is here.

[2] Genesis 2 is about how the first human in Eden needed a helper. It was not good for him to be alone and care for the garden, which some understand to be a sacred space, on his own. Eve was made from a side of his body. They were made from the same stuff. She was “equal to him” (kenegdo).
We can imagine that the man and woman then worked side by side in caring for the garden. This role was the only ongoing task given to the first human in Eden. The naming-of-the-animals exercise was completed. It had served its purpose in demonstrating that there was no animal that was a suitable or equal partner for the first human.
Sex and procreation don’t seem to have been part of the Eden experience. There are none of the usual Hebrew words that refer to sexual relationships in Genesis 2 like we have in Genesis 4:1, 17, and 25, for example. Nevertheless, the man and woman formed a close and exclusive bond. They were a couple, and this was later consummated sexually.

Explore more

A more detailed article on kenegdo is here.
An article on the Hebrew word ezer in Genesis 2, often translated as “helper” or “help,” is here.
An article that looks at how ezer kenegdo is translated in the Septuagint is here.
All my articles on gender in Genesis chapters 1 to 3 are here.

15 thoughts on “Kenegdo = Equal to Him (Genesis 2:18 & 20)

  1. I wonder why there is no English translation that uses a phrase that is more ‘equal’ to the original Hebrew? Do you know of a bible that does translate this without, I humbly suggest, a culturally patriarchal agenda?

    1. Most English translations do a reasonable job of translating kenegdo. I think the bias comes more from interpretation than translation. However, the word “equal” would be much harder to “dumb down.”

  2. I just spoke of this passage and meaning in church a couple of weeks ago, and got a bunch of AMENS and some applause – something which never happened to me before when talking about it. However, I got to thinking – how was this handled in the LXX? Very glad to hear that a common current language did such a good job!

    1. Hi Cassandra,

      I write about how the LXX deals with kenegdo in the second half of this this article: https://margmowczko.com/kenegdo-meet-subordinate-suitable-or-similar/

      The translators did an excellent job of translating it!

      Glad your preaching was applauded! 😀

  3. I have recently come to this verse in my reading. And I read it in my child-like way as this: And Yahweh God said, It is not good that the earthling is itself alone. I will construct its help as conspicuous to it.

    כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, KNGDV is not a ‘word’. Like most Hebrew ‘words’ it is a phrase, a prefix K (kaf) followed by a root NGD followed by the pronoun suffix VAV marked as an o vowel. The prefix K is a very common prefix meaning as or like or some variation. The pronoun suffix is third person singular. I have rendered it as ‘neuter’ the gender being yet undifferentiated.

    Here’s my note
    Help meet is a lovely invention (and tends wrongly to be used to put the female in a subordinate place), but meet has lost something in translation. So I used a phrase trying to catch something of the word when it is used elsewhere as a verb. It is used for making something clear or evident, or conspicuous, or it may be used simply as a preposition, before, in front of.

    I have more notes on rib, and the garden as a place of confrontation. The word QDM is likewise a homonym. And even if you read East in Hebrew you would also recognize subliminally that the letters may mean other things. The syllabic emphasis might indicate that this QDM is not the same as the one that ends the section chapters 2 and 3.

    This nice thing about my readings is that they may be completely wrong – but they will make you think about the wrong that we read into the right translations.

    You can find Bob’s Bible at my blog e.g. Gen 2. This is a computer-assisted reading of the Hebrew with complete music. The music is derived only from the text. I completed this year the 6000+ pages using a computer program reading directly from the Hebrew.

    1. Hi Bob, thanks for your adding your insights.

      In another, much more in-depth, article I explain that kenegdo is a prepositional phrase, rather than a word. But I thought I could get away with “word” in this short non-technical post. 😉

      I think “meet to him” is a fine translation of kenegdo, but the baggage that accompanies this phrase (i.e. its history of interpretation) has distorted its real meaning.

      Heading over to your blog to see what you have to say on this enigmatic chapter of scripture.

    1. Thanks Ian. I thought it was interesting.

  4. Different translators seem to have different ideas. I wonder if you would be interested in the latest norwegian translation (from 2011)? It uses the expression «av same slag», which in english could be «of the same kind». God says: «Det er ikkje godt for mennesket å vera åleine. Eg vil laga ein hjelpar av same slag.» Or approximately in english: «It is not good for the human being to be alone. I will make a helper of the same kind.»

    So equality (being peers) and being of the same kind (same species) seem to be two things translators can see in the word «kenegdo». I do not know any hebrew or greek. But if I try to put myself in Adams place, and think about what I would want, what would that be? Say I was there, I was surrounded by animals, but there was no other human being. Another human being would, I think, be my wish. And if that human being was a child, that would not be fully satisfying, although it would be good too. But ideally I would want someone at my own level, someone that I not only could understand, but who could understand me.

    Based on such thinking, it seems to me that «kenegdo» may be thought to be about both these things: to be of the same kind, and to be on the same level, an equal.

    1. Thanks so much for letting us know about the Norwegian translation!

      My own thinking, based on the LXX of Genesis 2:18 and 20 (because my Hebrew is basic), is that kenegdo has meanings of similarity and mutuality, with the implication of equality.

  5. Just studied this in Theology of Creation at Nazarene Theological Seminary–they’re totally right. In the New Beacon Bible Commentary on Genesis 1-11, Coleson argues for the same translation.

    1. Thanks, Brit. It would make such a difference to our understanding if other translations used the word “equal”.

  6. Hello, I am Lydia from Myanmar.

    I am interested in your writing about women and the equality men and women. I wrote a paper about “A study of Missiological strategy for oppressed women in Myanmar”. I tried hard to understand Myanmar culture but my professor doesn’t accept my paper, I have been rejected 2 times.

    Now I am researching about “A biblical view of mission oppressed in Myanmar”. I am mainly researching about creation. God created men and women equally. There is no greater than any men or women. Please give me your suggestions.

    1. Hi Lydia,

      I’ve removed your personal information from your comment, as I wouldn’t want unwanted people contacting you.

      I’ll email you soon.

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