Introduction: A Rare Word
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 (mostly) in Hebrew, Genesis 2:18-20 contains the word kenegdô, twice. This word is usually translated into English as “suitable for him,” “meet for him,” “corresponding to him,” etc. (Kenegdô is a prepositional phrase with three components but, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to it as a word.)
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 can be difficult to determine with certainty what the biblical authors meant when they used that particular word. Nevertheless, in this article, I look at what kenegdô might mean.
My Hebrew is basic and I am much more comfortable with Greek, so as well as looking at what Hebrew experts say, I am also using the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament (also known as LXX), to explain the meaning of kenegdô.
The Hebrew word Kenegdô in Genesis 2:18-20
In Genesis 2:18-20, God speaks and says that he will provide an ezer kenegdô for the solitary human he has created. This ezer kenegdô will provide a level of companionship that the animals are incapable of, and she 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 sense. Because ezer and boēthos occur elsewhere in Scripture (and in other ancient literature) we can see how the words are used, which helps our interpretation and comprehension.
The meaning of the word kenegdô is less clear. Kenegdô comes from the common word neged. The Hebrew lexicographers Brown, Driver and Briggs (BDB) give 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”; the word has both a prefix at the beginning and a suffix at the end.
The כּ (kaf) prefix (=”k”) is an inseparable preposition which is typically translated as “like,” “as,” and “according to,” and it affects the meaning of neged. The “k” (kaf) prefix means that “opposite” is an unlikely sense of kenegdô.
The pronominal וֹ (holem vav) suffix is equivalent to the pronoun “him.” So the word kenegdô is effectively made up of two prepositions plus a pronoun, and is a prepositional phrase.
BDB go on to give the definition of kenegdo as “to what is in front of = according to,” and they translate Genesis 2:18 as “I will make him a help corresponding to him i.e. equal and adequate to himself.” (My underline.)
The Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon notes that while kenegdô 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.” So, in Rabbinic texts, the word means “similar.”
The King James Bible translates ezer kenegdô as “an help meet for him.” “Meet for him” is a fair and adequate translation of kenegdô. Nevertheless, many have misunderstood “an help meet for him” and inferred from this expression that God made the woman to unilaterally serve or assist the man, and even be confined to a subordinate or domestic role.
Walter Kaiser addresses this misunderstanding.
“… 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.’”
Similarly, Carrie Miles notes that in using the words ezer kenegdô, “God says that the lonely ha’adam [human] needs a source of strength on the same level, face-to-face—not a housemaid.”
The Greek Translation of Kenegdô in the Septuagint
The Hebrew inseparable preposition kaf, at the beginning of kenegdô, 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, kenegdô 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 kenegdô. 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 the translator 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 kenegdô in Genesis 2:18 and 20 is “well rendered.”
Thus, in the LXX we have boēthon kat’ auton (“a vital help corresponding to him”) in verse 18 and boēthos homoios autō (“a vital help similar to him”) in verse 20.
I have read some books and articles on Genesis 2:18 and 20 that 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 kenegdô 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.”
There is nothing whatsoever in the expression ezer kenegdô that implies the subordination of the woman in Genesis 2. 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).
There is nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 that supports a hierarchical ideology 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 kenegdô, the word God used when making the woman in Eden.
 Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Baker Academic, 2001), 47.
 To clarify: The word kenegdô contains a kaf prefix, followed by 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.
 Francis Brown, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), 617.
 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)
 “Genesis,” Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred Brauch (InterVarsity Press, 1996), 94.
 Carrie A. Miles, “Gender,” The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and Economics, Paul Oslington (ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2014), 608.
 Derek and Diane Tidball, The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender (InterVarsity Press, 2012), 37.
© Margaret Mowczko 2014
All Rights Reserved
You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month.
Become a Patron!
Andi Graf via Pixabay
Kenegdo = Equal to Him (Genesis 2:18 & 20)
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)
Ezer Kenegdo does not mean “a helper subordinate to him”
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?
The Holy Spirit and Eve as Helpers
Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16
All articles on ezer kenegdo here.
Articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3, here.
Articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.