Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?

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 key word 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”, “meet”, “corresponding to”, 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

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 being 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”) loneliness (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 (Strongs number 5048).[2]  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 2:12 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]

homoios

The Greek Translation of Kenegdo in the Septuagint

The Hebrew inseparable preposition kaf 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.  In verse 20, however, the translator has chosen to use the Greek word homoios which means “similar” or “having the same nature”, plus the dative masculine pronoun autō.  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

Equality and affinity in marriageThere 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 to him” are the meanings of kenegdo, the word God used when making the first woman.


Endnotes

[1] In Ancient Greek literature, other than the New Testament, there are numerous instances of the verb authenteō and the nouns authentēs and authentia, but very few instances of authentein.  There are 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.) p. 76.

[3]  Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Baker Academic, 2001) p. 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) p.28.

[6] Francis Brown, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Hendrickson, 2007) p.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] Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred Brauch (InterVarsity Press, 1996) p. 94.

[9] Carrie A. Miles, “Gender” in The Oxford Handbook of Christianity and Economic, Paul Oslington (ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2014) p.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 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) p.37.


Related Articles

A Suitable Helper
A Suitable Helper in the Septuagint
Every verse in the Septuagint that contains boēthos
Gender in Genesis 1
Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
Articles on Gender in Genesis
Articles on 1 Timothy 2:12

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Posted August 1st, 2014 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, Gender in Genesis 1-3, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , , ,

41 comments on “Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    Thanks for this very helpful post, Marg. I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse and this is really insightful.

  2. Deb Hall says:

    Thanks for your work in this area. I really appreciate your tone and detail. I have recently started following your blog and have really enjoyed the challenges it has presented to me.

    This post helps make greater sense to the result of sin where in Genesis 3 the man will rule over the woman. If she were already subordinate, ruling over her could not be a result. Sin broke the order of the original creation. So I wonder if, as part of the curse God spoke in the garden, woman is to be ruled over (a new order per God) or is it more of a prophecy that sin will lead to this because people will assign blame and punishment?

    • Marg says:

      Hi Deb,

      Only the serpent and the ground are cursed by God in Genesis 3. I think God is foretelling what things are going to be like now that humans have sinned.

      Sin has marred the harmony and affinity of the first man and woman, and sin will mar and ruin many other relationships. I believe that men ruling women (i.e. patriarchy or a gender hierarchy) is the result of sin.

  3. judy says:

    In respect to:Deuteronomy 18:22

    “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass , that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken , but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”

    As an aside to the idea that Genesis 3:16 is a prophecy/instruction FOREVER…and considering that prophecies that are not fulfilled are not of God, we have to conclude that Gen. 3:16 was not a prophecy FOR US at all. Why? Because throughout history men simply have not always ruled over women. There will always be a number of homes where women rule over men.

    I prefer to say it might have been a unique prophecy for Eve, alone, but to say it was a prophecy for all time is simply not fulfilled and therefore Deut.18:22 applies.

    • Marg says:

      Almost all ancient cultures are patriarchal, so I think if Genesis 3:16 is a prophecy it has been fulfilled. The number of homes in ancient times were wives ruled their husbands are few and far between.

      I’m particularly struck by patriarchalism when I read the Old Testament. Jesus, however, came to redeem us from the curses and consequences of sin. Genesis 3:16 need not apply to redeemed followers of Jesus.

      Not all prophecies are “forever”; and some serve as warnings (e.g. Jonah’s prophecy).

      • Peggy Brown says:

        I have been pondering the number of times patriarchy is undermined in the Old Testament. I believe it was a social custom which God accommodated during the process of educating people about how they should treat each other. To make it something that God ordained is so sad.

        • Marg says:

          I also believe that God accommodated patriarchy (as he accommodated polygamy, for example) but these social dynamics are far from his ideal and have no place in the New Creation.

  4. […] Marg Mowzcko just posted this excellent article yesterday, relating directly to this issue of gender roles as understood from the Creation narrative: Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man? […]

  5. Don Johnson says:

    On Gen 3:16, “… and he shall rule over you.” is not a command to the woman nor to the man, although some commenters claim this. What I see this as is a warning about what the woman is to expect from being married to the deliberate sinner that tried to blame her. The word rule is the normal word for rule, it includes both good rule and poor rule, and again this is not what some commenters teach.

    • Marg says:

      Yes, There is no “I will . . .” in this part of God’s statement, or any indication that this is his command.

      Genesis 3:16b does contain the common word for “rule”, and yet nowhere else in all of (protestant) Scripture does it say that men (or a husband) should rule women (or his wife.)

      It doesn’t even say that men or husbands should rule their own households, unless you count the decree by the pagan king Xerxes in Esther 1:22.

      I believe God’s intent is that men and women rule the animals (Gen. 1:26, 28), but not each other. Ideally, humans should live as friends. Friends don’t need hierarchies and rulers to live peacefully and productively.

      • Don Johnson says:

        Yes, my point is that some claim that the rule of the husband is harsh rule or bad rule, but that is not the meaning of the word, it is just all kinds of rule, harsh or kind, good or bad.

        And just as it is fine to work but not sweat and so roll back the effects in Gen 3, so it fine to roll back the effects of a husband’s rule.

  6. Deb Hall says:

    Thank you everyone for your replies. I am so glad I posted my thoughts.

  7. Dave Glasgow says:

    Thanks for posting, I will be using this concept in pre wedding sessions. I have found also that helper means to encircle or defend a city as if it were to be attacked. Your spouse is your best defense!

  8. […] Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man? by Marg Mowczko  […]

  9. Mark says:

    Wonderful post – thanks! I have never come across kenegdo being a prepositional phrase, which if I understand you correctly reinforces the word ezer. It is also interesting that the Psalms use the noun and verb to describe Yahweh Himself; does that make Him subordinate to us…?

    • Marg says:

      Hi Mark, it doesn’t exactly reinforce ezer, rather the prepositional phrase kenegdo connects the noun “help” and pronoun “him” (which is itself incorporated in the word kenegdo). The prepositional elements of kenegdo say something about the relationship between “help” and “him”.

  10. Linda H says:

    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 an adverb or preposition, as it does in Genesis 2:18 and 20.

    I was seeing the opposite to not as opposing but more like facing each other. It might even be an intimate stance such as gazing in each others eyes, hugging or even sex.

  11. John says:

    Excellent showing marg, You know…people don’t realize in Genises1:27-29 that it shows how God planned out his making of male and female in his image, and it shows how God gave full authority to both the husband and wife to rule the earth together and work lighty to find food that God easily prepared for them in the garden. Genises even sas a husband an wife are one flesh…that should tell us something. God made a woman for adam to work by his side together as an equal standard in all aspects of life…..even in the church a husband an wife should work together as they are flesh, to work as a pastor to win souls

    Many argue that since God only told adam a command not to eat of the tree, that the male gender are only allowed to preach. But the see how eve wasn’t even created yet when God told adam about the tree. But when the serpent came to eve, they need to see how she already knew not to eat from the tree…God or adam mustve told her. The serpent only came to eve because he knew that God only told adam….but that doesnt mean that adam was a pastor or given spirital authority in a church by God over his wife. Many also argue that eve tried exercising authority to teach adam and take his spiritual pastoral role, not true because there was no church or sin in before the fall. A lot of people have this heiarchial idea with how God said to eve that her husband will have her desire and will rule over her. God simply meant that eve’s desire to rule the earth with adam will be taken away from her and given to adam, so that adam can rule over her and protect his wife since she became the weak vessel. Apostle Paul said the husband doesnt have power over the body of his wife, and a wife doesn’t have power over the body of her husband, but they have power together. That with many other verses on marriage should show how a husband and wife are equal, yes with differences in life but not in the church nor having a role in it. Both genders were punished, women giving birth in pain & men having to work hard.

  12. John says:

    Husband and wife are one flesh to work together in a ministry…just like Priscilla and Aquilla teaching together Acts 18:22-26 and in their church ministry in Romans 16:3-5

    • Marg says:

      It seems that most people in ministry in New Testament times worked with a partner, or a group of colleagues; they never ministered alone. However we have little evidence of married couples working together. Men worked with men (e.g. Rom. 16:21), women worked with women (e.g. Rom. 16:12), and men and women worked together (e.g. Rom. 16:7), each according to their gifts, abilities, and means.

      My husband has different ministry gifts to me, so we often do not serve together, but our marriage bond, our exclusive one flesh relationship, still remains.

  13. Dale Dupont says:

    Meet, which means ‘fit to’ fits with complementary function. Like nuts and bolts. mutually supportive. That fits with how the minds and bodies function too. You can see this in nature too. male and female, it’s just humans that get that superiority thing going. Yet Paul wrote about headship and Jesus is the head. But Jesus is perfect and men are not. God listens and is willing to reason with us. As Christ loved the church so men should love their wives. I once heard a Rabbi say it means to oppose when wrong and support when right. Jesus even taught to rebuke your brother when he sins against you. The law says to know the law and not agree to sin with anyone. Abigail saved her house when her husband offend David etc. both male and female are in the image of God

  14. John says:

    Well true there’s little evidence of a married couple working together in ministry in the bible. I like to compare how adam & eve were to be by each other in an assignment of ruling the earth with work, along with partners that were in different orders in the New Testament….to compare how a wife assisting with her husband in ministry is important as well. Men and women have different talents and color, and as being one flesh in preaching the word that can develope a ministry with power…. my pastor and his wife both pastor in the church I attend. I see both preaching in achord to us all and running the house(church) with many activities.

  15. John says:

    Aquila and priscilla in Romans16:3-5 is what I see of a married couple running a church. Even though it doesn’t say more than just “Their church”…. Just by knowing how they’re a couple having their own ministry together based on this verse should give some exppectations of being a married cople working together in the church. An example of them working together by teaching is in Acts18:24-26, I see it somewhat like this. But the Lord inspires in many ways..its all in his calling

  16. judy says:

    How can humans, who are similar, make such a mess out of what dissimilar animals do every day? i.e.

    “SYMBIOSIS – the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship; especially : mutualism”

    Why is AUTHORITY, HIERARCHY and POSITION so important to humans?…no wonder the scriptures tell us we must ‘die’ to self…if this were true of us all, then this whole discussion would be moot and there would be NO “Christian” Complementarians insisting on their exclusive ownership of particular roles…they would learn to share the labour in a mutually beneficial way. Is it really so difficult to give one another the liberty to be led exclusively by God in God’s Kingdom and to function only according as God has given us gifts for the good of us all?

  17. […] The Hebrew word kenegdo, usually translated as “suitable” in Genesis 2, gives the meaning that Eve was designed to be a corresponding companion and equal partner for Adam. […]

  18. […] In the Septuagint, this phrase literally says, “a helper in accordance with, or corresponding to, (kata) him” in Genesis 2:18; and “a helper similar (homoios) to him” in Genesis 2:20. While much can be said about the use and meaning of kata[2] and homoios here, I am particularly interested in the Greek word translated as “helper” in these verses: boēthos. […]

  19. […] I believe that the Genesis 2 creation account was designed to show the equality, compatibility and unity of the first man and woman. They both had the same source, ha’adam, and shared the same flesh made from the same ground that had been personally enlivened by God’s own breath (Gen. 2:7). […]

  20. […] Kenegdo: Is the woman in Genesis 2 subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man? […]

  21. […] “Similar to him” and “corresponding to him” are the meanings of the Hebrew word kenegdo used in Genesis 2 […]

  22. theologyarchaeology says:

    The problem is there is no confirmation from God that you are correct in your handling of your translation. Nor does it mean you got God’s intended use of the word correct.

    There is no indication of subordination in that text but it does provide a definitive description of the role of the woman. Your handling of the text is very biased and ignores what the rest of scripture says. It is too narrow in scope and to easy to manipulate the definition to fit your desired outcome.

    Your thinking of the meaning of that Hebrew word does not over-rule God’s other instructions on the role of women in the church or the family. Those other instructions help define the Hebrew word in Gensis.

    • Marg says:

      It is easy enough to check and see if I have quoted from the Hebrew lexicons accurately.

      My article does take into consideration what the rest of Scripture says. The Greek words kata and homoios are common enough in the Greek New Testament, and the Greek word boethos is far from rare and always means a strong, rescuing help or support. It is the usage of these words in Scripture (as well as other Greek literature) that tells us what these words mean.

      The aim of this article is to look at the meaning of the word kenegdo. I have in no way manipulated the meaning of kenegdo, nor do I suggest that the meaning of kenegdo somehow over-rules other biblical instructions concerning women. Still, the meaning of kenegdo is what it is.

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  24. silvereyes1945 says:

    Hi, I enjoy reading about the ezer kenegedo, and your post is great. However, ezer is usually a term that describes God or a military ally. I read there are two roots for ezer which mean resucer or strength. I think a strong ally is a great translation for this word. I read kenegedo is in the substantive meaning a preposition that can stand alone as a kind of noun. In other words, kenegedo can be translated “as the (one) before him. Eve could be described “a strong ally as the one before him”. How is she before him? I think the best translation is “face to face” because, unlike the animals, Eve is the only one who could stand before Adam and communicate face to face. Neged comes from a root that means “to tell”. At the same time, ke in kenegedo can mean “like”. What if Ezer Kenegedo is translated ” a strong ally like the (one) before him”. That puts a different spin on things because Eve would be like the one before him instead of as the one before him. Other than Eve, who was the one before Adam in a face-to-face relationship? That would be God himself. Eve was a strong ally like the one (God) before him (Adam). Maybe this phrase is supposed to describe Eve’s likeness to God instead of her relationship to Adam. Just my thoughts.

    • Marg says:

      And yet when Adam saw the woman he described her as being like himself: bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Moreover, God doesn’t say I will make a help similar to “me” (1st person), he says I will male a help similar to “him” (3rd person). The cholem vav suffix “o” in kenegdo functions as a pronoun and means “him” in Genesis 2:20.

      Having said that, I have no doubt that the first humans were like God in some way. We still are his image bearers.

    • Dale Dupont says:

      it does say He made them in the image of God, male and female He made them.

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