Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Real Meaning of the Term "Help Meet"


One of the most frequently misunderstood terms in the bible is the term "help meet" in the book of Genesis. In Genesis 2:18 it says, "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."

The common way in which the term "help meet" is interpreted is to mean that God gave Adam a helper who was worthy of him. Eve, unlike the other beasts of the earth, was "appropriate for" or "worthy of him". This understanding of the term "help meet"is not really correct. The term, in it's original Hebrew, means something much more profound and powerful. When we really understand what God was saying to Adam we come to see Eve's role and the role of women on this earth in a much different light.

In Hebrew the two words that "help meet" are derived from are the words "ezer" and the word 'k’enegdo".
Ezer which is commonly translated as "help" is really a rich word with a much deeper meaning. In her book Eve and the Choice Made in Eden, Beverly Campbell explains,
“According to biblical scholar David Freedman, the Hebrew word translated thee into English as “help” is ezer. This word is a combination of two roots, one meaning “to rescue”, “to save,” and the other meaning “to be strong.” Just as the roots merged into one word, so did their meanings. At first ezer meant either “to save” or “to be strong,” but in time, said Freedman, ezer “ was always interpreted as ‘to help’ a mixture of both nuances.”
Diana Webb in her book Forgotten Women of God also clarifies this word by explaining,
"The noun ezer occurs 21 times in the Hebrew Bible. In eight of these instances the word means “savior”. These examples are easy to identify because they are associated with other expressions of deliverance or saving. Elsewhere in the Bible, the root ezer means “strength.... the word is most frequently used to describe how God is an ezer to man. "
For example the word "ebenezer" in 1 Samuel 7:12 is used to describe the power of God's deliverance. "Eben" means rock and "ezer" means "help" or "salvation". Ebenezer therefore means "rock of help" or "rock of salvation". The root "ezer" is the same word that God used to describe to Adam who Eve was. She was not intended to be just his helper or his companion, rather she was intended to be his savior, his deliverer.

The other part of the term "help meet" which is commonly translated as "meet for" or "fit for" is the word "k’enegdo". It is hard to know exactly what the word k’enegdo means because it only appears once in the entire Bible. Yet Diana Webb explained that,
"Neged, a related word which means “against”, was one of the first words I learned in Hebrew. I thought it was very strange that God would create a companion for Adam that was “against” him! Later, I learned that kenegdo could also mean “in front of” or “opposite.” This still didn’t help much. Finally I heard it explained as being “exactly corresponding to,” like when you look at yourself in a mirror."
Eve was not designed to be exactly like Adam. She was designed to be his mirror opposite, possessing the other half of the qualities, responsibilities, and attributes which he lacked. Just like Adam and Eve's sexual organs were physically mirror opposites (one being internal and the other external) so were their their divine stewardship designed to be opposite but fit together perfectly to create life. Eve was Adam's complete spiritual equal, endowed with a saving power that was opposite from his.

I've pondered a lot about this clarification of Eve's role and how it is that she has been given a saving power equal but opposite to Adam's saving power. As I've thought about it I realized that while women do much to help and assist men in their stewardship they have been given a stewardship that is uniquely theirs and which is every bit as important as men's stewardship.

Women are "saviors" to men by the fact that they give them life and nurture them towards the light of Christ. By conceiving, creating and bearing mortal bodies women make it possible for God's children to start on their mortal journey and have the opportunity to become perfected. Without women there would be no gateway into this world and no opportunity for progress or exaltation. In addition, by being willing to sacrifice ( their very lives if necessary) to bring children into this world women demonstrate the true meaning of charity. From the very first breath a child takes he or she has been the recipient of charity and unconditional love. This is a powerful gift that a mother gives her child and it will be her love which will first reminded the child of God and points him or her towards Christ. Each woman, regardless of her ability to give birth, is a savior to mankind when she loves men and nurtures a child closer to Christ. (I've mentioned more about this concept in my post The Importance of Birth and Infertility and the Scriptural Promise).

Even Adam, whose physical body was not created by a daughter of Eve, was saved and delivered by a woman. For it was through a woman, Mary, that Jesus Christ came to conquer the bonds of death and sin and atoned for Adam's transgression. Without a woman to bear the body of Christ mankind would have been lost and fallen forever and Adam's work and purpose on the earth would have been meaningless. Mary was the gateway that made Christ's work possible and her nurturing the catalyst for his success. Even though Eve didn't give physical life to Adam she literally saved him from spiritual death by opening the way for the Savior and Redeemer to come into the world. Salvation, in the form of Christ, literally came to the earth through a woman.

This perspective on Eve is so powerful for me. It is so different from what we normally hear about her and about women's roles in the world. I love what Beverly Campbell concluded her remarks about the term "help meet" with. She said,
"Thus, it seems that through imprecise translation, our understanding of the powerful words used originally to describe Eve’s role have been diminished. As a result, our understanding or Mother Eve has also been diminished. Suppose we had all, male and female alike, been taught to understand Genesis 2:18 as something like the following, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a companion of strength and power who has a saving power and is equal with him.”"
I know that understanding the real meaning of the term "help meet" earlier in my life would have made a huge difference in how I understood my role and mission as a woman. I think that if I had caught the vision of who we are as women and what a marvelous stewardship the Lord has given us I wouldn't have wasted so many years and so much energy being angry that I couldn't have a man's stewardship. I realize now that true power come when men and women realize that they have been blessed with different gifts, abilities and stewardship's and truly work together as equal partners to help each other be successful. The basic truth is that men and women need each other and it is only when they are united, body, soul and mind, that God's work moves forth. We are nothing without each other and nothing without Christ.

“It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a companion of strength and power who has a saving power and is equal with him.”

How different our world would be if men and women really understood that!

21 comments:

  1. This is really well-written. Well-put!

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  2. Love this one. It is so true. I have also heard it said that the reason she was called a help-meet and using the Hebrew meaning of the words, is because Adam would not be able to get back into Heavenly Father's presence without her. If you look at what an eternal marriage is supposed to be, that is a pretty apt interpretation. Together, we have all the qualities we need to get back into His presence. I have also heard it said that if you look at your entire family, you will find the same thing. Together, you all have the things you need to become more like Him and live with Him again.
    I love the way you wrote it. It makes sense!

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  3. Thank you for this timely post. It is just what my heart needed to hear.In my life as a wife, it can be overwhelming. I wondered sometimes if there was a "How to be a good wife" for Dummies book.
    You are a good wife Heather,you are a good mother not only to your children but to us, your sisters in Christ as well. Thank you for nurturing us, and giving us good counsel.

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  4. Another excellent post! Sometimes we forget that the Bible wasn't originally written in English and those nuances lost in translation can be so critical to real understanding-thank you for bringing them to my attention. I too wasted too much time being angry I didn't have a man's stewardship and I'm so grateful for my new and expanding understanding of a woman's stewardship.

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  5. perfect, dear! thanks for the reminder - you are wonderful!

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  6. Beautifully written! I come to a better appreciation of my opportunity to be a woman. Thanks for sharing a little more in-depth about what the term "help-meet" really means. This is a wonderful post.

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  7. Beautifully written. I think it's only natural that women like us would have been confused and hurt by that scripture (and others) and it's implications for women, since we didn't learn the wonderful truths you wrote about in our church manuals or at home. In fact those great quotes didn't exist when I was young. We were taught what was known at the time and I am so thankful that now we can teach our daughters and sons the REAL meaning. Hopefully, my daughter will benefit greatly from that knowledge and avoid many of the frustrations about gender relations that I've wrestled with in my life.

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  8. I once read an attempt to define the word "meet" which said that it would mean facting from the opposite direction. This would be as a mirror (as you have pointed out). But from it I derived (I think by inspiration) that it is that a man or woman only see things in one direction. If a man has a woman standing in front of him looking at him the view of them both together suddenly becomes a 360 degree view, rather than only a one sided view. I liked that idea and see its wisdom. I see the many ways that women are important to men and visa-versa.

    What men are better at women need and what women are better at can assist men. I have often found myself looking off into the distance doctrinally, missing the obvious. Yet the women are better at seeing these things and remaining with their feet on the ground. Guys are good at going off into heavy doctrine. But the trouble with us guys is that we can tend to get blown away in the wind. Women need a guy to help them see these heavier things but the guy needs the basic sense of the woman to stop him getting lost.

    There are many differences like this as I see them, where I appreciate the help of a woman.

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  9. This was very interesting. Thanks!

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  10. Um, Doug, as much as I think you may be right about some women. I know that I add depth and insight doctrinally that my boyfriend never does, I help him to understand the scriptures. I can get carried into the wind sometimes, and I think He is there to keep me grounded in real life at times. I think sometimes men have the more basic sense to help us women who go into doctrines from being lost and blown in the wind.

    Honestly though, I am not trying to negate your feelings. I just think we don't know the true difference between men and women. Why we need to recognize the only difference really is the responsibility of Motherhood for the woman, and Priesthood for the man. And everything else in my opinion is allowable to everyone.

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  11. I'd agree with you Respectful Patriot. I am the one in our relatationship who sometimes delves to heavy into doctrine and gets blown away. I don't think it is a gender trait but rather an indiviual trait. I once read an interview with Sister Julie Beck in which she mentioned that her husband is the one who grounds her and brings her back to reality when she gets too far off on an intellectual thought as well~!

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  12. Love this!! Just stumbled on your blog via your "This is the type of feminist I am" post. I thoroughly enjoy your blog. Keep it up!

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  13. This post reminds me of the quote President Hinckley shared in Relief Society Broadcast Oct. 2003: “Be kind to the women. They constitute half the population and are mothers to the other half.”

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  14. Love and apprecite the article. I do have a question however. I do believe that women are a strenbth in the family but my issue is with rulership. Did God not told Eve after they fell in sin that Adam would have rulership over her?

    Genesis 3: 16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

    Doesn't this curse not stand as long as we live in this sin sick world? What is you take on this verse?

    We are covered by the blood of the Lamb of God but does that means the curse is swept away by such reality. Afterall, we are still subjuct to the first death aren't we, both of which (man ruling over us and death) were two of the curses fallen on women.

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  15. Mackie,

    Thank you for your comments, those are things I've often thought about as well. I don't know if I have a complete understanding about what happened in the garden but I do know that Eve wasn't "cursed" in the garden. In fact, that word is never used in association with her at all. The only thing that God does is BLESS her! I've written a bit more about this in this post

    http://womeninthescriptures.blogspot.com/2009/10/eves-curse.html

    that I think will help explain things. Because when we come to understand what God told Eve when he cast her out of the garden (and understand the original Hebrew words better) we see that there really isn't a woman's "curse" at all.

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  16. Wow, I absolutely love this, so profound!

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  17. Interesting. I wouldn't go so far as to say a woman is man's savior or that she is opposite man.
    Neither is man without the woman or the woman without the man.
    Their roles when put together create a complete unit.
    Woman was created from man. Adam said she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. A woman may be the instrument that mortal life is created through, but it takes both man and woman to create it. Mary did not conceive Christ on her own. She submitted herself unto the will of the Father.
    This blog, and please correct me if I'm misunderstanding it, seems to over play woman's role by under playing man's.
    It takes a simple principle and makes it complicated by playing on word usage.

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  18. It is very important that we read every scripture with Love. When we fail to do this we open the door for pride. We must first accept that man and woman are not meant to come together unless they are married. We each (man and woman), were given different functions in marriage. If you read the bible with God's Love, you won't feel the need to flaunt, or misuse your God given authority over your wife. Likewise, if you read the bible with God's Love you will submit to God's plan, and not see being a help meet to your husband as being inferior or a put down. If we are to truly be "Doers of the word, and not just Hears" we have to choose to let Love abound.

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  19. Heather, this is another wonderful post that I believe will help women understand their role. I linked it to my own blog here: http://morethanamormonmom.blogspot.com/2014/06/should-women-hold-priesthood.html

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  20. I felt quite surprised to learn that my own interpretation of 'help meet' matches so well with the original Hebrew meaning of the word. My own way of putting it was carbon and iron; each has separate uses, but when combined together, for example as watered or Damascus steel, the united strength is many times greater--and also more flexible. Iron is good and useful as is...charcoal is good and useful as is. Together they are far more than the sum of the parts.

    Personally I think the Priesthood will be extended more fully to women in the future--I think that WE, men and women both, are the reason it has not. It may be we'll have to wait for the Terrestrial World, and that our still-Telestial selves just can't handle it yet. But we know that in the Celestial World women will be queens and priestesses, so it is not an eternal principle that women cannot hold the priesthood.

    In my opinion the equality of women we see today is a direct result of the firearm, particularly the small, concealable revolver. All through history muscle-powered weapons always gave men a distinct advantage over women, and all attempts at creating equality failed because the simple fact remained that women needed physical protection. The vast majority of men who ever lived were protectors, not predators, but now a protector is not absolutely necessary. A woman with a pistol in her purse is equal to a man three times her weight and strength. It is only now that a woman can really expect to live on her own and be at least reasonably confident of the ability to fend off any predators that come her way. And the fact that nobody knows which woman has a pistol in her purse makes all women safer, because the predators in question are cowards all. They fear to take the chance--they want the soft target.

    This is working its way through the culture, individual hearts and minds, and eventually, in my opinion, it will (in the case of the Saints at least) lead to a true and higher level of partnership between men and women. It's not going to happen overnight. It will take time for people to adjust to the new reality, and many are still rebelling against it even while pretending to be pushing for equality. It's coming, I hope and pray, but trying to force people to believe always fails. Persuasion and sweet reason actually change minds, but force just solidifies opposition. And in this case, once the change of hearts has finally given God the opportunity to enlighten us further, we'll hear about it from the proper authority. That's the advantage of having a living Prophet.

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  21. WOMAN

    An adult human female, one beyond the age of puberty. The Hebrew expression for woman is ʼish·shah′ (literally, a female man), which is also rendered “wife.” Similarly, the Greek term gy·ne′ is translated both “woman” and “wife.”

    Creation. Before the man Adam ever asked for a human companion, God his Creator made provision. After placing Adam in the garden of Eden and giving him the law respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, Jehovah said: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.” (Ge 2:18) He did not oblige the man to go seeking a companion among the animals, but he brought the animals to Adam for naming. Adam was not inclined toward bestiality and was able to determine that there was no suitable companion for him among these. (Ge 2:19, 20) “Hence Jehovah God had a deep sleep fall upon the man and, while he was sleeping, he took one of his ribs and then closed up the flesh over its place. And Jehovah God proceeded to build the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman and to bring her to the man. Then the man said: ‘This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called Woman, because from man this one was taken.’”—Ge 2:21-23.

    Position and Responsibilities. The woman, being created out of the man, was dependent upon the man for being brought into existence. Being part of the man, “one flesh” with him, and a complement and helper to him, she was subject to him as her head. She was also under the law that God had given Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. She was responsible to work for the good of the man. Together they were to have children and to exercise dominion over the animals.—Ge 1:28; 2:24.

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