How is the phrase typically rendered “suitable helper” in Genesis 2:18 best translated?

“Suitable helper” is the typical English translation of the Hebrew phrase

‘ēzer kenegdô, 

Dr. Daniel Kim

says Old Testament scholar and seminary professor Dr. Daniel Kim. In a thorough discussion on the best way to translate the phrase, Dr. Kim maintains that in choosing the best word for “helper” (‘ēzer), it’s important to select a term that conveys, especially to the modern reader, equality rather than subordination. He says this, not just because of the perspectives of modern readers regarding men and women, but also because of the actual meaning of the Hebrew term. Words like “coworker, workmate, teammate, associate, colleague, [and] partner” more effectively convey the meaning than words like “assistant, aide,…deputy, auxiliary, second,…attendant, [or] acolyte.”

The Hebrew term usually translated “suitable for him” is kenegdô. Dr. Kim observes,

[William L.] Holladay in his Hebrew lexicon states first that ke is a “particle of comparison” as in “like” and that it “expresses identity.” Some words in its semantic range are: as, as much as, suitable to—when comparing two things, one is “as much as” or “like” the other. The preposition neged can mean: opposite, counterpart, in the presence of, in front of, corresponding to, before, etc. Hence, the ‘ēzer [helper] that God provides [for the man] is comparatively “his” (ô) counterpart—the one who stands eye to eye, who fits as a dovetail, a compliment that makes the other whole.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand all of this. Dr. Kim goes on to discuss additional aspects of the grammar and meaning involved with neged; then he says something very easy to “get.”

She [the woman God created] is his match, his counterpart. Hence, ‘ēzer kenegdô means one who is a counterpart who stands before the man—face to face, so to speak. It is like a mirror image. Fundamentally, a mirror image is the exact same image in reflection, but of course the reflection is also the exact opposite image.

Another writer puts it this way: Kenegdô

literally means “according to the opposite of him.” In other words, the focus is on an appropriate match. Eve was not created above or below Adam; she was complementary. The animals Adam had named each had an appropriate companion (Genesis 2:20), and Adam was given a fitting companion as well. Eve was “just right” for him.

Dr. Kim’s conclusion regarding an accurate translation of Genesis 2:18 also is readily understandable. In light of the meanings and nuances of the Hebrew term, says Dr. Kim,

I suggest a meaningful translation of Gen. 2:18 in today’s context might be: “I will make for him a helper, as one who is his counterpart.”  There are other methods by which one can convey the right meaning, such as shifting word order, using other synonyms, or even employing more words. Some examples are: “I will make a helper for him, one who is his perfect match,” or, “I will make a counterpart for him, one who is able to help in his time of need.”

As helpful as they are, even these renderings don’t convey all the ideas the Hebrew words do, and that’s why we need scholars and teachers who can explain the depth of meanings represented in various passages of Scripture. In addition, in this instance in particular, they can help us come to appreciate in new and fresh ways how God designed marriage and how, when we follow His plan, countless people benefit.

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