A “Help Meet”

Every now and again I forget how often certain phrases are used among certain groups of Christians. I know it technically isn’t a big deal, but it gets on my nerves to hear Christian men call their wives “a help meet” as if that made any sense.

The phrase of course comes from the Bible’s description of the creation of woman. “And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”

We do wrong to the passage when we rip “meet” away from “for him.” All three words translate a single Hebrew word (neged), and as a phrase they provide a description for the noun “help.”

Perhaps it is due to fundamentalists’ desire to stick to the King James Version English that causes them to refer to their wives as help meets; I am thankful that the other translations I have quick access to have rendered that passage in a less silly sounding way.

‛eÌ‚zer – This is the word translated as “help,” and if you’re interested it is probably pronounced like “razor” minus the “r.” The rendering of this word as “help” works just fine, for its definition according to Strong’s is “aid.” It is a noun, and so the translation as “help” is comparable to “You’ve been a great help!” rather than “Could you help out a bit?”

Other translations I have looked at have rendered ‛eÌ‚zer as “helper” or “helpmate,” which help to make the phrase a little bit clearer to today’s readers. After all, “How many helpers do we have?” looks and sounds better than “How many helps do we have?”

Though even “help” is better than the actual 1611 King James Version’s “helpe.”

neged – This is the word translated as “meet for him” in the King James Version.” The pronunciation is “neh’-ghed” (similar in ways to “naked”). The usage of this word is a little trickier to pin down. Throughout the King James Version it is rendered no fewer than thirteen different ways, with words as diverse as “before,” “against,” “far,” “other,” “side,” view,” and of course “meet.” (The “for him” seems to be added for clarity but, for whatever reason, isn’t italicized in the King James Version; am I missing something here?)

Looking at Strong’s definition of neged, however, we see that the primary definition may be along the lines of “counterpart.” The idea of corresponding to or having to do with another is implied.

When we put the two words together, definitionally, we have “an aid corresponding to another” or “a helpful counterpart.” Eve was created as a “help meet for him,” a helper suitable for him. No other creature on Earth was suitable as a helper for him.

A helper in what? Well, the immediate problem in the passage is that man was alone. No other creature was suitable for fixing this problem of loneliness. Eve was made to solve that problem, for she was comparable to him.

The phrase “help meet,” while of course being biblical in King James Version English, isn’t very descriptive to most people. Perhaps — just perhaps — man should use more romantic language than that dealing with the technicalities of Creation when referring to his wife? “Help meet” denotes a comparison between woman and animals — she is the comparable helper; animals cannot be. Looking through the rest of Scriptures, especially the Song of Solomon, we never find a man trying to romance a woman by stating that she is better than animals at curing his loneliness.

The problem of such loneliness — of being the only man among animals — has long since been solved. There are now many, many people who are comparable to us who are helpful in the matter of keeping us from being lonely.

I should point out that I don’t think “help meet for him” had anything to do with marriage. If it did, I doubt animals would have ever been in question there for in the eyes of God, even entertaining such a proposition would likely be an abomination. Rather, in bringing forth another human to keep Adam from being alone, God used the situation to also institute the building block of family & society: marriage. And in doing so, we must remember that such a woman as man marries is known as a “wife,” not “a help meet.”

Perhaps when someone says that a woman is his “help meet,” we should respond simply, “For what?” The response would certainly give away how they view the events of Genesis 2 and perhaps even lead to some interesting discussion.

Or perhaps we should say goodbye to such as misuse “help meet” by encouraging them, “Now get out there and do some works meet!”

After all, we have a similarly constructed verse in the New Testament: “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” Acts 26:20. If in the phrase “help meet for him” we find license to call wives “help meets,” why do we then not refer to godly actions as “works meet”? (Although, perhaps “help meets” would be better as “helps meet” to actually make the noun plural, as in “passers-by”; otherwise, perhaps the parallel verse would be “work meets,” which simply sounds nonsensical.)

When we do “works meet for repentance” we are doing works which are suitable to or befitting repentance. Likewise, a “help meet for him” is simply a helper who is suitable for him. Within the context of Genesis 2, we can very plainly see the problem that the woman helped with in that situation. Throughout history, many different kinds of helps have been suitable for many different people… A cameraman is a help meet for a director; offensive guards are helps meet for a quarterback; teachers are helps meet for children.

When you say that someone is your “help meet,” I don’t think you are actually saying anything — especially if the person you are talking to does not know the context of Genesis 2. Strictly speaking, all you are saying is that someone is your “helper suitable for” without giving any context at all — helper in what? suitable for what?

So can we please start referring to our wives as, well, wives rather than the arcane and misused “help meet”?

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