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Is 'Helpmeet' a Correct Translation in Genesis 2:20?

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Question:   I have just read an article suggesting that the Hebrew word usually translated "helpmeet" in Genesis 2:20 should really be rendered equal to him (and in fact we should understand a different word have originally occurred here). This is based upon revising the Hebrew text through reference to the Septuagint. The authors of this article go to say in regard to the curse on Eve that the "pain" of childbirth should be understood metaphorically rather than literally, and that the same is true of the "desire" towards the husband. I wanted to know your comments on the translations of the Hebrew text that the authors detail.

Response:  I have written about this passage in Satanic Rebellion #3 under "The creation of Eve". The Hebrew text here in Genesis is quite good (very few questionable or untranslatable portions; contrast the books of first and second Samuel), and with very few hapax legomena (i.e., uncertain vocabulary; contrast Ezekiel). Therefore the question in this passage is not at all the text or the vocabulary but rather is strictly one of interpretation.  The phrases "help meet for him", "pain in childbirth", and "desire for your husband" are all correct translations of what the Bible actually has.  Understanding them may be difficult, but the solution lies in study and not in radically altering the Bible's text.

In my own analysis of this section, I have tried to show that while there was equality in paradise (and will be again in the paradise to come), a world of lawlessness ruled by the lawless one requires divinely imposed authority in order for mankind to survive and exercise free will on the most important issue of life: decision for (or against) God. Understood in this scripturally consistent way, the idea of Eve being equal in a sinless paradise is no more of a problem than understanding the need for an authority structure (based first on the family) once mankind is on the outside of paradise until the end of the reign of sin and death (Rom.5:14).  See the link above for the details of the meaning here.

As to the second and third issues treated in part two of what you cite, well it is true that pain in childbirth is part of the woman's portion of the curse (prima facie from any honest translation); and the word for "desire" does indeed mean "desire"; it doesn't say or necessarily mean sexual desire (so that this is a "straw man" argument), but it does teach a heightened desire for marriage beyond what was the case in Eden (and for the same reasons: the family is all important to preserve life and choice in the midst of a now evil world).  See the link above for the details of the meaning here.

In general, I have to say that I find the entire approach used by these authors very dubious and disturbing. The work of two of them is known to me and they are scholars of the highest (secular) order, but from the point of view of biblical truth, their approach here is flawed. I have spent many years in both biblical and Classical studies honing my judgment on textual matters and can tell you that when it comes to the Old Testament, the Masoretic Text (MT) is far and away the only important source (that is why the KJV is even more useful in OT matters than in the New Testament where the best manuscripts didn't come to light until the nineteenth century).

Now a strong knowledge of the Hebrew and some facility with the issues of textual criticism are often important as much for letting one know what is NOT possible as for showing what may be. For those who believe in an inspired Word of God, very little textual help is to be garnered from sources beyond the MT. The Dead Sea scrolls provide some possible leads in, for example, Isaiah (where the text is very clean in any case), but in general they reflect a less precise version of the text than does the MT. The Septuagint (to which the authors of this book continually refer) is a very deceptive hollow reed that inevitably pierces the hands of those who lean on it. For one thing, it is very clear that those who translated the LXX often did not entirely understand the Hebrew original linguistically (let alone interpretatively), were often using inferior versions of that text, and, to make matters even worse, the LXX has a horribly complicated lineage, being far more corrupt and patched together than the most problematic portions of the Hebrew MT. The Latin Vulgate and other later translations have similar problems.

Inevitably, one is far better advised to work with the MT. Wherever there is disagreement with the MT, what is to be found lurking in the ancient translations is almost always a "bad guess" or a corruption in its own right and NOT the "original text". But what most disturbs me about the approach used by the authors you quote is the alacrity with which these gentlemen are willing to change around the actual wording of scripture based upon their nothing much more than their own guess work. Now many of their arguments and techniques are valid in principle, but certainly are not being used with a sense of proportion and a sense of awe for the Word of God that is appropriate for all who truly follow Him.

To use an analogy, it is true that a headache can sometimes be symptomatic of "water on the brain", and also true that surgery can sometimes be the only way to rescue a patient troubled in such a way. But does that mean that every time I meet someone with a headache I should take a drill to their head - and me no medical doctor? These men are scholars but not, as far as I can tell, teachers gifted by the Spirit. They may be "good with the drill" but they don't seem to understand that one only uses that drill in rare circumstances where it is absolutely clear that such radical surgery is indeed absolutely necessary.

So to answer your question in general terms, while much that they say about the size and shape and sound of Hebrew letters, the readings of other versions, the parallels in other Semitic languages, etc. is, on its own terms true (or at least a grounds for debate), there is absolutely no reason to commit such unnecessary surgery on this particular patient (the text is sound throughout these two chapters), except perhaps to advance an agenda - like making those who have questions about these issues "feel satisfied". I want answers from the Word of God too, but only God's answers. If I have to wait, I'll wait. If I have to dig, I'll dig. If I am troubled or confused by what I do find out, I'll live with that trouble and confusion in the short run, trusting in Him that in the long run all these things too will make sense as I continue to seek Him. And that is really the point: all those who are truly seeking Him will find Him; but even those of the greatest intellect, the greatest reputation, and the greatest preparation who are not really interested in what He has to say (but rather more interested in their own prowess, their own reputations) are likely to miss the mark in matters of interpretation great and small.

I fear that I have not really answered all the questions as you have them about these passages, but am certainly open to refining the discussion at this point, now that my main objection to the overall approach used here has been voiced.

You may also find something of value at the following links:

Your desire shall be for your husband: Genesis 3:16.

Does the Bible prohibit women from preaching or teaching?

More about Women Preachers.

Yours in our Lord who is the Truth, Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

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