What is a Helpmate? — Bible Lesson on Marriage


Have you ever heard a woman described as her
husband’s “helpmate” or “helpmeet”? What does that even mean? In this video, we’re
gonna look at the origins of the term, how it developed over time, and what it tells
us about the relationship between men and women. (Intro music) Hello. I’m David Lang
and this is Bible2Life, where we bring the Bible to life so that it can better impact
your life. So the term helpmate comes from the King James translation of Genesis 2:18,
where God looks at his creation and decides for the first time that he sees something
that is “not good”. “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should
be alone. I will make him an help meet for him.’” Now that word “meet” would
have made sense to people in the time of the King James. In Elizabethan English, “meet”
was used as an adjective meaning “precisely adapted to a particular situation, need, or
circumstance.” Alright, so “perfectly fitted for.” That’s what “meet” means,
and in the King James that made sense. God says I’m gonna make a help for Adam who
is “meet” for him, who is fit for him. Now the problem is, as the language changes
over time, people start to forget that meaning of the word “meet.” And so when they read
Genesis 2:18, they don’t know really what it means by “help meet,” and they start
taking the term as some kind of Bible term, religious term for what a wife is supposed
to be. So “help meet” becomes “helpmeet,” as though it’s one word. And then you go
a little further down the road, and people are using that term “helpmeet,” “helpmeet,”
and they start to substitute the word “mate” for “meet,” which actually makes more
sense if you’re coming up with some Bible term for what a woman is supposed to be, what
a wife is supposed to be. If she’s a spouse then she’s a mate so “helpmeet” becomes
“helpmate.” And it becomes so commonly used, that by the time you get to the late
19th century, you can have a translation like the Darby translation translate Genesis 2:18
and use the word “helpmate” as some technical term to translate the underlying Hebrew. Now
when it comes to modern translations that are not operating under the assumption that
everybody understands Elizabethan English, they’re trying to render Genesis 2:18 into
language that modern people understand. And so what you’ll see in newer translations
is a variety of expressions used to express this idea of a “help meet for.” You see
“a helper fit for him,” “a helper corresponding to,” “a helper suitable for him,” “a
helper as his partner,” and even “a helper that is perfect for him.” So when you’re
studying the Bible, and if you happen to compare translations, and you see this much variation
at a particular point, that’s a pretty good indication that this is a key term that is
worth further study. So let’s do that. Let’s turn to the underlying Hebrew, and let’s
look at what all of these translations are trying to understand. Alright, so in the original
Hebrew of Genesis 2:18, the phrase in question is “ezer kenegdo.” Now “ezer” is simply
the word for “help.” It’s used in most cases of God as our divine source of help,
and so the use of that word here indicates that Eve is actually a divinely given source
of help for Adam. Then the second part of that phrase is a really interesting word.
It’s actually a combination of two different prepositions that don’t really seem to go
together. It’s “kenegdo” and the “ke” in “kenegdo” is the preposition “like”
or “as.” It means “the same as.” And then the preposition “neged” means “opposite”
or “in front of.” Now, it’s not opposite in the sense of we’re completely different,
we’re completely opposite to one another, it’s opposite in the sense of if someone
is standing in front of me, then they are standing opposite me. And then the “o”
at the end of “kenegdo” means “him.” It’s just the suffix “him.” So “kenegdo”
means “like-opposite him.” And so “ezer kenegdo” is a “help like-opposite him.”
Now, that’s an odd sort of combination of words, and so interpreters are trying to express
the idea that those words are communicating. And that’s why you have so much variation,
“fit for,” “corresponding to,” “suitable for,” etc. All of those translations are
essentially trying to capture what the Hebrew text is saying, which is that woman is like
man and yet she’s also distinct from man, she’s different, she stands and faces him
as someone who is other. She’s not identical to him. This is really a beautiful picture
of what God designed marriage to be. Men and women are like one another and yet we’re
different, we’re not like one another. We come at the world with different perspectives,
different viewpoints, different strengths and weaknesses, and we’re meant to help
one another in fulfilling our God-given purpose. Now, what exactly is this purpose that men
and women are intended to achieve together? What is it that this “help meet” or “help
suitable” is supposed to help the man achieve? Well, if we go back—in the context of Genesis
chapter 2—if we go back to Genesis chapter 1, the end of the chapter: God says to the
man and to the woman, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have
dominion over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and every living creature
that moves on the earth.” So this is the creation mandate. God commands Adam and Eve,
man and woman, to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it. Well
that’s obviously something that Adam cannot do by himself. He cannot fill the earth and
subdue it, he cannot reproduce, unless he has a “suitable help.” And that “help”
has to be “suitable” both in being like him, a different species doesn’t make any
sense, and yet also different, the same sex doesn’t make any sense, it’s not going
to lead to filling the earth and subduing it. And so this is one way in which Eve is
intended to “help” Adam fulfill this creation mandate. Then if we go to Genesis chapter
2, just before God sees that Adam has a need, that he can’t fulfill his purpose without
a “suitable helper,” we read this: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden
of Eden to work it and keep it.” Now, those Hebrew terms for “work” and “keep”
are really packed with meaning. The word for work means both “to till,” “to cultivate,”
so it can refer to the actual work of cultivating the garden, but it also is the word that means
“to serve.” And so there’s a kind of double entendre here. Adam is meant to cultivate
the garden. He’s meant to beautify it. He’s meant to keep it from growing wild. He’s
meant to impose a divinely reflected order on the… on the Garden of Eden. But he’s
also to serve the garden; not to exploit the garden, not simply to use it for his own advantage.
And then the word for “keep” can mean “to oversee,” but it can also mean “to
guard,” “to protect.” And so there’s a bit of foreshadowing of the danger that
is about to appear when we meet the serpent in Genesis chapter 3. So Eve is given to Adam
to help him achieve these two purposes of cultivating the garden and protecting it from
evil. And the fact that Adam and Eve are given that purpose together and they fail to work
together to protect the garden from evil just underscores the poignancy of what happens
when God’s original design for marriage is contravened, when we fail to work together
to accomplish our purposes. And so that should be a good reminder to those of us who are
married to embrace the differences, to recognize that we are specifically designed for one
another, we are perfectly suited for one another. We each bring something to the table, man
and woman each bring something to the table, that is needed by both. So if we really embrace
this concept of God’s design for marriage, it helps us to alleviate the tension and frustration
that we sometimes feel when we look at our spouse and we go, “Why can’t they
see things from my perspective? Why can’t they understand things my way?” We need
to realize they’re not supposed to. They’re supposed to understand things from
a different perspective, and we’re supposed to be wise enough to benefit from that and
to learn from it. Alright, so we’ve talked about the origin of the term “helpmeet”
or “helpmate,” we’ve seen the underlying Hebrew and what it’s meant to convey—the
beautiful relationship between husband and wife as those who are like one another and
yet beautifully different, and we’ve even talked about how we can apply that to our
own marriages and our own relationships. In the next video in this series, we’re going
to continue with the creation of Eve and look at the drama of that story. It’s really
a much more dramatic story than I think most of us realize, because God seems to fail for
the first time in Scripture. So if you want to make sure that you don’t miss that video,
be sure to click Subscribe and subscribe to this channel. If you enjoyed this video, please
like it and share it with other people. And we’ll see you next time. Thanks, and have
a great day.

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Comments

  1. Here's what we cover in this video
    0:00 Introduction
    0:45 From "help meet" (KJV) to "helpmate" (Darby translation)
    2:30 Modern translations of Genesis 2.18
    3:30 Understanding the Hebrew phrase 'ezer kenegdo
    5:28 The beauty of God's design for marriage
    5:53 What is woman designed to "help" man accomplish? (Genesis 1.28; 2.15)
    9:12 What does this teach us about our own marriages?
    10:04 Conclusion

  2. Thanks for taking the time to break down the etymology of help+meet. I always cringe when friends, raised exclusively on King James (as I was), blithely throw around the alleged word "helpmeet".

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