God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Genesis 2:18 and Homosexuality

Genesis 2:18 sets the stage for (one account of) Eve’s creation. God declares that “it is not good for the man to be alone,” which is why God decides to make, as the NRSV translates, a “helper suitable for him”: Eve.

Because Adam and Eve are the paradigmatic married couple in the Bible — and more generally, because we are all Adam and Eve — one interpretation of this arrangement in Genesis is that men should only marry women and women men.

Buttressing this claim is an often-cited alternative translation for the Hebrew word k’negdo. While the NRSV renders this as “suitable,” some others focus on the root of the word, neged, and translate the word as “opposite” or “complementing.” If so, Eve’s purpose was to be different than Adam. More generally, a man’s spouse is supposed to be different than him, that is, a woman.

As it happens, k’negdo doesn’t mean “different than him.” It means “matching.” One way to match things is pairing things that are opposite, but certainly it’s not the only way. In spite of this nuance, however, the complementarian interpretation of Genesis is reasonable.

But it’s not the only reasonable interpretation.

It’s just as reasonable to focus on the point of Eve’s creation, namely, that Adam shouldn’t be alone. More generally, people shouldn’t be alone. If it then turns out — as certainly seems to be the case — that some men can only find partnership with other men and that some women can only find partnership with other women, then Genesis 2 might not only allow homosexual marriage but, in fact, demand it.

In other words, one way of looking at Genesis 2 is that people should behave like Adam and Eve, a man marrying a woman and woman marrying a man. Another equally valid way is that people should behave like Adam and Eve, finding a partner so they are not alone.

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March 14, 2016 - Posted by | biblical interpretation, translation practice, Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

13 Comments »

  1. Sorry, Joel, I’ve always been impressed with your work but I found this post to be a round peg in a square hole, and of course it is completely incompatible with Jesus’ take: Mat_19:5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
    Mar_10:7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;

    Comment by WoundedEgo | March 14, 2016 | Reply

    • Those sections of Mark and Matthew are, of course, not about who marries whom but, rather, about divorce.

      The question in Genesis, I think, is what parts of Adam and Eve we are supposed to emulate.

      For instance, men don’t all have to marry someone named someone named Eve. That’s too narrow an interpretation. Eve gets a name not because every spouse has to have that name, but because people always have names.

      Similarly, if you’re a man, it’s not clear that Genesis says you have to marry a woman. That’s also too narrow an interpretation. Eve may have a gender because all people have a gender. It is an interpretation to assume that every man’s spouse should be a woman just because Adam’s spouse is a woman, in exactly the way that it’s an interpretation to say that every man’s spouse should be named Eve.

      In the case of heterosexual marriage, I’m not saying it’s an unreasonable interpretation. My point is that it’s not the only reasonable interpretation.

      Comment by Joel H. | March 14, 2016 | Reply

      • Jesus was just quoting Mo:

        Gen 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife [ISHA=”woman”]: and they shall be one flesh.

        Comment by WoundedEgo | March 14, 2016

  2. Joel,
    I would argue that your understanding of neged may be too narrow. For example, neged is very commonly used in the Bible within a covenantal context. For example, if A and B are in some sort of covenant, A can be viewed as neged (complementary) to B and vice versa. With this in mind, I would assert that in 2:18 the author used neged to explicitly suggest that the companion for Adam will be part of a covenant – a covenant that later comes to be named marriage (and probably explains why the author inserted 2:24 as a parenthetical statement – in case folks didn’t get it the first time).

    I don’t mean to be a troll, but here’s my translation of 2:18 along with a detailed commentary.

    http://learn-biblical-hebrew.com/hebrew-scripture/garden-of-eden-story/genesis-218/

    Thanks for your intriguing posts. This particular one pretty much blew away today’s Honey-Do list for which I will pay, later.

    Blessings,

    Comment by Michael | March 14, 2016 | Reply

  3. I have found that, with respect to matching, the trend is to match things that are alike–like socks. Children play memory games, the goal of which is to overturn matching pictures on cards–the person who finds the most identical matches wins.That is not to say that matching complimenting, but different items is not an option–my daughter’s perspective is that similar, but non-identical socks are the way to go. Joel is right, it doesn’t have to be an either/ or–it can be a both/and. Torah/ the Bible is cool like that.

    Comment by Ariel | March 14, 2016 | Reply

  4. Let not any verse teach what another passage blatantly contradicts. The harmony of Scripture is one of the reasons it’s claims of inspiration is justified. Simply stated, we are not to interject man’s interpretation but rather study to find the divine interpretation. How is this done you ask? Harmony of scripture is one such way.
    God DID expressly condemn homosexuality of any gender. Both in the Old law and the new.
    Lev. 18:22. And Romans 1:24-27. Just to name 2. There are dozens more references but these prove the point well.
    To offer up such a unsupported and misguided theory of interpretation shows your lack of understanding of God’s word.
    1 john 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
    One way to test the spirits is by harmony of scripture. If I pose an interpretation that contradicts the bible, I am at fault not the bible. I must align to its truth not manipulate it to meet my personal desires whatever they are.
    I pray you will repent of this false and misleading interpretation that will cost many who believe you to loose their souls.

    Comment by Rick | March 14, 2016 | Reply

    • Thanks Ricks! I totally agree. I am always open to further study aimed & focused toward a better more clear/complete understanding of God’s truth. In the case of Holy Scripture however, I believe that it should and must be viewed and thereby understood through the lens of the whole. I’m certainly not saying that there are not (as is often seems to be the case) two or more valid meanings for (or ways to understand) any particular verse(s) of scripture. This is in my humble opinion, precisely why God has given us both his Word in the exact way in which he so graciously has.

      Comment by Rob | March 27, 2016 | Reply

    • Let’s be clear, since we’re on a blog focused on careful scholarly discussions of translations. There are not “dozens” of references against homosexuality. There are five which might condemn it, according to tradition. None of which are completely unambiguous in translation or application.

      The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has nothing to do with gay relationships, as many passages tell us. Among them are how Jesus uses the story to condemn inhospitality, and the prophet Ezekiel who says they were condemned for mistreating the poor. The mention of this story in the book of Jude relies on condemning the DIFFERENCE in sex (“hetero”) rather than the sameness—the crime there was men raping angels, not men raping men.

      Two verses in Leviticus call for death (!) for a certain act, which even Dr. Gagnon the leading anti-gay scholar admits likely has a lot to do with pagan idol worship practices rather than relationships in general. Since we ignore a lot of the teachings in the Pentateuch as Christians anyway, this hardly can be applied without question today. Even the word “abomination” is applied 118 different times to a wide range of things including eating shellfish and wearing certain clothing. It is not used in any Christian circles I’m aware of as designating all-time prohibitions in practice since we mostly support sowing multiple seeds in fields and giving loans to people with interest.

      Then in the New Testament we have two verses containing a few words which have ambiguous meanings. In 1 Timothy 1:9-10 we see Paul make up a word (arsenokoites) which appears rarely in any subsequent Greek manuscripts. It could refer to gay sex in general, or to prostitution. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 we find this word paired with the word literally meaning “soft” (malakos). The combination might refer to pederastic couples as the translators of the NIV and ESV seem to think, or they could be being used to condemn men who participate in sex with male slave prostitutes.

      Finally, in Romans chapter 1 it seems that Paul is developing a rhetorical argument which cumulates in chapter 2 verse 1, not in his mention of gay sex. In fact, it seems that it might be an argument taken from Jewish philosophy (as seen in the Book of Wisdom chapters 13-15) which he actually disagrees with! Either way, his description of gay relationships depends on the following progression:
      1. That people first abandon God to worship physical idols.
      2. That God then changes their orientation to desire the same sex.
      3. That they become controlled by their lusts, with no judgement or restraint unlike the rest of us.
      4. That they end up in “all wickedness”, committing murders and crimes.

      Since this progression is not evident in my gay Christian friends, I don’t think this is meant to condemn their marriages.

      Overall, after spending a few years in study on this I can confidently say that the Bible is not “clear” on the subject. At best there are 5 verses out of thirty-three thousand which might address contextual prohibitions on some forms of gay relationships or activity. That’s hardly a rock-solid case to condemn those who were born attracted to the same sex exclusively even within devout, loving, conservative homes.

      The conservative interpretation has led many gay people to depression, abandonment by families and churches, and even suicide. So I would say in return be very careful about how you apply your interpretation.

      Comment by John Lein | July 9, 2016 | Reply

      • John, you rightly point out that the scriptural case against certain homosexual practices is not completely clear. On the other hand, I would argue that the case against such practices likely outweighs the case permitting them. But such is a discussion we can put off till later. I really wanted to react to your closing warning:

        >The conservative interpretation has led many gay
        >people to depression, abandonment by families and
        >churches, and even suicide. So I would say in return
        >be very careful about how you apply your interpretation.

        I think you may be conflating the message with how it’s delivered. We are cautioned to reprove and/or rebuke others with love, kindness, and compassion; not harshness, condemnation, nor cruelty. Do as did Jesus. Engage in fellowship with the person you would rebuke. Love him, befriend him. Treat him as neighbor. And, if your rebuke falls on deaf ears, give it up, agree to disagree, and go fly-fishing together. It’s their life to live, not yours.

        Thus, I would argue that your concern ought to be addressed to those who attack and demean and demagogue those they believe practice homosexuality. Like you I have studied this issue extensively and believe that the biblical text argues persuasively (tho’ not definitively) against some forms of male homosexual practice. However, my model for dealing with gay men is exhibited by a good friend of mine, a conservative (theologically and socially) Lutheran pastor who refused to conduct the marriage ceremony of his best friend, an avowedly gay man, but instead sat in the front row during the ceremony and cried with joy for the happiness of his friend – true story.

        It’s not the message and meaning of the Bible that hurts. It’s how it’s expressed and delivered.

        Blessings,

        Michael

        Comment by Michael | July 10, 2016

  5. If Genesis 2 demands that people should not be alone, then the wider context is in view there. That is, marriage originally had implications for the propagation of the human species, which in turn created human relationships of every kind (not just marriage). Only the union of a man and a woman can fulfil the command to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”. Certainly, neither Jesus nor Paul regarded marriage to be mandatory. But both encouraged, even demanded, people to care for one another in both physical and non-physical ways. From this perspective, no one needs to feel alone if one finds himself in right kind of relationship environment.

    Comment by Robert Kan | March 18, 2016 | Reply

  6. If Genesis 2 says that people should not be alone, then the wider context is in view there. That is, marriage originally had implications for the propagation of the human species, which in turn created human relationships of every kind (not just marriage). Only the union of a man and a woman can fulfil the command to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”. Certainly, neither Jesus nor Paul regarded marriage to be mandatory. But both encouraged, even demanded, people to care for one another in both physical and non-physical ways. From this perspective, no one needs to feel alone if one is obedient to this teaching.

    Comment by Robert Kan | March 22, 2016 | Reply

  7. I always read the statement Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to*[or, suitable for, or appropriate for] him.” to read that it’s good for man to be in a relationship”

    But I was struck by the fact this is first not good we get to in narrative.

    Simply is God at fault for not presenting The Man with an appropriate helper? That reading would infer God is lacking in foresight, or even that The Man is not “good” or even “very good” but rather half baked.

    However from the outset Man is unique creature, not just a living creature, but a creature with inspiration, that is sentience; נְשָׁמָה
    neshâmâh

    I am certain that the reason there is a problem is The Man, in short God wasn’t good enough for The Man in as much as The Man felt lonely, which is not good.

    So I find Genesis 2:4 to be the story of the effect The Man as sentient creature had on the business and product of creation, beginning with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

    Comment by CharlesHB | November 7, 2016 | Reply

  8. Even in the KJV “an help meet” obviously means a suitable or fitting help. I never understood why old people who used the KJV (like my mom) thought helpmeet was one word (theres a space in the text) nor understood the weirdo definition thry seemed to be putting on it. And the context of the passage clearly shows what suitable or “meet” means, i.e. a human woman as opposed to an animal.

    Comment by davidbrainerd2 | February 14, 2017 | Reply


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