CTBHHM: What is a “help meet”? (In the KJV)

CTBHHM: What is a “help meet”? (In the KJV) November 9, 2012

Created To Be His Help Meet, p. 24

Debi finishes this her first chapter with a memo on the background of the word “help meet.” I sort of feel like this should have come earlier, given that most people I’ve mentioned the book to find the term odd.

The word help meet appears in the KJB just two times – Gen. 2:18 and 20. However, it is the translation of one word – ayzer – which is found 21 times in the Hebrew Bible. Other than being translated “help meet” two times, it is translated just plain “help” 19 times. The Hebrew word studies tell us that it means to succor or one who helps. My proofreader kept trying to get me to join the two words with a hyphen (help-meet), which is commonly done. but throughout this book I have written it just as it appears in the Word of God – two separate words (help meet), which is to say Eve was created to be a helper (noun) who was meet (adjective), suited to Adam’s words.

For an eploration of the meaning of the Hebrew words in Genesis 2:18 and 20, start here and here. I’m going to focus instead on Michael and Debi Pearl adherence to the King James Only movement (see this and this). Michael and Debi Pearl believe that the King James version of the Bible is the divinely inspired English translation, and all of the other English translations are fatally flawed and should not be used. In fact, it’s curious that Debi refers to the Hebrew at all. Regardless, this adherence to the King James Version of the Bible explains why she continues to use the term “help meet” even though most English Bibles today translate it “suitable helper.”

As I was digging around for information on the Pearls’ views on the King James Bible, I found an extremely pertinent article by Michael Pearl on the topic. In this article we learn a lot more about Michael’s Bible college education and the evolution of his views of the Bible.

I graduated from an independent Bible College with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Bible and theology…

Now we know that Michael’s Bible college education was indeed a full four years, a bachelor’s degree (though remember that the college was not accredited), and that he did, like I inferred earlier, major in Bible and theology.

When I was a young man, my pastor had often emphasized the passage, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s what I wanted to be, taught in correct doctrine and furnished unto good works. The inspired Scripture was the avenue.

As a young preacher, I would hold up a King James Bible and confidently say, “This is God’s Word, perfect and infallible.”

And here begins the classical narrative repeated so many times by fundamentalists and evangelicals. They started out believing the Bible was the inspired word of God, and then they went off to college, to Bible college no less, to have their faith shaken by the very “intellectuals” who were supposed to be strengthening and enriching it. It seems to me that these evangelicals and fundamentalists take one of three paths: they leave religion entirely, move to a more liberal Christian tradition, or they simply reject all of that “intellectual” knowledge as a conspiracy.

The independent evangelical Bible College I attended advertised that it boldly stood for the “plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.” Plenary means “full and complete and not limited in any way,” and verbal, means “every single word was inspired, with none added and none missing.” But in my very first college class, I was informed that the King James Bible was poorly translated. Therefore, in class we would use a “better” translation—the American Standard Version, along with several others when the ASV didn’t say what the professors wanted it to say. I asked, “What about ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable…’?” They quickly pointed out that the KJV was in error there also. The ASV reads, “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching…,” implying that not all Scripture is inspired of God.” Only that which is inspired is profitable for doctrine. So, my next question to my teachers was, “Which Scripture is inspired of God; which one can I read and know it is the words of God with no mixture of the words of men? Is the ASV the real Word of God?” Their answer: “No, it is not Scripture inspired of God either; no English translation is. Only the original languages were inspired of God.” That presented a difficulty, but not for long, for I started out my first semester taking Greek. So I would just learn Greek, and then I would be able to actually read the Scripture that is inspired of God and is profitable for establishing doctrine.

Michael did study Greek. I wasn’t sure, since I’m not sure whether every fundamentalist Bible college teaches Greek and Hebrew or not. Note that I use the term “fundamentalist.” Michael calls the college he attended “evangelical,” thus attesting to how the term “fundamentalist” has fallen in reputation even among those most would consider fundamentalists. Most today consider the term “evangelical,” which they consider more positive in tone.

It felt good, knowing that I would be able to uncover the riches of the original language. Daily in our classes the professors corrected the KJ Bible with “the Greek.” But they corrected the other many translations as well, pointing out the poor qualities of each. I kept wondering why someone didn’t just make a translation that was correct and then let it alone so we could learn from it. But, several new translations came onto the market during my four years in college. There are over 200 of them now. Very quickly, I lost faith in the prospect of reading any English Bible and believing it to be the plenary, verbally inspired, written Word of God.

So there I was, a young preacher with his faith in the old book momentarily shattered. But, I had a new hope of once again recovering that sweet ground of assurance and trust where I could actually sit down and read God’s Word, believing all that I read without having to approach the text critically.

I jumped into my Greek studies with a zest, and in a few weeks of Greek grammar and memorizing the definitions of Greek words, we were actually “reading” from our 25th edition of the Aland Greek New Testament. And then it hit me. I was not reading an “inspired” Greek text any more than when I read another English translation. Every definition, every phrase, every noun and every verb were defined for me by one man—the man who compiled our Greek grammar. With a shock, I realized that after 20 years of Greek study, I would still be relying on definitions found in some book written by other men. In time, I would have enough information catalogued to be somewhat “original” in my scholarly opinions, but I would still just be one man with an opinion, colored by the school of thought in which I was raised.

The Bible was no longer a book I held in my hand. It could only be accessed by jumping through the many hoops of Greek word studies, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, commentaries, and theology books. I was uncomfortable quoting any passage of Scripture and saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” “Thus saith A.T. Robertson” was more like it. So, my final authority was no longer the Bible I could confidently convey to the congregation and tell them to go home and study it, believing every word in it. My final authority for the moment was a select group of Greek scholars—the ones I chose to believe over the others. The differences in the “bibles” they were publishing testified to their inability to agree on the meaning of the “original Greek.” But somehow, I knew that there would come a time when I would not have to trust them in determining what the words of God were; I would become informed enough to trust no one but myself—and the leading of the Holy Spirit, of course. (I fully expect you to detect the subtle note of cynicism and sarcasm.)

Many of my young preacher friends, who were members of my home church and went off to other Bible Colleges at the same time I did, were more disturbed than I. One of them became a Sodomite, one an atheist, and one an agnostic. One, who was already pastoring a Southern Baptist Church, divorced his young wife and quit the ministry before he even finished Bible College. Out of seven of us who started in the ministry, only two survived the four years still “in the faith”.

I graduated with less faith in the Bible than when I started. With no more classes to attend, and less time spent traveling, I found time to investigate the Bible for myself. At first I tried the study method that I had learned in college. When I came to a difficult passage, I opened all the commentaries to see what they said. They differed greatly. I also went through a stack of different English translations, finding that they differed as much as the denominations differ in their understanding. I then got out my Greek and Hebrew lexicons and word studies to see if they would shed any light. More confusion. The Greek scholars disagree significantly. How was I to be so bold as to know which one to believe and which ones to reject?

Again, this is the classic trajectory. Realizing the problems of Bible translation, Michael jumped into studying Greek and Hebrew with zeal, excited with the prospect of reading the Bible in its original languages, only to become disillusioned with this approach as well. And as Michael himself points out, not all theology students make it though this with their faith intact. Some throw up their hands, their simple belief in Biblical inerrancy shattered by the complexity and complicated nature they find when delving into it.

Then someone gave me a book called, Which Bible, by David Fuller. I was blown away. I acquired a dozen other works on the same subject, by John Burgon, Wilson, Dr. Peter Ruckman, and others. Why didn’t they tell me this in Bible College? Surely they weren’t ignorant of it. Did they intend to deceive me? The Greek Bible that I was using was not the original Bible. It was created—manufactured—less than 100 years earlier by two unbelieving infidels and pawned off on the Church as authentic. It is just one of 24 different Greek texts. Furthermore, it is not even the same Greek text from which the King James Bible was translated. To correct the KJ based on this new text was like trying to update a 1935 Ford according to the pattern of a 1965 Volkswagen. Somebody was fooling somebody. There was a real conspiracy to deprive me of the words of God and replace them with the words and opinions of men. I discovered that this modern Greek text differed from the traditional text of the King James Bible in over 6,000 places.

This corrupt text is the standard Greek text of nearly every Bible College in America, and the basis of all late 19th, 20th and 21st century English translations. In other words, the ASV and the New International Version, and 200 other translations are not based on the same Greek text as is the King James. The reason that a 90-year-old text could be in its 26th edition is because the owner of it changes it every few years. Between the 26th and 27th editions there were over 600 changes. When you hear a preacher say, “The original Greek text says…”, you must ask him “Which Greek text? There are 24 of them. Which edition?” Here today, gone tomorrow. They are standing in the pulpit and correcting your English Bible based on a Greek text that changes every few years. Where is the standard? Where is God’s Word? Where is the jot and tittle that will not pass away? Was God mistaken about preserving his word forever? Can you hold a book in your hand, any book, any language, and say it is “Scripture inspired of God”?

Here is where Michael starts to go awry. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I am indeed aware that there are different Greek texts of the Old Testament, and I believe also different Hebrew texts. But the conspiracy he speaks of is no conspiracy. I studied Greek under a theologian in high school, and he told me that the King James Bible was translated from what Greek texts the translator had on hand at the time, but that more Greek texts have become available since, both through archaeological finds and through the opening of various monasteries and the increasing internationalization of the scholarly community.

The trouble was that these texts didn’t always match perfectly, and indeed had many discrepancies. Those “unbelieving infidels” Michael refers to were simply scholars trying to piece together the most authentic of all of the Greek texts available to get the closest to the original. And yes, they used scholarly methods rather than simply relying on divine inspiration or going with what they wanted the texts to say to determine which texts were most authentic. It’s only natural that today’s Bible translations strive to rely on the most authentic of all of the Greek texts available, and it’s not surprising that those texts are not the same exact ones the translators of the KJV happened to have on hand.

(Again, this is the short version – I’m not a Bible scholar and don’t want to spend several posts hashing this out, which I most certainly could if I wanted to really get into this subject.)

I have a hard time believing in conspiracy theories. But I quote from the 1990 book, The Dead Sea Scrolls After Forty Years. It is the transcript of four scholars speaking at a symposium to their peers. For a moment, they were quite candid. James Sanders, Ph.D., who served on the committee that put out the New Revised Standard Version, and author of many other scholarly works, on pages 70-71 says, “I think it is time for us to stop fooling the people, making them think that there is just one Bible and that our Bible committee got closer to it than their committee did.” But then he goes on to voice his reluctance to do so, because of the impact it would have to tell the truth. He says, “I have been told by some that that would just destroy the Bible, because lay folk still want to think of the Bible as somehow ‘inerrant.’” The greater context makes this look even worse. That was over sixteen years ago, as of this writing, and still they have not told you the truth about what they believe. They don’t want to shatter your misguided faith that the Bible is “somehow inerrant.” They don’t think it is wise to let you know that there are actually two different Greek Bibles, and that all their modern versions are based on a corrupted minority text that has been historically rejected by God’s people down through the ages. The King James Bible is accurate to the text from which it was translated. It is the Word of God to English speaking people. You can believe every word in it without resorting to anyone’s opinion about the validity of the text. On that ground, you can read and study your Bible and learn from it.

Michael seems to think these are some sort of “gotcha” quotes. Let’s look at exactly what he quotes the scholars as saying:

“I think it is time for us to stop fooling the people, making them think that there is just one Bible and that our Bible committee got closer to it than their committee did.”

“I have been told by some that that would just destroy the Bible, because lay folk still want to think of the Bible as somehow ‘inerrant.’”

Now what is Michael’s interpretation of these statements?

They don’t think it is wise to let you know that there are actually two different Greek Bibles, and that all their modern versions are based on a corrupted minority text that has been historically rejected by God’s people down through the ages.

Um, no, that’s not it at all. There aren’t simply “two” Greek Bibles, there are a myriad of Greek texts that each differ from each other in points ranging from irrelevant to theologically important. Scholars who work with these texts try to establish which are most reliable and authoritative. This process is both complicated and brilliant. I know a bit about the process from studying Greek in college and from reading books by scholar Bart Ehrman, and let me tell you, it’s fascinating. What the scholars Michael quotes are saying is that most laypeople think somehow that the Bible they hold in their hands was essentially handed to them by God, and are unaware of all of the vast and complicated process behind it. But Michael’s idea that all modern translations use a “corrupted minority text” is both hogwash and chock full of conspiracy theories (think how many people would have to be in on that, including extremely devout Christians!)

It is absolutely true that understanding the vast and complicated process it took to create the simple Bible text in one’s hands can be challenging to a person’s faith. Some, like Bart Ehrman, do lose their faith through studying it. Others, like James McGrath, don’t. And some of those who learn about all of that complication respond by not actually dealing with it and instead rejecting it entirely.

Note Michael’s conclusion when he is informed that all of that complicated higher criticism of the Bible he encountered in Bible college (and to be honest, I doubt his Bible college did more than scrape the surface of higher criticism) is a vast conspiracy to lead devout and honest simple folk astray:

The King James Bible is accurate to the text from which it was translated. It is the Word of God to English speaking people. You can believe every word in it without resorting to anyone’s opinion about the validity of the text.

This is the heart of the King James Only movement. All other texts, including all the Greek texts, are corrupted, but God has preserved the King James Bible for his people, er, I mean, his English-speaking people. One rationalization I have heard is that just as Greek was the common international tongue of the first century, even so English is the common international tongue today, so it only makes sense that God would preserve an English text as perfectly inerrant for the use of present day Christians.

Note also the anti-intellectualism here. Having been confused by and having had his faith shaken by intellectuals, Michael has concluded that all that intellectualism is actually a conspiracy to erode the faith of good, honest, ordinary Christians. He therefore instructs his readers that they don’t have to listen to anyone’s – meaning, of course, scholars’ – “opinion of the validity of the text.” He has rejected his study of the Greek and Hebrew and concluded that all he needs is a good old fashioned copy of the King James Bible, intellectuals and their highfalutin opinions be damned.

When I discovered the evidence confirming that the King James Bible is indeed accurately translated and is the preserved Scripture inspired of God, Bible study became simple and a pure joy! Just read what it says, and believe it. All you need is a King James Bible without notes, a Strong’s Concordance (hard copy or computer), a Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition or earlier (see panel to the right for more info). You must learn the Bible by learning the 66 individual books. Books are learned by understanding paragraphs. Paragraphs are learned by understanding sentences, and sentences are understood by knowing the meaning of individual words. Very often, doctrines hang on the meaning of a single word. You arrive at the meaning of an individual word by using your concordance to find and read every time that word is used anywhere in the Bible. The Bible will define its own words by the multiple contexts in which it is used. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge is just a giant center-column cross-reference. It will lead you to similar passages anywhere in the Bible. This dictionary is a quick reference to the definition of words as they were used in the seventeenth century, when the King James Bible was translated, so you won’t have to worry about “archaic” words.

All you need to understand the Bible is, well, the Bible. Period. Note that the dictionary is not even meant to be used to understand the meaning of words, but rather simply to understand how they were used in the seventeenth century. The meaning of words is to be derived from the context (“You arrive at the meaning of an individual word by using your concordance to find and read every time that word is used elsewhere in the Bible”). What Michael describes here is characteristic of the fundamentalist approach to the Bible. He rejects intellectualism or scholarship and instead suggests that all you need to understand the Bible is the Bible itself. No need to study anything else at all. Ever. No need to even study Greek (no indeed, that might just serve to “confuse” people!).

(As a side note, I’m honestly not sure what Michael sees wrong with the eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Maybe it got corrupted too.)

Anyway, to bring this wandering post back around to where it started, all of this explains not only Debi Pearl’s confusing use of the archaic construction “help meet” but also tells us a lot about how Debi approaches the Bible (since, given her beliefs about the role of the wife I’m going to assume that she approaches the Bible in the same way her husband does).

"Lol I’m trying to convince her."

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