Contention and Argument

The Book of Mormon has a number of not so complimentary things to say about contention. Generally speaking, I have heard this interpreted as an admonition to be nice and change the subject if anything controversial comes up. My problem with this, of course, is that I am not especially nice, and I like controversy. In the interests of explaining away uncomfortable doctrines, I have my own interpretation of these passages. They constitute a commandment that “Thou shalt not identify thyself with thy arguments.”

I think that there is a difference between contention and argument. Let me start with argument. Obviously, this word has a lot of meanings but my favorite definition goes like this. An argument is a series of statements in which some of the statements, called premises, are supposed to provide reasons for believing that one of the statements, called a conclusion, is true. From this point of view, arguments are not something that we have or do. They are something that exists “out there” independent of us. Arguments consist of relationships between different concepts and facts. In this sense, I a really, really like arguments. Indeed, there is a kind of beauty and loveliness to them. They are wonderful objects to look at and play with. They are not, however, us. I am not the arguments that I examine or make. I am a human being not a relationship between propositions.

This last point is a seemingly obvious fact that is generally forgotten in controversial discussion, and I suspect that this forgetfulness is part of what is meant by contention. The fact of the matter is that generally speaking we find ourselves to be much more interesting than arguments. Secondarily, we find other people more interesting than arguments. Hence, I think that a lot of apparent discussions about arguments are not really about the arguments at all. They are about the interlocutors. The point is to establish who is right or wrong, subtle or stupid, sensitive or obtuse. In such discussions the arguments become incidental. They are merely things that we use in order to get down to what really matters to us: Showing why we are better than others. (I suspect that most arrogant people share my secret desire to be thought the smartest person in the world. This is never going to happen for obvious reasons — we are petty dumb and ignorant — but the secret desire isn’t any less motivating for being basically silly.)

I think that the main reason that we shift from arguments to persons, if only implicitly, is because we tend to associate particular virtues with particular arguments. Hence, when someone claims that propositions A, B, and C support the truth of proposition X, we tend to think that the strength of this argument tells us whether the person offering it is smart or stupid or perhaps whether they are honest or dishonest. As a result, people frequently translate “X does not follow from those claims” into “you are a stupid liar.” I suppose that at some level there is probably some truth to these translations. Stupid liars have been known to make bad arguments. On the other hand, extremely smart and good people have also been known to make bad arguments.

If I am right in what I say above, then avoiding contention consists in large part of avoiding a particular kind of intellectual temptation. It consists in avoiding the temptation to conflate persons and arguments.

51 comments for “Contention and Argument

  1. Kaimi
    February 16, 2005 at 11:11 am

    Of course, your post is wrong.

  2. February 16, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Kaimi’s right. Nate, as usual, you are dead wrong.

    In all seriousness: if we were all better at communicating, perhaps argument and contention would be less related to each other. It’s my experience that people who understand each other well can disagree and remain friends.

  3. danithew
    February 16, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Nice post Nate.

    It takes a little bit of friction to keep our tires on the road.

    That’s an idea I keep in my head in regards to discussion and argument and how people interact with one another. I always hope when I am actively disagreeing with someone or arguing with someone, that the disagreement is not synonymous with dislike or hostility. Discussions and arguments here at T&S have helped me on a number of occasions to adjust, alter and refine my thinking on a variety of issues. Its rare (if ever) that I entirely change my mind about something but there are many times when others have made salient points and I have realized that I need to correct my viewpoints or my means of expressing them.

    I also think that discussion and argument play a significant and wholesome role in marriage. I’m not saying that I want to argue with my wife all the time. But I always expected that my wife would at times disagree with me and that she would bring another perspective to decision-making. I believe that other perspective is critical to good living and that this is one of the reasons the Lord said in the garden that Adam needed a “helpmeet.” I talk about this ad nauseum, I know, but the Hebrew phrase for “helpmeet” is ezer k’negdo which literally means “help as his opposition.” I think about what that means all the time. I was teaching an elders quorum priesthood lesson recently and brought this out and someone commented “better not tell your wife that.” My response was that we’ve discussed this verse many times and that we should all desire to hear our wives out, to expect some disagreement. A real partner, spouse, friend will not merely act as a rubber stamp.

  4. john fowles
    February 16, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Nate, you’re not supposed to use the word “conflate” (I think I read this somewhere in the Bloggernacle a few weeks ago.)

  5. Kaimi
    February 16, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Danithew writes:

    “Discussions and arguments here at T&S have helped me on a number of occasions to adjust, alter and refine my thinking on a variety of issues.”

    Me too. I’ve found that discussions on T & S have helped me to adjust (or correct, that is) the wrong views of others around here, particularly Nate, Adam, and Kristine. These discussions are a great time to call them to account and point out my own invariable rightness.

    Sadly, these discussions don’t always have a happy ending. That is, sometimes others simply don’t realize how right I am, and despite my best efforts to point out their errors to them, they stubbornly persist in the errors of their ways. At least I can rest easy, knowing that I _tried_ to share my superior knowledge and understanding with them, and that it is only their own stubburnness that stood in the way of their betterment.

    Of course, my own valiant efforts should not be conflated with the misguided efforts of others to suggest that I’m wrong myself, which would of course be unthinkable.

  6. Julie Kelley
    February 16, 2005 at 11:48 am

    As I read through the post I couldn’t help but think that a great argument is a lot like a great fencing match–very civil, very calculated, very entertaining!

  7. February 16, 2005 at 11:51 am

    [Threadjack] Danithew, I disagree with your interpreation of ezer knegdo as “opposition.” Everything I’ve seen indicates that it should be understood as “equal to him,” “matching him” in the sense of yin-yang. Opposite in an equal, complimentary way, not confrontational. Neged rarely has the sense of opposite in a confrontational or contrary “against” way, according to HALOT.[/threadjack]

    There are several LDS and one non-LDS paper that deal with this phrase here

  8. annegb
    February 16, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    Nate, as usual, you are right. :)

    I love the argument, when we are discussing issues, when it becomes personal, I get nervous and uptight and ticked off. It becomes about me, then–or you, whoever you might be. I don’t like that. I have enough problems in my life, I don’t like contention, even though it may not seem that way.

    I agree with Nate. It’s a fine line, but it can be walked.

  9. Jim Richins
    February 16, 2005 at 12:21 pm

    I hope the word “conflate” is not verboten… I’ve used it a number of times.

    I think Steve has hit upon a vital point that Nate does not fully address. Communication errors are oftentimes the culprit behind confusing the person with the argument. In particular, this communication medium (the Bloggernacle) lends itself to errors because tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, shared environmental context, etc. etc. are all removed from the transaction. Interpersonal communication relies so much on all of these other factors; at least one study estimated that meta-communication accounts for 90%+ of the meaning that is negotiated between communicators.

    Theoretically, this medium should force us to focus on the arguments themselves without the distraction of meta-communication cues, however, it is hard to elevate one’s communication to such a pure level and leave the bad habits of colloqiual exchange behind. If the topics discussed in the Bloggernacle arose in face-to-face communication, and included all of the meta cues I mentioned and more, the result would likely either be fistfights or a swift resolution by polite “agree to disagree” and immediate disengagement.

    And then, where would that leave us? Many topics unexplored, and occasionally, a bruised and bloodied Steve and Jim.

  10. Christian Cardall
    February 16, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    Perhaps the close connection between argument and contention can be elucidated by thinking about why a faculty for argument might have come to exist in the first place.

    A plausible speculation is that the ability to `argue’ (in Nate’s well-defined sense) arose as an advanced way of working out conflicts (especially the distribution of resources), facilitating the development of social species like ourselves, who depend on smarts, cooperation, and culture instead of (or at least as much as) individual brute strength for survival in the world.

    But still we carry a legacy from our more primitive ancestors, who, lacking the faculty for argument, solved problems like distribution of resources by brute strength. Preparation for this method of conflict resolution involves the involuntary bodily responses we know so well: quickened breathing, increased heart rate, etc. Because `argument’ is so closely tied to `conflict resolution’, these biological responses remain close at hand whenever we gear up even for mere mental battle (`gird up the loins of our mind’, in Peter’s memorable phrase).

  11. danithew
    February 16, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    Ben S.

    I was just reading your profile/bio over at yesterday and thinking I’d like to know more about what you are studying and what interests you. So I’m glad to read your comment in response to mine.

    This is the first time that I’ve heard of neged as “opposite” rather than as “opposition.” I had read a Jewish commentary at some point that used “opposition” and basically interpreted it to mean that if the wife is in disagreement with the husband, it is a sign that he needs to correct his course. I thought the commentary wasn’t the best (I can’t believe the wife would always be right when she disagrees).” Still, you’ve given me something to think about. I’ll definitely be reading more on the subject and I’ll try not to bring it into my priesthood lessons until I have a firmer idea of the whole matter.

  12. watkinator
    February 16, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    Dead right. That’s not everything I have to say but it’s the gist of it. Contention is entirely tied, in my mind, to emotion. Kaimi was almost certainly being sarcastic in saying that she feels she is right and keeps trying to convince others of it but I have occassionally felt I completely understood the other person’s point of view and disagreed. I think it’s possible for me to think the other person wrong and even that he is a complete git but unless I feel anger, condescension, or other like emotions toward that person I don’t know that I’m being contentious. Even if I’m dead sure I’m right and he’s stupid, if I walk away calmly, agreeing to disagree, then there is no contention. We can all disagree. Thinking someone is stupid is pretty unChristian. But contention is in the emotion, not the words, opinions, conclusions,etc.

  13. danithew
    February 16, 2005 at 12:42 pm


    Kaimi is a he. You can read more about him here:

  14. James M
    February 16, 2005 at 12:46 pm

    Perhaps Kaimi’s posts yesterday about wearing pink clothes and red stilleto heals may have lead to the confusion.

  15. watkinator
    February 16, 2005 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks danithew. I wasn’t sure. I’m new here and I couldn’t really tell from the name.

  16. February 16, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    I think you’ve got a great interpretation of the difference between contending and arguing, Nate, but I have to think there’s a piece missing in order to apply it. Intention and reaction play a really important role in differentiating a potentially enlightening argument from contention: if I’m dead set that I’m right (a la Kaimi up there ;)) and enter into the argument with the intention of proving to everyone else that I’m right no matter the cost, then contention will ensue because people are bound to react to such an attitude with aversion. If, however, I’m approaching the argument with the intention of enlightening others and mysef — that is, with an open mind — then I’m more likely to be able to avoid that intellectual temptation that you suggest is the problem.

  17. Sheri Lynn
    February 16, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    “It’s my experience that people who understand each other well can disagree and remain friends. ”

    –Steve Evans

    Yes, and no. This hits far too close to home, but I can assure everyone that the Adversary can insert vengeful estrangement into the closest relationship if given half a chance. Then the person you loved best or nearly best in the whole world becomes your tormenter. The understanding that made the relationship so close becomes a brutal weapon.

    Murder is done more because of loving relationships gone twisted and triggered by a disagreement, than for any other reason.

  18. Christian Cardall
    February 16, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    Another comment about the argument/contention/primitive-brute-strength-conflict-resolution nexus: It seems to be present even in that ne plus ultra of rarefied, refined argument—the courtroom. At least if movies are to be believed. (I don’t know many lawyers personally.) It’s been many years, but I have a distinct (but accurate? not sure) memory of Harrison Ford’s character in Regarding Henry saying to his colleagues on the way to the courtroom, “Let’s go in there and bust some b*lls!”, an unmistakable reference to a primitive (but ruthlessly effective) means of resolving that most ancient of conflicts—access to the females.

    Great movie, as I recall, BTW.

  19. February 16, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    Danithew: I’m in Comparative Semitics. Being almost done with my coursework, I can say that it’s one of the more useless fields I could have chosen :) I’m not very familiar at all with the traditional Jewish exegesis, so it may be a valid interpretation as well. I just haven’t seen it before.

  20. Jonathan Green
    February 16, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    Nate, I agree. Intellectual temptation is the right word. The urge to crush an opponent leads to nothing good and comes from a worse source. In our arguments, we should be something like Pokemon trainers (“slippery slope, I choose you!”), letting our premises do battle while remaining cordial with each other. The temptation to identify people with positions is strong, and I am a sinner.

    If there is no legitimate place for passionate hatred, what about passionate advocacy? One of the very useful functions of T&S is how it will occasionally surprise me with an issue I find myself caring very much about, where I had always assumed I was agnostic. In those cases it’s easy for me to identify myself with my own position. Is this also to be avoided? Strong emotion is not an argument, and easily misleads one to make poor arguments or to slip into contention. Is it possible to be passionate about one’s convictions while still arguing without contention?

  21. annegb
    February 16, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    I thought Kaimi and Danithew were girls.

  22. February 16, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Anne, me too.

  23. danithew
    February 16, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Anne, nice to make your acquaintance. Danithew is my skewed ugly-sounding combo of Daniel Bartholomew.

  24. February 16, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    You’re not Danielle Bartholomew?!?

  25. danithew
    February 16, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Next thing you know, DKL is going to make a comment saying he thought I was a chick.

  26. Sheri Lynn
    February 16, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Chick? I am only an egg.

    (Sorry, wrong religion…but all of the others are fictional too.)

  27. Kristine
    February 16, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    Nate, I think one problem is that many of us aren’t trained to read arguments or aren’t good at it. We read words, and get sidetracked by rhetorical flourishes or awkward phrasing or language that punches our hot buttons, and fail to discern or attend to the line of the argument. Despite being reasonably bright, I’m horrible at arguing and I get frustrated when I try to argue with someone better at it than I am (a set which includes practically everyone here). Then it’s all too easy to get sucked into rhetorical jabbing. I’m probably not the only one whose lack of skill at deductive logic gets her into trouble.

  28. Rosalynde Welch
    February 16, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    The nastiest arguments I’ve ever witnessed have been between mothers over parenting issues. The problem, I think, is that we fool ourself into thinking that our choices and actions are based on argument, so an opposing argument seems to be an indictment of our choices. In reality, I think that very few important life decisions are reached on the basis of argument–I think temperament, instinct, desire, circumstance and other factors much more important–but we tend to construct a post hoc argument to justify the choice.

  29. A. Greenwood
    February 16, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    Another problem is that we just can’t separate a person from what they believe. Trying is helpful but ultimately it can’t be done. If a person has views that are too dissimilar to ours, and those differences are kept visible, what are we supposed to do to like them? The truth is that, since we are mostly only able to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” we usually have to find some common ground, some shared premises or conclusions in the argument, before we can move on to other portions of the argument without having rancor or dislike.

    I don’t think the real trick is to separate the argument from the person. I think the real trick is to keep the part of the argument we share before one while exploring the other parts.

  30. February 16, 2005 at 6:01 pm

    “I don’t think the real trick is to separate the argument from the person. I think the real trick is to keep the part of the argument we share before one while exploring the other parts”

    Man, I don’t want you exploring my other parts.

    I think the key is for us to all take ourselves a little less seriously than we do, to realize that these little internet conversations are ultimately of minor consequence and that we should all settle down.

  31. A. Greenwood
    February 16, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    I don’t think Nate Oman is just talking about the internet, Steve (not the fornicator) Evans.

  32. February 16, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    Strangely, Steve (not the fornicator) Evans is how I sign my cheques.

  33. A. Greenwood
    February 16, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    No wonder no one accepted my forgeries.

  34. February 16, 2005 at 6:54 pm

    danithew: Next thing you know, DKL is going to make a comment saying he thought I was a chick.

    danithew, I really did think you were a chick. Now that I know otherwise, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop filling my inbox with your trashy love letters.

  35. Nate Oman
    February 16, 2005 at 9:37 pm

    Jonathan touches on, I think, a very interesting point. My way of talking about arguments strongly divorces our identity from our arguments. One of the problems, of course, is that even if arguments are abstract relationships between concepts, our beliefs are part of what defines our identity. Liberal political philosophy argues that liberty is the highest value because liberty is what allows us to choose our concept of the good. In other words, we choose what we will take and pursue as our ultimate ends. Communitarian philosophers, most notably Michael Sandel, have attacked this priority of liberty, arguing that it makes our beliefs accidental and denies the possiblity that any belief that we hold is constitutive of what we are. On the liberal view, our ultimate identity is as chooser not as believer. There is an obvious affinity between the view of arguments that I offer and the liberal view. Both of them divorce identity and belief. At least I divorce identity and belief to the extent that believing is a matter of reason giving. This creates a knotty problem.

    To maintain the independence of identity and arguments and thus avoid contention, I must either divorce my beliefs from the process of reason giving (think Hume or Holmes) or I must avoid talking about my beliefs in a context in which they are challenged. Notice, however, that this problem is deeper than the one I talk about in my post. The idea here is not that attacking arguments leads to an inference that the person advancing the arguments attacked is stupid, but rather the idea is that the attack on the arguments shows — to the extent that they are meant to support a belief that defines the identity of the person advancing them — that that person is in some deep sense false.

    This is, I think, the real problem with my theory of contention. Notice, however, that in a sense I respond to this argument not with argument but with performance. I don’t know a way of getting around the problem. The best I can do is point the problem out and try to talk about it in a reasonable way. I haven’t yet decided if this counts as a solution to the problem itself.

  36. Steve (former serial fornicator)
    February 16, 2005 at 9:43 pm

    Most serious liberals I’ve met have an unstated contempt for individual liberty. Is today’s liberalism different than “Liberal political philosophy”?

  37. Nathan Oman
    February 16, 2005 at 9:51 pm

    Steve TFSF: Liberal here does not mean liberal as in “a liberal Democrat” or “Ted Kennedy is a liberal.” It means liberal as in “liberal democracy” or “Robert Nozick and John Rawls are liberal political philosophers.” It may be too late in the day to save the word “liberal” from sewer of ordinary political rhetorica, but I happen to really like the older use of the word. (Jim has a similar thing for the word “postmodern”)

  38. Steve (former serial fornicator)
    February 16, 2005 at 9:57 pm

    So Liberal here means libertarian having reverence for individual liberty?

  39. Jack
    February 16, 2005 at 10:05 pm


    There’s a Broschinsky and a Wheelwight in the at Are we getting warm?

  40. Steve (former serial fornicator)
    February 16, 2005 at 10:15 pm

    Jack #44. I’m honestly not sure. I did at one time share some geography with Satan and the cool boss.

  41. Larry
    February 16, 2005 at 10:37 pm

    Sherri Lynn

    #29 – Does that make you a chicklet ?

  42. A. Greenwood
    February 17, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Nate Oman,
    Thanks. Your #40 is what I was trying to get at in my #32, without much success. It does seem in a very real way that disagreeing with a persons ideas, especially ideas about how one should live one’s life, etc. (like the ideas about parenting that Rosalynde W. mentions) means disagreeing with the person. That’s why, unlike most psychologists, I think that some disagreements should not be thoroughly discussed and continually aired.

    Ultimately, I don’t know if there’s any difference between disagreeing with someone and thinking someone is in sin (albeit a not very serious sin). Arguing without contention thus becomes another way of ‘loving the sinner while hating the sin,’ and while that’s something we all try to do, no one has shown me very well exactly how it is to be done.

  43. Nate Oman
    February 17, 2005 at 11:30 am

    “So Liberal here means libertarian having reverence for individual liberty?”

    No. To get a feel for what I am talking about, check out this entry on “Liberalism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  44. danithew
    February 17, 2005 at 11:31 am


    I am so disappointed at your tepid response to my trashy love letters. I was hoping for a rendezvous at Chick-fil-A.

  45. annegb
    February 17, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Here I go giving David all these lectures about offending and you guys are baiting him, very funnily. But still…I give up. Go fight and be men.

    I don’t have to dislike someone to disagree with them. Disagreements don’t make me feel disagreeable, but sometimes they do. I love my friend’s guts, but we disagree all the time. She’s smarter and more educated than me, also more dignified. My life would be empty without her.

    Sheri Lynn, what is g-mail? I’m okay on this end, I think. .

  46. Nate Oman
    February 17, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    Adam: I think that the point you make about silence is correct. If we are constituted by our beliefs and our beliefs are subject to reason giving then argument (in the sense defined above) is an attack on the self of another.

    Supposing that it is, can’t we sometimes be justified in attacking another’s beliefs, even those beliefs that are definitional. There are two distinct issues here, it seems to me. First, is whether I have a duty to persuade those who I believe to be mistaken to reject their mistaken beliefs. Second, whether I have a duty to speak out against certain arguments whenever they rear their head, even if those arguments support the definitional beliefs of another who is unlikely to be persuaded by my arguments. For example, am I obligated to try to persuade a Nazi that they are mistaken? Am I obligated to attack arguments offered in support of Nazi-ism even if I do not believe that they will persuade the committed Nazi? Does this count as contention?

  47. A. Greenwood
    February 17, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    If I’m right that arguing with someone is hard to distinguish from calling them to repentance, then if all argument is contention so would all calling to repentance. Is calling to repentance ‘of the devil’? Surely not.

    At least not all the time. Nate Oman appears to be suggesting that generally speaking, argument is contention when the costs (the likelihood and magnitude of anger and opposition) outweigh the benefits (the likelihood and magnitude of someone changing their mind). Once you take magnitude into account, of course, then it usually would be worth arguing with the Nazi even if the chances of persuasion were very low (be it noted, by the way, that of the five most spirit-filled and life changing conversations I’ve ever had with non-members, three were ones in which they started out attacking the church in foul ways but the spirit persuaded me to bear down in testimony in addition to coming right back at them). Where it gets interesting is Nate’s suggestion that we might have an obligation sometimes to contend even if the chances of persuading the person are nil. We could think of this as a way of condemning the person or we could think of it as an ecstatic demand of our own devotion, that we cannot be silenced by futility.

  48. Christian Cardall
    February 17, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Adam, Nate: If argument amounts to calling to repentance, does this mean that ad hominem is rehabilitated as a legitimate (indeed, nearly universal) mode of discourse?

    I commented on this over at M*. It was the last comment on the thread. Does that mean it was stupid and boring, or so conclusively right that there was nothing else to say? ;)

  49. A. Greenwood
    February 17, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    The latter, of course.

    As to the ad hominems, I don’t know. To use legal talk, perhaps I’d say that ad hominem arguments are probative but not always weighty. How much does a person’s sins of one sort tell us about their likelihood to be sinning in another way. Depends on the sins. When the sin is a wilful refusal to reject an unworkable theory in physics, for example, I don’t know how much that person’s, say, timidity has to do with it.

  50. Shawn Bailey
    February 20, 2005 at 11:59 am

    [I am coming to this late … it has been a busy week, what can I say?]

    Thinking in terms of charity may add some richness to the discussion. Consider 1 Corinthians 13:2. “And though I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” To me this means (in part*) that not only is it more important to be kind than right, but also that rightness without kindness is ultimately futile.

    Still, I do not believe that this condemns attempts to uncover or describe or persuade another regarding the truth through an adversarial (is there a better word that indicates opposition but not emnity?) dialogue. Consider the Lord’s statement to Thomas B. Marsh (D&C 112:5): “Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech.” It is interesting to me that the Lord uses the word “contend,” which presumably comes from the same root as the word “contention,” which he so strongly condemns in 3 Nephi 11:28-30. It seems clear that the Lord recognizes good and bad contending. As suggested above, the emotion or intention involved may make the difference. 3 Nephi 11:29-30 talks of stirring up hearts to contend with anger, as opposed, perhaps, to arousing minds to contend with patience, thoughfulness, even prayerfulness.

    I draw a relevant inference from the discussion of “reproving” in D&C 121:43-44: good arguments, even with those with some “sharpness,” are appropriate, but I should take special care to reassure the person on the other side of my sincere love. Otherwise, I may risk causing that person to “esteem [me] to be his enemy” even though I am simply trying discuss something interesting, learn, persuade, or show off (as is often the case with others (never me, he thought smiling to himself sheepishly) in the bloggernacle).

    *Obviously charity is much more than “kindness,” and spiritual gifts of knowledge and power are much more than “rightness.”

  51. danithew
    February 24, 2005 at 12:40 am

    Ben S. — way back when in this thread we were talking about ezer k’negdo and what it might mean. I had said that it literally translates as “help as his opposition.” It occurred to me that there are Rashi commentaries online and I’ve found some links that are of interest on this question. Rashi’s comment on Genesis 2:18 (and particularly on this phrase ezer k’negdo is this:

    If he is worthy then [she is] a helpmate, if he is not worthy then [she is] opposite him, to fight him.

    Here’s the actual link to the commentary on Genesis 2:

    There is also a footnote #139 that says the following about the meaning:

    {Hebrew Ref} —a helpmate and {Hebrew Ref} — lit. opposite him, seem to be contradictory

    The link for that footnote is here:

    In some ways what this commentary is saying seems to fit what you are saying about negdo merely meaning opposite. I’m just saying that the commentary doesn’t necessarily only support my perspective.

    The only problem I have with Rashi’s commentary is that it seems to suggest that the woman’s perspective is always right or that the wife’s agreement or disagreement with the husband is the constant measure of a man’s worthiness. Common sense seems to suggest that either spouse could be in the wrong on any given matter. But don’t tell my wife I said that. :)

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