Toward a Better Reading: Reflections on the Permanent Changes to the Text of Genesis 3:16 in the ESV Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2, we recounted a story of Wendy interacting with her dad’s doctor when he mistakenly prescribed ibuprofen despite the fact that he was currently taking the blood thinner, Coumadin. The doctor heard Wendy’s concerns because they shared a commitment to the health of her father, her concerns were based on the published research of other respected doctors, and she had intimate knowledge of her father’s health. These reflections are offered in the same spirit.

Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson

In this final post, we’ll highlight the potential harm that could come from rendering Genesis 3:16 as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” If the Scripture brings life and health, we must also acknowledge that perversions of Scripture bring turmoil and pain. If the recent change to Genesis 3:16 does not accurately represent the text of Scripture, this is not a neutral choice.

In saying this, we recognize that translation is a work in progress. As scholarship grows, so will our ability to understand the original text; as language changes, so will the need to update and revise translations. Our concern is not how the limitations of scholarship and linguistics have affected the translation of Genesis 3:16 but how commentary has. And if it has, then this rendering has the potential to harm men and women the same way any extra-biblical teaching does.

Our reflections in this final post come from our experience of discipling women both privately and publicly for years. Just as Wendy had intimate knowledge of her dad’s health, we have intimate knowledge of how Genesis 3:16 affects women’s spiritual formation. At the same time, we quickly grant that a working knowledge of women’s discipleship does not outweigh Biblical authority or the need for scholarship. In matters of textual criticism, we happily defer to those with more lexical and linguistic knowledge. But our experiences with women do give us knowledge of the implications of this rendering as well as a keen awareness of how high the stakes are.

Broader Context

First, we want to establish the Scriptural context in which this change occurs. Genesis 3:16 is set in the middle of God’s descriptions of a post-Fall world. Instead of a place of flourishing, the world will now be marred by suffering, toil, and futility. (We read God’s words as descriptive of the current state of affairs, not prescriptive.)

But to understand the brokenness, you must first understand Creation’s original state. In Genesis 1, God creates woman and man in His image so that they may reflect and represent Him on the earth. He commands them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 2 illuminates this account by telling us that God created the man first, but that the man was not sufficient to the task of ruling over the earth on his own. He could not tend and cultivate this new Creation without a partner equal to him as an image bearer. And so God created woman as an ezer/helper to fulfill the call to steward creation. Made in the image of her Creator, the woman was to emulate God Himself as the model ezer/helper to the man.

But while equal, these two image bearers are not the same. By creating them as male and female, God invested their bodies with strengths and weaknesses that would bind them together in mutual dependence as they fulfilled the Creation Mandate. The woman’s body would allow her to cultivate new image bearers, but this would also make her more vulnerable. The man’s body would be unable to bear life, but his physical strength would allow him to protect and provide for the new image bearers. The differences between them were not an end in themselves; they were a means to an end. They were the means by which they would together cultivate the good bounty of the earth and their own bodies. Together they would rule and reign over the new creation as King and Queen.

In Genesis 3, however, we see the image bearers fail. Instead of exercising dominion over the beasts of the field, we see the serpent leading and guiding them. Instead of submitting to the Creator, we see the image bearers submitting to the creation and ultimately denying their own identities. As a result, the entire creation is plunged into brokenness and disarray.

It’s not surprising, then, that when God describes life after the Fall, He does so in terms of the Creation Mandate. The beast of the field is returned to a place of subjection, and the man and woman’s work becomes difficult. The desire to fulfill the Creation Mandate—to be fruitful and multiply and to exercise dominion over the earth—is still present because this is an essential part of what it means to be human in the image of God. What is affected is the man and woman’s ability to accomplish this work.

We believe the most natural reading of Genesis 3:16 honors the parallel (and interdependent) callings of the man and woman. As we noted in Part 2,

Just as the man’s desire to produce fruit from the ground is rewarded with sweat and pain, a woman’s desire to produce children from her own body is rewarded with sweat and pain. Just as the man turns his attention to the earth looking for fruitful relationship, a woman turns toward (not away from) a man seeking fruitful relationship.

The woman’s desire in 3:16 can be understood in terms of her larger calling to bring forth life. Colloquially, we talk about this life-bearing instinct as a woman’s “biological clock.” Not all women are called to bear children, but as a category, a woman’s body has been made to do something different than a man’s body. And her body will naturally move her toward this end. In a broken world, however, this natural and good impulse will be met with frustration, pain, and disappointment. The woman’s desire will be directed toward the man as one means of fulfilling the Creation Mandate, but the man will respond with control and rule.

Some may be uncomfortable with this reading because it seems prejudicial to the man, positing him as a selfish oaf who will only ever abuse his relationship with the woman. Remember that this is describing the state of the world under sin. It is not describing the nature of either the man or woman, but the broken context in which their distinct callings play out. Remember as well that this section of text is directed to the woman to explain how the entrance of sin will make her work more difficult. And it’s all preceded by the foretelling of our rescue through the birth of Jesus.

Uncomfortable or not, in our fallen world, the inherent physiological differences between the sexes result in men ruling over women.* The statement “he shall rule over you” is neither judgment nor command; it is a simple statement of fact about the post-Fall world. Because women are the physically “weaker vessel,” women as a category cannot rule over men as a category. This does not mean that women are not equally sinful to men or try to harm them. It simply means that they do not have the physical capacity to impose their will on men as a general category. Remember Genesis 3:16 is addressed to the woman, explaining to her the challenges she will face. Because of her physical weakness and her desire to bear children, she will become subject to the control of unregenerate men.

*It’s important to distinguish between the concept of headship and rule. In the beginning, God made human beings to rule over the Creation, not each other. We understand headship to be the responsibility to provide and protect for the more vulnerable member of a relationship. Headship includes the authority necessary to fulfill this responsibility, but headship itself should not be understood solely as hierarchical rule. (see Thomas Jefferson and Headship for a longer explanation.)

Specific Ramifications

Our first concern about the latest rendering of Genesis 3:16 is that it does not fit the larger rhetorical frame of the passage. It implies a sinful motivation for the woman’s desire rather than describing the broken context in which she finds herself. It also disrupts the parallelism of the text. God speaks to the woman about how the Fall affects her. He then speaks to the man about how the Fall affects him. Rendering 3:16 as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband” injects a statement about the woman’s nature when there is no corresponding statement about the man’s nature in terms of his work. We believe there is no parallel statement because Genesis 3:16 should not be read as an indictment of the woman’s desire.

As we discussed in Part 2, you can only arrive at a negative reading of the woman’s desire if you read negativity back into the passage from Genesis 4:7-8. But such a reading is highly prejudicial because it implies that the woman’s desires by their very existence are contrary to her husband. Because the rest of the passage is read as a statement of fact about this post-Fall world, the sentence “your desires shall be contrary to your husband” will also be read as a statement of fact. The rhetorical affect is to create suspicion around every desire that a woman has.

What if a woman wants red curtains but her husband wants blue? Is this “contrary” opinion a result of the Fall and her sinful inclination to resist her husband? Should she give up her desire for red curtains? Based on the current rendering of Genesis 3:16, yes, she should. She should give up her contrary desire because to hold it would be to participate in the brokenness of the Fall. This may seem like a ridiculous illustration, but the logic is intact.

A regenerate woman seeking to live beyond her fallen state will relinquish all desires that run contrary to her husband because this rendering teaches her that it is her sinfulness that puts her in opposition to her husband. Not her expertise in design, not the validity of her own preferences, but her sinfulness. And such a paradigm cuts to the heart of a woman’s imago Dei identity.

Agency

Part of being made in God’s image is the capacity to think, to choose, to desire. It is true that our human desires have been corrupted by sin—the heart is desperately wicked, after all. But the corruption is not horizontal; it is vertical. We are not in sin because our desires are contrary to another human being’s. We are in sin when they run contrary to God’s; or we assume God’s place and force our desires upon another human being.

For a woman to have a different, or contrary, opinion to her husband is not sin. In fact, sometimes it would be sin for her NOT to have a difference of opinion, especially if he himself is in sin (consider Abigail and Sapphira). But rendering Genesis 3:16 as “your desires shall be contrary to your husband” places a woman’s desires in context of the Fall and positions them forever as suspect.

Practically speaking, this paralyzes women. We have seen this in our own lives as well as the lives of the women we disciple. When women are told that their very desires are sinful in a way that men’s desires are not, godly women end up doubting everything they think or do or say. Rather than risk the possibility of imposing her “contrary” desires on to her husband or the men around her, she will stop desiring entirely.

Ironically, this does not fulfill the Biblical concept of submission; it actually undermines it. When a woman abandons her own opinions, she is not submitting. She is abdicating her imago Dei identity. Submission only happens when two conflicting desires meet and one defers. A woman can only submit when she holds an opinion in the first place and then chooses to defer out of her own agency. She does not defer because her desires are corrupt, but because she loves her husband and the Scripture. Anything less is co-dependency.

Further, the ESV’s current rendering can lead a woman to doubt the work of God in her heart. When the Holy Spirit moves her to take action, she will question whether it is truly God or the deceitfulness of her own contrary desires. Having lost a category for goodness of her desires, she will freeze and become subject to the control of those around her. She will be led by the desires of her husband, her children, her friends, and her community. Rather than being led by the Spirit, she will be led by other human beings.

Finally, this rendering will cause men to mistrust women. Not only will women doubt their own opinions and the Holy Spirit’s leading, men will begin to doubt the validity of women’s voices. If women’s desires are de facto “contrary,” when a woman speaks up or offers an alternative view, men will naturally be suspicious. Is she simply trying to undermine the men around her? What’s her hidden agenda? And when she rightly challenges evil men for evil behavior, her words will be neutralized entirely. Because after all, the woman’s “desire shall be contrary.” She’s unsubmissive and not to be trusted.

This is how women become trapped in abusive relationships even within the church. One of the criticisms of complementarianism is that it can lead to the physical and spiritual abuse of women. We do not believe that all streams of complementarian thought lead to abuse. But we are concerned that this rendering of Genesis 3:16 would. At the very least, it puts a woman constantly on the defensive, forcing her to justify the validity of her complaints, concerns, or mere different desires.

Conclusion

When William Tyndale translated the English New Testament, he did so, in part, to break the power of spiritual abuse. He wanted to give the most vulnerable members of the Church the power to defend themselves through truth. We believe the straightforward translation of Genesis 3:16 as “your desire shall be for your husband” honors both the original Hebrew text, as well as the larger context of Genesis 1-3. Such a reading helps pastors, lay leaders, and women themselves to understand the larger context in which women find themselves in this broken world. This in turn, aids in promoting the spiritual growth that is necessary to break the bonds of emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse. In many cases, only when a woman grows in her understanding of her God-given agency and identity as an image bearer can she finally step away from such abuse. As well, only when the godly men around her have a healthy understanding of her God-given agency and identity can they help free her from abuse.

For some reading this, it may feel like we are suggesting a major paradigm shift. We are simply suggesting that you consider the natural, straightforward reading of Genesis 1-3 as it relates to this text. We are asking you to listen to women who have been actively engaged in the work of discipleship; if you do, we hope you hear, not simply our voices, but the Scripture itself. And ultimately, we hope that these posts will aid you in discerning the root issues underlying a woman’s struggles in a post-Fall world. She may choose sinful responses to the challenges—she may choose either abdication or manipulation—but she does not do so because her desires are inherently “contrary.”

After Wendy’s conversation with the doctor, he prescribed a pain killer for her dad that didn’t interfere with Coumadin. It was a similar pain killer but just different enough to relieve the pain of the pinched nerve without causing new complications. Just as Wendy and the doctor mutually cared for her dad, we hope that the ESV translators will hear our concerns about this change to Genesis 3:16 and consider reversing their decision so that no further harm comes to either women or men.

Together we wait and hope for the day when all God’s image bearers—both male and female—are restored to His likeness through Christ.

57 Responses to Toward a Better Reading: Reflections on the Permanent Changes to the Text of Genesis 3:16 in the ESV Part 3

  1. Toiler September 30, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    Amen! I feel like you ladies reached into my soul and typed the words that I could not express. This is exactly how I feel as a woman! I’m speechless other than to say that I hope our cries are heard!

    • Amanda October 1, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

      I second this. This succinctly puts into words the concerns I have and things I experienced when we were involved in a church where the “contrary” interpretation was held and taught. Those were very difficult years for me personally and for our marriage. Praying for truth to prevail! Truth sets us free, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.

  2. Angie September 30, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

    Well done!

  3. Barbara Roberts September 30, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

    Hi Wendy and Hannah
    Have you read my interepretation of the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16?
    You can find it here—
    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2016/04/17/the-womans-desire-in-genesis-316-lets-be-consistent-with-the-context-and-with-actual-life-pt-2-of-2/

    • Wendy September 30, 2016 at 10:30 pm #

      Yes, I have. I think we dialogued a little about it at the time. You had a good analysis.

    • Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 12:47 am #

      Sorry, Wendy, I must have forgotten that you and I had discussed my post on The Woman’s Desire previously. My apologies.

  4. A J MacDonald Jr October 1, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

    First, I agree with you, and I appreciate your well written articles on this subject.

    Second, you say: “In matters of textual criticism, we happily defer to those with more lexical and linguistic knowledge.” By saying this, I imagine you mean to say you are not qualified to speak on matters of translation, as well as text criticism. In other words: “The ESV translators are the professionals, and we are not.”

    Considering the fact that: 1) the ESV translators made a horrible choice in translating Genesis 3:16 as “contrary” for their permanent edition; and 2) the ESV board changed their minds, and have decided not to have a permanent edition; why don’t you consider abandoning the ESV for the KJV?

    Why trust the ESV ever again? God only knows what they already have or may change at some future time!

    I read through (the entire) ESV this summer, because it is so highly recommended, and I was totally unimpressed. I’ve read the KJV, the NASB, the NIV, and now the ESV as well. My verdict? I’ve gone back to the KJV. For good. The KJV is a better translation, it’s based upon better original language texts, the language is more beautiful, more memorable, and the English text will NEVER change:

    “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16 KJV).

    That’s Genesis 3:16 from the KJV permanent edition! 🙂

    • Wendy October 1, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

      The KJV is a great translation. But I don’t naturally speak Shakespearean English, so that’s a problem. The ESV still has good qualities, as does the NASB. I’m hopeful translators will fix this issue in the ESV.

    • Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 12:46 am #

      (Wendy and Hannah, remove this comment if you think it will endanger the thread from going off topic.)

      A J MacDonald, one thing about the KJV that disturbs me is the way it renders Malachi 2:16. You might like to know that I think the ESV and the 2011 NIV and the HCSB render that verse correctly.

  5. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 12:24 am #

    “The woman’s body would allow her to cultivate new image bearers, but this would also make her more vulnerable.”

    You were talking about Eden there— the situation before the Fall. How can we say that prior to the Fall the fact that woman would bear children would render her more vulnerable, since once Adam had been given Eve as his companion and suitable helper, absolutely everything in creation was ‘very good’. In Eden where all was ‘very good,’ how could Eve’s capacity for childbirth render her more vulnerable?

  6. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 12:44 am #

    “…in our fallen world, the inherent physiological differences between the sexes result in men ruling over women. … Because of her physical weakness and her desire to bear children, she will become subject to the control of unregenerate men.”

    I fully agree. At the same time, is not there more at play here than just the inherent physiological differences?

    Certainly the facts that(a) women bear children, and (b) women are as a category less physically powerful than men, are two major contributors to women’s vulnerability to harshly controlling men. But are there not characterological and temperamental differences between women as a group and men as a group, which contribute to women’s greater vulnerability?

    I”m pretty sure you will agree that there are.

    I’m just wanting to voice this so that the differences are not understood as mere physiology. Physiology plays a big part, but it’s not the whole story, I think.

    Alastair Roberts has compiled a broad range of empirical evidence which speaks to the differences between women and men and how those differences are mostly observed not when comparing individuals, but when comparing class to class (the class of man generally, and the class of woman generally). Quite a lot of those differences are not primarily to do with physiology, but more to do with inclinations of interest and tendencies of temperament.

  7. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 1:05 am #

    “Our first concern about the latest rendering of Genesis 3:16 is that it does not fit the larger rhetorical frame of the passage. It implies a sinful motivation for the woman’s desire rather than describing the broken context in which she finds herself. It also disrupts the parallelism of the text. God speaks to the woman about how the Fall affects her. He then speaks to the man about how the Fall affects him. Rendering 3:16 as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband” injects a statement about the woman’s nature when there is no corresponding statement about the man’s nature in terms of his work. We believe there is no parallel statement because Genesis 3:16 should not be read as an indictment of the woman’s desire.”

    That’s an interesting thought about the parallelism between verse 16, and verses 17-19 which are God’s announcement to the man.

    Gen. 3:16 “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (old version of ESV)

    Gen. 3: 17b-19 “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

    If there is parallelism between those two passages, would it be this?
    — The woman is told that man will make her life difficult because he rule her, control her, dominate her, treat her harshly, oppress her.
    — The man is told that thorns and thistles will make his life difficult because they will mean that getting food, wresting a living, will now entail hard labour.

    The parallel elements are the man’s harsh rule, and the thorns and thistles.

    The man’s rule makes the woman’s life hard.
    The thorns and thistles make the man’s life hard.

    • Wendy October 2, 2016 at 8:03 am #

      Yes, that’s how I read it, Barb. Viewing God’s words after the Fall as a coherent unity is very helpful in my opinion to understanding this.

  8. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 1:16 am #

    What Wendy and Hannah said here (I’m about to quote from their post) is spot on and I second it.
    It fits with exactly with what I believe. And their observations of how it affects women matches exactly and what Jeff Crippen and I hear from our readers at A Cry for Justice.

    They said:

    “We are not in sin because our desires are contrary to another human being’s. We are in sin when they run contrary to God’s; or we assume God’s place and force our desires upon another human being.

    “For a woman to have a different, or contrary, opinion to her husband is not sin. In fact, sometimes it would be sin for her NOT to have a difference of opinion, especially if he himself is in sin (consider Abigail and Sapphira). But rendering Genesis 3:16 as “your desires shall be contrary to your husband” places a woman’s desires in context of the Fall and positions them forever as suspect.

    “Practically speaking, this paralyzes women….

    “Finally, this rendering will cause men to mistrust women. Not only will women doubt their own opinions and the Holy Spirit’s leading, men will begin to doubt the validity of women’s voices. If women’s desires are de facto “contrary,” when a woman speaks up or offers an alternative view, men will naturally be suspicious. Is she simply trying to undermine the men around her? What’s her hidden agenda? And when she rightly challenges evil men for evil behavior, her words will be neutralized entirely. Because after all, the woman’s “desire shall be contrary.” She’s unsubmissive and not to be trusted.

    “This is how women become trapped in abusive relationships even within the church.”

  9. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 1:33 am #

    Steve Tracy’s article Headship With Heart has been out for a long time now, but it’s well worth reading. He discusses Genesis 3;16 and how it can and has been misused or misinterpreted in a way that oprresses women.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/february/5.50.html

  10. Doug October 2, 2016 at 3:07 am #

    These are all legitimate concerns. Ideas definitely have consequences. No doubt the proper words are important in translation, but no less important is our preconceived notions about the intent of the speaker; the Lord in the case of 3:16. Much of the discussion I keep seeing assumes the Lord is acting as a Criminal Prosecutor in the case of Adam and Eve. Additionally, He is assumed to be prosecuting not only the perpetrators of the crime themselves, but also all their descendants yet to be born — guilt by association. Thus, the Lord judges my pregnant wife on the account of Eve. We should have a problem with this. Specifically, it was this caricature of God that was condemned in Ezekiel 18. As one commentator wisely said, “Guilt is non-transferable; a disposition or nature can be inherited, but not guilt.” The traditional and more consistent approach is to see in this the intent of our Lord acting as Great Physician.

    • Wendy October 2, 2016 at 7:56 am #

      Doug, we have specifically not used the word “curse” in any of these posts for this reason. We don’t believe God cursed the world or pronounced judgement as much as He described how the world would be now that it was corrupted by sin. We do believe that we are all born under sin and with a sin nature, inheriting Adam’s fallen DNA as much as Eve’s, but that’s not exactly what’s being described here in Genesis 3. We were clear in Part 3 that we are discussing the context of life after the Fall, not the inherent nature of the man or woman.

    • Doug October 2, 2016 at 11:38 am #

      Wendy, but the Lord did curse the earth and institute travail in association with pregnancy. Likewise he cursed the serpent and instituted perpetual war between his children and the children of the woman. We know from experience that this not only applied to the perpetrators, but to all up until now. These things did not just happen as a result of sin, nor could they be an act of justice. Therefore, we must ask why the Lord deliberately imposed these on all, not just Adam and Eve. The traditional answer has been that these institutions were remedial checks on the inherently sinful nature of all women and men. Therefore, a proper translation 3:16 must answer the question, “How does this help salvage woman and man?” The proposed ESV translation does not seem to do this.

  11. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

    There’s a good discussion of Gen.3:16 and 4:7 over at https://neurosciencelinguisticsandhebrew.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/on-the-new-esv-translation-of-genesis-316/comment-page-1/#comment-12

    In a response to me in the comments thread, the guy who writes that blog has said:

    “If men and women are both sinners, then giving man [or woman for that matter] authority that can never be usurped is a very dangerous thing indeed. God and his word are the ultimate authority, and, no matter what authority structure God has set up, scripture is ultimate above it. As Francis Schaeffer used to say, the strength of Christianity is that anyone can stand up with a Bible and say, “You’re wrong, because scripture says…” To take that away from women as a check on male sin is a very dangerous thing indeed. Then again, intellectuals often don’t see the practical consequences of their views. Often times, they are more concerned with taking down liberal ideology that they don’t really care if they end up putting an even even bigger monster in its place.”

    • Doug October 2, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

      Yes. It was good to see Wendy address the same issue:

      “For a woman to have a different, or contrary, opinion to her husband is not sin. In fact, sometimes it would be sin for her NOT to have a difference of opinion, especially if he himself is in sin (consider Abigail and Sapphira).”

      In the case of Sapphira, it was clear Peter expected her to oppose her husband.

  12. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

    On Thurs., April 28, 1757 John Wesley made the following entry in his diary:

    “I talked with one who, by the advice of his Pastor, had, very calmly and deliberately, beat his wife with a large stick, till she was black and blue, almost from head to foot. And he insisted, it was his duty so to do, because she was surly and ill-natured; and that he was full of faith all the time he was doing it, and had been so ever since.”

    John Wesley, vol. 2 of The Complete Works of John Wesley, 7 vols. (Albany, OR:  AGES Software, 1997), 450.

    • Doug October 2, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

      Barbara, such a pastor probably treated his children and dog the same way! No? As for the comparison with “he shall rule over you,” is it not possible that the Lord is instructing the wife —specifically — to shelter under the general leadership of her husband? Wives are specifically given the same instruction in the NT. Eve had formerly acted without first consulting her husband. I just experienced a similar episode in my household. My wife is currently out of town, so I have had to rely on my older children to oversee the younger at times. I work a night shift, so I asked my older daughter what movie they had watched Friday night while I was at work (a family tradition). To my dismay she had let them watch a movie that I strongly disapproved of, and she knew I disapproved of it. My response was to impose this new sanction: No watching any movie without first getting my approval. I think this is what the Lord in 3:16 is imposing on Eve. It was simply an act to establish a clear line of responsibility — not authority.

  13. Barbara Roberts October 2, 2016 at 11:48 pm #

    Hi Doug,

    You asked: “…”he shall rule over you,” is it not possible that the Lord is instructing the wife —specifically — to shelter under the general leadership of her husband?”

    Here are my thoughts in response to your question.

    I think there is a degree of ambiguity in the text (speaking of the older translation of the ESV), which means it might bear several meanings (or shades of meaning) at the same time. And your suggestion may be one of the minor shades.

    But I am not persuaded that your suggestion is the primary meaning of 3:16. Here are my reasons:

    The intertextuality between 3:16 and 4:7 cannot be ignored. I don’t think the 4:7 has to be the primary driver of our interpretation of 3:16, it might help us in our efforts to understand 3:16 even if only by ruling out inappropriate interpretations of 3:16. And I don’t think Genesis 4:7 supports your suggestion at all. In Genesis 4:7 God is not instructing Sin to shelter under Cain’s leadership. Rather, God is instructing Cain to resist Sin’s temptation. God is instructing Cain to resist Sin’s (Satan’s) desire to get Cain to murder his brother.

    The immediate context of the Genesis 3:16 is that God announcing the consequences of sin entering the world. God is declaring to the snake, the woman, and the man, what shape those consequences will particularly take for each of them. God is not instructing the snake or the man; He is simply telling them ‘how things will be from now on’ in the sin-blighted world. So it is probably not appropriate to infer that God was instructing the woman. It’s more likely that he was simply announcing to her how things would be for womankind from now on.

    If God was instructing the wife to shelter under the general leadership of her husband, you have to read Him as instructing her to desire her husband’s protective leadership and guidance and to come under that leadership submissively. This reading presupposes that the man’s leadership will be benevolent, wise and godly. Now of course we know that a man’s leadership CAN be benevolent wise and godly, but in the context of this passage, does that fit? I don’t think so. Apart from the promise of the Messiah in the ‘seed of the woman,’ the entire passage is talking about the ways sin will blight the existence of the creatures. Reading the man’s rule as benevolent wise and godly, doesn’t really fit with that “blighting’ tone.

    So I don’t think your suggestion works as the PRIMARY meaning of 3:16b.

    I do think we can say that it is good for a wife to shelter under (and submit to) the general leadership of her husband if the husband’s leadership is benevolent and wise. But I think we can say this mostly from passages like Ephesians 5, rather than from Genesis 3:16.

    Thanks for the stimulating conversation, Doug!

    • Doug October 3, 2016 at 8:25 am #

      Barbara, everything you say is reasonable. But consider 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 implies Eve was being instructed:

      “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”

      Also in these verses, notice the use of the word “desire.” This would seem to back up Peter Martyr’s explanation of 3:16 where desire implies both romantic desire and getting a husband’s nod.

    • Doug October 3, 2016 at 8:37 am #

      Ps: I believe Paul was addressing a specific situation in Corinth where wives were acting independent and out of concert with their husbands. He was not instructing women to always be silent.

    • Barbara Roberts October 4, 2016 at 2:39 am #

      Hi Doug, isn’t it quite a stretch to infer from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that Eve was being instructed by God? The Corinthians passage does not allude to the events of Genesis 3 at all.

      I believe in the doctrine of inerrancy and inspiration of the original autographs of Scripture; but I think that Phillip Payne has presented pretty good evidence that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is actually an interpolation by a series of later scribes. Read Payne’s book “Man and Woman One In Christ” for full details.

    • Doug October 4, 2016 at 9:42 am #

      Barbara, “[W]omen…are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”

      We must ask, “Where does the Law say this?”

      I think it most plausible that the apostle is referring to the first Woman at the tree in Genesis 3, specifically where it is written, “the woman saw…that the tree was desirable to make one wise.” The apostle is addressing woman’s desire to learn. Recall, it was the first Woman’s desire to learn independent of her husband. Thus, the Lord instructs her to subject her desires to her husband. It is in this sense that he is to rule over her.

  14. Tamie Davis October 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Thanks ladies! I’m reading Ruth Tucker’s ‘Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife’ at the moment and her marriage and church culture really seemed beholden to the idea that the husband’s authority is at one with God’s authority i.e. God is supreme, therefore husband is supreme over the wife. I think your point about horizontal vs vertical really corrects this, because it sees husband and wife both standing before God in the Fall, just as they stand together before him in the Creation Mandate. What is so often missing from complementarian discussions of roles, etc is the shared humanity and image-ness of both men and women – how we are alike!

  15. Marie October 4, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

    Fantastic! Well done, ladies!

  16. Walter October 4, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    I tried submitting a comment earlier, but maybe it was too long so I’ll break it down into two halves. If these replies are being moderated, and the earlier post is being held up , then my apologies and feel free to delete this double-post.

    First let me make the point that I don’t think anyone can definitively say what “desire” means in Genesis 3:16. It could be a negative desire, a contrary desire, a desire to control, a desire for love and protection, a sexual desire, etc. As I shared in another post on this subject, the Septuagint rendered the Hebrew Word “desire” with the Greek word “apostrophe” which means to turn away from. So from that you could get the idea that the husband will try to rule over the wife, but she will turn away from this attempt and desire not to be subject to it.

    But my main problem with this post and many similar other ones is that it makes a ton of faulty presuppositions. Rather than going through a long list, let me give one poignant example:

    “For a woman to have a different, or contrary, opinion to her husband is not sin. In fact, sometimes it would be sin for her NOT to have a difference of opinion, especially if he himself is in sin (consider Abigail and Sapphira). But rendering Genesis 3:16 as “your desires shall be contrary to your husband” places a woman’s desires in context of the Fall and positions them forever as suspect.

    Practically speaking, this paralyzes women. We have seen this in our own lives as well as the lives of the women we disciple. When women are told that their very desires are sinful in a way that men’s desires are not, godly women end up doubting everything they think or do or say. Rather than risk the possibility of imposing her “contrary” desires on to her husband or the men around her, she will stop desiring entirely.”

    There is absolutely no reason any of this has to apply just because one may interpret Genesis 3:16 as the woman’s desire being contrary to her husband. If the husband’s desire to “rule over his wife” is a sinful tendency that is the result of the fall, then the woman’s desire to be contrary to any idea of headship from her husband would also be a sinful tendency as a result of the fall. Understanding the verse in this way does not necessitate that we doubt the motives of a woman anymore than we would a man.

    When a husband voices an idea regarding the direction of the home, this verse does not give women the right to automatically assume his motive is sinful and an expression of his desire to “rule over her.” That could be the motive, but if they are a Christian couple that is trying to live their lives for God then we should be ready to believe the best of that husband’s motives until it becomes clear otherwise. At the same time though, a godly husband should be aware of his sinful flesh still harboring the desire to be selfish and take advantage of his position, and he should check himself continually to make sure that isn’t creeping in.

    I think it’s baffling that one would jump to the conclusion that the ESV’s rendering of this verse makes it so women should automatically be doubted and their motives questioned. Just as a man could be acting on his fleshly sinful tendencies, a woman could as well. But we shouldn’t jump to a conclusion about either one.

    Ephesians 5 gives the remedy for both of the sinful tendencies that came as a result of the fall. Instead of ruling over his wife, a husband is to serve and love. Instead of desiring to be contrary, the wife is to submit. That is a strong parallel to Genesis 3 in my opinion. Ephesians 5 is God’s command to both that if acted on will restore the relationship between husbands and wives to what these relationships should have been without the fall.

  17. Walter October 4, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    I think what is happening is that a lot of presuppositions are being read into this debate that have more to do with how headship and submission have been generally taught in the past. But just because headship and submission have been wrongly taught in a way that leaves women vulnerable to be taken advantage of and abused, does not mean that the problem is with headship and submission in itself. Because Genesis 3:16 can be taught in a way that backs up these other false notions does not mean that the new ESV translation will automatically lead to more abuse. It depends on how it’s taught. If we teach Genesis 3:16 as the negative reactions of both men and women as a result of the fall, while also teaching Ephesians 5 as the remedy then we don’t have a problem. We shouldn’t emphasize the woman’s negative tendency anymore than the man’s. Both men and women are equally capable of giving into sinful deisres and both are equally capable of surrendering to God’s word.

    If a husband is seeking to live his life for God and surrendering to His word, then why not give him the benefit of the doubt rather than constantly questioning his motives? And conversely if the wife is also seeking to live her life for God then why not presuppose that if she has a different opinion that it comes from a motive of wanting what’s best rather than being obstinate? Makes sense to me. There’s simply no reason we should be jumping to conclusions about women and their motives any more than we would a man. If that is happening then the problem is not with Genesis 3:16 or the concept of headship and submission, but the problem is with how it’s being taught.

    My conern is that this article and many other similar ones just feed into the same false narrative that any concept of headship and submission naturally leads to the abuse of women.

    • Doug October 4, 2016 at 5:16 pm #

      Walter, you said, “If we teach Genesis 3:16 as the negative reactions of both men and women as a result of the fall, while also teaching Ephesians 5 as the remedy then we don’t have a problem.”

      When you refer to Ephesians 5 as the remedy, do you assume NT instructions to husbands and wives were new teachings unknown to those living under the OT? We’re not OT saints capable and fully instructed in how to have a blessed marriage? If so, where were the instructions? This is the problem you must face if Genesis 3:16 is viewed as “negative reactions” and not remedial instructions. I would posit 3:16 contains the same instructions given to husbands and wives in the NT; they are simply phrased different.

    • Walter October 4, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

      Doug, I can’t point to a specific OT passage, but I do believe in general that there were instructions for husbands and wives on how to relate to another in a positive way that was different from the results of the fall. What I think we see in Ephesians 5 is very precise language to that effect.

      I can’t go with Genesis 3:16 being essentially the same instructions as Ephesians 5. I see in Genesis 3:16 the negatives of both men and women as a consequence of sin.

  18. Barbara Roberts October 4, 2016 at 9:46 pm #

    @Doug— “[W]omen…are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”
    It is reasonable to ask, “Where does the Law say this?”
    Many commenters have asked that question, but they propose quite a range of answers and many say “we can’t really know for sure,” so it’s probably wise to beware of coming to a fixed conclusion as to the answer.

    You think that—
    “the apostle is referring to the first Woman at the tree in Genesis 3, specifically where it is written, “the woman saw…that the tree was desirable to make one wise,” he apostle is addressing woman’s desire to learn. Recall, it was the first Woman’s desire to learn independent of her husband. Thus, the Lord instructs her to subject her desires to her husband. It is in this sense that he is to rule over her.”

    She ate the fruit because she believed it would help her to be like God — it would help her learn to be godlike, if you want to put it that way. But here is where your argument falls down. She clearly didn’t want to learn that independently of her husband, because she immediately offered the fruit to him.

    And what in the text of Genesis 3 shows that God is INSTRUCTING Eve HOW TO BEHAVE towards her husband? You have to import that notion from elsewhere in the Bible, because it’s not in Genesis 3 itself.

    (excuse all caps — I would use italics if I was able)

    • Doug October 5, 2016 at 9:13 am #

      Barbara, recall that Eve in part ate the fruit because “it was desirable to make one wise,” thus indicating her desire to learn. That said,1 Corinthians 14:34-35 should be read in conjunction with 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

      “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

      In these verses, Paul implies Eve took the lead in learning, and then likewise instructed Adam. She was exercising authority over the man. It is significant that Paul followed with directives toward childbearing. This was the remedy the Lord imposed on the woman. Again, he was alluding to Genesis 3 and the Lord’s specific response to Eve’s actions at the tree. The words of Sylvia Hoffert in “Private Matters: American Attitudes Toward Childbearing and Infant Nurture in the Urban North, 1800-1860” are very relevant: “For many women the biological and social activities associated with maternity have served as the basis for female consciousness. The experience of becoming and being mothers has dominated their thoughts, determined their behavior, helped to establish their place in society, and defined their relationships with others.” Motherhood, thus, was an antidote to what happened at the tree. Recall at the time of the infraction, motherhood was not on Eve’s mind. We must take note of this in regards to 3:16.

      We know the Lord is specifically instructing Eve in Genesis 3 because that is what is implied by the words, “To the woman He said,” implying intelligent communication between the Lord and Eve. His intention was to restore order not only between the first woman and man, but in future society as well.

  19. Barbara Roberts October 4, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

    An article recently published in the Journal of Semitic Studies will probably help our understanding of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 a great deal. It deals with the meaning of the Hebrew word teshûqâ which has been translated as desire in so many English translations.

    Here is Dr Claude Mariottini’s summation of the article:

    In a recent article, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016):365-387, Andrew A. Macintosh did a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה and came to an interesting conclusion.

    In his article, Macintosh studied how the word תְּשׁוּקָה is used in the Hebrew Bible, how the word is translated in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), in the Peshitta, and how it was understood in Rabbinic writings, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in Arabic, and in the Quran. Macintosh said that modern translations of the Bible are almost unanimous in translating the word תְּשׁוּקָה as “desire.”

    However, Macintosh wrote: “Where the ancient versions are concerned, the same unanimity of interpretation is not apparent, and now, in recent times, different understandings of the word have begun to appear” (2016:365).

    In his study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה as it appears in the Hebrew Bible, Macintosh does not mention any translation, ancient or modern, that translates Genesis 3:16 as “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,” as the ESV has done.

    After a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה, Macintosh offers his view on how the verse should be translated. He wrote: “In summary, I conclude that ‘desire’ is not a proper rendering of the Hebrew word תְּשׁוּקָה in the Hebrew Bible or in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, on the evidence of comparative philology and of the ancient versions, ‘concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus’, appears to be more likely” (2016:385).

    [You can find Dr Mariottini’s article here: https://claudemariottini.com/2016/10/04/genesis-316-and-the-esv/ ]

    If the word teshûqâ means “concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus,” then that would fit perfectly with my interpretation of Genesis 3:16.

  20. Chris October 5, 2016 at 4:57 am #

    I’m rather stunned by a lot of this. That so many very obvious questions or objections can be glossed over.
    In choosing to put the best possible gloss on women’s motivations it seems you have simply swapped a ‘paralysing’ sitgmatisation of women’s ‘desires’ (potentially) for an equally paralysing stigmatisation of headship as described in the Bible. If men are always and in every place likely to oppress, harshly rule etc. women then it is an invitation to always question his motivation, and oppose it, in ways that you seem to be worried would happen to women if ‘desire’ is read as ‘contrary to’. I can’t see how this helps or how it challenges the wider supposition in our culture that women are more morally virtuous than men.
    It is also staggering, especially when you say you do not think there is any element of a curse in Genesis 3, that you completely ignore the context of what has just taken place. Both Adam and Eve have sinned, yes, but in different ways as relates to each other (of course, both have sinned in identical ways towards God). The passage that mentions God’s curse is interesting as far as the specific reasons go that God gives to Adam:

    ““Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you;”

    ‘Because you listened to the voice of your wife.’ Now I know this is uncomfortable, and I’m not making a case that therefore men should always be wary of listening to women nor am I saying that there is any more blame attached to Eve than to Adam. What I am saying is that Eve’s specific actions had an important role to play, clearly, in what God has to say. Herman Bavinck in ‘The Christian Family’ talks about men’s rage and anger towards women for their humiliation in the garden where Eve usurped Adam’s role of leadership and spiritual authority, something that can only be reconciled in Christ.
    Whether you think Bavinck goes too far or not, what he does is stay faithful to the scriptural context and the reasons God gives for the curse. He sees Eve as disobeying God, yes, but also in doing so sinning against Adam by usurping his role as spiritual head in allowing herself to be seduced by the snake. At the same time, Adam was failing in his role to protect Eve in the first place. Interestingly, Eve, as opposed to the snake and Adam, is not given specific reasons why as a preamble to her specific curse.
    This is not so much to point the finger at women, in the way Adam sinfully reacted when challenged by God, but a fear that the opposite may be the result if your interpretation is accepted (it is the logical conclusion; that men aren’t to be trusted in marriage, is it not?) but also a plea that women take seriously the fact that woman can sin in ways as damaging as men, that they sin in ways that are particular to women as well as sharing sinful ways with men and that, as the image of God lies primarily in humanity corporately and likewise in man and woman together in marriage (rather than as individuals), we share the responsibility for defacing that image equally (although in different ways perhaps).

    • Wendy October 5, 2016 at 7:57 am #

      Chris,

      I want to push back against your opening comment that we are insisting on putting the best possible gloss on women’s motivations. We have emphasized first and foremost that we are calling the ESV translators back to their essentially literal, word-for-word translation philosophy and leave the commentary to those reading and teaching it, not those translating it.

      If we translate this in the straightforward way the Hebrew suggests, “desire toward,” then we can next consider what that might mean. The consequences of the Fall are in the context of the Creation Mandate, so it fits that these are about, for both the man and woman, the pain and frustration their choices have brought into the world for the very purposes God created them for.

      Apart from Christ, there are all kinds of oppressive male dominance or passive-aggressive male acquiescence (male passivity still often feels emotionally aggressive and wounding to women). Surely you can see this in the history of the world and in cultures today that do not have a history of Judeo-Christian ethics, such as Saudia Arabia which just granted women the right to vote this year and where women still need a male family member to escort them in public.

      I don’t think, as your last comment suggests, that the end result of this teaching is that men will be forever distrusted in marriage, since God, in fact, says for wives to submit in the home to husbands and church to elders, and then gives specific instructions for what the leadership of husbands and elders should look like. We argue for keeping all of the verses, but reading them in as honest a way as possible. If husbands know the root problems in the relationship from the Fall, they are better able to recognize the redemption Christ brings to their relationship so that they can live in relationship with their wife in a way that reflects what it means to be IN CHRIST and an IMAGE BEARER of God in Ephesians 5.

  21. Chris October 5, 2016 at 7:00 am #

    And further to my previous comment, further indications that a woman’s desire is not necessarily as benign as Wendy might want to assume is found in Gen. 3:6:

    “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate etc.”

    As far as I’m aware the word ‘desired’ there is not the same as ‘desire’ in 3:16 or 4:7 but the description that precedes it seems clearly to describe the process of desire. Again, I’m not wanting to rub anybody’s nose in it, just to point out that the preceding context and specifics should not be ignored in deciding what 3:16 might mean.

    • Wendy October 5, 2016 at 7:59 am #

      Those are different words for desire in the Hebrew, and there is a lot of discussion that the meaning of the desire in 3:16, 4:7, and SoS 7:10 is different than simple desire in 3:6. But that’s a long post for another day.

    • Chris October 5, 2016 at 9:45 am #

      Two comments:

      – I don’t think you’re taking seriously the consequences of seeing Gen 3:16 as women’s rightly ordered and directed desire towards men being thwarted by harsh and oppressive rule by men over women. The ‘root problems in the relationship’, as you call it, then become solely the fault of the man/husband. I think this is problematic to say the least and in no way supported by scripture. Nor does it help in a coherent reading of all the Bible has to say about male/female relationships. By loading one side with the responsibility for conflict within marriage generally, not only does it ignore what happened in the first half of Gen. 3 it also makes any commands to submit elsewhere in scripture a burden (and a rather dangerous one) rather than something right and good as part of God’s ordering of mankind.

      – As for the discussion about the word ‘desire’ in Gen. 3:6, 16, 4:7 and SoS 7:10, my point was Gen 3:6 isn’t about the word itself given the context makes clear the progression of what we could legitimately call Eve’s ‘desire’ (what else does it describe? Not ignorance, surely?). Passages don’t have to use identical words to be relevant or parallel. In addition, there is a further link between the description of the Fall and the curses (or whatever you like to call them) that follow which suggests interpretation of 3:16 cannot ignore the individual agency of the three participants in the drama and the consequences they face. Put simply, the Fall sees a sequence of snake – Eve – Adam and the curses that follow are the same: for the snake – for Eve – lastly, for Adam, with the specific marker for Adam which God uses: “because you listened to the voice of your wife.”

    • Wendy October 5, 2016 at 11:26 am #

      “I don’t think you’re taking seriously the consequences of seeing Gen 3:16 as women’s rightly ordered and directed desire towards men being thwarted by harsh and oppressive rule by men over women. The ‘root problems in the relationship’, as you call it, then become solely the fault of the man/husband.”

      I think this gives us a context for understanding both passive-aggressive and active-agressive behavior by husbands as sin and the negative context in which the woman will operate apart from Christ after the Fall. But God doesn’t speak this until He first speaks of the coming rescue from all of these consequences. As we evaluate these things on the resurrection side of history, we are equipped to face them head on without them defining us in Christ. Redemption has to mean something in these relationships, though we think redemption in relationships is better understood when we have an accurate understanding of the core problems from the Fall.

      As to the woman’s sin, I have an article on “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Women are big sinners in relationships, but it is interesting to consider that her fury in that saying was precipitated by the man’s scorn. It doesn’t excuse a woman’s sin, but it gets to the first causes, and that can be helpful.

    • Lily November 25, 2016 at 11:55 pm #

      Chris,
      I appreciate the point you brought up in your initial post, that we could simply be shifting from all-female blame to all-male blame. I too came to feel that way as I pondered what was written and read some of the comments. Wendy’s reply that their main goal is to get the most-accurate language first and foremost (so that commentary, application, etc can then be done based on the text) is helpful to me, and I think as far as the interpretation goes, I would reply to where you said this:

      “I don’t think you’re taking seriously the consequences of seeing Gen 3:16 as women’s rightly ordered and directed desire towards men being thwarted by harsh and oppressive rule by men over women. The ‘root problems in the relationship’, as you call it, then become solely the fault of the man/husband.”

      I don’t think the woman’s desire for/towards her husband IS rightly ordered. Like Rachel’s desire toward Jacob when she demanded children of him, and he rightly replied “Don’t look at me, it’s God who gives or withholds children!” (in my own paraphrase) I don’t know if that messes with the parallel, since man was already working before the fall and now after it God describes how his (previously good) work will be thwarted, while on the other hand the woman now has this disordered desire that is being answered by her being ruled over by someone other than God. Seems like her lot is doubly-twisted (plus all the pain etc associated with bearing children!) But it’s not a contest of which gender got the worse end of the stick, after all. My point is that this is describing how relationships between men and women, generally, will be broken – the woman looking to/desiring the man almost as God rather than as an equal image-bearer, and the man treating the woman abusively rather than as an equal image-bearer.

      It almost reads as a crossover pronouncement – the man has thorns, the woman has cramps, and they both have a messed up relationship with each other. Admittedly, I’m not sure where the “because you listened to your wife” part fits, but as far as the effects they see going forward, it seems clear everybody comes out the loser, and while we may still have to deal with pain and suffering for food and to bear children on this side of the cross, we do have Christ in us to help us overcome those tendencies toward idolizing or dominating (or any other particular areas in which our individual relationships are sinfully messed up).

      My two cents. Thank you for moving the conversation forward, and thank you to the authors for putting this series together.

  22. Walter October 5, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    The problem with relying on historical interpretations to give us any indication of how Genesis 3:16 should be interpreted is that this verse was interpreted in a very sexist way for over a thousand years. Even well meaning commentators and preachers throughout history taught that as a result of the fall men were given the right to rule over their wives and the wife was to be in subjection due to her inferior judgment as evidenced by Eve’s decision to eat the fruit. The rule of the husband is seen as a benevolent necessity to provide protection for the wife not only from outside elements but also from herself.

    Whatever you may think of the more recent interpretaion which is now illustrated in the new ESV, it is certainly a step up from the old understanding. Women do not need a husband to rule over them as if they are some child that needs protection from their inferior judgment. While I believe the NT is clear that men are to be the head of their homes with the wives respecting that headship, there are other clarifying passages which highlight that husbands and wives are to work together as a team with mutual respect and understanding.

    • Doug October 5, 2016 at 7:52 pm #

      Walter, I would be very suspect of a view that sees exposition of the current age as superior to the preceding 1000 years or more. Such a position would have to assume the insufficiency of the Scriptures and the absence of Divine illumination throughout the whole period. A more likely explanation is that if there is a basic inconsistency between our views and the views of the historical church, we most likely are the ones with a problem. In fact, if the measures purposefully instituted by our Lord in Genesis 3 are indeed “the remedies and restraints for our vitiated nature” as early reformers taught, then the fact that we are living in an age when these restraints have largely been removed by technology, this should cause us great concern. Most hard labor is now performed by machines and only requires the effort of pushing a button. This even applies to our military. This has greatly masked male-female distinctions. In addition, contraceptives have basically altered the natural connection between women and childbirth. Women are now largely absent the motherhood mindset, like Eve was at the tree. They are the overwhelming “desirers” of education, as they are the majority in our colleges and universities now. If these natural restraints were indeed instituted by our Lord to remedy and restrain our vitiated natures, then it should logically follow that our vitiated natures now have free reign. The Lord gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him from exalting himself. Imagine what would’ve happened to Paul if he’d had the thorn technologically removed?

  23. Walter October 5, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

    I’ve enjoyed reading the courteous and respectful exchanges between Chris and Wendy. I wish all discussions on issues like this could be done in such a manner.

    I know that just about every facet of how to interpret Gensis 3:16 has probably been touched on multiple times, but I wanted to throw in my short summary.

    There are two different aspects to the debate on this verse. There is the part that deals with how to translate the Hebrew words, and then there is part dealing with context.

    As far as context, it seems straightforward to me that everything that God is announcing as the results of the fall are all negative. From verse 14 to verse 19 we have what is largely referred to as the result of the curse. Within that context it seems reasonable to conclude that the “desire” of the woman is a negative desire. If you hold that both men and women received negative tendencies in how they would relate to one another after the fall, then I don’t see how that is particularly negative toward women or sexist, since it simply puts men and women on equal footing.

    In terms of the Hebrew words, one of the first rules of Biblical interpretation is that the Bible should be a commentery on itself. And within that understanding, one of the most basic principles of interpretatin is to see how the same author used the same word in other places. The word for “desire” is used again just a few verses later in Genesis chapter 4. You might not like the conclusion that this understanding would lead to, but you can’t deny that it is based on very basic rules of interpretation.

  24. Barbara Roberts October 5, 2016 at 7:58 pm #

    Another very important article on this debate which just came out yesterday:

    Contrary Women: Genesis 3:16b in the (now non-)Permanent ESV
    3rd October 2016 By Matt Lynch

    http://theologicalmisc.net/2016/10/contrary-women-genesis-316b-now-non-permanent-esv/

    Before readers on this thread continue pushing back and forth against each other, I urge you all to read Matt Lynch’s article.

    And btw, Matt has given A Cry For Justice permission to republish a condensed version of his article, and we will be doing that tomorrow.

    • Chris October 13, 2016 at 5:49 am #

      Barbara, its an interesting article and I agree the original translation is better. However, I think there are weaknesses in what Matt argues.

      1. The textural similarities between 3:16 and 4:7 are too obvious to dismiss a link. It may not be a link so explicit as ‘contrary’ implies but there is a link I think between what ‘desire’ means ie. not necessarily a benign thing.

      2. Again, he makes no reference to the example of Eve’s ‘desire’ during the events of the Fall. Although the words for ‘desire’ are not the same, it is a clear description of desire. The actual events as described are important (although I totally understand why women in particular (but men also; I remain utterly shocked by Adam’s behaviour, but then I become incredibly convicted by it!) because they are liked to the judgements of God that follow (i.e. serpent because you did this etc., man because you listened and did this etc.).
      So what we have before and after 3:16 are strong indications that Eve’s desire towards her husband is not as it should be. It is grounded in pre-fall perfection but it becomes a problem through sin. This I take to mean that a woman’s desire is both good and beautiful but also prone to tip into control and a usurpation of the right and good ordering that God creates and is confirmed by the commentary on it in the NT. That is why I am in favour of the ambiguity the original translation prefers, but not if it is interpreted as Wendy (and Matt) appear to.
      I think another crucial element is whether people accept that there is any kind of difference in authority that implies a degree of hierarchy, albeit firmly placed in the context of equal bearers together of the image of God. Bavinck talks of government as a right and good thing before the Fall (an example: Adam ‘governs’ the animals etc. by naming them; note he also ‘names’ Eve). This ‘government’ was good, natural and what he terms ‘organic’. He contrasts this with the post-Fall situation when government/authority becomes ‘mechanical’ i.e. seemingly harsh at times, sometimes at odds and generally there is friction. And yet it is still necessary. In fact, it is still a good part of relations in marriage although clearly it can be, has and will, unfortunately, be abused, especially when done without love and understanding which is the consistent exhortation to husbands.
      And this helps I think to explain that when Paul and Peter address relations in marriage, a repeated stress is on ‘submit’ for women. It can’t have escaped anybody’s notice that the classical world they were speaking into was in the thrall of any kind of rampant egalitarianism or revolt by women. To our eyes, it was a decidedly patriarchal society. So why stress ‘submission’ in that context? Well, one assumes the apostles were addressing something deeper than just the social situation or even marriage as it was then. I feel they are also addressing a vision of marriage that spans from creation in the garden to when Christ comes to claim His bride, the church.

  25. Chris October 13, 2016 at 6:05 am #

    Wendy, I think this (the understanding of ‘desire’ and ‘rule’) gives us a context for understanding both passive-aggressive and active-aggressive behaviour for BOTH men and women in marriage (and possibly elsewhere), and I still am quite gobsmacked at the unwillingness of yourself and others to even contemplate wives taking responsibility for the sins they might be guilty of in marriage. It’s just not a equal conversation under that view, it’s (ethically) not even an equitable relationship in marriage. In fact, I have developed a new rule when evaluating how helpful various women commentators might be based on their willingness to address and not to avoid responsibility for sins by women that are committed AS WOMEN (no italics, sorry!).
    This isn’t to blame women for everything, by no means. But as I say, just as we are equal as co-image bearers, we are equal also in stuffing it up as well and it is ultimately impossible to have a meaningful discussion about these matters with one side blaming the other for being the ‘root cause’ of all the problems. And just as men sin towards women in ways that are generally specific to men, so women sin towards men in ways that are (generally!) specific to women.
    I’d love to read that post on ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ but I can’t find it anywhere. Can you link? It is very interesting piecing together the elements that make up your views, which are clearly shared by others. But are you really sure Feminism is merely ‘a coping mechanism’?!

    • Wendy October 13, 2016 at 7:48 am #

      Chris,

      First, I’ve written a ton on women’s sin issues in marriage! Women still lie, commit adultery, get angry, and have pride in marriage. I think for both men and women, these are all symptoms of idolatry, a root sin in all lives. I think women in particular experience idolatry of men, and their sinful coping mechanisms when men fail them can be epic. But the idea that a woman’s main issue is that she wants to take control from her husband is simply a wrong foundation for understanding a woman’s root sin issues.

      Second, you can’t use Gen. 4:7 to interpret 3:16. It’s ambivalent at best, and there has been more debate on what it means than 3:16 over the years! Remember that sin is feminine and the pronoun in 4:7 is masculine. Calvin thought this indicated that it was Abel’s desires for Cain, not sin’s, which were in question. You can’t use an obscure passages to translate another obscure one. That’s why I think SoS 7:10 is the better indicator of what desire means.

  26. Chris October 13, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    I wasn’t saying you should use 4:7 to interpret 3:16. What I am saying is that it is clearly linked. I’m more inclined to have 3:16 interpret 4:7 but that’s not the same as saying 4:7 doesn’t provide us with something to reflect on concerning how we ought to interpret 3:16.

    On your first point, it is possible that idolatry of men actually leads to attempts to control. If the desire is so strong, sometimes the fear entailed leads to controlling behaviour. Idolatry of men and desire to control are by no means mutually exclusive (just as the idolatry of children and the desire to control them is also not unknown among mothers) and it might even be possible that this helps understand a bit what was actually going through Eve’s mind when she offered Adam the fruit.

    • Wendy October 13, 2016 at 11:24 am #

      I completely agree that idolatry of men often leads to attempts to control. Which is not what the ESV’s new translation of Genesis 3:16 says. It says desire to control leads to control. Do you see how very different these things are?

  27. Chris October 14, 2016 at 3:37 am #

    It doesn’t actually. It says that a woman’s desire is ‘against’ her husbands which is not the same thing. I think this highlights again the problem of assuming the motivations behind the change are driven by a view of complementarian theology that you and others have issues with. ‘desire against’ does not imply a desire to control anymore than ‘desire for’ does, or ‘desire for’ with a footnote that says ‘desire against’! I think you jump to conclusions about why it has been changed and also therefore what the only interpretation might be. ‘desire against’ does not necessarily imply ‘desire to control’ as you claim. Just as with the previous translation you have to use other passages, in particular the early part of Gen 3 but also the whole tenor of the NT’s commentary on it, to introduce the idea of some element of ‘control’ as part of the woman’s desire.

    However, I reiterate; I say this as someone who wishes they had not changed it because the ambiguity of the previous translation, which I think best reflects the very complex elements that make up a woman’s ‘desire (both positive and negative) is much better preserved. Where we disagree is about whether there are any negative connotations at all attached to the concept of a ‘woman’s desire’ as expressed in 3:16. But it seems to me that the change to ‘against’ doesn’t really settle that, if only for the fact that, post-Fall, men’s desires (the thing which is now in opposition to women’s desires) cannot be guaranteed to be the right and good standard against which a woman’s desires are to be measured, which is what would now seem to be implied to some degree following the change.

    • Wendy October 14, 2016 at 7:52 am #

      Chris, as for your first paragraph, they translate it now as “desire contrary to.” And if you read the notes on the verse in the ESV Study Bible, you’ll see that desire to dominate or control is EXACTLY what they mean.

      I appreciate your 2nd paragraph. At least we agree that the current translation is a bad idea, even if we come at it from different angles. Hopefully they’ll change it back and let us have this debate around interpretation of the verse in the realms it should be had.

  28. Jennifer Sabin February 8, 2017 at 10:48 pm #

    I was browsing some old emails and found I had sent a 9 Marks article to myself for future consideration. It might have taken me 4 years, but I finally got around to considering it. And you know what, all I could think about as I got into it was your blog post Wendy! And how I surely had bought into the ideas that 9 Marks presents in their post about wives trying to usurp their husbands. And how my husband has/had bought into it as well. What a significant, dynamic shift occurs though with understanding Genesis 3:16 the way you have presented it. Thank you for being faithful once again to seek scripture before man’s interpretation of it!

    Link to article if you are interested: https://9marks.org/article/journalpreaching-women-who-work-home/

    • Doug February 9, 2017 at 1:18 am #

      Wow! Can’t help but notice how many times the 9marks writer refers to women as under a curse. The LORD cursed the serpent. The LORD cursed the earth. Never did he curse woman or man.

    • Wendy February 9, 2017 at 7:09 am #

      I’m hopeful, Jennifer, that folks are moving away from that interpretation and handling it with more nuance and less suspicion of women. We’ve come a long way in 4 years.

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