Serious controversy has broken out after an article on The Gospel Coalition website quoted Doug Wilson on sex and submission. I like the Gospel Coalition. I’ve heard great things about the sessions at their latest women’s conference. They link to my blog on their blog feed, for which I am grateful. I have had personal conversations with several staff members at TGC and respect each one I know. Most of all, I respect the men and women associated with TGC as people who can humbly hear criticism. I give all those disclaimers because I also need to say that the post disturbed me, and I’m secondarily disturbed that it’s been so hard for the authors to understand why it’s disturbing.
First, if I may give a humble word of encouragement to conservative, complementarian men—there are some things you should not address in public recorded media. Ever.
Second, the real controversy seems to be in the wording that links rape to God’s judgement on … I’m not exactly sure what … but it sounds like it’s God’s judgement on feminism and egalitarian thinking? A society that does not protect and treasure women? What does that mean? It reminds me that it is a bad idea for a religious leader to declare God’s judgement. It’s fine with me when God declares it Himself in His Word and when teachers quote Him specifically. But God doesn’t say this thing in His word.
Third, I’m going to go blue in the face soon on this topic, but they fell into this pile of manure because conservative complementarians espoused a new interpretation of Genesis 3:16 when they were first inventing the term complementarian and first forming the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. If conservatives don’t correct themselves (and quickly) on the issue of Genesis 3:16, they will continue to step in similar piles of manure until the movement is so undermined they have totally lost any audience. If you believe that the woman wants to control her husband, the interpretation of Gen. 3:16 that Susan Foh first promoted in 1975 as a reaction against feminism, then turning her over in bed and gaining back control seems to be beating back the curse. In reality, man’s ability to do that very thing (and women’s desire for it as evidenced in 50 Shades of Grey) IS the curse. And there’s nothing redemptive in it. Every woman who yells “rape” and flees sexual bondage, even in marriage, is defying the curse.
Gen. 3:16 of course transcends sex. The curse in Gen 3:16 is that women have a strong longing that they mistakenly aim at their husbands (which should be aimed at God). The result in our sin-riddled world is that man rules over the woman. That’s the problem that sin brought into the world, NOT God’s good plan at the beginning. Men oppress women (and women in their misguided desire allow it). The complementarian terms of lead and head can’t just be nicer, more Christ-like terms for the problematic rule of Genesis 3:16. They must be distinctly different. But too many comps still think feminism is the big problem, not the men ruling over their wives that feminism rose up to address. When you think women speaking up is a bigger problem than men pushing them back down (and you manipulate Scripture to address it), you are going to lose your ability to address anything on this spectrum.
Conservatives have interpreted Gen. 3:16 to mean the woman wants to dominate the man (instead of desiring him) since around 1975. In response, complementarians have been encouraging women into the very dependence the curse says comes naturally (with instructions to men to rule nicely please). In other words, our gender gospel at times has encouraged the curse, not offered a gospel centered alternative. Conservatives made feminism the enemy instead of recognizing it as a coping mechanism for the real enemy, men oppressing women and women enabling it. The result is that some of the biggest oppression of women is in the very circles of conservative Christianity that claim to do the opposite. Just read Debi Pearl’s Created to be His Help Meet for evidence. Or if you don’t believe me, you could also ask your wife (if you’re a man reading this). Ask her and assure her of her freedom to speak honestly without you projecting on her anything negatively spiritually—does she ever feel oppressed in complementarian circles? In your home?
I enjoyed D. A. Carson’s session at a recent conference, especially his explanation of I Peter 3:7 that paints a distinctly different picture than anything I’ve read from either Doug or Nancy Wilson. I also appreciated a recent correction of what the term complementarian was supposed to mean from someone who was at the original meeting. I LOVE the term complementarian when it indicates that male and female were created in the image of God to reflect the whole of His character in a way that a single gender could not. I am glad to be a strong helper to my husband with God as my example of what a strong helper does. I receive God’s instruction for wives to submit to their husband as a helpful tool when my husband and I hold differing opinions we can’t work out with reasonable discussion (which is rare). I also value God’s instruction for wives to respect their husbands, something I believe ministers great grace to our husbands when they are struggling with their own weight of responsibility. I am personally convicted of male-only eldership in the local church, though I understand the Biblical argument among Christian egalitarians (by conviction, I won’t attend a church with male elders that doesn’t also allow women deacons). I am among a growing number of similarly convicted complementarian Christians. We see the mistake of making feminism the enemy the way this wrong interpretation of Gen. 3:16 has encouraged us to do. And we understand there is nothing about BDSM that is remotely connected to what God intended in perfection for us sexually.
When a group believes the bottom line of what’s wrong with women as a result of the fall is that women want to be in charge, well, that’s a serious problem because it is the polar opposite of the real problem! Conservatives, please hear clearly the real problem that Genesis 3:16 sets up. The man RULES his wife oppressively, and she morbidly follows him anyway. That’s what’s WRONG according to Genesis 3, not what’s right. I lucked up (in a sovereign God kind of way) when I met and married my husband. He doesn’t want help in the sense of a butler or a maid. He needs help in the strongest sense of the term. He doesn’t foster an unhealthy dependence on him emotionally, and he’s loved and led me sacrificially as Christ has modeled with His church. My gifts have flourished married to him, and my submission is willingly offered without manipulation or guilt. Anything less isn’t submission. It’s oppression. John Stott made this clear to me in his exposition of Ephesians 5 in his short commentary on the book.
… her self-humbling is not coerced but free. It must have been very obvious in the ancient world. The wife had no status and few rights …. Yet the apostle addresses her as a free moral agent and calls upon her not to acquiesce in a fate she cannot escape, but to make a responsible decision before God. … Voluntary Christian self-submission is still very significant today. (Message of Ephesians, p. 233)
Submission that is manipulated or coerced isn’t submission at all. It’s oppression.
End of rant. God grant us all the ability to recognize when public pressure against religious beliefs isn’t persecution but needed correction.
Thanks for trying to pull this difficult conversation back in a more edifying direction!
You get to the heart of what bothered me so much about WIlson's approach to marital sex – it's still utterly rooted in the Fall. The man will overpower, the women will yield, blah blah. How is that not an argument FOR all the exploitation of BDSM, rather than a wholesale rejection of it!!
And to this sentence:
“I LOVE the term complementarian when it indicates that male and female were created in the image of God to reflect the whole of His character in a way that a single gender could not.”
I say a hearty AMEN. *That's* a definition of complementarianism that can be applied to every stage and situation, including sex. But not according to Wilson's definition.
Loving your work on this issue Wendy.
Very helpful rant Wendy. Thankyou
Hi Wendy. I've been a subscriber for some time without comment, but had to step in and say “thank you” for this one! I'm not exactly sure where I stand on this issue of egalitarian v. comp, but your explanations always helps me understand comps better. Thank you for speaking out against this disturbing article (which wouldn't have been nearly so disturbing if the authors didn't continue to disrespect their readership by offering excuses instead of apologies).
I'm curious what other blogs you might recommend that are geared towards women & theology?
Thanks again for your writing,
Your “humble encouragement” to complementarian men is a bit shrouded. What do you mean?
also this: “If you believe that the woman wants to control her husband, the interpretation of Gen. 3:16 that Susan Foh first promoted in 1975 as a reaction against feminism, then turning her over in bed and gaining back control seems to be beating back the curse” would be a sad mischaracterization of Doug Wilson. Nowhere does Doug Wilson advocate “turning her over in bed and gaining back control.” This kind of pithy “summary” is actually false and contributes to the problem in this controversy–the problem of willful mischaracterizations and uncharitable representations.
I understand your concern about Genesis 3:16, and I agree that feminism is a sinful reaction to men's sin…. but I'm not sure you've said anything that Doug or Nancy Wilson would disagree with.
“THE” problem, as you put it doesn't exclude women trying to usurp God given authority from men, right? From my perspective, the Wilson's would ultimately say that “THE” problem is that both men and women want to be God–they are idol worshippers. We worship ourselves.
Whoever you want to blame first “oh the man was a sinner first and then women responded to it!” “no, women were the sinners first and then men responded to that!”…bottom line is that we both equally worship the creature rather than the Creator and we both equally need and have a Savior in Jesus Christ. I'm not sure it's helpful to couch “THE” problem in terms of who sinned first, as you seem to do here.
@Rachel Starke: you said: “The man will overpower, the women will yield, blah blah. How is that not an argument FOR all the exploitation of BDSM, rather than a wholesale rejection of it!!”
I'm getting a bit worn out at the continued misunderstanding of Doug's quote. That “blah blah” is actually really important and it may help you to read what that “blah blah” says. I'm not sure how to be more clear: Wilson does NOT advocate that a husband overpower his wife as she yields in sex in some kind of unwilling messed up way. That's precisely what he speaks against in very clear terms if folks would take the time to think hard and read carefully.
There are different definitions for the words he uses other than the worst possible connotations you can imagine which you have defined completely out of context. That context is this: *mutual submission in sex*, *mutual love and sacrifice*, *mutual selflessness and protection.* All things that he *promotes* to the fullest if you read him at all.
He says over and over and over on his blog in response to this controversy that mutual submission—godly, Christlike, sacrificial submission– in sex is crucial and what **God** says about sex is paramount, NOT what **man** says about it. How can people continue to misunderstand this? Please read Doug Wilson's blog. Slow down, THINK about it, believe all his clarifications with charity, and stop this accusation that he says something that he very clearly does NOT say. If anything is outlandishly wrong in this whole debate, it's the willful intellectual laziness that has characterized the dissenters. Forgive me if that is offensive, but I'm not the first to say it.
Blessings and may God grant us all holy clarity.
This was excellent.
The Gospel Coalition blog was embarrassing. I was very disheartened by the authors' condescending reactions to readers who kindly offered their own perspectives. I didn't comment myself, but it is very offensive to see the authors' essentially responding to every comment by essentially saying “You misunderstood because you don't know how to read.” If the majority of your reasonably educated, Christian audience reads your article and and “misunderstands” it, the problem is with the author, not the readers. As men, reacting with pride and refusal to apologize does not reflect well on their inflammatory and ill-informed scriptural interpretation about gender.
This is Jared Wilson's wife. I will not be checking back in here, because it's too hurtful to keep reading the things people are saying about him. But he WAS misunderstood and repeatedly accused of all manner of vile things including being misogynistic and pro-rape. He DID try to explain and clarify his position MANY times, but to no avail. And he wasn't trying to condescend, only to try to make sure people knew he WASN'T a misogynist or pro-rape. I humbly urge you to be careful not to cast false accusations at a man whose goal was to speak out AGAINST the very things he was accused of.
This comment has been removed by the author.
I understand your explanation of Genesis 3:16. I still believe that you are overlooking the reality of women desiring to lead their husbands. This has been true in my life and I see it in great abundance all around me in marriages. To completely forsake that meaning of the curse is to overlook something very real. Great peace and freedom has come to me by giving up 'my rights'. Romans 6 is a favorite explanation for that.
On another note, I have only been spurred onto greater obedience and grace through the works of Nancy Wilson.
My concern with the frequent references back to your application of Genesis 3: 16 is not that it is wrong (yes, women do desire to fulfill their idol-factory hearts with men, among other things). But that it is also overlooking the truth that women do indeed desire to usurp their husband's authority (and God's authority) and it seems to me like you are disagreeing with this fundamental principle. One does not have to cancel out the other.
Thank you for this post. I have been frustrated with many on each side of this “debate,” and your words here have been insightful and kind and helpful for the discourse.
Thank you for taking the time in your post to differentiate between the oppressively patriarchal rants of people like the Pearls and the definition of complementarian thinking that you live out in your own marriage. It goes to show the wide range of meaning for all words in this discussion.
As a woman in ministry who deals most often with issues of sexuality and abuse, it has been so difficult for me to read attacks against complementarianism because I usually walk away thinking, “I understand the attack against that belief system, but as a complementarian, THIS is not what I believe!” But I'm beginning to see that many attacks launched against the term are launched towards the extreme and oppressive end of the complementarian spectrum. As one who lives life somewhere in “shades of grey,” I grow weary of watching the black and white extremes launch grenades at one another over my head. Not all egalitarians are liberal feminists bent on denying the inerrancy of Scripture and not all complementarians are oppressive patriarchal fundamentalists bent on teaching women “their place.”
I am hoping that, in all of this, the masses will be called off of army building and personal attacks will be halted so that a real conversation can be had concerning the words with which this battle must inevitably be fought.
In my years in the “seminary bubble,” I learned that a favorite strategy seems to be teaching the extreme edges of orthodoxy concerning various doctrines and then letting people fall where they may on the spectrum. The problem comes when we fail to tell people that there is a spectrum of orthodoxy and you don't have to set up camp at either one extreme or the other.
I have spent time camped from one extreme of this spectrum to the other; in college I counted Molly Marshall as a hero and in seminary I took Biblical Theology of Womanhood with Dorothy Patterson. And in all of my years of studying gender and relationships and the image of God in humanity, none of the extreme explanations have ever set well with my conscience.
I think one reason is what you have pointed out above; I have struggled with a doctrine that seems to have been launched as an attack against another belief. Complementarianism has been packaged by some as a weapon against feminism and not as a positive description of a picture of Christ and the Church.
It's all about meaning and emphasis and communication, and the older I get, the less interested I am in using doctrine as a weapon against other beliefs. It has proven much more effective in the role described for it in the Bible: as the sword of the Spirit that cuts and convicts my own heart to shape me into the image of Christ.
Praying that attacks will cease and true constructive communication will begin. Hopefully the positive of this explosion will be that it forces a clarification of terminology and a sharpening of beliefs for the purpose of building up the Church.
For the record, this is directed NOT at Wendy, but at commenters who might be responding to a very small portion of what happened yesterday or a misrepresentation of the truth.
I get the heart of what you are saying and it's what I have always sensed myself. Love the quote from John Stott. I don't believe we should live under the curse, but live pre-curse. I read what one person wrote in an earlier comment, and agree that yes there are wives who will twist the text to make it suit their needs (but it appears that husbands do the same thing) in desiring authority over their husbands.
However, it's not about a domination thing (which is what I think you are hitting on), it's a washing the other person's feet thing. What do we see Jesus doing in his final hours to show what the greatest love is? To take on the form of a human and be a servant. My husband has shown me time & time again how he selflessly gives. He encourages me in the reflection of Jesus to selflessly give & love. I entered into marriage to reflect the glory of Jesus in our relationship. Jesus no one exudes authority over.
I really appreciate your rant & thoughts:)
Ain't this the truth…..
“God grant us all the ability to recognize when public pressure against religious beliefs isn't persecution but needed correction”
We are in the middle of the SGM struggle right now and this is a big part of the problem IMO.When disagreement is automatic “pursecution” we are in for a scarey ride. When we insulate ourselves and hide out when others don't agree it is a BIG red flag.
Stepping off soapbox now 🙂
Another great post Wendy! But, I DO think Jared and Douglas Wilson have been completely misunderstood. A lot of it has to do with Douglas Wilson's wording.
Thank you for writing this. I recently stopped calling myself a complementarian, because those opinions you outlined are *not* what I believe, but neither am I an egalitarian. I share your beliefs on the matter. I think I've heard it called “non-hierarchical complementarianism”, but that's just too much of a mouthful for everyday conversation, isn't it? 🙂
I am sorry but theologically you are wrong at a couple of places. Bruce Waltke, a complementarian, in his wonderful thick, thick Hebrew grammar has a clear explanation of the grammatical structure and you are wrong in your interpretation. I am an Egalitarian by the way. But his Hebrew Grammar is the one even Egalitarians use and your first point regarding Genesis 3:16 is way wrong.
Two the majority of the times the word for help is found in the Hebrew it is God who is our help. So being a help is not a secondary, or supportive role.
Three what in the world do you do with Ephesians 5:21 which is then expanded on in the rest of the explanation of marriage relationship.
Four may I suggest your husband and you work through Philip Payne,s book Man and Woman: One in Christ
Five Do you realize that as a woman you are teaching bible in writing this blog and you seem to expect men to read it…from a complementarian perspective you have sinned. Now I don't believe that but I just wish complementarians would be consistent on this kind of thing. I
“Conservatives made feminism the enemy instead of recognizing it as a coping mechanism for the real enemy, men oppressing women and women enabling it.” Since I was a college student, I have recognized and came to this exact same tconclusion. Women were tired of being trampled on just like the African Americans were tired of being trampled on which caused the (rightly so) Civil Rights movement.
“Nowhere does Doug Wilson advocate 'turning her over in bed and gaining back control.' This kind of pithy 'summary' is actually false and contributes to the problem in this controversy–the problem of willful mischaracterizations and uncharitable representations.”
Clarice, I'm pretty sensitive on the issue of willful mischaracterizations, and I was careful to discuss the broader issue instead of the specific nuanced things that were said. I didn't say that Doug Wilson espoused that. I am saying that is a logical response to a wrong view of Gen. 3:16 that I think he holds. And it is.
Our presuppositions cloud our tone on any given topic. My point is that the presuppositions on Genesis 3:16 did that very thing and have for a long time on this topic, and that's a reason that our nuanced attempts to make people understand keep failing. Our presuppositions on the topic are skewed.
I want to affirm that I think Jared is a stand up guy. I hope this explanation gives wisdom on how this mess happened and when emotions calm down, on how to self-correct on this topic so that future discussion is more productive. God bless, Becky!
Well, just understand that the control you have experienced is not what Genesis 3:16 is talking about (in my opinion). It is not the root issue. In my own life, I've seen such attempts to manipulate and control as my coping mechanism for the real root problem. I wanted to rest in my husband emotionally and spiritually in a way that only God was intended to provide. And I tried to control/manipulate to get him to provide that mental rest for me. Instructions to stop trying to dominate my husband were unhelpful at best because the root problem was still there–I wanted/needed something of my husband he wasn't intended to provide. When I understood my root issue according to Gen. 3:16, it freed me to deal with the root issue in my heart, and interestingly enough, secondary issues of manipulation in our home faded quickly.
You share great wisdom, Bekah!
Mary, for a longer explanation of my view, check out the Somewhat Scholarly Analysis of Genesis 3:16 in the side bar. I admit that I am not a strong Hebrew scholar by any means. But I have done a lot of research on it, including Waltke's commentary on Genesis. I'll try to get his Hebrew Grammar as well, but I imagine he uses similar reasoning that Susan Foh used in her first presentation on the subject in 1975, and that was unconvincing.
I've been reading your blog for several years, but I am regularly confused about something (especially here) and perhaps you can clarify it for me.
It seems that your interpretation of the Genesis 3:16 passage is that the curse would be that the man will not adequately care for his wife and the effect on the wife would be that she will rely on her husband for things that only the Lord can give. This seems strange to me; it sounds like you're saying that the only “curse” that the wife bears is the effect of the curse on the husband. Not that sin, entering the heart, will change our responses to one another at the most basic levels.
My understanding is that as God created us women to be helpers to our husbands, our tendency is going to be to either not help enough or to try to “over-help”. I don't know if that makes any sense.
Am I misunderstanding you?
No, that's not what I'm saying. Actually, I'm glad you brought that up. In terms of curse declared by God in Gen. 3, childbirth will be painful for woman and work will be painful for the husband. The other issues of desire for her husband and his rule over her seem more descriptions of life after the fall into sin rather that proclamations of God of curse.
I see the description of woman's desire for her husband and his rule over her as God describing humanity's tendencies after the curse apart from Him.
Fantastic response to the Gospel Coalition article!
Finally an article I can read as a submissive wife without screaming on the inside “I submit and my husband doesn't beat me into sex!” How you described submission in your home is exactly the same as mine. It is deeply rooted as a reflection of Christ and His church. It is the closest reflection to me. My Covenant Love encourages, cares for, leads, provides, prays for, reels me in..I do those same things for him out of love and count it honor. I am proud to say that I submit. In my submitting and in his leading I have been able to be all of who I am. I am not oppressed or a puppet, I am a Covenant partner and in it I have seen the reflection of Christ.
I appreciate your balanced view on this. As for the issue of leading/trying to usurp, I've been married for 25 years, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that when I want to “lead” my husband, it's because I want my way, and I don't trust God that my husband is capable. But that's just me, and maybe I'm just more pathetic than many other women.
As an complementarian and feminist (in what I see as the good sense of the word) and an ESL instructor, it seems that some of the misunderstanding comes from from the emotional and cultural meanings of the words. The words Mr. Wilson chosen would be understood quite differently in an English class at a modern university than in many conservative churches.
“Penetrates” is almost always a negative word when viewed by feminists, though it is technically correct for the sexual act. “Colonizes” brings to my mind much negativity from a literature class on Post-Colonial Literature and the harm caused by people domineering over other people.
I spend time in my ESL classes instructing students on the wider cultural connotations of a word. Knowledge of wider connotations of these words and others would have been helpful for both of the authors. Possibly Mr. Wilson needs to rethink his comment on ESL classes, which was honestly also offensive to me.
Finally reading through all the comments and realizing mine is redundant. Anyway, thanks for your helpful analysis, Wendy.
Wow. I am so glad I read this. I feel pretty sick about the kind of problems caused by a wrong interpretation Of Genesis 3:16. I am an older woman who has seen this damage women. My own Pastor holds the view that women want to dominate- he is a graduate of the Master's Seminary. John MacArthur holds this view-and I did too for many years. Your other article on this was a huge help to me in sorting this out theologically-and I appreciate that very much.
We had Martha Peace at our Church a couple of years ago-after the women in our Church had done the Excellent Wife. I actually called my Pastor one day and told him I could not-in good conscience teach parts of the book to our ladies. I hate the book-and I hated the 2 day conference she did at our Church. All I could think of was Stepford Wives.
I hope it is okay for me to quote parts of this article with links to it here-at my blog-because my Pastor will read it. It's about time he knows what I think-because I cannot teach this stuff to our women.
I read Kim's comments above and I love her blog-but I can attest that not every woman wants to lead and dominate and not every man is like her husband. I have a very ill husband who is on massive doses of mind altering drugs for pain and depression. I have had to leave my home because of verbal abuse and dominance and obsessive control issues-and this has been done at the advice of my complimentarian Pastor. Yes there are women who want to dominate-but I don't find that to be the norm. I have been married to my husband for 46 years and I am not a novice in the marriage relationship. I have never shared this information before in any public place-but I need to do this because women are not called by God to suffer certain things in marriage. The Church-many of the complimenatrian ones-the ones who promote the Martha Peace type authors-are hurting-hurting women. When my husband sins against me I must confront him as a sinning brother. I have found Churches unwilling to confront abusive husbands.
I agree with you-what God intended for marriage to be is distorted when Genesis 3:16 is misinterpreted.
As I leave this comment I want to say that I read the entire post by Jared Wilson including every comment.
When I say I have had to leave my home-that has been temporary-a few days at a time at the most. I don't want to give a wrong impression-I will stay with my husband-whom I dearly love till death parts us.
I agree with you Sarah, as a woman with deep interests in feminism and South American culture. It seems to me that usually the people who think of “colonizing” and “conquering” as positive are usually not the ones who are being colonized and conquered. I say this only because I realized after studying machismo in Latin American cultures that, as a person from the U.S., I had internalized conquering and colonizing as a positive, when it was actually deeply humiliating, painful, and unjust by the cultures subjected to it.
Others have come to understand the negative connotations as well, and I feel that Mr. Wilson should consider these popular associations with the terms he used. It should help clear up that it is not a comprehension issue, but rather his lack of care when choosing words on such a fragile subject.
Thanks for sharing your story, Victoria.
Praying this debacle is the nail in the coffin for the gender gospel. I am sure some other form of evangelical insanity will replace it but we need to move on. We are here to share the gospel, Christ crucified for our sins. If we were all consumed with sharing that good news with a lost and dying world, many of these controversies would fade away. Thanks for your post.
I agree about Martha Peace's material. Challies calls her a positive alternative to Perl. Maybe by a hairs breadth but not more. I'd never recommend her material and I didn't like selling it when I was working in my former church's bookstore.
The wording, and Wilson's response to people's reactions over it, has become as much a part of the debate as what his actual meaning was.
What I mean is, people have (rightly) identified that words like “conquer” and “colonize” imply a sort of meaning that Wilson himself said he didn't mean. They imply a meaning that is ultimately more hurtful (no one conquers something unless he is meeting resistance, and no one colonizes unless he comes in and established himself as ruler over someone else who was already there). The main definition of those words truly do carry forceful and negative connotations.
Although Doug Wilson didn't mean to imply force, violence or negativity about sex, the wording he chose made it sound that way, and seemed more related to a “rape” mentality than he meant it to be.
The problem (and the scary thing) is that he claims not to see why those words imply negative things, and has made no public move to reassess the wording. That throws questions over his level of discernment when dealing with sensitive topics relating to gender and sex.
That is the real issue that many are upset about.
Wendy, I just wanted to clarrify where you came to your understanding that this view of Gen 3:16 started with Susan Foh in 1975. I have been trying to work my way through your understanding and discussing it with my husband. I understand your concern, if this is a wrong interpretation, however when I looked up Matthew Henry (who was certainly writing a long time before 1975) he seemed to have the same interpretation. I don't necessarily quote him as a proof of the right or wrong interpretation, but rather to question your assertion that this interpretation has only been around for such a short time. I enjoy being challenged and growing in my own understanding as I read your blog. Bless you in this ministry.
Ruth, I read through Matthew Henry's commentary while studying this, and I distinctly noted that he didn't refer to her desire for her husband at all. But I need to go back and read it again to be sure. Susan Foh's 1975 paper presents her interpretation as a new one not considered by theologians before.
Here's what I can find of Matthew Henry on Gen. 3:16.
“The woman, for her sin, is condemned to a state of sorrow, and of subjection; proper punishments of that sin, in which she had sought to gratify the desire of her eye, and of the flesh, and her pride. Sin brought sorrow into the world; that made the world a vale of tears. No wonder our sorrows are multiplied, when our sins are so. He shall rule over thee, is but God's command, Wives, be subject to your own husbands. If man had not sinned, he would always have ruled with wisdom and love; if the woman had not sinned, she would always have obeyed with humility and meekness.”
What Henry is saying is similar to John Calvin — that her every desire will be subject to her husband. Neither Henry or Calvin suggest that her desire will be to control her husband as Foh presented. At least not as I read it.
II. She is here put into a state of subjection. The whole sex, which by creation was equal with man, is, for sin, made inferior, and forbidden to usurp authority, 1Ti_2:11, 1Ti_2:12. The wife particularly is hereby put under the dominion of her husband, and is not sui juris – at her own disposal, of which see an instance in that law, Num_30:6-8, where the husband is empowered, if he please, to disannul the vows made by the wife. This sentence amounts only to that command, Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; but the entrance of sin has made that duty a punishment, which otherwise it would not have been. If man had not sinned, he would always have ruled with wisdom and love; and, if the woman had not sinned, she would always have obeyed with humility and meekness; and then the dominion would have been no grievance: but our own sin and folly make our yoke heavy. If Eve had not eaten forbidden fruit herself, and tempted her husband to eat it, she would never have complained of her subjection; therefore it ought never to be complained of, though harsh; but sin must be complained of, that made it so. Those wives who not only despise and disobey their husbands, but domineer over them, do not consider that they not only violate a divine law, but thwart a divine sentence.”
I guess I see in the quote above the implication that woman will want to “usurp authority” and that being in subjection to her husband would be seen as a “punishment”. Henry seemed to expect that women would find a temptation to not only “despise and disobey their husbands, but domineer over them..”
I agree that he doesn't say outright that the woman will want to control her husband but to me the idea of woman resisting her husband's leadership and wanting to domineer over him seems present well before 1975.
I hope I am not being arguementative. It just seems to me such a big part of your discussion of this interpretation. I am continuing to follow this discussion with a desire to grow in my understanding.
You're not being argumentative, and it's helped me think through things. I'm confused by what he's saying. But it's after midnight here, which may be why. He still seems to only be dealing with the husband's rule. He doesn't seem to explore the meaning of her desire at all. But maybe I'll read it differently in the morning …
I don't argue that there isn't conflict and that women don't rise up against the rule of the man. My argument is that women are not predisposed by the curse to rise up against the man. They instead rise up because, as the curse describes, they want something unrealistic from the man and he instead oppresses her. Therefore, the root issue the gospel addresses is not the symptoms of manipulation or control but the core longing/desire of the heart of the woman. And we are better off not setting up feminism as the curse played out, but as a coping mechanism for the curse played out. We are better off when our ministries address idolatry and misogyny as the core ills women face than when we set up feminism as the fall guy.
I spent way too long reading about this controversy last night when I should have been sleeping. Your blog's response, Wendy, is the best I've read on the matter. Thank you for the clarity you bring to Genesis 3:16! Kitty Singleton's post sums up my overall thoughts in response.
I would note that it does not surprise that Doug Wilson made a controversial statement and then refused to apologize. After spending some time on his blog, I find him to be snarky and the kind of person who is seldom – if ever – wrong, at least in his opinion. I mean, this is a guy who spells out in the following post that if a woman's husband is committing a crime, it is ok for her to go to the authorities. http://www.dougwils.com/Sex-and-Culture/when-wives-say-no.html Is there some wife out there who read this and thought “Ah! Good to Know! I'll file that info away in case I need it in the future.” I hope not, but I fear so. This kind of thinking is unsettling in light of the IFC abuse cases that have recently come to light.
I'm praying, praying, praying that all will love and forgive each other that God will direct and comfort and instruct and that something good could come out of all of this conflict. They will know that we are Christians by our love. Satan is trying to cause us to have hostility toward each other in order to separate us. I pray we can keep our eyes on the goal–to spread the Gospel–and on our powerful, loving God. If we turn to Him in our hour of need He will guide us in the way we should go.
Yeah, it is, Jessie, but I'm right there with you. I love the beautiful complementarity God has designed between men and women generally and spouses specifically, but I'm non-hierarchial in my marriage, where we emphasize mutual love and service.
In the church, I believe in a male eldership, but that it is wrong for that eldership to extend a male hierarchy in other areas of church life. There should be female deacons and other training and service opportunities for women in body life.
So the way I understand it, women are just cursed.
Really – what's the point? Truth be told, I feel cursed and hopeless.
From a woman…
Good grief. I rarely get angry with a commenter, but it's very frustrating to read such a comment that clearly misses the vast majority of what this blog is about.
Jesus! Jesus is the answer. It's the heart of Christianity. He breaks the power of cancelled sin! It's even alluded to in Genesis 3 as the curse is first described and with which I ended my explanation of Genesis 3:16 referenced in this post.
“Finally, note that even as God handed down the curse in Genesis 3, He alludes to the breaking of that same curse.
Genesis 3 NASB 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
The curse for all of us is reality, but it is the very reality that Christ came to redeem. His kingdom is at hand, and we will see it in fullness and perfection one day soon.”
Someone wrote me privately giving me a different perspective on the last comment. It reminded me of an article I posted for abused wives. Here's the link. If you are in an abusive situation, may your confidence in your identity in Christ empower you to remove yourself from the one sinning against you in this way.
I know this comes after a long stream of comments and discussion, but I just want to let you know how much I appreciate your thoughtful blogging. You are such an encouragement and breath of fresh air with your consistency and increasing clarity on this topic. So much I'd like to say, I'll leave it at a simple Thank You!
Do submissive wives ever miss their freedom. The very term means yielding to another's will-so I assume that sub wives have no freedom. I would think being a sub wife would lead to abuse. I know of no man that deserves a wife that is a sort of slave. When someone-anyone woman or man-has such power over another adult, it would most likely lead to an unhealthy relationship, and an abuse of power. Thank God we are a secular society. If we lived life according to the bible, women would have no rights whatsoever. The author of this blog starts out like she believes in freedom for women, but then admits she is submissive, which is a form of slavery. I choose freedom
All you say is basically true. It is the fundamental message of Jesus Christ to both male and female. It is also the great stumblingblock to faith, what Jesus Himself calls a yoke. To someone who doesn't believe in Jesus or hasn't come to embrace His call to lay down our rights, I'm sure it sound ludicrous. Yet, He says that even He, who we accept as the King of kings, did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for others. It is quite profound. And certainly counterintuitive to secular culture.
I simply say, “Thank you!” I was angered at the post on the GC (a site that I normally do like). I was personally offended as a woman, but more importantly for the Gospel's sake. Thank you for speaking truth.
Late to the party… but just want to say thanks for (again) reorienting the discussion surrounding Gen 3:16. Until complementarians successfully shift the paradigm back to a biblical understanding of the curse, I'm afraid that much of egalitarian criticism of the movement will continue to be justified. Just know that I'll be shouting from my soapbox as you shout from yours… thanks again for such a clear and concise presentation.
Thanks for this article, Wendy. I always appreciate your perspective. I linked to it here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2012/08/my-thoughts-on-sexualization-of-church.html and here: http://comewearymoms.blogspot.com/2012/07/curiosity-journal-for-june-and-july.html
This seemed so obvious to me when we studied it in BSF, but I was the only person in my small group who brought up this point. I can't understand how anyone can get any other meaning from the words “desire FOR”. Women constantly misplace the desire they should have for God. The “sexual revolution” has only made this worse! I even catch myself falling under this curse – like getting upset when my husband doesn't notice my haircut!