Toward a Better Reading: Reflections on the Permanent Changes to the Text of Genesis 3:16 in the ESV Part 2

This is Part 2 of a three part series on the ESV changes to Genesis 3:16.  You can read Part 1 here, where we emphasized our shared commitment to the essentially literal, word-for-word translation philosophy of the ESV translation team.   

–Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup 

In 1525, William Tyndale finished the first translation of the New Testament into English. Despite severe persecution and eventual martyrdom, Tyndale devoted his life to ensuring that common people had access to the Scripture in their native tongue. Tyndale’s passion to translate was fueled both by a desire to see the Scripture take root in common people’s hearts, as well as a desire to break the monopoly that the clerical class held over them.  
Because the Word of God is powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, it was essential that lay people have access to the Scripture to defend themselves in situations where leaders misused and abused their spiritual authority. In this sense, careful translation work was a way to protect the most vulnerable members of the church. Once when confronted by Church authorities, Tyndale famously replied, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives the plough to know more of the scriptures than you do.” 

During the Reformation, new translations and the advent of the printing press led to increased Biblical literacy across Europe. Today, five hundred years later, advances in scholarship and the advent of the internet have led to even more Biblical engagement. Not only can the plough boy read the Bible, the milk maid also has access to online helps that allow her to engage it in the original languages. The accessibility of scholarship does not negate the need for scholars any more than Wendy’s accessing a study from the Mayo Clinic negated her father’s need for a doctor (recounted in Part 1). But online technology does offer us the ability to work cooperatively with scholars for the good of the church. It allows the laity to be informed–to access lexicons, scholarly articles, historical documents, academic journals, and even professors and researchers personally. We live in a time when a translation change like that of Genesis 3:16 can be easily examined and compared to historic precedent by, yes, even the plough boy and milk maid.  

Toward vs. Contrary  

In this post, we want to focus on the most significant change in the ESV: rendering the Hebrew preposition ‘el in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 as “contrary to” when it had been previously rendered as “for.” Discussions of Genesis 3:16 often focus on the meaning of “desire” (teshuquah) which is found in only two other places in Scripture (Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10); regardless of the contextual meaning and the positive or negative nature of the desire, the word itself is reasonably clear and so ESV translators have rendered it as “desire,” with which we agree. What has been altered in the ESV is the preposition (‘el) that is connected to the woman’s desire. 

The ESV originally translated this passage as desire “forthe man.  Some argued that the preposition may also be rendered “against” and was noted in a footnote.  In the latest (and permanent) edition, the ESV had translated it to be desire “contrary to” the man.  At first, this might seem a reasonable progression in English (see Denny Burk’s article), but we want to emphasize that while the progression from againstto contrary to” may be reasonable in English, it is not at all reasonable in Hebrew.  

The Hebrew preposition in question tells us something about the direction or focus of the woman’s desire. Historically, English translations have translated it in Genesis 3:16 as “to” or “toward.” Consider this brief survey  and you discover that most English translations since the 1500’s support the ESV’s original translation of “Your desire shall be for your husband…”*  

But more than simply offering a historical accounting of Genesis 3:16, access to online and digital lexicons  also offers clarity into how this Hebrew preposition is translated across the body of Scripture. While ‘el can be translated a variety of ways, we could not find evidence that it has ever been translated “contrary to” in any previous version of the ESV, any other English translation, or in any of the over 5000 other times that it is used in the Old Testament. We believe that there is no other example of ‘el being translated as “contrary to” for the simple fact that it does not mean “contrary to” the way we use it in English.  

As mentioned, the Hebrew preposition ‘el consistently communicates some variation of terminal direction; it shows the direction something is pointed or headed. You talk TO someone. You direct something TOWARD someone. You are heading FOR the door. In Genesis 3:16, a woman’s desire is directed toward the man. In Genesis 4:7, sin’s desire seems directed toward Cain. (** See note for discussion of gender problems between sin and desire in 4:7). While ‘el tells us where the desire is directed, it alone cannot tell us the quality or nature of the desire.  It simply points to which object is being desired. 
Unlike the Hebrew ‘el, the English word “contrary”—the word chosen by the ESV translation committee—inherently implies a movement away from or opposite to something. We understand this in the colloquial sense when we describe a child as “contrary.” He or she has a disposition to move in the opposite direction of what is expected of him or her. ‘El, on the other hand, specifically indicates the direction of movement toward someone or something.  
Even when ‘el is translated as “against,” it still retains the idea of being directed toward someone or something. Consider how we can use “against” in English to show direction. We say, “The rake is lying against the tree” to describe the physical relationship of the rake toward the tree. Or to give an example of negative usage, Genesis 4:8 records that Cain “rose up against” Abel. Here the use of ‘el has a negative connotation because it is attached to the Hebrew verb quwm for “rise up,” but the direction of the movement is unchanged. Cain is not moving away from Abel; he is moving toward him, albeit in violence. By changing Genesis 3:16 to read “contrary to”, the ESV fundamentally changes the direction of the woman’s desire and the meaning of ‘el itself.
What’s Going On  

So what happened? How did desire “for” the man become desire “contrary to” the man?  To extend the metaphor from Part 1, why was ibuprofen prescribed when it is contraindicated when taking Coumadin? 

At this point, we must note the difference between translating the words of a passage and interpreting the significance of a passage. The work of translators who share the ESV philosophy is to give the literal sense of the Hebrew or Greek in as approximate English as possible. This work will include understanding idiomatic expressions, original audience, and cultural context; but the goal is to give the most accurate translation of the words themselves, not to invest those words with certain significance. While translation work does include the work of weighing texts against other texts, searching for the thread that illuminates a difficult word, and tracking down lexical clues, it should not be confused with commentary. The goal of translation, particularly the philosophy espoused by the ESV translation team, is to preserve an intact text so that believers can read and interpret in community.  
The easiest explanation for why translators changed the “for” to “contrary”  is that they moved from translation to commentary, projecting the negative meaning of Genesis 4:7-8 back into Genesis 3:16. To be fair, the two passages have lexical similarities, but the question we must answer is “What are the similarities?”   
In the height of the battle against feminism in the 1970s, Susan Foh  proposed that the similarity between 3:16 and 4:7 was that a woman’s desire toward a man was similar to sin’s desire to destroy Cain. It was, dare we say, contrary to him. This connection is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that the language of Genesis 4:7 is unclear and may actually refer to Abel’s good desire toward Cain.**

Worse, from an interpretive standpoint, Foh used the confusing and obscure text of Genesis 4 to project something back onto the clearer Hebrew in Genesis 3. In contrast, a straightforward chronological reading of Genesis 1-4 actually affirms the lexical definition of the preposition ‘el as “for” or “toward.”  In terms of the fall, the woman’s desire for children, her desire for her husband, and the man’s efforts at cultivating the ground are all good things to be pursued in fulfillment of the Creation Mandate; but post-Fall, these good desires are thwarted with painful consequences. 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 to his attention to the earth looking for fruitful relationship, a woman turns toward (not away from) a man seeking fruitful relationship. (We will explore this more in Part 3.)   
The only way translators can justify rendering ‘el as “contrary” is to assume something negative about the womans desire based on the use of desire in Genesis 4:7-8. But such a novel change relies solely on commentary, not on accepted definitions to the Hebrew ‘elIn fact, Denny Burk, current president of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood concedes this in his article on the changes. Instead of arguing that the new changes fit the ESV’s essentially literal, word-for-word philosophy, he argues why it is OK that they do not. It’s worth noting that Denny also says that he does not prefer the new translation and wished that they had stuck with the original, more literal translation.

The problem we present is more than a technicality. When non-academics come across this change in the ESV—a pastor or Sunday School teacher or woman’s Bible teacher—they may notice the difference but they won’t understand the significance because in English the word “against” acts as a bridge across the gulf of meaning. In their previous version, the verse had a footnote indicating the word “for” can also be translated “against.” In the updated version, the text has changed to “contrary to”—not much of a leap from “against,” right?

If “for” can mean “against”  
And “against” can mean “contrary,”  
then “for” can be replaced by “contrary.”  
Again, the problem is that “against” in English can have two different shades of meanings—both inclined toward and opposed to; ‘el in Hebrew does not. Unfortunately, those of us who don’t read the Scripture in Hebrew (the majority of ESV users) would have little way of knowing that the translation has shifted so dramatically.  They won’t understand that the meanings of ‘el that allowed it to be translated “against” in Gen. 4:8 are the very ones that make “contrary to” completely inappropriate.  

William Tyndale, the scholar who was martyred for translating the Bible in the language of the common man, said this: “I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus Christ to give a reckoning of our doings, that I never altered one syllable of God’s word against my conscience.” We make no claims to be a William Tyndale or even to have credentials equal to those of the ESV translation committee. We do, however, have access to online scholarship, peer review, and (we hope) the ability to form a rational argument. Our desire is that those with more education than we have will give pause and consider the potential risk of these changes risk to women, yes, but more importantly, the risk to very Scripture itself. Instead of revealing and preserving the text of Scripture for the common man, this translation change corrupts with commentary a critical text dealing with theological anthropology. 

In part 3, we will look at the ramifications of these changes in light of the larger creation narrative of Genesis 1-3 and the potential affect on women’s discipleship. 


*The only Bible translation that translates Gen. 3:16 remotely close to the new rendering of “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband…” is the New Living Translation, whose translation philosophy is much broader than the ESV, functioning in places as an interpretive paraphrase.  Using the NLT to support the new rendering of Genesis 3:16 would simply confirm our concern that the ESV has strayed from its original translation philosophy.

**It’s important to note that scholars throughout Church history have strongly disagreed as to whether the pronoun attached to “desire” in Gen. 4:7 refers to sin or to Abel. The pronoun itself is masculine while the Hebrew word for sin is feminine. It’s possible that this phrase refers to Abel’s desire for Cain and Cain’s corresponding ruling over him (John Calvin interpreted it this way), not sin’s desire for Cain. This is a more natural parallel to the language of Genesis 3:16. Abel’s desire is toward his brother, but Cain seeks to master him, actually rising up against him physically in the next verse. Regardless, the preposition ‘el still signals movement toward an object, not away from it. 





39 Responses to Toward a Better Reading: Reflections on the Permanent Changes to the Text of Genesis 3:16 in the ESV Part 2

  1. Anita September 28, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    Excellent information! And I agree that it is worrisome that translators seem to be changing the essential meaning of the original text.

    Thank you for taking the time to do the research and share it here!

  2. Jennifer S September 28, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    Wow. That was easy to follow. While I consider myself a motivated lay person when it comes to understanding theological issues I do struggle sometimes with following the train of thought of many teachers (like John Piper). However, you have walked us through each step of your logic and I get it. If I had to reread anything it was so I could understand it well enough to explain it to another person. I looking forward to part three and the ensuing discussion!

    • Wendy September 28, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

      Jennifer, you couldn’t have said anything more encouraging. I appreciate that so much.

  3. GC September 28, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    This is excellent and very helpful. Thank you.

    Great news on Crossway reversing the permanence of the ESV, although the decision must be quite a blow to the male power cabal. Perhaps their efforts to subordinate women by distorting God’s Word won’t be as permanent as they had hoped.

    • John F. Evans October 5, 2016 at 4:51 am #

      I find the comment by GC to be caustic and unhelpful. While I myself disagree with the new ESV rendering of Gen 3:16 (as one who teaches OT in a grad school), the suggestion that such gentle, gracious, and judicious scholars as Gordon Wenham, Pete Williams, Vern Poythress, etc are, in their translation change at this point, making “efforts to subordinate women by distorting God’s Word” would be laughable, were it not such a nasty judgment on their motives.

    • Wendy October 5, 2016 at 8:03 am #

      John, we have worked hard to not impugn the motives of translators but deal with the mere facts of the translation. We ask those who comment to do the same, though we’d prefer not to moderate comments with a heavy hand.

  4. Toiler September 28, 2016 at 4:26 pm #

    I might be way off base here, and I am no theologian nor am I a grammar nerd…but I have always had a burning question that I would love someone to comment on in this specific passage. I feel after reading part 1 & 2, that this might be the place to ask. I’m going to make some assumptions based on popular thought (not necessarily my view) and take them to a logical conclusion. If a woman’s desire is contrary to her husband’s…meaning that it will be against or opposite to her husband’s desire….would it not make sense (I say this loosely because I don’t know Hebrew) that the conjunction following it would be “but” instead of “and”? Isn’t “but” used to create a contrast and “and” used to add to?

    Let me paste in the text pre-ESV change and change the conjunction to “but”:

    Your desire shall be for your husband,
    but he shall rule over you

    In English, we use “but” to show contrast. You will want this, BUT you won’t get it. I don’t see any disagreement out there about the conjunction used. As far as I know, “and” is always used…meaning…in addition to. So, if our desire is contrary to our husband’s…”and” just doesn’t seem to fit.

    Would love to hear some thoughts on this. I think it is relevant to the subject at hand as part of the larger text.

    • Toiler September 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      Whoops! Forgot to follow

    • Wendy September 28, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      The ESV changed it to “but.” I haven’t heard as many people concerned about that change. I think that works.

  5. Tolier September 28, 2016 at 7:28 pm #

    Ah…I didn’t realize that was also changed from the previous ESV translation. Interesting. Then there is an effort to create contrast. I’m not sure that is a good thing. The NLT has “but” also I just saw.

  6. Melissa Deming September 28, 2016 at 8:08 pm #

    I’ve been watching this closely and am thankful for your insight. I recently talked with a friend Pete Link (who teaches Old Testament and Hebrew at Charleston Southern University in the School of Christian Studies), who said: “the best translation of this phrase preserves its embedded ambiguities.” I think this statement is particularly helpful as it resonates with much in this post. Thanks again. Always enjoy reading your work and Hannah’s as well.

  7. Barbara Roberts September 28, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    Hi Wendy and Hannah, can I suggest that you embed a link in your post to Susan Fohs 1975 paper?
    It can be found here:

    I have substantial difficulties with Susan Foh’s interpretation of Gen.3:16. And I know it has had awful consequences for women.

  8. Barbara Roberts September 28, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

    Hi Wendy and Hannah, can I suggest that you embed a link in your post to Susan Foh’s 1975 paper?
    It can be found here:

    I have substantial difficulties with Susan Foh’s interpretation of Gen.3:16. And I know it has had awful consequences for women.

    • Wendy September 28, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

      Done. Thanks, Barb.

  9. Barbara Roberts September 28, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    ****** Trigger warning ***** I’m about to quote from Susan Foh’s paper. I’m doing this not because I agree with it, but because I think we need to face squarely what it said because her interpretation seems to be what the ESV’s translators have adopted. In arguing against the ESV translators, I think we need to be well-versed in the whole debate about Genesis 3:16, and Foh’s paper is a substantial part of that debate.

    Susan Foh suggested the following phrases in her interpretation of the woman’s desire:

    — wives have desires “contrary to” their husbands’ desires
    — Genesis 3:16 is announcing that the wife would “contend with” her husband
    — it is saying that the wife would “desire to control her husband”
    — it is saying that she “she rebels against his leadership and tries to usurp it.”

    Contrary to … Control … Contend with … Usurp
    Those are the key words Foh uses.

    As documentation, the rest of this comment consists of excerpts from Susan Foh’s paper. I have put into all caps the key words that she used about the woman’s desire. Susan Foh said:—

    The words of the Lord in Genesis 3:16b, as in the case of the battle between sin and Cain, do not determine the victor of the conflict between husband and wife. These words mark the beginning of the battle of the sexes. As a result of the fall, man no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. The woman’s desire is to CONTROL her husband (to USURP his divinely appointed headship, and he must master her, if he can. So the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny and domination.

    Experience corroborates this interpretation of God’s judgment on the woman. If the words “and he shall rule over you” in
    Genesis 3:16b are understood in the indicative, then they are not true. As Cain did not rule over sin (Genesis 4: 7b ), so not every husband rules his wife, and wives have desires CONTRARY TO their husbands’ and often have no desire (sexual or psychological) for their husbands.

    As we have stated earlier on the basis of context, the woman’s desire does not contribute to the husband’s rule; the opposite is the case. The two clauses, “and your desire to CONTROL shall be to your husband” and “but he should master you,” are antithetical.

    … Contrary to the usual interpretations of commentators, the desire of the woman in Genesis 3:16b does not make the wife (more) submissive to her husband so that he may rule over her. Her desire is to CONTEND WITH him for leadership in their relationship. This desire is a result of and a just punishment for sin, but it is not God’s decretive will for the woman. Consequently, the man must actively seek to rule his wife.

    The reasons for preferring this interpretation are:

    (1) It is consistent with the context, i.e., it is judgment for sin that the relation between man and woman is made difficult.
    God’s words in Genesis 3:16b destroy the harmony of marriage, for the rule of the husband, part of God’s original intent for marriage, is not made more tolerable by the wife’s desire for her husband, but less tolerable, because she rebels against his leadership and tries to USURP it.

    [END QuOTE. She goes on to give several more reasons for why she thinks her interpretation is correct]

  10. Barbara Roberts September 28, 2016 at 9:43 pm #

    There is a very good article on Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 here:

    The author is a Hebrew scholar.

    I’ve submitted two or three comments to it, but they are still in moderation. On the author’s ABOUT page he says that he is very busy and often comments may sit in moderation on his blog. So if any of you choose to comment over there, bear that in mind. 🙂

  11. Walter Cantrell September 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    One thing I’d like to correct you on is your claim that no other translation uses something close to “contrary to” in Genesis 3:16. The Septuagint (Greek Translation of the Old Testament which was translated by Hebrew Scholars around 300 BC) uses the Greek word “apostrophe” in Genesis 3:16 to translate the Heberw phrase “teshuqah el”. “Apo” is a preposition in Greek which means “away from”, and “strophe” means “turn.” This blog and others have contended that Song of Songs 7:10 should be the guide for how to translate Genesis 3:16, but the Septuagint uses the Greek word “epistrophe” to translate the Hebrew in that verse. “Epi” means “toward” but also when “epi” is tacked onto another Greek word it most always intensifies it, and thus “epistrophe” gives the connotation of a strong desire for something. So the Septuagint translators felt teshuqah was being used in a very different way in the two verses.

    I have not studied Hebrew, so I can’t comment on the preposition that is used in Genesis 3:16, however, the Hebrew Scholars that translated the Septuagint have a reputation as being the best Hebrew Scholars of their time. So I think some weight should be given to how they handled this verse.

    • Wendy September 29, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

      Thanks, Walter. Also it has come to my attention that the New English Translation (which like the NLT has a more liberal translation philosophy) translates it similarly as the new ESV.

    • The Music Student September 29, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      “The Septuagint…uses the Greek word “apostrophe” in Genesis 3:16 to translate the Heberw phrase “teshuqah el”.”
      That is interesting, because the phrase is not “teshuqah el” in the Masoretic text, which has been used in most translations from the Hebrew. The entire phrase of “and your desire shall be to your husband” is “w’el (and to) -iyshekh (your husband) T’shuqatekh (your desire)”: So, following the Masoretic Hebrew syntax, the English would be better rendered “and to your husband shall be your desire”, with the ‘shall be’ in italics since it is not in the original and is only added to make the phrase more intelligible to English speakers. Since the preposition ‘el’ is tied directly to the conjunction which introduces the phrase, this makes the translation of ‘contrary to’ even less likely. It just doesn’t convey the same idea to say “and contrary to your husband shall be your desire”.

      It also becomes clear that the phrase is in rhythmic construction with the following phrase: “w’hu (and he) yim’shal (will rule) -Bakh (over you). Hebrew poetry often uses the construction of two phrases which restate the same idea to make a complete picture, as may be seen in many of the Proverbs and lines of the Psalms, for example: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). In Genesis 3:16, the preceding lines to the phrase in question are spoken in that same twofold construction, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception, in sorrow you will bring forth children” to convey the idea that the woman would suffer in giving birth.

    • Barbara Roberts September 29, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

      Yes, thanks Walter.

  12. Walter Cantrell September 29, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    I posted the below comment on another thread, and I’d like to reiterate it here.

    In the end I agree with Denny Burk that the issue of complementarianism does not stand or fall based on one’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16, but I think there is a good case to be made from Genesis 3:16 that the curse involved both men and women inheriting ungodly demeanors toward one another as a result of the fall. This doesn’t make men or women inferior or more likely to sin, and it doesn’t justify the castigation of either men or women based on these tendancies. We should be ready to believe the best about Christian men that they are surrendering to God and crucifying their inate sinful desire to “rule over” their wives in a domineering fashion, and we should be ready to believe the best about Christian women that they are not aiming to take control in either their churches or their marriages.

    • Barbara Roberts September 30, 2016 at 10:23 pm #

      Hi Walter Cantrell, you said:
      “We should be ready to believe the best about Christian men that they are surrendering to God and crucifying their inate sinful desire to “rule over” their wives in a domineering fashion…”

      What if a man is professing to be a Christian but is not one? What if that man is accepted by the church as a ‘good chriistian man’ but is abusing his wife at home in many covert or overt ways? What if he is a Jeckyll and Hyde? I know for a fact that there are many men who are like this. At the blog A Cry For Justice we hear all the time from women who are or were married to such men.

      I am very wary of people saying ‘we should be ready to believe the best about Christian men’ because by and large the church is not astute at recognising wolves in sheep’s clothing.

      By telling readers that we should be ready to believe the best about people who say they are Christians, I think you are just promoting that naivety.

    • Wendy October 1, 2016 at 11:05 am #

      Hey, Walter. Thanks for interacting. I agree with how you are looking at “rule,” as something to be put to death in Christ. Interestingly, the ESV footnotes “rule” in 3:16 with all of the positive verses in the NT on headship and submission. I find that much more troubling than your analysis.

  13. MarkO September 29, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    Given that the ESV publisher has undone their commitment to encase their translation in concrete will they change Gen 3:16 back to what it was before it was “permanent”?

    • Wendy September 29, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

      I hope so.

  14. Amy Gannett September 29, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

    So very clear and thoughtful. Thank you both!

  15. Barbara Roberts September 29, 2016 at 9:49 pm #

    Wendy said, “Thanks, Walter. Also it has come to my attention that the New English Translation (which like the NLT has a more liberal translation philosophy) translates it similarly as the new ESV.”

    The renders it as— “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.”

    And at, I clicked on their Parallel tab and was interested toI see that they stillhave the OLD version of Genesis 3:16. —
    ESV© 3:16 To the woman he said,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.

    And here are a few other versions they have:

    NLT© 3:16 Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

    MSG© 3:16 He told the Woman: “I’ll multiply your pains in childbirth; you’ll give birth to your babies in pain. You’ll want to please your husband, but he’ll lord it over you.”

    BBE© 3:16 To the woman he said, Great will be your pain in childbirth; in sorrow will your children come to birth; still your desire will be for your husband, but he will be your master.

  16. Ryan September 30, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

    I see that your interest include math, theology, and whales, and that you wrote a book on worship. If you would like to learn more about hebrew, I’d suggest several intermediate biblical Hebrew syntax books. They discuss more than 10+ ways to use אל in translations.

    • Wendy September 30, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

      10 more ways than BDB? They discuss at least 9, though all some variation of motion to or direction towards.

    • Austen Sayers October 1, 2016 at 10:49 am #


      I see your interest includes hebrew and that you have left a comment on a blog post. If you’d like to learn more about how not to be condescending, I’d suggest a book on intermediate conversational etiquette. They discuss more than 10+ ways to add or correct information in a conversation without talking down to those having it.

    • Wendy October 1, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

      To be honest, Ryan, I did hear some condescension in your comment. Instead, if you have studied said Hebrew syntax books, please share the conclusions you’ve reached if they disagree with ours, which are based on the BDB and HALOT plus readings from several Hebrew professors with doctorates on the subject. I could read your intermediate Hebrew syntax books, but I have a sneaky suspicion they will still support our argument about the correct translation of the preposition in 3:16, especially since there has been surprisingly little said in support of the change.

  17. Barbara Roberts September 30, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

    The following is an excerpt from a comment made by Susanna Krizo, December 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm, at Kevin DeYoung’s post

    In chapter 3 God speaks to Eve about the man’s rule, while in chapter 4 God speaks to Cain about his own rule over sin; one is acted upon while the other is the actor. In other words, Cain is warned that he must resist sin to protect himself, but the woman is warned that the man is going to rule over her when she turns to him.

    The pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, (ca 250 B.C.) translated teshuwqah, usually translated “desire” in Genesis 3:16, with apostrophê, which means “to turn,” “to resort, to recourse,” and rhetorically, “when one turns away from all others to one, and addresses him specially.”

    Sin does not turn to Cain for help; sin crouches at his tent door, ready to attack, and it is Cain’s responsibility to control, and master sin. Eve does not crouch at Adam’s tent door ready to devour him, instead she turns to him for help when becoming a mother and caring for an infant, which gives the man an opportunity to rule over her.

    Sin is an enemy, the woman isn’t.

    • Grover Jones October 5, 2016 at 9:50 am #


      Your last full paragraph/quotation is preposterous. It’s all the man’s fault? Woman’s desires were not affected by the fall? It’s just a coincidence that the usage is the same as in Gen. 4:7, where sin is clearly to blame? Give me a break. What was the point of posting that quotation?

    • Wendy October 5, 2016 at 10:51 am #

      Grover, I want to pop in here to correct one thing you said. We can not say that “sin is clearly to blame” in Genesis 4:7 and do justice to the Hebrew. There is long debate over whether sin is the one desiring in Genesis 4:7 because sin is feminine and the pronoun in “its desire” is masculine. John Calvin thought the pronoun alludes back to Abel’s desire for Cain, and I think that makes better sense too. It becomes a non-sequitur, but perhaps the author of Genesis was not above using them.

    • Susanna Krizo October 20, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

      Well Grover, since I wrote the paragraph you disagreed with, let’s talk about it.

      Has the woman’s desires changed due to sin? Of course they have. Instead of obeying God, the woman has obeyed man for a long, long time. If you think that Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 should be read together, you are going to have see the woman as hostile to both God and the man, wishing to destroy the man. This is exactly how the patristic theologians saw this matter, which was the reason why Jerome changed Genesis 3:16 in the Latin Vulgate to reflect the theological understanding of their time. Here’s an excerpt from my book, “Intelligent Submission & Other Ways of Feminine Wisdom,” chapter 5, which will further elucidate the matter for you. I hope you enjoy it.

      “How many times can a verse be changed in Bible translations before anyone notices that something fishy is going on? Is it possible to do it, say, nine times over the course of sixteen centuries? Yes, it actually is. Genesis 3:16 has been changed numerous times over the centuries. With every major change in theology, this one verse has been changed in both wording and meaning. But why this particular verse of all the verses in the Bible? Because it is the only verse in the Bible that talks about the man’s rule.

      The first change was made by Jerome in the beginning of the fifth century in his newly created Latin translation, the Vulgate. Instead of providing a literal translation, he decided to express the meaning of the verse as the patristic church understood it. In the Vulgate, Genesis 3:16 tells us that the woman was placed under the man’s authority, for Jerome thought the verse said God caused the woman to turn to the man as a punishment for her sin. For about a thousand years the Latin translation was the only one available. When the sixteenth-century reformers decided to rid themselves of the obsolete language in favor of languages actually spoken by the people, the meaning of the verse was changed again. The German reformer, Luther, changed Jerome’s paraphrase with a small addition of his own; he added the word “will” to the text making the woman’s will subject to the man as a punishment for her sin. Calvin agreed with Luther, for he thought the verse said the woman would desire only that which the husband wished, as her punishment was servile subjection. The creators of the Geneva Bible decided that it was the woman’s desire that was subject to the man while Luther’s

      English contemporary Myles Coverdale chose the word “lust,” making the woman literally lust after the man. The creators of the King James Version must have felt uneasy about using such a crude word, for they chose the more polished word “desire,” setting precedence for four centuries of English translations. A deviation from the norm—and the Septuagint itself—is found in the nineteenth-century English translation of the Greek Septuagint in which the woman’s submission is said to be to her husband. The latest change, made at the end of the twentieth century, is found in the footnotes of The New Living Translation: the desire is now understood to be the woman’s desire to control the man.

      Genesis 3:16 is, however, not the only verse in the Bible that has been changed. We know, for example, that the interpretation of the creation account has been altered, for the patristic church would have been at odds with the claim that the woman was subordinated to the man already from creation. One of the most illustrious bishops of all times, John Chrysostom, wrote in the fourth century that neither God nor the man said anything about subjection to the woman at creation. Also Jerome wrote that the man and woman were equals in their virginal purity before the fall. Their contemporary, Augustine, however, attempted to subject the woman from creation, but he had to use pagan Neo-Platonism, allegorism, and Roman mores to succeed. By likening the man to the soul (not the head, mind you) and the woman to the body, Augustine argued that the husband ought to rule over the wife as the soul rules over the body. But Augustine did not think it through, for if the body and soul lived in perfect harmony before sin, and it was only after the entrance of sin that the body began to rebel against the soul, the soul didn’t need authority over the body until after sin entered. To give authority to someone who has no need of it makes as much sense as giving a shark scuba diving equipment to prevent it from drowning.

      The task of permanently subjecting all women from creation was therefore left to the medieval scholastic doctor of the church, Thomas Aquinas. Instead of remaining true to the original text, Thomas resorted to Aristotle’s philosophy and the antiquated belief that the woman is a “misbegotten male” in order to subject the woman to the (in Aristotle’s opinion) wiser man. But since according to Jerome’s Vulgate, God subjected the woman to the man only after sin had entered, Thomas had to create a twofold subjection in which God subjected the woman from creation to the wiser man and after the entrance of sin to her lord and master as her punishment was servile subjection. This twofold subjection was taught as God’s truth by theologians for seven centuries. John Calvin, for example, included the novelty in his theology, as did the eighteenth-century theologian Matthew Henry. At the end of the twentieth century the concept was finally abolished by theologians tired of tying their tongues into knots as they tried to explain how it was possible for God to subject the same woman twice to the same man without the belief that the woman was inferior; a concept thrown in the same grave as Aristotle’s unexamined belief that bees are ruled by a king instead of a queen. Whereas egalitarian theologians returned to the patristic belief that men and women are by creation equal, hierarchical theologers tossed servile subjection and kept subjection as a created order. As a result, these same theologers had to find an alternative interpretation for Genesis 3:16. The only option available was to return the verse to its original meaning—a consequence of sin instead of a commandment of God—but with this change came also the puzzling question why only a few women actually chase every shirt they see if women desire men as a result of sin. There was obviously something wrong with the word “desire,” but since it was what they had to work with, hierarchical theologers changed the meaning of the word from “sexual desire” to “desire to control.” But even with this change, precisely the same problem remained: if women desire to control men, why have men always controlled women? The problem is yet to be solved.
      Since the theological kaleidoscope can lead us only further away from the truth, what should the modern church do with Genesis 3:16? Should the church accept the modern belief, or return to the patristic era and subject the woman to the man because of Eve’s sin? Or should the church return to the pre-Christian understanding of the verse and affirm that the woman turns to the man for help especially as she becomes a mother, the context of the verse in question? It depends partly on our understanding of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. We must somehow explain why the woman’s deception is mentioned in the same context as the man’s prior creation. If the patristic church was right in saying that the woman’s punishment was subjection, why was she subjected to the man who was equally guilty? Or was he? More than one theologian has suggested that Adam was innocent. For example, some have claimed the man took the fruit out of love, others have said the man wasn’t there, or that the woman forgot to ask the man what God had said. Contrary to such speculations, the Bible states clearly that the man was equally guilty. From a biblical perspective, it doesn’t make much sense for God to reward disobedience, wherefore the patristic belief can be ruled out.

      Should we then agree with those in the modern church who say that the woman’s deception only highlighted the fact that the man was given authority, for had the woman let the man lead we would never have left Paradise? This thought begs the question, why did the man not use his authority to stop her? If the first man—who was manhood perfected—stood passively by when his wife wreaked havoc in the garden only to turn around and blame her for the whole business when they were caught, we are getting the point that even the most perfect of men has no idea how to use his God-given authority in a constructive way. It is true that people who are not natural-born leaders become either passive or dominating bullies when given a leadership role, which leads us to conclude that either Adam was not a natural-born leader, or Adam and Eve were equal partners and acted jointly.

      The singularly greatest problem with the modern reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is that the act of creation and the first disobedience are events that remain fixed in the garden; they cannot be duplicated, for women are not created from men (men are born of women), nor are women perpetually deceived by talking serpents (all Christians find themselves deceived once in a while; even Paul himself admitted being deceived by sin). What we can do is to duplicate just about everything else the Bible says humanity has done ever since sin entered the world. Incidentally, in the pre-Christian Septuagint (250 BCE), Genesis 3:16 portrays the woman as seeking protection and provisions from the physically stronger man especially as she becomes a mother, which gives the man an opportunity to rule over her. Historically most women have married and become mothers, and majority of these married women have been ruled by men, wherefore the translation of Genesis 3:16 in the Septuagint fits what humanity actually experience in this world.

      What then about 1 Timothy 2:11-15? Why does the text say a woman is not allowed to teach or have authority over a man because the man was created first? The problem is not the text itself for its message is straightforward; it is rather the translation of the text that is the problem. The word for “silence” reads “quietness” in the original Greek, and “dominion” (the kind that decides between life and death) was the original choice, not “usurp authority.” If the woman must be commanded to be in quietness, do women have a tendency to cause a tumultuous uproar? And what about this little word “subjection,” hypotasso in Greek? Does it not tell us that the woman was created to be the man’s subject because he was created first? If the Greek word hypotasso, usually translated “subjection,” is the antonym for dominion (authenteo), we have a curious situation in which teaching and dominion are associated with tumultuous uproar while learning is done in subjection and quietness. (“A woman should learn in all subjection, not with a tumultuous uproar. I do not permit a woman to teach or to dominate a man; she must not cause a tumultuous uproar.”) No other verse in the Bible provides such definitions for teaching and learning, especially since 1 Corinthians 11-14 gives the church in Corinth instructions on how to manage their unruly and tumultuous behavior. It is equally difficult to find a verse which states that women are inherently more gullible than men, wherefore, perhaps these verses refer to a local problem restricted to Ephesus, as has been suggested by more than one Bible scholar? It becomes even more plausible when we take into account that the Old Testament never mentions that the man’s prior creation gave the man authority over the woman. Ever wonder why God never revealed it to Israel?

      But what about Luther’s belief that the man was given the government of the church immediately after the first humans had sinned? It might have been a real possibility if it wasn’t for the fact that Luther was also of the opinion that the soul died at the moment God came looking for the humans he had created (the soul was rehabilitated at Genesis 3:15 as the soul’s punishment was transferred over to the body), wherefore Luther gave the governance of the church to the man whose soul was dead.”

  18. Bill Krewson October 5, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    A professor at the Master’s Seminary (Dr. Irv Busenitz) argues that the word does not have a negative connotation:

    • Wendy October 5, 2016 at 8:07 am #

      Thanks, Bill. Dr. Busenitz’s article was the first real resource I had on this verse, but I didn’t know what happened to him. Interesting to know that he teaches as Master’s. I found his paper very helpful.

  19. Chuck October 5, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    For me, this makes the NKJ, NASU, and HCSB look even better. Good bye ESV and God bless

  20. Barbara Roberts October 5, 2016 at 7:59 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

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