Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Teshuqah: The Woman's Desire in Genesis 3:16

For Mandy, Jude, and Karen.

Teshuqah: A Rare Word

Several words that are crucial in understanding what the Bible shows us about the relationship between men and women are rare and somewhat obscure in their original languages. I’ve previously written about the Hebrew word kenegdo which occurs only twice in the Old Testament (in Genesis 2:18 and 20). And I’ve looked at the Greek word authentein which occurs only once in the New Testament (in 1 Timothy 2:12). In this post I look at the Hebrew word teshuqah in Genesis 3:16. (This word also occurs in Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10. Three times in all.) What does this word mean?

In Genesis 3:16 God says to the woman:

“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire (teshuqah) will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.” NASB

Until Susan Foh wrote her 1974-5 paper What is a Woman’s Desire?, many Bible translators were content to understand teshuqah as simply meaning “desire” and “longing.”[1] A few English translations such as the NLT and NET, however, show the influence of Foh’s paper. They have translated teshuqah as “desire to control” and “want to control” in Genesis 3:16. Is “a desire to control” what the original authors meant in Genesis and in Song of Solomon?

Teshuqah in Hebrew Lexicons

In the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB) it says that teshuqah means “longing”: a longing of woman for man in Genesis 3:16; a longing of man for woman in Song of Solomon 7:10;[2] and, figuratively, a longing of a beast (representing sin) to devour Cain in Genesis 4:7.[3] Furthermore, BDB claims that teshuqah is derived from a stem shuq which means “attract, impel, of desire, affection.”[4]

Gesenius likewise states that teshuqah is derived from the stem shuq which has the meanings “to run after, to desire, to long for anything; whence תְּשׁוּקָה [teshuqah means] desire, longing.”[5] Other lexicons, such as HALOT, also define teshuqah as “desire, longing.” None of these lexicons, however, connect teshuqah with a desire to control.

Teshuqah may simply mean “desire” or “longing.” If so, it is the context which supplies what kind of desire is being spoken of.[6]

Teshuqah and the Context of Genesis 3:16

There have been several ways of understanding what “desire” means in the context of Genesis 3:16. Here are five noteworthy interpretations.

1. A woman will desire a husband and marriage despite the pain that comes with having children.

When God speaks to the woman in Genesis 3:16, he begins by telling her that having children will be a painful experience. It is immediately after God gives this information that he says, “your desire will be for your husband.” So perhaps we are meant to understand that even though childbirth and child-rearing will involve pain and sorrow, a woman will still desire to be married and have a family. (In the days before contraceptives, the primary reason for marriage in practically all cultures was to raise a family.) The use of the word “yet” in the NRSV and NASB indicates that this may be the preferred interpretation of the NRSV and NASB translators: “in pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband.” (NASB, italics added)

2. A woman will desire marriage and sex despite this intimacy being marred by her husband’s rule.

Instead of looking at the preceding phrases, perhaps we are meant to look at the last phrase of Genesis 3:16 (“he will rule over her”) to give us the context of teshuqah. If so, then the meaning is that a woman will desire to be married, and have a longing for her husband, even though the intimacy and joy of marriage will be marred by her husband’s rule. The use of the word “but” in the CEB translation indicates that this may be their preferred interpretation: “You will desire your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Italics added)

Some have understood the woman’s desire to be sexual lust, rather than simply a longing for, or a longing towards, a husband. Keil and Delitzsch include an overstatement in their commentary on Genesis 3:16 describing the woman’s teshuqah as an almost manic desire: “she was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (תּשׁוּקה from שׁוּק to run, to have a violent craving for a thing).”[7]

3. A wife’s own desires are submitted to her husband.

Another interpretation found in quite a few older commentaries is that a woman’s own desires, or the determination of her own will,[8] will be submitted and referred to her husband, and he will grant or deny her desires as he sees fit.[9] This disturbing interpretation, and variations on it, seem to have been popular in the last several centuries.[10]

4. A wife will desire to control her husband.

Foh’s interpretation, adopted by some, is that a woman will desire to control her husband,[11] but, despite this desire, her husband will rule her. Foh bases her interpretation on a comparison of Genesis 3:16 with Genesis 4:7 where the keywords teshuqah and mashal (“rule”) also occur. However, there are some significant differences between Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.

In Genesis 4:7, sin is unmistakably depicted as Cain’s adversary, crouching at the door; and Cain is told that he must master sin and that this is the right thing to do. Foh believes Eve is similarly presented in Genesis 3:16 as Adam’s adversary. This idea, however, is not explicit in the text.[12]

Furthermore, while Cain is directly told by God to master or rule sin, Adam is nowhere told by God to master or rule Eve. In fact, God never tells men to rule women. The “rule” spoken of in Genesis 3:16 is a consequence of sin; it is not divinely commanded, as in 4:7, and it does not refer to a beneficial rule.[13] The contexts of 3:16 and 4:7 are different, even though they share two keywords.[14]

5. A wife will have single-minded devotion for her husband.

Andrew Macintosh, a leading scholar of biblical Hebrew, published a paper in 2016 where he argues that the meaning of teshuqah means single-minded devotion or focussed attention. I think he may well be correct. An article that looks at his paper is here.

Early Translations of Teshuqah

In Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 in the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, teshuqah is translated as apostrophē.[15][16] The etymology of apostrophē gives the meaning “a turning away,” but it is has a broader range of meanings, some of which are conflicting.

Liddell, Scott and Jones (LSJ) who wrote one of the best lexicons of ancient Greek, have several definitions for apostrophē. Most don’t fit the context of Genesis 3:16. Definition III, however, fits well. Here LSJ say that apostrophē is used rhetorically when one turns away from all others to one person and addresses him specifically.[17] This meaning makes good sense in the contexts of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.

Since the Greek preposition pros (“towards”) also occurs in Genesis 3:16 (“your turning (apostrophē) will be towards (pros) your husband”), I think the meaning of a woman turning away from others to turn towards, or even long for, her husband may well be what is intended here.[18] And it matches interpretation 5 above: “single-minded devotion.”

Walter Kaiser looks to early translations of Genesis 3:16 and to comments made by early church fathers, and states that teshuqah should be understood as “turning.”

The Hebrew word teshuqah, now almost universally translated as “desire,” was previously rendered as “turning.” The word appears in the Hebrew Old Testament only three times: here in Genesis 3:16, in Genesis 4:7 and in Song of Songs 7:10. Of the twelve known ancient versions (the Greek Septuagint, the Syriac Peshitta, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Old Latin, the Sahidic, the Bohairic, the Ethiopic, the Arabic, Aquila’s Greek, Symmachus’s Greek, Theodotion’s Greek and the Latin Vulgate), almost every one (twenty-one out of twenty-eight times) renders these three instances of teshuqah as “turning,” not “desire.” Likewise, the church fathers (Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Epiphanius and Jerome, along with Philo, a Jew who died about A.D. 50) seem to be ignorant of any other sense for this word teshuqah than the translation of “turning.” Furthermore, the Latin rendering was conversio and the Greek was apostrophē or epistrophē, words all meaning “a turning.”[19]

While Susan Foh, and some others, see a power struggle implied in Genesis 3:16b, women turning towards their husbands (rather than having a desire to control them) fits better with what we see in the world at large, though there will be some exceptions.

Conclusion

There is ample evidence that, due to the prevalence of patriarchy, men have ruled their wives. God’s prophetic description that “he will rule over you” has been played out in countless marriages throughout millennia across the globe. Over the centuries, many Christians have even assumed that Genesis 3:16 gave men permission to rule and control their wives, yet there is no divine mandate here.

But is there widespread evidence that women have typically desired to control their husbands, even if this desire has been thwarted by male rule? If there is, I haven’t seen it.

The precise meaning of teshuqah is not completely certain. It may mean “desire.” It may mean “turning.” It may mean “single-minded devotion.” It may even combine the senses of all three of these meanings. But context, as well as evidence from history and the present day, seems to rule out that it means “a desire to control.”

Whatever its meaning, the mutuality and unity between the first couple was spoiled by sin. Yet this is not the end of the story. Thankfully, Jesus came to deal with sin, and our relationships today can potentially be as mutual and harmonious as it was in Eden before the Fall (Gen. 2:21-25). Restored relationships between men and women is part of the good news of Jesus.

Footnotes 

[1] Susan T. Foh, “What is the Woman’s Desire?”, The Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75), 376-83. This paper can be read online here.

[2] Song of Solomon (Song of Songs, or Canticles) 7:11 in the Septuagint is equivalent to 7:10 in English and Hebrew Bibles.

[3] Francis Brown, “תְּשׁוּקָה”, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 1003.

[4] Ibid., 1003.
Unlike what some online resources suggest, BDB does not connect teshuqah with Strong’s words 7783, 7784 or 7785. These are unrelated words spelt שׁוּק—shuq and שׁוֹק—shoq. The Strong’s number for teshuqah is 8669. There is no Strong’s number for the shuq which is the primitive and obsolete stem of teshuqah. Moreover, there is no clear consensus among lexicographers as to what the meanings of this particular stem were.

[5] Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, “שׁוּק”, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, English translation by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons) (Source)

[6] David T. Lang has found eleven occurrences of teshuqah in Qumran sectarian manuscripts, most of which are translated as “longing” or “desire.” He writes, “Interestingly, in most of these cases the object of desire was something negative or in some way related to destruction. The desire spoken of was not clearly a ‘desire for control,’ but it certainly seemed to connote some kind of negative longing or obsession.” (Source) Since the members of the Qumran community were ascetics, and desire is antithetical to a strictly disciplined lifestyle, perhaps it is not surprising that they viewed desire and longing negatively.

[7] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, “The Pentateuch”, Biblical Commentary: The Old Testament, Vol. 1, English translation by James Martin (Edinburgh: T. & T, Clark, 1885), 108. (Sources 1 and 2)

[8] Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament (London, Blackie & Son, 1884) (Source)

[9] Joseph Benson, Commentary of the Old and New Testament (New York: T. Carlton & J. Porter, 1867) (Source).

[10] For example: “‘Thy desire shall be unto thy husband,’ is of the same force as if he had said that she should not be free and at her own command, but subject to the authority of her husband and dependent upon his will; or as if he had said, ‘Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes.'” John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis. (Source)
A few older commentaries on Genesis 3:16, here.

[11] In his commentary on Genesis 3:16 in the ESV Study Bible, T. Desmond Alexander agrees with Foh’s interpretation and writes that this verse “indicates that there will be an ongoing struggle between the woman and the man for leadership in the marriage relationship. . . . Eve will have the sinful ‘desire’ to oppose Adam and assert leadership over him.” ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 56.

[12] The two obvious adversaries in Genesis 3 are the cursed serpent, who will be an enemy especially of the woman and her seed (Gen. 3:15), and the cursed ground (adamah), which will produce thorns and thistles and make life especially hard for Adam (Gen. 3:17-19).

[13] For the sake of comparison, the form of mashal used in Genesis 3:16 is identical to that in Isaiah 19:4 and similar to that in Proverbs 17:2.

[14] For more on the contexts of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 see Irvin A. Busenitz’s paper, “Woman’s Desire for Man: Genesis 3:16 Reconsidered,” Grace Theological Journal 7.2 (1986), 203-12, esp. 206-210. This paper can be read online here.

[15] The Greek word which translates teshuqah in Song of Solomon 7 is epistrophē which has a somewhat different range of meanings to apostrophē.

[16] Interestingly, the Hebrew word teshuvah (which looks similar to teshuqah) means a “turning” or “return,” etc. This word is derived from the root שׁוּב—shuv. Shuv and teshuvah are neither rare nor obscure words. (More on shuv here.) Is teshuqah really meant to be the word teshuvah?

[17] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “apostrophē,A Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition, revised by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1996),  220.

[18] Pros corresponds with the Hebrew preposition el- אֶל which occurs in the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:16. BDB (page 39) gives the general definition of el as a “preposition denoting motion to or direction towards.” The ESV translates it as “for” in Genesis 3:16, but gives an alternate meaning in a footnote of “against.” El is occasionally used in a hostile sense; nevertheless, it typically means “towards.” Perhaps the debate over the meaning of Genesis 3:16 needs to focus more on this preposition than on the meanings of teshuqah and apostrophē.
Update: The latest version (August 2016) of the ESV translates Genesis 3:16a as: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband . . .” This is more of a paraphrase, or interpretation, than a translation of Genesis 3:16.

[19] Walter Kaiser et al, “3:16 How was the Woman Punished?” Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 96.
Chrysostom quotes from the Septuagint and uses the Greek word for “turning” when he quotes Genesis 3:16 in his Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians.

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Postscript 1: Tertullian

Tertullian (died 220 AD) quotes Genesis 3:16 in his treatise On the Apparel of Women 1.1. Here’s an English translation of his quotation (originally in Latin): “. . . toward your husband (is) your inclination, and he lords it over you.” (My italics) (Source)

Postscript 2: Jerome

Jerome does not include the desire/turning phrase in Genesis 3:16 of his influential Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, written in the late 300s. Jerome wrote, “et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui” which is translated in the Douay-Rheims Bible as “and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.” (Source)

Postscript 3: Genesis Rabbah

Genesis Rabbah, ancient rabbinic interpretations of Genesis compiled in the fifth century AD, contains this paragraph which indicates that teshuqah has the senses of “desire” and “single-minded devotion”:

There are four desires: the desire of a woman is for none but her husband: “And thy desire shall be to thy husband.” The desire of the Tempter is for none but Cain and his associates: “Sin coucheth at the door, and unto thee is its desire” (Gen. 4:7). The desire of rain is for nought but the earth: “Thou hast remembered the earth, and them [sc. the rains] that desire her” (Psalm 65:10 [cf. וַתְּשֹׁ֪קְקֶ֡הָ in 65:9]). And the desire of the Holy One, blessed be He, is for none but Israel: “And His desire (teshuqatho) is toward me” (Songs 7:11).
Genesis Rabbah 20.7 (Source p. 164)

It also gives an alternate explanation of “your desire will be towards your husband.” It is suggested that a woman might renounce sex when she is giving birth, but the desire for her husband will return.

When a woman sits on the birthstool, she declares, “I will henceforth never fulfil my marital duties.” Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, says to her, “Thou wilt return to thy desire, thou wilt return to the desire for thy husband.”
Genesis Rabbah 20.7 (Source p. 165)


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79 thoughts on “Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16

  1. Many Christians do believe the word desire (teshuqah) implies that the wife will desire to control or dominate her husband and that in turn the husband will try to rule (mashal) or dominate his wife as part of a power struggle between the sexes which is part of the curse after the fall. However, others think that the verse in Genesis 3:16 justifies male rulership as part of God’s original plan.

    I recall reading from Wendy Alsup’s blog “Practical Theology For Womaen” where she believes the word desire/teshuqah is referring to the wife having an unhealthy longing for her husband that results in idolatry to the point of putting her husband above God and the husband for his part will dominate her. I believe her theory the most.

    Great points, and another good article. God Bless.

    1. I love Wendy’s blog. I’ve read her blog on teshuqah a few times over the years. Her interpretation may well be right.

  2. A great post and I agree with much of what you’ve said. I’d just like to make a couple of comments:

    1. Strengthening the argument that Gen 3:16 is not a command by God but is a description of the consequences of sin which are undersirable is the use of the yiqtol verbal form in the last line, ימשל (yimšōl, ‘he will rule’). While there is some debate over the significance of Hebrew verbal forms, I think a good case can be made that this should be read modally as something like ‘he will seek to rule’. The parallelism typical of Hebrew verse then provides us with a translation something like this:
    You will seek to control your husband,
    and he will try to rule over you.
    This animosity that arises out of sin is expressed in numerous ways throughout Gen 3:14–19 (e.g. between the serpent and other animals in 3:14; between the serpent and humans in 3:15; between the woman and the next generation in 3:16; between the man and the ground in 3:17–19; and so between the husband and wife in 3:16). A really good article to read on this is Alan Hauser, “Genesis 2–3: The Theme of Intimacy and Alienation.”

    2. While it is true that the LXX uses ἀποστροφή to translate תשוקה in Gen 3:16, the Greek term is elsewhere often used to translate Hebrew words derived from the root שוב. Hence it is just as likely that the translators of the LXX, not understanding the very rare word before them, thought it to have been the Hebrew word תשובה ‘returning’ instead (furthermore, in Paleo-Hebrew the letters ב and ק are more easily confused than in the square Aramaic script). So I don’t think we can conclude much from the LXX in this instance.

    3. The third use of this term, in Song of Songs 7:11, also supports the meaning ‘control’. While some may find the sentiment objectionable, the first half of that verse is an expression of ownership — “I belong to my beloved.” It is important to remember that this is a love poem and sometimes it uses quite unexpected language to express the depth of emotion being described (including terms which elsewhere relate to harsh captivity!).

    4. IIRC Foh also argues from the Arabic cognate. Although some don’t put any weight on such considerations, it does support the notion of ‘control.’

    So I think that the context in each of its three instances in the Bible, support the notion of ‘control’.

    1. Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your interesting comments.

      In regards to point 1, I didn’t quite get some of your statements in the second half. Is there animosity between the woman and the next generation in 3:16? And, just because the serpent is cursed more than all the other animals, does this make him an enemy of the animals? The clearest relationships of enmity and animosity are between the woman and the serpent and between their offspring.

      In regards to point 2, a few Hebrew scholars suggest that teshuqah should really be teshuvah. BDB mentions two of these scholars.

      In regards to point 3: I don’t buy that teshuqah means “control” in Song of Solomon 7:11, and “ownership” is an overstatement. The woman tells of her lover’s desire, but the following verses of chapter 7 are all about her plans. (I imagine these plans sounded pretty good to her lover.) And in chapter 8, the woman is quite outspoken about her feelings. She does not sound like someone under another’s control. Furthermore, back in Song of Solomon 2:16 there is a statement of mutual belonging. “Ownership” and “control” don’t fit the overall context of the smitten but feisty female lover and her relationship.

      As for point 4, I have no knowledge whatsoever about Arabic, so I cannot comment on this.

      At this point in time, I remain unconvinced that teshuqah means or implies control, but I appreciate your thoughts.

    2. Hi Marg,

      Just a quick reply to your reply!

      1. By animosity I don’t mean enemy. I strongly recommend Hauser’s article on intimacy and alienation in Gen 2–3, I think it is one of the best things I’ve read on these chapters. You can read quite a bit of it on books.google.com if you search for the book “Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature.” His chapter begins on page 20. He illustrates how narrative features throughout chapter 3 undo the picture of intimacy created in chapter 2.

      2. I’m not suggesting that the Hebrew should be read as תשובה, just that the reading in the LXX probably indicates that the translators didn’t understand the Hebrew or else misread it. Hence I don’t really think the LXX is much use in working out what the Hebrew means.

      3. My point is that in good poetry surprising language and ideas are often used. So in Song 7:6 [v. 5 in English] the Hebrew word אסר is used, yet this word elsewhere speaks of harsh captivity. Such language is used in the poems simply to express the intensity of emotion, an intensity which would be lost were less harsh language to be employed. I could give a number of examples, but the point is that ideas like ‘control’ and ‘captive’ are not out of place in such a context.

      4. It is more an issue of comparative Semitic linguistics than merely knowing Arabic. I seem to recall that Foh (correctly) argues that part of the etymology provided in BDB is incorrect (we really shouldn’t be using BDB any more).

      I’ve written at length about most of these issues in my M.Th.(hons) dissertation. I address quite a lot of the issues you consider on Gen 1–3 here on your blog, so you might find it interesting. You can download a copy here:

      http://bible.shields-online.net/dlreq.php

      Make sure you click the radio button on the right hand side before requesting the download!

      1. Hi Martin,

        I’ve been enjoying reading some of the articles on your website. Are you an Aussie? (I saw that you wrote a post in response to Kevin Rudd’s comment about slavery.)

        I was especially interested in your corrections to popular misconceptions in “finding too much sex in Genesis 2”.

        I’ll take a look at Hauser’s chapter when I have more time. And at your thesis when I have even more time.

        I will keep your thoughts in mind. Genesis and the Hebrew language are not my fortes, but I see they are yours.

      2. Hi Marg,

        Yes, I’m an Aussie — I live in Sydney.

        You have a great blog here, I look forward to exploring it further.

        1. I’m on the NSW Central Coast.

          Glad you like the blog. 🙂

          Going back to one of your previous comments: If you don’t recommend BDB, which Hebrew lexicon do you recommend for Classical/Biblical Hebrew?

          P.S. Sorry my other blog post is taking up so much of your time.

        2. Pretty much the standard lexicon for biblical Hebrew these days is HALOT (see http://hebrewbiblescholar.com/halot/) although the largest and most comprehensive work is the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH, see http://hebrewbiblescholar.com/dch/) although the methodology underlying it is a bit more controversial. Unfortunately neither is cheap (although if you have some Bible software you can usually get HALOT at a considerable discount over the printed versions).

          As for the other blog post, thanks for allowing the discussion! My main problem is that it’s hard to keep track of it all.

          1. Hi Martin I really liked what you said could I get your thesis as I am currently also trying to find an answer to this interesting question. Searching for truth is exciting interesting. Thank you Marg for sharing your thoughts as well though I read from busenitz that sin is a metaphor and Eve is a person, but I have trouble believing that that eliminates Genesis 4:7 from understanding Genesis 3:16. Either way I believe you right in this is certainly not a passage about men ruling women or asking them to submit. God gave us brains so will have just figure this one out humbly I guess, in the end we are accountable to God individually for what we believe so each woman/man must make their own mind up according to the evidence, yet I believe humility is always key, since no-one can claim to have the absolute truth to the Bible, I believe we are to teach other the truths since each person as a different slant. God bless you Marg as you search.

          2. Hi Jonathan,

            Martin’s thesis on Genesis 1-3 can be downloaded here: http://bible.shields-online.net/dlreq.php

      3. I’ve tried three times to download your dissertation on issues of Gen 1-3, but it keeps saying access denied. I filled in all the blanks and clicked the radio button to the right hand side. If still available, I’d love to have a copy.

        1. Hi Kevin, do I have your permission to privately share your email address with Martin?

    3. Thank you for your interesting comments. After reading the article and all the comments I thought I would be more inclined to having a deeper understanding of genesis 316., but I feel I am right back to the beginning the frustration can be fusion whispers springs out of me. And I’m sure I’m not the only Woman that feels that way. I guess I just need to lean on God to help me do my part towards a godly relationship with my husband.
      I was wondering if you happen to have any new thoughts on this subject is it looks like this was posted about five years ago.

      1. Hi Melissa,

        When I come across new information I add it to the article or I add a new postscript. I also have this article: https://margmowczko.com/translation-genesis-316/

        Teshuqah is a rare word, but I think it means that the woman turns towards her husband with single-minded devotion, possibly at the expense of her relationship with God.

  3. Great article. I like the idea of a woman turning away from God to her husband as part of the curse. It makes sense, as the husband has a tendency to rule over his wife also as a result of sin. Good investigative work and well documented.

    Warwick, Tauranga, New Zealand

  4. Hi Marg,

    I’ve been thinking about this Gen 3:16 issue for a while now. It seems pretty clear that for about the first 1700, to 1800 years of church history, the prevailing view (found in many bible commentaries, and almost all Puritan, Reformed and Arminian church fathers writings) is that “he shall rule over you” meant that the wants and desires of the wife are subject to the approval of the husband.

    I’m not settled on the matter, yet, but this view is well supported by scripture in both the old and new testaments. For instance, in Numbers 44 (I think) the husband has the right to veto or void any arrangements or agreements the wife makes. In the new testament, Paul tells us that women are not to have authority over the men (ie, the ability to chose what they want to do without regard to the man’s approval). And why such a command if such were not being attempted?

    Well done article, though. I will definately read some more!

    1. Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your comment.

      There is little doubt that for centuries the church did read Genesis 3:16 as Eve’s and, by extension, all women’s just punishment, and that this meant the wants and desires of women were subject to men. This is played out in many scenarios in the Old Testament.

      As a Christian, however, I believe that Jesus has paid the price for all sin, including Eve’s sin, and so there is now the real possibility of freedom from sin and freedom from patriarchy. Following the teachings of Jesus, relationships in the community of New Covenant/Testament people should be distinct, and even in sharp contrast to, the relationships in the community of Old Covenant/Testament people.

      Furthermore, most Christians today understand that “he will rule over you” is God’s description of what will happen now that sin has entered the world, rather than it being God’s will for the world. Even hierarchical complementarians, evangelical Christians who believe in a gender hierarchy, base their views on the created order, rather than Genesis 3:16b.

  5. My reading is that her desire is a longing for the husband God joined her with in the beginning, the one who longed for her before her creation (Genesis 2:18-20), the one who joyously declared her “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” upon first seeing her (Genesis 2:23). Her longing is for the way things were in the beginning when they both lived by faith, without fear or shame, together taking care of the garden and everyone in it. This longing is included as part of the warning of the consequences of sin because it will be unfulfilled longing. Instead of being joined as one flesh (Genesis 2:24), with joint dominion (Genesis 1:26-27) as God purposed in the beginning, the man now dominates the woman and the woman longs for the way things were, the way things are supposed to be – the “very good” way (Genesis 1:31). The only way (John 14:6) to restore the broken marriage relationship is to once again boldly live by faith as coequal partners in the image of God – that is, Christ must dwell in both bodies (Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:9-10).

    1. This is how I read it too, Craig. You say it well.

  6. I am always so amused and a smidge miffed at the suggestion that women needed a sexual or emotional longing for a husband to keep them under their judgement conditions… as if, by abstaining from sex, we could avoid any pain and sorrow resulting from our fertility. Even without the typical feminine cycle and its symptoms and stigmas, women can’t catch a break! The conditions that inhibit a typical, healthy cycle cause chronic and arguably worse symptoms than PMS!

    ANYWAY, I was so grateful to come across this article. So many new angles to consider in my [very amateur] Genesis study. Up to this point, I have been satisfied with the “control” understanding of teshuqah based on both Song of Songs and Gen. 4 uses. I understood it very neutrally. In the Songs verse, in a loving sexual context, the woman takes a “have your way with me” approach to her lustful lover’s conquering desires, what with all his tree-climbing and fruit-grabbing and breaking-into-locked-up-gardens. *eyebrow wiggle* She welcomes being seized as the more passive/receiving sexual partner for the sake of mutual enjoyment and expressions of love. Not so much in the case of the sin-beast in Genesis 4’s application of teshuqah. A conquering desire, yes, but not a desired one to the benefit of the conquered. I think of it as the difference in the way mountain climbers and Spanish conquistadors approached their respective conquests: equal vigor, but vastly different purposes and levels of dignity afforded the conquests. That’s how I arrived at my initial power struggle interpretation of 3:16, but I’m still mulling it over.

    Again, thank you for gathering these resources together. I look forward to digging in (way over my head [as if I weren’t already!])

  7. “Is there widespread evidence that women have typically desired to control their husbands, [..]? If there is, I haven’t seen it.”

    LOL! Ask the same question to ANY man and he will tell you this is EXACTLY what women (especially of the feminist kind) are constantly doing!

    1. Hi Paul,

      Genesis 3:16 was written a few millennia ago. Is there widespread evidence since then? I sure can’t see it.

      And I don’t know where you live (i.e. what kind of society you live in) or who you hang out with, but I personally don’t know of any Christian wife who wants to control her husband. (I did know a controlling wife a few years ago. It was very sad.)

      On the other hand, I know many wives who want to be equal partners with their husbands.

      Your statement seems to imply that you think every husband thinks their wife wants to control them. That is a sad outlook indeed, and, I believe, it is a deeply flawed outlook.

      I see many wonderful marriages where neither husband or wife want to control or rule the other. Rather they prefer the other and honour the other and they work things out together. I hope this may be your experience too.

    2. Hi there, Paul.

      Manly man here just commenting to say that control over men is not what any woman I’ve ever encountered wants, whether in feminist circles or otherwise.

      What I have found is some women who wish for SOMEbody (anybody) to place controls on some men who behave poorly and have been getting away with it throughout history.

      Steve

    3. Hi Paul. I think I fall in the category “any man” yet I’ve never once entertained the position you ascribe to me.

      Cheers,
      Tim

    4. Hi Paul. I am a man, and I have never believed any woman has wanted to control me, especially not my wife, who is “especially of the feminist kind.” I am sorry your experience (or at least your perception of people and events) has not been the same.
      Shalom,
      James

    5. Nope. I just want to be treated like I am his equal.

      1. Same. 🙂

    6. Hi Paul,

      I’m having a little trouble with the generalizability of your statement and I wonder if you might be willing to clarify a few things: Is this truly the experience of all men in every culture across the world for all time? If it is, how can we measure or at least observe this? God’s prophetic words are directed specifically toward wives and their disposition towards their husbands. It sounds like you are identifying a universal truth that exists along gender lines regardless of the relationship. If you have correctly identified something that is universally true, why is it that God gave it the specific context of marriage?

      There are other thoughts I have but those seemed the most pertinent.

      Best,
      Dave

    7. I think we all try to control each other. Yes, I am guilty of trying to control my husband, my mom, my friends, etc. But my husband does the same thing, as well. We are all guilty of being control freaks. Whether it is toward our spouse or towards another. Some people use force, others use manipulation. Some people yell and scream while others use the silent treatment or passive aggression. It’s all wrong! We are ALL called to give up our rights, to put each other first, to wash each other’s feet. Not one Christian is exempt from those commands and there is not one person in our life that does not deserve our humble and gracious servitude. I think the point is, is that women are not more likely to want to control men than men are likely to want to control women. I have many loved ones who have suffered sexual abuse (rape) at the hands of men. This is the ultimate acting out of the desire of men to control women. The selfish desire to control and take away the rights of others, in any situation, is pure evil. I am sorry if you are in a controlling marriage. Hang in there. Continue to serve your wife and be humble like Christ and in due time, God will lift you up.
      Jennifer Jolene

      1. Sorry, Jennifer. I can’t relate to your comment about controlling at all. I don’t want to control anyone, least of all my husband. I want people to be safe, and be free to be themselves, with me. This applies especially to my precious family members.

        Occasionally, if someone in my (largish) family hurts my feelings, or does something that I find hard to take, or does something that can be damaging, I tell them plainly and kindly. From day one, my motto in marriage and family life has been “no games” but honesty and candidness, and definitely no manipulation or control.

    8. I know only one man who (constantly) accuses women of trying to control husbands/men/him personally, but nearly everyone agrees he has serious issues on his end.
      -I’ve seen him passionately argue about things that everyone in the room already agreed with him about.
      -I’ve seen him give constructive criticism despite protests that the recipient was already doing exactly what he said.
      -I’ve heard of him giving “constructive” criticism, which was followed, and then “constructively” criticizing the same person for no longer doing things the original way.
      -I’ve heard him misquoting innocent remarks out of context many years later to make someone sound bad.
      -I’ve seen him drastically misremember events in a way that made him look like a heroic/innocent victim, despite the presence of multiple witnesses. His relatives have a joke, “There are two sides to every story, his and everyone else’s!”
      -When he was married with young children, he kept all his money locked in a safe so his wife couldn’t steal it to buy new clothes for their children after growth spurts.
      -He maintained an eerily detailed list of all the ways one of his wives let him down, such as by failing to take advantage of a sale on toilet paper.

      At this point, whenever this gentlemen complains about women controlling him, everyone else just rolls their eyes. We feel bad for him, but can’t save him from himself. I’ve heard that he had a very troubled childhood, with an extremely controlling father who somehow also let him be physically abused by at least two different female authority figures. So, I can only assume he’s letting that early pain shape the way he sees every situation as an adult. Ironically, some of the female friends who have stuck by him the longest are the ones who mirror his own issues!

      I don’t mean to say there are no controlling women anywhere. Someone in my hometown was gossiped about because she was seen abusing her boyfriends–but it was talked about BECAUSE it was considered so abnormal and disturbing even to other women. And I feel controlled by a woman in my life right now–but I’m not her husband, we’re same-sex relatives, and she never treats her actual husband or anyone else this way. (I think the root of our problem is that she feels obligated to help me through my mental health issues, without having to do the painful work of listening to my side of the story. Until we are on the same page about what types of help are appropriate, our mutual bitterness may never stop growing.)

      So, that’s my own experience; The women who really do want to control someone are rare and broken; and the men who perceive controlling women everywhere even moreso.

  8. thank you for this informative article! I went looking for commentary on this verse, due to a real-life situation where a wife’s jealous insecurities regarding her husband caused considerable destruction in a family and their church. It seems to me that “he will rule over you” refers to the condition of her mind as a result of a principle devotion to him rather than God, not a literal dominance by him over her. Could this be the intent of the passage?: “You will turn your devotion to your husband and not God, and because of this, your thoughts will be dominated by what he is doing and saying, instead of being ruled by what God wills and wants.

    1. That’s a very interesting perspective, Gail. My concern with it is that I believe Genesis 3:16 makes a broad, universal statement, whereas I personally don’t know of any woman who is being ruled by her own jealous insecurities. It sounds like a very sad situation, but one that few women experience.

    2. I tend to read it that way. The desire or turning does rule the mind of the woman. Not that the man rules over her.

      I’ve no idea how this way of reading does influence the reading of other “man ruling” parts in the Bible yet.

      1. The grammar does not seem to support such an interpretation.

        The Hebrew word for “desire” is a grammatically feminine noun, but the word for “rule” is a grammatically masculine verb. If the desire was ruling the woman we would expect a feminine verb to grammatically “agree” with the feminine noun.

        The masculine verb literally means “And he will rule” and it grammatically agrees with the masculine noun meaning “husband/man”.

        יִמְשָׁל (yim·šāl) the verb in Genesis 3:16 is always used in the Hebrew Bible for a person ruling. It is not used about a concept or idea ruling, let alone a grammatically feminine concept.

        1. I don’t think there is any question that ruling is referenced to the man, and desire is referenced to the woman, even in English which does not have the feminine/masculine grammatical changes. Prior to the Fall, man did not rule over woman, they were a unity, in harmony with God, the Creator and Master of their world. After the Fall, passions which had been unknown before now come into play. These disrupt what was a unity, a harmony with God. There is now imbalance, resulting in disharmony, and dominance of one by the other. The desire of the woman is now not primarily communion with God, but with her husband, in response to the awakening of sexuality…and other passions. Where God once ‘ruled’, now the man does. And his ‘rule’ is not by love and justice as God’s is, instead fallen man rules by his own disordered passions of control and dominance. The passions are now not ordered by the Will, the Fall reversed this: the passions now order what the Will does.

  9. Oops! I did not mean to suggest this would be specific to jealousy, only that this was my prompt for a search on Genesis 3:16. I see the passage as having very broad implications, for whatever we “turn to”, whatever our primary desire and focus is, it will rule over us. If our attachment desire is to another person, or thing, that will be our master, rather than God.(could be money, a drug, etc). I was struck by the fact that what would, on the surface, be a good thing – desire for one’s spouse – but here it is part of a curse, or punishment. Eve turned to Adam, in response to the serpent’s invite, instead of God. I am thinking that God is saying, ” you turned towards your husband, not Me, this is what your choice means.” I do not see it as a gender subservience, but more in line with “No man can serve two masters…” and that it could apply either to man or woman.

    1. It’s such an interesting idea, Gail. And I will continue to think about. In fact, I discussed your idea with my daughter-in-law last night.

      1. This is where I’ve landed with my understanding of teshuqah as well. The “desire” sense of the word, plus the “turn to” sense would equal something I’d call a “fixation” if anyone had asked for my translation. As Gail termed it, an attachment. Of the obsessive variety. Idolatry. Wendy Alsup deals with this idea from the comp perspective here (https://theologyforwomen.org/2010/04/her-desire-will-be-for-her-husband.html). I found it helpful to pair this position with the interpretation of the Gen. 3 judgments in this research from the Trans-European Division of 7th Day Adventists (trans-european-division-brc-report.pdf) as they approached the issue of ordination of women. Pages 152-201, specifically.

        The report highlights in the semantic range of “mashal be” its usage in a care-taking sense, and prefers “be responsible for” or “care for” in place of the usual translation “rule over.” From there the report shows the reversal that occurred at the Fall… where man once cleaved to his wife, his supporting ezer, she would now desire, turn to, and yearn for him as protector in her childbearing weakness and provider who worked the relentless, cursed ground. Her needs would make him her ruler.
        “The wife supports her husband and the husband clings to his wife (Gen. 2:18, 24).
        The wife longs for her husband and the husband supports his wife (Gen. 3:16).”

        Sin undid the originally intended balance where the husband’s emotional needs tempered his potential to physically dominate his wife, and the physical dependence of the smaller, weaker woman tempered her potential to abuse her relational upper hand and emotionally manipulate her husband. Interestingly, where I am saddened by the loss of such a beautiful co-dependence, this report portrays God’s prediction in 3:16 as a blessing. Just as the blessing of vocation was not revoked, neither were the blessings of procreation and marital unity. They would just occur under greater struggle and with less success in a sin-ridden world. The 7th Day Ad. researchers see the hierarchical marriage of 3:16 as a loving patch-job by the hand of God that saves His human family from self-destruction until it one day produced Jesus and could become that family. He thankfully didn’t allow us to abandon marriage, sex, and reproduction.

        This interpretation places hierarchical marriage neatly under the same umbrella as blood sacrifices, priests, books of stringent laws, and the exclusive nation of Israel: temporary patches to hold us over until Jesus established the New Kingdom.

        Personally, I prefer to dampen this celebration of God’s loving character with the reality Wendy Aslup discusses and my experience confirms: we are profoundly gifted at misusing blessings. I see the perspectives in these sources as two sides of the same coin, spiritually healthy vs. spiritually unhealthy. A marriage characterized by desire for husbands in the appropriate dosage, while knowing in my bones that God is my ultimate provider and comforter vs. a marriage that elevates my worldly provider and comforter (husband) over God and is characterized by my neediness and frustration at my husband for not filling my bottomless cup like God can. I’ve lived both. And the latter certainly produces, in me at least, the manipulative behaviors complementarian interpretations assign to “teshuqah.”

        1. Hi Frances Carol,

          I think fixation is a possible interpretation for teshuqah. This article discusses the possibility that “single-minded devotion”, which is not unlike fixation, is the meaning of teshuqah: https://margmowczko.com/translation-genesis-316/

          It seems to me that all the consequences of sin given in Genesis 3 are unfavourable and not the ideal. “Patch-job” is a possibility, but I don’t believe it’s because of the wife’s fixation. If anything, it’s because of the brutal turn society would take, where physical strength of men was needed to ward off the constant threat of violence and wars.

          Thankfully, “blood sacrifices, priests, books of stringent laws, and the exclusive nation of Israel” are not applicable for those of us who are now part of the new covenant and the new kingdom.

          1. Ah, yes. All of the consequences of sin are unfavorable, but God did not abandon us to the full extent of them. Rather than abandoning us to starvation outside of Eden, we were allowed to produce food. Rather than abandoning us to Satan’s strikes, we hope in knowing his head is scheduled for a crushing. And rather than abandoning us to the alienation and mistrust that sin would sow into our marriages, God allowed a continued desire in woman for her partner and a need for his unique access to resources. But the fact still remains: even with His allowances for some functionality, each of those small mercies keeping humanity alive and multiplying toward the second Adam would be nothing but curses without intimate access to God. Without Him, our worldly sources become our idols… men become slaves to work and money, and women slaves to men and family. Perfect conditions for society’s “cruel turn” to patriarchy.

            But amen, sister. I can’t praise enough for being born on this side of the new covenant. So glad Jesus restored that intimacy and fulfilled all the patch-jobs before I was on scene. Whatever it is I’m trying to say, it’s in agreement with you and Gail, I believe! *blush!*

  10. What a great discussion. I appreciate your gracious attitude towards viewpoints other than your own. And I truly am happy (and amazed!) that control issues do not plague your relationships. But my observation is that I think it is very common for control issues to complicate male/female, and especially husband/wife relationships, hence the euphemism, “battle of the sexes”, and volumes written about codependency.

    1. Thanks, Abby.

      Sadly, there may well be control issues in some modern marriages. But history has shown that it is usually the husbands who expect to, or seek, to control their wives.

      I’m certainly aware of the euphemism, but I have never seen this battle played out except in funny ways. For instance, at a camp I used to go to for many years, one evening of entertainment was a battle of the sexes. It was a competition where the boys would do “feminine” activities such as put on pantyhose, and the girls would do “masculine” activities such as identify hand tools, for points.

      I heard someone say once that women do not seek to control men, they just want to be able to control their own life. In some cultures even today, women do not have the freedom to make decisions about their lives, about education or who to marry, for example. I suspect some people see women wanting to have a say in their own lives as a threat to male rule and as a battle.

  11. Marg,
    I have a theory about Song of Sol 7:10 and would like to run it by you to see what your opinion is. I personally only hold to the LSJ III definition of definition for apostrophē for all three Gen 3:16, Gen 4:7, and Song of Sol 7:10.

    In regards to Song of Sol 7:10, most people assume that desire is the right word because it fits into a sexual context. However, not every theme in the Song of Sol is about sexual expression, there are emotional and relational aspects as well. I noticed that verse 7:9 seems to be an end to an erotic expression that started at 7:6. Then 7:10 opens up with a new context and theme.

    In both the Hebrew to English and the English translation of the LXX, it has the word “towards” in Song of Sol 7:10. Also, the Hebrew to English says (of my) beloved. I don’t have a way to check if it’s actually (of my) Beloved instead of (I am) my Beloved’s like in other places. Although I don’t think it would make much of a difference regardless. I will put in the word turning instead of desire into vs 7:10 with the intended LSJ III definition for apostrophē. My theory is linked to the immediate context of verse 7:11.

    Song of Sol 7:10- 7:11.
    “I am of my beloved, and toward me his turning is.” (The woman then says) “Come, my beloved! Let us go forth to the field; let us lodge in the villages…”

    It sounds like after he turns toward her, she exhorts him to join her on a journey! Could it be that after he turns away from all others and gives her his undivided dedication, that she then uses his turning towards her as an advantage to lead him on the journey that follows? Kind of like saying, I belong to or am a part of this person, and because of this, they are leaving all others and turning to me. So because I have their undivided focus, I exhorted them to come with me on a journey through the fields, lodging in the villages, and into my family home.

    As far as further narrative, her first intended itinerary is the field to check for blooming, then off to lodging in the villages. This then goes into 8:1-2 where the woman longs that her beloved was her closest kin so that others would not despise her for her expressions of physical affections. Then finally, the climax of it all… Her desire to lead and take him into her maternal household! The journey then ends and a new theme emerges.

    “I am of my beloved, and toward me his turning is. Come, my beloved! Let us go forth to the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom— there I will give, I will give you my love. The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my beloved. If only you were to me like a brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts! Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me.
    I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house— she who has taught me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates.”

    I’m thinking that this narrative of 7:10 – 8:2 might be a reference to Gen 2:23-24 and a reversal of Gen 3:16 curse. What I see is that she is of him just like the first woman was of the man, so the man would turn away from all others towards her to focus on her specifically just like the first man said he would cling to his wife. This would be undivided devotion. From there I see her wanting to lead him into her maternal household. Likewise, the mandate in Gen 2:24 would have landed the man in the maternal clan of the woman. I personally think that the woman’s turning in Gen 3:16 is the reversal of the man forsaking all others to cling to the wife as intended in Gen 2:24.

    Any thoughts on this?

    1. So, I got distracted from your main point when I saw the word “mandrake.” I’d wondered what its significance was in Genesis 30, but hadn’t looked it up. And here was the word again in Songs.

      Here’s what Wikipedia says,
      Two references to דודאים (dûdâ’îm)—literally meaning “love plant”—occur in the Jewish scriptures. The Septuagint translates דודאים as μανδραγόρας (mandragóras), and the Vulgate follows the Septuagint. A number of later translations into different languages follow Septuagint (and Vulgate) and use mandrake as the plant as the proper meaning in both the Book of Genesis 30:14–16 and Song of Songs 7:12-13.

      But as to your point: teshuqah is translated as epistrophē in Songs 7 (LXX), not apostrophē. Not that it makes that much difference.

      The intertextuality between Genesis 3 and Songs 7 is interesting. Perhaps “my mother’s house— she who has taught me” could be part of this scenario: Eve being the “mother” and her “teaching” either being Eve’s reply to the serpent (where she corrected the serpent), or what Eve might have said to her husband that persuaded him to eat. Though, in Genesis 3, Eve says nothing to Adam.

      But I’m not a huge fan of intertextaulity and I find Songs irritatingly enigmatic. I don’t get it. So I’m not the best person to ask. And Songs 7:11-13 sound sexual to me.

  12. Hello, like your blog post. I think its about longing also. I have this video that goes deeper into the more mysterious part of male and female mhttps://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/3589709/jewish/Women-First.htm

  13. I was interested to note that both occurrences of teshuqah in Genesis are in verses that also have msi for rule. But in the LXX these occurrences of msi are translated differently: Gen. 3:16 with kyrieuo (master, lord) and in 4:7 archo (be first). I was wondering if anyone felt that this was significant (that the translation of msi might have been intended to color the meaning of teshuqah in some way).

    1. Hi Abby,

      The Hebrew word מָשַׁל (mashal: “rule”) occurs in both Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.
      More on this word here: https://biblehub.com/hebrew/4910.htm

      The Greek verb archō has two definitions. It can mean, I. to do something first or to be first, and it can mean, II. to rule or lead.

      In the Septuagint, however, it is only used with the sense “to rule/lead.” The verb occurs twice in the active voice the New Testament, and here it also means “to rule.”
      More on this word here: https://biblehub.com/greek/757.htm

      The verb occurs numerous times in the middle voice in the NT where it always means “to begin.”
      More on this word here: https://biblehub.com/greek/756.htm

      The related abstract noun archē often has the sense of “beginning” or “being first” in the New Testament, but it occasionally refers to ruling.
      More on this word here: https://biblehub.com/greek/746.htm

      The related concrete noun archōn means “ruler” or “chief.”
      More on this word here: https://biblehub.com/greek/758.htm

      All in all, I can’t see an appreciable difference between the verbs archō and kyrieuō. They have the same basic meaning, though archō may have an added nuance of “precedence.”
      More on kyrieuō here: https://biblehub.com/greek/strongs_2961.htm

  14. Thanks so much Marg for your thoughtful reply.

  15. Hi Marg

    You may recall that I am leading classes on Women in Christianity which now has extended to 12 weeks. I was troubled by Genesis 3:16, especially the last phrase “And he will rule over you.” NASB. Last week I read somewhere, but cannot find the reference again, which stated that these words did not exist in the early Hebrew texts. I have checked out a number of websites, including Bible Hub and chabad.org which both include these words. My search led me to your Blog. So, I would much appreciate your clarification on whether in the early text these words do not exist. If they do exist, are we to ignore them?

    I have a separate question on Ephesians 5:22-33 and will follow up separately on the Blog.

    Your work is very much appreciated.

    Blessings from Florida

    David

    1. I have never heard the idea that “He will rule over you” is not part of the original text. It occurs in the Septuagint.

      There is no way we can ignore these words. They are a part of our very existence. The rule of men over women has been the norm in almost every society for millennia. However, this social dynamic is a consequence of the fall and not God’s ideal for humanity. Jesus never quotes from Genesis 3; he quotes from verses about the mutuality and unity of men and women, husbands and wives in Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 and 2 shows God’s intention for human relationships, not Genesis 3.

  16. Hi Marg

    Thank you for clarifying for a relative newcomer, your comments are most helpful. This has enabled me to better understand this verse which I have struggled with for some time.

    Your work is an inspiration and I am so glad that I found your Blog through the Junia Project in California!

    Blessings

    David

  17. Even if it were in fact about a power struggle, as you said there is nothing in the text making her desire or his rule a command, but rather a consequence of their new sin nature. A fight to see who is going to be the leader whereas the original design was equality without a hierarchy, neither was fighting to be better then they were just equal to.

    However, I thought your final point sounded like complementarianism is part of the consequence of the fall, how ironic! The point that these things are not commands from God but rather a product of our own inclination towards sin and that sin affecting our relationship really is what makes the difference regardless of interpretation. Growing up a complementarian I always heard this verse preached as that desire meant desire for your husband’s leadership role and he shall rule over you was necessary because women don’t possess enough self-control evident by the fact that eve sinned and tempted Adam to sin… But without a preacher inserting the idea that it’s a command that is what really makes the difference regardless of how you interpret the woman’s desire.

    1. Hi Brandi, I firmly believe patriarchy is a consequence of sin in the world, or “the fall.”

      I personally don’t believe that a power struggle is part of most marriages. Most women don’t want to take control of their marriages or take control and lead their husbands, but they do want control of their own selves.

      Also, the Bible nowhere says that women lack self-control. We know Eve’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit–the serpent tricked her. What was Adam’s excuse? It’s a shame Genesis 3 don’t tell us Adam’s excuse.

      1. Dunno.. maybe Adam’s excuse is trusting his wife…
        I know I know… what a foolish man!
        Lol

        1. He trusted his wife more than God. He heeded her voice rather than God’s.

  18. Marg––

    Good morning from Denver, CO. My name is Will Cunningham and I am a 60-yr-old marriage counselor at Mission Hills Church, where my wife and I have led a marriage enrichment ministry called, “Re|engage” for the last three years. During these years, we have strived to instill the concept of “co-leadership” in the heart of the couples who have come through our ministry. The resistance to this concept is amazingly strong… at times even from women. Your treatment of the word “teshuqah” matches perfectly what we’ve been teaching for a long, long time. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world. Your words ring true. Your wisdom is sturdy and trustworthy. And most importantly, your kind treatment of dissenters strengthens your teaching and reminds us that, “All God’s ways are lovingkindness and truth”.

    With deep respect,
    Will Cunningham

    1. Thank you, Will.

      I often say that the Bible needs to be interpreted, and it’s principles implemented, with kindness and commonsense. Lovingkindness should be the hallmark of all our behaviours and relationships.

  19. Of course women desire to control their man. Have none been in a relationship that do not know that?
    This is universal, no matter where i’ve traveled in the world. But, nevertheless, women are no different to men in that we all belong to Christ now. If we are to treat our wives as Christ is to have treated the church (sacrifice, even to the point of death, which i currently do) then the scripture is fulfilled, the verse is true in meaning “turning” towards and/or away from their husbands, and God is faithful to speak it and uphold it. To much division over what words mean and their interpretations instead of doing what He said; “i desire mercy, not sacrifice”. Most have lost their ability to think like children and complicate things because of this wicked heart and divisive brain we all have inherited. But yet there will be one or two to argue me their point in the matter. There always is. Believe it to be what you want and settle the matter in your own mind and live with that decision, because it matters not on things that do not save nor rescue those going to the pit, it causes more division among the non believers as they sit and mock those that do believe by saying “see, none of them can get along, i want no part in it” and we chase away the very people we should be winning. It’s a damnable shame, it is. Stop it.

    1. Billy,
      In short, yes. Many men are married to women who have no desire whatsoever to control them, and I’m sorry if this has not been your experience.

      Most women want a happy husband and a happy marriage, a mutual partnership. And they do not want to be controlled by their husbands which is still the lot of many women around the globe. In many cultures, past and present, the rule of man is law.

      This article does not cause division. It is an article that discusses the meaning of a word. Some people enjoy discussing words. Moreover, people can discuss words and be merciful and rescue people. This is my experience.

      This article shames no one and attacks no one. What causes division is anger and animosity which your comment has in spades. Division also happens when people are easily offended and close-minded.

      Anyway, I will not be approving any further comments from you as I want my website to be a peaceful and friendly place where people can discuss ideas and not be told by a total stranger to stop just because he or she doesn’t like it.

  20. One of the difficulties I have with some of the common interpretations is that the context of the thing — a curse, yet a decree of God — necessitates that this is simultaneously something negative, yet not something sinful.

    So we can’t take it to refer to a simple indication of headship on the husband’s part, because that would demand that headship is not otherwise part of the ordained order, which I believe the Bible is clear through a variety of means, is not the case. But neither can it mean the husband will be sinfully dominant, because God is DECREEING that this is the way it’s going to be. It’s theologically problematic to think that God is decreeing that husbands will consistently sin against their wives.

    So whatever the desire and rule are here, they have to be negative in the sense of being unpleasant (like pain in childbirth), without being overt sin on the part of either party.

    Given that, together with the context, I’m inclined to think that it’s merely saying that she will have a longing (probably at least in part sexual) for her husband and, consequently, he’ll hold power/influence over her. Not as something he DOES, but as the natural consequence of being the object of her desire. “It’s going to be painful to bear children. But you’re going to want your husband anyway, and that desire for him will hold sway in your life.”

    I also find it interesting that, as heavily as the parallels to Genesis 4:7 are relied on when people interpret this, comparing sin’s desire for Cain to Eve’s desire for her husband, older translations don’t even convey that verse as being about sin. They say “him.” “His desire shall be for you…you shall rule over him.”

    1. Hi Rachel,

      I agree with your statement here: “So whatever the desire and rule are here, they have to be negative in the sense of being unpleasant (like pain in childbirth), without being overt sin on the part of either party.”

      These negative things, including painful toil and sweat (Gen. 3:17-19), are consequences of sin. They are not necessarily sinful in themselves and they are not compulsory. I didn’t have any pain with my first labour and not much pain with my second, and there was no sorrow. And not every man eeks out a living by working hard and sweating.

  21. In the 70s, I toured the women’s prison in the state of Nebraska, which was in the city where I lived. The woman leading the tour said that 99% of the women in the prison were imprisoned because of their relationship with a man. I don’t remember the exact words, but it left me with the impression that their desire for a man and to please that man led them to cooperate with them in a crime. Desire is a very strong emotion. It doesn’t always lead to sin, but it most certainly can. And I think it’s safe to say that all sin begins with desire of some sort. And desire can certainly cause women to make poor choices and not think clearly. At the same time, desire can result in a good outcome if a person also uses wisdom and puts God first.

    I agree with Rachel that the longing or desire a woman has for her husband will consequently result in power or influence over her because of her desire to please him. That may result in good or bad.

    I also agree with your comment about the consequences placed on men and women as a result of sin. Not all women even have children, and those who do have options today that make it pain-free or nearly so. For some labor lasts a long time and is excruciating. For others, it’s relatively short and, as in your case, not as much pain. Also, most of us simply go to the grocery store for our food and don’t painfully toil or eat our food by the sweat of our brow, if we take that verse literally. It is the ground that is cursed, not man. It is the serpent that is cursed, not women. But both men and women must face the consequences of their sin. The final consequence is in verse 19 – for dust you are and to dust you will return.

    1. That statistic about the imprisoned woman is interesting, Christine.

      I agree that the woman’s “desire/devotion” is an unhealthy and misplaced one, and one that in some case will harm her.

  22. Marg, I just stumbled on to your blog here and I must say this is one of the best exegetical explanations I have found. I have taught this passage for forty years and each time searching for new or interesting research. I had just finished rereading J. Walton, G. Wenham and of course D. Kidner and feeling frustrated with the lack of crisp clarity. Your brief commentary was quite helpful.
    Thanks a bunch,
    Mark Foreman
    Lead Pastor
    North Coast Calvary, Carlsbad, CA

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Mark.

  23. Hi Marg

    God bless you,
    Does the word “pain” in Genesis 3:16 include pain during intercourse for women too? Beside the pain of childbearing?
    Since in my opinion it is so unfair that a woman has pain in the best place of her life for pleasure of her man
    Beacause of this problem my relationship with God is destroyed.
    Please help and answer me as soon as possible.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Richard,

      The first part of Genesis 3:16 might be understood as saying, “I will multiply your sorrow (or pain) in conception” and this might be taken further as referring to sexual intercourse. The verse then goes on to say “In sorrowful toil (or pain) you shall bring forth children …”

      Monthly periods, intercourse, pregnancy, labour and simply being the mother of children can all be sorrowful and difficult because of the fall.

      Some women do experience pain during intercourse. Can you see a doctor about it?

  24. Hi Marg

    Thanks for your answer
    Do you mean that all of the women’s pains,sorrows and other problems that they deal with them beacause of their sex is related to the fall and for the first sin ?

    1. Hi Richard,

      The biblical theology is that all pain and disease stems from sin entering the world, beginning with Adam and Eve’s first sin. 🙁

    2. Hi Marg

      Thanks
      Like always, great.

  25. Hi Marg
    I would like to see Katharine Bushnell, ‘God’s Word to Women’, get the recognition she deserves for her work on the translation of ‘teshequa.’
    Thanks
    Patricia Erlandsen

    Katharine Bushnell (born Sophia Caroline Bushnell in Evanston, Illinois) (February 5, 1855 – January 26, 1946) was a medical doctor, Christian writer, Bible scholar, social activist, and forerunner of feminist theology. Her lifelong quest was for biblical affirmation of the integrity and equality of women, and she published God’s Word to Women [1] as a retranslation of the Bible. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Bushnell

    You wrote “Until Susan Foh wrote her 1974-5 paper What is a Woman’s Desire?, …many Bible translators were content to understand teshuqah as simply meaning “desire” and “longing”.[1] A few English translations such as the NLT and NET, however, show the influence of Foh’s paper. They have translated teshuqah as “desire to control” and “want to control” in Genesis 3:16. Is “a desire to control” what the original authors meant in Genesis and in Song of Solomon?

    1. Thanks, Patricia. It’s been a while since I’ve read Katharine Bushnell’s book. I must read it again and possibly add a sentence or two about her findings in this article.

      I strongly doubt that teshuqah means “a desire to control.” In my conclusion I make this statement:
      Teshuqah may mean “desire.” It may mean “turning.” It may mean “single-minded devotion.” It may even combine the senses of all three of these meanings. But context, as well as evidence from history and the present day, seems to rule out that it means “a desire to control.”

  26. Oh Man you had me going and then you stopped short of answering. Lol!
    I do believe it is a combination of definitions. However, if we go by the context of the story I think Adam was being charged with guarding the heart (emotional desires) of Eve.

    She had now been exposed to a weakness, that is a desire to be something else. Eve was not settled in who G-d created her to be. Sounds like the fashion industry, always making women feel inadequate about their looks…

    That would fit in with the pitched battles that would come between her seed and the serpent’s seed. The serpent would spend centuries attacking her this way and Adam was required to protect her. We have done a poor job of it!

    1. Hi Terry,

      I think my conclusion is fair and clear. This is my answer to what teshuqah means:
      The precise meaning of teshuqah is not completely certain. It may mean “desire.” It may mean “turning.” It may mean “single-minded devotion.” It may even combine the senses of all three of these meanings. But context, as well as evidence from history and the present day, seems to rule out that it means “a desire to control.”

      God doesn’t give Adam any instructions, or any charges, whatsoever regarding his wife in Genesis 2 and 3.

      We are told why Eve at the forbidden fruit. We are not clearly told why Adam ate it. Whatever his issues, weaknesses or desires were, he sinned too. God questions both Adam and Eve individually and holds each accountable for their own actions.

      I don’t want to read more into the text that isn’t there. And I think we all are meant to help and protect people as best we can, regardless of whether we are male or female. We need to love and look out for each other.

  27. I think Gen 3:16 is one of the most misunderstood verses in Scripture. I follow along with the reading in Tru316.com and highly recommend it.

    The basic challenge is that almost everyone assumes that everything God says to the 3 actors after the act is negative and so seek to find some way to understand each statement negatively. It is true that the statements to the serpent are all negative to the serpent (but one is positive to the woman!) and the statements to the man are all negative in their effects on the man (and the woman), but this is not true for the woman! Once one sees that is it NOT the case that they all need to be understood in a negative way, it is freeing to see how each one can be understood in its own context.

    1. What God says is, overall, bad news for the three actors, even if not every statement is negative.

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