Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Matt Lynch* posted an article yesterday about the ESV’s newly revised and controversial translation of Genesis 3:16. As part of his post, Matt presents a brief summary of Andrew Macintosh’s recent paper, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies LXI/2 (2016) pp.365-87. Matt’s summary is posted here with permission.

It is probably just an accident of history that the ESV made a permanent and significant change to Genesis 3:16 right around the time that Andrew Macintosh, one of the world’s leading scholars of biblical Hebrew, published an article proposing a new translation for a key term (Heb. tešūqâ) in the same verse. Macintosh’s article is the most comprehensive and up-to-date academic treatment of this term to date, and deserves attention.

His argument proceeds (in typically dense-but-rich philological fashion) along the following lines:

  1. Translators almost universally render the Hebrew term tešūqâ ‘desire.’ Unfortunately, the term only occurs 3x in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 3:16; 4:7; Song 7:10), so it’s very difficult to translate. This is why the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ancient Greek translation prove helpful. They provide (a.) a wider semantic data set and (b.) the earliest translations.
  1. Based on Gen 3:16 and Song 7:10 and instances of the term in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it seems that tešūqâ is a personal term, and that the abstract use in Gen 4:7 is dependent upon that personal sense.
  1. The early Greek and Hebrew (Dead Sea Scrolls) translations and interpretations of the Hebrew tešūqâ are basically correct. It means ‘focused attention’ or ‘devotion,’ and refers in personal contexts to ‘an aspect of the love and commitment’ that a man or woman expresses for their mate. (p.369)
  1. tešūqâ is predicated on both the man (Song 7:10) and woman (Gen 3:16), but is not referring to sexual desire, or desire as such. Instead, it refers to the relational devotion or preoccupation of one lover for another.
  1. Applied to Gen 4:7, the term takes on an abstract sense whereby sin, lying like a coiled serpent, ‘rests at Cain’s door waiting for an opportunity to entrap him and bring about his downfall.’ (p.372) He continues, ‘the subtlety and insidious craftiness of the serpent’s aims are served with the same single-minded concentration as is the loving care and devotion shown by Eve for her husband and by the lover of Canticles for his inamorata.’ (p.372, emphasis added)

Macintosh’s insistence that the term refers to ‘single-minded devotion’ is convincing, and clearly lies behind the earliest translations. His careful philological analysis raises a further problem for the ESV rendering of Gen 3:16b. If tešūqâ means ‘single-minded devotion,’ as Macintosh maintains, then what is the object of her single-mindedness? Is she single-mindedly devoted to not being devoted, or to not being subordinate? Or is it more insidious, that she devotes herself entirely to opposing or harming her husband? Both are unlikely in context, and as suggested above, cannot be inferred by appeal to Genesis 4:7.

The problem for the ESV of Gen 3:16b is that ‘single-minded devotion’ is not hostile on its own, and so ’el cannot perform that contrary function. On the contrary, tešūqâ is decidedly loyal. A more appropriate translation of Gen 3:16b would be the following:

‘Your devotion will be toward your husband;
Yet he will rule over you.’

This excerpt was taken from Matt’s article Contrary Women: Genesis 3:16b in the (now non-) Permanent ESV which was first posted on Theological Miscellany, the blog of Westminster Theological Centre. You can read the rest of the article here.

*Matthew Lynch serves as Dean of Studies at Westminster Theological Centre, where he also lectures in Old Testament. Matt is the author of Monotheism and Institutions in the Book of Chronicles (Mohr Siebeck, 2014) and various articles on the Old Testament. His current research investigates conceptions of violence in the Old Testament. Matt is particularly interested in helping students grasp the theological and literary contours of the Old Testament, wrestle through its ethical and historical challenges, and understand its ongoing significance.


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Related Articles

Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16
A Quick Comparison of Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7
Other articles on Genesis 3, here.

More about the ESV and Genesis 3:16 on Ian Paul’s blog, here.

19 thoughts on “Does Teshuqah mean Desire or Devotion in Genesis 3:16?

  1. I think this idea for teshuqa is a good possibility.

    Just to add to the possibilities, I have just seen one where the author noticed that the word for “sin” in Gen 4 is also the word for “sin offering”. This then recasts the story as one in which Cain, whose offering was refused, is now given an opportunity to make it right, but has to seize the opportunity.

    I know, seems far fetched at first, I thought so too at my immediate reaction but the more I thought about it, the more it seems a possibility.

  2. I’ve read that the Septuagint renders the Hebrew word as a turning to or towards. Does that contradict or complement the above where the Hebrew word is a single minded devotion? Is it possible that Eve was turning her devotion from God to Adam? Or is that still reading a negative connotation into that verse that isn’t required?

    1. Hi Ashley, I make this comment about the Greek word apostrophē, the Greek translation of the Hebrew teshuqah in Gen 3:16:

      “Liddell, Scott and Jones (LSJ), arguably one of the best lexicons of Ancient Greek, has several definitions for apostrophē. Most don’t fit the context of Genesis 3:16 at all. For definition III, however, the LSJ says that apostrophē is used rhetorically when one turns away from all others to one person and addresses him specifically.”
      From here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/teshuqah-desire/

      This sounds like single-minded concentration and devotion to me.

      1. Your article is probably where I read that about the Greek translation. 🙂 It sounds like single minded devotion to me as well.

  3. It bothers me so much when some people say the word means that she’ll want to control her husband. I mean really??? If they just asked us instead of telling us what we think, they’d see that we just want to treated equally.

    1. I have had that exact same thought! I agree and well said.

  4. Having finally read Macintosh’s article, I’m not convinced he’s right. He begins with Song 7:11, I think that’s a mistake given the genre of that text. Just think about English songs about love and you’ll hear lyrics telling us that we’re a “slave to love,” “addicted to love,” and equally harsh things about love. Well Song of Songs is a Hebrew love song, and it says some harsh things too, using language about being held captive and so on. Macintosh makes some assumptions about what Song 7:11 says based on a failure to adequately account for the nature of the genre. It just isn’t the right place to start. At the end of his article he uses Song as the decisive factor in favouring his interpretation over that of Joüon (p. 384–385). On p. 385 he writes “The case [Joüon] makes has some force in respect of the two verses from Genesis and their respective contexts, but it seems somewhat contrived in the case of Cant., where radical equality, rather than domination, is celebrated.” I think the reverse is true: Macintosh places too much weight on his understanding of Song 7:11.

    Other problems I have with Macintosh’s article are his failure to note that the Greek frequently translates Hebrew words from the root שוב with στρεφω/στροφη words. Furthermore, the paleo forms of ב and ק are more easily confused than they were in the square (Aramaic) script. All this lends credence to Ch. Rabin’s claim that the later meaning of “desire” was unknown at the time Gen and Song were composed and Rösel’s view (cf. Macintosh, pp. 374–375) that the Greek translator did not understand the Hebrew.

    Finally, I was surprised that Macintosh didn’t interact at all with Foh.

    In the end, Joüon’s and Foh’s understanding fits better with the context of Gen 3:16 and 4:7, so I’m sticking with the understanding that Gen 3:16 depicts the rise of enmity in the relationship between the husband and wife.

    1. Thanks Martin. I always appreciate your take on the Hebrew text.

      My main problem with Foh’s understanding (I’m not acquainted Joüon’s) is that I can’t see that wives trying to control their husbands is, or has been, a widespread phenomenon, especially when compared with husbands/men ruling wives/women. The Greek of Genesis 3:16 doesn’t support Foh’s premise either.

    2. Hi Marg, that’s a good point. I think that there is a danger in depending too heavily on the etymology, so that “control” may not be the best rendering. However, I do think it points to תשוקה being a negative term which, in the context of Gen 3, is used to express the breakdown of the intimacy of Gen 2. As for the Greek, you’re right that it doesn’t support Foh’s reading, but (as I mentioned above), I think there are good reasons to doubt the value of the Greek (and later versions) in understanding the Hebrew.

      1. There’s definitely a breakdown of intimacy, but I still can’t clearly see what role the woman has in it, whether it’s a negative passive or negative active role.

  5. I think most people read Gen 3:16 with an assumption that each and every item in it is negative. I think this is a mistake. The challenge is that Gen 3:16 is bracketed by the 2 curses on the serpent and the land based on what the serpent and the human did, the latter curse involving wordplay of adamah/ground and adam/human. So the curse on the serpent is bad for the serpent (but one aspect is good for humans) and the curse on the land is bad for humans. But the middle text is not the same. There is no mention of the woman’s actions and no mention of a curse. These differences are important, methinks.

    1. I love this comment on the play on words in Genesis 2:

      “. . . Adam names himself ish, ‘man’, here [in Genesis 2:23] for the first time. He deepens his self-identity from simply being adam connected to adamah, ‘human’ to ‘humus’, to being ish connected to ishah, ‘man’ to ‘woman.'”
      Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey (Source)

      It is important to recognise the puns in Genesis 2 and 3, and elsewhere, when interpreting.

    2. I agree with a negative connotatation in interpteting Hebrew concept of “desire” in Gen.3:16.interpretation based the usage of the term in the Song of Solomon leads to conclutions forced down futuristiclly down the ages to rimes of the Fall. It must not be forgotten that ‘desire’was,in the context of Gen 3, part of a curse due to inobediance and defiance of God’s direct command to Adam.

      1. That is exactly what Gen 3:16 is not, it is not a part of the curse on the serpent or the curse on the land.

      2. Hi Louis,

        Only the serpent and the ground are explicitly cursed in Genesis 3 (in Gen. 3:14 & 17).

        There are negative ramifications resulting from the man and woman’s disobedience, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the woman’s desire is in itself negative. What is negative is that even though she will desire her husband, he will rule over her.

        God’s words in Genesis 3:16 are spoken to the woman, and primarily concern the woman. At this point in time, I honestly can’t see that God intimates she will become an adversary of her husband.

        Genesis 3:17-19 is spoken to the man and here God states that the ground is cursed, and that the ground and its thorns and thistles (not the woman) will be an adversary of the man. There is nothing untoward about the man’s toil except that it will be frustrated, much like the woman’s desire is frustrated.

        Bring on the fulfilment of Romans 8:19-25! Adam and Eve have nothing on us.

  6. wow, great stuff here. thanks Marg for this and the other post as well as comments.
    I’m late to the party.
    I was arguing with a friend about this word today and now I happened upon this post (and https://margmowczko.com/teshuqah-desire/).

    For whatever reason I’ve never seen this interpretation I lay forth now. If anyone has do share where so I can read/learn from it too. Here goes. also, this may offend ‘feminist’ sensibilities (meaning everyone, because that’s all of us these days. yes it offends mine too)

    I think the word should retain it’s ‘beastly’ context, as in Gen 4:7. I would use this verse to base its meaning. I think retaining this ‘devour’ definition is in best keeping with the rest of the uses. More so than simply ‘singular devotion’ though that definition sorta works too, it’s just too light. defanged, if you will.

    Does a hungry lion on the prowl for food have ‘singular devotion’ for it’s prey? sure. but no one would call it that, that’s silly.

    But would you call a lover pouncing on his object of devotion ‘beastly?’ yep. we do all the time. it’s figurative of course, but the lovee often wishes to be ‘devoured fully’ by the lover.

    I would define teshuqah as a longing to consume. This longing is irrational, but also amoral, essentially free of judgement. You wouldn’t judge the wolf for eating a foal would you? that’s just what it does. and the wolf was REALLY HUNGRY. that’s the longing of teshuqah. It’s like a deer pants for water, with the difference being the object of longing in the case of teshuqah is animate. The key difference between the deer panting and the wolf prowling is that the ‘victim’ is held in no or little regard, inconsequential.

    That’s what the lovee wishes for, to be ravished by the hungry wolf of a man in a way which has little/no regard for her wellbeing but rather the sole purpose of satiating his ‘hunger.’ That fits. It feels a bit weird, even wrong, when fully defined this way, but that is what she wants in that moment (the throes of passion). The lovee isn’t satisfied when the lover holds back. No woman wants to tell her man “hey buddy, you’re not gonna hurt me, okay?”

    Now, is the meaning sexual? no. it’s animal. animals don’t think. the lion has no ‘respect’ or ‘honor’ or ‘duty’ to the lamb when it kills and eats its prey, it is acting on instinct. So too, does the lover when he ravishes and fully possesses the lovee, it’s animal instinct unleashed. Very intense and uncontrollable (seemingly). In Gen 4:7, sin (the beast in this case) has no regard for the wellbeing of man only for pouncing and consuming fully.

    Teshuqah leads to the destruction of its object in every case. “singular devotion” doesn’t do that. And in the lovers’ case it is being figurative. You will believe the lovee describes herself as “done” and “slayed” and further violent death euphemisms after receiving such teshujah. Heck, the French even call ‘la petit mort’ after a good romp. So the lover case isn’t an exception to the destruction meaning of the word. We already know sin’s teshuqah spells death and destruction.

    We should note, while destruction of the object is in every case of teshuqah, it is not the pursuit at all. The lion just wants to eat. It’s just it’s nature. Destruction while key is not the intent, don’t forget: no regard.

    Yet in Gen 4:7 it says to control it. tame the beast. Overcome the beast’s desire to consume you and master it. Husband it.

    That takes us to Eve. God is describing her nature. Her nature is teshuqah toward the man. What is God saying here? Why use such drastic and violent language as beastly hunger to consume fully? It’s a strong warning: If the man didn’t rule over her he would surely die, being fully consumed by the woman. “She’s a Man-eater!” After her man dies, the woman likely dies as well. Surely she’s not eating the guy though, so what does it mean? What about fully consuming his resources and energies? Feeding on his strength with no regard for replenishment. In our era that means money, attention, time, commitment, effort. All that we consider a man to be.

    Ask yourself, have you ever seen a woman consume a man in this fashion? Completely drain him of everything he was and still want more? Perhaps moving on to another man to do the same? Seemingly no regard for any of the “resource objects” in her path?

    God is saying “tame the lion.” or rather “you’re a beast for him, and left to your own devices you’ll chew him up and spit him out and go searching for another, but he’ll take care of that as your husband.” As long as you both shall live. You see how this beastly teshuqah even works with the ‘yet’ or ‘but’ in the text that everyone is so confused about? And strangely, with this definition it’s the teshuqah to be wary of, not the ruling. The rule is the saving grace, otherwise only destruction follows (as with Gen 4:7). [My thought is we’re imparting our ‘feminism’ (we’re all feminist these days to a degree) onto the text when we assume rule is the curse. by the way ‘mashal’ does not have an explicitly ‘domineering’ connotation, it can just mean dominion or authority]

    To say teshuqah is just control or usurpation or desire to lead blunts the dire warning strong description. As mentioned in the post, it’s very rare to hear of a woman who wishes to dominate her husband, or control him, or be his leader.

    How do you tame a teshuqah-inflicted beast? very carefully. You have to care for it, feed it, shelter it, but never let your guard fully down lest you be torn to shreds without regard. Guard your resources but spend them readily to care for the beast. Doing so will keep you both alive, and hopefully with the proper stewardship you can both even thrive over time. Basically you have to love it sacrificially.

    1. Hi Bleve, I see little evidence that teshuqah is “drastic and violent language” or that it has an implicit “beastly” sense. The first translators of the Hebrew texts of Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7, and Songs 7:10 certainly didn’t see a drastic, violent, or beastly sense, and neither did early Jewish interpreters. And we don’t see these senses in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      The word can be used in a variety of contexts, but the basic meaning does seem to be desire, longing, and/ or devotion. In Song 7:10, the man’s desire (teshuqah) appears to be sexual, and the woman welcomes it. She doesn’t perceive his desire as violent or beastly or potentially destructive. See here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Song+of+Songs+7%3A9-13&version=CSB

      The “beastly” sense in Genesis 4:7 comes from the word רָבַץ (rabats) which is often used in the context of animals lying down. This word also has no “drastic or violent” sense. In fact, it often has the sense of lying down and resting. See here: https://biblehub.com/hebrew/7257.htm

      I compare Genesis 4:7 and Genesis 3:16 here: https://margmowczko.com/genesis-316-teshuqah-mashal/

      Whoever came up with the interpretation you’ve quoted has a vivid imagination. What that person has written seems to have more to do with his own overblown ideas, and has nothing to do with what the ancient texts say that contain, translate, or comment on teshuqah.

      1. cool. can you share with me the other (non-bible) uses of the word so I can take a look?
        I’ll read that mashal article, thanks.

        I appreciate your response. allow me to clarify regarding your critiques.

        Do you disagree with the hungry beyond reason connotation? This is the sense that I use “beastly.” Meaning not rational, not moral (but not immoral), and very strong. Instinctual. animal => “beastly.”

        When I walk into a room and there’s an ‘animal’ laying down which ‘turns’ toward me I feel no urgency nor need to master it. If it were a lion, and I know lions have an instinctual desire to eat me, I would. That’s why this definition of teshuqah fits here. Do you see that? In what way do you disagree, if you do?

        Metaphors keep the meaning of the words used, literally, in order to apply that context to the thing being compared. It’s a bad idea to use Song 7:10 as the primary basis for figuring the meaning of the word since that metaphor is the likely to be the most stretched. Do you disagree that, even in our day, we consistently use such ‘violent’ language to describe passionate sex? (the word passionate itself means suffering) Have you ever described the sex act as passionate? as a ‘ravishing’ or anything similar that implies depletion of energy and exhaustion even to the point of death? I think that’s what Song 7:10 is getting at: an irrational, strong desire which cannot be reasoned with. You can fight, run, or give in when the hungry wolf comes but you can’t talk the wolf out of the hunger and desire to eat you. It’s clear when reading Song 7:6-9 that he is comparing sexual desire to hunger. When the woman responds she is continuing his metaphor. This is like good improvisational jazz when one solo ends the next artist echos the sentiment with his first riff. She’s saying he’s hungry for me, riffing off of the same motif he just elaborated. And in 6-9 all that fruit gets consumed when you enjoy it. If you didn’t fully eat and swallow the fruit you haven’t fully enjoyed it. She wishes to be enjoyed fully in verse 10. She wishes to be ‘slayed’ as some might term it these days. How would you term it?

        We know sin will eat you up and destroy you from other contexts, do we disagree here? If the ‘laying’ animal ‘turning’ toward me has ‘singular devotion’ for me there is no need to master it as there is no threat. It’s already mastered and it’s devotion is for me. It’s just turning to me to say how much it loves me. No mastery required. [1]

        I think the only reason this ‘beastly’ definition as I’ve labeled it doesn’t ‘fit’ according to people is because they are uncomfortable with it being applied to women in this context. and in the sex context too, but I think most honest readers will acknowledge that latter one works out as a great fit as we use similar language regularly.

        Do you disagree that the lovee in Songs wishes to be ‘ravished’ as if by a hungry beast who’s sole purpose is to lap the lovee up until it has depleted its strength or had its fill? If so, do you disagree that people today regularly use this sort of language to refer to good sex?

        As far as I can tell you haven’t addressed any of the points in the argument at all. just said “nah.” after keying in on the “beastly” metaphor. Which tells me you disagree with the judgement you place on the connotation: “beastly = bad” women aren’t bad so that can’t be it. I can understand that. But don’t forget, this definition of teshuqah is meant to be free of moral judgement. (Some ancient scholars even thought it was righteous when the lion feeds.) It’s a description of reality not a prescription of the way things ought to be. It says nothing of the lion’s virtue, just that the desire is strong and cannot be reasoned with, so don’t bother striking up a conversation for conflict resolution. No amount of sharing emotions, speaking facts, respectfully engaging the lion’s perspective, telling the truth and offering solutions will help in this scenario.

        I think you focused on the words which connotation you didn’t like and then didn’t bother to address the argument: “I see no evidence.” I gave the evidence, which boils down to: “hey, this definition when plugged in seems to fit better than any of the others, what do you guys think?” Please try to steel-man this argument and grapple with it (more violent language used as metaphor; wow language has a bunch of that!). Please do share the counter arguments you come up with which dismantle the support for this definition. Or share *why* you think the word doesn’t fit and back it up as I did.

        you may, of course, accuse me of misogyny and say I just hate women and that’s why I manufactured this, but don’t forget I can think and say the same thing of many of the other definitions: Well you all just favor women (which makes sense, I too have that inclination) and so are uncomfortable with the message this definition gives so you change it to things that are more flattering that women might like, such as “singular devotion.” How wonderful! So that stuff doesn’t really get us anywhere. I’d actually prefer to leave the implications aside as that puts the cart before the horse. I am aware this definition makes the text uncomfortable, I can feel that. But first we need to see if it fits and how well before we get to that. My argument is that nothing fits that great, and this fits the best out of anything I’ve come across, even better than ‘singular devotion’ which isn’t a bad fit especially since it accounts for the ‘yet.’ In a way, ‘singular devotion’ is a woman-favoring/sparing version of this definition but it doesn’t fit as well in all three places as I’ve expressed. It does have the “benefit” of allowing women a positive light in the implication/message, but that shouldn’t factor in until later, we have to keep the proper order of operations.

        For my part, I’m bothered by the ‘yet’ in the verse as well as the ESV effectively contradicting itself and nearly every bible I pick up having some footnote to the effect of “could also mean ‘desire for'” when the verse says “desire [to rule over]” or “desire [contrary to].” How distasteful to have a Bible which seems to contradict its own translation in just one verse; one word! Not to mention brackets in the text in the first place. I’m looking for God’s word, ya know? not the Editor’s note.

        Please clarify the counter argument. What do you think of the ‘no regard,’ ‘destruction of the object receiving tesheqah’, and amoral ‘no judgement made’ aspects of this definition? please set aside the ‘beastly’ now as that shorthand doesn’t work for you. Do these aspects fit with uses of the word by your estimation? why/why not?

        What about the ‘yet’? How do the various definitions, including this one fit with the yet/but in the two verses? (there wouldn’t be a yet in the lover/lovee case as she’s giving in, she wants to be ‘consumed’)

        I’ll see if I can find those non-Bible uses of the word and take a look. Though, as I understand it the Greek word may be a poor translation if they didn’t understand teshuqah in the first place. Even still, when a Lion ‘turns’ toward me in hunger I run/fight/give-in.

        a question: what does “Men are dogs” mean?

        [1] I can see how singular devotion fits here if the teshuqah is a loving longing toward the master and the ‘rule’ is domineering for Eve. but that domineering rule definition may be reaching and doesn’t really fit in the crouching animal context especially since that word for rule doesn’t explicitly imply such negative exercise of power. there is no need to ‘master’ a teshuqah-ing person or animal as it will already comply to your every will if it has ‘singular devotion’ for you. Disagree?

        1. Hi Bleve, I’ll just make a few quick points

          ~ I don’t use Song 7:10 as a “primary basis.” Also, teshuqah is not used metaphorically in this verse: the man does desire the woman, and in a fairly normal, healthy manner. Also, since there are only three verses in the Hebrew Bible that contain the word teshuqah, of course I am going to use it to help my understanding of the word.

          ~ Only Genesis 4:7 uses the teshuqah as part of a metaphor. Genesis 3:16 and Song 7:10 don’t. However, teshuqah is used literally in all three verses with the sense of desire, longing, and/or devotion. I see no reason to apply an overblown metaphorical understanding of Genesis 4:7 to the verses that are not metaphorical.

          ~ The first translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, etc, did understand the word they were seeing. The word they translated was teshuvah which means “turn.” Teshuqah was not the word in the texts they had.

          ~ There is no beastly, violent, destructive, or irrational sense implicit in the word teshuqah in and of itself. The beastly sense in Genesis 4:7 comes from a different word, and this sense (which is only in Genesis 4:7) is being ridiculously elaborated on and exaggerated by your friend. Almost nothing they are saying is based on the biblical text.

          Quite frankly, the quotations you are sharing with me are overblown, overwrought and ridiculous, and that’s me being kind. I’m not going to spend more time critiquing them. (If I do, I’ll probably just be repeating myself.) Judging by the exaggerated and strong language, it’s unlikely the person will change their mind. I don’t want any further part in this. It is a waste of my time and yours.

          Also, I’ll be removing these posts, or large excerpts of them, in a week or two. I don’t want these rubbish ideas on my website.

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