Sunday, April 11, 2010

Her Desire Will Be for Her Husband

I think this post may be controversial.  But I’m always concerned when those of us who most strongly advocate a straightforward reading of Scripture and obedience to it then don’t take Scripture at face value ourselves.  We have to guard our hermeneutic, folks.  So here goes my attempt to do just that. 

After the fall of man, God is very clear in Genesis 3 about the consequences for women.

16To the woman He said,
         "I will greatly multiply
         Your pain in childbirth,
         In pain you will bring forth children;
         Yet your desire will be for your husband,
         And he will rule over you."

Conservative, complementarian evangelicals (of which I am one) regularly interpret the next to last line to mean that her desire will be to rule over her husband.  But that simply is not what Scripture says.  And before you label me liberal (and it’s amazing these days what can get you labeled that way), hear me out.  If we can think about this topic anew, I think those who minister to women will be better equipped to apply the gospel to the core places in women’s hearts affected by depravity.  So let’s consider the particular consequence of the fall of man that a woman’s desire will be for her husband.  

Similar phrases are used in Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10.

Gen. 4:7  "… And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door ; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

Song of Solomon 7:10  "I am my beloved's, And his desire is for me.

Gen. 4:7 more closely mirrors the Hebrew wording in Genesis 3:16 than SoS 7:10.   So the argument used by some for interpreting Gen. 3:16 to mean foremost a desire to dominate the husband is that Gen. 4:7 could be read that sin’s desire is against us, to dominate over us.  But first, Genesis 4:7 doesn't say that sin wants to dominate Cain any more than Genesis 3:16 says it about women.  Domination and control are neither explicitly stated or subtly implied in either text.  Sin just wants Cain, according to this verse, in a big way.  And Cain needs to master it.  Furthermore, Genesis 4:7 is a personification of something that doesn't actually have desires.  Sin is not a person or an entity with feelings or emotions.  So it's a big jump to project onto the woman in Genesis 3:16 analysis of the very different literary device used in Genesis 4:7.   

Some argue that the word “for” in Genesis 3:16 could be translated “against.” However, no Bible translation anywhere (that I could find) says her desire is “against” her husband.  They all say her desire is “for” her husband.  Apparently, no translation team thought “against” was the best meaning of that term.  It doesn’t make sense to say “desire against.”  The problem with our desires is always that they are either FOR the wrong thing or FOR the right thing but out of proportion to what is appropriate.     


The most straightforward reading of Genesis 3:16 makes the most sense (as it often does in Scripture).  The woman's desire will be for her husband.  Plain and simple.  No contortions needed to accurately discern what God is saying here

The word for “desire” in Genesis 3:16 can mean craving or longing.  The issue is best understood if we make the simple substitution of God for her husband.  Her desire SHOULD BE for her God.  Instead, her desire/craving/longing is misplaced.  The curse is not that women want to dominate the men in their lives.  Women’s problem is that they worship the men in their lives and look to them for affirmation and provision emotionally and spiritually for things that God alone is supposed to provide.  Their problem is IDOLATRY. 

If you think that the foundational result of the fall of man in the average woman’s life is a desire to dominate, your ministry is going to miss … well … the vast majority of problems in a woman’s life.  Certainly, I know my fair share of dominating, manipulative, control freakish women (of which I am often chief), but our problem goes much deeper than the symptomatic issue of control.  We are idolaters!  We looked to men to meet a need they couldn’t meet—emotionally, spiritually, physically.  And instead of recognizing our sovereign, compassionate, and wise Father in heaven as the place to which we should have looked, we started looking within ourselves once the men in our lives disappointed us.  Control tactics aren’t the manifestation of an innate desire to dominate the men in our lives.  Instead, we resort to manipulation and control because we longed too hard to rest in the men in our lives.  We grasp and clamor, “Lead me spiritually.  Provide for me physically.  Affirm me emotionally.”  And when they can’t or don’t, then we attempt to lead ourselves spiritually, provide for ourselves physically, and seek outside affirmation for ourselves emotionally.  Instead, we don’t need to change our desire or craving.  We simply need to change the object of it. 

God, I need you to meet the spiritual void in my life!  “Certainly, child.  I will not leave you as an orphan.  I have sent my Spirit to bring to your remembrance all I have taught you, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”  John 15

God, provide for me physically!  “You can trust me, child.  Do not worry for your physical needs.  As I provide for the birds and flowers, I will provide for you.”  Matthew 5-7

God, I need help emotionally!  “Yes, child.  Meditate on all I have declared over you through Christ.  You have received the full rights of a child of the King (Gal. 4:5).   I will receive you one day into my arms with the affirmation, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’  Find joy and rest in Me.”

We are not going to really understand how the gospel equips us reclaim God’s image in us as His daughters until we understand clearly what our problem is.  I can’t emphasize strongly enough that the problem in women created by the fall is deeper than control and domination.  It may play out that way in some women, but it doesn’t play out that way in all women.  There certainly is a battle between the sexes as a result of the fall, but it is often one-sided.  For every controlling, manipulative, take-charge woman (who tends to be out there in front of us all), there are 5 pathetic doormats (hidden in the shadowy corners of life) waiting desperately for crumbs from porno guy’s table.  They’ll do whatever it takes—perform demeaning sexual acts, sacrifice the hearts of their children to an abuser, and other unimaginable acts of desperation—like a prisoner chained in a cell lapping water that spills out the toilet because he’s dying of thirst.  This insatiable craving is an issue of worship and idolatry.  Apart from Christ, our tendency after the fall is to set up men as being able to meet needs in us that only God can meet, and there is no limit to how desperate we can become. 

Women often perceive weakness or strength among each other by how they react when men fail them.  The perceived strong feminist woman is the one who doesn’t need men.  She can do it on her own.  The perceived weak woman is the one who continues to follow loser men around like a whipped puppy.  In contrast, in Christ, we have a new and different way altogether.  The woman bought by Christ who is set up as God’s honored daughter with full access to the King of kings has her needs met in Him.  God pours into her.  God equips her.  God satisfies her emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.  Then and only then can she let go of her perceived rights and be the helper to her male counterpart that God created her to be. 

In Sacred Influence which I reviewed here, Gary Thomas begins his encouragement to wives by thoroughly fleshing out all we have in Christ as His daughters.  Thomas makes a point that it isn’t until we get our identity in Him that we can deal with what God requires of us in marriage.  The good news of the gospel is that Christ has paved the way for us to boldly come to our Father’s throne room in heaven to find spiritual empowerment, physical help, and emotional affirmation.  God’s help and affirmation are real and effective.  He will meet the void in your heart that years of looking to men have never filled.  Come boldly to Him in confidence and find grace and mercy at the points of your deepest longings today, for apart from Him, you can do nothing. 

77 comments:

  1. Excellent! This has played out very personally in my own life as we've gone through various trials in the past year with a job loss, etc. It opened my eyes to my reliance of my husband and not on God. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Amen! I couldn't agree more. I actually had never heard the interpretation that it means women want to rule over their husbands until recent years. Before then, I had always personally interpreted it just as you are now.
    And in my own life, I KNOW this is true. I have never really understood the word "submission" being so touchy and things like that. That is not my problem (that doesn't mean I'm always the perfect submitting wife!) but I have definitely been convicted of idolizing my husband our whole marriage. I would say that is my biggest struggle. And this, it being the curse, would explain why.

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  3. Wow. I'm amazed at the timing of this post. Thank you for being used by God. I am blessed.

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  4. Hi Wendy

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    I wonder if you could explain the exegesis a bit further? I'm intrigued by the 'plain reading' of the text and like what you've picked up from SoS. But I was wondering what you think 'And he will rule over you' is doing in Gen 3?

    What I mean is, how does it relate to 'your desire will be for your husband'? If the latter has to do with control, the link is clear. If it's about actual desire, is the point of him ruling over her that she desires that which is not good for her? Or does that read too much in? (After all, his rule may not be bad.) Or perhaps the phrases are not that closely connected?

    T

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  5. I have been puzzled by the complementarian "desire for" interpretation. I always thought the passage meant that despite the increased pain of childbirth the woman would nevertheless have desire for her husband. The man whose seed leads to the childbirth with increased pain is nevertheless the focal point for the woman's life. It is almost as though in placing herself and her husband above God she is disciplined by getting exactly the god she wanted and discovering that he has been given the judgment of death. The discipline of Adam is parallel, because he listened to his wife and not the words of Yahweh the ground is cursed beneath him. By taking the fruit he was not to eat the ground itself rebels against him as he chose to rebel against God (it was Bonhoeffer who I first read making this observation). It seems that to make the case that Eve's "desire" was to rule over her husband overextends this kind of observation beyond what the language of the text actually says. True, there are women who seek to rule over the men in their lives but the desire doesn't play out in the same way.

    Men, broadly speaking, can often define themselves by their work so the curse of the ground may speak to that. Certainly while I'm job hunting I have come to realize that I looked to my job in far more ways than I imagined as a way to anchor my day to day life.

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  6. Tamie, the linkage is interesting. The NAS, KJV, and NIV have links between all 3 things. This seems to indicate that all three -- sorrow in childbirth, inappropriate desire for her husband, and his rule over her -- are linked. And I do think that each overlaps and interplays with the others.

    When I use the phrase "straightforward reading of the text," I just am pointing out that all the translations say "desire for" and to interpret that "desire against" or "desire to dominate" doesn't fit with what translation teams have deemed the best English rendition of the Hebrew.

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  7. Tamie, I didn't answer sufficiently in my last attempt. What I meant to conclude was that there seems to be as much link to consequence 1 and 2 as there is to 2 and 3. I don't think 2 and 3 are as intertwined as presented in some complementarian arguments. They can be understood apart and are not necessarily qualifying phrases on each other.

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  8. Thanks Wendy!

    With the linking between the consequences, I suspect you're right about the three not being as related as some have thought. So if I'm reading you correctly, consequence 1 is pretty straightforward (childbirth is painful); consequence 2 is about idolatry. What do we do with consequence 3 (the husband ruling) if it's not linked as strongly to consequence 2? If we take consequence 3 as standing apart, how is Adam's 'rule' over Eve a curse? It doesn't say that Adam's rule will be a bad one, and don't complementarians argue that Adam had 'rule' over Eve prior to the fall anyway? So how is his rule a new thing (or a curse) when taken on its own?

    I hope this makes sense. I guess it's a bit of a technical question. I know your post is about consequence 2. I'm just wondering what the implications are for the application of consequence 3.

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  9. That's a good question. I have a preliminary answer but will think on this some more and look through some Scriptures to make sure I'm being consistent.

    Scripture doesn't say Adam ruled over Eve prior to the fall of man that I can find. Genesis 1-3 don't use that terminology. And when Paul refers to the creation account in I Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2, he refers to the order in which Adam and Eve were created but does not mention a ruler/ruled paradigm. So I think there is a distinct difference between the oppressive rule of man over woman after the fall and the God-designed order of creation in perfection and its implications for relationships between men and women in the church and home. In God's perfect design, men don't oppressively rule over women. That's an effect of the fall. In perfection, the man leads, the woman helps, and all reflect different aspects of the character of triune God. I think you can draw a distinct difference in the type of "rule over the woman" after the fall and the submission/headship paradigm that reflect God's good plan for man and wife.

    I hope that does not sound like simple semantics.

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  10. It doesn't seem semantic to me (though some people could argue my observations don't necessarily count). It may be akin to what my friend J.S. Bangs mentioned long ago with respect to Adam's task given in the garden. The man and woman were not suddenly not supposed to cultivate the earth even after the earth produced thorns. Arguably the responsibilities had not changed but the work had been made more fruitless. Just as Adam was not to stop tilling the earth just because it produced thorns he was not supposed to drastically change how he treated Eve just because they had turned from the Lord. The inability to complete the mission did not change the nature of the mission.

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  11. Your observations count, WtH. :-)

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  12. Thanks for your initial thoughts Wendy. It doesn't sound like semantics and I'd be keen to pursue this further. Happy for you to not reply now though! :)

    My first question is whether the mention of rule in Gen 3 is necessarily oppressive. In Gen 1:26, rule isn't negative, though that relates to humans and creation. It's a different word in the Hebrew too - I'm not sure what the implications of that are, whether the different words express different types of 'rules'?

    I think the pre-fall order vs. post-fall rule thing is an interesting one to explore as well. A pretty standard complementarian line seems to be to suggest that order implies rule, but that that rule is a good one. If order doesn't imply rule (which, of course, is caring, loving, etc), I wonder what it does imply? Is there a difference between leading and lovingly ruling?

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  13. another great post, wendy. thank you.

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  14. Tamie, I was about to go to bed and put this off for another day (per your suggestion), but then the answer suddenly seemed clear. Each of these 3 aspects of the curse (and I believe the context of the phrase "rule over you" means that this is a definite part of the curse in contrast to what God created the relationship to be in perfection) are all corruptions of the very good things God created her to enjoy. She was charged in perfection with being fruitful. But now childbirth will be sorrowful and burdensome. She was created to help the man empowered by her perfect union with the Father. But now instead of helping and giving to him, she wants from him with an insatiable desire. Adam was created first and the order implied God's plan for leadership in their relationship. But now instead of loving leadership, there is oppressive rule. Instead of protection, he must be protected against. Instead of loving, he uses. And so forth.

    So the 3 facets of the curse are just perversions of what God planned for good when He created the woman. Redemption is taking these warped things to God and reclaiming what He intended in perfection through gospel grace and conformity to Christ.

    Now I really will go to bed! :-) And save the differences in leading and ruling for another day (because I don't know the answer).

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  15. Thanks Wendy!

    Here it's the middle of your tomorrow so I'll go back to essay writing but you sleep well! Ah, moments of clarity before bed!

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  16. I was looking at this very verse yesterday ... and you have answered the questions I was pondering! Thank you!

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  17. Before I went to bed, it occurred to me to simply look up "lead" and "rule" in the dictionary. The difference was clear. You have to qualify lead to make it bad (like oppressive leadership), and you have to qualify rule (like loving rule) to make it good. Inherent in their definition, a leader is distinctly different than a ruler.

    Lead -- to go before or show the way

    Rule -- to control or direct; exercise dominating power, authority, or influence over; govern.

    I think God's good plan has the husband as the leader. The fall of man results in the man exercising dominating authority instead of going before and showing the way, hand in hand.

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  18. I'm in agreement with your interpretation. I often see (and have experienced) that women first look to a man to meet their different needs, and then to themselves. I also think it is why many women get so dissatisfied in their marriages, and why we struggle with not comparing our husbands to other men. It's wrong, but I think it coincides with your thoughts that our desire for our husbands can be idolatrous.

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  19. This is a great post. I forwarded it to K and he thought so too. I loved your 9:02pm post too--so helpful and right on.

    On another note, I cannot begin to tell you how much God is speaking to me through your new book, "By His Wounds You are Healed". It is a gem and I am enjoying it even more than your first.

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  20. What a beautiful, factual post. Even as a single woman this speaks to my heart, preparing me to continue to strive for Jesus and not for what a husband could give me.

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  21. This post has helped expand my perspective on this topic quite a bit.
    However I think there is a lot of grace in God's punishment that may be overlooked. God is pronoucing punishment but not direction for future sin.
    Just because God has said -"he will rule over you" does not mean man either will or wont sin while doing ruling, just as "pain in childbirth" doesn't mean woman will or won't sin while suffering that pain.
    I think it can be shown that with each punishment from God comes his grace. He is pointing mankind back toward his original design for our lives, even in our punishment.
    I think it is shown throughout the OT that when God punishes there is always grace found with it.

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  22. Hi Wendy,

    Once again you have opened up an insight into the Bible that I had not seen before. From reading all the posts and comments, it seems clear what has happened.
    God created man to have headship over the woman, (to lead, care for, provide for, cultivate)for the purposes of being the image of God - which the woman helps him to achieve, and in doing so is showing the image of God herself. The women was created to submit to the man's loving headship.
    In Gen 3 at the fall these things are distorted by sin.
    Loving headship --- Rule
    Submission --- desire
    They are almost the way God designed them, but they are broken, kind of just limping along.
    In Eph 5 we see the restoration of these things achieved through the regeneration of the believers hearts by the work of the Spirit:
    Rule --- loving headship (Eph 5:25)
    desire --- submission (Eph 5:22)

    Thanks again

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  23. Greg, the only clarification I would offer is that I think the desire is a perversion of her created role as Helper. She was created to be a strong helper as God is for His children -- defending, supporting, and so forth. In perversion, she becomes needy of the man to the point of perversion instead of the strong helper to the man.

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  24. Hi Wendy

    Thanks for getting us thinking about this.

    I had a quick chat with my husband who suggested a few thoughts in defence of the interpretation that the 'desire for' in Gen 3:16 is a desire to possess and master and rule over.

    - The preposition translated as "for" in Song of Songs 7:10 is not the same as the one translated as "for" in Gen 3:16. That doesn't prove a lot in itself (Hebrew prepositions are pretty slippery!) but it does suggest that the idiom in Gen 4:7 is closer to Gen 3:16 than the idiom in Song of Songs 7:10.
    - As well as that Gen 4:7 is also a much closer text than Song of Songs 7:10 (same author, same book, same part of the book, same speaker, similar context...). So interpreting Gen 3:16 in the light of Gen 4:7 makes better sense than interpreting it in the light of Song of Songs 7:10.
    - I don't think that the Gen 4:7-style interpretation of Gen 3:16 requires turning the "for" into an "against". It just requires understanding the "desire" word as something possessive or controlling.

    Of course, I completely agree with you that there can also be a kind of idolatrous desire/love for our husbands. But I'm not really convinced that Gen 3:16 is speaking about it!

    btw. have you read Susan Foh's original article about this, from WTJ back in 1975?

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  25. Thanks, Nicole. I'll give a few more thoughts on why I resist that interpretation. I think there is a problem in using 4:7 to interpret 3:16 that way for multiple reasons. First, 4:7 doesn't say sin wants to dominate or master. It simply says that sin wants him, and HE must master SIN. It doesn't say sin is against us or that sin wants to dominate us. I think WE can say that, but the Scripture itself as originally presented in the Hebrew doesn't literally say that. It says basically that it is us who must master sin, which has a desperate craving for us. Second, sin isn't a person or spirit. It's a thing. So 4:7 is a personification of something that isn't actually able to desire. Adultery doesn't really desire. But you can say to make a point that adultery desires you and your coworker. Really the desires come from the depravity within us and Satan's desire to make us stumble. But adultery in reality isn't something that has desires. So projecting 4:7's personification on 3:16's literal truth seems like comparing apples and oranges. But even if it is ok to project the one on the other, 4:7 doesn't say sin desires against the man to dominate him. You could say that generally from other Scripture, but this particular verse doesn't say it.

    My study of Scripture by way of the clarifying questions put to me through the comments since the post have made me feel even more confident on this point. The curse is NOT that women have a desire to master their husband, and to teach that is to project onto Scripture something it doesn't say. If the hallmark of the complementarian position is taking Scripture to mean what it says, then we must correct ourselves on this issue.

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  26. Here is a little more clarification to explain my lay person convictions on interpretation of Scripture. I have several big picture, over arching convictions on Scripture.

    1. God has promised to preserve it. So, though I believe in due diligence in research of Greek and Hebrew terms, I also have confidence in our translations (which despite various doctrinal leanings tend to be pretty consistent -- and on this verse were 100% consistent).

    2. God has said what He meant to say. This may sound simplistic, but coupled with number 1, this means that when God said "desire for your husband", He meant exactly that. If I accept that He meant that the woman will crave to dominate her husband, then it undermines my confidence in the Word, because that's not what He said. You have to take a secondary translation of a preposition ("against" instead of "for") that no translation team took. And you have to add the term dominate, which doesn't occur at all.

    And I should also note that I certainly believe Scripture is the best commentary on itself, so I don't mind at all using Scripture to interpret Scripture when it fits. I don't want my argument against parallels between 3:16 and 4:7 to suggest that.

    Whew!

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  27. This is something I need to hear again and again. For some reason, I try to do things all myself and forget that God is there for "spiritual empowerment, physical help, and emotional affirmation", as you wrote. Thank you for posting this - much needed.

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  28. Thanks Wendy for your extra explanations and thoughts in response to my earlier comment.

    I certainly agree that there are some differences between what is going on in Gen 4:7 (between sin-personified and Cain) and what is going on Gen 3:16 (between the woman and her husband). But I don't think that makes them apples and oranges! The two texts are so close together in the Genesis narrative, the verbal parallels are so exact ("desire ... for ... master/rule", with exactly the same Hebrew words in every case) and the contexts have so much in common (ugly power-struggles after the entry of sin into the world) that I think it would be a strange interpretive approach to leap right across the Genesis 4 text all the way to Song of Songs to find a parallel to guide our translating and interpreting.

    And like I said in the earlier comment, I don't think we need to go with some sort of variant translation anyway. We just need a good English translation (like the ESV) that lets you see how close the wording of 4:7 is to the wording of 3:16, so that the picture of "desire for" versus "mastery" in one verse helps you to understand what is meant by the picture of "desire for" versus "mastery" in the other verse.

    Whichever interpretation of "desire" you opt for (idolatrous desire or possessing/usurping/controlling desire) there is still some interpretation that has taken place! And I don't think there is any hint of idolatry in either sin's desire for Cain in 4:7 or the beloved's desire for the woman in Song of Songs 7:10.

    I'm with you on the trustworthiness of Scripture, and I'm thankful for the way God has acted in his providence to preserve it and so that I can read it in English. But I don't think that means I'm relieved of the hard work of trying my best to understand it, or that I have nothing to learn from people who have worked hard at studying the text in the original languages. And I'm sure you'd say the same thing! So I think we should make a decision between the two possible interpretations without any anxiety that the doctrine of Scripture is being undermined if we go with one and not the other.

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  29. Thanks for adding, Nicole. I understand what you are saying.

    I think I am particularly passionate about this because the interpretation plays out practically in how we address the core issues of women's hearts in our ministries. When I read at face value "your desire will be for your husband" and compared it to "her desire will be for her God", immediately I received clarity on tons of issues I've witnessed in myself and other friends. I sat for a while under a ministry that thought the greatest fallout from the curse was that women wanted to dominate men and watched it crush woman after woman out of that misplaced view. I guess you can have that view and apply gospel grace as the solution. But in my personal experience, those that have that view see it as justification to apply brute force (verbally if not physically) to bring women in line in their church.

    Instead, the women needed to see their attempts at independence and control as coping mechanisms for dealing with the ways they perceived men let them down. They needed to stop looking to the men to hold them up, affirm them, or make them feel better about themselves. And they need to look to God and find their sufficiency in Him. Then they can let go of their rights and rest in what God has called them to be in marriage.

    That's a longer than necessary post, but it's what I am thinking about this morning.

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  30. Nicole, I should also clarify that I've never seen that attitude from anything I've read of your ministry. I don't want it to sound like I'm projecting something onto you based on your view.

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  31. Thanks Wendy - that's a really helpful insight into the context you're operating in. Like you, I'm horrified when I see or hear about men using brute force (verbal and/or physical) to 'bring women into line'. That sounds more like Lamech than like Christ.

    My main issue in the original comment I made was really about how to think about language and translation in interpreting the Bible.

    And although, I still (for the time being!) have a different opinion on the meaning of that particular phrase in that particular verse, I agree with you on the big picture of the Bible, that the bigger and deeper issue behind the battle between the sexes is the idolatry of the human heart, and our misplaced worship of things other than God. And I agree too that attachment and devotion to husband and family can all too easily take an idolatrous form, and that our teaching and culture in church can sometimes reinforce that tendency.

    Thanks once again for getting us thinking and talking about these really important theological and pastoral issues!

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  32. Thanks, Nicole, too for interacting and contributing to the discussion. Good discussion always forces me to think deeply and clarify.

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  33. Thanks Wendy, I really enjoy your blog.

    I am with Nicole exegetically. At the same time I agree with your concerns in potential perversions of this interpretation. At the same time, any sound interpretation of Scripture can be applied appallingly.

    On the other side of Jesus, does it help to be describing submission as something more than a distribution of power and an issue of control?

    Is the ideal of Christian submission (in marriage):
    having a commitment to use all our resources (energy, gifts, skills, personality, time, creativity...)
    to work alongside a husband who leads (lovingly and sacrificially),
    in doing the creation mandate (Gen 1:26-28) and Great Commission (Matt 28)?

    I think the Gen 3:16 curse plays out now, not only in obvious desire to dominate, but in the quiet reluctance to humbly join ourselves to another person for the sake of serving Jesus and bearing his image together.

    Thanks Wendy.

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  34. I don't know if this horse is dead yet, but I'll beat him one final time for good measure.

    In our study of Scripture, sometimes we confuse exegesis for eisegesis. Exegesis is taking what the text actually says and studying the meaning of the words that are there. Eisegesis is drawing into the text instead of drawing out of the text. I am concerned that interpreting Gen. 3:16 to mean a desire against her husband to dominate him is eisegesis, because the word dominate never occurs in her context. It doesn't occur in 3:16 or in 4:7. It doesn't say the wife wants to dominate. It doesn't say sin wants to dominate. These are all projected onto the texts (eisegesis) not drawn out of what the text actually states (exegesis).

    Can we trust the unified consensus of translators that the preposition in 3:16 should be translated "for" instead of "against" (for NO translation translates it against)? Is it a safe interpretation technique to project onto the phrase the idea of domination when the Hebrew itself doesn't use that term? And what are the implications on our ministries if we diagnose this part of the curse incorrectly? All thoughts to consider, and I am comfortable with the thoughts everyone has brought to the table to consider. Thanks for fruitful discussion.

    Ok. Horse is dead. If anyone wants a final comment, feel free to add. But I'm going to discipline myself not to add anything more myself.

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  35. Hi, Wendy, I just found your blog today and I want to say how much this post spoke to me. I too have heard the "dominate" interpretation and could fit it to myself, but only by bending over backwards intellectually to interpret my behaviors and emotions to force the fit. Your interpretation, however, fits perfectly with my experience. I know that isn't the guiding principle in deciding on an interpretation to follow, but I guess my bottom line is that, whichever interpretation of this Scripture is correct, your thoughts about it have opened my eyes to something I need to do some serious praying and pondering over. So thank you.

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  36. Thank you, Wendy, for clearing the air on this.

    I never was able to accept the interpretation that Genesis 3:16 actually meant that the woman's desire was to rule over, or lord over, her husband.

    But there is the very strong persuasion of group-think in the church, coupled with the desire not to be "divisive" that actually squelches robust debate. If you question, you find yourself thinking that perhaps you had it wrong. After all, how could so many others be wrong? It must be you.

    Tragically, that eisegesis leads to lording over women, demeaning and devaluing them, and using the false interpretation to "correct" their inherited sin flaw so that they will strive to be more "submissive."

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  37. Wendy,

    I haven't had a chance to comment before now, but I've come back to this post today for I think the fourth time in the last couple weeks. Ironically, the day you posted it was the day after my eleventh anniversary, and if there's one central problem I've had in my marriage, it's wrestling with the why behind my inability to give up wanting my husband to say/do/be certain things, and my refusal to stop subtly punishing him when he doesn't comply. I use the excuse that he's godly, that he should know better, that the things I want are really about him being faithful to his calling as a husband, but I know that's not my real motive.

    This post absolutely nails the answer to that question that I've been wrestling with God over. I want from my husband what I should want from God, and what God has already given me in Jesus.

    Truly, thank you. Biggest "AHA" moment I've had in a long time. Now, to live it out... :)

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  38. Thanks, Wendy--this whole essay rings true with advice you gave me years ago, along the lines of seeking for [ultimate companionship / security / whatEVER] only in God, bc no matter your "relationship status" (married, widowed, single, ditched, etc.) only GOD can ever ultimately deliver on those desires that were ultimately built into us by Him, FOR Him. It's advice I have needed to keep recalling constantly.

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  39. Great thoughts. I think you are right on with this idea. Not that both aren't true which I think they are, but your take on it is really just as if not more true. Thanks for that new way of reading it. I'm going to teach it now.

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  40. I am so glad to have read this post today . . . I have been searching for some clarity on some things and this is what God has used to open my eyes to what He is doing in me . . . thank-you!

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  41. I have been thinking this way about Genesis 3 for some time - the argument for desiring to control her husband just did not ring true to me. I just hadn't found anyone else in conservative evangelical circles who was thinking the same way.
    I work in student-ministry and I see idolatry regarding men being a much bigger problem in girls' lives (and my own) than desire to control them. Thanks, Wendy, for your helpful thoughts.

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  42. What a wonderful post. I've never heard anyone speak of the curse in this way before. I do know a woman who grovels at the feet of her husband, thinking that by doing this, she is obeying God.

    Thank you for sticking your neck out to give the truth.

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  43. "Women’s problem is that they worship the men in their lives and look to them for affirmation and provision emotionally and spiritually for things that God alone is supposed to provide. Their problem is IDOLATRY."
    I agree with this, and it has been something God has been dealing with me about for a while. So my question does not have anything to do with the truth of this concept. But something jumped out at me about this being a part of the woman’s curse that causes me a little confusion about this interpretation. I am not claiming to use any exegesis of this passage here, but is not the problem “of looking to people for what only God can provide” a universal issue, and not just a woman's issue? If so, why would it be a part of the woman’s curse? Yes, women do (arguably more than men) make idols of their spouses. But I have seen this in different ways from men as well: hoping the wife will affirm him, make him feel respected, be there for him, etc. to the point that those desires become idolatrous. So it may be implied in this verse, but is idolatry not a more universal issue? If so, why would this be a part of woman's curse and not the man’s as well? Or perhaps it is?? I am not speaking as a theologian at all, and I am sure that there are answers I am not seeing.

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  44. I definitely think men struggle with such idolatry as well. But it is so much rarer to see a man stay with an abusive woman than it is to see a woman with an abusive man. The core in men where depravity strikes them most often and most deeply is with work (as also predicted in the curse). But that too is not to say that women don't struggle with identity around work.

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  45. Could this be one of the reasons women are so drawn to Twilight? Douglas Wilson thinks so and think I agree with him here: http://www.dougwils.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7393:why-vampires-arent-really-that-sparkly&catid=72:shameless-appeals

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  46. Wow what a good explanation! Ever since I read that verse, I've always wanted an explanation of it. Although the false interpretation of the verse you presented was very barely shown to me not too long ago, most of the greatest translators explain it very closely to what you did here. And what better person to do it than a person under the very curse:) lol jk

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  47. Oops, I did not mean "translators," I meant Commentators.

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  48. What powerful dialogue -- thank you -- I think there are many useful insights here and will take them to my Sunday School class this morning, as we make our way through these difficult passages. Wendy -- particularly appreciate your insight and approach. There is one request I'd make -- that you rethink your use of "beat a horse one more time...now he's really dead." This term comes from an abusive posture toward horses and I cringed and literally "saw" that beating when you said it. Off-topic, but since we're talking about the power of words and their meanings in our lives...I thought it might be useful to re-examine the use of that analogy. Again -- thank you for the dialogue and insights.

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  49. Hi Wendy, thank you for this post, and your responses, and I agree that Eve's (woman's) curse of desire for her husband does not only mean a desire to dominate, but is better described as a pervasive idolatrous desire...worship of him in place of God.

    I have one question still; how can we understand desire in the other passages you mention?

    Gen. 4:7 "… And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door ; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

    Song of Solomon 7:10 "I am my beloved's, And his desire is for me.

    Sin's desire for Cain was not idolatry, but a desire to rule over Cain, the way all sin does. And then in the Song of Solomon passage it is an appropriate desire, between spouses (a picture of our love for God, his love for us). All this to say, I feel that there is some complexity to the meaning of "desire" in these all these passages.

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  50. Hi Wendy,

    I read this today at Thabiti's blog and instantly thought of this discussion -

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2010/10/26/the-idolatrous-adulterous-elevation-of-desire/

    I've appreciated the questions that have been raised about whether there is a uniqueness to the sinful desire of a woman for her husband. I wonder if one helpful way to put it is that the sinful desire that woman has in making her husband her savior often manifests itself in being domineering, but also in a host of other ways. As bad as being domineering is, the reality is, sadly, much worse - perpetual neediness, nagging, etc. Not sure if this will help with all the oppressive teaching in this regard, but there it is. Still thinking...

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  51. Ok. I'll break my vow of silence and jump back into this one.

    Natalie, thanks for commenting! Sorry I've been slow to respond (that vow of silence and all). There is an element of Gen. 4:7 that particularly complicates making comparisons between the passage -- in real life, sin doesn't desire. Sin isn't a person/soul/being with desires. It's an object. It's not a person. It's a thing. Gen. 4:7 is personifying it, attributing human characteristics to an inanimate object, a commonly used tool in literature. We can draw conclusions from that personification that apply to Cain and his need to guard himself from sin, but it is a stretch to imply that the relationship between women, desire, and their husbands is anything like that of inanimate sin and Cain. So I agree with your statement very much that the three scenarios are complicated when you try to project them onto each other.

    Rachael, I wrote another article on why feminism is attractive that kind of goes with what you are saying there. I'll have to go read that article on Thabiti's page.

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  52. I'm clearly way too late to join this discussion, but I just stumbled upon your blog today, and this post is brilliant. I have problems with the 'desire to dominate' interpretation too, and I've always tentatively understood it as 'childbirth will be painful but you will still desire your husband' - ie, not really part of the curse itself but just a clarification to the first part. But I like your ideas a lot and certainly in reality the principle is overwhelmingly true. And ironically exactly the lesson I'm trying to learn right now. :) Thanks for the food for thought!

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  53. Brilliant post, Wendy. Brilliant.

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  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  55. I found your blog by accident(yea right) while searching for material for a women's bible study I attend and all your words speak directly to my spirit often evoking some emotion. Thank you for helping me live a daily Christ centered life. Your blogs are a blessing!

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  56. "Desire" or "Turn"

    I know I'm very late in this discussion, but I wanted to add my thoughts.

    I don't know any Hebrew; but in the Septuagint, the Greek word used in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 is "apostrophe". While "apostrophe"(in its most literal sense) means "a turning away from", in both occurences it is accompanied by a preposition (pros) which means "towards". So the woman's "turning" is towards her husband, and sin's "turning" is towards Cain.

    In the paper I have linked, Dr Walter C. Kaiser, states that in Hebrew the word "teshuqah" also means "turn", rather than "desire". (page 7)

    The sad thing (as we all know) is that in too many instances, while the woman turns towards her husband (for love, companionship, care, children?) the husband will seek to "master" her. Or lord it over her. (The Greek verb used here is a cognate of the noun kurios: lord, master.)

    In Cain's instance, he is commanded to "rule" over sin. The Greek verb used here is a cognate of the noun arche: ruler.

    The problem with translating "teshuqah" into desire (apart from the fact that it may not even be correct) is that "desire" is such an emotive word. And it is difficult to know whether it is good desire or somehow bad desire(?).

    I think the translation may simply be "a turning".

    http://www.cbeinternational.org/files/u1/resources/14-kaiser-pdf.pdf

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  57. Wendy,
    I appreciate your take on Gen 3:16, and thought I'd add my 2 cents worth.

    I also heard that the correct translation should be "turning." I gather that because Adam turned against Eve when he blamed her for his sin, she then kept wanting their relationship to return to the way it was before sin broke the intimacy they shared. In other words, she forgot about the intimacy she had shared with God in her zeal to reestablish emotional intimacy with her husband. Her turning was to her husband. Adam took advantage of her turning to him, and demanded increasingly more degrading things from her, until he ruled over her, and through example taught his sons to do the same. Eve's example also taught her daughters to turn to their husbands, and this behavior has been repeated by both sexes ever since.

    Similar to Adam and Eve, today's couples start out with the male being loving, presenting flowers and candy, etc. But so often, once the woman has been persuaded to commit to him, to turn to him, he then uses that against her to rule over her. And not only is she is too invested to turn away from him, her church tells her that to turn away from him, to deny him anything, is sin. Our churches frequently teach wives "turning to their husband" behavior and attitudes. It is difficult to know how and even more difficult to practice turning and remaining turned to God, while still respecting our husbands.

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  58. I just ran across your blog. Thank you for this in-depth look at the word "desire". I have written and taught on this very topic and I struggle to fully define it.

    The Hebrew structure of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 are just too similar to not give it attention. Sin waits at the door of our hearts with the desire to control. I think women do have a tendancy to crave control, but it seems as if that control is ultimately steered towards a man. "I want to control you in order that you may fill my soul longing." Then becoming an idol issue, as you mentioned. So maybe it isn't one or the other. Maybe it's both. Would love to hear your further thoughts. Lara@LaraWilliams.org

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  59. I am really late to this post, but I came across it while doing some online research about this verse. Something that has not come up in all the comments, that I could see, is that the way contemporary complementarians interpret this verse is a departure from the older historic view, such as Calvin's. Calvin gives his interpretation the plain simple rendering that "Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes." It sounds a lot like Wendy's translation.
    It is only since the feminist movement that the interpretation that Wendy is arguing against has become common. It is always a good idea to look at the older commentaries. They might have had their own preconceived ideas that they brought to the text, but they weren't the same ones as ours! This can be very helpful, especially when it comes to gender passages.

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  60. As one who has taken the more traditional interpretation of Genesis 3:16, I thought your take on that verse was consistent with both Scripture and experience (in that order, of course). Thank you for making a good case for such an interpretation.

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  61. I am leaning towards "desire" being a longing for that deep relationship with the husband but was wondering your thoughts on how that reconciles to the emphasis on submission and respect in Ephesians 5 and I Peter 3 or the charge to not ursurp pastoral/elder authority in the church in I Timothy 2. Some on the complementarian side would say the desire in Genesis 3 is for control and dominion over man and the NT passages are to counter those inclinations.

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  62. Hi,

    Have you ever considered the possibility that a woman can idolize and seek control of her husband at the same time. This is the same as a person who seeks control of the false god he/she is worshipping.

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  63. Ms. Wendy, this thread has been such a blessing to my spirit. So many misinterpret this verse..., including my husband..., with "The wife desire to rule over her husband". I believe.., GOD is saying 'she will long to be in her husband's presence, emotionally, mentally, spiritually... etc. Yet, the contention will be..., instead of Leading the wife lovely, because of Eve's sin, the husband will rule over the wife. Which is the curse..., due to the 'fall of mankind'. I believe prior to the "Fall". Adam was leading Eve lovely. Which is "WHY"..., I would really like to have a moment to speak with (((Adam and Eve))) when I get to Heaven !!!

    My husband provoked this 'search and study' and I personally want to thank (((YOU))), because it has REALLY blessed me in a very profound way !!!

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  64. Wendy, I just want to say your thoughts here have been refreshing and have caused me to go back and study the passage again. I think I am still more convinced by the standard complementarian argument, because of the strong connections to Gen 4:7. But honestly, I don't think I thought it through enough, so I appreciate your differing perspective. And I definitely agree with your larger point about idolatrous desire.

    Ben Pun

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  65. Finally I understand that verse! What you said makes perfect sense. May I either 'steel' some of what you wrote for the final chapter of my book "Being a Wife" http://kingsdaughters21.blogspot.com/2011/10/being-wife.html or alternative include your entire post and give you full credit? I think it will be a perfect way to end off my book :)

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  66. Angela, you are welcome to cite this blog in part or in full. Just use whatever guidelines go with citing a blog. Here's a link.

    http://studenthacks.org/2007/10/22/cite-blog/

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  67. I agree with your explanation of the curse (3:16) as idolatry and how it affects relationships between men and women. But the word curse is confusing to me. How does womankind overcome a curse? Is it possible? Is a lifelong struggle? The word curse seems permanent and makes this struggle with idolatry hopeless. Even though Christ overcame....

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  68. I think it's all gift wrapped in redemption. It takes time to unwrap all the layers of what Christ accomplished for us through His life, death, and resurrection, but this is certainly part of it. It is, in fact, the entire point.

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  69. Wendy I have just recently found your blog and I have it bookmarked now. Thanks so much for all the wise things I have read here thus far. I am an older woman and I am on the last leg of my journey-whereas many of the ladies who have left comments here are just beginning.

    My Pastor graduated from the Master's Seminary and takes the dominate-control view of Gen. 3:16. I agree very much with your post here-and I have seen the damage a wrong interpretation of this verse can do. My Pastor is a kind and humble young man and that is a great blessing. I hope to talk with him about this sometime in the near future.

    I have a friend who is reading the Pearl book with her daughter. She asked me to read it and tell her what I thought. That book was so offensive that I had real trouble getting through it. When I shared with my friend what was wrong with some of the worst parts of that book-she got offended with me. I wrote my thoughts down about that awful book-it is the worst of the worst of what patriarchy gone mad can produce.

    Thanks again for your efforts here at your blog-I love good theological discussion with other thoughtful women.

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  70. Great Wendy found this truth over 40 years ago and have struggled with it ever since. My husband reinforced it when he told me he wasn't God. God reinforced it when thinking my husband could die I screamed at God "I can't live without him" God's answer "O you can't" instantly I realized my idolatry. But it always remains a struggle to want him to do for me what God has so lovingly promised me if I just go to Him.

    Very much enjoyed the theology discussion.

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  71. This post has changed my life. It was definitely on time and provided me with confirmation I had been seeking. I've been studying this verse trying to get insight and seeking God to help me understand my desires despite how much I pray and dedicate myself to Him. I too would like to cite your blog in a post I am working on. Thank you for your perspective and excellent explanation and interpretation.

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  72. The word “desire” is neutral until modified by word or context. My view is that in both 3:16 and 4:7 “desire” is a natural, expected desire. After the fall Eve will naturally desire Adam (in some way that she didn’t prior to the fall). In the same way, sin crouching to destroy Cain reflects the natural desire of sin.

    The word “rule” is similar. There is nothing in the text that tells us that Adam will, or should, dominate or control. Certainly Cain being told by the Lord to dominate or win over his sin nature seems a bit out of place given the NTs description of us being slaves to sin.

    A key for me is that Gen. 24 describes a servant of Abraham who is said to “rule” over all of Abraham’s possessions. Certainly in this context rule really means “govern or manage as one who will give an account.” In 2 Samuel 23:3-5 the Lord tells us the results of ruling rightly. If we rule rightly, then those whom we rule will see us “like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.” If we bring freshness and life to our wives, kids, employees, etc., then we might start to say we are beginning to understand the rule to which the Lord has appointed us.

    In short I think God is simply telling Eve that, due to their departure from the garden and the end of God’s unique presence among them, she will rely more heavily on Adam now than God (of necessity). And He is assuring Eve that He will hold Adam accountable for her welfare (Adam has been appointed governor of God’s property).

    Likewise, in 4:7, Cain is being told that sin’s natural desire is to destroy him. However God will hold him accountable as the governor of his own sin nature (Cain is a responsible moral agent). This view more closely ties verses 3:16 and 4:7 via seeing both as natural desires and calls to govern, while at the same time seems to me to reflect more of God’s heart in the protection of those who are likely to disproportionately bear the consequences of sin in His absence (in this case Eve, but in other biblical texts the poor, the oppressed, the weak, etc.).

    Two times God walked uniquely on earth (once in the garden and once in the life of Jesus). Both times He took time prior to his departure to care for the women directly affected by His departure --Eve and Mary (John 19:26-27). Hopefully we men in that Day will be able to give a sufficient answer to our method of “ruling”. As those appointed caretakers, we will give an account.

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  73. Hi great post, is this from a book? In my study on this topic I have come across this explanation in the past, and I have to say it's one that makes perfect sense to me (and doesn't inject words into scripture like 'rule over' which were never there. Terrible that they do that to the Word.)
    To tell the truth even in singleness I find myself desiring a man over anything, over good marks in my degree, applying for a better job or being better organized in general. In my late 20's now I thought perhaps it was my body clock, but perhaps it is just the curse? My question is how is it possible for God to fill this natural desire to have a partner? (which he designed us to have.) I really don't know. Neither did my elder when I asked her. She said 'I don't know how but God has to be enough for you.' She is married. Does anyone have any advice? How is it possible for God to meet my romantic and partnering and sexual needs? I don't think it's possible. Please share wisdom if you know or have overcome this battle yourself. Thank you in kindness

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  74. This is such an answer to prayer! Thank you.

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  75. After contemplating the word "desire" in these scriptures just yesterday, I googled and came upon your wonderful site. I'm a 58 year old woman who has been studying the word for 27 years, and I'd like to add my thoughts to this great conversation :) With regard to the "desire" question, I decided to look in my very old Strong's Concordance (dictionary of the original Hebrew and Chaldee) which describes the meaning of the word desire as: "a longing for", "to run after" as in an "overflow". I had never before (thank the Lord) heard that the meaning of this was a desire to dominate. From my own understanding, in simply looking at what God speaks only to Eve as an individual child of His, I believe this section of verse 16 is in direct correlation to the phrase just before it, i.e. "in pain you shall bring forth children". Even though Eve would now have intense pain in childbirth, she would still have a desire or longing for her husband (both sexually and emotionally). The human race would continue, but with pain and suffering.

    God cursed the serpent, He cursed the ground; He did not curse Adam and Eve, His children. However, sin has consequences. Subsequently, God establishes their new relationship together as a result of their sin. Adam would now have rule over Eve. No two ways about it, rule means rule: dominion over, have power over, reign, etc.

    He also showed them that their lives would have an end in sight. "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return."

    Adam, who originally called his helper/wife, Woman, "because she was taken out of Man", now gives his wife the name of Eve "because she was the mother of all living". It's interesting that this verse precedes the next with God clothing them with animal skins and before Eve ever gives birth. Adam had faith that God's blessing still stood for them: "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living things that moves on the earth".

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  76. I don't know if you imagined that 4 years later your post would still impact the lives of readers. That's the beauty in truth & God-inspired words. They live on; and are applicable throughout the ages--spanning time, distance, cultures and even gender. I praise God for you! I thank Him for leading me here today! You have helped more than words can say. THANK YOU!! May God continue to bless you in your endeavors. And, may you continue to be a vessel for the flow-through of His wondrous love and life-giving Spirit!

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