Gender conflict is a result of the fall

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been influenced by Susan Foh’s article on Genesis 3:16 and what it means for a woman to desire a man.

Foh summarizes her article by saying:

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

The translators of the NET Bible found Foh’s arguments to be convincing. They translate Genesis 3:16 in this way:

To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your labor pains;
with pain you will give birth to children.
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.”

Their notes say:

Many interpreters conclude that it refers to sexual desire here, because the subject of the passage is the relationship between a wife and her husband, and because the word is used in a romantic sense in Song 7:11 HT (7:10 ET). However, this interpretation makes little sense in Gen 3:16. First, it does not fit well with the assertion “he will dominate you.” Second, it implies that sexual desire was not part of the original creation, even though the man and the woman were told to multiply. And third, it ignores the usage of the word in Gen 4:7 where it refers to sin’s desire to control and dominate Cain. (Even in Song of Songs it carries the basic idea of “control,” for it describes the young man’s desire to “have his way sexually” with the young woman.) In Gen 3:16 the Lord announces a struggle, a conflict between the man and the woman. She will desire to control him, but he will dominate her instead. This interpretation also fits the tone of the passage, which is a judgment oracle.


This passage is a judgment oracle. It announces that conflict between man and woman will become the norm in human society. It does not depict the NT ideal, where the husband sacrificially loves his wife, as Christ loved the church, and where the wife recognizes the husband’s loving leadership in the family and voluntarily submits to it. Sin produces a conflict or power struggle between the man and the woman, but in Christ man and woman call a truce and live harmoniously (Eph 5:18-32). The Hebrew verb מָשַׁל (mashal) means “to rule over,” but in a way that emphasizes powerful control, domination, or mastery. This also is part of the baser human nature. The translation assumes the imperfect verb form has an objective/indicative sense here. Another option is to understand it as having a modal, desiderative nuance, “but he will want to dominate you.” In this case, the Lord simply announces the struggle without indicating who will emerge victorious.

So it’s hard to interpret the last part of God’s statement, whether He is saying that man will dominate woman in an ungodly way or (like Cain in 4:7b) that man is supposed to overcome woman’s attempts to control him. Either way, Genesis 3:16 leads me to see that the wrangling for control and domination between man and woman are a consequence of the sin in the garden.

1 thought on “Gender conflict is a result of the fall

  1. Harland

    As with your other posts, this one is tightly framed. My questions actually leave that frame by extending to other texts and arguments. Maybe I’ll just wait awhile and see how this develops. The textual focus seems right and helps me deal with uncertainties that I held in the past.

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