The woman desiring her husband in Genesis 3… it might not mean what I thought

01_Ge_03_04_RGAs I was doing some work on Genesis 1-3 for an upcoming Bible class, I ran across an interesting group of articles on Genesis 3:16. (Naturally I run across this right after posting an article on the same over at Wineskins)

Not that it should matter, but I’ll mention that these articles happened to be written by women. And they take an interesting view, one which emphasizes context (thereby hitting one of my hot buttons).

One is a journal article by Susan Foh titled “What Is The Woman’s Desire?
The second is an article by Claire Smith called “A Sidebar Called Desire.” I should point out that this one is linked to a countering view: “Problems With A New Reading Of An Old Verse,” by Wendy Alsup.

The view espoused by Foh and Smith concerns the use of the word desire in Genesis 3:16—

“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

These women note that the Hebrew word translated “desire” is used three times in the Old Testament: here, in Genesis 4, and in the Song of Solomon. In the Song of Solomon, it appears to refer to sexual desire. But in Genesis 4, it means something very different:

“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)

I’ll confess, I’d never noticed the amazingly similar language between Genesis 4:7 and Genesis 3:16. Foh summarizes her study in this way:

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.

I’m not completely ready to buy this, but the evidence from the text is powerful. I’m not looking for a debate about gender roles (nor will I participate in one), but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this interpretation of Genesis 3.

Image courtesy of Sweet Publishing

8 thoughts on “The woman desiring her husband in Genesis 3… it might not mean what I thought

  1. Scott McCown

    At the very least the thought of the desire and connection to leadership is interesting and contextually appears to connect to Gen 3:17, “And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;” Part of Adam’s crime was eating of the fruit and another was not taking on the role of firstborn and male leader responsibility and listening to his wife as she lead him in the wrong.

  2. Danny Holman

    I have recently been considering it as a possible “other” combination.
    In creation: care for the garden and it yields its fruit- in the fall: toil and struggle against the ground for its fruit. In creation: Be fruitful and multiply…the fall: pain in childbearing. In creation: bone of my bone/flesh of my flesh (ie. equality)… in the fall: desire will be for husband (sense of “unequalness” in leadership arrangement). Still deciding whether this holds…what do you think?

  3. Rick Kelley

    I had an older preacher give me a 3 or 4 page study on this a couple years ago, where he had referenced these exact verses and expressed the same sentiment. It certainly seems plausible.

  4. Sean Todd

    Interpret scriptures in their context. This battle for control is NOT God’s plan for the family. It is a CURSE which by God’s grace we can reverse as we “submit to one another” (Gal. 5:21). Likewise, Gen. 3:18 does not prohibit the use of weed killers nor does Gen. 3:16 prohibit the use of pain killers during child delivery. (In the past some church leaders forbade their use, but Queen Victoria was one of the first women to ignore these men.)

  5. Tim Archer Post author

    Exactly, Sean. That’s a good way of stating what these scholars were expressing. They say that God’s curse was about a struggle for control.

  6. Jennifer Jolene

    These are the best, most accurate translations:

    Genesis 4:7 – “Will you not, if you do the right thing, be uplifted? And if you don’t do the right thing, there at the entryway lies a male goat, a sin offering. He is turning towards you, so rule over him.”

    Genesis 3:16 – “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pain in pregnancy. In painful toil you will bear children but your turning will be towards your husband (like a sheep turns toward its shepherd); therefore he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

  7. Tim Archer Post author

    Thanks Jennifer for the input. I’ll need to study what you say more. I read it quickly and misread it. Interesting thoughts!

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