Genesis 3:16

The publishers of the ESV recently announced that they have changed their translation of Genesis 3:16 to this: …Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

To summarize this rather complicated  survey, the basic meaning of the word is to, or towards. Sometimes, if the context and the verb used are hostile, “against” would be a proper meaning. But this does not mean that we can pick and choose whatever meaning we want. “Contrary to”, in the context of Genesis 3:16 or 4:7, cannot be justified. Only if we make the assumption that the word “longing” indicates hostility can we make this phrase mean “against her husband”.

 

…And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (Gen 3:16 KJV)

The publishers of the ESV recently announced that they have changed their translation of Genesis 3:16 to this:

…Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

I believe this translation to be in error. In this brief post, I shall attempt to explain my reasons.

First, a confession. At one point not too long in the past, I also succumbed to the same faulty reasoning. In the paper “Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality”, of which I was the primary author, I wrote the following:

Second, the curse was on her relationship with her husband. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Her intense longing would be directed towards her husband. The preposition translated “to” primarily indicates motion towards or into. Metaphorically it is used for “against”. Her longing, instead of a covenantal opening herself completely to the love of her husband, would now be directed towards domineering, manipulating, and refusing to be truly loved. (Reformed Church in the United States: Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality. 2013, page 41)

In this paragraph, I referenced Tremper Longman’s book on the Song of Songs (page 65). Longman, in turn,  referenced an article by Susan Foh, entitled “What is the woman’s desire” (WTJ 37 (1974-75) 376-83.

This article by Foh seems to have influenced quite a lot of thinking (including mine). And now its influence is felt even in the ESV translation of Genesis 3:16. The question is this: is this proper exegesis?

I have to admit that the section that I wrote is somewhat embarrassing. To say that the curse upon the woman involves her domineering, manipulating and refusing to truly be loved by her husband seems a bit much  to read into one preposition.

This exegesis makes much of the similarity between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7. In Genesis 4:7, we read that God, speaking to Cain of sin, says,

And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (Gen 4:7 KJV)

The connection is then made that sin seeks to have dominion over a man. Since the words and the grammar are identical to 3:16, the meaning of 3:16 is that the woman also seeks to have dominion over the man.

But both texts simply speak of “desire”. Why is the desire of the woman assumed to be the same as the desire of sin? This was an uncomfortable niggling that I buried deeply until I recently dug it up and thought about it.

My embarrassing admission is that I wanted to make an assumption, and I manipulated the grammar to do so.

It seems to me that using Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16 is rather sketchy exegesis. It would be similar to saying that God spoke against Baasha (1 Kings 16:12 – the preposition is ‘el) and God spoke unto Moses (Ex. 3:14 – the preposition is the same) therefore, God was against Moses just as he was against Baasha. It’s really bad exegesis. It seems to me that the meaning of the phrases must be determined in the context.

The fact is “sin” and women are not the same thing, and their desires are not the same thing. I wonder why we make the assumption that women’s desires are always for domination and manipulation even when the text doesn’t say so. Simply saying “Sin desires to manipulate and dominate and since the same preposition is used this applies to the woman as well” simply will not cut it. That’s not how language works.

The phrase in question is the one translated “and your desire shall be toward your husband.”

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