This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.
Genesis 3:16 says,
To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
Context of the Verse
God is speaking to the woman after she has eaten the forbidden fruit. This verse is often called the curse of Eve because it is one of the terrible consequences of the fall, which is when perfect man and woman ceased to be perfect. Sin entered the world.
Summary of Different Opinions
The two differences in interpretation for this passage are:
- Is God is describing or prescribing this verse to women?
- Is male leadership introduced at this point or earlier, at creation?
To understand the Complementarian (Camp) interpretation of “Eve’s curse”, first we must look at Comp’s understanding of creation. They believe male headship was established at creation. (I go into detail on the creation in this series of posts.) So, the premise going into Genesis 3:16 is that woman was created as a perfect complement for man, distinguished from him in form and role; happily content with his perfect, loving leadership. The fall distorted that God-ordained order of complementary roles.
Women no longer willingly follow their husband’s leadership, instead they desire to usurp him. They long to be in charge. To be godly, to live as she was intended, a women must put off her desire to lead and put on a submissive attitude.
Comps conclude this because of their interpretation of the key word teshuqa, translated as desire. (I go into detail about teshuqa here.) To understand how they interpret desire, take a look at what God warned Cain as his angry face betrayed him when God rejected his sacrifice.
Genesis 4:7 “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires [teshuqa] to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Notice the wording is near identical to what God said to Eve? “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Because of the parallel words, John Piper makes this parallel conclusion:
When 4:7 says that sin is crouching at the door of Cain’s heart (like a lion, Genesis 49:9) and that it’s desire is for him, it means that sin wants to overpower him. It wants to defeat him and subdue him and make him the slave of sin.
Now when we go back to 3:16 we should probably see the same meaning in the sinful desire of woman. When it says, “Your desire shall be for your husband,” it means that when sin has the upper hand in woman she will desire to overpower or subdue or exploit man. And when sin has the upper hand in man he will respond in like manner and with his strength subdue her, or rule over her.
Husbands, who were created to lovingly lead, now sinfully dominate the relationship. Or, [not stated in this verse but evidenced by Adam’s passivity in following Eve’s direction to eat] they let the woman take charge. To be godly, a husband must put off his aggressive my-way-or-the-highway attitude or his passive spirit and put on loving leadership.
The Comps believe the consequence of sin is the battle of the sexes. Women want to be in charge now, and men, to keep their God-ordained position, will use any means to dominate. As a result, Christian women should learn to stay in their God-ordained role, and Christian men should learn to control their aggression.
- John Piper’s interpretation of the fall.
- Listen to Mark Driscoll eloquently expound on the fall. “The man leads the family or Satan leads the family.” (He provides such great quotes.)
The modern complementarian interpretation has softened from the historic interpretation associated with male headship. This verse was interpreted historically as prescriptive, which means men are commanded to rule their wives. Because Eve was the first to sin, she was judged with sinful male domination.
…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. KJV
He shall rule. Think of the imperative language in The 10 Commandments…Thou Shall Have No Other Gods; Thou Shall Not Kill. The word shall can mean “should” or “will.” It is a future tense which is misunderstood to add a level of responsibility to the husband.
Even today, there are extreme camps of patriarchy that use this verse as a requirement in marriage. They say husbands should rule. It is their responsibility to make the wife follow his lead. This is the core of “Domestic Discipline,” a fancy name for abuse. The reasoning goes like this. A husband is responsible for his wife, so to ensure she is her best (submissive), he must use discipline to acquire her best. Discipline can be physical or mental or financial, anything that will change her behavior. Because how can he lead/rule if she won’t follow? He must make her.
At creation, God said both Adam and Eve were to rule over His creation, and both were to participate in raising children. From this, Egalitarians (Egals) conclude there is no hierarchy established between the genders. Adam and Eve are called to unity; to be one flesh. Egals believe male headship is a result of the fall.
When God told Eve that she would desire her husband and he would rule over her, God was foreseeing the result of sin on marriage… disunity, abuse and idolatry. God is not cursing or judging Eve, but is predicting what will happen because of sin.
Some Egals disagree with Comps that teshuqa means a desire to control or destroy. They believe the Hebrew word, which is only used one other time outside of Genesis, means a longing for. Solomon 7:10 says “I am my beloveds and his desire [longing] is for me.” God tells Cain sin is crouching at the door and longs for him. (Gen 4:7) And He tells Eve that she will long for her husband, and her husband will dominate her.
Another prevalent argument is that teshuqa, the Hebrew word translated desire, was originally translated as turning in the Greek Septuagint (app. 300 BC). Some Egals argue the word was corrupted to mean lust or desire by the Jewish rabbi’s influence (who were notorious chauvinists) on Jerome 700 years later in 400 AD. Hence the Latin Vulgate (Jerome’s translation) influences all subsequent translations to render teshuqa as power or desire or lust. (I expound on this, here.) A better translation of this verse might be:
“You will turn toward your husband and he will rule over you.” (http://godswordtowomen.org/desire.htm)
This translation removes the sexual or combative overtones implied with desire.
Later, when God throws Adam out of the Garden (Gen 3:23-24), Eve’s expulsion is not mentioned. Egals claim Eve was not required to leave (because she was deceived), but chose to join Adam over God’s presence; an indication God’s prophecy is already being fulfilled. She is turning toward Adam and away from God.
Egals believe that this verse foretells male oppression upon women; that women, because of this powerful longing or turning, have enabled male oppression throughout history. This longing is not focused on God, as it was originally created for, but for man. It is misplaced worship; idolatry.
There doesn’t seem to be any argument over what “he will rule over you” means. Sadly, everyone is all too aware of the aggressive nature of man to abuse power. But, because Egals believe woman subordination to man is a horrendous result of sin, they don’t believe it is how a Christian marriage should operate. Christ came to free us from that curse! (Romans 5:12-21)