ESV changes Genesis 3:16 – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

One word in Genesis 3:16 has caused centuries of controversy. Why? Because this one word affects half the world’s population, the women. What is that word? teshuqa What does it mean? Well, let me introduce you to the evolution of teshuqa  from “turning” to “desire,” and now in the unchangeable ESV to “contrary to.”

A brief history of teshuqa

The following is a summary from Katharine Bushnell’s book God’s Word to Women.

Below is Genesis 3:16 in its natural beauty, in Hebrew. It is in this original form that you find the word teshuqa

 אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבֹונֵךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב

תֵּֽלְדִי בָנִים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ׃ ס

Below it is in the form as Jesus read it. This is from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). The seventy two Jewish scholars, whose goal was to put their ancient Scriptures into a language that the common (literate) person could read, translated teshuqa to ἀποστροφή in Greek. To a Greek reader, teshuqa is defined as “turning (BDAG 100).”

καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ εἶπεν πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει

For the next few centuries, the notable translations (Syriac version from the first century, Samaritan version, Old Latin version, various Coptic versions) all translated teshuqa in Genesis 3:16 with the same meaning as the Septuagint: “turning.” There were various other Greek translations that we have bits and pieces of. Most follow the Septuagint and render teshuqa as “turning” or some cognate. Notably, one of these Greek translations pulls in the idea of alliance to teshuqaThe Arabic version even concurs.

The first notable departure for teshuqa is found in Jerome’s translation to Latin in the late fourth century. Below is Genesis 3:16 in the Latin Vulgate.

mulieri quoque dixit multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos in dolore paries filios et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui

Jerome pulls rabbinical interpretation into the mix by rendering teshuqa  as “under the power of.” This is such a departure, Katharine Bushnell speculates Jerome picked up this idea from the Jewish Talmud’s Ten curses of Eve while studying in Palestine (now-Israel).  This rabbinic Midrash blames Eve for tempting Adam and expounds upon God’s curse of all women as the result. It is Jerome’s Latin Vulgate that we get the first definition of teshuqa with hints of desire or lust. Or, as Bushnell words so bluntly:

Jerome plainly shows he does not know what teshuqa means, but since the latter part of the phrase refers to the man’s part,—”he will rule over thee,”—he concludes that the beginning of the passage must refer to woman’s position, and renders, “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” –Katharine Bushnell 

Fast forward to English translator, John Wycliffe, in the 14th century. Wycliffe did not go back to the Hebrew to make his translation, he used Jerome’s Latin. Hence, it is evident his version of Genesis 3:16 completely misses the original meaning of teshuqa, but relies heavily on Jerome’s mis-translation.

Also God said to the woman, I shall multiply thy wretchednesses and thy conceivings; in sorrow thou shalt bear thy children; and thou shalt be under (the) power of thine husband, and he shall be lord of thee.

Drawing heavily on Jewish midrash on Genesis, which draws all sorts of conclusions surrounding a woman’s urge, lust or desire for men, Pagnino (an Italian Dominican monk in mid-16th century) translates teshuqa  as “lust.”  Every English version thereafter repeats this definition of teshuqa  as lust or desire. On the cusp of the 17th century, the Geneva Bible cements teshuqa as modern translators have adopted.

In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thy desire shall be subject to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

From “Desire” to “Contrary to”

Recently, the ESV translators have written their version of teshuqa in stone and declared they will never change it.

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

How did they get “contrary to” from “desire?” And what about its original meaning of “turning?” We’ve come a long way from the definition Jesus used!

My guess is that the translators are confusing Genesis 3:16 as God’s prescription for women for God’s description of what would occur to women after the fall. So what the ESV translators have given us is a their interpretive understanding of what God is talking about in Genesis 3:16, instead of what  teshuqa actually means. Naturally, this must happen in all translation because language doesn’t literally equate word for word and make sense. The ESV has prided itself on adherence to the original language, even at expense of a natural English reading, but it has failed miserably in Genesis 3:16.


My hope is that this brief summary of teshuqa ‘s  evolution will caution you to accept the new definition. Another article will have to be written on why ESV’s new definition is dangerous. Another day.

Read more on Teshuqa’s Roots:

15 thoughts on “ESV changes Genesis 3:16 – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

  1. I know this is late, but I can’t stand what the ESV did to this verse.

    The word תשוקה doesn’t mean toward. It is is an intense longing or focus. The word אל , depending on context, means towards or to. The verse is supposed to be a play on words which most people who don’t speak Hebrew won’t see. DESPITE the pain and sorrow bearing children brings the woman will still desire her husband. Yet he shall משל her. This word משל is often translated as rule, which is ironic because מלך is also translated as rule, yet they are two very different words. The word משל is a form of domination where the dominator is indifferent to the person they are dominating. We see this every day in women who are abused by their husbands yet seem to lack the ability to leave. This what the Hebrew is actually saying.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey thanks for this discussion. Of possible interest is a paper, Joel N. Lohr’s 2011 paper “Sexual Desire? Eve, Genesis 3:16, and תשוקה”. Genesis is not defining relationships between the sexes. The woman who desires the the man who ‘rules’ over her is a regrettable, negative state, corrected by the women & man in the Song of Songs 7:10: “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” The man in Gen 3:16 can’t or won’t love. He processes in terms of power, a non-godly example.


    1. That part is clear in the Greek LXX and in the Hebrew. It is a fairly common word, so not real dispute. But it says he will, it is not an imperative that he should. I see this as a warning to Eve and all women.


  3. I’m teaching on the subject of women in leadership to a mixed gender class and the change by Jerome is very intriguing. Could I ask how we know for sure that the copies from antiquity would have rendered the word tashuque as “turning”?

    Do we have actual copies of this verse that dates back before the 4th century?

    I’m just preparing for this to get push back and I’d like to be as prepared as possible 🙂


    1. The reason for deducing that teshuqa is translated “turning” prior to Jerome is because of the Greek translation (LXX) which translates it ἀποστροφή. To a Greek reader, teshuqa=ἀποστροφή is defined as “turning (BDAG 100).” You can find that in any Greek LXX. I don’t think there is much debate that Jerome translated this verse as “under the power of”. You can see it here:

      Read through the other Teshuqa Turning articles to get the full picture:

    2. Explains that even English translators defined teshuqa as turning:
    3. Explains the where the idea of “desire” came from:
    4. Good luck!


      1. Thanks again, this is such helpful information. I left evangelicalism partly over issues like this; these kinds of historical developments are rarely taken into account (as well as the worldview of the writers and commentators because of the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy) and one is simply guilt-tripped for not accepting the ‘plain reading’ of the text. Even the supposed scholarly Neo-calvinist ESV editors gloss over that kind of information because a particular translation gives credence to their worldview.

        I kid you not, but I was part of a church that used Gen 3:16 to justify what they called ‘cursed woman’s desire’. You can imagine the emotional abuse and control that went along with that. Sorry, rant over. Thanks again and look forward to reading your future analysis on ‘turning’ (I figure it was the writer’s way of indicating that Eve was turning from Yahweh to Adam instead; Pete Enns, I suspect, would say that this mirrors Israel’s turning from Yahweh to idols or human rulers).


  4. so just to be clear, the original would read and Your desire shall turn you to your husband?” Can you post the original in English? I just see the hebrew and greek which I cannot read. Thanks Kay!


    1. The Hebrew would read like this in English if teshuqa is translated as turning: You are turning (away) to your husband, and he will rule over you.
      I want to write another article about the direction of the turning, which is what I think the controversy is all about. I need to study it more.


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