The Role of Women – Genesis 3:16

This is my last article looking at the role of women from the creation standpoint. Next week, I will move into looking at things from the new creation perspective, specifically passages like 2 Corinthians 6:16-27 and Galatians 3:27-29.

Thus far, I have posted three articles with regards to the role of women with the beginning creation:

While I don’t believe these should give us the final word on the role of women, I do believe they should give us great insight into everything that would follow in salvation history. And I believe we can easily see that some passages are misunderstood, reading our own perspectives back into the ancient near eastern culture of the Hebrews. Yet, there are still many passages to deal with, not least being this particular statement by God to the woman following what we usually term as ‘the Fall’:

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

What some would suggest is that, when this verse speaks that the woman’s ‘desire shall be for [her] husband’, this is in regards to her desire to rule over him, this being connected with the final words of vs16, ‘and he shall rule over you’. Thus, the conclusion comes that, though the woman desires to rule over her husband, he will actually have the ruling responsibility over her.

So, let’s consider this debated Scripture.

In his Christian Theology, Millard Erickson gives some interesting thoughts to consider in regards to the translation of the Hebrew in this verse. He points out from the famous Brown, Driver and Briggs’ Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament that the Hebrew word mashal is usually translated in our English versions as ‘rule over’. This is true not only in Genesis 3:16 but also in many other passages (e.g. Genesis 4:7; 24:2; 37:8; Deuteronomy 16:5).

Yet, mashal is not exclusively translated as such. It can also be translated as ‘to be like’ or ‘to be similar to’.  Keep this translation of mashal in mind as we consider one more thing. As a side note, after looking at your lexicons, for those wanting to dispute this translation, please make sure you look at the Hebrew number 4911a in your lexicons.

In the greater context of Genesis 3:16-19, we must note the parallel nature of the passage in which God speaks judgment on both the woman and the man. The curse on man is not work itself, but pain and sweat while working the ground, while the woman was cursed with her own pain in childbirth. They both received the judgment of pain and toil.

Knowing that both man and woman were cursed with sorrow and anguish, Erickson, therefore, suggests that translating mashal as ‘to be like’ or ‘to be similar to’ is a very likely rendition in this context. Thus, the last line of Genesis 3:16 would be better translated as: ‘and he will be similar to you’.

Why would God end out this pronouncement of judgment on Eve with the words, ‘and he will be similar to you’, as in this rendition of the verse below?

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he will be similar to you.” (Genesis 3:16)

The reason is this: God had first pronounced judgment on the woman. The devastating news had just come to her ears. Therefore, God made such a statement at the end of vs16 to let the woman know that her husband would also be receiving judgment. They already stood on equal footing from the standpoint of creation, as I pointed out in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-22. But, in this statement in 3:16, God is now declaring that they would also be on equal footing in receiving judgment for their sin. Both would go through pain and anguish. Accordingly, God’s final words to the woman, ‘and he will be similar to you’, would actually lead into His words of judgment on Adam.

Now, many theologians might prefer the more regularly used translation of mashal as ‘rule over’. In doing so, such advocates will note the similar wording between Genesis 3:16b and God’s words to Cain in 4:7b. Both passages use the words desire (Hebrew teshuwqah) and rule over (Hebrew mashal).

In the fuller context, Genesis 4:6-7 specifically contains the words the LORD spoke to Cain before Cain finally killed his brother, Abel.

6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 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 4:6-7)

Thus, we can see the similarities between the usual translation of the final words in Genesis 3:16 and the final words of Genesis 4:7. From such a framework, complementarians conclude: The woman will have the desire to rule over her husband, just as sin desired to rule over Cain. And, whereas God has commanded Cain to rule over that sinful desire in Genesis 4:7, God is pronouncing in Genesis 3:16 that the husband would rule over the woman. Thus, precedence is given for the man to have the lead responsibility in the home, as well as in the church.

Interestingly enough, one theologian, who does hold to the more customary translation of mashal in Genesis 3:16, comes to this conclusion in regards to the connections between these two verses in Genesis 3 and 4:

‘Sin is like an animal that “desires” to control and dominate Cain, but God challenged Cain to “rule” the unrestrained desire of sin. If, as seems likely, the author of Genesis intends us to read these verses together [Genesis 3:16 and 4:7], the desire of Eve for her husband corresponds to sin’s desire to pounce on Cain. It is a desire to break the relationship of equality established at creation and transform it into a relationship of domination and servitude.’ (Bill Arnold, Encountering the Book of Genesis, p39, italics mine)

The point is this: Even if Genesis 3:16 communicates to us that the woman’s desire would be to rule over the man, but the man was to rule over the woman in the end, this is not teaching us that woman was trying to usurp her own authority and move from a position of inferiority to a position of superiority. It would be speaking about her desire to move from a position of equality to superiority, for we already established the equal role of the man and woman back in both Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:18.

Therefore, if one holds to the usual translation of Genesis 3:16 as does Arnold, one could only argue for female subordination in the home and church from a post-Fall perspective, not a pre-Fall, Edenic perspective. Thus, it would have never been God’s intended purpose for one to rule over the other or one to have the authority over the other. Such was a result of sin.

Yet, how are we to understand the last phrase, ‘and he shall rule over you’, if one sticks with the conventional interpretation of Genesis 3:16? Well, one could argue that the ruling responsibility is thus given to the male figure post-Fall. But, should we stop there? Of course not!

We are to remember that men and women were of equal standing from the beginning, before the Fall. And knowing that Christ came to redeem us from the curse and restore things back to their pre-Fall condition, then we must be challenged to not build a theological cornerstone around the last phrase of Genesis 3:16 in regards to the role of women in both the family and the church. To argue the subordination of women to men might be a probable conclusion from post-Fall to pre-Christ. But Christ and the new covenant have come to reverse the curse! That is of great importance in this discussion.

But I will start next week on the new creation and what this all means in Christ.

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56 thoughts on “The Role of Women – Genesis 3:16

  1. Scott,

    This is a great article. I recently read about this very thing in a theological journal that had even another suggestion about this passage. The way the author explained it was that the woman would have pain in childbirth, but she would still desire her husband and likewise for him. Even though childbirth would be enough pain to cause a woman to never want to have children again, after time has passed she will desire to lay with her husband again with the chance of bearing more children.

    I thought it was an interesting perspective. Have you read this view at all in your studies on this subject?

  2. Hey Heather –

    I have not read such thoughts before. I’m not sure how this all connects in with Genesis 3:16, but I bet I would need to read the full journal article. It would be interesting.

  3. “Yet, how are we to understand the last phrase, ‘and he shall rule over you’, if one sticks with the conventional interpretation of Genesis 3:16? Well, one could argue that the ruling responsibility is thus given to the male figure post-Fall. But, should we stop there? Of course not!”

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. There are some points I think we would do well to remember.

    1. God is only speaking to the woman in vs. 16
    2. thus God is not giving instructions to the male to dominate the woman or do anything to the woman.
    3. God is not giving instructions
    4. there is no curse formulae; this is not judgement. The judgement came with eating the forbidden — death

    With those things in mind, it seems more likely that God is warning the woman of what is to come now that they have sinned and are going to experience the effects of death in their lives.

  4. Hi, Scott

    I would agree with your arguments about Gen 1 and 2. But I think your argument here about Gen 3:16 is weak. If we have two or more meanings of a given word, we need very strong reasons not to choose the primary one. And I don’t see these reasons in your post.

    I don’t know Hebrew and how the original shall be translated. May be the English translations (I have ESV and NIV) are good. But reading my Bulgarian translation, I think you have to consider one more possibility to argue against. The second part of Gen 3:16 would be re-translated into English literally as:

    “And to your husband shall be subdued all your desires and he shall rule over you.”

    In this case the primary meaning of “mashal”, rule over, is consistent with the first part of the statement and we don’t need to look for a secondary meaning. My opinion is that this translation makes much more sense than “your desire shall be for your husband”, because what a curse is this? It is quite a neutral statement. This translation makes also more sense in Gen 4:7 – that the real danger about Cain is that he might be subdued to his sinful passions if he does not rule over them.

    My interpretation is that the first readers of Genesis saw the fact that women desires have been subdued to their husbands’ will as a kind of natural phenomenon. (Similarly to “the thorns and the thistles”) And then if they ask, why is that, Gen 3:16 answers: “Because of the Fall”.

    • Ivo –

      Thanks for the comment.

      If we have two or more meanings of a given word, we need very strong reasons not to choose the primary one. And I don’t see these reasons in your post.

      I did give this reason in my article for the other use of mashal:

      God had first pronounced judgment on the woman. The devastating news had just come to her ears. Therefore, God made such a statement at the end of vs16 to let the woman know that her husband would also be receiving judgment. They already stood on equal footing from the standpoint of creation, as I pointed out in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-22. But, in this statement in 3:16, God is now declaring that they would also be on equal footing in receiving judgment for their sin. Both would go through pain and anguish. Accordingly, God’s final words to the woman, ‘and he will be similar to you’, would actually lead into His words of judgment on Adam.

      I thought that, in my studies, this was interesting to point out. And I don’t think it is 100% out of the question, seeing as how things would then flow from God’s words to the woman in vs16 and the beginning of God’s words to the man in vs17.

      In the end, as I said above, if we take the usual meaning of mashal, then I still don’t believe that we should build a cornerstone on Genesis 3:16 for the subordination of women to men, especially knowing that Christ and the new covenant gospel has come.

    • Hi Ivo –

      I re-read your comment. As for the translation from Bulgarian into English, I am not sure if it is a strong translation. I am not saying it’s bad, just not sure, as my Hebrew is very minimal.

      Here are 4 major translations and how they translate vs16:

      ESV: Your desire shall be for your husband,
      and he shall rule over you.
      NASB: Yet your desire will be for your husband,
      And he will rule over you.
      NIV: Your desire will be for your husband,
      and he will rule over you.
      NKJV: Your desire shall be for your husband,
      And he shall rule over you.

      You said this: My opinion is that this translation makes much more sense than “your desire shall be for your husband”, because what a curse is this? It is quite a neutral statement.

      I don’t think every specific sentence or phrase must be seen as a judgment/curse. This is a judgment/curse being pronounced in the overall sense. So if mashal stays with the usual English translation of rule over, then the phrase, ‘Your desire shall be for your husband,’ could simply be seen as a statement of fact of her desire for her husband and, at the same time, he would rule over her. That is a possibility.

      I hope that is helpful, at least from my thoughts.

  5. Hi, it is good to encounter your blog. I’ve never heard this rendition of mashal. While interesting, I already had an egalitarian read out of the “rule over” rendering in that it seemed to me God was describing what would happen to their relationship amid the fall (as TL said), not what He was commanding or ordaining. I’m glad you’re writing on these topics and introducing some new angles to consider even to someone like me who believes in equality.

    Thanks,
    Deb

    • I have never heard someone argue that since God declared men would sweat and toil with pain and fruitlessness (thorns and thistles) we should actively seek pain, thorns and thistles, or at least abandon attempts to reduce them in our daily lives (haven’t asked the Amish, though, lol?) But I’ve heard genuine debate about reducing pain in childbirth being sinful (not kidding, here) It is ridiculous to me that anyone would consider these pronouncements to be the will of God, and something to be sought after (to include men ruling over women), rather than an explanation or warning about the coming consequences of sin, but there it is.

  6. “Therefore, if one holds to the usual translation of Genesis 3:16 as does Arnold, one could only argue for female subordination in the home and church from a post-Fall perspective, not a pre-Fall, Edenic perspective.” +

    In this day and age, women are becoming more financially independent from men. What is there to keep a woman in a marriage if she has to be subordinate?

    In the past women had to be subordinate because they didn’t have the financial means to leave a marriage. And many still don’t. But for those who do, why should they stay in marriage which requires them to be subordinate when they have the possibility of leaving.

    And why should a woman marry in the first place if she has the means to support herself? What is there in a marriage in which she is required to be subordinate that would attract to get married in the first place?

    • Abe –

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t know if this is supposed to be all about women becoming more independent. It is about women and men working together, respecting the role each has, allowing each to function in the ministry each has.

      And with marriage, it is an awesome union of one flesh, even pointing to the great marriage of Christ and his bride one day.

      It’s supposed to be an exciting journey.

      • When the man is in control, and the woman is subordinate – it’s only an awesome journey for the man. A relationship of subordination is not a true relationship, women do not benefit from it. Only men.

      • I meant to say “awesome union” not “awesome journey.”

        I don’t believe marriage is an “awesome union” for a woman when she is in a position of subordination.

    • Really interesting and topical questions, Abe. You could bet that there are many modern Christian women musing on these very issues. Sadly, for many non-Christian women, to ask these questions is to answer them…in the negative!

      Did Paul not foresee a time or a culture when women might have little financial or social incentive to submit their will and freedom to another? I think he did. He was already witnessing the emergence of such a culture. The ‘new Roman woman’ (reference Bruce Winter) could inherit and own property, do business and even take lovers.

      The benefits of Christian marriage should transcend cultural expectations. Only an egalitarian marriage model can do this, providing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to many different personal and circumstantial realities.

      • Deb –

        The benefits of Christian marriage should transcend cultural expectations. Only an egalitarian marriage model can do this, providing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to many different personal and circumstantial realities.

        I know this might just be semantics, but I would hope we would all remember egalitarianism does not equal the kingdom of God. The hope for our marriages is not egalitarianism in the end. It’s the rule of the King in our lives.

      • Deb –

        My passion first and foremost, because I believe that is what Jesus’ passion was first and foremost, is the kingdom rule of God. So our answer to poverty is not ultimately raising money, though that is not bad. Our answer to sickness is no ultimately medicine, though that is not bad. Our answer is ultimately in the rule of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.

        Now, I believe mutual submission in the marriage (remember, I don’t like the word egalitarian a great deal because of all it’s baggage) is a beautiful thing, expressing God’s rule in our lives. But it is only part of the bigger picture.

        I know it seemed an off-the-wall comment. I just thought I would take a moment and emphasise what I believe was most important to Jesus – the kingdom rule of God, rather than any ‘ism’. 🙂

      • That seems a really odd comment, Scott. I am talking about marriage…in the context of whether a woman, if she has the choice, will opt to be in a relationship where she is ‘ruled over’.

        I am not talking about the Kingdom of God right now, nor claiming that egalitarian marriage is the solution to everyone’s needs (many do better single) but simply asking, as does Abe, “why would you?” enter an unequal relationship when the cultural assumptions have shifted.

  7. “And with marriage, it is an awesome union of one flesh, even pointing to the great marriage of Christ and his bride one day.”

    When marriage was instituted in Genesis it wasn’t about pointing to anything. It was about community. Humanity is a communal creation. We are not good alone. God is not alone, they are Eloheim, a perfect united One. Eloheim is such a perfect union that they all share the same will, authority and power.

    There really is nothing that we do as infected tainted sinful humanity that can point to God. Rather, God continually points to our relationships to hint to us what God is like. God points to fathers to hint of His power to protect and provide. God also points to mothers to show the strength of love and the depths a mother goes to to protect. God points to the concept of friendship to show His desire to bond with us. God points to bond slaves to show Christ’s sacrificial devotion to bring us freedom and healing. And God points to marriage to hint to us that He desires to be one flesh with us in perfect harmony. God points to our relationships to hint to us of His nature even though God’s nature is far far superior, holy, pure, and more powerful than anything we have to relate to.

    The problem is that few marriages are sublime and harmonious. Some marriages are comfortable. But world wide the problem with marriages is that some are convenient for one and tortuous survival for the other. This is why marriage does not point to God. Human marriage is a troubled institution at best even while the best hope for eros relationships.

    This is why I consider it an interesting mistake for people to say that marriage points to God. Marriage is our blessing from God which we woefully misuse. Human marriage is no example of Eloheim, although the concept oneness gives us barely a hint of something far more grand in God.

    • TL –

      I agree that ultimately marriage is a blessing-gift from God, but Scripture teaches about marriage being a pointer to Christ and His bride (Eph 5; Rev 21). Of course, that was not in the original Genesis account, but the full revelation of the Scripture now identifies such a pointer. Well, even Hosea of the OT is a great testimony to that.

      Yes, many things are abused, but that doesn’t mean they are properly treated and used by many others. I’m looking to walk this thing out in marriage that points to Him. I’m looking to parent my children in a way that points to Him. What a privilege and gift that is.

  8. Scott, the theory that women are actually seeking to dominate men got some air-play in our sect in the early stages of opposition to the egalitarian movement, 2008. I believe it is called the ‘Hostile Desire’ theory, where the preposition ‘teshuqah’ ‘to/wards’ [your husband] is interpreted as meaning ‘against’.

    Now, this caused some furore which I think was quite unexpected by the proponents (who were merely re-presenting material they got off the CBMW website). Our women found it offensive…even women who held to hierarchical views! It is one of those theological points that you can test just by looking into your heart, and the women were unanimous that they certainly did *not* desire to dominate or subdue the men.

    It was a theory with sinister implications, for the men were warned that woman’s real (instinctive, biological) agenda was to overthrow man and seize his (god-given) headship and privilege to herself. That women who argued convincingly for equality actually had supremacy in mind. That all marriages are a power struggle, and that husbands must never let their guards down. That this is inbuilt into the female psyche and that the only way to live out God’s will for men is to ‘rule over’ women, with force if necessary.

    We fought this one very vigorously! Although the articles were not retracted, there has at least been no recurrence.

    • Deb Hurn:

      That women who argued convincingly for equality actually had supremacy in mind.

      From a recent magazine circulated in this sect:

      When the roles of men and women become confused the wonderful allegory of Christ and his Bride will be lost to us. The woman is a reflection of Christ’s Bride. When sisters elevate themselves to be equal with the brethren in the role of ecclesial worship they are elevating the Bride above the Bridegroom.

      It’s not logic which I agree with, and I can’t imagine how the writer of that piece could have passed elementary mathematics.

  9. Perhaps, I don’t know what you mean by “points to Him”. If you mean that in everything we do we should honor God and give Him glory, I agree. If you mean that our human relationships are a reflection of God’s relationships I disagree.

    First Ephesians does not say that marriage is an example of Christ and the church. Rather it says that Christ’s love for us is similar to the kind of love a husband should have for his wife. God came to us (even laying aside some of His glory) to be joined with us as His Body/His bride. Husbands do well to emulate Christ’s laying down His life to bring us life. In Rev. it says the same again, that God’s love is similar to the love of a husband who desires a spiritual oneness with his bride.

    • Hi TL,

      FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31:32

      What do you understand that to mean if not that marriage is an example of Christ and the Church?

  10. ScottL,

    When I read chp 3 of Genesis I only read that the ground and serpent were cursed. The gorund was cursed on behalf of the man because of what he did and the serpent was cursed for deceiving the woman. What the woman had done did not bring about any curses, but neither the man or the woman themselves were cursed. Gen 3 explicitly tells us what was “cursed” and why.

    • pinklight:

      When I read chp 3 of Genesis I only read that the ground and serpent were cursed. The ground was cursed on behalf of the man because of what he did and the serpent was cursed for deceiving the woman.

      This is strictly true in regard to the use of the word ‘cursed’ which is directed to only one material object, the ‘ground’, and one persona, the ‘serpent’.

      TL precedes this with a list that also excludes male-female relationships from a curse.

      TL:

      1. God is only speaking to the woman in vs. 16
      2. thus God is not giving instructions to the male to dominate the woman or do anything to the woman.
      3. God is not giving instructions
      4. there is no curse formulae; this is not judgement. The judgement came with eating the forbidden — death

      With those things in mind, it seems more likely that God is warning the woman of what is to come now that they have sinned and are going to experience the effects of death in their lives.

      But don’t you think that as with the equivalent of a curse on childbearing in vv.16, the words “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” seem to constitute a curse on marriage also? In this regard I relate to TL’s later observation:

      TL:

      The problem is that few marriages are sublime and harmonious. Some marriages are comfortable. But world wide the problem with marriages is that some are convenient for one and tortuous survival for the other. This is why marriage does not point to God. Human marriage is a troubled institution at best even while the best hope for eros relationships.

      With the introduction of sin into the world, something changed in the relationship of the genders. Whether you consider this to be ‘judgement’ or not, it had to be effected by God’s doing. It was a change away from the ideal…it brought generalised suffering to all their descendants…therefore it is effectively a ‘curse’ whether or not we want to name it as such.

      We continue to embark on marriage and childbearing heedless of these biblical cautions and abundant mixed testimonies and examples. The biological drive for both is very strong; the rewards entice us to gamble with our future, and the prospect of remaining alone and childless is not attractive to most. As the ‘warnings’ regarding the changes in childbearing and marriage are given to the woman, would it be true to say that women experience and feel the pain of these flawed life processes more keenly? I think so.

  11. “29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

    IMO it is speaking of how Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. The mystery is that as a man leaves his parental home and is joined to his wife, Christ has in a similar way set aside His glory to be joined with the bride that He suffered death to bring her life. It’s all about how Christ love us with the intimacy of a husband.

    Nevertheless, husbands should emulate Christ’s example. It’s not about the institution of marriage, but about Christ’s love for us that we ought to emulate.

  12. TL –

    I am not sure I ever said that the marriage relationship speaks of God’s relationship amongst the Triune God. I am talking about marriage being a pointer of the relationship God desires with us. God/Christ desires the husband-wife intimacy. The real husband-wife one-flesh relationship points to that intimate relationship God wants with us. That is what I would mainly emphasise.

    Yet, I have no problem recognising that a right relationship amongst a husband and wife could be a pointer to the Triune relationship. But, for me, I was not emphasising that here. Rather the relationship God desires with us, His bride.

  13. “I am talking about marriage being a pointer of the relationship God desires with us. God/Christ desires the husband-wife intimacy. The real husband-wife one-flesh relationship points to that intimate relationship God wants with us. That is what I would mainly emphasize.”

    I would agree with that, although I feel it’s important to stick with what Scriptures say. 🙂 Thanks for explaining.

    Most who say that the marriage points to Christ and the church try to turn the marriage into the husband representing Christ to the wife, who is left with representing fallen humanity. This puts the wife in the place of looking to her husband as if he were a christ, or the anointed one in the marriage.

    • TL –

      Most who say that the marriage points to Christ and the church try to turn the marriage into the husband representing Christ to the wife, who is left with representing fallen humanity. This puts the wife in the place of looking to her husband as if he were a christ, or the anointed one in the marriage.

      I can only suppose this is an extreme case. I’ve never heard this taught.

      • ScottL:

        I can only suppose this is an extreme case. I’ve never heard this taught.

        You need to get out more 😉

      • Not meant to be harsh, but perhaps your maleness insulates you from this discussion? I’ve heard it quite a bit

  14. Scott, you wrote on the 26th,
    “So you would call these words in Genesis 3 to both the woman and man not a judgment (or curse) but simply a warning?”

    Could not find this above, but it came in my mailbox. The answer is yes. These are warnings. God does not curse the man or the woman. The judgement for their sin is death which is punishment enough. No more judgement is needed.

    The serpent was not part of the agreement to not eat of and he didn’t eat of the tree. But the serpent seduced the woman to sin and in fact we do not know the totality of his words. Thus God cursed him to forever slither on his belly. God’s curses are serious matters. I’m not as sure about why God cursed the ground, but it may have some relationship to the fact that the man’s willful and knowledgeable sin brought death to the world, and God’s grace was to not prolong that death and dying. It does say “for your sake”.

    • TL –

      The original comment was way at the top, fourth one down.

      When the words to the man and woman are in the midst of curses of the ground and to the serpent, and when you conclude that there would now be toil in their work and pain in childbirth, I think this is more than a warning, but a specific punishment (judgment, curse).

      But I suppose it is debatable.

  15. “With the introduction of sin into the world, something changed in the relationship of the genders. Whether you consider this to be ‘judgement’ or not, it had to be effected by God’s doing. It was a change away from the ideal…it brought generalised suffering to all their descendants…therefore it is effectively a ‘curse’ whether or not we want to name it as such.”

    Deb Hurn,

    First, what did not happen is that God did not utter a curse upon Adam or Eve, or upon all humans. God used the forumla of cursing for the serpent and the ground. God clearly cursed the serpent and the ground.

    You are correct that sin brought about a change in relationships. Yes, it was a change from the ideal, and it brought generalized suffering to the world. Sin was not brought about by God’s doing though. It was brought about by the disobedience of the first two humans. They were clearly warned that if they ate of the fruit of the one tree, they would die. Sin brought death. Death is like a curse in the destruction it brings to everyone. Sin brought death.

    Thus I suppose you could say that Adam and Eve, our ancestors cursed all humanity and the world with the result of their sin.

  16. “But don’t you think that as with the equivalent of a curse on childbearing in vv.16, the words “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” seem to constitute a curse on marriage also?

    Seeming to have the effect of a curse is not the same thing as actively cursing. That is clear.

    However, as to the whole of vs. 16 Bible scholars have had difficulty over the centuries trying to find the whole sense of these words, whether they be positive, negative or a combination. What does it mean that Eve’s sorrow/toil and conception will be multiplied? I’m not sure either. I’ve often wondered though if sin and death brought an imbalance in our hormones and the whole experience of childbearing. As well, there is definitely a loss of balance in Eve’s possibly excessive desire/lust/longing for her husband, while her husbands response of dominance is harsh instead of kind. Sin, a negative, will bring negative responses and effects.

    Probably the only sureness is noting that relationships will never be as they could have been before sin.

  17. TL:

    Seeming to have the effect of a curse is not the same thing as actively cursing. That is clear.

    Why? Because the word is not used? Or is there some other observation as to why, for example, the effect on the earth is a curse but the effect on the gender relations is not?

    When it says “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” (Rev 22:3), you would expect that this includes ‘cursed’ inter-gender relations, and any other sad outcomes of a fallen world.

    Men have suffered directly from the curse on the earth. Women have suffered directly from whatever-you-call-it on childbearing and marriage. And indeed, both genders have suffered from both, of course, for many women also struggle to extract a living from the earth, and many men struggle in marriage and childrearing. But it does seem that what affects Eve in v.16 is an equivalent curse to what affects Adam v. 17-19.

  18. “When the words to the man and woman are in the midst of curses of the ground and to the serpent, and when you conclude that there would now be toil in their work and pain in childbirth, I think this is more than a warning, but a specific punishment (judgment, curse).

    But I suppose it is debatable.”

    I suppose 🙂

    When you have 3 children all involved in different levels of disobedience standing in front of you, do you give them all the same corrections according to the worst disobedience, or do you ‘reward’ or correct them according to each child’s misbehavior?

    • TL –

      When you have 3 children all involved in different levels of disobedience standing in front of you, do you give them all the same corrections according to the worst disobedience, or do you ‘reward’ or correct them according to each child’s misbehavior?

      I’m not sure how you are wanting me to relate this to the passage and whether or not we can identify it as judgment, curse, or warning?

      • ”I’m not sure how you are wanting me to relate this to the passage and whether or not we can identify it as judgment, curse, or warning?”

        Haven’t quite got the hang of this system’s comment answering order…. But here is my take on the subject.

        Relating to the passage…. We have 3 who did something wrong: the serpent, the woman, and the man.

        Judgement …..
        God warned the man and the woman that they would die if they ate. I don’t think that’s a curse. To my knowledge curses cannot be redeemed. Not certain. I’d need to examine the original words used.

        Curse …..
        1. The serpent lied to the woman in front of the man and twisted God’s words to them, confusing and deceiving the woman. For this God says the serpent is cursed to walk on his belly. I suppose that would be a judgment also.
        2. Because of the man’s listening (or only listening and doing nothing) and eating also of the fruit, in addition to the judgment of death, God cursed the ground, but called it ‘for his sake’. Not sure of the meaning of that.

        Warning:
        1. God warned the serpent that there would be enmity now between it and the woman, between her seed (child) and it’s seed (children), and her seed (child) would bruise it’s head (metaphor for??) and it’s seed would bruise her seed’s heel (metaphor for??).
        2. God warned the woman that her toil (sorrow, pain) and conception would increase. He also warned her that her yearning for her husband would be met with a negative response.
        3. God warned the man that he would gain the fruit of the earth by toil, that thorns and thistles (not for food) would come up, that he would sweat in the effort to bring sustenance from the earth. And God warned this would be their life until they die and return to the dust they were formed from.

        All of the judgments, curses, and warnings came about because of the disobedience of the man and woman.

      • TL –

        God warned the man and the woman that they would die if they ate. I don’t think that’s a curse. To my knowledge curses cannot be redeemed. Not certain. I’d need to examine the original words used.

        Jesus redeems us from the curse. (Gal 3:13) This verse speaks of redeeming from the curse of the Law, but it still is redemption from curse. And I think this redemption spreads across every curse. If not, we have problems to remain under a curse. Christ died on our behalf so that we would be raised and not stay in death.

        1. God warned the serpent that there would be enmity now between it and the woman, between her seed (child) and it’s seed (children), and her seed (child) would bruise it’s head (metaphor for??) and it’s seed would bruise her seed’s heel (metaphor for??).

        I’m thinking this is more than a warning. The seed from the woman would ultimately be Christ and the enemy was cursed that he would be crushed by Christ, and Christ’s people (Rom 16:20). This is judgment-curse that will not be reversed. The enemy has big problems here. I know in the original context of Genesis they would not have been thinking of Christ. But the NT makes it clear this is about Christ.

        2. God warned the woman that her toil (sorrow, pain) and conception would increase. He also warned her that her yearning for her husband would be met with a negative response.

        I’m not sure she would have had pain in childbirth prior to sin. So I am thinking this is more than a warning.

        3. God warned the man that he would gain the fruit of the earth by toil, that thorns and thistles (not for food) would come up, that he would sweat in the effort to bring sustenance from the earth. And God warned this would be their life until they die and return to the dust they were formed from.

        I’m not sure there would have been toil and sweat in the work prior to their sin. So, again, I am thinking this is more than a warning.

  19. “I don’t think every specific sentence or phrase must be seen as a judgment/curse. This is a judgment/curse being pronounced in the overall sense. So if mashal stays with the usual English translation of rule over, then the phrase, ‘Your desire shall be for your husband,’ could simply be seen as a statement of fact of her desire for her husband and, at the same time, he would rule over her. That is a possibility.”

    Older styles of wording confuse us sometimes. The judgement for humanity was and is death. We cannot escape that fact because it was part of the admonition not to eat of the fruit of the specific tree.

    God’s statement of what she would be feeling toward her husband was IMO more like an observation that God was enlightening the newly born woman with, in effect teaching her and warning her so she wouldn’t be frightened by it. “You’re going to be yearning toward your husband and his response is going to be one of dominance.” My guess is that the conversation with all of them was a lot longer than that, but we are only given the small bits that were carried gently through history.

  20. “My passion first and foremost, because I believe that is what Jesus’ passion was first and foremost, is the kingdom rule of God.”

    Good statement. If God were truly ruling, holding sway, directing our hearts (which is what ‘kingdom’ rule is I believe) then we wouldn’t be having such discussions. It is because of the pervasiveness of sin that we injure one another in our attempts to be in control and have the ‘leadership’ and the rights to direct as we see fit. Humans even attempt to ‘leaderize’ the view of service. We don’t need to lead one another, we need to serve one another in God’s Love via the manifestations and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

    • TL –

      I’m not opposed to leadership, since it is very evident in Scripture (including the NT) and Paul identifies it as a ministry/gift. But we must remember that the two foundational qualities of leadership (biblically) are serving and shepherding/caring.

      • I’m also not opposed to leadership either. In fact I’m a leader in our church. And yes, all leadership is to be serving, shepherding and caring for the Body in whatever is needed.

        I was thinking more in the arena of marriage. In marriage the emphasis IMO should be two equals serving one another within their skills and abilities for the benefit of the other and the whole marriage.

  21. “Jesus redeems us from the curse. (Gal 3:13) This verse speaks of redeeming from the curse of the Law, but it still is redemption from curse. And I think this redemption spreads across every curse. If not, we have problems to remain under a curse. Christ died on our behalf so that we would be raised and not stay in death.”

    Running out of time this morning…..

    Scott,
    The curse of the Law is a specific curse, not general. I thought of that. But the curse of the serpent is still in effect. The curse of the ground is still in effect and in fact apparently will not be removed, but a new earth given instead. This is why I think we’d need to look up the original words. It is unfortunately common for English to use one word for several different words in Greek or Hebrew. This confuses.

    Death is a judgement, not a curse.

    I suspect there is more complication to this question than easily occurs to us.

    • TL –

      I’m thinking the curse on the serpent was not literal. Something bigger is going on there. The ultimate curse is the serpent/enemy would be crushed.

      If we are given a new earth, then that is a removal of the curse fully and finally. It’s not a completely new earth in the since of God makes another whole new one. It is a renewal of the present earth. This is a finishing of the curse.

      Anyways, that will probably be it for me on this.

  22. “I’m thinking this is more than a warning. The seed from the woman would ultimately be Christ and the enemy was cursed that he would be crushed by Christ, and Christ’s people (Rom 16:20). I know in the original context they would not have been thinking Christ. But the NT makes it clear this is about Christ.”

    Agreed. Forgot about that. It’s also a promise to the woman and the serpent (satan), and all of us.

  23. “2. God warned the woman that her toil (sorrow, pain) and conception would increase. He also warned her that her yearning for her husband would be met with a negative response.

    I’m not sure she would have had pain in childbirth prior to sin. So I am thinking this is more than a warning.”

    My thinking is that it is a result of sin. And the warning is in what to expect. Same thing for #3.

  24. Off-topic from the whole curse debate, it seems worthwhile to mention that “desire” on the most literal read suggests that the woman will be tempted “to turn toward” her husband. I might suggest that this could be as opposed to God and as opposed to the world over which she was called to exercise dominion. We are accustomed to emphasizing either an unhealthy degree of emotional attachment or covetousness toward the man as the main manifestations of concern, but the original Hebrew only secondarily supports that possibility as one of the many manifestations of turning toward him.

    http://www.cbeinternational.org/new/pdf_files/free_articles/kaiser_correcting.pdf

    Btw, I’m also not all so keen on the term egalitarianism but sort of begrudgingly accepted it. It seems quite misleading, particularly for those of us egals who acknowledge some differences (however frequently these are over-ascribed to everyone’s harm) among the sexes apart from plumbing. It’s sort of a shame that the comps were able to claim the “complementarian” terminology….

    • Deborah:

      Btw, I’m also not all so keen on the term egalitarianism but sort of begrudgingly accepted it. It seems quite misleading, particularly for those of us egals who acknowledge some differences (however frequently these are over-ascribed to everyone’s harm) among the sexes apart from plumbing. It’s sort of a shame that the comps were able to claim the “complementarian” terminology….

      The term egalitarian is a problem only if you take it to mean ‘the same’ rather than ‘equal [but different]’.

      This is like confusing the term ‘unity’ to mean ‘uniformity’. Having ‘unity’ does *not* mean thinking, acting and looking the same.

      Yes, ‘complementarian’ is a good word. It ought not to have been appropriated by those who believe in rigid gender differences and roles. Every functional marriage, in reality, is ‘complementarian’. The couple work out between them what each one does best and is able and willing to contribute to the partnership. When this negotiation occurs in a spirit of mutual love and submission, the marriage is also ‘egalitarian’. 🙂

  25. Hi Deb,

    I largely agree, although I think there might be better terms even once one takes proper definition into account. It does confuse a lot of people though (including egalitarians, for some number of egals I know equate the call for equality to a call to sameness). I’m glad to be an egal amid such differences of opinion though… especially on a day like today when I’ve found it quite hard to be egal (for reasons that have nothing to do with this board).

    All best,

    Deborah

  26. Pingback: The Role of Women – 1 Timothy 2:8-15 « The Prodigal Thought

  27. Pingback: The Role of Women Revisited, Again | Near Emmaus

  28. Pingback: Desire #6 A Woman’s Genesis 3:16 Desire can become Idolatrous « A Wife’s Submission

  29. This is so interesting. I am a new Christian and have been asking about the role of women, why we experience so much pain (36 years once a month) and so on… I then read Genesis 3:16 and got some answers.
    This is a huge indictment to admit to as a woman. However, I do take responsibility and have experienced all the pains and turmoil from that curse and was stuck in it for 43 years until I got baptized. In fact I can now see how it would perpetuate without redemption.
    I particularly like the response that talks about deliverance post crucifixion. Without Jesus, I would feel completely condemned and now, with the knowledge of death of the self, I am starting to be liberated. I am a single Mum and down my family line, the curse, due to disobedience, has created endless pain. Now, as a Christian, I feel that it is ended. I feel the word is alive. It is changing me.
    I don’t feel inferior or superior and I am becoming aware of exactly HOW the serpent has tempted me into desiring to ‘dominate’ or control. I think it is universal and can speak for some of my female non Christian friends as it is a common subject .
    Without this knowledge, it is impossible to understand what is really happening and no amount of intellectual deliberating helps to get to the core of it.
    This knowledge is so important at this time as the balance of the sexes is all out of whack!
    Regardless of the exact interpretation of the full conceptual definition, I get the general idea and can admit to all of it.
    I am having prodigal thoughts and literally feel like I am at the beginning again. New birth through the word.
    Thanks for posting the blog.

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