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An ‘aha’ moment

Recently Liz and I visited one of our sons (who is the senior pastor of a beachside resort town church) and his family for a weekend. The last time we were there, about 2 months ago, we heard him begin a series on foundations in Genesis where he touched on men and women as God created them and some of the myths and erroneous marriage practices that arise out of incorrectly interpreting this passage of Scripture. He did the introductory message very well but we were unable to be there for the next instalment so we ordered a CD of the next message which we only listened to on our return, journey.

It was while listening to that message on the CD that I asked Liz to pause it for a moment, I had just had an ‘aha’ moment of something that really struck me while Lee (our son) was expounding this passage. He was talking about the word ‘desire’ in Genesis 3:16, and how it had been wrongly translated to suggest that women now have a desire to ‘rule’ men, pointing out that this mistaken belief had found its way into some paraphrases, like the New Living Translation for example. (In the current version it is a footnote) Our son was explaining that a more correct view of the word ‘desire’, as it appears in Genesis 3:16, is a ‘turning towards.’ It has the sense, in this context of the woman ‘turning towards’ her husband and relying on him rather than relying on God. It could even be seen as a form of idolatory where the man is sought out as the completer of the woman rather than God being her all in all.

The ‘aha’ moment, or Spirit directed insight was this.  It just occurred to me, while the exposition was happening, that from a gender hierarchialist perspective, that’s exactly what men are being asked to be, the ‘go to’ persons between women and God. If, as the ‘turning towards’ translation suggests, women want a man to complete them, rather than God, then for men to rule would mean that they are embracing an undesirable pattern. We are very familiar with the fact that preparation for worldly marriages idealise this concept in that from a very young age girls are groomed to need to be married and to dream of the ideal man to marry. The prince charming who will sweep them off their feet. The perfect guy who will fulfil all of their dreams, desires and needs. From my perspective expecting men to rule is a huge deficit in the gender hierarchialist view in that it actually feeds this suggested inordinate desire in women rather than providing a God honouring corrective alternative. This would be that a woman be encouraged that she can be complete, as an individual in God through Christ as her sin bearer, then, out of that completeness God can give her a like-hearted partner with whom to share her life.

Men who rule, however they rule, be it gentle or harsh, are taking the place of God in the lives of the women whom they rule which means they are filling this ‘turning to’ need that is described by God as what would happen as a direct result of the fall. Rather than rule, both should be encouraging each other to hear and obey God for themselves and to bring to the relationship their shared understanding, oneness and the empowerment of living in mutual submission together under the direction of God by his Spirit. This was God’s original intention and it was lost with the introduction of sin and disobedience. To put those most basic of relationships right is part of the purpose of the redemptive work of Christ and it is surely the ‘heart’ and ‘passion’ of God to see humanity fully restored and living life as he intended before the fall.

Perhaps others of you have come to a similar understanding. Share with us your thoughts.



  1. Don Johnson
    Comment #96325 posted May 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    One insight from (modern) linguistic theory is that words are defined by the way they are used. The word teshuqah is used only 3 times in the Bible, so this means we have limited data on the canonical usage. This implies the potential for a wider understanding of the meaning.

    SoS uses it in a positive way and Gen 4 uses it in a negative way, so the question is what way does Gen 3 use it? If one assumes everything in Gen 3:16 need to be negative, then one looks for a negative meaning. I do not make that assumption, but others do. I do not do it because I notice similarities in God’s statement to the serpent and the man (“Because you …” and “cursed”) that are not found in God’s statement to the woman.

    I read teshuqah in a straightforward way, as a wife desiring her husband ala SoS and positive. I also read other items in Gen 3:16 as positive, namely multiple conceptions leading to multiple births, with the other 3 things being warnings of what negative things to expect: sorrowful toil (itsebon), pain (etseb) in childbirth and her husband ruling (mashal) over her.

    One crucial thing to see regardless of how one understands teshuqah is to see that mashal is a normal term for rule or dominion, that is, it is not necessarily a harsh rule or a benign rule, it encompasses all kinds of ruling and that this ruling is a new thing, a result of the Fall, altho not God endorsed.

  2. Comment #96326 posted May 19, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Trevor and Don,
    Both of your interpretations make sense to me.

    Thank you for providing respectful and insightful alternatives to the mapping of “wife” in Gen 3:16 to “sin” in Gen 4:7 and then putting words into God’s mouth by the NLT and ESV. That interpretation is so disrespectful and corrosive- presuming that a wife is the husband’s adversary to be resisted (like sin).

  3. JoanLP
    Comment #96328 posted May 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing your insights and expressing them so well. You make some excellent points.

    I appreciate your alternative way of viewing this passage. It is one I have not heard before.

    In her book “God’s Word to Women,” Katharine Bushnell gives a great discussion of this word. I recommend reading it. Interestingly, the Greek parallels Trevor’s comments. The word used for teshuqah in the LXX is ἀποστροφή or apostrophe. It also means turning back, twisting, turning away from, refuge. So the Greek says “the turning of the woman…towards her man.” If the woman turns toward the man, what is she turning from? I not sure that the text says explicitly but it is assumed to be God.

    It is human nature to turn towards that which we desire and this is not necessarily a negative. God says that he will give us the desires of our heart. The question, then, is what is the state of our heart and what are we desiring? Does our desiring come from a regenerated heart that is set on God’s glory, goodness, and righteousness or is our heart sinful and set on the world and self which is idolatry? So a woman’s desire for her man can be healthy, good, and appropriate with God and man in their proper places or her desire can be a rejection of God and an idolization of man. Both stances can look the same on the outside but the difference is in the condition or motive of the heart.

  4. Don Johnson
    Comment #96329 posted May 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    In Gen 4 Eve is recorded as making 2 faith statements honoring God, while none are recorded for Adam.

    A lot of what I posted is found in Bruce Fleming’s “Familiar Leadership Heresies Uncovered” which is a strange title but has a lot of good info.

  5. EricW
    Comment #96330 posted May 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

    The two words turning/desire and rule are used together in both Genesis 3:16 re: the woman and her husband and Genesis 4:7 re: Cain and sin, though the LXX translators changed the translation/word for “rule” in 4:7. Thus, I think the understanding of Genesis 3:16 might be helped by 4:7, and vice-versa.

  6. Red
    Comment #96331 posted May 21, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I think this is very, very true. I know a few women who were raised in extremely gender-role-conservative households. They could give lip service to God being their all-in-all, but at the end of the day, they thought the only point to their life was to find a husband and follow him around. If they didn’t have that, they were empty and aimless. In fact, after college, none of them ever sought what God might be calling them to do; they just moved back home and sat around waiting for a husband.

  7. Red
    Comment #96332 posted May 21, 2012 at 11:19 am

    The ironic part is that you are more likely (in my opinion) to find a husband if you are a strong individual who has life goals. You’re more likely to connect with people of similar interests (and have them find you interesting) if you are out there participating in life.

  8. Shirley Barron
    Comment #96333 posted May 21, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Excellent insights, Trevor! In checking the LXX wording, I see that “he shall ‘lord it over’ you” is how it reads (kyrieusei). Immediately I thought of Luke 22:24 because the same verb is used (kings lord it over people), BUT Jesus then says, “It is NOT SO with you (the disciples).” Jesus tells them (and all disciples) that the greatest is as the youngest & as one who serves. This seems to be a “But I say unto you” statement. No longer are kings (& husbands) to lord it over people (at least among believers). It is not to be so among us.

  9. Comment #96337 posted May 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    This has been an ‘aha’ moment for me. I’ve never been convinced of the whole men are violent women are manipulative thing as all the stories I’ve ever heard about abusive men have been full of manipulation. Thank you this is a powerful interpretation.


  10. Liz Trevor
    Comment #96339 posted May 23, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Thank you to all who have commented thus far. I appreciate those who have a more theological bent or gifting, particularly in the use of the original languages. As for me, my gifting is in the area of pastoral care and I’m concerned to touch people with the heart of God on the matter. That’s not to say that one should not be theologically astute and accurately interpret the Scriptures. For such insights I’m indebted to those who have made this (theology) pursuit their life’s work. Relaying this freeing message to the common (meaning, ordinary/everyday) people is the motivating force that drives me, and I want to lift up the character of God.

  11. Cindy
    Comment #96341 posted May 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Thank you!!
    I’ve always interpreted this passage in Genesis this way. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who read it that way!

  12. Comment #96342 posted May 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I don’t know Latin or Greek, but I do know human nature. Read the whole verse. “To the woman He said, I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

    My interpretation: “it hurts to have a baby, yet you will still want to have sex with your husband even though you will go through more pain giving birth, and you will sexually desire him to “rule” over you.” Use your own imagination.

    Why would it mean anything else? There is no deep theology here. Just human nature. The scripture is about having a baby to continue the human race.

  13. Sarah Garay
    Comment #96343 posted May 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I think many times women have interpreted their post-fall fate, according to this passage, as having no calling of their own. In other words, their desire is to promote their husband’s call. Both men and women alike have used this scripture to keep women in the exclusively supportive role. My mom’s story exemplifies this.

    MY MOM:
    I was raised in a Christian home by loving parents who followed the hierarchical marriage model accepted by so many evangelical churches of the 20th century. My father was an elder in our community Bible church, and my mother was the volunteer church librarian. She did not work outside the home, and interpreted literally the female long hair/head covering passages. She had an array of beautiful scarves, much like the ones worn by female chemotherapy patients, which she wore to Sunday services.
    My dad interpreted his biblical role as one of spiritual leader, meaning he was the one spiritually equipped to receive from God the correct information for leading us all. We were expected to submit to his authority and recognize his call to ministry as the theme for our family activities. Submission meant allowing my dad to make all the decisions regarding spiritual formation of his children, family life, travel, entertainment, and day-to-day activities which affected all of us. My dad was called to be a Bible teacher, which meant hours of study on top of his full-time employment as a professional in the oil industry. My mom worked diligently in the home to provide space for my father’s teaching ministry, serving him meals in his study and making sure he was not bothered. My dad was also called to international student ministry. This meant constant entertaining with large Sunday dinners, sometimes hosting up to twenty students in addition to our family of six. My mother saw her ministry as “doing everything (my dad was called to-emphasis mine) unto the Lord.” She cooked exquisite meals and was the most gracious hostess I have ever known. She made my dad shine.
    I cannot remember a time when my mother was ever asked what her spiritual gifts were, or what her calling was. When I asked my dad about this, he framed it using Proverbs 31: “The woman is to be very industrious and hard working with the intent of making her husband ‘shine’ at the city gates. It is his name she longs to honor; all her activities are focused on supporting her husband in the work to which God has called him.” My mother’s role was defined by my father and his calling. Under the teaching of her church and the abuse of Scripture, she allowed my father to become the mediator between her and God. God did not define my mother’s role and calling; my father did. In her late sixties, my mother entered a state diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. However, this is not a typical case. She has not declined, but has remained static. Once her children and grandchildren grew, she checked out, and her spirit died.
    Research shows that Alzheimer’s can be thwarted by developing new pathways in the brain, motivated by one’s interests and passions. It makes sense that one’s interests and passions (aka one’s calling) can be so squelched by hierarchy that brain tissue dies as a result of disuse. I propose that my mom had tremendous gifts and talents that were never explored and discovered under the guise of “submission.” Had she had a spouse who mutually submitted to her by respecting her as a spiritual being equally capable of receiving and exercising any of God’s chosen giftings, her present state (alive yet dead) might not be so tragic. Many of my mom’s contemporaries, entrenched in biblical hierarchy, have resulted in this early onset Alzheimer’s disease while their husbands continue for many years with a “sound” mind. My father told me several months ago while describing my mom’s care routine, “It’s as if I am her brain. Strangely, I don’t mind; I rather like it.” How many men in evangelical churches are taking the place of God in their wives’ lives and “rather like it?” I cannot help but advocate on my mom’s behalf for balance and equality in the Body of Christ. The whole Body, both male and female, must shine with both genders’ gifts and talents equally valued and exercised in a mutually respectful attitude of love.

  14. Comment #96344 posted May 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Sarah, thank you for sharing such a beautiful, yet sad story. Your Mum is so typical of a ‘submissive’ wife’ and I’m positive God will honour her greatly for her attitude and willingness to lay down her life for another. It’s hard to watch this kind of relationship and yet women like your Mum usually don’t even question the right or wrong of it all. It’s amazing that you have seen a different way into freedom and the pleasure of being yourself under God.

    Only God knows your father’s deep attitudes and for what he is responsible. He too is most likely a product of generations of teaching which becomes a mindset.

  15. Michelle
    Comment #96360 posted May 29, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Looking for a less expensive option to the book you recommended (and something that was a shorter book, in the hopes of sharing it with my in-laws), I stumbled upon and ordered this, “Women and Men in the Light of Eden” by Bruce Fleming, in the hopes that its content overlaps with the content of the book you mentioned.

    I was able to find the book at an online chrisian bookstore. I like to buy books at the CBE bookstore when they’re available, but it’s good to support christian bookstores that are not selling the same old, stereotype-promoting books.

    Thanks for your recommendation. I’ll post my thoughts on the book at some point, in a comment. I wanted to let others know this book exists, as well.

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