What Got This Post Started?
Your Biblical Belief is 42 years old … by Jamie Carter illustrates why I consider debating the Bible worthwhile. This is actually a form of Christian fellowship. The subject is God, and we share our understanding of Him.
Before Foh pioneered this meaning for the word desire in 1975; the main school of thought was that ‘desire’ referred to a woman’s sexual desire for her husband; though Calvin thought that it meant that a woman will desire what her husband desires and will have no desires for herself. Some thought that women will be plagued with desire itself bordering on a disease. What wasn’t up for debate was that whatever it meant, men had to rule over women as a result of desire.
So if you believe that a man is the head of his family, that the curse on women was to be in rebellion against her husband’s headship because her desire was to be contrary to his headship and the man would rule over his wife, your Biblical belief is somewhat older than I am. Ain’t that something? (from here)
Apparently, thinks that what complementarians believe about the Biblical basis for the relationship between men and women is of relatively recent origin, and that the recent origin Biblical basis for Complementarianism undermines the argument.
What is Complementarianism? It is the counterpart to Egalitarianism.
Summarized by “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” complementarianism is the viewpoint that God restricts women from serving in church leadership roles and instead calls women to serve in equally important, but complementary roles. Summarized by “Christians for Biblical Equality,” egalitarianism is the viewpoint that there are no biblical gender-based restrictions on ministry in the church. With both positions claiming to be biblically based, it is crucially important to fully examine what exactly the Bible does say on the issue of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism. (continued here)
What Is This Post About?
After I first read ‘s post, I found myself digging into what Susan Foh had written and the debates she had engendered, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that while gender issues are quite important to they were not the subject of her post. Her issue is how complementarians arrived at their version of Biblical truth. Hence, I am not going to try to resolve the debate between complementarians and egalitarians. The subject here is how we search for Biblical wisdom.
Consider something Isaac Newton said.
If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. — Isaac Newton (from here)
We build understanding by building upon the wisdom of the people who went before us. That is, what we know depends upon what the generations before us taught us, especially our parents and grandparents. That includes our understanding of the Bible.
People have studied and debated (sometimes quite unpleasantly) the meaning of the Bible since God started inspiring men to write it. If we look up the history of universities, we soon find that medieval monks started them in Christian cathedrals. Of course, theology was the big focus. In fact, if we go back further and look up the Church Fathers, most of what they did was study, debate, and preach scripture.
Most of us think for ourselves. Even when we are trying to obey God, most of us think for ourselves. That independent spirit both causes problems and helps us in seeking God. When Eve bit into the apple and Adam followed her example (Genesis 3), instead of obeying God, both sought to be like God. That did not please God. When we study the Bible diligently and try to understand it so we can understand, love, obey, and seek God; we please Him.
What Is The Debate Over Genesis 3:16 About?
So what about the difficulty of interpreting Genesis 3:16? Consider some different translations.
Here the word “desire” is used. That is more common.
Genesis 3:16 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 To the woman He said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
Here the word “control” is used. Some adopted that translation after 1975.
Genesis 3:16 New English Translation (NET Bible)
16 To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your labor pains;
with pain you will give birth to children.
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.”
Another version of the Bible, one developed by Catholics, provides a relatively unique translation.
Genesis 3:16 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
16 To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.
Here, from Bible Hub, is a listing of various translations of Genesis 3:16. If you are particularly interested in this verse, I also suggest reading the commentaries on Genesis 3:16 at Bible Hub. Of course, those commentaries predate Susan Foh‘s 1975 article, WHAT IS THE WOMAN’S DESIRE?
What Causes Our Disagreements About The Bible?
So why do the various translations differ, sometimes significantly. Well, the Bible is only the Word of God in the original language. Once we start putting the Bible in our language we have to put up with translation errors and the biases of the translators. This is no secret. It is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church was reluctant to have the Bible translated and to let the people read it for themselves. The Bible Translation That Rocked the World, for example, discusses the challenges that Martin Luther encountered when he translated the Bible into German.
What does a word represent? When we think of a word, we generate a concept in our mind. When we speak a word to someone else we compel whoever is listening to generate the concept they associate with that word in their mind. Therefore, when we translate words from one language to another, finding the best match between the words in the source language and the target language involves finding the word or phrase that correctly portrays the desired concept in the mind of the reader.
Unfortunately, even if the translator well understands both the source and target languages, sometimes there isn’t a good word match. Sometimes, in the case of a language that has not been spoken for a long time, scholars have to work quite diligently to understand what concepts the words in the source language were meant to generate in the minds of the people who spoke that language. So it is we get translations that are mostly the same, but some differ significantly.
What Is The Word In Question?
Most of the translations of teshuqah use the noun form of the word “desire”. Let’s look at the origin of the word, “desire”.
v. early 13c., from Old French desirrer (12c.) “wish, desire, long for,” from Latin desiderare “long for, wish for; demand, expect,” original sense perhaps “await what the stars will bring,” from the phrase de sidere “from the stars,” from sidus (genitive sideris) “heavenly body, star, constellation” (but see consider ). Related: Desired ; desiring.
n. c.1300, from Old French desir, from desirer (see desire (v.)); sense of “lust” is first recorded mid-14c.
Curiously, the word “desire” was first associated with the stars. Sexual lust is an element of desire, but “having” is the primary emphasis of the word, and that something is from the stars. What we desire we want. What we desire is something we long to have in our possession and under our control.
Is desire the wrong word? Maybe not. “Covet” is a synonym for “desire”, and covetousness is a sin. What we desire — what we put at the forefront of our life — rules us.
What Is The End Of This Discussion?
I tend to enjoy John Wesley’s concise commentary. What did he have to say about Genesis 3:16?
 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
We have here the sentence past upon the woman; she is condemned to a state of sorrow and a state of subjection: proper punishments of a sin in which she had gratified her pleasure and her pride. (1.) She is here put into a state of sorrow; one particular of which only is instanced in, that in bringing forth children, but it includes all those impressions of grief and fear which the mind of that tender sex is most apt to receive, and all the common calamities which they are liable to. It is God that multiplies our sorrows, I will do it: God, as a righteous Judge, doth it, which ought to silence us under all our sorrows; as many as they are we have deserved them all, and more: nay, God as a tender Father doth it for our necessary correction, that we may be humbled for sin, and weaned from it. (2.) She is here put into a state of subjection: the whole sex, which by creation was equal with man, is for sin made inferior. (from here)
Wesley saw Genesis 3:16 as being about punishment, and for thousands of years the social standing of women has been lower than that of men. Among the Jews, women were generally treated better, and with the advent of Christianity, the social standing of women began to slowly rise. However, that verse was about sin and punishment. Because they had sinned — because they would continue to sin — Adam, Eve, and their progeny would suffer from sin.
Other verses in the Bible call upon men to love their wives as they love themselves. Other verses call upon women to love their husbands and submit to the love of their husbands. What all those verses mean, not just one, Christians and non-Christians study and debate.
Can I resolve this debate? Of course not, but I can suggest that each of us needs to ask God what He wants us to do and do it. Whether God made us a man or a woman, He did not do so to curse us. Our own sins do that, and that is what most people get out of Genesis 3. What Genesis 3 tells us to do is to love and obey our Creator. That Adam, Eve, and we have too often failed to do.
What about punishment God inflicted upon Adam, Eve, and all of humanity? Just as God punishes us, don’t we punish our children to teach them to behave? In spite of the fact we punish our children, is not most of the punishment they receive — we receive — self-inflicted? When we sin, don’t we suffer from our sins? If a 120 pound woman totally desires 180 lb man, who is going to be controlled? Oddly, because the man wants to rule over the woman, it doesn’t always work out the way one might expect.
And so it is that for the sake of a tempting piece of fruit, Adam and Eve gave up paradise and their selfless love for each other.
- Problems with a New Reading of an Old Verse and A Sidebar Named Desire (thegospelcoalition.org) feature a debate over the meaning over the meaning of Genesis 3:16.
- Complementarianism and Egalitarianism (theopedia.com)
- How is a woman’s desire for her husband a curse (Genesis 3:16)? (gotquestions.org)
- What is complementarianism? and What is egalitarianism? (carm.org)