From Bondage to Blessing

Chapter 4 - Genesis 3:16 - A Source of Confusion

"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." (Genesis 3:16)

A few years ago, I was reading a book on church leadership when the author shocked me with an assertion that I had never heard before! He stated that women were disqualified from leadership and listed Eve's sin in the garden and the subsequent curse put upon her as the primary reason. Recent scholarship has focused a great deal of attention on the meaning of Genesis 3:16 because of this sort of reasoning. For centuries Eve has been blamed for the fall of man and this alleged curse has been used to justify the oppression of women. As we shall see in this chapter, the focus on Eve's sin and the supposed curse suggests the pursuit of a scapegoat. Secondly, we will look at possible mistranslations of Genesis 3:16 and how they have contributed to the use of this passage to disqualify women from positions of leadership within the Church.

Eve as a scapegoat for the fall of man

As pointed out in the previous chapter, Adam was there with Eve and they both ate of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6). Both disobeyed God, and both sinned. Though Eve sinned as a result of Satan's deception, Adam apparently sinned with knowledge according to 1 Timothy 2:14. It seems that He knew what was happening, yet made a conscious choice to go along with it anyway. Which is really worse - deception or willful disobedience?

It does not appear to me that God assigned greater judgement on one than the other. The apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans and first letter to the Corinthian church, assigns responsibility for sin and death to Adam (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). However, it is the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew 'adam. As we have seen previously, 'adam was used in Genesis 1 and 2 to refer to mankind, both male and female. In these passages Paul uses the gender generic word anthropos rather than any specific words for male or female. Both suffered the consequence or curse of sin, as we read in Genesis 3:16. Charles Trombley, however, argues that God puts the responsibility and judgement for the fall of man on Adam's shoulders, referring to a use of the Greek masculine gender in Romans 5:12. His conclusion? "By implicating Adam as the originator of sin, he [Paul] eliminated the grounds for subjugating women as part of Eve's curse."1 The Kroegers agree with Trombley's assessment that God put responsibility for the fall from grace on Adam. They write, "By our reckoning, Paul ascribes the guilt to Adam nine different times in these passages [Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15]."2 Ironically, however, Eve has been blamed for the fall of man since the pre-Christ era. Katherine Bushnell has traced the teaching that God cursed Eve, and through Eve all women, to the Babylonian Talmud.3 The Talmud is merely rabbinical commentary that became tradition. The blame it assigned to Eve has been used as justification for the subjection of women to men, and is a major source of the false teaching that this suppression of women is ordained of God as punishment for Eve's sin.

Blame-shifting started with Adam

Note that the blame-shifting started with fallen Adam. He said to God, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12). It is clear that Adam laid the blame for the fall on Eve's doorstep. He tried to shift all the responsibility over to Eve despite the fact that he chose to sin by his own free will, with full knowledge of what he was doing and the consequences of his actions. Although we want to be careful not to read more into the Scripture than is there, Adam's words further suggest that he was not only blaming the woman but God. He sounds as if he were saying, "That woman you brought into my life was responsible for all of this" - implying that since God gave her to Adam, He is responsible as well. Blame-shifting came in with the fall and is part of the fallen, carnal nature. It comes to the forefront whenever mankind yields to that nature. Job asked, "If I have covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom ...?" (Job 31:33-34). What better way to cover and hide sin than to assign it to someone else! In recognizing the dynamics of this attempt to shift the blame, it becomes clearer that Eve was used by fallen Adam to sidestep taking responsibility for his sin and facing his own sense of inadequacy. To be fair, however, he undoubtedly had a great deal of help from the kingdom of darkness. Satan and his minions are always working to stir up strife and division, operating under the maxim, "divide and conquer." Further, Satan had every reason to hate the woman through whom would come the Divine Seed, the Savior, who would ultimately defeat him. Some have speculated that it is really this enmity between Satan and the woman which is behind the domination and abuse of women through the centuries, as well as the attempts to blame her for all the sin in the world.

The blame for the fall put upon Eve has been given credibility by a number of possible mistranslations of Genesis 3:16. The verse is divided into two major parts, which we will look at separately.

"I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception" (Genesis 3:16a)

Many translators read this passage as a curse that God put upon the woman of increased infirmity, suffering and grief during pregnancy and childbirth. However, the Hebrew scholar Katherine Bushnell challenged this translation in the early part of this century based on her close examination of the Hebrew. She concluded that a more correct translation would be, "A snare hath increased thy sorrow and thy sighing."4 Modern scholars Trombley5 and Davis and Johnson6 acknowledge the validity of Bushnell's translation.

"Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16b)

There are three primary "traditional" (and erroneous) interpretations of what God is saying in the second part of Genesis 3:16:

  1. Eve was a temptress who constituted a moral threat to Adam. God intervened and caused the woman to lust after her husband to the extent that she became putty in his hands. God's intervention enabled him to take his rightful place in dominion over her. This was the rabbinical interpretation, as evidenced in the Ten Curses of Eve and other parts of the Babylonian Talmud.
  2. Eve would desire to rule over her husband and subjugate him as the result of sin. Therefore God intervened and gave the husband a divine assignment to have dominion over her instead.
  3. Eve's desire for her husband and the subjugation of her will to his was part of the "curse" which God put on Eve for her sin, a curse carried by all women after her.

One will often hear some variation or combination of these interpretations as well. If we take these traditional interpretations at face value, this passage reads like an edict, command or pronouncement of divine judgement upon Eve for her sin. We shall see, however, that the original language does not agree with any of the above interpretations!

Rather, the Hebrew presents a picture of God stating what will happen - either in the sense of a warning to the woman or as a prophetic declaration regarding the natural progression of sin and its diseased effects on the relationship between man and woman. As Davis and Johnson remark, "Genesis 3 describes and predicts the inevitable results of banishment from God's presence. As man and woman were alienated from God they were, at the same time alienated from each other."7 Dr. Fuchsia Pickett asserts that in this statement, "God was not revealing His divine order for the woman; He was telling us how a fallen man and woman were going to relate to each other."8 First of all, to complete the thought that they assumed God was trying to make, the translators inserted the words "shall be". The NKJV, for example, shows these words in italics, which means they were not part of the original text.

Next, "desire" in this verse is the Hebrew word teshuqa, a word used only three times in the Old Testament: Genesis 3:16 (regarding Eve and Adam), Genesis 4:7 (in relation to sin and Cain), Song of Solomon 7:10 (regarding the King and the Shulamite as representative of Christ and His Church). Bushnell points out that the word does not imply anything like sensual desire or lust. The root, shuq, is a verb meaning literally "to run". Teshuqa bears the connotation "to run repeatedly" or "to run back and forth", giving us a picture of "turning".9 It also implies no idea of inferiority or subordination as the traditional interpretation would indicate. If that were the case, its usage in Song of Solomon 7:10 would imply that Christ is inferior or subordinate to His church.

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament completed around 300 B.C., also renders the meaning of teshuqa as "turning." It uses the Greek word apostrophe as a synonym for the Hebrew word teshuqa. Apostrophe means turning, towards something and away from something; in other words reversing direction. The Septuagint is considered the best translation of the Old Testament, as it was written at a time when ancient Hebrew was better known and understood, and before the language had undergone the linguistic changes which have taken place over the past two thousand years. Bushnell points out that, in fact, all of the most ancient versions of the Scriptures present the idea of turning for teshuqa.10

Where did the idea of sensual desire, with its subtle implication of dependence and inferiority, come from? It came from the Babylonian Talmud, that compilation of rabbinical thought and Jewish oral tradition. The Talmud portrays Eve as a temptress to be eternally punished by God, enslaved now to lust for her husband, enabling the man to fend off her threat to his superior moral position and properly rule over her.

Some scholars, even in recognizing that teshuqa does not mean sensual desire, have still been influenced by the rabbinical mindset that woman is an evil temptress, in league with Satan to destroy man if she is not held in check. The Spirit-Filled Life Bible, for example, notes that Genesis 3:16 is a "difficult" passage in the Hebrew, but goes on to offer this conclusion: "Most likely the expression carries the idea that, remembering their joint-rule in the Garden, she would desire to dominate her husband. He shall rule over you asserts the divine assignment of the husband's servant-leader role" (emphasis added).11 While the editors go on to qualify this traditional statement, the fact that they made it at all reveals a prior mindset that the husband has been given a divine assignment to keep woman in her place. As Davis and Johnson point out, western religious art has, through the centuries, depicted Eve as one who was Satan's accomplice in overthrowing Adam. They note, in fact, that medieval art often portrayed the serpent in the garden as female or portrayed Satan as a mirror image of Eve.12 All this has contributed to the idea that man must protect himself by dominating and suppressing woman, and actually has biblical sanction to do so. However, self-protection is another characteristic of the carnal nature, which never has God's sanction.

To return to the concept of turning implicated in the use of the Hebrew word teshuqa, there is necessarily a turning from something towards something else. What or who was Eve turning from when she turned to her husband in her fallen, sinful state? The obvious answer is God Himself. Therein lies the key to understanding this passage! We find the principle in the New Testament that when we yield to someone or something other than God and allow it to have power over us, we then become enslaved (Galatians 4:9 and 2 Peter 2:18-22). When Eve turned her focus from God to her husband, she gave him power to rule over and enslave her. Hence, God was explaining what the consequences of her turning would be ("he shall rule over you"). Today, we call this condition "codependence". When we turn our focus from God to someone else or some other thing, we slip into idolatry.

Kay Rhodes has considered both the translation of Genesis 3:16 favored by Bushnell, Trombley, Davis and Johnson, and the real meaning of teshuqa. She concludes that, "God is merely warning Adam (female) that if she turns away from God to her husband, it will become a great snare for her. This snare will be provided by the subtle serpent who now rules Adam (male)".13 This ties in with something the Lord revealed to my husband Dave a few years ago: When we are completely submitted to God and give Him control of our lives, we have dominion over the devil (see James 4:7). However, when we take control ourselves or yield our members to somebody or something else through our worship or idolatry, it gives the devil dominion over us!

In Genesis 3:16 we see how the operation of sin and the dominion of darkness began to alienate man and woman from each other. Eve, out of shame, fear and self-centeredness, turned from God and began to look to the man, Adam, for gratification of her needs. She began to look to him as her source of comfort, provision, protection, and fellowship. Jane Hansen, the International President of Women's Aglow, admits that even now this is very much the case.

"In spite of living in this age of enlightenment, with few exceptions, a woman still gets married having unspoken expectations that the man she has chosen will meet all her needs for security, purpose, worth and identity. We may laugh at the 'prince on the white horse', but it is evident it is a fairy tale deeply embedded in the heart of nearly every young woman."14

She also comments, "You have only to look around you to see how women, even Christian women, set their desire on men. They have turned to them to gain their approval, to be found acceptable, worthy, admired and chosen."15 It is idolatry, pure and simple!

Idolatry gave man control over the woman. That is how it works. If we worship money, it enslaves us. If we seek or serve fame, that desire controls us. If we go after financial security, putting our trust in it rather than in the Lord, then financial security begins to rule our lives and our decisions. As Eve put her faith and trust in the man, Adam, to meet all her needs, it opened the door for a plague of problems in man-woman relationships. Out of his own shame, fear and self-centeredness, man began to use the power woman had inadvertently given him over her to dominate her and thus feel better about himself. He began to see her as less than himself and an object provided for his pleasure, comfort and use. Woman, in turn, experienced disappointment, hurt and resentment when she felt used, and when the man did not meet her needs and live up to her expectations. As a result, walls of isolation developed between the two genders. Each began to hide from the other behind these new "fig leaves", assert their independence from one another, and subscribe to a burgeoning attitude of "I don't need you!"

What a mess sin gets us into! Thankfully, we are washed, cleansed and set free from the power of sin by the blood of Jesus. The dysfunction of sin need not continue to mar our relationships with one another. Whatever the results of the fall, whether it was divinely imposed curses or merely a reaping of what was sown, we have also been redeemed from the penalty or judgment of this sin. It is ridiculous to try to use Genesis 3:16 as proof that man is supposed to rule over and dominate woman because of Eve's role in the fall from grace.

Bristow sums up the absurdity of using the traditional interpretations of this passage as a basis for the subjugation of women. He says, "If this kind of marital relationship, far from being divinely ordered, is the product of sin and God's curse, then it is to be avoided rather than commended. It is characteristic of marriage outside of God's grace. To prescribe that kind of relationship is to advocate living under the penalty of sin imposed upon Adam and Eve, as if Christ brought nothing new to marriage relationship."16 Certainly, we could make the same argument regarding church relationships. All Christian men and women have been redeemed from the results of the fall and have been set free to work together in harmony to fulfill God's original design as presented in the book of Genesis before the fall occurred.


Genesis 3:16 has often been used to justify the oppression of women. In the Church, it has been used to disqualify women from leadership positions. The traditional interpretations of this passage portray the woman as an evil temptress, a male-dominating controller, and/or the one who is cursed and forced to submit to the man as part of the punishment for her role in the fall. These interpretations are based on a faulty assumption. They assume that Eve was to blame for the fall because Satan deceived her. Such a conclusion completely ignores Adam's role in the fall, his sin, and the assignment of responsibility by the apostle Paul to both the man and the woman (in the use of the word anthropos in his letters to the Roman and Corinthian churches). The teaching that Eve was to blame for the fall and uniquely cursed as a result was traced to the rabbis of the pre-Christian era. We also saw that blame-shifting started with fallen Adam. This blame-shifting has been given justification by possible mistranslations of Genesis 3:16, and in particular a misunderstanding of the Hebrew word teshuqa. The word implies no ideas of inferiority or subordination as the traditional interpretations indicate, but rather means to run back and forth, giving a picture of "turning". Teshuqa presents a picture of Eve turning from God to her husband and the natural consequence of that idolatry, that Adam would rule over her. The spiritual principle found in 2 Peter 2:18-22 and Galatians 4:9 reveals that yielding to something (or someone) other than God, gives it (or them) power over us. Genesis 3:16 does not pronounce divine judgement or punishment upon Eve for her sin. This passage stands as a prophetic declaration of what the consequence of sin would be for both Eve and Adam. Eve would experience captivity through codependency and dictatorship, bringing much pain and sorrow. The verse provides insight into the suffering ahead, offering a brief glimpse into why man and woman will need the redemption of a Savior in the generations to come.


Chapter 4 notes

  1. Charles Trombley, Who Said Women Can't Teach? (Bridge Publishing, South Plainfield NJ, 1985), p. 33.
  2. Richard C. Kroeger and Catherine C. Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman - Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1992), p. 20.
  3. Katherine C. Bushnell, God's Word to Women (1923, reprinted by Ray Munson, N. Collins NY), par. 102.
  4. Katherine C. Bushnell, God's Word to Women (1923, reprinted by Ray Munson, N. Collins NY), par. 15.
  5. Charles Trombley, Who Said Women Can't Teach? (Bridge Publishing, South Plainfield NJ, 1985), p. 108.
  6. James T. Davis and Donna D. Johnson, Redefining the Role of Women in the Church (Christian International Ministries Network, Santa Rosa Beach, FL, 1997), p.44.
  7. James T. Davis and Donna D. Johnson, Redefining the Role of Women in the Church (Christian International Ministries Network, Santa Rosa Beach, FL, 1997), p. 27-28.
  8. Fuchsia Pickett, "Male and Female Created to Co-Labor With God", Spirit Led Woman? (June/July 1999).
  9. Katherine C. Bushnell, God's Word to Women (1923, reprinted by Ray Munson, N. Collins NY), par. 16.
  10. Katherine C. Bushnell, God's Word to Women (1923, reprinted by Ray Munson, N. Collins NY), par. 16.
  11. The Spirit-Filled Life Bible, Jack Hayford, General Ed. (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1991), p. 9.
  12. James T. Davis and Donna D. Johnson, Redefining the Role of Women in the Church (Christian International Ministries Network, Santa Rosa Beach, FL, 1997), p. 27.
  13. Kay D. Rhodes, Let My Women Go (Kay D. Rhodes, Rock Hill SC, 1994), p. 52.
  14. Jane Hansen, Fashioned for Intimacy (Regal Books/Gospel Light, Ventura CA 1997), p.70.
  15. Jane Hansen, Fashioned for Intimacy (Regal Books/Gospel Light, Ventura CA 1997), p. 69.
  16. John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women (HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1988), p. 18.