Thursday, May 1, 2008

GENESIS 3:16 - The Curse on the Woman

To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”

The Curse on the Woman

Had I never before read or heard this verse being referenced, I probably would have skipped straight over it thinking it was pretty straightforward. Instead, I found myself spending even more time than usual verses trying to get to the bottom of it thanks to all the muck that has buried this verse beneath feminism and the gender wars of our culture.

This verse can be practically broken-up into two parts:

1) Mothers & Children

"I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth". No real differing opinions or grand examinations of this section, it's pretty straightforward: before the fall there was no physical pain in childbirth and after the fall there was to be.

"In pain you will bring forth children". On the surface, this appears to simply re-iterate what the former already said but it does imply a bit more. Women form a unique bond with their children (even if in some cases it is, sadly, only one-way) from having to bear them, and unfortunately, because they are sinners and will inevitably give birth to a son/daughter who is a sinner. That child is bound to sin and wickedness and as such the mother will experience much pain in raising the child and will have a heart that never rests. An interesting point, that said, not one that really tells us anything new.

2) Wives & Husbands

"This is a description of the curse. It is a description of misery, not a model for marriage." (John Piper - Manhood and Womanhood) This change of perspective makes all the difference in the world. When God tells us that our sinful natures will cause us to want to steal and murder no one interprets that as a license to do those things, so why should we treat Genesis 3:16 any differently?

"Yet your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you". To further Piper's point, the use of desire here can be explained by its identical usage in Genesis 4:7 where God tells Cain:

"Sin desires you. What does that mean? Sin wants to control you. Sin wants to dominate you. Sin wants to take over your life. "But you must master it." You must rule over it. It's the very same expression. The woman desires to control the man and he rules over her. Sin desires to have you, you must control it. The woman then has the same desire for the man that sin has for Cain; a desire to control, a desire to have its way. And the husband has the same need to control his wife that Cain had to control sin.

[...] She usurped authority. She took the place of leadership. He submitted to her. And he was, therefore, sentenced to have to deal with such rebellion on a permanent basis. The wife then seeks control. She seeks to have her way; what she wants when she wants it. The husband resists and tries to maintain his control. And that, of course, is not always balanced. It's not always loving. It's not always kind. And therein lies the conflict of marriage that is so universal." (John F. MacArthur - The Curse on the Woman)

While I obviously like this exposition by MacArthur, I am left with the feeling that he - like almost all of the writers I encountered in researching this - is almost trying too hard to "even the playing field" by equally implicating men into God's statement in verse 16. While it's understandable given the state of our society, the goal of my Bible blog was to understand everything as it was written and the fact is that the gender issues we have today did not exist (or at least weren't anywhere near as prominent) when Genesis was written.

Back to Basics?

Truth be told, despite the multitude of writings which exist on the latter half of verse 16, almost all of them seemed to simply use it as a launching point for a extended discussion on gender roles and few if any addressed what the verse itself means. And so despite reading a lot of good enlightening things, I find myself coming back to the basics, politically correct or not.

"Yet your desire will be for your husband". Is this not simply saying that women will have a greater desire for their husbands than vice versa? From what little life experience I have I've observed this to generally be the case with men and women in relationships. If "desire" simply means a desire to control which the man also possesses (as MacArthur and other authors essentially posit) the lexicon certainly doesn't back him up (tshuwqah: a longing -- desire) and more significant is the question of why God would bother mentioning it in the woman's curse at all?

So in many ways I leave this verse right back where I started, and in some respects, more confused.

(back to Genesis 3)


Krystle said...

Hey you! Haha, rather odd that I'm commenting on this one, but actually I had a thought which may or may not be relevant to the whole gender role argument - what about the fact that Jewish culture is passed on through the woman? I don't know if that's a modern thing but it seems odd since most cultures are patriarchal rather than matriarchal, so it seems there may have been some root in ancient Israelite culture.

I like the interpretation that the woman's desire for the man will be greater than his for her, because despite feminist rumblings and the sexual revolution, I think it still holds true today. Why? It only makes sense that this was part of the curse, where before there would have been equal love for each other, perfectly filled with a love for God.

Adam said...

hey man. i agree with piper's interpretation of "desire" despite the "lexicon not backing him up". Simply put, its the context that ultimately determines the meaning of the word, not the dictionary.

So, Genesis 4:7b:
sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

I'm guessing you wouldn't just take the dictionary definition and put it in there, because that would read "sin is crouching at the door. Its longing is for you, but you must rule over it." I think its pretty clear that in this case, the desire is to control, not that sin is pining after Cain. We know this because of context. To paraphrase "sin wants to rule over you, but you must rule over it."

In the same way, we should look at the context of Genesis 3, which is exactly the same sentence construction by the same author. To paraphrase "you will want to rule over your husband, and he will rule over you"

So, a word can't mean whatever you want, but context dictates which meaning within the semantic field is appropriate. In this case, it would be inappropriate to say that "desire" refers to romantic emotions.