Desire Rightly Understood – Genesis 3:16

Genesis Chapter three has always been fascinating to me.  And verse 16 especially so.  I’ve never felt totally comfortable with the interpretations of it that I have heard and read.  The following is an article by Jordan Standridge that greatly expands my understanding of the verse and I hope it will be meaningful to you.  Pastor Standridge is on staff at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, a church which I greatly respect and where some dear friends attend and/or have attended.  His article appeared first at: the  as:  Four Reasons Why Desire in Genesis 3:16 is About Intimacy Not Domination.   RMF

Four Reasons Why Desire in Genesis 3:16 is About Intimacy Not Domination
by Jordan Standridge

The Fall

Genesis 3:16English Standard Version (ESV)

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to[a] your husband,
    but he shall rule over you.”

Footnotes: Genesis 3:16 Or shall be toward (see 4:7)

Pastor Jordan Standridge

I remember the first time I heard someone explain Genesis 3:16.  It was in a marriage seminar. Their view of this passage which is popular in conservative circles was simple, Eve, as a result of God’s curse would have pain in child-bearing and that she would want to usurp her husband’s authority and dominate the relationship. Therefore, the man concluded marriages struggle because of what we see in Genesis 3:16.  While I agreed that marriages struggle because of sin, I didn’t see that as a result of the curse in Genesis 3:16.

While commentators agree that God has cursed women with pain in childbearing, there is trouble and disagreement over the words of explanation that follow the curse. Perhaps the most common view of this verse, in my circles, has been that a wife will have a desire to dominate her husband. Recently, Crossway has decided to add this interpretation to their new update of the ESV, and they have decided to change the text from, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” to “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” 

Despite the fact that the interpretation of this verse is a pet peeve of mine I completely grant that this is a minor issue and one that people can disagree with (although I do believe that adding interpretation to a Bible translation can be a big problem).

As I’ve heard this verse explained I have found that Dr. Busenitz at the Master’s Seminary has given a very compelling interpretation of this passage.

I believe that God is simply saying that, despite the fact that the wife will have pain in childbearing, she will still desire to have intimacy with her husband and this will, of course, result in having children with him. Therefore, despite the temptation she will face in avoiding the curse by not having children, God is saying that her desire for intimacy will supersede her desire to avoid pain in childbearing. Simply put, there is no connotation of domination in the word “desire” and it is definitely not implied in the text.

Of course, we know that many marriages have been in shambles ever since that fateful day, but I do not think that God cursed woman with this, and I have four important reasons why.

Genesis 4:7 is Figurative
Genesis 4:7 records God’s conversation with Cain right before he is about to kill his brother, Abel. In it, he says the famous line, “…sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

This is the second occasion where this Hebrew word is used. There are only three occurrences in all of Scripture.

Over the years, it was determined that because of the proximity with Genesis 3:16, that this use of the word desire is of a similar nature. Therefore, since sin’s desire is to dominate Cain, or any human being, therefore God curses Eve with the desire to dominate her husband.

The Bible does talk about sin’s incredible power and its effect on people. One could insinuate that since the Devil is like a lion, therefore, sin is as well— and its desire is to take over someone and make that person its slave. But that does not mean that the word desire is in it and of itself a negative one. In other words, desire is a neutral word that becomes negative if the thing you desire, or the one desiring you, is sinful. If I desire a house for my family to live in, it’s ok, but if I desire your house for my family to live in, it’s not. Same goes with this word if sin wants me. then it’s going to be bad for me; therefore, I must resist it. But, if it is my wife who wants me, then that’s a good thing that is blessed by God, and I’d be a fool to resist that.

Song of Solomon 7:10
This passage has the third and last use of the word that we find in Genesis 3:16. “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” It’s pretty obvious what the word means here when you look at the context. There is no connotation of domination, and there is nothing that would show this to be negative in any way. In fact, this is a positive. Solomon quotes the bride who is boasting about the fact that her husband desires her. It is also worthy to note that two out of the three occurrences of the Hebrew word for desire are literal, while one is figurative. This occurrence in Song of Solomon and Genesis 3:16 are literal, and the one found in God’s warning to Cain is figurative. Therefore, one would conclude that although the two in Genesis are closer to each other, the one in Genesis 3 and this one in Songs of Solomon are actually closer syntactically.

Instead of using a figurative and hard to understand word in Genesis 4 to explain Genesis 3, we should use the clear meaning that we find in Song of Solomon to explain Genesis 3 and to help us come to a better understanding of what God is saying to Cain in Genesis 4.

The Serpent and Adam Have One Curse
As we look at the context of Genesis 3 and the curses God gives to those involved in the Fall, we notice that God only gives one curse to each one. With the serpent the curse is, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat All the days of your life” The serpent’s curse is that God removed its arms and legs and forced it to eat dust for the rest of world history.

Adam receives one curse as well. God says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil, you will eat of it All the days of your life.” God curses the ground and will make it very difficult for Adam to be able to work and to provide for his family. Adam might be tempted to stop working, but his hunger will keep him tilling the ground so that he will be able to survive and provide for his family.

It would, therefore, be tough to imagine God giving Eve two curses. Rather, as with Adam and the serpent, God gave Eve one curse and explained its ramifications.

God Doesn’t Make People Sin
I think an implication of God cursing woman with a desire to dominate her husband is the fact that God would be causing women to sin. Of course, we know that the fall did mess up a lot of things including the relationship between husbands and wives. But what we must be careful not to do is to read into this curse something that isn’t there. God cannot tempt anyone with evil. He cannot sin and has no desire for anyone to sin. Christ died on the cross in order to cleanse people from their sin. If God gave Eve a new desire, then He would be culpable for that sin and, therefore, women could have an excuse for their sin. (Of course it must be said that those that hold to different positions aren’t saying that God is making people sin).

There is much more that could be said about this, so if your interest is peaked I would encourage you to read the article written by Irv Busenitz, who is a professor and Vice President at the Masters Seminary in Los Angeles. Of course, it goes without saying that even though this verse might not be saying what many complementarians have interpreted, that it does not mean that the complementation position is compromised in any way. On the contrary, a proper understanding of this verse and this chapter proves that God has roles within the marriage structure, but is in no way responsible for the sin of man.

Jordan Standridge is the pastoral associate for the college and Career ministry at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. You can follow him on twitter @standridgejl. RMF


About ronfurg

Former naval officer, federal investigator, forensic scientist, senior executive service member and pastor. In retirement serves as volunteer and life group leader at New Life Christian Church ( Devoted to beautiful wife, kids and grandkids. Looking forward to the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
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