Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 5 (Gupta)

The Undoing (Genesis 3)

In this blog series, I want to spend some time on Genesis 3, popularly known as “the Fall.” I think that terminology is inaccurate. Falling is not imagery used here. Closer to what we see happen in this chapter, I like to call it the “undoing” of God’s good work in creation. All that beauty, innocence, harmony, and unity is undone.

The first thing to notice with Genesis 3:1 is that the problem seems to come out of the middle of nowhere. This serpent appears on the scene with a dastardly agenda. He succeeds in sowing the seed of doubt in the mind of Eve (3:3-4). But, what is worse, Eve gives into temptation and seeks to “be like God” (3:5) in her knowledge of good and evil. She believed it would give her special or divine wisdom such that she could be independent of God (3:6). Adam is not absent, but joins in this rebellion (3:6). So they hide and are ashamed when their eyes are finally opened (3:7-9).

Their reaction isn’t to revel in their newfound wisdom. When they are confronted by God, they immediately cast blame. Man blames woman (3:12) and woman blames the serpent (3:13). Conscience and integrity or undone. All this back-stabbing and division unravel God’s work of establishing unity and abundance. And God’s words of judgment further underscore the frustration of creation’s fecundity.

A key verse here in terms of gender roles is 3:16 where God says: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Jewish Publication Society). This is a pretty good “literal” translation of the Hebrew, but what does it mean? Well, it seems obvious (to most) that man “ruling” over woman is a problem, not a blessing. This verb is about absolute authority over someone, like a king ruling a subject (Gen 4:7; Gen 37:8). The Creation accounts do not call for man to rule over woman; she helps him and they co-rule over the creatures together.

A more difficult interpretive issue is what it means that her “desire” will be towards her husband. What kind of desire? Love? Sexual feelings? The Hebrew word itself is neutral; it simply means passions or longings. It could be good, like deep love. But it can also be destructive passions, like malice. The ESV 2016 translates this as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” This has been largely rejected by scholars. The NET translates this as “You will want to control your husband.” I think this is close. I would translate this (in paraphrase) as, “you will desire to undermine your husband.”

Old Testament scholar Richard Hess interprets the text in this way:

 The woman’s “desire” for her husband is not primarily sexual desire. In accordance with basic principles of interpretation, one finds this rare word, teshuqah, nearby in Genesis 4:7, where it refers to sin’s “desire” to control Cain. The same verb, “to rule, master, ” mashal, describes both the man’s domination of the woman and Cain’s ability to dominate sin. Thus the woman will desire to dominate the man but the man, perhaps with superior strength, will dominate the woman. However, this is a judgment of how things will be, not necessarily how they must be. The patriarchal societies of the world express the reality of male domination…[T]he emphasis here is on the terrible effects of sin, and the destruction of a harmonious relationship that once existed. In its place comes a harmful struggle of wills.

One can see the reality of this “undoing” in Genesis 3, and it gets worse until the call of Abram (Gen 12). Does Genesis 3 teach that men must lead and women must follow? No, we see hope in Adam and Eve joining together as one flesh, and it is Eve who has the final word as she praises God for blessing them with a child.

5 thoughts on “Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 5 (Gupta)

  1. So, I spent a lot of time thinking about that word “desire” as well. There are a couple of words, scattered throughout these key passages concerning woman’s place in the cosmos, in the Old and New Testaments, that carry an immense amount of weight, and seem to have whole books’ worth of thoughts surrounding them. This is one of those words. I don’t have your scholarship, and mastery of the language, so this is an “honest ask,” in the form of a “tell” with a question mark after it.

    I also had found out that the word ‘desire,’ here, occurs only two more times in the Bible. The second time is, as you pointed out, found in the next chapter, in God’s warning to the woman’s firstborn son, Cain, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

    The third and last place is in the Song of Songs, where the Prince’s beloved sighs, “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” I do get that the Song of Songs was written later, but…since there wa a consortium of editors who pulled all this material together, would this word really have come to have a very differenet meaning by the time it landed in Song of Songs? (honest ask)

    Whatever the nature of this word, I could see it is used both positively and negatively in scripture to convey a powerful, transcendent longing. To surrender to it is to be filled and enveloped, held completely in its sway. It seems there are only two responses one may have, for there appears to be no middle ground: master it, or abandon oneself to it.

    That’s what I get, from these three passages. In the first passage, Eve has this powerful, transcendant longing for Adam. He chooses to master it. Some have said that’s a good response, other’s have said it’s a bad response.

    In the second passage, sin has this powerful, transcendant longing for Cain. He chooses to surrender to it. Most everyopne agrees this was a bad response.

    In the final passage, the prince in the story, masquerading as a shepherd, has this powerful, transcendant longing for his beloved, personified in the young woman-of-the-land. She also has chosen to surrender. Most everyone agrees this is a good response.


  2. Funny that I came to the same understanding you express here by reading Wayne Grudems introduction to theology.
    He points out that the phrase about the woman is very similar to what is said about sin seeking to overcome Cain.

    My take was that the fact we need to talk about this at all is, according to the passage, a direct result of sin.

  3. Kathrine Bushnells book Gods Word to Women suggests the Hebrew word here for desire is more like “turning” in the sense of a circuit.
    She traces the translations back before the word “desire” was used by translators.
    The book is free online if you want to check it out.

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