Genesis 3:16

…And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (Gen 3:16 KJV)

The publishers of the ESV recently announced that they have changed their translation of Genesis 3:16 to this:

…Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

I believe this translation to be in error. In this brief post, I shall attempt to explain my reasons.

First, a confession. At one point not too long ago in the past, I also succumbed to the same faulty reasoning. In the paper “Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality”, of which I was the primary author, I wrote the following:

Second, the curse was on her relationship with her husband. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Her intense longing would be directed towards her husband. The preposition translated “to” primarily indicates motion towards or into. Metaphorically it is used for “against”. Her longing, instead of a covenantal opening herself completely to the love of her husband, would now be directed towards domineering, manipulating, and refusing to be truly loved. (Reformed Church in the United States: Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality. 2013, page 41)

In this paragraph, I referenced Tremper Longman’s book on the Song of Songs (page 65). Longman, in turn,  referenced an article by Susan Foh, entitled “What is the woman’s desire” (WTJ 37 (1974-75) 376-83.

This article by Foh seems to have influenced quite a lot of thinking (including mine). And now its influence is felt even in the ESV translation of Genesis 3:16. The question is this: is this proper exegesis?

I have to admit that the section that I wrote is somewhat embarrassing. To say that the curse upon the woman involves her domineering, manipulating and refusing to truly be loved by her husband seems a bit much  to read into one preposition.

This exegesis makes much of the similarity between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7. In Genesis 4:7, we read that God, speaking to Cain of sin, says,

And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (Gen 4:7 KJV)

The connection is then made that sin seeks to have dominion over a man. Since the words and the grammar are identical to 3:16, the meaning of 3:16 is that the woman also seeks to have dominion over the man.

But both texts simply speak of “desire”. Why is the desire of the woman assumed to be the same as the desire of sin? This was an uncomfortable niggling that I buried deeply until I recently dug it up and thought about it.

My embarrassing admission is that I wanted to make an assumption, and I manipulated the grammar to do so.

It seems to me that using Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16 is rather sketchy exegesis. It would be similar to saying that God spoke against Baasha (1 Kings 16:12 – the preposition is ‘el) and God spoke unto Moses (Ex. 3:14 – the preposition is the same) therefore, God was against Moses just as he was against Baasha. It’s really bad exegesis. It seems to me that the meaning of the phrases must be determined in the context.

The fact is “sin” and women are not the same thing, and their desires are not the same thing. I wonder why we make the assumption that women’s desires are always for domination and manipulation even when the text doesn’t say so. Simply saying “Sin desires to manipulate and dominate and since the same preposition is used this applies to the woman as well” simply will not cut it. That’s not how language works.

The phrase in question is the one translated “and your desire shall be toward your husband.”

The second part, “And he shall rule over you” isn’t in dispute. Those words are simple and bear only one translation. The connecting copulative “and” is attached to a redundant personal pronoun “he” which indicates a disjunctive phrase. In other words, the second phrase is set in contrast to the first – BUT he shall rule over you.

So what does the first phrase mean? Looking at the words, it begins with a prepositional phrase introduced by the copulative vav (and). The prepositional phrase is simply two words: the preposition ‘el and the word for man, or husband, with the pronoun “your”.  After this prepositional phrase is the noun “your longing”. There is no verb. The complete phrase is this “And to your husband, your longing; but he shall rule over you.”

The question is whether the preposition ‘el ever has the meaning “contrary to”, as the ESV revision committee, following the lead of Susan Foh, claims.

The simple answer is no. If you wish to do a very technical study, you may look at Bruce Waltke and M. O’Conner, Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns) 1990. 11.2.2. A helpful summary of that massive work is the work by Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi (A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003). Hebrew prepositions generally have a primary spatial meaning, with metaphorical secondary meaning. The primary spatial meaning is terminative (to, unto, towards).

I know, very technical. Let me break it down. The preposition ‘el means to, unto, or towards. It is a preposition indicating the termination of movement. That is its primary meaning. If I leave my office and walk to my house, I would use the preposition ‘el. Towards. Most commonly, it is used with the verb “to say” to indicate to whom the words are said. In the phrase, “And God said unto Moses”, the preposition ‘el would be used. God designed his words to terminate in the ears of Moses. I hope this makes sense.

In the lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs (somewhat archaic and disputed by modern scholarship) they indicate that “against” is a valid translation, and give many quotations, primarily by the prophet Ezekiel. For example,

Son of man, set thy face against Gog (Eze 38:2 KJV)

I would assume that since ‘el here has the translation “against”, the ESV revisers took that as their cue to translate it “contrary to” in Genesis 3:16. But in Ezekiel, the meaning of “to, or towards” is still latent in the word “against”. When a man’s face is “set” towards someone, hostility can certainly be assumed from the context, without changing the meaning of the preposition.

Even Brown, Driver and Briggs add this caveat to the translation “against”:

Where the motion or direction implied appears from the context to be of a hostile character, ‘el = “against”

No such hostility is expressed or implied in Genesis 3:16.

In another standard reference, The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke, we read

Finally, the preposition can also mean “against,” although motion toward is evident, as in Gen 4:8, where Cain “rose up against Abel.” Here °el no doubt retains something of the original sense of both physical and mental motion toward. J.B.S.

In none of these statements by the universally recognized resources can the word ‘el be made to mean “contrary to”. There is no enmity stated or implied. There is no hostility inherent in the context.

The most widely recognized lexicon does not even admit the metaphorical use of “against” (Koehler-Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament “HALOT”).

To summarize this rather complicated  survey, the basic meaning of the word is to, or towards. Sometimes, if the context and the verb used are hostile, “against” would be a proper meaning. But this does not mean that we can pick and choose whatever meaning we want. “Contrary to”, in the context of Genesis 3:16 or 4:7, cannot be justified. Only if we make the assumption that the word “longing” indicates hostility can we make this phrase mean “against her husband”.

The word “longing” only appears three times in all known Hebrew literature. In Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7, and Song of Songs 7:10:

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Sol 7:10 KJV)

In the Song of Songs, the preposition is ‘al, rather than ‘el. Formerly, I made much of this, but I was mistaken. the two prepositions have overlapping semantic fields and are used interchangeably, much like the English “to” and “towards”. The difference is not great enough to warrant new doctrines.

The word “longing” in all  three passages admits the same meaning: a great desire, a longing. It isn’t the same word as “covetousness”, and it isn’t the same word as “wanting something”. It is a rare word and “longing” is a good translation of it. I would be hesitant to go any deeper than that; that isn’t how language works.

So the simple reading of the text is this: “To your husband your longing”. In English, we would have to supply the verb “will be”. To your husband will be your longing. In other words, “your longing will terminate on your husband”, or, “your longing will be to your husband”.

So what does it mean? What is the longing of the woman? In the context, God is pronouncing the curse upon creation, the serpent, the man and the woman. He has already promised that one would come who would crush the head of the serpent (3:15), and he now moves on to the consequences of Eve’s sin.

How would she have heard those words? Let’s take it with the second part of the phrase, “But he shall rule over thee”, which is set in contrast to the first phrase. It’s a disjunctive clause. The word “rule” (mashal) can be good rule, benevolent rule, tyrannical rule or any other kind of rule. It’s a common word. It means to have dominion over. It is something that was not there in the relationship before the fall. It is something new. If it were there before the fall, then the curse on the woman would be that everything would be the same, which is ludicrous. The context implies that this is something new. The serpent will crawl on its belly; the ground will bring thistles, and your husband will rule over you.

Before, Adam and Eve were one flesh. There is no hint of hierarchy in the garden. (I explain this more fully here). It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the meaning of “help meet”, but suffice it to say that hierarchy, authority and submission are not inherent in the Hebrew word ‘ezer (help). It is the name most often given to God, Israel’s help.

Instead, the relationship of the man and the woman was a relationship of unity and love. They were one flesh, committed, loving, fleeing all others, cleaving to one another.

I believe in that context, 3:16 can only mean one thing. Eve will still long for that. Her longing will terminate on her husband. She will long for that which was lost in Eden. But instead, her husband will rule over her.

The one flesh relationship would be a broken and corrupted remnant of what it was supposed to be.

This fits the context, does no violence to the grammar, and opens up wonderful insights into the marriage relationship.

Remember that God had promised already to crush the head of the serpent. The curse would one day be overcome. This was foretold in the Song of Songs:

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Sol 7:10 KJV)

The Song is a picture of redeemed relationship. One that could not happen apart from the gospel of Christ. His longing to her and her longing to him are mutual. Instead of him ruling over her, he desires her. When the word is only used three times, it cannot be an accident that Solomon is referring to the curse on the woman and looking forward to the time when that is taken away.

Paul, in Ephesians 5 speaks of the same thing. Love your wife. Don’t rule over her.

Since we live in a cursed world and all are tainted by sin, the desire of the wife towards her husband can and does easily become an idolatrous desire. The husband can never give to the wife what only Christ can give.

But as Redeemed creatures, we can certainly live as pictures of the life-giving water of Christ. So the husband is not to be worshiped as Christ, nor is he a mediator between God and his wife. But he can imitate Christ in one area: Love. The marriage is to be a picture of what was lost in the fall. The problem with the woman under the curse is not that she manipulates and dominates. It’s that she longs for what was lost and that longing is to her husband.

How Leah longed for a husband! How Rachel longed for a husband! Look at the harems of David and Solomon, and these were God’s people! How much worse would it have been in Persia or Assyria! Look at Elkanah, Hannah and Penninah; Look at what happened to Esther.

The woman longs for the one flesh relationship that she was created to have. But men have ruled over her. Does she turn to manipulation and resistance? Perhaps. Every human resists domination and subjugation. But this is not what 3:16 says.

Now that Christ has come, we as men are called, not to rule over our wives (whether benevolently or not) but to love our wives, and thus reflect to the world the love of our great savior, who gave himself for us.

See my follow-up post here.



Filed under Marriage

116 responses to “Genesis 3:16

  1. Ps Sam, thank you so much for this post. I agree with your understanding of Genesis 3:16. Bless you for bringing your Hebrew scholarship to this topic.

    May the translators of the ESV hear you and repent of what they have done!

    We will be re-blogging your post at A Cry For Justice, sharing it on Facebook and Twitter, and doing whatever else we can go give it plenty of oxygen.

    once again – thank you, and especial thanks for how you have published this so soon after the news of the ESV Permanent Translation hit the ear of folks like Rachel Miller, Persis Lorenti, Wendy Alsup and me. :

  2. Sam, what is your twitter handle? I’ve just tweeted @ESVbible and @Crossway to tell them about your post. And I want to bring you in on the twitter conversation.

  3. Thanks for sharing this – and for humbly correcting your original sketchegesis 🙂

    All our longings point to our one true longing – for the Bride (Church) to be reunited with Her Bridegroom (Christ). May He hasten the Day! May we all encourage and help each other prepare!

  4. Kilby

    Thank you for writing this. I would also note that in the other curses given by God, it is about bad things happening to the passive sufferer–as in the serpent having to eat dust and the man having to work an unyielding ground. Neither curse mentions any ongoing sin. So why do we have to assume ongoing sin as part of the woman’s curse, and yet the rule of the man as a perfectly legitimate extension of prelapsarian bliss? To me that seems the most devastating import of patriarchal blame-the-woman thought in this whole debate. Even Satan is allowed to just suffer at this moment in history, but Eve and her offspring never suffer without bearing direct blame for it.

  5. Dolly Lundberg

    Excellent explanation and proof texts to follow it. Thank you

  6. Does or should the interesting LXX rendering of “desire” affect the understanding and translation of Genesis 3:16b?

    Göttingen LXX
    3:16 καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ εἶπεν Πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου, ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα· καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου, καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει.

    The Göttingen Septuagint features two apparatuses (as does the Larger Cambridge Septuagint), the first for LXX/OG textual evidence proper and the second for so-called hexaplaric evidence, i.e. “rival” translations/revisions of the translated LXX/OG (such as circulated under the labels “Theodotion,” “Aquila,” and “Symmachus”), preserved largely through the influence of Origen’s Hexapla. For LXX/OG research the importance of both apparatuses is second only to the critical text itself.

    Apparatus I
    16 τῇ γυν. εἶπεν] ειπεν ο θς̅ τη γυναικι Procop 208 | πληθύνων] > 122* (c pr m); -νω18 | σου 1°◠2° L | τους στεναγμους 72´-82-135 d 74-76´ 527 59 Sev 496 Arm = Compl | om σου 2° M | τεξης 18 | σου 3°◠4° 77txt | επιστροφη 18 | ουτος 72 | σου ult] σε 82

    Apparatus II
    16 τὸν στεναγμόν σου] αʹ τὰς συλλήψεις σου σʹ θʹ τὰς (> 344′) κυήσεις σου (> 127) M 344′(ind ad λύπας) | ἀποστροφή] αʹ συνάφεια (-φια 344)σʹ ὁρμή 344′; αʹ σʹ συνάφεια ὁρμή M; αʹ societatem αʹ appetitum uel impetum Hi 6

    • I will reply when I can. The timing is not good right now.

    • Thanks for your question, EricW 🙂

      Ever since reading what Catherine Bushnell wrote about Genesis 3:16 I have been aware that the Septuagint may give a somewhat different idea of the woman’s desire.

      If you (EricW or Sam Powell) are digging into this, you may like to examine Bushnell’s work. It is in her book “God’s Word For Women”. You can find it online. She was writing in the nineteenth century. She was a missionary who knew Hebrew and Biblical Greek and she was was very concerned about the way women were mistreated, and how the interpretation of scripture could compound the mistreatment of women.

    • I found this difference from the MT in the Targums I have (the other Targums on Genesis followed the MT = desire). It seems to support/use the LXX:

      3:16. And to the woman he said: “I will greatly multiply your pains and your In pain you will bring forth children and to your husband you will turn and he will have authority over you,cc

      Nfmg = Neofiti marginal gloss
      bb Nfmg: “your times (or: “your pregnancies) with pains will you bear.”
      cc Nfmg: “your safety and he will rule over you.”
      Cathcart, K., Maher, M., & McNamara, M. (Eds.). (1992). Cathcart, Kevin; McNamara, Martin; Maher, Michael. In M. McNamara (Trans.), The Aramaic BibleA: Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis (Vol. 1, Ge 3:16). Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

      The text is:

      16 ולאתתה אמר מסגיא אסגיא צעריך ועדוניך בצער תלדין בנין ולוות בעליך יהוי מתביך והוא יהוי רשותה עליך בין למזכה ובין למחטא׃

      Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. (2005). Targum Neofiti to the Pentateuch (Ge 3:16). Hebrew Union College.

      The lemma of the word in question (I don’t know Aramaic) appears to be this one:

      מתב noun מתבא
      1 Palestinian returning
      2 CPA refuge

      Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. (2004). Targum Lexicon. Hebrew Union College.

      • Also this:

        Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which seems to support the MT (desire, longing):

        לאינתתא אסגא אסגי סיגופיך באדם בתולין ועידוייך בי צער תילדין בנין ולות בעליך תהי מתויך והוא יהי שליט ביך למיזכי ולמיחטי

        Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. (2005). Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to the Pentateuch (Ge 3:16). Hebrew Union College.

        The lemma is:
        מתוי noun
        1 LJLA longing
        Levy 2:80

        Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. (2004). Targum Lexicon. Hebrew Union College.

        – – –

        But Targum Onkelos might support the LXX as well (repentance (turning?)):

        לְאִיתְתָא אֲמַר אַסגָאָה אַסגֵי צְעָרַכִי וְעִדוּיַכִי בִצעַר תְלִידִין בְנִין וּלוָת בַעלִיך תְהֵי תְיוּבתִיך וְהוּא יִשלֹוט בִיך׃

        Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. (2005). Targum Onqelos to the Pentateuch (Ge 3:16). Hebrew Union College.

        The lemma is:

        תיובה noun תיובתא
        1 JLAGal repentance

        Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. (2004). Targum Lexicon. Hebrew Union College.

      • Yes! Please take a moment to look at my interpretation of both 4:7 & 3:16 at the link below. I believe the word should be translated “turning”, indicating a longing for and dependence on the one who provides. It is picturesque of how sheep turn toward their shepherd. An accurate translation of 4:7 proves this translation to be true. The one who “turns” is in a vulnerable position and dependent on the one who “rules”. Unfortunately, very few translations translate 4:7 correctly. The word “sin” is not actually in verse 4:7 like we think it is, and it surely isn’t “crouching, ready to pounce.” It is simply resting peacefully or reclining on all fours. We have butchered 4:7 terribly. No wonder we can’t figure out 3:16! I have explained my position below. Thanks for reading 🙂

    • I am one of those rare ducks that believes that we actually have the very words of God in the masoretic text. It has been the textus receptus of the church for centuries.
      I think that the LXX and the targums can sometimes be helpful, but ultimately, they are both the work of fallible humans, unlike the Holy Scriptures.
      So I don’t put too much stock in them.
      The meaning of the Hebrew word is “longing”. I can perhaps see some benefit in “turning to”, because we natural turn to that which we long for. But then, when one says that to turn to your husband is to turn away from God, as some do – you have overstepped your legitimate exegetical bounds.
      The use of words is in the context and the grammar. A word apart from a sentence means nothing. A sentence apart from a paragraph is misunderstood. Ultimately all of scripture must be read from the perspective of the whole. That’s how language works.
      A famous linguist one said, on his death bed, “I am about to die… or, I am going to die. Both are correct” Then he died.
      I have seen too many “exegetes” that would attempt to exegete both and make much of the verb tense, or the lexical entries, etc. and miss the point completely.
      The Hebrew in Genesis 3:16b is actually quite simple. “You desire will be toward your husband, but he will rule over you.”
      It’s our sinful inclination to rule that messes us up – as well as our pride.
      Thank you for you comments!

      • Okay. Since the New Testament authors primarily quoted from the Septuagint (Lee McDonald estimates more than 90% of the time), and some of their statements depend on the Septuagint rendering rather than the Masoretic Text, I consider looking at the Septuagint readings to be valuable in determining the original text and probably don’t consider the Masoretic Text to be as sacrosanct and not prone to errors as you do. Your essay has prompted me to look at the basis for the ESV change, though. Thanks!

      • But the Septuagint isn’t 100%. And the Masoretic texts weren’t set until 8th century AD or so.

        So that means we should look at all the evidence for the Old Testament text.

  7. Dear Sam, I am interested in presenting this material to my pastor, but first, I would like to ask if this is actually what you wanted to type in your 6th paragraph up above (not counting quotes).

    “I have to admit that the section that I wrote is somewhat embarrassing. To say that the curse upon the woman involves her domineering, manipulating and refusing to truly love her husband seems a bit much to read into one preposition.”

    It is of great importance for me to know if you didn’t rather mean “…. and refusing to truly BE LOVED BY her husband….” as it was written in the fore-mentioned “embarrassing” article you had written. Those two hold two very different views. Please enlighten me… thank you.

  8. I agree the ESV made a bad translation decision in Gen 3:16, in this and many other places they have shown themselves to be untrustworthy translators when dealing with man and woman verses. I appreciate your insights into the details as to why they are wrong in Gen 3:16.

    I recommend checking out Bruce Fleming’s book Familiar “Leadership” Heresies Uncovered. I agree it has a quirky title, but it has a lot of info on the early Gen stories about men and women that I have not found elsewhere.

    In particular, there are only 2 curses said by God, on the serpent and on the ground, which is a wordplay. That is, there are 2 sections that involve a curse and Gen 3:16 is in neither section. This opens up possibilities for the way it should be read. I can say more, but it is perhaps best to read what the author says.

    • You don’t consider “I will greatly multiply your sorrow in childbearing” to be a curse? The verse seems to be entirely negative.

      • You are correct. It is a curse on the woman. It wasn’t a topic for the paper,though.

      • The verse may seem to be “entirely negative” but that is because of the translation choices made. When you approach the text assuming it will be negative, then you will most likely find a way to translate it that way. When you approach the text without that assumption (because of the lack of the word curse) then it allows for other possibilities.

        LITV Gen 3:16 He said to the woman, I will greatly increase your sorrow and your conception; you shall bear sons in sorrow, and your desire shall be toward your husband; and he shall rule over you.

        I do not like the repeated word sorrow, as there are 2 different Hebrew words behind each of the words. The first is itsabon(labor/toil that is hard) and the second is itseb (labor/toil often involving pain). Also itsabon is result of the curse on the ground because of the man’s actions.

        1) increasing itsabon: itsabon is a result of the curse on the ground because of the man’s actions. This can be seen as God explaining things are going to get tougher for her, but not why this is so until we get to the consequences of the man’s actions.

        2) Increasing conception in this context is a blessing. This means she will have multiple pregnancies. She already knows there will have at least one seed/child because of Gen 3:15, now she learns she will have multiple pregnancies.

        3) bear sons/kids in labor (often with pain): This is partly a blessing also, as now she knows that her multiple pregnancies will be born as children. And also that giving birth will be work and often involves pain. (When anesthesia was discovered, this was misunderstood to claim that pain in labor is required by God.)

        4) desire for her husband in this context is a good thing. Even though she will have birth pains and now need to work hard, she will desire/turn to her husband. This also matters later when the man is kicked out of the garden in Gen 3:23-24.

        5) he will rule over you: This is not a command to the woman as it is not in the form of a command to her nor is it a command to the man. The word mashal/rule is the normal word for dominion over something. Note that it does not mean harsh rule, it means any type of rule, good or bad. See Gen 24:2 for an example. What I see this as is a warning from God about what to expect from being married to the deliberate sinner that tried to blame her for his own sin.

        There is also a similarity in the structure of the end of Gen 3:16 to Gen 4:7 which has implications.

    • “What I see this as is a warning from God about what to expect from being married to the deliberate sinner that tried to blame her for his own sin.”

      I can’t speak to the nuances of the Hebrew. But if God is warning Eve what to expect from a sinful marriage partner in Adam, it doesn’t seem like a huge stretch that God would warn Adam what to expect from a sinful marriage partner in Eve? Doesn’t she share in the total depravity of the sinful human nature?

      • One thing to see is that there are 3 types of sinners in Gen 3. The serpent is a deceiving sinner, the man is a deliberate sinner and the woman is a deceived sinner. I listed them in order of seriousness and there are different consequences based on each of the seriousness of their own sin.

      • “if God is warning Eve what to expect from a sinful marriage partner in Adam, it doesn’t seem like a huge stretch that God would warn Adam what to expect from a sinful marriage partner in Eve? Doesn’t she share in the total depravity of the sinful human nature?”

        Yes all humans, male and female, are born with the sin nature. And total depravity applies to all fallen humans. (The doctrine of total depravity is that that in the fallen human being there is no ‘island of goodness’ from which that human can choose God and come to saving faith in Christ — and hence, when someone is born again and comes effectually to faith in Christ, God has initiate that change: God has brought a dead spirit to life.)

        In Genesis 3:16, God appears to have been announcing / declaring to Eve that she would desire her husband and he would rule over her. God seems to have been saying to Eve that her husband’s default stance towards her would now be to rule over her somewhat harshly, from an attitude of superiority.

        In God’s announcement to Adam, which followed, God didn’t tell Adam that he was going to suffer from conflict caused by (or initiated by) his wife. He told Adam he would suffer because wresting a living from the ground would now be very difficult (thorns, thistles, the sweat of this brow) and death would be his end.

        We need to be careful to not read into the text things that are not there.

        Now, I do not deny that some women abuse their male partners. But the evidence shows that the great majority of spousal abuse is committed by men against women. See here if you want more info:

        By the way, I don’t know if you were doing this but it’s not a good idea to use the term ‘total depravity’ to convey the idea that all sins are equally heinous and all sinners are equally heinous in their sinning.

        Many Christians mistakenly think that all sins are equally heinous. And they lay this line of victims of domestic abuse: “You’re a sinner too! You need to repent of your own sin and stop worrying about the sin of your spouse!”
        We call this ‘sin-levelling’. It does great harm to victims of abuse.

  9. K. Headley

    Thank you – simply saying thank you really doesn’t encompass the level of gratitude I feel. I am deeply disturbed by the ESV’s modifications to this verse, particularly given some of the patriarchy that is rearing its head in some segments of Reformed thinking. It is tempting to write off Reformed thought altogether, but writing like this makes it possible for me not to lose heart. Again, thank you.

  10. I found this very well presented and extremely helpful. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into it, not the least of which was all the humility evidenced in being critical of your own work. Great post!

  11. It seems odd that you focus on the preposition without adequately considering the meaning of the noun תשוקה. I believe there are very good reasons to adopt the revised reading of the passage that you’ve ignored. See here:

    • Hello, I read your blog. It was well written. To be honest, I had also considered the idea that the Greek translators just went with “turn” because it looked similar to the other Hebrew word for “turn”. However, it seems highly unlikely that such a mistake would be accepted by the Jewish people. I think that the word “tesuqah” has a very Jewish picturesque meaning. It is a deep word, rich in imagery. It was difficult to fully capture its meaning in translation, so translators did the best they could. I believe “Tesuqah” represents the symbolic relationship of sheep to their shepherd. Sheep instinctively turn towards the shepherd that they trust. They also deeply long for or desire their shepherd. It is an amazing thing to witness the passionate desire sheep have for their shepherd!! If you have time to read, I have explained everything at my link below… Blessings!

  12. Pingback: The Curse on Humanity and Woman's Desire - Wheat and Chaff

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  14. I guess the next step is ESV-onlyism. It's the only translation with the Textus Permanentus.— Jesse L (@ReformedintheQT) September 10, 2016


  15. Eternal Subordination of the Son
    the ESV’s change of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7
    — they are two sides of the same coin.
    And the ones who be most harmed are women.

    The agenda behind it all is this: Keep women down. Keep men in authority.

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  18. Mark N

    Being fluent in pretty much all forms of Hebrew:
    This translation change is a bit disturbing. In no way does the Hebrew word אל ever mean ‘contrary’. The most proper translation is towards. In some contexts it may be translated as against, but it does not also follow that this word may be further morphed to contrary.
    Just because against and contrary may be synonymous in English to a certain extent does not at all mean that the Hebrew word el אל, or אליך (second person conjugation) by extension also means contrary.
    The scholarly analysis is incomplete, however. There are other mentions of the root שקק (SQQ) in the OT, other than Gen 4:17 and SoS 7:10:
    Psalms 107:2
    For he satisfies the longing soul (שקקה), and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

    Isaiah 29:8
    As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched, so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion.
    In this case, ‘thirst not quenched’ is translated from שוקקה.

    Isaiah 33:3 (YLT; as all others really don’t actually translate the word properly):
    And gathered hath been your spoil, A gathering of the caterpillar, As a running to and fro of locusts is he running on it.
    The translation ‘running on it’ is from the Hebrew שוקק.
    Now, following Hebrew rules, תשוקה is simply the objectified/noun form of the above form.

    For the record, I consider myself a complementarian. My agenda here is to be as faithful to the text as possible, rather than disproving complementarianism (I think that attitude is reinforced by Paul anyway)

    • Thank you Mark N. I do not know Hebrew but am very interested in what you said in your comment.

      If you want to elaborate it more, or give those of us who are not Hebrew scholars any more insight in a way we can understand, feel free!

      And what does SQQ stand for?

      • SQQ are the consonants that some believe form the root of the word translated “Desire”. There might be truth in it, but going to roots to see the meaning of the word is not always reliable. For example, the English word “nice” goes back centuries and the meaning has evolved and changed over the ages. It used to mean something like stupid and rude. When we try to exegete a statement like He’s a nice man” based upon the roots of the word, we will get into all sorts of trouble.
        I’m not doubting what Mark has written. It could very well be true. But we also need to know how languages work.
        Thanks, Mark, for your insights. I wasn’t writing a book. Just a blog. I had only one point, and that was on the word. Sometimes in blogs you have to leave some things for another time.
        Thanks for chiming in. I’m not convinced of the root analysis, but you make some good points, and could very well be right.

      • Thanks Sam!
        And yes, I know the dangers of relying too heavily on root words…

      • Mark N

        Words in Semitic languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic derive from triliteral roots: Each word is derived from three letters which are then morphed in various ways according to tense, gender, and other grammatical objectives.

        S-Q-Q, or ש-ק-ק is the Hebrew root of the word תשוקה, or T-S-W-Q-H. To put things into perspective, to say ‘desiring’ one would say משתוקק, or MSTQQ.

        It’s also worth nothing what the Babylonian Talmud (which doesn’t really have a dog in this fight) says about Genesis 3:16; quoting a sage who lived in the 2nd century AD:

        ואל אישך תשוקתך מלמד שהאשה משתוקקת על בעלה בשעה שיוצא לדרך והוא ימשל בך מלמד שהאשה תובעת בלב והאיש תובע בפה

        “And you shall long for you man: Teaches that a woman longs (משתוקקת) for her man when he is away. And he shall rule you: Teaches that a woman demands by heart while the man demands by mouth”

        The word used in the Talmud for ‘longing’ here is משתוקקת; the word used for ‘demand’ is תובעת. Also note that while the Talmud was generally composed in the 6th century, it was done in Babylonia using western Aramaic. This specific quote is in essentially Mishnaic Hebrew, citing a much earlier origin.

        Sam, To be clear, I’m not disagreeing with your analysis, I’m actually supporting it. Foh’s paper on desire actually attempts to use the same root analysis, attempting to extract similar meaning from Arabic.

        I did much of this research in the past few days when I became aware of the translation debate, and posted this root analysis elsewhere but I thought that this additional information might be helpful to you as well.

      • Thanks, Mark. I got that. I didn’t mean to sound snarky. I think your analysis is probably correct. Thanks for that. I have more coming if I get the time. … really. Thanks 😀

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  20. Doug

    Thanks for grappling with this text and your willingness to correct. Luther wrote about those like me that don’t know the languages: “They grope their way like a blind man along the wall.” We depend on you. That said, is it possible the text has a multi-faceted meaning? For example, Peter Martyr explains the “desire” of 3:16 as referring both to the woman’s desire for the embrace of her husband even after the increased travail associated with childbirth, and the necessity of her looking to her husband:

    “…as many times as she desires anything, she watches her husband to determine whether or not, by his leave, she has the authorization to effect it…This punishment is imposed through the fault of the woman, who transgressed in having directed her attention first not to her husband but rather to the serpent.” —Peter Martyr, Genesis 3:16, Truman State Press

    Martyr’s framework for interpreting this passage was: “The punishments inflicted by God are the remedies and the restraints of our vitiated nature.”

  21. Pingback: ESV becomes a complementarian pamphlet – Wolf's Notes

  22. Pingback: The change of Genesis 3:16, ESS, the colonial code of relationship, and a call to bystanders | A Cry For Justice

  23. Shy

    Thank you so much for this. Not only does your explanation of the text make perfect sense, it is also in agreement with the reality of human experience throughout history. Women continue to long for their men in spite of the fact that men have abused and domineered over women in all ages. (Meaning “men” as a whole, not as individuals.) We do not see women throughout history seeking to overthrow male rule, quite the contrary. Hope springs eternal in our hearts, in spite of being subjugated.

  24. Reblogged this on Learning To Be Full Of Grace And Truth. and commented:
    This is a great article on the meaning of Genesis 3:16. The “genesis” of Sam’s post is the significant change that the ESV is making to that verse; changing “Your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” to “Your desire will be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” These are significant changes, and I suspect are driven more by theological presuppositions than a faithful translation of the original Hebrew. Definitely worth a read.

  25. Pingback: Why the ESV Translation Changes Matter: Two Reasons | Word & Craft

  26. Kelley Eltzroth

    Thank you for the scholarly work towards an understanding of this passage. I’ve wrestled with it, it never felt right when used as an explanation for why Christian marriages should be patriarchal. It felt like it was focused on the curse, rather than on Eden and the redemption. I will be sharing this with some interested other folks!

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  31. I agree with most aspects of your critique, but you need to change the inverted comma to an apostrophe, if you’re constrained from using half-rings. In other words, it’s ’el, not ‘el, and that’s a nontrivial difference. See for more if you wish.

    • Thank you. I think it is splitting hairs, but I think I fixed it. I’m spending time with my family now, but thanks for the heads up. I wish more would interact with the exegesis and theology itself, rather than throwing labels around and picking over transliteration – but maybe that’s just me.

    • Thanks,though, for your thoroughness. I do appreciate it. It’s been quite the week. I think I got them all. 😀

  32. For what it’s worth, and I wouldn’t necessarily accept the ESV translation, it is grammatically acceptable. The “contrary” and “but” are not based on the preposition, which is simply the “to” in contrary “to”. Rather, the conjunctions reflect the translator’s (who was it?) analysis if the juxtaposition of the two clauses, especially in light of the “redundant” pronoun “he” in the second clause. When the subject pronoun is present with a finite verb, it signals what is in non-technical terms a contrast. Moreover, this is supported by the fact that the two clauses should probably be taken as a poetic bicolon, which both is the defining feature of Hebrew poetry and is often used for contrasting statements.

    • I agree with the disjunctive clause, but I don’t think that changes the meaning of the preposition. Thanks for the comment.

    • Mark N

      That’s a fair point. I realize the implications of an English translation reading ‘your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you’ doesn’t really highlight the contrast.

      The ESV however is supposed to be an ‘essentially literal’ translation though; not to mention that they could have changed ‘and he will rule over you’ to ‘but he will rule over you’ and stopped there. However even the ‘and’ to ‘but’ is debatable in light of ESV’s translation philosophy

      • Fair enough. I stopped following translations and their so-called philosophies many years ago. I teach my undergrads to take all translations with a grain (or sometimes more) of salt. (I expect my grad students to make their own and defend it.)

      • As one not knowing Hebrew, it would seem that when a point in translation is reached that could be translated in multiple ways, context would be critical. That said, before our age of pain-free child labor, efficient contraceptives, and all around ease, Genesis 3:14–23 was looked at as neither prescriptive nor descriptive, but as remedial. That is, everything from the enmity instilled by God between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; to the increased labor pain and number of conceptions for Woman; to the cursing of the earth such that Man has to sweat; all these were seen as remedies instituted by the Great Physician for the salvaging of now-sinful Man (i.e., St. Paul: “women shall be saved through the bearing of children”). Does this rule apply to translation?

      • This is a great discussion! Thanks everyone 🙂

        Robert Holmsedt said “…the conjunctions reflect the translator’s analysis if the juxtaposition of the two clauses, especially in light of the “redundant” pronoun “he” in the second clause. When the subject pronoun is present with a finite verb, it signals what is in non-technical terms a contrast. Moreover, this is supported by the fact that the two clauses should probably be taken as a poetic bicolon, which both is the defining feature of Hebrew poetry and is often used for contrasting statements.”

        I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but I’ve read pretty widely what the scholars and commentators say on Genesis 3:16. Many of them point to how the Hebrew is making two contrasting statements. (Thanks for teaching me a new word Robert — ‘bicolon’.)

        I agree that they could have changed it from
        “your desire shall be to your husband, and he will rule over you.”
        “your desire shall be to your husband, but he will rule over you.”

        That would have spotlighted the contrast well. And it wouldn’t have been laying their own (gender politics) agenda on the text.

        They had already more than hinted their gender politics in the earlier version of the ESV, where they put a footnote on the word ‘for’ and the footnote said “or against:”. But now they’ve chiselled their gender politics into the stone of the translation itself.

      • Doug,
        You mentioned the passage concerning women being saved by childbirth. I would encourage you to research Jus Trium Liberorum as a possible cultural explanation

    • Sam Powell said in this post:
      “It seems to me that using Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16 is rather sketchy exegesis. … It seems to me that the meaning of the phrases must be determined in the context.”

      I agree. My interpretation of the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 is very much based on the context. I invite folks following this thread to read it:

      The woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 — let’s be consistent with the context and with actual life.

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  37. My earlier comment was deleted, but I will try again:
    The debated phrase states how it is.
    But does this imply that it aught to be like this?

    • Hi louiskbbuiskbb
      I’m just wanting to clarify your question.
      Is this what you are asking? —
      The phrase ‘he will rule over you’ is descriptive. But is it also prescriptive?

    • The NET has a footnote that sums it up nicely – he will want to dominate you is how it could be understood. The Lord simply announces the struggle without indicating who will emerge victorious.

      They claim this passage is a judgment oracle – not a curse. It announces the struggle between man and woman in society.

      • Cont’d

        It does not depict the New Testament ideal, where the husband sacrificially loves his wife, as Christ loves the Church, and where the wife recognizes the husband’s loving leadership in the family and voluntarily submits to it.

        Sin produces a conflict or power struggle between the man and the woman, but IN CHRIST they call a truce and live harmoniously. Eph 5:18-32

        Thought that was said very well. And helps keep the focus where it needs to be – on Christ.

      • Doug

        @Renewed Spirit, are you implying that an OT husband and wife could not live harmoniously and in love?

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  40. Barbara, Yes. But my question was meant to be rhetorical. I deny that it is prescriptive. One cannot derive an “aught” from an”is”.

    • Doug – this is the only reply button I could find –

      I’m not implying anything.
      Read the OT – all the chaos in relationships. E.g. David looks, lusts, violates another man’s wife and murders her husband, then lies. All forgiven by God.

      If we keep helping each other to look to Christ, walk in the Spirit, and hold onto faith, hope and love – the only three things that will last! – that keeps our hearts ready for His return. The Bible is full of the struggle between men and women – but if together we work to reflect His glory – then we have a symphony of praise 🙂

      • Renewed Spirit,

        Men also struggle against men and women struggle against women, this is simply a result of the fact that we are sinners, not a result of the curse. The curse is not a description of how things will be because of sin, but rather it’s a description of how things will be because of the righteous anger of God towards sin. We know that this passage in Genesis is a curse because of these phrases, “Cursed are you…” (v.14); “And I will put enmity…” (v.15); “I will make your pains…very severe” (v.16); “Cursed is the ground because of you” (v.17)

        And, just like every other curse in the Bible, we know it must have the following characteristics:
        1. It is a deliberate punishment enacted by God (not by sin)
        2. It is not prescriptive, meaning that these are not rules to live by. Rather, a curse is descriptive of how God has willed it to be and it is never out of His control
        3. A curse never causes someone to be tempted to sin. God never tempts anyone to sin; therefore the curse cannot include a desire, or even a tendency to sin, by either the man or the woman. (James 1:13).
        4. A curse isn’t necessarily permanent (Revelation 22:3)
        5. God’s power is never limited by the curse (Think about Ruth the Moabitess). He will do whatever He wants through whoever He wants
        6. It is never sinful to try and mitigate the effects of the curse (think epidural or farm equipment), but a curse by God is very, very powerful and none of us should assume that we can escape it

        I hope that helps clarify the prescriptive/descriptive dilemma 🙂

      • Interesting Jennifer, but that means Paul would be acting as an agent of the Roman State, and would be speaking only to Roman citizens at that, since according to the link you supplied, Jus Trium Liberorum was a policy designed to increase the falling Roman birthrate. I would ask you instead to consider how the Lord rewarded the Hebrew midwives that feared God by promoting the birth of Hebrew babies against the edict of Pharaoh. It would seem the Lord has a special esteem for those who promote the birth of his image bearers. This, generally speaking, is what women are uniquely designed for, thus, it is through persevering in this role that women are preserved. It is significant that in the opening chapter of Romans, women turning from this “natural function” is listed first in the description of a civilization spiraling down.

      • Jennifer – again there was no reply under your response. Thanks for taking the time to share and I will need time to read through your link.

        My initial thoughts are God did not curse Adam and Eve. He did curse the serpent and the ground.

        The hostility is between believers and unbelievers – God put that there.
        As believers we should do all we can to live in harmony together – including marriage.

        I will give I more study though!

      • “God did curse the serpent and the ground. He did not curse Adam and Eve.” — to me, that is a point worth holding in mind when trying to understand this passage.

        At the same time, God’s declarations to Adam and to Eve have a negative import even though He didn’t actually say to either of them “I curse you.” A negative import — their lives would henceforth be ones of difficulty and suffering and struggle. And also, I think we can see some redemptive or gracious import mixed in with the negative import. For example, the fact that human beings die means that the world is not ruled by a singe megalomaniac — because every megalomaniac who has had a go at ruling the world has eventually died. Stalin. Pol Pot. Hitler….

        Another example: the fact that despite very painful childbirth and the difficulties of parenting children, a woman would still desire sexual relations with her man, show’s part of God’s merciful plan. It keeps the human race going; this was necessary for us all, and was necessary for Jesus to be born.

      • Barbara – grace and mercy trump 🙂

        If He shows us this much mercy – how do we extend that to those who abuse us? Bless those who curse? From a safe distance of course :).

        Main point – in Christ we have power. And we are freed from the curse of sin and power of others. Hallelujah!

      • Doug,
        As I understand it, the book of Timothy was written to Timothy’s church in Ephesus. At this point in history, Ephesus was a Roman city ruled by the Roman government. The church was probably Gentile believers, who were, for the most part, Roman citizens. A quick search online also revealed that there were some Hebrews in Ephesus, many of whom were also Roman citizens. A possible theory is that Paul had compassion on the Ephesian women who suffered greatly under totalitarian male tutelage and guardianship. Never before had women been offered freedom from subjection until this new Augustan law. If they had children, women could be free from subjection to men if they maintained propriety and Roman virtues. Remember, there were Roman spies snooping around the church at this time looking for any reason to bring charges against Christians. I think it is an interesting theory worthy of consideration considering the perplexity of this verse. I tend to prefer explanations of difficult texts that are more simple and down to earth rather than over-spiritualized explanations. I think there is great danger in creating spiritual application in text that doesn’t plainly exist.

      • Doug

        Consider that Paul was given a “physical” thorn. This “medicine” we are told was necessary to keep Paul from exalting himself. Physical changes are oftentimes required by God to preserve us. Likewise, physical changes were necessary to keep all men and women in check, due to the commonality of human nature. The medicine differs according to the differing sex. It is not the intent of our Lord to condemn the world but to save it. If I understand you correctly you are implicating all men and women in the sin of our first parents, since the same “judgement” as you call it falls upon us all. This characterization of God as punishing some for the sins of others is condemned by Scripture.

      • Doug,
        I will chew on that for awhile. The last thing I would ever want to do is malign the character of God — good chatting, blessings 🙂

    • Renewed Spirit,

      “To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;”

      If that is not a curse/punishment, what is it? What evidence in the text would lead us to believe it is not a curse?

      God had to physically change the way the woman’s body works, just like he physically changed the serpent and the soil. Based on my research, I would say that God also changed the physical stature of man and/or woman, giving significant strength towards the man and not the woman, thus placing the burden of providing and protection on the man’s shoulders. Both man and woman were cursed with suffering as they strive to continue the human race. Woman suffers as reproducer and man suffers as provider. I would encourage you to read my blog to see the textual evidence for yourself. Blessings 🙂

  41. Pingback: Gen 3:16, the ESV, and My תשׁוקה for Folks to Stop Using Hebrew Grammar in the Debate | Ancient Hebrew Grammar

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  46. Mary

    I just read about this today after searching for a list of Bibles that have been altered to reflect this view so I can inform other of this heresy. How can certain groups cling to the notion of inerrancy in and of the Bible if they insist parts of it are wrong to the point of altering the translation? Furthermore, why do people allow it and go along with it? Doesn’t logic, even good-old-conservative- man-lead logic, say to turn away from this? To end, I find it amusing that they followed the “lead of Susan Foh”, a woman…
    I suppose it’s okay to follow a woman in the event that she’s going to allow you to rule over her and enable you, by altering God’s Word, to rule over other females.

  47. Pingback: Susan Foh and Why it Matters… | See, there's this thing called biology...

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  49. Michaela

    Hi, Sam. Thank you so much for your writing on this subject. I got a lot out of it, and am grateful for your time. I have a question: why do you refer to the curse falling upon Adam and Eve? Chastisement and consequence, yes. But did God actually CURSE them? If you could help me understand your reasoning on this, I’d appreciate it a lot. Thanks again, Sam. :o)

    • Hi, Michaela. One thing that we must understand is the seriousness of what happened in the fall. God told Adam that when he ate, he would die.
      Death is alienation from God, who is the only source of every good thing. This was the curse. Alienation from God is what a curse is and it is what happened to mankind when they fell.
      Blessing is Gods favor restored. This was promised in Genesis 3, but would be progressively revealed in Christ.
      Apart from Christ, mankind is indeed under a curse, alienated from God, without hope. Only in Christ is the curse restored.
      There is a lot involved in this, but think of it this way: a man is either in fellowship with God (blessed) or he is not (cursed). There is no middle ground. When Adam and Eve chose willingly to break fellowship with God through disobedience, they were separated from God, since it is not possible for God to deny himself. The curse (whether you call it death, alienation from God, or other) is the natural result. To say that Adam and Eve were not cursed is to say that blessing can be found somewhere else that fellowship with God, which is a pagan concept.
      That being said, in Christ we are completely accepted and beloved, because he paid the curse and obeyed God perfectly, obtaining the blessing of the covenant. this can never be taken away. So it is appropriate to speak of chastening when you are speaking of believers who are in Christ. But this had not yet been revealed fully to Adam.
      Paul, in Romans 5, speaks of the curse of death that came through Adam, and how it is restored in Christ. Hope this helps.

      • Sam, Perhaps Michaela is referring to the events of Genesis chapter 3 which are commonly referred to as curses, yet if this were the case why would they have remained throughout history upon those in Christ? For example, up until recent innovations in anesthesia, all women have suffered pain in childbirth. Reformers such as Peter Martyr taught that these were instead remedies for our human nature, sort of like Paul’s thorn in the flesh.

      • Michaela

        Hi, again, Doug. In the spirit of full disclosure, I asked the question because I felt that it was inaccurate to say that mankind (Adam and Eve) received a curse from God. But, I was certainly open to reading any exposition of text that you might offer to ‘win’ me over. Scripture simply does not say that God pronounced a curse upon Adam and Eve, and your explanation, while much appreciated, hasn’t convinced me.

        I recently read an article about the same biblical event here

        If you feel inclined, I’d be interested to read any comment you have on this.
        Warmest regards, Michaela.

      • Doug

        Michaela, I think the article you referenced is incorrect in linking the curse on the earth to Adam. Galatians 3:13 tells us why Christ was “cursed.” It was because of a declaration of Scripture:

        “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

        God never cursed Man. Only the snake and the earth. These are all calculated to help us in our weakened “flesh” state. We will no longer need these helps when we are in the future “changed.”

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