Tag Archives: male and female

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.

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He Made Them Male and Female

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen 1:27 KJV)

I recently unwittingly created a kerfluffle. You can read about it here:

Rather than continue debating it on Facebook, I decided that I would answer one question here, since it seems to be the heart of the debate.

The question is this: “Are there any differences at all between the two sexes – male and female.”

The question is an important one. One the one hand, we reject the homogenization of the sexes, because God created male and female. Obviously there is a difference. The most obvious difference is a biological one. Males have certain body parts; females have certain body parts. God created them that way and called it “very good”.

But the conservative movement seems to have fallen off the other side of the horse.  In the video that I took issue with, Phil Johnson links weakness, softness, emotional hurts and pastel colors with the feminine sex, and courage, strength, godliness and manly love with the masculine sex.

Apart from the fact that I have no idea what manly love is, and how it differs from the love that God calls all Christians to, these characterizations perplex me.

As you can see in the discussion, it ended with a question – other than physical characterizations, are there any inherent differences between men and women?

At the risk of boring my readers, perhaps it would be helpful to put this into precise terms. The question concerns attributes. An attribute is that thing which answers the question “what is it”. I am a human, a Christian, married, a father, grandfather, with grey hair, and I was born a Powell. These all answer the question, “What is it?”

But it will not do to stop there, for if one of those attributes were taken away, I would still be me. If my wife passed, I would no longer be a husband, but I would still be me.

So now we must distinguish between essential and accidental attributes. An essential attribute is that without which the thing is no longer the thing. And accidental attribute is that which describes the thing, but does not define the essence of the thing.

How’s that for making a subject dense?

In the list of my attributes, all of them are accidental except one: I am a human. Any one of the other attributes you could take away, and I would still be me.

So lets apply this to maleness and femaleness. When the question is asked, “Are there feminine and masculine traits other than physical traits?” I must ask what you mean. Are you speaking of essential or accidental attributes?

My granddaughter is four. You can give her any two objects – tools, trucks, stuffed animals, or paper drawings – and the big one will be a mommy and the little one will be the baby. Others report similar phenomenon in other girls.

Is it then valid to take this observation, abstract it and give it a name – say, nurturing – and call it an essential attribute of femininity? I think not.

The same can be said of playing with dolls, building playhouses, emotional bonding and so on. Are these essential attributes of being a female? If you say yes, you are opening the door to much abuse, as we see today. The horrible word “sissy” is merely one example.

A boy who plays with dolls, is sensitive, emotionally bonds with those around him, talks about his feelings and likes pastel colors is labeled a “sissy” – a biological male with feminine traits, as if there were any such thing.

For where is this in the scripture? Where does the One who created them male and female give us warrant to call a male a sissy and a female a tomboy? If we as the people of God are confused is it any wonder that the world around us is confused? When we speak of the church becoming feminized (or worse, sissified), the only possible outcome is a world left very confused by gender roles, gender assignments, and what it means to be a boy or girl.

Let’s take boys. Boys are supposed to be men, right? Rough-housing, posturing, courageous, strong, gun-toting, and so on.

The observation is made that men are generally stronger than women. I don’t have a beef with that. Say it if it makes you feel better. But what have we accomplished?

The problem that continues to raise its pesky head is the problem of essential attributes. Remember that an essential attribute is that without which the thing is not the thing. If I lose an essential attribute, I am no longer me.

So we take the general observation that men are stronger than women and then we make it an essential attribute of maleness. In other words, when men are physically weak, they are no longer men. Do you see the problem? If these assertions are correct, what are we to make of a man who become physically restrained – through age, infirmity, or accident? Are they then no longer male?

Take it one step further.

Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands. (Pro 14:1 KJV)

This passage is generally interpreted that women are called to be nurturers. But then what are we to make of those women who are widowed, bed-ridden, unmarried – are they no longer women?

It is interesting to note that according to the grammar, building the house is an essential attribute of wisdom, not femaleness. The ESV translates it correctly:

The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. (Pro 14:1 ESV)

The thing that builds houses is wisdom, not femininity. A woman may be foolish and destroy that which God calls her to build, but she is still a woman, albeit a foolish one.

According to the creator of heaven and earth, according to the One who made them male and female, a man can be wise or foolish, but he is a wise or foolish MAN. A woman can be wise or foolish, but she is a wise or foolish WOMAN.

We see the boy who is drawn to pastel colors, loves texture and fabric, and would rather stay home than go hunting, and we call him a girly boy. We say “Be a man. Do man things.” And when we do so, we deny the Creator of heaven and earth who made this boy just the way that he is.

We see a girl who loves sports, hunting and putting cars together and we call her a tom-boy.

And then we take it a step down from there and start talking about the sissification of the church.

I hate it.

Let’s get back to what the Bible teaches. The scriptures alone are our guide for faith and practice. “God made them male and female.”

The only essential attribute of human beings is the image of God, and that God made them male and female. Without the image of God, we are not human. There is no human being that is not either male or female. All the other attributes are accidental. Some have them, some do not.

But how do you define male and female?. A simple reading of the text does not admit any essential attributes of maleness and femaleness other than biology. A man has certain chromosomes and body parts. A woman has certain chromosomes and body parts.

Beyond that, there is a wonderful, wide variety of personalities, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. But these are individual, not gender specific.

For parents, instead of telling your daughters to be more feminine, teach them to be wise women. Teach them to be godly. Teach them to grow in the fruits of the spirit.

Instead of teaching your sons to be more manly, teach them to be wise men. Teach them to be godly. Teach them to grow in the fruits of the spirit.

And whatever gifts God has given your sons and daughters, instead of categorizing them as masculine or feminine, teach them to rejoice in those gifts and to use them for the glory of God and the dominion of the creation.

And please, for the love of the truth, quit talking about the feminization of the church. It isn’t godly. It isn’t biblical. It isn’t edifying. It serves no purpose other than to manipulate applause from the foolish at men’s conferences.

You can talk about how the church has forsaken its calling to proclaim the truth in love. You can talk about how the church has become spineless. You can talk about the church being either faithful or unfaithful. But these are neither masculine nor feminine traits. There is no reason to bring sex into it at all. It’s insulting to men. It’s insulting to women. It’s insulting to the creator, who made male and female and said, “Behold. It is very good.”

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