“Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
— Genesis 3:16 (KJV)
When most conservative evangelicals read the above passage, they hone in on the last part: “and he shall rule over thee.” For the thousands of years since Moses quoted God on what passed for paper, and probably even before the quote was ever written, this line has been used to justify the subordinate position of women in human society. It is seen as a command from God that women are to be subordinate to men. That isn’t what I want to share with you here. Instead, I want to focus on the section just before it: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband…”; but we’ll be looking at the entire passage to keep this in context.
Okay, a little background information: Genesis 3 is the account of humankind’s fall from grace, its loss of innocence, in the Garden of Eden. It begins with describing the serpent, the creature inhabited by Satan in order to tempt the male and female Adam (God called them, collectively, Adam). This is followed by the account of how the serpent got the woman to eat some fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — the tree from which God said not to eat — and how the woman simply gave some to her husband and he ate.
In verse eight, we see the Jehovah God (the use of the word LORD in all capital letters in the King James Bible is a substitution for the name Jehovah) taking his usual stroll through the garden in the cool of the day to spend time with the humans. Jehovah knew something was up: he had to actually call out to Adam, “Where art thou?”
This was certainly an unusual development in their relationship. Adam responds, in verse 9: “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” What is this? Shame? Embarrasment? Fear? Something was definitely not right. Jehovah responds: “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” The male Adam answers by passing the buck: “The woman, whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Yes, let’s blame it on the chick! Let’s blame it on God! Let’s blame it on everyone but ourselves! Okay, get back to that later. Jehovah then turns to the woman, the female Adam, and asks her directly: “What is this that thou hast done?” Notice the woman also passes the buck: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” The Hebrew root used here is nasha, and means “to lead astray as in mentally delude or morally seduce.” The woman said the serpent led her astray from the truth.
In verse 14, we see the beginning of the consequences for this first transgression by the humans. Jehovah confronts the serpent: “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” Then, He continues in verse 15 with the first messianic prophecy: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The physical creature to whom Jehovah was speaking, became what we now call a snake — perhaps the most deadly, feared and hated creature on the planet. But there was someone else to whom He was speaking: Satan, the former covering cherub of Ezekiel 28:16 who led a rebellion against Jehovah that is still being fought today. To Satan, He says there will be enmity (Hebrew root eybah: hostility) between him and the woman, between him and the woman’s seed. Now notice the use of the word “seed” here. At first, we might think Jehovah is referring to all of the woman’s descendants. That, however, is not the case. As Paul said in Galatians 3:16 regarding Abraham: “…not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Notice how the pronouns are singular: “it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” In other scriptures the identity of the seed is revealed to be Christ. This brings us to the passage quoted at the beginning of this lesson: Genesis 3:16.
In our text, Jehovah goes back to dealing with the woman. We see two consequences falling upon the woman. They are outlined as follows:
1. Her sorrow and conception are multiplied – Notice how these two go together. Jehovah tells her she would not only have multiple pregnancies, but that they would not be pleasant experiences. The hormone fluctuations, the morning sickness, the intense pain just prior to, and during, delivery, are all part of this. Had the transgression not taken place, I suspect there would have been very few pregnancies and they would have been painless.
2. Her desire would be toward her husband, and he would rule over her – I’ll explain this part in more detail further on. The woman would desire her husband and he would rule over her. This is a clear indication that, prior to the transgression, male and female were equals. Husband, as used here, does not have the meaning associated with husband in the sense of the agricultural husbandman and husbandry (Hebrew roots adamah meaning soil ikkar meaning farmer, and abad meaning to work) or the relational (Hebrew roots baal meaning master in its use as a modifying noun [master builder] and chathan meaning related by marriage). Rather, it is used — and it is the most common Old Testament use — in the sense of a companion. The Hebrew root is iysh, and means a man in the roles of the other and of the certain champion. The male Adam’s role was to be the female Adam’s other, her guaranteed champion. Hence, the common description of a spouse as being one’s “other half.” Jehovah relegates the woman to a position where she now has a desire for her other, her champion, and where he would rule (Hebrew root mashal meaning to rule, have dominion, have power) over her. This position, again, is not the position she had before the transgression. Thus, it is wrong to say that it is the natural state of women to be in subjugation to men. But, praise the Lord, everything will be set right when we go home to heaven.
But what is this desire that the woman would have for her husband? The Hebrew root translated here as desire is t’shuwqah. It is derived from shuwq (to run after or over as in overflow) in the original sense of stretching out after. It’s meaning is that of a longing. As a consequence of the transgression, the woman was relegated to longing after her other, her guaranteed champion. But what does this mean, both for the first woman and for the rest of humanity? That t’shuwqah is also used in Song of Solomon 7:10 in reference to the woman’s male beloved, suggests that males also came to have this stretching out after, this longing. Thus, such desire has become a human trait experienced by both males and females. But, again, what is this desire?
I have studied extensively this concept of sexual orientation that has become a major sticking point in the homosexuality debate. Most conservative evangelicals ignore the concept, which suggests they don’t believe it exists or don’t try to understand it. Much of the gay establishment appears to equate sexual orientation with sexual activity, though it says it acknowledges that sexual orientation has nothing to do with sexual activity. In my own discussions with people on both sides, I make it a point to separate sexual orientation from sexual activity. After all, they are only peripherally related. In so doing, I found it necessary to clearly define the term for myself. For me, then, sexual orientation is defined as the determining object of sexual and emotional attraction. Now, what does this have to do with our text?
Most folks opposed to homosexuality believe that it is defined by a set of behaviors. They speak of it in terms of being a lifestyle and an alternative. Even many homosexuals and supportive heterosexuals have come to refer to homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. The problem with this is with the definitions of these terms. A lifestyle is a manner of living, a series of behaviors and practices which tend to define a person. An alternative is simply a choice between two things or among a larger number of things. Walking is an alternative to running. So, by calling homosexuality an alternative lifestyle, we’re saying it is an alternative to other lifestyles — a heterosexual lifestyle, a bisexual lifestyle, or an asexual lifestyle. The problem of definitions also comes into play when we try to define these sexual lifestyles. What is a heterosexual lifestyle, a homosexual lifestyle, a bisexual lifestyle, an asexual lifestyle? If, as I said, a lifestyle is a manner of living, a series of defining behaviors and practices, then what are these behaviors and practices in connection with heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality? This is where the use of the terms alternative and lifestyle in this context falls apart. There is no set of behaviors or practices that define heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality. Thus, it is erroneous to speak of the sexualities in such terms. Heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality are sexual orientations, not lifestyles.
If, as I believe, sexual orientation is the determining object of sexual and emotional attraction, then heterosexuality is a sexual and emotional attraction that is exclusively toward the opposite (other) gender; homosexuality is those same attractions but exclusively toward the same gender; bisexuality is toward both genders; and asexuality is a lack of sexual and emotional attraction. But, what is this attraction? Having studied the whole debate from all sides, I can only conclude that the attraction itself is that desire, that stretching out after, that longing, described in Genesis 3:16. Thus, it is there that we see the origin of sexual orientation. This brings us to an important question. If sexual orientation is part of the “curse” on the female Adam, does that make sexual orientation a sin, something that is morally wrong? While the text clearly shows heterosexual desire, we can infer homosexual and bisexual desires from this in the absence of scriptural evidence to the contrary (there is no passage that shows the origin of homosexuality and bisexuality). But, just because the desire was not part of the natural order before the transgression, does that make it morally wrong? If we say that this desire, this stretching out after, this longing, by which I define sexual orientation, is morally wrong, then we must say that the pain and sickness accompanying pregnancy and the male ruling over the female are also wrong, are also sin. This is an important point. Most conservative evangelicals speak of homosexuality and bisexuality as being sin, as being morally wrong. But, then, what is sin? What does it mean for something to be morally wrong?
The Bible says a great deal about sin. From the transgression about which we’ve been learning in this lesson, to the transgressions for which all unsaved humans will one day face judgment (Revelation 20:12-15), we see one thing that is very clear: sin is something which requires an action. Sin is something you do. Whether it is something you think or some action you take, sin requires that you do something. Thus, it involves the will, that mechanism within humans by which choices and decisions are made. Most conservative evangelicals insist that homosexuality and bisexuality are sinful because they are chosen. They believe one makes a conscious decision to be homosexual or bisexual. (They don’t seem to be clear as to whether heterosexuality is a choice, but they insist homosexuals and bisexuals must choose heterosexuality before they can be saved). If heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are sexual orientations, then they are not thoughts or behaviors. If they are sexual orientations, then they are not alternatives or lifestyles. Jehovah never said, in Genesis 3:16 or anywhere else, that the woman would choose to desire her husband or choose to have multiple pregnancies fraught with pain and illness: he said these things would happen to her — whether she wanted them to or not. She had no choice in the matter. Thus, if we find that Genesis 3:16 tells us how sexual orientation came into being, then we must say that sexual orientation is not a sin. And, since heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are sexual orientations, they are not sins either.
In an environment where we want so much to believe God made us what we are in terms of our particular sexual orientations, this is difficult for us to hear. How do we affirm and celebrate our respective sexual identities in the light of Genesis 3:16? I’m not convinced that sexual identity is something to affirm or celebrate, but neither is it something for which we should be ashamed (and, as such, seek to supress or deny it). Our respective sexual orientations are simply another part of who we are as human beings, like our ethnic or cultural origins. In the larger picture, they are simply colors and brush strokes in the tapestry of life damaged by the transgression of the first two humans. When we go home to heaven, such things as sexual orientation or ethnic and cultural origin, will not matter because they will not exist. Until that day, however, we need to focus on what is ultimately important. King Solomon summarized the object of our focus in this way: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 –
NOTE: the non-italicized words in the italicized scripture quotes refer to words that are not contained in the original Hebrew, but which are necessary for grammatical correctness in English, though the insertion of the word “duty” in Ecclesiastes 12:13, tends to change the meaning somewhat.
Author, educator, theologian, scholar and Navy veteran Rev. Chancellor Carlyle Roberts II earned a Bachelor of Science degree in multidisciplinary studies (religion and special education) and a graduate certificate in global studies. He served in the United States Navy as a Religious Program Specialist from 1981 to 1992 and also served in the Persian Gulf War. He has served as a pastor, a Bible teacher, and a Sunday school teacher.
Roberts authored the books “God in Three What? An Examination of the Use of Persons in the Trinity Doctrine” (Publish America, 2006); “Homesick” (Publish America, 2010) and “We Believe: A Commentary on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 A.D.” (Publish America, 2013).