Genesis 3:16: Eve and the “Desire of Woman”

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Genesis 3:16: “To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (NIV)

The “desire of woman” in Genesis 3:16 is a touchy subject. Its meaning is conflicting and very challenging for any reader. To start with, the Hebrew word used for “desire” is tesuqa and means “longing”.[1]

John Calvin wrote in his Commentary on Genesis: “The second punishment which he exacts is subjection. For this form of speech, “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband,” is of the same force as if he had said that she should not be free and at her own command, but subject to the authority of her husband and dependent upon his will; or as if he had said, ‘Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes.’ As it is declared afterwards, Unto thee shall be his desire, (Genesis 4:7) Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude.”[2]

When we examine Calvin’s remarks, it presents a very disturbing proposition. Eve had rebelled against God and enabled Adam to also eat the apple. The result of her disobedience to God appears to be complete subjection to Adam. Eve’s will becomes whatever Adam wills and she truly is subjected to an element of servitude to Adam.

Elmer Towns presents a clearer approach to the issue. He writes in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: “This was a divine description of what would occur; not a mandate that obedient servants of God should attempt to carry out. Subordination is not enjoyed here any more than it is mandated that women should suffer a maximum of pain in childbearing, or men a maximum of discomfort and toil in earning their living.”[3]

In other words, Towns makes the argument that man should not subject a woman to a degree of servitude. I would argue that Eve felt a degree of lust for Adam after eating the forbidden fruit and this element of lust is what “subjected” her to Adam’s “will”. In essence, sin itself is what subjected Eve to Adam.

John Davis writes in Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis on the root of tesuqa which is suq. He states: “Suq connotes a desire so strong for something that one would run after, or violently crave it.”[4]

Such a thing is true of passion and infatuation. We often refer to this element of lust as a “crush” which indicates a desire to pursue and obtain a relationship with another. I do not read “violently” in a physical sense. It has spiritual connotations in that our desires for another can often take precedence over our spiritual desire to know God. Eve did put her own self above the command of God when she ate the fruit. This spiritual rebellion is violent within our soul and wages an unnecessary battle as a result of our disobedience to God.

Elmer Towns further states in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: “It is to be noted also that the promise of a redeemer through a descendant of Eve precedes the statement of the curse incurred by women at the fall (Gen. 3:15)”[5]

This shows us that God does not intend for women to be subjected to men. The evidence is clear that God intends women and men to be equal to one another and even chose to use a woman (Mary) to bring Christ into the world to atone for the sins of man.

Sexual desire is a consequence of the fall and Eve became subjected to it, that much is obvious. I contend that Adam also lusted for Eve, but God addressed Eve’s lust specifically because she was to be the one who bore children. When you approach the text from this understanding, you can come to the conclusion that man is just as subservient to a woman through lust. This element of sin makes men and women equal in the eyes of God. Besides the fact God created man and woman distinctly of course.

Any notion of superiority in this sense is completely lost. God oversees all and is the only ruler. He may give us authority to care for the earth, but He judges us and supersedes what we will in our lives. Genesis 3:16 reminds us that the consequences of sin are catastrophic and allow things like sexual desire to overcome our relationship with God.


[1] Goodrick, Edward W., and John R. Kohlenberger.  The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. pp. 278 and 1510.

[2] Calvin, John. Commentary On Genesis Volume I. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom01.pdf. p. 114.

[3] Elwell, Walter A.  Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.  2nd ed.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001. p. 1282.

[4] Davis, John J.  Paradise to Prison.  Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co., 1998. p. 94.

[5] Elwell, Walter A.  Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.  2nd ed.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001. p. 1282.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

3 thoughts on “Genesis 3:16: Eve and the “Desire of Woman””

  1. “Sexual desire is a consequence of the fall and Eve became subjected to it, that much is obvious.”

    How exactly were Adam and his wife to “be fruitful and multiply” without sexual desire? If sexual desire is a consequence of the fall, why is it to be a “delight” (cf. Proverbs 5:19 and the entire Song of Solomon)?

    1. Patrick, I appreciate your question!

      Prior to the Fall, there was no need for procreation at all. Had Adam and Eve not eaten the fruit, it can be said that they would have no need to reproduce at all. In fact, it was only after they ate the fruit that they recognized their nakedness.

      I subscribe to the theory that God certainly created everything with a plan of redemption already in place, yet this does not negate the fact that procreation occurred after the Fall. Because bearing a child is painful for the woman, the pain can be seen as a consequence rather than a blessing.

      Is intercourse pleasing to the flesh? Of course it is. God allows it within marriage to continue the existence of humanity, but that does not mean such a thing is not a consequence. Even free will itself is at best a double edged sword. Had man not rebelled, perhaps women would have never felt the pain of child birth.

  2. That would make God’s command to procreate, since it was given before the fall, a command to sin. That’s an awfully difficult implication to have to overcome in order to maintain your interpretation of such an unclear passage.

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