Quite Contrary

Our adult Bible class has been studying Creation in the OT. Since we just entered the story of the fall in Genesis 3 — and since we have encouraged our English-speaking folks to use the ESV — the recent dust up at Crossway is relevant.

The ESV Translation Oversight Committee decided to permanently change the wording of Genesis 3:16 (and a few other texts) for all future printed and electronic editions of the ESV Bible.

The current print edition reads “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Future editions will read “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

The online version of the ESV Study Bible now reflects the changes. The differences read loud and clear.

A few days ago I was asked to share my thoughts on the not-so-subtle change.

Intitially, I responded to my friend’s inquiry that I suspect that the translation committee interpreted the Hebrew clause “your desire shall be for” to mean “your desire shall be contrary to” in order to reflect the enmity between the serpent and the seed of woman (Gen. 3:15) – and perhaps to maintain a specific complementarian (if not patriarchal) view of man as male and female.

Upon further reflection, it seems that the translation committee desired to establish a contrarian view of man — female against male, male against female.

But is this what the text actually says? Is that what Moses meant? Is this what the Spirit revealed?

The answer (in my opinion) is no.

I am inclined to agree with some other critical evaluations of this change (herehereherehere, and here). The interpretive change is a mistake and it is misleading.

For what it’s worth, here’s my “quck and dirty” take on Genesis 3:16.

“Your desire shall be for your husband”

The text in context says God greatly increased the woman’s sorrows in conceiving and sorrows in bearing children. I would argue that he also greatly increased her desire for her husband, not against him or contrary to him. This is based in part on the fact that in Hebrew there is no verb in the clause that might indicate the woman’s action, motivation,  or intention. It reads, literally, “and for your husband your desire”.

Rather that speculate on what Eve’s desire might do, it makes more sense to focus on what God said he would do to her and for her which includes, among other things, greatly increasing her desire for her husband.

Remember that it was Eve’s desire for something besides her husband (e.g., the voice of the serpent, her self-centered fantasy, and craving for the forbidden fruit) coupled with her acting autonomously (not as a suitable helper) that got everyone into this mess.

So this is a severe mercy. Severe because it decreased her desire for herself; mercy because it increased her desire for her husband. This is restorative discipline.

and he shall rule over you”

Before the Fall, God commissioned man (first male, then female) to take dominion over all the creatures. After the Fall, God told the woman that her husband was to rule over her.

Unfortunately, some people confuse “rule over” with “take dominion” but the Hebrew words for take dominion and rule are not synonymous.

God expected Adam to rule his wife Eve, not take dominion over her. As Saint Paul explains, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” and “man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” (1 Corinthians 11:3-9 ESV). This is the natural — creational — order of things as God made them. There was a hierarchal relationship between man and woman before the Fall which remains in effect after the Fall.

Again, Adam was never intended to take dominion over Eve, but he was expected to rule her. She was made as a suitable helper for man in God’s image and likeness, not as one of the creatures God had made beneath man.

Adam was to rule over his wife the way the lights in the sky rule over the night and day: sometimes brightly, sometimes dimly; always gloriously, never forcefully or violently.

Severe Mercies

Here’s the bottom line.

In this story, God drew near to sinners who hid themselves from him, and he extended severe mercies to them: to restore them, to retain them in fellowship with him and each other, and to remind them of certain truths and realities. Namely,

(1) that a wife needs her husband and a husband needs his wife, for better or worse, in sickness and health, in temptations and trials, in victory and failure;

(2) that a husband (not the serpent) must rule his wife with God’s word in order to scatter the darkness;

(3) that a husband (not his wife, nor the serpent) must be a spiritual ruler of his wife and children; a godly ruler who governs, guides, and guards his family according to the grace and truth of God’s word.

In all these things, the Lord restored the order of creation and the repaired the dignity of man by reminding man and woman that even after the Fall they are still made in God’s image and likeness and they must still live and act like it even in their fallen state.

Sadly, the ESV’s “contrary to” your husband interpretation decision runs beyond Genesis, where God established enmity between the serpent and the seed of woman, not between woman and man. Yet, the ESV’s interpretation goes beyond what God said. It establishes enmity between husbands and wives (in particular), and between men and women (in general) which God never intended.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how such a misleading interpretation could open the door for various forms of marital abuse and domestic violence.

The ESV’s new take on an old text does not express a complementarian view of man made in the image and likeness of God, where male and female complement each other and complete one another.

Nor does it express an egalitarian view of mankind, where male and female live and work as equals to one another under heaven.

It expresses a subcultural and decreational view of man, where male and female counter-parts compete against one another as enemies not allies, as rivals not lovers.

Finally, the ESV’s new interpretation in Genesis 3:16 also runs contrary to the gospel of grace, where Christ and the church desire one another with a deep desire. As true Adam and true Eve, they love one another with unchanging dedication and unwavering devotion. Christ for her; church for him.

There is no contextual, grammatical, or exegetical basis for inserting “contrary to” into the text.


Post-Script (added 9/17/16)

It turns out that the ESV is not the only translation to insert the word “control” in Genesis 3:16. The NLT does it as well. The Message says, “You’ll want to please your husband.” The NIRV says, “you will long for your husband.” The KJV, NIV, and most other translations (correctly) say something like your desire will be “to / for” your husband.

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