A Ladder Leans ‘Against’ A Wall—and more about Genesis 3:16b

So this morning I watched a few scenes from Dodgeball and then somehow ended up reading a piece by The Transformed Wife, where she describes her husband’s former struggle: it was her attempts to control him. (My own story is at the end of this post.)

*** PLEASE read this blog post as an attack on an ideology as opposed to ad hominem. It is not my heart to be against individuals; I truly hurt for this woman. ***

Rather than find a middle ground of respectful conversation, Lori Alexander fixed the problem by going to the opposite extreme of shutting herself down in her marriage, in her best attempt to make peace. By “shutting herself down” I don’t mean refusing to cook or clean or take care of the kids or write her blog, but rather her voice in advocating for herself and her ideas, in that relationship.

That works for a calm home, but it hinders growth in both people. It can cause resentment in the woman and encourage pride in the man.

I want to stress this. There IS a wholesome middle ground between either spouse dominating the other; it is mutual respect, which is part of true love. 

This is mature relationship. 

The Transformed Wife’s solution is supported by a mistranslation of Genesis 3:16b. Here is a better one:

To the woman he said,

“ . . . Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16 NIV

Resulting from the curse, this verse says that Eve’s desire/longing will be “to, into,” or “toward” her husband (translating the Hebrew teshuqah), yet he will rule over her. 

This is the sad nature of human sinfulness. I will explain why later, as we get to my own story, but first, let’s look at how some translate this to say “her desire shall be ‘contrary to’ her husband.”


The Greek Septuagint’s translation has the possible interpretation of Eve’s desire being “‘against’ her husband.” The Septuagint is literally translated “and your turning (will be) toward/against (pros) your husband/man.” However, my Greek professor said that this word pros is an “against” that has the sense of “toward,” like a ladder leans “against” a wall

photo cred to to Marc Schiele on Unsplash.com

It means TOWARD. 

Now you know how the translators of the 2016 ESV mischaracterize this one, with their “her desire shall be contrary to” interpretation. “Contrary to” is a synonym to “against,” but it is not a synonym to the Greek pros. “Contray to” is not a translation from the Hebrew but is extrapolated from a possible English translation from the Greek Septuagint and is not the intended meaning in this case.

The ESV does note the translation of “or shall be toward” in the footnote. See this Brief Translation History, for more detail. The editors of the ESV had an explicit bias to push a complementarian agenda; the translation arose as a direct result of women gaining more agency in the church. Other than that, the version can be very helpful and points to Christ.

For another look at Desire see “Is the Woman’s Desire Bad?” This post details a possible link to Aristotle and latent ideas about women that pass down through the generations.

Katharine Bushnell

In an article titled “Gender Equality God’s Original Design” by Dennis Preato, I see that Katharine Bushnell came to the same exegesis I did. 

Katharine, a medical doctor and missionary, was a pioneer of reexamining biblical translation in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s after finding obvious gender mistranslation in her work on the mission field, where a woman was translated as being male. Another (male) missionary said, nonchalantly,

“Well yes, that’s just because this culture would not handle a woman leader in Scripture well.” Katharine was floored by this careless attitude toward God’s Word.  

“Where else could this bias have been inserted into our English translations?” 

Katharine thought. (These quotations are my paraphrase.) She already knew Greek, so she taught herself Hebrew. She then found the same thing I did after studying Hebrew for two semesters—and notably, knowing what it feels like as a woman, to shift my search for wholeness from God, to a man. 


My high school and early college self longed for the “perfect man.” Can anyone relate?

[I learned what this Genesis 3:16 “desire” was, long before I ever conceived of the idea of studying Hebrew.] As Dan and I got more serious, I inadvertently began to depend on him and our plans, for my future.

This is what Genesis 3:16 describes; my longing was toward a/my husband. And remember, this is a shifted desire due to sin. 

When our wholeness is met in God, upon whom our desire is rightly placed, we are free to grow into who WE are, while honoring another and growing in healthy, non-emotionally-dependent relationship with another. 

This is true for men as well as women; sometimes men set their longing on a “perfect” woman or car or whatever else. Just as the Transformed Wife found, women may also desire to rule. (Relational dynamics of a man ruling also can bring about a “contrary” reaction in a woman as well; however, I see Genesis 3:16 describing—not prescribing— first-level nature of sin.)

Thankfully this shifted, unholy desire was [mostly] healed in me, during a break-up before Dan and I were married. It was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through, but God was (and is) right there saying, “Trust Me.” 💫

*** Only read on if you’re curious about the similar use of תְּשׁוּקָה teshuqah (a longing) in Genesis 4:7

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires [teshuqah] to have you, but you must rule over it.

Genesis 4:7 NIV

I don’t find this to be a problem. Sin does long for us, as its only focus. This is similar to me longing for Dan to be my world, and for him to make me his world, back in college ***or, as Wild at Heart which came out while I was in college recommends, to “rescue” me—WARNING! RED FLAG! This is an encouragement of the woman’s sinful desire shifted from God to a man.***

I think this is a careful play on words, here. In Genesis 3:16, it tells us that the woman will long for the man, but he will rule over her. (Conjunctions in Hebrew can be translated “and” or “but.”)

Remember, this is a broken shift from God’s design for women and men, caused by the introduction of sin.

In Genesis 4:7, the words are the same, but the tone is flipped. While sin desires to have us all, we must rule over it. Here, the “ruling” is prescriptive of what should happen, rather than descriptive of what will happen, due to sin. Big difference!

I do not find the dual reference to “ruling” (mashal) after “longing” (teshuqah) to be a problem. One is God’s description of what follows the curse (there’s a shifted longing, and an unholy ruling); the other is God’s active teaching to Cain (sin longs to have us, and we must rightly rule it).

The first is a negative ruling (sin’s effect in us)—the second is a positive (our right response to sin).


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