Genesis 3:16 Analyzed by Don Johnson

Gen 3:16  He said to the woman, I will greatly increase your sorrow and your conception; you shall bear sons in sorrow, and your desire shall be toward your husband; and he shall rule over you.

Gen 4:7  If you do well, is there not exaltation? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is toward you; but you should rule over it.

Son 7:10  I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is toward me.

These are the 3 examples of Hebrew teshuqah translated as desire in the Bible.

The ISV for Gen 3:16 does a literal translation this way:

To the-woman he-said to-increase I-am-increasing grief-of-you and-pregnancy-of-you  you-shall-give-birth sons and-to man-of-you impulse-of-you and-he he-shall-rule in-you.

Showing the structure and putting it into better English

To the woman he said
“I will greatly increase your painful toil
and your pregnancies
You shall birth children in pain
You shall desire your husband
He shall rule over you.”

There are 5 things stated by God to the woman.

1. I will greatly increase your painful toil.

Gen 5:29  … and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”

Painful toil is the Hebrew itsabon.  It is the painful toil associated with the curse on the land as a result of the sin of the man, see Gen 3:17, in this verse itsabon is translated as pain.

Gen 3:17  And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

God is telling the woman what a consequence of the man’s actions will be, her work/labor will be made difficult.

2. [I will greatly increase] your pregnancies.

This is a blessing.

Gen 3:15  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

From Gen 3:15 the woman knew she would have at least one child, fulfilling the command to be fruitful and multiply.  Now she hears she will have multiple pregnancies.

3. You shall birth children in pain.

This is the expected result from multiple pregnancies, she will birth multiple children, not just one child.  This again is a blessing from God, but the birth process itself is expected to be labor with pain.

4. You shall desire your husband.

This is yet another blessing and is an expectation in marriage.  In order to fulfill her destiny of multiple children, she will desire her husband.  More on this later.

5. He shall rule over you.

This is NOT a command to the man, as it is not said to the man.  It is not a command to the woman, as it is not in the form of a command, such as “obey your husband.”  What it is is a warning about what to expect from being married to the deliberate sinner that blamed her for his sin.


So we see that three of the five things God tells the woman are blessings and the other two are what to expect in the future as a result of the man’s past actions and future actions.  The categories of the items God tells the woman in Gen 3:16 need not been seen as negatives or curses and they should not be influenced by the curses associated with the serpent’s actions and the man’s actions found before and after.

“Desire your husband”

Back to “desire your husband”.  The Hebrew is teshuqah.

The literal of Son 7:10 is

I to-darling-of-me and-on-me impulse-of-him.

or I [am] my beloved’s and he desires me.

This is in the context of a relationship between the lovers in Song of Songs, which shows that the desire is God-given and good in this case.

What are we to make of the structural similarities between the two uses of teshuqah in Genesis 3:16 and 4:6.

You shall desire your husband and he shall rule over you.

Its [sin’s] desire is for you but you should rule over it.

The use of teshuqah/desire and mashal/rule in both is not a coincidence.

Gen 4:6b literal is:   and-to-you  impulse-of-him and-you you-are-ruling in-him.

Gen 3:16b literal is: and-to man-of-you impulse-of-you  and-he    he-shall-rule in-you.

There is a deliberate repetition of the structure.  The verbs map to each other, teshuqah/desire and mashal/rule.  Let’s try mapping the nouns, the man maps to Cain and the woman maps to (personified) sin?  This will not do, the woman should NOT be mapped to sin, so something is wrong with that possible mapping.

My take is that these verses give a wrong way to rule and a right way to rule.  We are to rule over ourselves, but a man is not to rule over a woman in marriage, that truly is one result of the fall in Gen 3.  Just as we seek to reverse the effects of the fall and mitigate them when they cannot be totally reversed, so should we reject the idea of a husband ruling over his wife.

Note that the word mashal is the normal term for rule, it is not necessarily a harsh rule or a benevolent rule, it is a generic term for ruling without any necessary negative or positive connotations, those are provided by other contextual clues.  In this case, it is an unauthorized usurpation.

Teshuqah Analysis- doc format

submitted for “A Week of Mutuality: June 4-10, 2012”

About Donald B. Johnson

believer in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah
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15 Responses to Genesis 3:16 Analyzed by Don Johnson

  1. Charis says:

    Your analysis of Genesis 3:16 was eye opening to me Don. Thanks so much for sharing it here!

    A fellow believer’s simple observation that the text does not say that God CURSED the man or the woman after the Fall changed my entire view of the character of God. The only CURSES God pronounced were upon the serpent and upon the ground.

    Your 5 point analysis of the consequences upon the woman goes one step further showing us how certain aspects of the consequences of the Fall can be seen as blessings. I can’t even express to you how healing that is; how blessed I feel to have the message of rejection, blame, and inferiority as a female replaced with a message of God’s love, mercy, redemption, and provision.

    The last three paragraphs on the mapping between Gen 3:16 and Gen 4:7 are deeply insightful and are a sharp contrast with the disrespectful way I have seen this mapping handled elsewhere. May you have a wide hearing!

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Thanks for inviting me to post on this blog. Genesis is foundational for the rest of the Bible and it is important to get it right and is worth working on to get it right and dispelling the many human myths about what it says. It is like a moon shot, if you are off just a little at the start, by the end you can be very far off.

  3. Celina says:

    Hello Don I am a first time reader and I am not sure I understand what you are proposing here. A couple of things I don’t understand…why didn’t God kill adam and eve like He said He would if they ate the fruit (just my pondering)? And after they disobeyed and ate the fruit why would God bless them with the above blessings…it seems like a weird time to choose to bless them…right after they disobeyed him? Maybe I’m just misreading something but if you would help me out here that would be much appreciated!

  4. In the story, they do die after a time.

    What I posted is an extract from a larger teaching. One thing to see is that the serpent is a deceiving sinner, the man is a deliberate sinner and the woman is a deceived sinner. Also, the man keeps sinning, the woman praises God twice. And there is a ordering of negative consequences from the serpent (most) to the woman (least) and some of the things told to the woman are not negative but positive; this corresponds to the seriousness of each of their sins.

  5. trevsykes says:

    It seems only more recently Don that we have seen the use of this terminology ‘mapping’ as relating one word to another in the text. I’m not sure that I understand how it works, or if there is another word that might have been formerly used that might help me to appreciate the significance of this new (to me) expression. Thank you again for another thorough treatment of this foundational text. It is not dissimilar to the work done by Katherine Bushnell those many years ago where she refuted the accepted translations of her day as being corrupted by Rabbinic influences on the original translators. Her book, God’s Word to Women is a classic.

  6. trevsykes says:

    Thanks Don for another thorough exposition on this essential, foundational text. It is not dissimilar to the work done all those years ago by Katherine Bushnell in her classic, ‘God’s Word to Women.’ She spends a lot of time disputing the work of the original translators whom she sees as having been unduly influenced by Rabbinic teachings. What is interesting for me too is this term ‘mapping’ in relating one text to another in order to have a greater (clearer) understanding of its contextual application and meaning. For me it is a relatively new term, but one that I see popping up quite frequently. I would value a little more explanation of its origin and usefulness.

  7. Genesis 3:16 and 4:6.

    You shall desire your husband and he shall rule over you.

    Its [sin’s] desire is for you but you should rule over it.

    The idea of mapping is just to tie one word or phrase in one sentence to another in another sentence. SoS’s use of teshuqah/desire shows it is a good thing, but the potential text mapping is more between Gen 3:16 and Gen 4:6 due to other surrounding words. Comps use this as one of their arguments to claim that since the desire in Gen 4:6 is a bad thing, so we should read desire in Gen 3:16 as a bad thing. But what they do not do is give the complete mapping, as that destroys their argument, they MUST only use a partial mapping, which is not legit in my book. The complete mapping between the 2 verses in the order of the texts are wife with sin, desire with desire, husband with Cain, husband with Cain (again), rule with rule, and wife with sin (again). One can follow along int the 2 sentences I gave about to see what I mean.

    I do not think this mapping is coincidence, I grant this aspect of the comp’s argument. The question is what does the mapping mean? What are we supposed to learn from this God-inspired mapping? I reject the comp conclusion that desire is something bad in Gen 3:16 (such as making it say “you willl want to control your husband” as the NET does) that is doing a whole lot of adding to the text in my book and is a classic case of eisegesis (that is, the NET translators made it say what they thought they saw because of their presuppositions as to what it would say).

    My egal alternative to the comp conclusion is that desire is a good thing in Gen 3:16 (per SoS use) but a bad thing in Gen 4:6, since it is sin doing it in Gen 4:6. But then what to make of the mapping? I see these as a contrastive mapping instead of an quasi-equivalent mapping as the comps do. The reason the equivalent mapping does not work is that sin maps to the woman in the full equivalent mapping, so it must be rejected. But it works as a contrastive mapping. Gen 3:16 shows a good thing followed by a bad thing. Gen 4:6 shows a bad thing followed by a good thing.

    Thanks for asking.

  8. krwordgazer says:

    Don, I like the analysis, but as far as God’s words to Eve are concerned, I see it more like this: Adam is given an area of painful toil– i.e., the fields and crops with their weeds. Eve is given an area of painful toil: everything related to pregnancy and childbirth. “I will increase your painful labor and your pregnancies” is a kind of Hebrew structure where the two things are connected. This is followed by a poetic reworking of the same concept in different words (such as we see all the time in Proverbs): “in sorrow shall you bring forth children.” I don’t see this as positive: though increased pregnancies alone might be positive, the increase of painful toil in connection with pregnancy and childbirth is not. Everything that goes wrong for a woman between conception and birth, then, I see as her realm of “painful toil” and “sorrow.” This includes miscarriages and barrenness; it includes having a body that is fertile too often, so that she can conceive again and again even when her body is still weak from earlier pregnancies; it includes (but is not limited to) painful childbirth.
    God then warns the woman that her desire for her husband, rather than being met with reciprocal desire and mutual love, will be met with rulership over her.
    I prefer this reading in light of the way the narrative seems to be working. Of course, we can agree to disagree.

  9. Yes, I read it in the Gen 3:16b as 2 things and others read can read it as 1 thing. I think both are possible faithful readings.

    I prefer to read it as 2 things as conception is not normally painful and is intended to be pleasurable and I see itsabon (painful toil) as being basically defined in Gen 5:28-29 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”

    Hebrew itsabon (painful toil) is only used 3 times in the Bible and is the result of the curse on the land as I see it based on the other 2 uses in Gen 3:17 and Gen 5:29 above.

    In many translations the word “pain” is used to translate both itsabon and for etseb so the idea that the words are different does not come thru, I do agree that etseb/pain is a part of the labor and birth of a child. Recall that in the story, the woman does not necessarily know what the the implications are when giving birth.

    My main point is that comps derive some of their conclusions on how to understand Gen 3:16 from the assumption that all bad things are being discussed (this assumption is not required, it is a choice comps make) and therefore the woman’s desire must be a bad thing, such a desire to control the man. I wanted to show that there is a faithful reading that does not make that assumption and also makes sense.

    P.S. I made some slight edits to add “in pain” to Gen 3:16c.

  10. trevsykes says:

    Thanks Don for that explanation of mapping. I had not used that language, or method myself so didn’t fully understand the process. That makes it makes clearer for me and I’ll know how to connect the dots in the future. I’d have to say that I would be in more agreement with Kristen’s take on the ‘desire’ and ‘pain in childbirth’ readings but I do appreciate your point Don.

  11. On the idea of “mapping” I am a math major, so the idea is used all the time there, for example, with functions. The point is that there IS a literary structure that is similar in Gen 3 and 4 between the uses of teshuqah that is not there in the SoS use. So it is a natural question to ask, does this similarity mean anything?

    On how to understand ancient texts of Gen 3:16, I learned the 2-fold way from Bruce Fleming’s book “Familiar Leadership Heresies Uncovered”, most translations use the 1-fold way so that is the most familiar. I also used to think that there was 1 intended meaning to some specific text, but now think that part of what God did is to inspire things to allow discussion, that part of what God is doing with the Bible is to encourage discussion among God’s people. Also, I never claim to be an infallible interpreter, I fully expect to be corrected when I sit at the Master’s feet; but in the meantime all of us see thry a glass darkly and do the best we can. So I have learned to teach a plurality of possibilites on some verses and then state my preferences. I did not do that here as they are intended to be short teachings.

  12. trevsykes says:

    Thanks Don for your further explanations and insights. I too like Bruce Fleming’s work but I haven’t read the book that you’ve mentioned. Will have to look out for it. My gifts are more pastoral than theological.

  13. Pingback: RHE – the mutuality 2012 synchroblog: a re-blog | Morven's Blog

  14. Just discovered this interesting thread. I have since presented the material in Familiar Leadership Heresies Uncovered in a popular series of video Workshop sessions. They are available on

  15. I strongly recommend Bruce’s teachings available at and also on YouTube.

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