Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16

This is part two on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’
For Part one, click here: Women in Ministry: Intro

Genesis 3:16: Intro and Context
Genesis chapters one through three describe the primordial beginnings of the universe, the creation, the first human beings, and the infamous fall. In chapter three, verse fourteen, YHWH begins decreeing punishments for the various parties involved in the earth-changing infraction. The snake is punished in verse fourteen and fifteen, the woman in verse sixteen, and the man in verses seventeen through nineteen.

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This dissertation presupposes an orthodox view of Genesis. A poem in the middle of a heavily redacted and sewn together piece of ancient literature (as hypothesized by WellHausen-Graf), hardly has any place in the debate over the role of women in the church today. If, however, we affirm that every jot and tittle is significant, and that what was uttered by YHWH actually took place at a punctiliar event in space-time history, then the words of Genesis chapter three are of the upmost importance. In other words, Genesis 3:14-19 is not an oral tradition as recorded by a 9th century BC scribe in Judah, but the actually words that YHWH spoke to the infracted parties.

Genesis 3:16: Translation

I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.[1]

Genesis: Exegesis of 3:16
It is quite easy to read our presuppositions into this story. In fact, as in normal life, some things do not happen for a specific reason. Is there any significance to a person ordering a number one at McDonalds as opposed to a number two? What about the choice of beverage at the drink counter or the place where one sits within the restaurant? Sometimes there is no meaning in an incidental event of a story.

That said, there is a tremendous amount of spiritualizing the details when one approaches Genesis 3:16. For instance, does the fact that the serpent chose to initiate a conversation with Eve rather than Adam have any significance?  Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., seems to think that the very act of eating the fruit was a denial of Adam’s headship.[2] Adam was the head, but stood by and did nothing, while Eve took charge, ate, gave some to him, and thus we have the fall. Ortlund suggests that “Eve usurped Adam’s headship…[and] Adam forsook his responsibility.[3] This is very possible, but the text does not say why the serpent targeted Eve and why Adam did not intervene. We do not even know if Adam was there during the conversation. He was certainly there when she ate the fruit, according to verse six, but there may have been a time lapse between the conversation with the snake and when she actually ate the fruit. Ortlund also suggests that the reason God called out Adam after the fall (as opposed to both of them) was because, even before the fall, he was the head.[4] There are other examples in the punishment, such as Adam being chastised for listening to his wife. Ortlund argues, once again, that this demonstrates Adam’s headship. He was in charge and yet he listened to her;[5] but this may have been because he listened to anyone or anything over the words of YHWH. Though Ortlund’s would appeal to 1 Corinthians eleven and 1 Timothy two, the Genesis text itself does establish Adam’s headship. It is problematic to take details of a story and convert them into God-ordained ethics. Based upon this kind of interpretation of Genesis three, why not say that all Christians must have a garden? Linda Bellville is correct when she says of Ortlund’s commentary, “Nowhere is it stated (or implied) that the female’s desire was to take the lead. On the contrary, the text explicitly states that her desire in eating was to be wise like God”[6]

What can one glean from the story? It appears that there was some kind of role difference between Adam and Eve. He was created first (1:26), she was made a helper (Gen. 2:18), and as Otlund has demonstrated, both God and the devil dealt with them differently. Nonetheless, it is difficult to extract livable 21st century principles from the story before Genesis 3:16. As Craig Blomberg says,

I concede that these chapters, taken on their own, might not necessarily lead to a Complementarian position. The information in them about gender roles is comparatively meager and susceptible to more than one translation”[7]

Things change quickly, however, with the advent of God’s punishment upon both Adam and Eve. To Eve YHWH says “I will intensify your labor pains.” The Hebrew is strange. !Arhe, which is usually translated as ‘labor’ actually means ‘conception.’ The KJV is correct, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception.”[8] Since most interpreters wonder how conception could be painful, they translate it as ‘labor.’ Could this refer to the breaking of the hymen or the release of oxytocin that women experience during intercourse that emotionally bonds them to the engaging partner? Oxytocin does not, of course, cause pain; but as Jennifer Roback-Morse has researched, women tend to feel more pain after a failed sexual relationship because of oxytocin.[9] Moreover, insofar as labor or conception pains are concerned, the Hebrew word !AbC'[ more regularly describes emotional anguish rather than physical pain.[10] Taken as a whole, this could be rendered ‘emotional conception pain.’ A better explanation is that the whole description is what John Walton describes as an extended merism: “two end points to describe everything in between.”[11] Meaning, from conception to birth, the entire process will be both physically and emotionally painful. Her first punishment is that she will feel pain losing her virginity, have anxiety about trying to conceive, will have morning sickness, sciatica pain, a painful delivery, a long recovery, diastatis, and other issues that permanently change her body.

Her second punishment is more on point: “Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will dominate you.”[12] Much is said about hq’WvT. or ‘desire.’ We only have three instances to build a synchronic interpretation of this word: Genesis 3:16, 4:7, and Song of Solomon 7:10. It is possible that hq’WvT. is a desire to dominate (as used in Genesis 4:7) but hq’WvT. does not demand that translation. It is also possible that hq’WvT. describes a sexual desire (Song of Solomon 7:10), although that seems unlikely. Walton suggests that, in this context, it refers to the basic instincts, which points to childrearing.[13] Her desire, then, is for her husband’s ability to provide offspring.

Regardless, the last line reads that he will (or he must) dominate her. The question is whether this is descriptive or prescriptive? Is YHWH saying that men should dominate women, or that this will be their tendency? Given the constant moral imperatives for love, patience, self-control, and many others, it would seem odd for YHWH to prescribe this. Derek Kidner says that this passage describes “a marriage relationship in which control has slipped from the fully personal realm to that of instinctive urges” and that the pull of sin always leads us toward this type of domination.[14]

Genesis: Conclusions from 3:16
Genesis chapters two and three demonstrate several truths relevant to our debate: first, God created two separate genders. This may seem obvious, but in a culture that does it’s best to erase gender distinctions, this is quite relevant. Men and women are in fact different. Second, because they are different, the text hints at a role difference. The woman’s punishment had to do directly with her gender—that is, pregnancy and birth. The man’s punishment also had to do with his gender—that is, his work in the field. This is not to say that a woman is unable to work a field; but a man is built for heavy labor and there are many tasks that only he can do. This does not, of course, establish whether or not a woman can be an elder or overseer. All that can be said is that the genders are different, and those differences create some differences in role and function.

Finally, there are no clear indicators of headship in the Genesis story. If one interprets 1 Corinthians 11 as indicating male headship, which many do, then one can cross-pollinate, look backwards, and see signs of headship. That works for systematic theology, but a simple Biblical theology of Genesis two and three cannot establish this.

Women in Ministry: Intro
Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:1-2
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28
Women in Ministry: Current practice & belief of the SBC
Women in Ministry: Personal practice & belief
Women in Ministry: Epilogue

Footnotes:
[1] Genesis 3:16 (CSB).

[2] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, ed., Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 107.

[3] Ibid., 107.

[4] Ibid., 108.

[5] Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 110.

[6] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 31-32.

[7] Ibid., 115.

[8] Genesis 3:16 (KJV).

[9] Jennifer Roback-Morse, Speech given at Golden Gate Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, CA,  Nov, 6th 2004.

[10] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 227.

[11] Ibid., 227.

[12] Genesis 3:16b (CSB).

[13] Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, 229.

[14] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove: Inter-varsity Press, 1967), 71.

 

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