An Analysis of Genesis 3:16

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This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, and submission. See this index.

In “The Tennant Authority Structure“, Lexet and Jack discuss the position of Dominic Bnonn Tennant and his commentors with respect to Genesis 3:16. This is a topic that I mentioned in a citation only a few days ago in “Headship: An Evidence Summary.”

The Claims

Genesis 3:16 (REV)
To the woman he said, “I will increase, yes, increase your pain and toil in childbirth. In pain and toil you will bear children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Because the serpent deceived Eve, Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, and Adam did likewise, God gave each of them a set of curses. Genesis 3:16 is directed towards Eve. As we will see, the precise meaning and implication of this punishment is debated.[1] Let’s examine some of the points described in the article. Lexet and Jack state:

The commenter is clearly a churchianized complementarian, as there is a strong negative connotation with “rule” here, only as it applies to the husband ruling over the wife (in contradiction to Genesis 3:16, which states that husbands shall rule over their wives)

The claim is equivalent to saying that “he will rule over you” is normative (or perhaps a corrective), that is, it is commanded by God as a proper, corrective, and/or penitential action. Some might say this is like taking guns away from murders after they have been released from prison (i.e. they have proven unable to wield the authority compared to others). Others might say it is like community service (i.e. working towards redemption). Still others may claim that husbands ruling their wives was always the plan and that God was merely reiterating and reaffirming it. Whatever the case, it is for their own good, not a punishment that is primarily punitive in nature. In other words, ‘ruling’ has a positive connotation.[2] Bnonn takes this view:

As a result, you’re forced to see “but he will rule over you” as something new and cursed that God has added to federal headship, rather than a simple statement of contrast between Eve’s cursed desire and the good rulership that God already established in the created order. If that’s so, you’re reading something into Genesis that is simply not there.

It is not true that the belief that ‘ruling’ has a negative connotation is “simply not there”. Indeed, it is just as plausible, if not moreso. Regardless, the connotation of  ‘rule over’ is subject to examination and falsifiability, so we can and will examine it below.[5]

Lexet and Jack summarize Bnonn’s view:

(1) Male rulership, according to Genesis 3:16, is not an indication of a curse. (2) The nature of male rulership did not change as a result of the fall. (3) The statement, “he will rule over you”, poses a contrast between Eve’s cursed desire, and the “good rulership” that God had already established. (4)  That marital headship is a perfect analogy to the relationship between Christ and the Church.

…and disagree with him…

On point 1, Tennant is going overboard in his defense of headship. It is true that there was headship pre-fall. It is true that Adam had authority over Eve. However, “he will rule over you” is given in the same pronouncement as sorrow, pain in childbirth, and increased desire, so it is hard to penalize someone for thinking that it is not somehow part of the curse. With point 2, the glaring problem is that there is effectively no basis for saying that improper rulership over a woman is not a product of the fall. Ephesians 5:25-29 encourages husbands to love their wife with the implication that in our fallen world, our default is to be harsh in “ruling over” our wives.

Bnnon, Lexet, and Jack all believe that there was headship pre-fall. But John Chrysostom, writing in the late fourth century, disagrees:

Wherefore you see, [Eve] was not subjected as soon as she was made; nor, when He brought her to the man, did either she hear any such thing from God, nor did the man say any such word to her: he said indeed that she was “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh” (Genesis 2:23) but of rule or subjection he no where made mention unto her.
Homily 26, 1 Corinthians 11:3

Chrysostom further noted that it was not until after the fall that subjection was made mention:

But when she made an ill use of her privilege and she who had been made a helper was found to be an ensnarer and ruined all, then she is justly told for the future, “your turning shall be to your husband” (Genesis 3:16).

Regardless, Bnonn’s claim is simple logic: if male rulership existed pre-fall (Genesis 1-2), then it must have existed post-fall (Genesis 3) and we can see that God commanded it. It is not an inherent contradiction. Moreover, Bnonn’s claim implies that rulership is inherently right, regardless of whether the implementation of that right is good or bad. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as improper rulership, as a man, but there is such a thing as being harsh, a separate sin. The absolute right to rulership is never in question.

By contrast, it is not clear why Jack and Lexet’s view is not a contradiction.  What Jack and Lexet are saying is that when God says “he will rule over you” this means both “he will rule over you [properly]” (a blessing) or “he will rule over you [improperly]” (a curse), but not at the same time. That’s begging-the-question. Genesis 3:16 cannot simultaneously be both descriptive and prescriptive, and positive and negative, but only in the manner they’ve decided it to be.[3] It does not establish an absolute right to rulership.

Their citations are a perfect example of the effect we previously noted in our Headship evidence summary:

“[W]hen the patriarchal proof-texts are examined, we find that they lack any direct evidence to establish headship relationship between a husband and wife. While these texts are frequently cited as direct evidence supporting the claims, as we’ve shown below, none of them can be interpreted as supporting headship without citing context. [..] Once we exclude circular arguments, we find that the patriarchal passages are not themselves proof, or in some cases even evidence at all, of the headship view.”

The pre-fall interpretation is used to justify the post-fall interpretation , while the post-fall interpretation is used to justify the pre-fall interpretation. Similarly, elsewhere Genesis 3:16 is used as evidence to interpret Ephesians 5 as Headship. Here Ephesians 5 is used to explain Genesis 3:16 as Headship. In both examples, both passages provide the context to explain each other, but neither stand on their own. This is circular reasoning. They continue:

In the earlier conversation on FB, Tennant is correct in pointing out the commenters negative bias against “rule over”, but he fails to acknowledge the reader’s primary fear that man’s rule is not always good.

Taking a positive view is also bias, so this point avails nothing at all. So, is man’s rule positive, negative, or both?

The Analysis

A common modern English translation is this:

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

If we accept the common translation of—presumably sexual—desire and that the husband ruling over his wife is a good thing, then it implies that sexual desire is not part of the original creation, but rather a curse. This is absurd. One of these two claims must be wrong.[4]

Lexet and Jack cite John Calvin, John Gill, Matthew Henry, and the Reformed Study Bible. They claim that Bnonn’s position is first supported by the much later John MacArthur. But all of these sources are from very many centuries after Christ, let alone from Old Testament times. By going by the 2nd century B.C. Septuagint, one could translate the verse instead as:

…you shall turn away from yourself and [now] towards your husband, and [or ‘yet’] he shall rule over you…

In this translation from the Greek of the Septuagint (which Jesus used!), the wife is ‘turning towards’ her husband. This sense is identical to the one used by John Chrysostom above. It is also identical to the modern Lamsa translation (based on native Aramaic). Other versions that include this sense include the 1st century Syriac, the 1st century Samaritan, the Old Latin and Coptic versions, and the 4th century Vulgate (the official translation of Roman Catholicism). In 2016, the ESV fixed its wording to reflect this scholarship.

In using this translation, whatever else we may say, as a result of the fall the wife moves in a broad sense from independence (equality?) towards dependence (inequality?); towards submitting and being ruled from its opposite (not being ruled, not submitting). It represents a change of direction, a turning, perhaps a curse.[9] By logical implication, the curse of the fall causes her to turn away from herself and to seek instead her husband and his rule. This is a very different tone from what Lexet, Jack, and Bnonn are describing. Far from being prescriptive of a husbands right to rulership, it is descriptive of how a woman’s behavior changes from pre-fall to post-fall.[10]

How can a wife turning towards her husband be a curse? This line of reasoning could lead to a logical contradiction. It can be resolved in various ways.

  1.  A woman turns away from all others to focus on her husband, and by extension, her family. This makes sense: having children will be difficult and painful, but she will do it anyway. She is cursed to seek the very thing which causes her pain, and if she doesn’t have children, that will also be a curse. She does this in spite of his rulership.
  2. A woman turns away from all others to focus on her husband, and he benefits from her submission. She is cursed to be harshly ruled over, despite that devotion.
  3. A woman turns away from all others to focus on her husband, becoming utterly dependent on him. Her loss of independence and equality—through her husband’s rulership—is her curse.

Alternatively, if one translates “turns towards” as “contrary to” (a “desire against“), then the following stands out:

  1. The wife turns towards her husband (whether out of positive desire for sex and family or a negative desire for control), but is cursed to be ruled over.[5]

All of these[6] imply that the husband’s rulership is a curse.[7] There is no sense at all that a husband has the duty or authority to rule. The NET Bible commentary states it this way:

The Hebrew verb מָשַׁל (mashal) means “to rule over,” but in a way that emphasizes powerful control, domination, or mastery.

Interestingly, Lexet has previously stated (and Jack agreed) that…

NET gets the thought correct. It’s a curse, and it’s discussing how the dominance hierarchy will become sinful. Women seek to control men, and mans response is to dominate.

It is unclear why their view has changed. Indeed, if we conclude that Genesis 3:16 is evidence of a curse, Paul’s words of love in Ephesians 5 are the solution to the curse.[8] Nowhere in Genesis 3:16 is there a call to a proper exercise of authority. The notion of Headship is not in view.

The Conclusion

Bnonn’s apparent contradictions are, in my view, not contradictions per se, but indications of his uncertainty. As Lexet and Jack point out, he is simply unwilling to come out and flatly declare the headship view that they subscribe to. I suspect he must intuitively sense some of the logical and scriptural problems with that and cannot help but imply that the alternative view is at least a plausible. In fact, it is more than plausible.

The nature of the rulership of the husband over his wife in Genesis 3:16 overwhelmingly connotes a curse. One possible non-literal, verbose paraphrase translation that captures this is this:

…you shall turn away from yourself [giving up equality and control] and [now] towards your husband, yet he shall dominate you…

That’s a proper curse, one which Paul in Ephesians 5 says only love and submission can cure.


[1] Some do not think it is a punishment at all.

[2] The denotation of a word is “the literal or primary meaning of a word” while the connotation of a word adds the “idea or feeling that a word invokes.”

[3] Even if you close your eyes and grant that proper ruling is loving and improper ruling is harsh (unloving) and that God obviously means both proper and improper rulership in his curse, the distinction become utterly subjective. What is the difference between firm vs harsh or weak vs loving? There is no objective standard with which to appeal.

[4] If the husband ruling over his wife is a bad thing, a curse, then sexual desire isn’t a curse of the fall.

[5] When the preposition means “contrary to” rather than “towards” and the husband rightfully seeks to put her under his authority (for whatever reason), then the context (the husband’s benevolence) and the preposition cannot be antagonistic. This disproves Bnonn’s position that her curse is desire and his rule is a positive corrective.. The translation “contrary to” is only valid if the husband’s actions are a curse.

[6] “desire for”, “turns towards” or “contrary to”

[7] And of course the wider context itself calls for a curse: pain in childbearing is obviously a curse, as well as the various curses given to the serpent and to the man.

[8] There will always be a tug-of-war between the curse (of Genesis 3:16) and love (the greatest commandment of God), but that only shows that people are fallen, not that the principle does not apply.

[9] If whatever was turned towards is a curse, then whatever was turned from must have been good. Possibilities include equality, lack of ruling, or lack of submission, but are not stated explicitly.

[10] Jack had previously made a related point: “[‘he will dominate you’] totally fits. One of the biggest lessons we have learned from Red Pill lore is that women are sexually attracted to dominant men, and that dominant men exert authority over women.” However, this, notably, does not apply to all women and all men and is thus a bad candidate for a curse that affects all women.


  1. I like how the NET Bible translates the verse. I believe it captures the correct interpretation.

    Genesis 3:16(NET) To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.”

    Here is the Expanded Bible which translates the concept similarly:

    Genesis 3:16(EXB) Then God said to the woman, “I will ·cause you to have much trouble [or increase your pain] ·when you are pregnant [in childbearing], and when you give birth to children, you will have great pain. You will greatly desire [the word implies a desire to control; 4:7] your husband, but he will rule over you.”

    To say that wives are universally cursed to desire to submit to their husbands clearly goes against the observed rebellious nature of womankind, in their natural unredeemed state.

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