The Undoing (Genesis 3)
In this blog series, I want to spend some time on Genesis 3, popularly known as “the Fall.” I think that terminology is inaccurate. Falling is not imagery used here. Closer to what we see happen in this chapter, I like to call it the “undoing” of God’s good work in creation. All that beauty, innocence, harmony, and unity is undone.
The first thing to notice with Genesis 3:1 is that the problem seems to come out of the middle of nowhere. This serpent appears on the scene with a dastardly agenda. He succeeds in sowing the seed of doubt in the mind of Eve (3:3-4). But, what is worse, Eve gives into temptation and seeks to “be like God” (3:5) in her knowledge of good and evil. She believed it would give her special or divine wisdom such that she could be independent of God (3:6). Adam is not absent, but joins in this rebellion (3:6). So they hide and are ashamed when their eyes are finally opened (3:7-9).
Their reaction isn’t to revel in their newfound wisdom. When they are confronted by God, they immediately cast blame. Man blames woman (3:12) and woman blames the serpent (3:13). Conscience and integrity or undone. All this back-stabbing and division unravel God’s work of establishing unity and abundance. And God’s words of judgment further underscore the frustration of creation’s fecundity.
A key verse here in terms of gender roles is 3:16 where God says: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Jewish Publication Society). This is a pretty good “literal” translation of the Hebrew, but what does it mean? Well, it seems obvious (to most) that man “ruling” over woman is a problem, not a blessing. This verb is about absolute authority over someone, like a king ruling a subject (Gen 4:7; Gen 37:8). The Creation accounts do not call for man to rule over woman; she helps him and they co-rule over the creatures together.
A more difficult interpretive issue is what it means that her “desire” will be towards her husband. What kind of desire? Love? Sexual feelings? The Hebrew word itself is neutral; it simply means passions or longings. It could be good, like deep love. But it can also be destructive passions, like malice. The ESV 2016 translates this as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” This has been largely rejected by scholars. The NET translates this as “You will want to control your husband.” I think this is close. I would translate this (in paraphrase) as, “you will desire to undermine your husband.”
The woman’s “desire” for her husband is not primarily sexual desire. In accordance with basic principles of interpretation, one finds this rare word, teshuqah, nearby in Genesis 4:7, where it refers to sin’s “desire” to control Cain. The same verb, “to rule, master, ” mashal, describes both the man’s domination of the woman and Cain’s ability to dominate sin. Thus the woman will desire to dominate the man but the man, perhaps with superior strength, will dominate the woman. However, this is a judgment of how things will be, not necessarily how they must be. The patriarchal societies of the world express the reality of male domination…[T]he emphasis here is on the terrible effects of sin, and the destruction of a harmonious relationship that once existed. In its place comes a harmful struggle of wills.
One can see the reality of this “undoing” in Genesis 3, and it gets worse until the call of Abram (Gen 12). Does Genesis 3 teach that men must lead and women must follow? No, we see hope in Adam and Eve joining together as one flesh, and it is Eve who has the final word as she praises God for blessing them with a child.