The Desire of the Woman (Gen. 3:16)

What is the ‘desire of woman?’ (Genesis 3:16)

The context of this interesting statement is the immediate events following the fall. Adam and Eve have sinned, and now God addresses them with the consequences. Genesis 3:7-24 covers these consequences. God begins by issuing the resulting curse upon all of mankind (3:7-13). Next, God issues the curse upon the serpent (3:14-15). Thirdly, the area of this analysis, God issues the consequences for women (3:16). Fourthly, God issues the consequences that befall men (3:17-20). Finally, God ends by further exposing effects that will affect the human race (3:22-24). It is important to analyze the ‘desire of the woman’ in this context of the consequences of the fall.

The specific verse of analysis is: To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).

Utley interprets this stated effect from the fall as direct correction of Eve’s inability to turn to God in obedience. “Eve turned away from YHWH. Her punishment is her continuing turning to her husband, who often takes advantage of the situation.”[1] Kurt Strassner asserts a similar claim, where Eve gave up her equality through her disobedience to God. “A joyful marriage became an unequal partnership (3:16b).”[2] These interpretations, however, dismiss the grammar and immediate context of the statement.

In reference to the ‘desire of the woman,’ John J. Davis notes, “Some commentators have felt that this is not so much a curse as a compensation for the sorrow of childbirth.”[3] A woman’s desire for her husband is not an extension or element of their curse, but a compensating consequence for that painful effect of the fall. The key word is ‘yet’ (the conjunction w, ֶוְ), which signifies an extension to the previous part of the statement. Despite the intensifying of childbirth, women will still seek to have children because they will desire (tešûʹ·qǒṯ, תְּשׁ֣וּקָת) their husband – i.e. their pursuit of sexual intimacy will counteract the anticipated pain of the consequence of sexual intercourse.

[1] Robert James Utley, How It All Began: Genesis 1–11, Vol. 1A, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 2001), 63.

[2] Kurt Strassner, Opening Up Genesis, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 36.

[3] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis, 94.


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