Genesis 3:16 is not a mandate for husbands…

UPDATE 12/2017: Here is an important word study on the term “desire” for further clarification:

Phyllis Nissila

…it is a warning for wives who have been taught that they are to submit to their husbands because God demands it.

I heard again this morning on a Christian radio program that the reason Christian men are to rule their wives is because God set it up that way in the Genesis verse cited above and quoted here: “To the woman he (God) said ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’” (NIV).

I have heard the husband-as-literal-lord-over-wife interpretation many times, mostly from Christian husbands to justify their position of (literal) spiritual lordship over their wives. And the teaching seems to be gaining ground of late in the Biblical Manhood/Biblical Womanhood movement, although it has appeared in many groups and denominations from prior.

Talk of submission soon follows, but usually wifely submission, rarely mutual submission, as in submitting to one another in Christ (see Ephesians 5:21) as co-heirs in Him.

Additionally, many denominations expand the man’s assumed spiritually superior position to include all men and boys of a certain age (it varies) and all women and girls (of all ages) in relationships outside of marriage as well. Thus, the custom of not allowing women to preach, teach, and perform many other ministries in the church when men, and boys of varying ages, are present.

adam and eve at judgementCURSES:

But consider: the Genesis 3:16 passage is in a section of that book dealing with–curses.

This relationship dynamic (husband as ruler over wife) apparently did not exist prior; it resulted from the disobedience of the first pair.

If we are to take that passage literally and then read on to how things would change for both a wife and a husband, the following would then apply, respectively.  You see, the curse of the husband’s “lordship” is only part of the bad news—for both.


In addition to being ruled by her husband, the (literal) curses on a woman clearly indicate that she should not be allowed pain medication in childbirth, and, oddly enough, the last curse is that “her desire will be for her husband”. Yes. That is listed as a curse. (So, presumably, in a sense, there is an aspect of a woman’s desire for a man that is not for her good, and she is forewarned, here.)

Now, I have heard the “desire” curse interpreted by men who subscribe to husband-lording to mean that the wife will somehow “desire” to usurp hubby’s “rule”. Put in modern lingo, they fear this curse means their wives will want to “wear the pants” in the family.

(Why is this a fear? I don’t know. I sometimes wonder if on some primal level men are afraid that a woman, like Eve, has so much power she, like Eve, might dupe her man right away from God, thus the need to control her…but I’ll leave the untangling of that dynamic to others more skilled…)

However, a rendering of the term “desire” in the original language means only that: desire (teshuqah, “stretching out after, a longing, desire” [1]).

Perhaps a woman is especially vulnerable to this emotion, and it might more easily lead her into sin?  Whatever the expanded definition is, based on its context here, God’s labeling it a “curse” implies that this kind of desire can lead to trouble.

Perhaps, like every other human emotion, it is just that this kind of “desire” can get out of hand. In other words, wives, it is advisable to keep your longing for your husband in check, remembering at all times Who is really Lord of your life.


On to the man’s (literal) curses: he should no longer eat the fruit of the specific tree that proved too much for them both (v. 17) whether apples, or some other fruit. Also, he is to eat only plants (v.18); thus, he must become a vegetarian.

Additionally, he is to work only in the fields harvesting crops, though the ground is also “cursed because of him,”  and his toil, “by the sweat of his brow” will necessarily be hard (no trying to change that).

(I wonder how many modern labor–and “sweat”–saving machines are allowed, if, literally, any? And what about other, non-agricultural occupations? Is the husband to forsake those and go back to the land?)

I know this sounds odd, strange, and even silly, but again, this is all if we are to take the curses of Genesis 3 literally and apply them to Christian husbands and wives today the way some still apply only the “husband as lord over his wife” curse literally, today.

However, I’ve only ever heard about the “lordship” curse not as a curse but, in certain groups and denominations, turned around to become a Divine Mandate for husbands to claim over wives.


In advocating for the husband-as-ruler/lord over wife this sets up a potentially dangerous position for a Christian wife to be in.

If she is trained to believe this, not only does this endanger her in a fallen world where men are imperfect and might use their assumed power over her for her harm or at least to justify their presumptions, she is left to feel that this is still the Divine order of things. That God has designed the dynamic. That she is somehow trapped, even if the results are abuse. That she is still being held accountable–but just through one of her curses– for Eve’s sin whereas, apparently, her husband has been redeemed from all of his curses…

(Note to marriage counselors: this is the additional burden many Christian wives labor under in abusive relationships. Also note: most Christian wives will never have studied this passage of Scripture themselves as those in charge of what is taught and what is not are usually men.)


But MUCH more importantly, those who subscribe to this teaching are forgetting one key doctrine: Jesus took our curses on Himself and suffered for them in our stead (see Galatians 3:13).

Pause, here, and give thanks!

BUT: just one curse? Two? Only the man’s? Only the woman’s?


Does this mean, then, that we shouldn’t respect and love one another (as in “men, love your wives;” “wives, respect your husbands”—Ephesians 5:22-33)?

Of course not.

However, respect is not prompted by a curse; it stems from love which is the “greatest of all the commandments” irrespective of era, status, or gender.

Indeed, it is the love of Him Who took all those curses on Himself, literally, that sets us free from them (see John 8:36).

Why should the Christian wife, then, remain bound, for “Whom the Son has set free, is free…?”

Indeed, given the full import of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, why should either spouse remain bound to any curse?



Image from the public domain.

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10 Responses to Genesis 3:16 is not a mandate for husbands…

  1. pnissila says:

    I encourage you to read this excellent article on the consequences of not allowing women to operate in their full range of gifts and callings in the church because they are women. As it turns out, this is especially harmful for men. Kristen is a thorough and thoughtful writer, and I believe–I hope–her insights will change minds and hearts.


  2. Mike Rogers says:

    Phyillis, you are spot on, we have to remember in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus – Gal. 3:28 Submission is defined in Scripture as due benevolence, it is submitting one to the other as husbands and wives. In fact, Eph. 5 outlines more of a submissive role for the man than it does for the wife. As Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it shows the degree the husband is to go. He is to give himself completely to her to the point of emptying himself out. I view my wife as my co-equal as we are one flesh. There is no provision for a hierarchy in one flesh other than Christ Himself as Lord of the body. Nice article!!


    • pnissila says:

      Thanks, Mike–and wife! I especially like the phrase, “due benevolence.”

      And thanks for your good work on your own site, exposing apostasy. So much of it these days.

      But as my sister says, “Whatever hastens His coming.”



  3. Excellent post! This headship business is a curse on women and I cannot understand why women persist in believing it. It diminishes God, and elevates man. That is contrary to all of scripture.


  4. pnissila says:

    A fellow blogger and author of “Dethroning Male Headship,” has written a post related to this topic in a series on same she has started this week. I highly recommend taking a look:


  5. Carl Gordon says:

    I cried! I cheered! I believe all who need to read this will…..those that will be liberated will be and those that don’t choose their liberation? I imagine it may piss ’em off


    • pnissila says:

      No doubt!

      I have only ever heard two other teachers (both men) tentatively acknowledge this truth from Genesis 3:16, that, yes, it does indicate that male lordship has to do with the curses. God bless ’em. But, as I said, their brief comments lacked solid conviction…were presented quickly and quietly…

      Fortunately, God gave women the Holy Spirit, too.

      And voices.

      And the Internet.


      (Do I get a witness!)


  6. Cathy says:

    I am not a Theologian, or pretend to be a Theologian…….
    BUT in the New Covenant, Jesus took the Curses of the Mosaic Law and
    Ended them, for Believers in Him. Those Sundry Laws were made for the OT Israelites!
    We have to adhere to Ephesians, we’re Paul, addresses Marriage, for both Men and Women. Women are subjects for Man, the same way , Christ is to His Church. This, is not Slavery, but Respect (Spiritually Righteeous, in nature!)
    I am my Beloved and His Desire is for me/ Song of Solomen-Psalms…..comparing Marriage, between a Man and a Women to the Marriage of Christ to His Church … We are the Bride of Christ(The Great Mystery) in Ephesians!!!
    Unless, you are Equally Yoked and are Discerning, of Sacred Scripture…..this could be ABUSED!

    In by Bible Study and Devotional, there was plenty of talk on the “Headship!”
    This is how I was taught (excatholic – Christian teacher):
    God The Father is Head over Christ >Man >Woman
    This Federal Headship, is being taught by Christians.

    I always think, the Holy Spirit & Scripture, will Give The Answer…..thus, not private interpretation!


    • pnissila says:

      Yes, thankfully, the Holy Spirit is given to all believers.

      The Federal Headship concept implies that women do not have access to Christ. They need to go through men/husbands. Have we learned nothing from observing the cults to see the danger in this?!

      Cheers and blessings,


      • Cathy Kelley says:

        The Cult Practice has Infiltrated, many of our Evangelical Brethren. Even, if I could, I have little trust, In some of the Doctrines of Demons?…sort of New Age… Humanistic, in favor of Mans way, instead of Gods way! I have got to give up Fellowship, because of my Personal situation….God knows my Heart! Blessings, Cathy

        Sent from my iPad


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