Genesis 3:16

NIV - To the woman he said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

GWT - He said to the woman, "I will increase your pain and your labor when you give birth to children. Yet, you will long for your husband, and he will rule you."

NLT - Then he said to the woman, "I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you."

Looking at these translations, we can see two contrasting types of desire given to Eve as a curse from God.

  1. Sexual desire: Though Eve will give birth with great pain, she will still desire to have sex with her husband and will keep on repeating the painful birth. This is possible because some say that women enjoy sex more than men(though I would like to give some source, I think such topic is too explicit for this site).
  2. Desire for power: Eve will try to rule over Adam but as man is given more physical strength, Eve will be overpowered and ruled by her husband.

What kind of desire was given to Eve?

  • The Bible is often explicit. Song of Songs for example is basically erotic fiction (or prose really) making it the closest thing to porn you could get at the time. Let the text take you wherever it leads. Human Sexuality does not need to be more taboo, but let's keep it clinical. Aug 29 '14 at 18:12
  • 1
    Option #2 is supported by the appearance of the same construction in the very next chapter (Gen. 4:7).
    – Jas 3.1
    Sep 1 '14 at 2:35
  • @JamesShewey Porn existed in biblical times, and the Song of Songs is not porn; cf. my answer here.
    – Geremia
    Nov 19 '17 at 22:53
  • Not all versions translate it as "desire". For example, Gen. 13:16 of St. Jerome's Vulgate says: "sub viri potestate eris" (Douay: "thou shalt be under thy husband's power"). The LXX uses "αποστροφή" ("submission").
    – Geremia
    Nov 19 '17 at 23:51
  • @Geremia, considering photography and cinematography did not exist, I find the claim that Pornography existed in Biblical times to be spurious. There is no concrete evidence that carvings, drawings and depictions of sexual acts in antiquity were intended to arouse and most scholars instead think that carvings were idols and depictions were usually advertising services. I also did not say SOS was porn, I said it was erotic prose. If you wish to discuss further however, you should probably start a chat as this is getting off-topic. Nov 20 '17 at 5:33

As far as I know, the only other place in the Old Testament where this same Hebrew term ("desire for you") is used, is in the next chapter, when God speaks to Cain.

"If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7, ESV)

In the literary context, this would refer to control, rather than sexual desire. The inference would be that the woman would want to exert control over the man after the Fall, and this would result in a struggle for control in the relationship between them. Speaking anecdotally, this seems to be the case.

  • 2
    See also Song 7:10 (7:11 in BHS). (I don't disagree with your conclusion that Gen 4:7 is most relevant, just pointing out the one other occurrence.)
    – Susan
    Sep 1 '14 at 4:07
  • + Susan T. Foh, "What is the Woman's Desire?", Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75): 376-83.
    – Dɑvïd
    Sep 1 '14 at 6:59
  • 1
    @briangardner I essentially agree with this answer, except I believe that much more can be said. Obviously, Satan used the 'divide and conquer' method, dividing Adam and Eve, and putting Adam in the position of choosing his mate or God. The judgment on Eve is obviously her need to rely on Adam, yet to Eve is made the promise of "her seed" will destroy the serpent(Satan) who tricked her, reverting the effect of the lie that caused her to fall.
    – Tau
    Sep 5 '14 at 8:01
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    @Tau agreed. One argument I read against this is that each person only gets one curse and this would be two for the woman. But I think this misunderstands the nature of v16. It's not a curse, it's prophecy. It also misses the pattern and flow: Serpent cursed to earth, doomed to a struggle with the woman's seed that he will lose, woman's curse in childbirth, doomed to struggle with man that she will lose, man cursed with labor to provide for woman and child,, will struggle to live but will lose and die eventually. In all three there is curse and struggle.
    – Joshua
    May 3 '16 at 11:24

Before I started to research this Bible verse, I held to the explanation given in the New International Version Study Bible:

NIV Study Bible Note: Her sexual attraction for the man, and his headship over her, will become intimate aspects of her life in which she experiences trouble and anguish rather than unalloyed joy and blessing.

Then I found this comment in the New Living Translation Study Bible:

NLT Study Bible Note: Judgment falls on the woman’s unique role of childbearing and on her relationship with her husband. “And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you (or, and though you will have desire for your husband, he will rule over you): The marriage relationship now included an element of antagonism rather than just security and fulfilment.

Intrigued, I pressed on and found a fuller explanation from the English Standard Version Study Bible:

ESV Study Bible Note: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” These words from the Lord indicate that there will be an ongoing struggle between the woman and the man for leadership in the marriage relationship. The leadership role of the husband and the complementary relationship between husband and wife that were ordained by God before the fall have now been deeply damaged and distorted by sin. This especially takes the form of inordinate desire (on the part of the wife) and domineering rule (on the part of the husband).

The Hebrew term here translated “desire” (teshuqah) is rarely found n the OT. But it appears again in Genesis 4:7, in a statement that closely parallels Genesis 3:16 – that is, where the Lord says to Cain, just before Cain’s murder of his brother, that sin’s “desire is for you” (i.e., to master Cain), and that Cain must “rule over it” (which he immediately fails to do, by murdering his brother).

Similarly, the ongoing result of Adam and Eve’s original sin of rebellion against God will have disastrous consequences for their relationship: (1) Eve will have the sinful “desire” to oppose Adam and to assert leadership over him, reversing God’s plan for Adam’s leadership in marriage. But (2) Adam will also abandon his God-given, pre-fall role of leading, guarding, and caring for his wife, replacing this with his own sinful, distorted desire to “rule” over Eve. Thus one of the most tragic results of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God is an ongoing, damaging conflict between husband and wife in marriage, driven by the sinful behaviour of both in rebellion against their respective God-given roles and responsibilities in marriage.

And there I was, thinking that sexual desire was down to hormones. Seems there is more to these few Hebrew words than meets the eye and that Eve wanted to rule over or dominate her husband. Doesn't make for comfortable reading (given I am female) but I can see how it works out in reality.

  1. Context: Given the historical event that drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden and
  2. Repeated occurrence: In the following chapter ("Its desire is for you") the word is used again.

We can conclude that the fall of mankind caused a struggle for control or self-dominion. In this chapter, the husband is given authority over the wife, therefore the context is not sexual, but rather of control/dominion.


  • 2
    I'm not sure that this was a reward or right given to Adam, as much as a statement of fact. These are all negative prescriptive, so it would be more accurate to consider Adam ruling over his wife as a negative and Eve's desire for control over her husband to be in conflict. Therefore, it basically says "you are going to get into fights now." Sep 12 '14 at 18:49

Man's punishment in Adam is that by the sweat of his brow he would strive against nature and circumstances to be able to provide for himself and his wife and family. Would not Gen.3:16 'desire for your husband' mean that women, in Eve, will strive to overcome a desire to rule over her husband? Having a desire to love one's husband is not a punishment; there must be something more. It is submitted that the 'something more' in this phrase is exampled in today's world by wives committing family violence (physical but particularly emotional/psychological) against their husbands. The Christian churches fail husbands (and God) by failing to confront abusive wives. This failure is exposed in the free reign that even Christians give to such destructive organisations like White Ribbon which blame all violence on men (even though one in four intimate partner homicides in Australia is a man killed by a woman). Writers like Wayne Grudem expose the related destructive flaws of Christian egalitarianism' (contrasted with 'complimentarianism') where even well-meaning but woefully misguided theologians condemn husbands to a life of sorrow because the set wives up to 'desire/subjugate their husbands'. How many Christian leaders have the love of Christ and the courage to confront, from the pulpit and in Bible classes, abusive and tyrannic wives? There are precious few … and misery (for wives and husbands) persists; children fail to have great role models; the 'Church' shrinks … but not in 'third world' countries which still allow faithful preaching. Is the Christian Church failing in the west because it is led by self-seeking cowards?

  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our Tour. (See below left) Thanks. Placing your questions above aside, what is a shorter answer to Mawia's Q: "What kind of desire was given to Eve?" May 7 '19 at 20:20

Disclaimer: I have no formal education in any biblical languages.

Short answer:

Because of Eve's disobedience she becomes the lover, servant and begetter of Mr. Sin (IE: sin personified).

First of all, I found this study of this passage on JSTOR. It can be read online for free with registration.

I found the paper thorough in its "homework" in that it examines many treatments of the word "desire" in various languages and settings. However, I did not find it had any substantial insight into interpretation, hoping to establish the meaning by tradition.

I have long been aware that Paul anthropomorphizes sin as "Mr. Sin" so to speak in Romans however as I pondered this question and looked more closely at Romans it seemed to strike me that Paul has elaborate references to Adam, Eve, marriage, childbearing, labor, birth etc. that are more involved than I had ever realized. And once being made aware of the deep symbolism is it not possible now to un-see! And understanding the typology involved helps to understand the passage itself.

  • Mr. Sin as master

Sin personified "desires" Cain (same word as with Eve) and Cain must subdue him:

[Gen 4:7 ESV] (7) If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it."

Paul alludes to that here:

[Rom 7:11, 18, 23 ESV] (11) For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. ... (18) For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. ... (23) but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

  • Mr. Sin as paramour

NASB 2 Corinthians 11: 1 I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but [fn]indeed you are bearing with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if [fn]one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.

Notice that Paul's concern is that the Corinthians, whom Paul espoused to Christ, will turn to another lover - the Devil.

  • Eve as sin bearer

In light of the above, Paul sees Eve as the conduit of human corruption in childbirth:

[Rom 8:3 CSB] (3) What the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin [IE: "gave Mr. Sin a death sentence] in the flesh [IE: where Mr. Sin dwells - in one's "members"] by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering,

Theologians choke on those words because they do not believe that the body is sinful, but Paul is very clear:

[Rom 7:22-24 CSB] (22) For in my inner self I delight in God's law, (23) but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. (24) What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

And yet Paul says that Jesus was born of a woman, from David's seed:

[Gal 4:4 NASB] (4) But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

[Rom 1:3 CSB] (3) concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh

So why is Jesus not tainted? His body was specially prepared for him by a divine version of CRISPR:

[Heb 10:5 RSV] (5) Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me;

The word "prepared" actually refers to its being "repaired", to remove Mr. Sin.

The ultimate expression of this is that Eve begat a child of Satan:

[1Jo 3:8-12 ESV] (8) Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (9) No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (10) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (11) For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (12) We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous.

This may be metaphor but it is part of a consistent record that Eve is the handmaiden of the Devil who begets children who are by nature the spawn of the devil.

  • Interesting answer, this seem to point out that you believe in Original sin? Nov 4 '19 at 7:20
  • That term may have more connotations than I am aware of or consent to but in general it appears that had Jesus' body not been retrofitted it would not have served as the corpse introduced by the Father to ratify the new covenant.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 4 '19 at 14:48
  • [Heb 9:15-17 YLT] (15) And because of this, of a new covenant he is mediator, that, death having come, for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, those called may receive the promise of the age-during inheritance, (16) for where a covenant is, the death of the covenant-victim to come in is necessary, (17) for a covenant over dead victims is stedfast, since it is no force at all when the covenant-victim liveth,
    – Ruminator
    Nov 4 '19 at 14:48

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