It has been interesting to see how the meaning of the word often translated as “desire” in Genesis 3:16b has been treated in popular vs. scholarly circles. The former often tends to treat the term as obvious in meaning even though this has been far from the case from the perspective of Egalitarian and Complementarian scholars alike. The reason for this is that in the past there has been very little available for reaching any sort of confident conclusion on the matter (only three uses in the entire Old Testament). In my opinion, if there is little to go by then one should not be dogmatic about any conclusion reached in regards to this word.
The way most scholars end up deciding the term’s meaning is an appeal to a “context” or one’s already established theology in combination with scant evidence. Currently, the most popular understandings of “t’shoo-kah” are: 1) the woman’s sexual desire, or 2) a desire to be subjugated, or to be overly dependant or, 3) Eve’s desire to dominate her husband. However, an additional option has reemerged on the scene that is in agreement with how the Greek Old Testament understands the word. Admittedly, I had previously opted for the third and dismissed this fourth option—as did most commentators I have read. What has changed my mind very recently however has been the availability of seven new examples to work with from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before going into what I think is the better option, I will explain the advantages and disadvantages of the other options.
Sexual DesireThe first view, which understands Eve’s desire to be sexual in nature, has the advantage of being able to draw from the context in Song of Songs where the desire is of a sexual nature. In addition it can utilize an Arabic root “^saqa” which is a passionate longing compatible with Song of Songs 7:11. It also draws from the immediate context of the pain in childbearing mentioned previously. Still, this view often relies too heavily on preconceived theology and speculation. For example, Gordon Wenham finds he must resolve the tension between Adam’s rule placed in the curse section and an understanding of the rest of Genesis before the fall to be in favor of exclusive female subordination. He decides: “Women often allow themselves to be exploited n this way because of their urge toward their husband: their sexual appetite may sometimes make them submit to quite unreasonable male demands.” Whether or not most would actually concur that female sexuality is the culprit behind falling for unreasonable male demands, this view does utilize some of the immediate context and at least the context of one of the Old Testament uses of the noun form of the word.
Desire to be Subject
The second view, believes the woman’s desire is to be subjugated or dependant. This can be understood under a positive or negative backdrop concerning male authority. Exclusive submission to leadership itself may be seen as motivated primarily by the result of the fall or it is often understood to be something good that existed before, but now functions as a curse in the new context of fallen male domination.
Michael Stitzinger takes the latter option, but awkwardly fits it in the context of what he perceives as Eve’s failure to obey Adam earlier. The text of course does not say this anywhere, but this is the presupposed theological paradigm being used to interpret an addition passage even if it does not quite explain why the desire here is for submission when elsewhere it was not evident and admittedly female “sin nature precludes that they will do this.” So, Eve didn’t do it before and women don’t tend to do this later—but this context indicates that Eve’s desire is for submission?For the rest, click HERE.
Despite these weaknesses, one of the strengths of this view is also the use of the Arabic root “^saqa” which Stitzinger understands to be a deep female longing to be submissive to one’s husband. However, even the best feature of this view and the previous one is criticized by Foh who points out that the similar word “saqa” is actually phonetically the equivalent Arabic word which instead means “to urge, drive on, impel.”