I’d like to take a look at the word “desire”, and highlight what this word means in Genesis 3:16. Complementarians use this verse to argue that women are at odds with men, that their “desire” for the man translates as her desire to dominate him and usurp his authority. This word “desire” is translated from the Hebrew word, tshuwqah.
This word, tshuwqah, occurs three times in the Old Testament:
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” ~ Genesis 3:16
Should we interpret this to mean the woman will turn to her husband for love before God, or that the woman will want to dominate her husband?
“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” ~ Genesis 4:7
Desire is portrayed here as the predator, lying in wait to destroy its prey. Do wives seek to destroy their husbands? Is this the same as wanting to dominate someone? Does a predator want to dominate and take authority from its prey, or completely demolish its prey? Can we honestly say that women have been, biblically or historically, seeking to destroy men?
“I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.” ~ Song of Songs 7:10
This verse portrays desire in a straightforward way that requires no verbal gymnastics to get to the “real” meaning. The man’s desire is for her. Why should the word “desire” in Genesis 3:16 not be interpreted this way, in favor of the “crouching at the door” interpretation?
The only reason I can see for someone to want “desire” in Genesis 3:16 to mean “to dominate or take authority from” is because they believe that men have a unique authority given to them by God over women, therefore making it a temptation for the woman to sinfully attempt to “steal” that authority away. Therefore, women should be forever cautious of this unique temptation they have to usurp authority from their husbands instead of submitting to their leadership.
“Carolyn Mahaney, author and wife of C.J. Mahaney, writes that women will have a ‘sinful tendency to resist their husband’s authority, women will have an urge to manipulate, control or have the mastery over men.’” ~ Woman this is War!, Jocelyn Andersen.2010(bold mine)
“One of the consequences of the Fall for women…is that their ‘desire shall be for their husbands’…because of the curse, we now have a sinful tendency to want our own way and to resist our husband’s authority. This evil desire poses the greatest opposition to our submission…when a wife is not submissive; she is only caving in to her natural inclination to usurp authority and demand her own way.” ~ Carolyn Mahaney, Feminine Appeal. 2003, 2004(bold mine), footnote taken from Woman this is War!, Jocelyn Andersen.2010
The Bible never says that women are like predators “crouching at the door” to destroy men. The Bible also never teaches that men have a God-given authority over women, or that they have a right to defend that authority. Complementarians consistently teach that women are in enmity with their husbands, seeking for sinful ways to “usurp” their authority, but there is no scriptural basis for this. In Genesis 3:15, the woman was told by God that there would be enmity between her and the serpent, not between her and the man.
As I proceed, I want to insert a disclaimer: I am not claiming we should never obey authorities in our lives; obviously there are appropriate circumstances for people to exercise their authority, as in law enforcement using their authority to keep peace and protect citizens. It is appropriate for society to obey the law of the land – which has authority – unless it conflicts with following Christ, which means that no earthly authority is absolute. For another view on authority in the church, look here.
However, the Bible consistently shows that believers do not have the right to have authority over other believers, and that authority of humans should never be absolute or surpass God’s authority. In fact, the Bible is a consistent witness against obeying or being under authority apart from God’s authority:
Exodus 1:16,17,20: “‘When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’ The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” “So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became more numerous.” ~ The midwives disobey authority and get rewarded for it.
Joshua 2:3,4,6: “So the kind of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy on the whole land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.'” “(But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid on the out on the roof.)” ~ Rahab lies and disobeys authority to save people.
Matthew 2:13-15: “When they had gone, and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.‘” ~ Jesus’ parents disobey authority to save their son’s life, and obey God instead.
Matthew 20:25-27: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (See also Mark:10:43-45, Luke 22:25-26) ~ Christians are called to serve one another, not to exercise authority over one another.
Matthew 23:8-12: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Another call for Christians to serve one another.
2 Corinthians 11:32-33: “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.” ~ Paul escaping the authorities that be, being disobedient to authority.
Ephesians 5:25-28: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” ~ The husband is described as a servant, giving himself up for his wife, and is never given permission to act as her authority.
Therefore, since husbands/men do not possess any God-given authority over their wives, or over anyone else for that matter, it cannot be said that a woman’s innate desire is to dominate and usurp her husband’s authority. Rather, the temptation for women is to “desire” their husbands’ love and affection, so much so, they have been willing to do anything to get it and keep it. I would call this “looking to men rather than God”; it is idolatry, and it doesn’t have anything to do with authority and submission.