Saturday, April 14, 2012

Practical Theology for Women: A (Somewhat) Scholarly Analysis of Genesis 3:16

Most important in my view, the interpretation of Gen. 3:16 by some complementarians that the woman will desire against her husband to dominate him is a very recent development in church history. I am certainly open to correction on this, but as best as I can tell, Susan Foh in 1975 was the first to formalize the idea in the Westminster Theological Journal in a response to, you guessed it, feminism.

Although this is something for which a great big collective "duh" should be the answer we know that a lot of people won't go into the history of academic and pseudo-academic trends.

According to Foh herself, her presentation in 1975 that first introduced the currently accepted complementarian interpretation of Genesis 3:16's “your desire will be for your husband” as a “desire against your husband to dominate him” is a RE-examination and RE-consideration of the Biblical view of women. I am Reformed and generally hang with Reformed conservatives. It strikes me as odd that such a new view keeps popping up in modern writing among those who are known for loving their church fathers and church history.

Also according to Foh, she presented her new view of Genesis 3:16 as a response to feminism. It's important to note that the term feminism does not represent a monolithic movement. Carolyn McCulley has some helpful information of the various waves of feminism in her book,
Radical Womanhood. If you examine the history of feminism, Foh wasn't reacting against the broad, general idea of feminism though she uses the broad term. Frankly, I'm grateful for the 1st wave of feminism in particular, and you should be too [Wenatchee The Hatchet:  Amen!!], for it helped women get the right to vote, the right to inherit land, the ability to go to college, property rights, and so forth. It was God's common grace at work. In her article, Foh was reacting specifically to the 2nd wave of feminism (the 3rd wave of feminism is thought to have begun in the 90's, so it wasn't an issue yet). So 3 millennia after Genesis 3:16 was written, there appears on the blip of human history a movement for women's rights in the 1960's that seems to justify a new interpretation of the curse. Really, folks, changing our interpretation of Scripture for a reason that surfaced in the last 0.08% of human history should trouble conservative theologians. [emphasis original]
Ironically a variety of readings attempting to counteract "feminism" sail right past a core concern that would resonate with ... feminism.

A straightforward reading such as Vos', Keil's, and Delitzsch's, requires no theological backflips. The woman's root problem is that, even though child birth is painful and the man rules her, she still has a morbid craving for him, looking to him in completely unhealthy ways that do not reflect her status as image bearer of God. The woman wants something from the man that he was never intended to provide her, that he even on his best day is not equipped to provide. He becomes her idol.
A woman should not need a man to give her life meaning.  Too many complementarians pay lipservice to this idea when what they want is for the man to be the mediator between the woman and Christ. The problem is two-fold, that men want this kind of weird job and there are women who want them to have it. Should a complementarian dispute this let me point out that Wendy is as complementarian as just about anybody and to borrow a catchphrase from a certain local preacher, "it's biblical" to point out that too many women idealize marriage and idolize it (as do plenty of guys).

Speaking of which ...

Authoritarian pastors unchecked by their peers and accountability structures who hold to Foh's views have contributed to feminism in the church as much as anything. Holding on to Foh's views on Genesis 3:16 sets a tone of suspicion of women when we talk about gender issues in the church, and that tone is not helpful.    
In case you didn't scroll over the link, it's to the Alsups review of Real Marriage.

Wendy's done a nice job covering how some people trying to make a case against feminism decided they had to start mounting a case against a set of ideas that, as Wendy put it, comprise 0.08 of the whole of human history. Personally I'd put that percentage somewhere closer to 0.0024 percent of human history but it depends on what points of reference we're using or how far back we identify nascent feminism in Western society.


Victoria said...

Thanks for this excellent post, it is very helpful.
I have been doing a lot of study on this toxic interpretation of Gen. 3:16 in the last few months. I am 63 years old and have been in Complementarian Churches since my early 20's. I first heard about this new interpretation of the word desire many years ago-it was on a teaching tape by John MacArthur-and yes I have read the books by Susan Foh. As a young Christian woman I bought this teaching hook-line-and sinker! I have read all the books by the reformed women(including Martha Peace & Nancy Leigh DeMoss) teaching what wicked beasts women are for wanting to dominate and control their husbands. Well I teach women in our Church-and I have taught this many times for many years-and now I am ashamed of myself because I am convinced it is a lie that leads to the spiritual and sometimes physical abuse of women. I have 2 reasons from my own study to believe this teaching is wrong. The first reason is that the Hebrew word for desire used in Gen.3:16 is only used three times in the OT. The first time is Gen 3:16, the second time is Gen. 4:7 where Cain is warned about sin desiring him. The 3rd time the word is used is in SS. 7:10. In the SS passage the word means the longing and desire the bridegroom has for the bride. The Theological Wordbook of the OT is very helpful in understanding the meaning of this word. What greatly troubles me about all the patriarchal folks who want to take the "dominate the husband view" want to use the Gen 4:7 passage for a comparison of the usage of the word. Now tell me-if you want to see how a word is used why would you go to the Cain passage-that has nothing to do with male-female relationships-rather than looking at the SS passage which has EVERYTHING to do with the male female-husband wife relationship? John MacArthur would never do that with any other word study he was doing-why do they all do it on this word? Because there is a hidden agenda maybe? If you follow the meaning in SS you see that it means a strong desire & longing for the spouse. I have done damage teaching that the word desire in Gen. 3:16 means dominating control-and I will be party to it no more.

Reason #2. After 40 years of counseling women in troubled marriages I have found that the real problem is not women wanting to control their men-but women who get in toxic relationships with men because of their desire for the man. The Church tells women to submit and obey-but men are not called into accountability for their verbal-spiritual bullying. I see it constantly.Women are beaten down and abused by their husbands and it is backed up by the Church. The whole patriarchal movement is leading women back into the dark ages-it can be compared-at its worst-to Islam.
I am so sorry for the length of this-but I am sickened by what I am seeing with regards to the abuse and subjugation of women. History itself is proof enough that men seem to need to dominate and control women-and women are generally fearful and lack wisdom in how to help and challenge their husbands in a godly way. I am NOT a feminist and I do not believe in women Pastor's or elders-but I see a real lack of proper biblical exegesis regarding women in today's Church.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I've been thinking a lot of Christians should read Roy Baumeister's book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. he notes that the highest incidence of domestic violence has tended to be in marriages where the man insists on a traditional head-of-household role and has "married up". Curiously men who "marry up" and marry women who are vastly smarter, better educated or from a higher status family who are tycoons or billionaires are LESS likely to be abusive? Why? Baumeister explains that this is because there is no internal conflict in the man between his sense of personal entitlement due to social or educational status and the life he has. He's just happy he's so lucky to have a satisfying career and caring wife. It's the guy who believes he deserves more than his education or background has obtained him and who has married a woman with more education or money or social standing who is most apt to beat his wife.

So it's not a big surprise that a lot of men would rather keep women down and far away from possibly outstripping them. As Baumeister has put it in his lecture on men in the last decade, men are disposable and the reality seems to be that half of any generation of males are genetic dead ends. I could write more but I've got some errands to tackle and a friend to visit today.

The Goat's Opinion said...

There's a really good article in the Priscilla Papers (Christians for Biblical Equality) titled "Ideas have Consequences" by Mimi Haddad that talks about the "ontological devaluation of women . . . is linked to their marginalization and abuse." Where women are offered equal authority and resources in decision making a community can flourish. If you've got a minute, this is a really valuable article.