The change of Genesis 3:16, ESS, the colonial code of relationship, and a call to bystanders
In a recent article, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016):365-387, Andrew A. Macintosh did a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה (teshûqâ) and came to an interesting conclusion. He said (red emphasis added by me) —
In summary, I conclude that ‘desire’ is not a proper rendering of the Hebrew word תְּשׁוּקָה in the Hebrew Bible or in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, on the evidence of comparative philology and of the ancient versions, ‘concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus’, appears to be more likely. (2016:385).
We’ve written before about how some leaders of the complementarian movement claim that the Son is eternally submitted to the Father (ESS/ERAS). We’ve written about how they use this notion to subtly oppress and coerce women into submission to abusive men (here, here and here).
We now know that these people and their associates recently changed Genesis 3:16 in the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible.
[UPDATE — on 28 Sept 2016, Crossway pulled that article so the above link now takes you to a 404 message. But the article was saved at the webarchive. Here it is:
At the same time as they pulled the article, Crossway issued a statement announcing that they have reversed the decision to make the ESV text permanent.
“We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake. We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV,” said Lane T Dennis, the President of Crossway, ” and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward.” ]
Verse 16b used to say, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”.
It now says, “Your desire will be contrary to your husband but he will rule over you.”
And Genesis 4:7 used to say, “[Sin’s] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
It now says, “[Sin’s] desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
The online ESV has the new Permanent Text version and the older version can no longer be accessed online. Talk about a fait accompli! And with more and more people giving up books and only reading on digital devices, the previous version of the ESV will tend to be forgotten…
Christianity Today describes these changes as “a slightly more complementarian reading.” I think that is an understatement. I think the change ratchets up CBMW’s complementarian dogma giving it even more power to oppress women, and more excuse for men who abuse women.
In my opinion, the ESV’s change of this verse is very much related to the Eternal Submission of the Son doctrine which has been so controversial recently. I think they are two sides of the same coin, the coin being an agenda to keep women (and especially wives) down and keep husbands in authority. I’ll talk about this more below, but first let me introduce a concept which I think will help us understand it.
The colonial code of relationship
Allan Wade* articulated the colonial code of relationship like this:
- I am proficient
- You are deficient
- Therefore I have the right to fix you, diagnose you, change you, intern you
- For your own good.
In evangelical circles, it goes like this:
You are deficient — you lack sense, your understanding is distorted, your desire is contrary to your husband’s, your desire is contrary to your pastor’s, you are afraid, you are angry, you are helpless, you are passive, you are rebellious, you are acting in a manner inappropriate for your gender, you don’t have the theological training that I have, you are sinful, you are foolish, you are crazy.
And because I am proficient, I have the right, the duty, the sacred obligation and the authority to perform certain operations upon you. I can prescribe, educate, assess, correct, pray over and counsel you, and I can legislate what you can and can’t do, for your own good.
People who see themselves as proficient Christians are using the colonial code to perform certain operations upon women.
Their change of Genesis 3:16 emphasizes the ‘deficiency’ of women and affirms men’s right to assess, correct and direct women…for their own good.
ESS is an acronym for Eternal Subordination of the Son – the idea that in eternity the Son is subordinate to the Father. It is a false doctrine: it is not Scriptural and it contradicts the Nicene Creed.
Who suffers the most harm from ESS? Women, and particularly wives who are married to abusive husbands.
If the ESV’s change of Genesis 3:16 is wrong (which I believe it is) who will suffer the most harm from it? The very same group: wives married to abusive husbands.
In his post Genesis 3:16 Ps Sam Powell analyses the Hebrew of Genesis 3:16 and discusses whether is right to use Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16. He also confesses that he used to teach that 3:16 meant that the woman’s longing would “be directed towards domineering, manipulating, and refusing to be truly loved” — but he has NOW CHANGED HIS MIND. (Yay! Thank you Sam!)
And in his post Odds and Ends, Ps Sam Powell says:
I only just recently heard that Genesis 3:16 is being used to justify domestic abuse. The thinking is: “She was trying to dominate me, so I had to rule over her.” I have a hard time fathoming the Satanic influence of this line of reasoning.
Bad exegesis ALWAYS has bad consequences. …
Some ideas are so entrenched that they can’t be blasted out with any kind of reasoning.
“This must be right because celebrity pastor … says so” is horrible hermeneutics. Even John Calvin was wrong at times.
Something is desperately wrong with the state of the church when the phrase, “Your desire shall be toward your husband, but he shall rule over you” is interpreted to mean, “If my wife tries to manipulate me, I have the right to smack her down.”
… all of that talk about the “others” coming to persecute us – the state, the gay lobby, the feminists (gasp) – is wrong. Persecution comes out of the house of God. It wasn’t Rome that Jesus warned his disciples of. It was the synagogue. When I hear the stories of what the powerful celebrity preachers do to those who question them, I become agitated and sad and angry. And it makes me feel helpless.
To every faithful pastor – don’t be intimidated by their threats; do your own exegesis; don’t be mesmerized by their “expert exegesis”. It really isn’t that good.
In his post The Permanent Text of the ESV, Dr Claude Mariottini says:
By translating the preposition ’el in Genesis 3:16 as “contrary to,” the ESV interjects a radical tension in the relationship between man and woman. The expression “contrary to” communicates the idea that everything the woman desires is contrary to what the man desires. …
It is no secret that many Christians use Genesis 3:16 as a proof-text to defend and justify the subordination of women. The revision proposed by the ESV, in a sense, requires a woman to be submissive to an all-wise man, since her desire is contrary to man’s desire. This means that only the man’s desire is correct and the woman must follow his desire because all her desires are “contrary to” her husband’s desire.
[update 28 Sept 2016: In the interests of this post being read and heeded by those who have influence with Crossway Publishers and the ESV translators, I have removed the photo which was originally at this point in the post.]
We victims are asking the bystanders to no longer stand by and do nothing
To all conservative Christians who’ve been silent or unconscious while these ‘proficient leaders’ have been re-writing the doctrine of God and empowering the oppression of women and have now clinched their position by slam dunking their Permanent ESV Bible — we ask you to share the burden of pain. We ask you to act. To engage. To wake up. To remember. To be brave enough to denounce the wrong that these ‘proficient leaders’ have been doing.
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* Allan Wade, “A persistent spirit. Towards understanding Aboriginal health in British Columbia” Canadian Western Geographical Series, 31. Victoria, BC: Western Geographical Press, 1995 — cited by Cathy Richardson in “Islands of Safety and the Social Geography of Human Dignity: A Child and Mother Safety Planning Initiative for Cases of Paternal Violence in Child Welfare” (link)
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Complementarity without subordination : what does it look like? by Barbara Roberts
The New Stealth Translation: ESV by Scot McKnight (NB: we do not endorse all of Scot McKnight’s theology; he promotes the New Perspective on Paul)
Truth and lies, light and darkness, cannot co-exist by Jeff Crippen
Headship is not Hierarchy by Sam Powell
On the New ESV Translation of Genesis 3:16 from the blog Neuroscience, Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew.
[added 13 April 2017] Quite Contrary by Janie Cheaney, World Magazine
[added 3 Aug 2017] Authority: Is It Really the Biblical Counterpart to Marital Submission? by Rachel Shubin. THIS ARTICLE IS BRILLIANT.