Genesis 3:16 – “And He Shall Rule Over You” Reconsidered

Posted: August 3, 2012 in Old Testament, Theology and Faith
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A descriptive, rather than prescriptive, understanding of Genesis 3:14-19 dramatically shifts our understanding.  This passage has often been used as a way to legitimize patriarchal hegemony, showing women’s subordination to men as both Biblical and God-ordained.  Yet, if this is descriptive, Genesis 3:16 merely paints a picture of the rupture that has occurred in the relationship between man and woman due to disobeying God’s command.

However, it must be noted that man and woman are held equally culpable for their disobedience.  For instance, disobedience leads to increased “labor” for both man and woman.  The consequence of disobedience is equal for both genders.  This equanimity is reflective of the relationship between man and woman previous to sin.  Eve, taken from Adam’s side, was intended to be an Ezer Kenigdo, a help-mate that is “flesh of flesh and bone of bone.”  They are like one another (although not the same) and equal in the relationship.

But, the “one flesh” reality has become something less than intended.  Despite this fact, the curse and the results of disobedience are never perceived as God’s desire for Creation.  In fact, it seems to be quite opposite of the God who blesses Creation continuously who now pronounces curse (on the serpent and ground).  Yet, God does not curse man and woman but describes the rupturing of relationship that is now humanity’s modus operandi and has already been demonstrated in pointing the finger of blame away from one’s self to another.

The rupturing of this relationship is most prominently on display in the use of power between man and woman.  Where God empowers humanity to govern over Creation, humanity has now usurped that power for its own self-seeking means.  Rather than stewarding Creation as servants of God, they will now seek to dominate it for their own ends.  The relationship that was intended to most reflect the imago Dei, man and woman, is now interlocked in a power struggle.  Thus, Adam asserts his dominance over woman by naming her Eve in verse 20 (which previously was reserved for naming the animals).  There has been a significant shift in the relationship.  Man and woman were made to provide community for one another.  Now, disobedience and the striving for power have resulted in isolation, which does not reflect the imago Dei.

The Creation marked by God’s shalom is now marred by the enmity between all of the Creation.  The fields will not yield fruit from Adam’s tilling; creatures and humanity will be at odds; humanity will be divided; and life will be dramatically shortened.  Despite this pronouncement from God, we often work to reverse the effects of our disobedience.  Tractors make tilling easier.  Medicines make birth more bearable.  If we work toward these ends, why should we do any less for reconciling humanity, especially the inequality between the sexes?  If this passage is descriptive rather than prescriptive, then this is not an invitation to continue to operate as if it is the will of God!

The Christian community needs this text to be re-interpreted beyond the prescriptive understanding so that it may be allowed to re-function.  The results of sin are not to be taken as the will of the Creator, because that would also make God the instigator of evil!  Rather, this passage can be a platform from which to speak about proper uses of power, especially in the context of covenant fidelity between men and women.  Ironically, our use of such passages to protect or enlarge our power only confirms the truth of the passage, though not necessarily affirming our hegemonic interpretations.  This text is concerned with communicating to God’s people the result of disobedience: fissure in relationship.  As God begins to reconcile the brokenness, we too are called to partner with God in mending what has been separated.

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