Consequently, there appeared a flurry of critical articles protesting this erroneous and dangerous rendering to Genesis 3:16b. At first, it appeared that Crossway was reconsidering a reversal of its plan to change this text. Unfortunately, in the 2017 edition of the ESV, this rendition of the text was incorporated despite its general criticism. Still, three questions remain: Was the proposed revision of Genesis 3:16b justified? Was it the best way to translate the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:16b? And was it some socio-political agenda, rather than any major linguistic issue, that lay behind this intended change of the ESV text?
How Should Teshuqa and ‘El Be Best Translated in Gen. 3:16b?
At the turn of the 20th century, Katherine C. Bushnell—medical doctor, Bible scholar, and social reformer—first raised questions about how the Hebrew word teshuqa (“desire”) in Gen. 3:16b is best translated. In her book, God’s Word to Women (first printed in 1921), Bushnell (fluent in biblical Hebrew and Greek), carefully examines and analyzes a number of ancient translations, along with several lexical sources. As she carries out this careful examination and analysis, she demonstrates, on the basis of the resources available to her, that through both Jewish rabbinical traditions and poor translation practices by certain early Christian translators, who were influenced by these Jewish oral traditions, teshuqa came to have the negative connotations of “lust, craving, urge”—false meanings and connotations taken up and promoted by later Bible commentators and translators influenced by their work.
So the emphasis of teshuqa here appears to be more on Eve’s turning away from God and turning to her husband, with some ambiguity as to the nature of the turning itself—which could be her trust, her devotion, as well as a longing for mutual affection and intimacy, such as the word has in the context of Song of Solomon 7:10. Therefore, it is context, and not merely semantic range, which determines whether teshuqa should be translated “desire, longing, devotion.”
The ‘desire’ of the woman in Genesis 3:16 is understood, as the result of the fall and God’s curse on them, to be a desire to rule or dominate. They want to usurp the man’s authority. The man’s task—as part of God’s prescriptive design—is to rule, guide, and lead the woman. I do hear at times softer versions: women desire to be with men and it is the man’s job to mentor and rule women. Either in the harder or softer form, this is God’s design for women and men during at least the Fall period of history. Hierarchy of some sort and patriarchy of some sort are designed by God for fallen human beings. This translation turns women and men into contrarians by divine design. The fall means women are to submit to men and men are to rule women, but women will resist the rule. This has moved from subordinationism to female resistance to subordinationism.