Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16

Teshuqah: The Woman's Desire in Genesis 3:16

For Mandy, Jude, and Karen.

Teshuqah: A Rare Word

Several words that are crucial in understanding what the Bible shows us about the relationship between men and women are rare and somewhat obscure in their original languages. I’ve previously written about the Hebrew word kenegdo which occurs only twice in the Old Testament (in Genesis 2:18 and 20). And I’ve looked at the Greek word authentein which occurs only once in the New Testament (in 1 Timothy 2:12). In this post I look at the Hebrew word teshuqah in Genesis 3:16. This word also occurs in Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10. Three times in all.

In Genesis 3:16 God says to the woman:

“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire (teshuqah) will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.” NASB

Until Susan Foh wrote her 1974-5 paper What is a Woman’s Desire?, many Bible translators were content to understand teshuqah as simply meaning “desire” and “longing”.[1] A few English translations such as the NLT and NET, however, show the influence of Foh’s paper. They have translated teshuqah as “desire to control” and “want to control” in Genesis 3:16. Is “a desire to control” what the original authors meant in Genesis and in Song of Solomon?

Teshuqah in Hebrew Lexicons

In the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB) it says that teshuqah means “longing”: a longing of woman for man in Genesis 3:16; a longing of man for woman in Song of Solomon 7:11;[2] and, figuratively, a longing of a beast (representing sin) to devour Cain in Genesis 4:7.[3] Furthermore, BDB claims that teshuqah is derived from a stem shuq which means “attract, impel, of desire, affection”.[4]

Gesenius likewise states that teshuqah is derived from the stem shuq which has the meanings “to run after, to desire, to long for anything; whence תְּשׁוּקָה [teshuqah means] desire, longing.”[5] Other lexicons, such as HALOT, also define teshuqah as “desire, longing.” None of these lexicons, however, connect teshuqah with a desire to control.

Teshuqah: The Woman's Desire in Genesis 3:16

Screenshot of the second meaning of shuq, with teshuqah (in Hebrew letters), in Gesenius’ lexicon.

Teshuqah may simply mean “desire”. If so, it is the context which supplies what kind of desire is being spoken of.[6]

Teshuqah and the Context of Genesis 3:16

There have been several ways of understanding what “desire” means in the context of Genesis 3:16. Here are four of the more common interpretations.

1. A woman will desire a husband and marriage despite the pain that comes with having children.

When God speaks to the woman in Genesis 3:16, he begins by telling her that having children will be a painful experience. It is immediately after God gives this information that he says, “your desire will be for your husband . . .” So perhaps we are meant to understand that even though childbirth and child rearing will involve pain and sorrow, a woman will still desire to be married and have a family. (In the days before contraceptives, the primary reason for marriage in practically all cultures was to raise a family.) The use of the word “yet” in the NRSV and NASB indicates that this may be the preferred interpretation of the NRSV and NASB translators: “. . . in pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband . . .” (NASB, italics added)

2. A woman will desire marriage and sex despite this intimacy being marred by her husband’s rule.

Instead of looking at the preceding phrases, perhaps we are meant to look at the last phrase of Genesis 3:16 (“he will rule over her”) to give us the context of teshuqah. If so, then the meaning is that a woman will desire to be married, and have a longing for her husband, even though the intimacy and joy of marriage will be marred by her husband’s rule. The use of the word “but” in the CEB translation indicates that this may be their preferred interpretation: “You will desire your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Italics added)

Some have understood the woman’s desire to be sexual lust, rather than simply a longing for, or a longing towards, a husband. Keil and Delitzsch include an overstatement in their commentary on Genesis 3:16 describing the woman’s teshuqah as an almost manic desire: “she was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (תּשׁוּקה from שׁוּק to run, to have a violent craving for a thing).”[7]

3. A wife’s own desires are submitted to her husband.

Another interpretation found in quite a few older commentaries is that a woman’s own desires, or the determination of her own will,[8] will be submitted and referred to her husband, and he will grant or deny her desires as he sees fit.[9] This disturbing interpretation, and variations on it, seem to have been popular in the last several centuries.[10]

4. A wife will desire to control her husband.

Foh’s interpretation, adopted by some, is that a women will desire to control her husband,[11] but, despite this desire, her husband will rule her. Foh bases her interpretation on a comparison of Genesis 3:16 with Genesis 4:7 where the keywords teshuqah and mashal (“rule”) also occur. However, there are some significant differences between Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.

In Genesis 4:7, sin is unmistakably depicted as Cain’s adversary, crouching at the door; and Cain is told that he must master sin and that this is the right thing to do. Foh believes Eve is similarly presented in Genesis 3:16 as Adam’s adversary, but this is not explicit in the text.[12]

Furthermore, while Cain is directly told by God to master or rule sin, Adam is nowhere told by God to master or rule Eve. In fact, God never tells men to rule women. The “rule” spoken of in Genesis 3:16 is a consequence of sin. It is not divinely commanded, as in 4:7, and it does not refer to a beneficial rule.[13] The contexts of 3:16 and 4:7 are different, even though they share two keywords.[14]

Early Translations of Teshuqah

In Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek Old Testament, teshuqah is translated as apostrophē.[15][16] The etymology of apostrophē gives the meaning “a turning away”, but it is has a broader range of meanings, some of which are conflicting.

Liddell, Scott and Jones (LSJ), arguably one of the best lexicons of Ancient Greek, has several definitions for apostrophē. Most don’t fit the context of Genesis 3:16 at all. For definition III, however, the LSJ says that apostrophē is used rhetorically when one turns away from all others to one person and addresses him specifically.[17] This meaning makes good sense in the contexts of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.

Since the preposition pros (“towards”) also occurs in Genesis 3:16 (“your turning (apostrophē) will be towards (pros) your husband”), I think the meaning of a woman turning away from others to turn towards, or even long for, her husband may well be what is intended here.[18] 

Skip Moen believes that teshuqah may not mean “desire” and he looks to the early Greek, Syriac, and Coptic translations, for insight. He writes,

“But there is another translation stream arising through the LXX, the Syriac Peshitta and Coptic translations. This stream views the rare Hebrew word teshuqah as “turning,” not “lust.” If this stream is correct, then the word in Genesis 3:16 is about Eve’s mistake of “turning” her principle devotion toward Adam rather than God. Eve makes Adam her priority . . . .”[19] 

Walter Kaiser likewise states that teshuqah should be understood as “turning”.

The Hebrew word teshuqah, now almost universally translated as ‘desire,’ was previously rendered as ‘turning.’ The word appears in the Hebrew Old Testament only three times: here in Genesis 3:16, in Genesis 4:7 and in Song of Songs 7:10. Of the twelve known ancient versions (the Greek Septuagint, the Syriac Peshitta, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Old Latin, the Sahidic, the Bohairic, the Ethiopic, the Arabic, Aquila’s Greek, Symmachus’s Greek, Theodotion’s Greek and the Latin Vulgate), almost every one (twenty-one out of twenty-eight times) renders these three instances of teshuqah as “turning,” not “desire.” Likewise, the church fathers (Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Epiphanius and Jerome, along with Philo, a Jew who died about A.D. 50) seem to be ignorant of any other sense for this word teshuqah than the translation of “turning.” Furthermore, the Latin rendering was conversio and the Greek was apostrophē or epistrophē, words all meaning “a turning”.[20]

While Susan Foh, and a few others, see a power struggle implied in Genesis 3:16b, women turning towards their husbands, rather than having a desire to control them, fits better with what we see in the world at large.


There is ample evidence that, due to the prevalence of patriarchy, men have ruled their wives. God’s prophetic description that “he will rule over you” has been played out in countless marriages across millennia across the globe. Over the centuries, many Christians have even assumed that Genesis 3:16 gave men permission to rule and control their wives, but there is no divine mandate here.

Is there widespread evidence that women have typically desired to control their husbands, even if this desire has been thwarted by male rule? If there is, I haven’t seen it.

The precise meaning of teshuqah is not certain. It may mean “desire”. It may mean “turning”. But context, as well as the evidence from history and the present day, seems to rule out that it means “a desire to control”. Whatever its meaning, the mutuality and unity between the first couple was spoiled by sin. Yet this is not the end of the story. Thankfully, Jesus came to deal with sin, and our relationships today can potentially be as mutual and harmonious as it was in Eden before the Fall (Gen. 2:21-25). Restored relationships between men and women is part of the good news of Jesus.


[1] Susan T. Foh, “What is the Woman’s Desire?”, The Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75) 376-83. This paper can be read online here.

[2] The Septuagint of Song of Solomon (Song of Songs or Canticles) 7:11 is equivalent to 7:10 in English and Hebrew Bibles.

[3] Francis Brown, “תְּשׁוּקָה”, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007) 1003.

[4] Ibid., 1003.
Unlike what some online resources suggest, BDB does not connect teshuqah with Strong’s words 7783, 7784 or 7785. These are unrelated words spelt שׁוּק—shuq and שׁוֹק—shoq. The Strong’s number for teshuqah is 8669. There is no Strong’s number for the shuq which is the primitive and obsolete stem of teshuqah. Moreover, there is no clear consensus among lexicographers as to what the meanings of this particular stem were.

[5] Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, “שׁוּק”, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, English translation by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons) (Source)

[6] David T. Lang has found eleven occurrences of teshuqah in Qumran sectarian manuscripts, most of which are translated as “longing” or “desire.” He writes, “Interestingly, in most of these cases the object of desire was something negative or in some way related to destruction. The desire spoken of was not clearly a ‘desire for control,’ but it certainly seemed to connote some kind of negative longing or obsession.” (Source)
Since the members of the Qumran community were ascetics, and desire was antithetical to a strictly disciplined lifestyle, it is not surprising that they viewed desire and longing negatively.

[7] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary: The Old Testament, Vol. 1: The Pentateuch, English translation by James Martin (Edinburgh: T. & T, Clark, 1885) 108. (Sources 1 and 2)

[8] Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament (London, Blackie & Son, 1884) (Source)

[9] Joseph Benson, Commentary of the Old and New Testament (New York: T. Carlton & J. Porter, 1867) (Source).

[10] For example: “‘Thy desire shall be unto thy husband,’ is of the same force as if he had said that she should not be free and at her own command, but subject to the authority of her husband and dependent upon his will; or as if he had said, ‘Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes.'” John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis. (Source)
A few older commentaries on Genesis 3:16, here.

[11] In his commentary on Genesis 3:16 in the ESV Study Bible, T. Desmond Alexander agrees with Foh’s interpretation and writes that this verse “indicates that there will be an ongoing struggle between the woman and the man for leadership in the marriage relationship. . . . Eve will have the sinful ‘desire’ to oppose Adam and assert leadership over him.” ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 56.

[12] The two obvious adversaries in Genesis 3 are the cursed serpent, who will be an enemy especially of the woman and her seed (Gen. 3:15), and the cursed ground (adamah), which will produce thorns and thistles and make life especially hard for Adam (Gen. 3:17-19).

[13] The form of mashal used in Genesis 3:16 is identical to that in Isaiah 19:4, and similar to that in Proverbs 17:2.

[14] For more on the contexts of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 see Irvin A. Busenitz’s paper, “Woman’s Desire for Man: Genesis 3:16 Reconsidered”, Grace Theological Journal 7.2 (1986) 203-12, esp. 206-210.  This paper can be read online here.

[15] The Greek word which translates teshuqah in Song of Solomon 7 is epistrophē which has a somewhat different range of meanings to apostrophē.

[16] Interestingly, the Hebrew word teshuvah (which looks similar to teshuqah) means a “turning” or “return”, etc. This word is derived from the root שׁוּב—shuv. Shuv and teshuvah are neither rare nor obscure words. (More on shuv here.) Is teshuqah really meant to be the word teshuvah?

[17] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “apostrophē”, A Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition, revised by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1996)  220.

[18] Pros corresponds with the Hebrew preposition el- אֶל which occurs in the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:16. BDB (page 39) gives the general definition of el as a “preposition denoting motion to or direction towards.” The ESV translates it as “for” in Genesis 3:16, but gives an alternate meaning in a footnote of “against”. El is occasionally used in a hostile sense; nevertheless it typically means “towards”. Perhaps the debate over the meaning of Genesis 3:16 needs to focus more on this preposition than on the meanings of teshuqah and apostrophē. Update: The latest version (August 2016) of the ESV translates Genesis 3:16a as: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband . . .” This seems like a paraphrase or interpretation, rather than a literal translation.

[19] You can read more of Skip Moen’s interpretation here. (I have changed his use of the more Hebraic “Havah” to the more recognisable “Eve” in the quote.)

[20] Walter Kaiser et al, “3:16 How was the Woman Punished?”, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996) 96.

Related Articles

Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable or similar to the man?
Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Mary Consoles Eve
Working Women in the New Testament

Posted November 7th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Gender in Genesis 1-3, , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

21 comments on “Teshuqah: The Woman’s “Desire” in Genesis 3:16

  1. Many Christians do believe the word desire (teshuqah) implies that the wife will desire to control or dominate her husband and that in turn the husband will try to rule (mashal) or dominate his wife as part of a power struggle between the sexes which is part of the curse after the fall. However, others think that the verse in Genesis 3:16 justifies male rulership as part of God’s original plan.

    I recall reading from Wendy Alsup’s blog “Practical Theology For Womaen” where she believes the word desire/teshuqah is referring to the wife having an unhealthy longing for her husband that results in idolatry to the point of putting her husband above God and the husband for his part will dominate her. I believe her theory the most.

    Great points, and another good article. God Bless.

  2. A great post and I agree with much of what you’ve said. I’d just like to make a couple of comments:

    1. Strengthening the argument that Gen 3:16 is not a command by God but is a description of the consequences of sin which are undersirable is the use of the yiqtol verbal form in the last line, ימשל (yimšōl, ‘he will rule’). While there is some debate over the significance of Hebrew verbal forms, I think a good case can be made that this should be read modally as something like ‘he will seek to rule’. The parallelism typical of Hebrew verse then provides us with a translation something like this:
    You will seek to control your husband,
    and he will try to rule over you.
    This animosity that arises out of sin is expressed in numerous ways throughout Gen 3:14–19 (e.g. between the serpent and other animals in 3:14; between the serpent and humans in 3:15; between the woman and the next generation in 3:16; between the man and the ground in 3:17–19; and so between the husband and wife in 3:16). A really good article to read on this is Alan Hauser, “Genesis 2–3: The Theme of Intimacy and Alienation.”

    2. While it is true that the LXX uses ἀποστροφή to translate תשוקה in Gen 3:16, the Greek term is elsewhere often used to translate Hebrew words derived from the root שוב. Hence it is just as likely that the translators of the LXX, not understanding the very rare word before them, thought it to have been the Hebrew word תשובה ‘returning’ instead (furthermore, in Paleo-Hebrew the letters ב and ק are more easily confused than in the square Aramaic script). So I don’t think we can conclude much from the LXX in this instance.

    3. The third use of this term, in Song of Songs 7:11, also supports the meaning ‘control’. While some may find the sentiment objectionable, the first half of that verse is an expression of ownership — “I belong to my beloved.” It is important to remember that this is a love poem and sometimes it uses quite unexpected language to express the depth of emotion being described (including terms which elsewhere relate to harsh captivity!).

    4. IIRC Foh also argues from the Arabic cognate. Although some don’t put any weight on such considerations, it does support the notion of ‘control.’

    So I think that the context in each of its three instances in the Bible, support the notion of ‘control’.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your interesting comments.

      In regards to point 1, I didn’t quite get some of your statements in the second half. Is there animosity between the woman and the next generation in 3:16? And, just because the serpent is cursed more than all the other animals, does this make him an enemy of the animals? The clearest relationships of enmity and animosity are between the woman and the serpent and between their offspring.

      In regards to point 2, a few Hebrew scholars suggest that teshuqah should really be teshuvah. BDB mentions two of these scholars.

      In regards to point 3: I don’t buy that teshuqah means “control” in Song of Solomon 7:11, and “ownership” is an overstatement. The woman tells of her lover’s desire, but the following verses of chapter 7 are all about her plans. (I imagine these plans sounded pretty good to her lover.) And in chapter 8, the woman is quite outspoken about her feelings. She does not sound like someone under another’s control. Furthermore, back in Song of Solomon 2:16 there is a statement of mutual belonging. “Ownership” and “control” don’t fit the overall context of the smitten but feisty female lover and her relationship.

      As for point 4, I have no knowledge whatsoever about Arabic, so I cannot comment on this.

      At this point in time, I remain unconvinced that teshuqah means or implies control, but I appreciate your thoughts.

    • Hi Marg,

      Just a quick reply to your reply!

      1. By animosity I don’t mean enemy. I strongly recommend Hauser’s article on intimacy and alienation in Gen 2–3, I think it is one of the best things I’ve read on these chapters. You can read quite a bit of it on books.google.com if you search for the book “Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature.” His chapter begins on page 20. He illustrates how narrative features throughout chapter 3 undo the picture of intimacy created in chapter 2.

      2. I’m not suggesting that the Hebrew should be read as תשובה, just that the reading in the LXX probably indicates that the translators didn’t understand the Hebrew or else misread it. Hence I don’t really think the LXX is much use in working out what the Hebrew means.

      3. My point is that in good poetry surprising language and ideas are often used. So in Song 7:6 [v. 5 in English] the Hebrew word אסר is used, yet this word elsewhere speaks of harsh captivity. Such language is used in the poems simply to express the intensity of emotion, an intensity which would be lost were less harsh language to be employed. I could give a number of examples, but the point is that ideas like ‘control’ and ‘captive’ are not out of place in such a context.

      4. It is more an issue of comparative Semitic linguistics than merely knowing Arabic. I seem to recall that Foh (correctly) argues that part of the etymology provided in BDB is incorrect (we really shouldn’t be using BDB any more).

      I’ve written at length about most of these issues in my M.Th.(hons) dissertation. I address quite a lot of the issues you consider on Gen 1–3 here on your blog, so you might find it interesting. You can download a copy here:


      Make sure you click the radio button on the right hand side before requesting the download!

      • Marg says:

        Hi Martin,

        I’ve been enjoying reading some of the articles on your website. Are you an Aussie? (I saw that you wrote a post in response to Kevin Rudd’s comment about slavery.)

        I was especially interested in your corrections to popular misconceptions in “finding too much sex in Genesis 2”.

        I’ll take a look at Hauser’s chapter when I have more time. And at your thesis when I have even more time.

        I will keep your thoughts in mind. Genesis and the Hebrew language are not my fortes, but I see they are yours.

      • Hi Marg,

        Yes, I’m an Aussie — I live in Sydney.

        You have a great blog here, I look forward to exploring it further.

        • Marg says:

          I’m on the NSW Central Coast.

          Glad you like the blog. 🙂

          Going back to one of your previous comments: If you don’t recommend BDB, which Hebrew lexicon do you recommend for Classical/Biblical Hebrew?

          P.S. Sorry my other blog post is taking up so much of your time.

        • Pretty much the standard lexicon for biblical Hebrew these days is HALOT (see http://hebrewbiblescholar.com/halot/) although the largest and most comprehensive work is the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH, see http://hebrewbiblescholar.com/dch/) although the methodology underlying it is a bit more controversial. Unfortunately neither is cheap (although if you have some Bible software you can usually get HALOT at a considerable discount over the printed versions).

          As for the other blog post, thanks for allowing the discussion! My main problem is that it’s hard to keep track of it all.

          • Jonathan says:

            Hi Martin I really liked what you said could I get your thesis as I am currently also trying to find an answer to this interesting question. Searching for truth is exciting interesting. Thank you Marg for sharing your thoughts as well though I read from busenitz that sin is a metaphor and Eve is a person, but I have trouble believing that that eliminates Genesis 4:7 from understanding Genesis 3:16. Either way I believe you right in this is certainly not a passage about men ruling women or asking them to submit. God gave us brains so will have just figure this one out humbly I guess, in the end we are accountable to God individually for what we believe so each woman/man must make their own mind up according to the evidence, yet I believe humility is always key, since no-one can claim to have the absolute truth to the Bible, I believe we are to teach other the truths since each person as a different slant. God bless you Marg as you search.

          • Marg says:

            Hi Jonathan,

            Martin’s thesis on Genesis 1-3 can be downloaded here: http://bible.shields-online.net/dlreq.php

  3. Warwick Badham says:

    Great article. I like the idea of a woman turning away from God to her husband as part of the curse. It makes sense, as the husband has a tendency to rule over his wife also as a result of sin. Good investigative work and well documented.

    Warwick, Tauranga, New Zealand

  4. Robert Zeurunkl says:

    Hi Marg,

    I’ve been thinking about this Gen 3:16 issue for a while now. It seems pretty clear that for about the first 1700, to 1800 years of church history, the prevailing view (found in many bible commentaries, and almost all Puritan, Reformed and Arminian church fathers writings) is that “he shall rule over you” meant that the wants and desires of the wife are subject to the approval of the husband.

    I’m not settled on the matter, yet, but this view is well supported by scripture in both the old and new testaments. For instance, in Numbers 44 (I think) the husband has the right to veto or void any arrangements or agreements the wife makes. In the new testament, Paul tells us that women are not to have authority over the men (ie, the ability to chose what they want to do without regard to the man’s approval). And why such a command if such were not being attempted?

    Well done article, though. I will definately read some more!

    • Marg says:

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your comment.

      There is little doubt that for centuries the church did read Genesis 3:16 as Eve’s, and by extension all women’s, just punishment, and that this meant the wants and desires of women were subject to men. This is played out in many scenarios in the Old Testament.

      As a Christian, however, I believe that Jesus has paid the price for all sin, including Eve’s sin, and so there is now the real possibility of freedom from sin and freedom from patriarchy. Following the teachings of Jesus, relationships in the community of New Covenant/Testament people should be distinct, and even in sharp contrast to, the relationships in the community of Old Covenant/Testament people.

      Furthermore, most Christians today understand that “he will rule over you” is God’s description of what will happen now that sin has entered the world, rather than it being God’s will for the world. Even hierarchical complementarians, evangelical Christians who believe in a gender hierarchy, base their views on the created order, rather than Genesis 3:16b.

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