Sunday, August 01, 2021

Bible Study 03 — Comparison [Part 3]

Another instalment in the re-presentation of our 2013-2014 series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here and the first post here.

The first Bible study tool we are discussing is comparison, specifically the comparison of words and phrases in the original language. The last post on this subject dealt with the limitations of word study.


An Unfamiliar Expression

Say you’re reading your Bible and come across an expression that is unfamiliar. You ask yourself, “What on earth does that mean?”

An example:

“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ ”

In parsing any verse, many things are instantly understandable from context or experience:

To the woman — that’s Eve [context]

he said — God is speaking [context]

I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

Having been present when my children were born, I don’t see anything surprising in this statement (experience, albeit limited; I didn’t feel it but I do have eyes and ears). It’s implied here that before sin entered the world, God’s original intent was that childbearing would not be characterized by the pain women now experience, which on reflection, makes perfect sense. It’s also moot, since no children were born before sin entered the world so Eve never experienced childbearing outside of a fallen condition.

Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.

Possible Options

That can certainly be taken more than one way, can’t it? What sort of desire are we talking about here?

  1. Bob Luginbill says, “As part of her curse God implanted a particularly intense drive to want to have a husband and a family.”
  2. Wendy at Practical Theology for Women says, “Women’s problem is that they worship the men in their lives and look to them for affirmation and provision emotionally and spiritually for things that God alone is supposed to provide.” The shortest explanation of Wendy’s interpretation of “desire” here is that women tend to substitute a desire for man for a desire for God, a form of idolatry.
  3. Ted Hildebrandt says, “Her desire is to contend with him for leadership in their relationship.”
  4. Trevor at The CBE Scroll offers, “Why couldn’t it simply mean that even though Eve (and through her, all women) would experience extreme pain in childbirth, she would still have an intense, inbuilt longing and desire to be sexually intimate with her husband?”

So, four possibilities: (i) a desire for a husband and family; (ii) a desire to be led by or occupied with a male rather than with God; (iii) a desire to contest leadership of the man/wife relationship; or (iv) a desire for intimacy. There are probably others too, but these should suffice to illustrate the sorts of questions that can arise in Bible study that make it necessary to do more than idly speculate or choose a preferred interpretation based on where one is coming from in one’s personal experience.


Like everybody else, I have immediate reactions to some of these interpretations that come from my experience, assumptions and preferences:

  • Bob’s interpretation doesn’t sound completely off the wall. Women have traditionally desired to have a husband and family, though we see less of that today and more occupation with career. But how does that relate to the statement that “he shall rule over you”? It doesn’t seem to connect.
  • Wendy’s interpretation seems dodgier to me. I’ve seen little girls who idolized men and obsessed about getting married to the man of their dreams, but I’ve rarely seen a married woman who “idolized” her husband and put him ahead of God. Sure, it could happen, but … well … anyway, let’s leave that alone. But again, Wendy’s interpretation would have to be stretched considerably to make it connect with the “he shall rule over you” part of the statement.
  • Ted’s interpretation certainly rings true from experience and has the benefit of associating logically with the second part of the statement. The fact that it appeals to me doesn’t make it correct, of course.
  • Trevor’s interpretation seems weak to me. Some women seem to experience sexual desire and a desire for intimacy but many do not seem to, at least not so profoundly and regularly as to be characteristic of the sex. As a generalization about the nature of womanhood after the Fall, it seems flawed. And again, fails to connect to the second part of God’s statement.

The Problem of Preconceptions and Biases

But it’s important to recognize that my preconceptions and preferences (and biases) mean very little when the question is (and should always be) What is God saying? My prejudices and cultural assumptions need to be laid aside at the door so we can do a little actual investigation, remembering that “no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation”.

Next: Some actual Bible study.

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