Monday, January 27, 2014

Bible Study 06 – Comparison [Part 6]

Another instalment in an ongoing series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here.

The first Bible study tool we are discussing is comparison, specifically comparison of words and phrases in the original language.


The Example

We have been studying Genesis 3:16 as an example (see parts 2, 3, 4 and 5) looking for the most reasonable interpretation of the phrase “Your desire shall be for your husband”.

The Conclusion

Based on an analysis of the Hebrew word for “desire” and similar language used elsewhere in Genesis, I concluded the following:

… my personal conviction is that, just like sin wanted to rule over Cain and “its desire” was “for” him, so the woman will seek to rule over her husband. Far from being a sexual desire, it is a desire for control. This is, to my mind, the most faithful interpretation of the language “Your desire shall be for your husband”.

The Relative Value of Word / Phrase Comparison

If you’ve been reading this series you have probably noted something about the effectiveness of comparing words and phrases (in the original language of course) to try to tease out the author’s intended meaning, given that my intent was to attempt to do so in the absence of other Bible study techniques:

I couldn’t do it.

The context kept intruding on the issue of meaning. It became evident that any meaning that I grabbed from my own imagination or from ways the word is used elsewhere in the Bible had to be subordinated to the immediate and larger context. Any explanation of “your desire shall be for your husband” that didn’t deal with the words that immediately follow (the immediate context) was just, well, unsatisfactory. It felt like a cheat. And any explanation of the phrase that didn’t take into account that it was part of a curse (the larger context) was equally unconvincing.

So my first conclusion is this:
One: When determining the intended meaning of a word or phrase, context is more important than any definition to be found in a concordance or Bible dictionary.
It came as a bit of a relief to me to realize you don’t have to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar to read an English word in its context. And if you think about it, a God who intended his word to spread to all the peoples of the world would very logically write it in such a way that, once translated, the average believer would not need to appeal to language experts to make sense of most of it.

There may be, as Peter says, “some things that are hard to understand”. That does not mean that most things in scripture are in this category, thankfully.

The second thing that occurs to me is this:
Two: If a proposed meaning makes sense both grammatically and contextually, it is not terribly important if people like it.
The writer to the Hebrews said, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. It is not necessarily an enjoyable experience having your soul and spirit divided with a sword. One’s personality, inclinations and preferences are often set against the intended purposes of God in our lives, and Truth itself has to cut its way in. You may choose one or the other, but not both: Faithfulness to God and his word or adherence to what you’d personally prefer.

It hurts. Sorry. If it’s any consolation, it makes me pretty miserable at times too. There is a way that seems right to a man, and we all know where that ends.

It is better to be faithful than to make people happy. Unfortunately.

Isn’t Your Interpretation Insulting to Women?

In this case, having come to the conclusion that the scripture says that the natural inclination of women under the curse is to compete with their partners for control, I’m not terribly concerned about objections like, “Isn’t that insulting to women?”

So what? There are lots of things in scripture that are insulting to men too. Being fallen creatures it would be frankly unbelievable if the word of God did not contain things that made us near-terminally unhappy. But these things also provide us the remedies to our deepest personal problems.

Extended Comparison

And since we’re talking about comparison, let’s do a little more extended comparison. Does this fundamental OT teaching fit with that of the New Testament?

·         Peter says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct”.
·         Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands”. 
·         Paul again: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God”.

It is hard to understand why the apostles would feel it necessary to bang this point home almost incessantly if there were no natural, sinful inclination in mankind to avert the order established by God in the interest of utility, political correctness, going along to get along, peace in the family, or whatever. By “in mankind” I mean in both men and women. The word of God teaches that a woman’s “desire will be for her husband”. But there is an equal carnal inclination in man to sit back, grab a cold one and watch the game instead of taking responsibility for protecting and leading his wife. To abdicate, because it’s just so much easier. [Disclaimer: No intrinsic hatred for “cold ones” or “the game” implied here. You can fill in the blanks with whatever you’d personally rather do than take responsibility. For me it’s a long list.]

In Conclusion

Excuse the digression. I’ll pick a less inflammatory verse to analyze next time.

Word and phrase study in the original language is a useful tool for any serious student of the Bible, especially for eliminating from contention proposed meanings that are impossible, unlikely, or less likely, and for choosing the better of two possible options.

But context must always come first.

Next: Let’s talk about context for a bit


  1. Your conclusion leave out the rest of the verse: Your desire shall be for your husband and he (the husband) shall rule over you- how this could translate into the women trying to "control" the husband ? This curse was not the "order of God" , it was a curse. The original order was equality . Now the women will look to men to please her instead of God. She will put her trust in men... But psalm 118:8, Jeremiah 17:5, psalm 118:8-9 states that this practice is sinful and to be compared to idolatry. Funny that Jesus' Blood was good enough to abolish all sins and curses for that matter, but according to many was not "good enough" to take this curse away from women! But that it's what so many think, but the err. One has to study the things that Jesus did for women, pointing to her redemption from this curse as well! Luke 7:36-50, Matt 8:14, Luke 7:11-17, Luke 20, Luke 13-10-17, Luke 2:36-38, Luke 7:44-50, Luke 18, Luke 21, John 4, John 11:15, Luke 10:38, John 4:28-29, 39 and many others. It's good also to study the historical background of each situation and customs of the time.

    1. Well, Unknown, as you claim "sins and curses" are all taken away now, and since the very first bad effect of the Fall was shame over nakedness (Gen. 3:7), are we to assume that, in consistency with your conviction, you will shortly be dispensing with clothing?

      I feel certain you'll scandalize your elders... :)

      Or is it possible that the reason there was no order of authority in the Edenic condition was simply that there was no conflict of wills either? Who needs an order of authority when no one is ever disagreeing?

      And is it possible that even though it only became necessary after the Fall, the order of authority that would prevail thereafter was not just a matter of Eve's sin (Gen. 3:16) but was also, just as Paul says, derived from a pre-existing order of Creation (as in 1 Tim. 2:13-14)?

      That's not "Politically Correct" of course...but when was the Bible ever PC?

  2. Thanks, Unknown. I'd like to give the scriptures you've cited more than a quickie, kneejerk response, so watch for a more detailed post on this issue in the next week or so.