Genesis 3:16 and the ESV

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

In a recent post, The Permanent Text of the ESV, I discussed the decision of the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee to make the present revision of the ESV a permanent text. This decision meant that the text of the ESV would “remain unchanged in all future editions printed and published by Crossway.”

This decision of the Crossway Board of Directors was met with an unexpected amount of criticism. One reason for the extensive criticism about their decision was the fact that language changes with time and many words that are relevant today will become obsolete a few years from now.

The Crossway Board of Directors’ decision was intended to make the ESV a translation like the King James Version, a translation that “has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago.” In my post I listed several words whose meaning is unknown to many people. For instance, the word “sackbut” appears in Daniel 3:15 of the King James Version. A quick survey of people I know revealed that not one person knew the meaning of this word.

However, the major criticism of the decision to make the revised text of the ESV permanent was because of their revision of Genesis 3:16. In the revised text of Genesis 3:16, the ESV translated the verse as follows: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” In my post mentioned above, I said that the translation “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” does not reflect what the original Hebrew text says. I said that the preposition אֶל (’el), a word that means “to, unto, towards,” appears hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible, but never with the meaning “contrary to.”

In response to the many criticisms of their decision, the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee, correctly, acknowledged that their decision was a mistake and they decided to reverse it.

In their statement, the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee said in part, “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake. We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV.”

In a subsequent post, The Permanent Text of the ESV—No More!, I commended the Crossway Board of Directors and the ESV Translation Oversight Committee for the decision to reverse their earlier decision and appealed to them to change their translation of Genesis 3:16.

Genesis 3:16 has been a difficult text to translate because the meaning of the word תְּשׁוּקָה (teshûqâ) is very controversial.

In a recent article, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016):365-387, Andrew A. Macintosh did a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה and came to an interesting conclusion.

In his article, Macintosh studied how  the word תְּשׁוּקָה is used in the Hebrew Bible, how the word is translated in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), in the Peshitta, and how it was understood in Rabbinic writings, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in Arabic, and in the Quran. Macintosh said that modern translations of the Bible are almost unanimous in translating the word תְּשׁוּקָה as “desire.”

However, Macintosh wrote: “Where the ancient versions are concerned, the same unanimity of interpretation is not apparent, and now, in recent times, different understandings of the word have begun to appear” (2016:365).

In his study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה as it appears in the Hebrew Bible, Macintosh does not mention any translation, ancient or modern, that translates Genesis 3:16 as “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,” as the ESV has done.

After a thorough study of the word תְּשׁוּקָה, Macintosh offers his view on how the verse should be translated. He wrote: “In summary, I conclude that ‘desire’ is not a proper rendering of the Hebrew word תְּשׁוּקָה in the Hebrew Bible or in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, on the evidence of comparative philology and of the ancient versions, ‘concern, preoccupation, (single-minded) devotion, focus’, appears to be more likely” (2016:385).

In light of Macintosh’s study, the ESV should revise Genesis 3:16 and adopt one of Macintosh’s proposals, or even remain with the word “desire,” but the expression “contrary to” should be definitely changed.

NOTE: For a comprehensive collection of studies on the Book of Genesis, read my post Studies on the Book of Genesis.


Andrew A. Macintosh, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61 (2016):365-387.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary


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This entry was posted in Book of Genesis, Translating, Translation Problems, Translations of the Bible and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Genesis 3:16 and the ESV

  1. Pingback: The woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 — let’s be consistent with the context and with actual life. (Pt 2 of 2) | A Cry For Justice

  2. Pingback: Genesis 3:16 and the ESV — Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament | Talmidimblogging

  3. Pingback: Genesis 3:16 and the ESV | A disciple's study

  4. I’ve been following these posts and have a question. Why is Gen. 4:7 left out of the discussion in both this post and the previous one concerning Gen. 3:16? The phrase, “[it’s/her] desire is for you” is not exact, but similar enough for direct comparison. Both contain the particle el and the key word teshuqah. The idea that sin’s desire is for Cain certainly is not positive concern, care, etc. but a negative desire contrary to and against him. Read this way the result of the curse is that the wife will have agitated negative feelings towards the husband, and the husband will try to rule over her. i.e. Marital disharmony because of the Fall. If so, it makes sense why Paul instructs husbands to “love” their wives (not rule them), and wives to “respect” their husbands (not be against them) in Eph. 5. He knows those are the two most pertinent issues caused by sin and now that both are in Christ they are to return to Eden, as it were, overcoming the effects of the curse.


    • Brother,

      If you read my post titled “The Permanent Text of the ESV” you will notice that I discussed Genesis 4:7 there. The ESV translation of Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 does not reflect the Hebrew of the text. Your view of Ephesians 5 reflects the New Testament view of the relationship that should exist between husbands and wives, not control, but love and respect.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Claude Mariottini


  5. Pingback: Contrary Women: Genesis 3:16b in the (now non-)Permanent ESV —by Matthew Lynch (a partial reblog) | A Cry For Justice

  6. Myungsup says:

    It seems that the link in the first line should be:
    As you have mentioned as the first point there, key problem with the Gen. 3:16 in the ESV 2016 seems to be in the translation of the word אֶל (’el). The NLT also has:
    “And you will desire to control your husband, . . . .”


    • Myungsup,

      Thank you for calling my attention to the wrong link on the post. I have removed the old link and added the new one.

      Thank you also for calling my attention to the translation of Genesis 3:16 in the NLT. I have to confess that I had not seen that translation. In a few days I will write a post calling attention to this translation.

      Again, thank you for your comment and for calling my attention to the wrong link.

      Claude Mariottini


  7. Pingback: Changes to the Text: Opposites Attract – Lucas' Theological Novelties and Apologetics

  8. Pingback: Non Sermoni Res

  9. Pingback: Age of Patriarchy: Desire of Woman & Rule of Man | Holy Tension

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