THE FALSE INTERPRETATION.
107. But the need of a different translation and interpretation of Genesis 3:16 will scarcely be realized by those not familiar with the usual teachings to be found in our Bible commentaries, which defy principles of morality and justice, as well as outrage the sense of the original words, as can be proved by the ancient versions. This latter statement we will make good. Excepting that it seems necessary to the proof of our point, and to secure revision, we could not bring ourselves to reproduce samples of what is being taught along this line by scholars highly esteemed as Biblical expositors by the Church. Dean Alford's teaching, in par. 103 should be re-read: Browne says, "Desire here expresses that reverential longing with which the weaker [woman] looks up, to the stronger." Addis says, "Woman is to desire man's society, notwithstanding the pain and subjection which are the result."
108. The assumption is more or less general that morbidly intense sensuality, when it displays itself in the female character, is of Divine manufacture. Knobel interprets God as saying, "Thou shalt be possessed by passionate desire for him." Keil and Delitzsch, "She was punished with a desire bordering upon disease." Dillmann comments on the passage: "The special punishment of the woman consists in the evils by which she is oppressed in her sexual vocation, in the position she occupies in her relation to man," and yet, doubtless he would scarcely hesitate to pronounce such a relation "Holy Matrimony!" Driver declares "She shall desire his cohabitation, thereby at the same time increasing her liability to the pain of childbearing." If this sensuality were the state of woman's mind in general it would not be necessary to starve women out of industrial lines, and put a check upon their mental development, lest they be disinclined to marry if capable of self support; yet these are the methods which have been used in order to maintain the "domestic" desires of women. Calvin says, "This form of speech is . . . as if He [God] said, 'Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes'. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude." In other words, Calvin would have us believe God first ordained marriage, but afterwards substituted "servitude." Patrick, Lowth, etc., in their commentary declare of the husband that he shall have the power "to control thy desires," but we have never known of a husband who could do more than control the outward acts of his wife. Poole elaborates this decree into, "Thy desires shall be referred to thy husband's will and pleasure, to grant or deny them as he sees fit." Dr. Adam Clarke says: "It is a part of her punishment, and a part from which even God's mercy will not exempt her . . . Thou shalt not be able to shun the great pain and peril of child-bearing, 'thy desire shall be to thy husband.' . . . Subjection to the will of her husband is one part of her curse; and so very capricious is this will often, that a sorer punishment no human being can well have."
109. But the astounding part of this teaching is, that these men fail to see that, if a wife must be under a "curse" because she is under a husband who exercises the cruelties that constitute that curse, this is equivalent to saying that God has ordained that man and marriage shall be a curse to woman. Such teaching relieves a husband of the duty to observe nearly the entire decalogue, if only the person he practices his transgressions upon happens to be the one he has vowed, before the marriage altar, that he will "love and cherish."
110. But does this teaching accord with the general tenor of Scriptural morals? Not at all. Abraham, once upon a time, desired to maintain a polygamous household, and Sarah objected. Did God speak to her about the matter, and say: "Remember Eve, and the penalty: Thy desire shall be thy husband?" He spoke to Abraham, saying: "In all that Sarah saith unto thee, obey her voice" (Genesis 21:12). The word rendered, in English, "hearken unto," in this passage means obey, and it is translated "obey" in very many other passages,—such as Genesis 22:18. When Hannah centered all her "desire" upon a hoped-for son, her husband exhorted her to center it, rather, upon himself, saying, "Am I not better to thee than ten sons?" Hannah did not obey the expositor's teaching as to Genesis 3:16, and God blessed her in this sort of "disobedience" to her husband, by sending the son. So we might go on illustrating the fact that God has shown no zeal in enforcing this supposed "law" of His. But one quotation is sufficient to entirely destroy the fallacious interpretation of Genesis 3:16, and that is the well-known Golden Rule, uttered by Jesus Christ: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." We have never yet found the man who longed to be ruled by the will of his wife. All men led by the Spirit of Christ obey this Golden Rule, which sets at defiance the so-called "law" of Genesis 3:16, as interpreted by these expositors.
111. But three passages speak to us against the specific sense that has been put upon that word "desire," by most of the commentators. Lev. 20:18 is a law which punishes the wife, with the husband, if she should yield her will to his under improper conditions. This law necessitates the view that God holds woman as a free agent in the marriage relation. Further, the Apostle Paul, 1. Corinthians 7:4, makes the authority of the wife precisely equal to the husband's in the marriage relation, saying. "The husband hath not authority over his own body, but the wife." We are quite aware that this verse has been reduced to a mere sophism by Bible commentaries. But "authority" does not mean "authority" at all, unless it comprehends the idea of being able to act with perfect independence either one way or in the precisely opposite way. Later, we have a lesson on this passage in Corinthians. The third passage is found in three of the Gospels (Matt. 24:19, Mark 13:17, Luke 21:23). It is the "Woe" of the Lord pronounced upon mothers (not fathers), found "with child," or with sucklings at the time of the Great Tribulation, yet to come,—for, as Fronmüller has said (referring to these with other passages), woe is "an utterance . . . of frequent occurrence in the speeches of our Lord, expressive of pain and indignation, and conveying the threat of punishment." It can by no means be given an exceptional meaning here.
112. It must, then, impress reasoning minds that the interpretation of Genesis 3:16 has had a history something like this: Men of old found a phrase here that seemed to have to do with woman's relation to her husband, but it was beyond their comprehension. Unconsciously these men of olden time have consulted their own ideas of what a wife should be, in her relation to her husband, and inserted those ideas into their interpretation. The interpretation has been accepted by other men, without challenge, because it conformed to their unsanctified wishes, and handed on from generation to generation, until it became weighty through "tradition." No effort, scarcely, has been put forth to reconcile such teachings with the spirit of Jesus Christ. A letter, relating to the passage, has come to me, during the preparation of these Lessons, from an eminent Bible scholar, to whom I suggested the need of a better interpretation. He replies: "I should hardly have thought a correction of the text was either called for or probable." Of course, our proposal had never been to amend the text, as he well knew, but the interpretation and translation. Prejudice blinds men, even in their treatment of the Word of God, if a faulty rendering coincides with their preconceptions.
113. The Bible nowhere uses such an expression as "the curse" regarding women. We get the teaching about the woman's "curse" wholly through tradition. Pain is invariably an outcry of God's natural law against abuse; and pain must be contrary to God's will. This is as true regarding the pain of childbirth as it is regarding any other sort of pain. If this were a lesson in Physiology, we could abundantly account for such suffering as some women endure periodically and in childbirth, quite apart from the fiction that God Himself inflicts such pain upon women. Woman suffers in childbirth more than any other female animal, because other female animals protect themselves (by the only proper means, of course), from all possibility of becoming mothers excepting at suitable seasons; they will not brook tyranny in such a matter.Lesson 15 Index Home