ταλιθα – Darling Baby Girl!

ταλιθα – Darling Baby Girl!

For an assignment this week, I had to pull a Spiritual Insight from the passage I was assigned to translate. This is what is on my mind.

In Mark 5:21-24; 35-43, Jesus raises the daughter of Jarius from death. Consider, she is one of three people Jesus raised during his earthly ministry. I have a daughter who is twelve, like this girl was, and so her story jumped out of the page at me. Mark used five different words for this pre-teen young woman.

“My little daughter is at her end.”

  • θυγατριον thugatrion: diminutive of daughter; term of endearment; little daughter (BDAG 365) This is the term the father used toward his daughter when he begged for Jesus’ help.

“Your daughter died.”

  • θυγατηρthugater: in this case, literally daughter (BDAG 365) This is what those from Jarius’s house called her.

“The child did not die, but sleeps.”

  • παιδιονpaidion: generic for child, used of both genders (BDAG 609) This is what Jesus called her before waking her up.

Little girl, get up!”

  • ταλιθαtalitha: Aramaic for little girl (BDAG 811) This is how Jesus addressed the girl when he told her to get up. Perhaps Jesus chose this because this was the language she would understand.

“ταλιθα means darling baby girl.”

  • κορασιον – korasion: diminutive of κορη, which is literally girl, but can be pupil (eye) or “apple” as in apple of the eye (BDAG 445) This is from a Hebrew idiom found a few times in the Hebrew Bible. It comes from the image of the tiny person you can see reflected in the eye of a person you are standing near to. This term eventually evolves into our English term for schoolchild -pupil-from the Latin pupa. This is how Mark translates ταλιθα for his readers, and what he calls the girl after she came back to life.

Five different terms for the  12-year-old girl who received a second life at the touch of Jesus’ hand. To Jarius, she was his little girl. To the servants, she was the daughter of the master. Until Jesus met her personally, she was a generic child. But, when they met, he understood enough of her to know how to call her so that she could understand. He used her heart language to call her to life. After she was cured, she becomes the “baby darling girl.”

At once, they marveled with great amazement. But, he ordered them that no one should know this…

Jesus orders everyone who saw the miracle to silence. Why? Not for a show of humility, but to spare the child’s life. Consider the threat to Lazarus after Jesus raised him. He had a warrant on his head (John 12:10-11). We can hope the family understood and kept her story quiet to spare her life as witness to the threat that  Jesus’ immense power posed to the authorities. Theologians love to dissect the ministry of Jesus into a planned and purposeful strategy with every moment loaded with eternal meaning. In this story, I don’t see premeditation, but pathos. Jesus cares for little girls.

…and he said to give her (something) to eat.

Navel Gazing: Kenya

Navel Gazing: Kenya

I had a farm in Africa.

No, not really.

But, I visited a farm in Africa. In the seventh grade, my dad and mom spelled a missionary couple in Kenya, Africa who were overdue for furlough, and I got  to spend a few months in fairyland, as I remember it. Let me begin with the tea trees. Green. Fragrant. Sunny. Hilly. A perfect playground for a not-yet-young-adult  to romp and play Maid Marian and Robin. My flawed remembrance tells me a young Christian owned this plantation and all the American missionary families were invited to a day in the country. I remember fancy tents. And elegant royalty-types in jewel-tone outfits. And talk of a local dish with blood and stomach parts that my father was lucky enough to claim “allergies” and avoid without insult. I was a kid. I ran without shoes and had blonde hair.

(If that ending confused you, you have never visited a developing country with blonde hair.)

I taught Kindergarten while in Africa. To one student. Joy. That was her name. It was like playing school with dolls, but immensely more satisfying. My mother taught me how to plan a lesson. I was bossy.

Our apartment had a claw foot tub that I spent hours in. And a round washing machine from the 1930’s that had a mechanical wringer attached. I don’t remember anything else. The laundry was simply done.

Our apartment complex smelled like Indian food. That was what my mom said.

I rounded up all the missionary kids and directed a play, with costumes, and held tea parties. But I don’t actually remember drinking it. I think the pot was filled with Coke. I remember baking for the parties. And I demanded ice cream, but I don’t think the country had ice cream. My mom made a freezer ice cream with chocolate cake and chocolate sauce. Like Shoney’s  Hot Fudge Ice Cream Cake. The cake was a victory because of the altitude.

I made crayons. I melted old crayons and filled little pans with the wax and made an army of crayons. These all went into a trunk-like suitcase my dad said I could fill and take back home with me.

I was the world’s best haggler. Dickerer. Bargainer. Huckster? Open air markets filled with colors and odors and black skin. And everything cheap! Laughter at my audacious price propositions. It was all a game. My favorite items were plastic and metal. Dishes. Enameled dishes painted in bright flowers. And a rainbow of plastic plates. A whole set over time. Into my trunk suitcase for home. And carvings from wood and sand stone.  Gorgeous wood. My dad had an eye for the true artist. I just loved the haggle game – undercut, laugh, offer a bit more, laugh, walk away, return at the call, think about it, agree, deal. Laugh. Pay. Price tags are depressing.

Banana and tomato sandwiches. That is truth. But I asked, “please no bananas.” What kind of weird missionary mother passes off banana and tomato sandwiches for a snack?! Not mine. I stayed with the other missionary family at times. The family of my little student, Joy. We built a fortress in their compound in the three-foot-space between the buildings and the outer fence. We had shelves and barricades, and my dishes, and bits of rubbish, and wars. Our compound verses there’s. I don’t remember who they were.

I took walks with my dad through the town. I saw houses of tin… the patchwork of metal from coffee containers and oil cans. Red mud. Green trees. Bare feet. Bald heads. Huge grins. “Would you like some tea? Or biscuits?” We didn’t visit often. It came at too dear a price for the family we visited.

childrenBabies were scrumptious. Rolls of plumpness and dimples and bright eyes and ready smiles. Mothers looked for little helpers, blonde or shaved, no matter. “Give me that baby!”

Warthogs. I loved those little critters. I own a little warthog carving to this day, cut in a little hut in Africa. I recently found a card kept as a keepsake from a single missionary -Karen?- with whom I must have chummed with. It had a batik warthog on the front and a packet of grape powder candy tucked inside. A token of my obsession? I’ve lost that memory. Sorry, Karen?

masiamadaentranceVisiting Mt. Kenya  and Masai Mara Game Park. All the white people with us. I climbed farther than anyone. With dad. We reached 15,000 feet elevation. I was told that was amazing. I was told it was amazing I didn’t get altitude sickness. I was the amazing kid who climbed Mt. Kenya. And I saw herds of wildebeests migrating in the distance. And drank from snow streams. And argued with baboons over picnic scraps. And gazed at miles of jungle from the mattress laid in the back of a white pick-up truck. And learned the true terror of Africa are hippopotomusses (I wanted you to see my spelling effort with that one.) and bull elephants. When I see a sparse, grassy hill with small trees and rocks scattered here and there, it reminds me of Kenya. From the back of that white pickup.

The tea plantation owner must have took a liking to my father. We stayed at the Treetops-affiliate hotel (I googled it – Outspan?) on his dime. Luxury. Swans made of meringue. Chocolate fountains. Crisp rooms. Open verandas. Tile floors. Green lawns. The daughter of this wealthy family (perhaps her name was Agnes?) bought me a cat’s eye bracelet in the gift shop. My mother was not happy. I remember all the stones fell out over time. Kinda like my childish memory. Which I also blame this wealthy family for losing. That truck suitcase packed with my memories and purchases in Kenya? It got bumped for a large, brass clock decorated with a lion killing gazelles gifted to my father at the last minute before boarding our flight to the US. My father did not ever pay for over-baggage. So, my trunk got left in exchange for that stupid, gigantic clock. (It was two feet by four feet – huge!) I resent that clock, and all my lost memories.

Why were we there? My father held Bible institutes for the national Christians and helped in the local church. I have many memories of our dining table full of people with open Bibles, tablets (the paper kind) and loud conversation. Meals shared. Happy talk and Kenyan humor. My mother and I taught missionary kids. All I remember of the church was concrete walls, no windows and vibrant singing.

Who knows if my memories are right. But if not, the wrong ones are lovely.



Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

Problem Passages: Christian Submission in Ephesians 5

In 1998, The New York Times reported that the Southern Baptist Convention had voted to amend its statement of beliefs to include a declaration that wives should submit.

…”that a woman should ‘submit herself graciously’ to her husband’s leadership and that a husband should ‘provide for, protect, and lead his family.’ …The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, and an effort to soften the language was soundly turned back…The amendment relies on biblical passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, which compares the husband-wife relationship to that of Christ ruling the church…” The New York Times by Gustav Neibuhr, June 10, 1998

Gibraltar June 10, 1998

The same day the Southern Baptists (SBC) were making a stand on women, I was honeymooning in Spain. Little did we know the impact this pronouncement would make on our lives. Because of the specific attention on gender roles being taught in seminaries and churches, our early years of marriage were not focused on love or unity, but on making sure the other spouse was doing the proper “role.” His was to lead, mine was to submit, and never the two should cross. Sadly, the Southern Baptists and the Bonikowskys got Ephesians 5:21-33 all wrong.

A submissive, unified and loving church of men and women is the nuance of Ephesians 5:21-33  that we missed and that the SBC  obscured because commands were thrown into verses where they do not belong.

Back to the Greek

In Ephesians 5, Paul uses a few imperative verbs. Imperatives are verbal commands.  He tells them to carefully watch or to “Take heed! (NIV)” to live wisely;  and to “Understand!” God’s will. “Do not get drunk!” Instead, “Be filled” with the Spirit! Then, he lists a few things after his command to “be filled” using verbal nouns, or participles. Participles are tricky in Greek because they are nuanced and used extensively as nouns, adjectives, adverbs or verbs. When used adverbially, the participle is reliant on the main verb to explain its usage. It can explain when the verb occurred; how it happened and why; and it can even describe the result of the main verb. Its purpose is usually evident in the context, but there are ambiguous examples. Naturally, Ephesians 5, specifically verse 21-22, falls into the ambiguous category.

Commands and Results in Ephesians 5:18-24

Here are the verbs. Imperatives with a ! Participles with a  __ing.

18 Do not get drunk! Be filled with the Spirit!

19 Speaking in psalms… singingmaking melodies

20 Giving thanks…

21 Submitting yourselves to one another…

22 (no verb)

23 is

24 is submissive

25 Love!

First, you’ll note that there is no verb in verse 22. Open your Bible and you’ll see that your English translators supplied one for you. Note as well, that the added verb is most likely an imperative. Now understand that translators add verbs all the time to clarify meaning, but does this addition clarify what Paul intended? Does Paul command wives to submit to their husbands in verse 22?

Submitting is the result of being filled with the Spirit.

To get an idea of Paul’s intention, let us look at the role these participles play in regard to their main verb, which is “be filled” in verse 18. Are these actions the indicators of when a Christian is filled with the Spirit? Is Paul stressing the time a believer is filled? We are filled only when we are speaking, singing, giving and submitting? Or is he giving us a list of how to be filled with the Spirit. We are filled with the Spirit by means of speaking, singing, giving and submitting? My 1984 NIV’s translators thought this was Paul’s point, and they wrote all these participles as commands, stretching the manner of action into a command/imperative. But doesn’t this contradict Paul’s teaching elsewhere that all Christians already have the Spirit? Can we get more of the Spirit by means of doing these actions? More likely, these actions are the result of being filled with the Spirit. Daniel B. Wallace, the author of Greek Grammar, agrees on page 639.

…it would be almost inconceivable to see this text suggesting that the way in which one is to be Spirit-filled is by a five-step, partially mechanical formula! … the idea of result here would suggest that the way in which one measures his/her success in fulfilling the command of 5:18 is by the participles that follow. Wallace, p. 639 [underlining mine]

Speaking, singing, giving thanks and submitting to each other will follow being filled with the Spirit. The ESV does a good job of retaining this inflection in 5:18-21.  Paul does not command Christians to submit to each other (vs 21), he is explaining what will be the result of Christians being filled with the spirit. There is no command to submit in verse 21.

To view any of these participles as imperatival is to view the passage from the English point of view only, ignoring the Greek. Wallace, p 651

There is no command to submit in verse 22 either. Verse 22 does not have a verb, it simply says “wives to their own husbands as to the Lord.” We must look backward to supply the verb from the previous section. English Bibles put a header break between 21 and 22, but this is not consistent to the Greek sentences. Verse 22 is a continuation of 21 and a bridge to 23. It is a  result participle of submitting from being filled with the Spirit.

A more correct translation is:

From verse 18: Be filled with the Spirit…

(21) With the result of submitting yourselves to one another in fear of Christ, (22) wives (submitting) to their own husbands as to Christ, (23) because…

The context of wives submitting to husbands is from the larger result of Christians everywhere submitting to each other as they are filled with the Spirit of Christ.

As the church, so the wives

But even as the church is submissive to Christ, so also wives (are submissive) to their husbands in everything. 5:24

The church is marked with submissive men and women, because it is this submissive spirit that enabled our inclusion into Christ’s inheritance. Christ did the redeeming work and we have accepted; submitting to his washing and cleansing as the means of our unification with Him. The church (both men and women) is submissive to Christ, because an unsubmissive church would be no church at all. The refusal to join with Christ in faith, to deny his spiritual work through unbelief, and to separate from all things “christian” is the mark of an unbeliever. We all submit because we are all one body, joined by Christ who is the reason we are united.

The submission of wives is compared to the submission of the church. Some English versions take the middle/passive verb Paul uses (is submissive) and make it imperative. Like this:

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)

Sadly, this rendering takes the focus off the submissive church who is joining together into Christ who is our head, and puts it on the actions of an obedient wife. Submission no longer marks the church, but women. A submissive church of men and women is the nuance of the context that is missed when we throw imperatives into verses where they do not belong. It is easy to tell people what to do with commands, but Paul doesn’t do that here. Neither should the English translators.


An unsubmissive church is no church at all, likewise the wives. The Bonikowskys survived the role-war. Because of submission. Not mine, but ours.

Be filled with the Spirit, submitting yourselves to one another.

Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

In all English translations, Genesis 3:16 says that “…Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The word that is  translated as “desire” in today’s English Bible is the Hebrew noun teshuqa. It’s meaning underwent a transformation over the centuries from “turning” in the Greek Septuagint to “desire” in today’s English translations. (Read more) This change of teshuqa can be traced to the Jewish Talmud by following the influence of Jewish scholars on Bible translators, notably Jerome.

From Rabbi to Latin (app. 4th century CE)

The Rabbinical teaching  found in the Talmud and other Midrash was being formed and compiled only after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Originally, the Rabbis passed their teaching along orally . This oral tradition became the foundation of Jewish religious law, called the Mishnah. Rabbis continued to debate and make legal judgement from the Mishnah, and this commentary formed the Gemara. Together, the Mishnah and the Gemara form a Talmud. The most influential Talmud was the Babylonian Talmud. Scholars point to 200 CE as being the earliest  date for the first completed Talmud, but most point to a later date in the 4th century.

Many of our Christian “traditions” regarding the creation of humans are first found in the Talmud or the extended teachings on the Talmud (Midrash). It is in the Talmud that we first hear of Adam’s “rib” as opposed to his “side,” and we are taught that Eve was a temptress. Here we find much imaginative and explicit exposition about the sexuality between Adam and Eve…and yes, even the serpent. It is also here that we find that teshuqa has been re-defined as “urge,” and the battle of the sexes is born. The all-male Jewish rabbis filled volumes with their ideas about women and women’s behavior.

The depiction of the woman’s creation leads the Rabbis to inquire into gender differences and the nature of the female sex, all through the eyes of the male Rabbis. They discuss woman’s different temperament, her mental maturity, her habits, the physical shape of her body, her behavior, and other aspects of female existence. Tamar Kadari

It is only after the compilation of the Talmud that we see a different definition for teshuqa than “turning” in translations from the Hebrew. Jerome, arguably the most influential Bible translator on early English translators, spent 35 years studying alongside Jewish scholars, and his Bible , the Latin Vulgate, is known to display rabbinical influence in its translation. And we see it pop up in his translation of Genesis 3:16. “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” Centuries later, English translators followed course and the original meaning of teshuqa was lost.

From Hebrew to Greek (app. 2nd century BCE)

Let’s back up a bit further.

During the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, seventy-two Jewish scholars convened in Alexandria to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Koine Greek for the Alexandrian library. They translated teshuqa as “turning.” Jesus, his disciples, 1st century Rabbis, even Paul, all used the Septuagint as evidenced by its quotations throughout the New Testament. Genesis 3:16 said that “Eve’s turning was to her husband” in every Greek Scriptures, and other notable translations from that time.

Now understand, the Rabbis, called Sages at that time, were teaching all during the five hundred years from the translation of the Septuagint (132 BCE) until the Talmud was compiled in approximately the 3rd century CE. So, I’m sure their ideas of Eve’s teshuqa as desire was commonly taught in synagogues and academies. When they pulled out their Hebrew Torah, they could have expounded on teshuqa as desire. But, if they pulled out the most widely accepted Greek Scriptures, they would have read “turning.”


Where did the substitution with desire occur?

The Ten Curses of Eve

The Talmud tells us of Eve’s Ten Curses. (Babylonian Talmud, p 2684,  Eiruvin, 100b)

“R. Yitzchak bar Avodimi [Rabbi Isaac Abdimi] taught that Chavah [Eve] received 10 curses.”

  1. “Greatly multiply” (blood of mensuration and virginity)
  2. “thy sorrow/pangs” (pain in child rearing)
  3. “thy conception” (pain of impregnation)
  4. “in sorrow shalt thous bring forth children” (childbirth pain)
  5. “thy desire/urge shall be unto thy husband” (the heartache felt by a woman when her husband sets out on a journey)
  6. “and he shall rule over you” (the distress of woman, who desires intercourse only in her heart, while the man can explicitly demand it )
    [In Eruvin ,there is a break here as the student declares: “But that’s only seven!” I guess ancient Jewish disciples can’t count. I can’t seem to make sense of the numbering. This is my best guess.]
  7. “the woman is garbed like a mourner”
  8. “she must cover her head”
  9. “she is banished from the company of all men” (She may not be married to two men. She is forbidden to all men other than her husband, whereas a man can have two wives.)
  10. “and she is imprisoned” (since she is always at home)

Additional points: “She grows hair like a Shed [Lilith]. She sits while urinating, like a mule. She is a pillow to her husband [she is underneath during relations].”

Adapted from PROPER CONDUCT REGARDING RELATIONS, ERUVIN 100, prepared by Rabbi Pesach Feldman

Inbar Raveh, in  Feminist Rereading of Rabbinic Literature (p 42-46), explains this midrash-teaching on the punishment of Eve as having two parts: biological and social. The social curses were designed to do the very thing God prophesied in Genesis 3:16: control  women. Eve’s teshuqa was recast as sexual desire and then harnessed with the words of Curse #6: “and he shall rule over you.” A woman will feel desire, but may not act on it. She is cursed to repressing her sexual desire to the man’s. To a man’s mind, there is nothing so punishing as resisting a sexual urge, right? The Curses of Eve were designed to control the most important aspect of women from a man’s point of view: her sexuality. And since Rabbis were all men, they had no correcting female voice to balance the veracity of their ideas of what Eve’s teshuqa really was.

Ironically, Raveh points out that there are many cracks in the Rabbi’s reasoning which might reveal the true motive behind the redefining of teshuqa to sexual lust; mainly, that “a woman’s desire for her husband is not, in fact, self-evident…Thus, in between the cracks of the midrash there seeps a pervasive anxiety concerning feminine ambivalence toward the heterosexual monogamous institution of marriage whose ultimate aim is childbirth.”(p. 46)  Could the transformation of teshuqa from “turning” to “desire” be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the all-male Jewish Rabbis?

Perhaps the Rabbis connected the dots back from childbirth to intercourse, and then assumed this was the intent of the word teshuqa? We get that impression from another midrash found in Genesis Rabbah, which is a verse by verse Jewish commentary on Genesis. In this portion on Genesis 3:16, a glimpse at teshuqa‘s original meaning is seen, indicating the original meaning of “turning” was not lost on the Jewish Rabbis. Notice too, the connection the woman in labor makes with the act that put her in such agony, and the Rabbi’s commentary taking the authority of God’s Voice in insisting her “desire” will “return.”

Another interpretation of “And thy desire shall be to thy husband”:

When a woman sits on the birthstool, she declares, ‘I will henceforth never fulfil my marital duties/ whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, says to her : ‘ Thou wilt return to thy desire, thou wilt return to the desire for thy husband.’

Genesis Rabbah 20, 7-8 (p 166) [emphasis mine]

Who knows? This might be the passage that teshuqa‘s meaning crossed over once and for all into the land of desire?

Rabbi says!

The rabbinical understanding of women and the role of women is disturbing in parts of the Talmud. Their attitude is summed up in the notorious prayer of Jewish men thanking God for not making them a woman. Equally so, is Jerome’s outright scorn of anything female, which highly influenced the medieval church’s position on women. How heartbreaking that these men have defiled Eve’s teshuqa, transforming women into sexual effigies and creating centuries of misunderstanding and stigma and justification for male domination.

We cannot allow them the last word on Eve and her daughters. Instead, let us turn to the Great Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. When faced with the chance to scorn and judge woman’s sin, to exaggerate or berate her wrong choices, to expound upon the weakness of women and justify male dominance…  he simply says,

“I do not condemn you.”

Teshuqa Turnings – Times Three

Teshuqa Turnings – Times Three

The translation of the noun teshuqa in Hebrew from “turning” in the Greek Septuagint (and other early non-Hebrew translations) to “desire” in today’s English translations is a bit of an enigma. (Read the history of this change.) In the Old Testament, teshuqa is rarely used. In fact,  it is used only three times.

Genesis 3:16: [to Eve] … your teshuqa to your man…

Genesis 4:7 [to Cain]…sin’s (or Abel’s) teshuqa toward you…

Song of Songs 7:10 [about lover]…his teshuqa at me…

I list the three occurrences not to show you the similarities or differences, but simply to illustrate how narrow the use of teshuqa is. It is tempting to  start at one verse and argue backward to a definition in another verse, but that is generally considered poor exegesis. Each verse carries its own context, and even though the meaning of the word may be consistent, it’s place within the sentence often lends a nuance leading to differing translation. So, my BIG caution is to be wary of interpretations that rely fundamentally (and that word is key) on how another verse uses the word in question.

But, the fact is, the interpretations of these other two verses HAVE influenced the translation of the word teshuqa in Genesis 3:16. The context of Genesis 4:7 is anger that leads to jealous murder. Naturally, we see overtones of dominance and control. Song of Songs 7:10 is smack in the middle of euphemistic poetry describing intimacy, so of course we feel the undercurrent of sensual desire. But can either of those connotations be accurately overlaid on teshuqa in Genesis 3:16?


In the new ESV-unchangeable-so-shall-it-forever-be-version (I just can’t help myself), we witness the culmination of decades of scholarship interpreting Genesis 3:16 from a starting point in Genesis 4:7. In 4:7, it is sin’s teshuqa to Cain that certain scholars believe parallels the woman’s teshuqa to man in 3:16. The context of 4:7 is set in the midst of conflict as God warns Cain that if he does not follow the right way, sin would be at his door and it’s teshuqa toward him. Cain is instructed to resist sin by controlling or ruling over it. There is an apparent enmity, and rightly so, between sin and Cain.

(It is a newer trend, for the last hundred years or so, to interpret Genesis 4:7 as referring to sin. Older theologians believed it was referencing Abel. If it is Abel’s teshuqa, then the heightened sense of domination disappears.It could also be interpreted as referring to Cain’s sin offering. The Hebrew does not have a clear meaning, which should caution basing a foundation theological point on it.)

As a result, many on the ESV Oversight Committee read enmity between the principle players in the context of 3:16. See what John Piper wrote about Genesis 3:16.

But what is really being said here? …

The key comes from recognizing the connection between the last words of this verse (3:16b) and the last words of Genesis 4:7

…When 4:7 says that sin is crouching at the door of Cain’s heart (like a lion, Genesis 49:9) and that it’s desire is for him, it means that sin wants to overpower him. It wants to defeat him and subdue him and make him the slave of sin…

…Now when we go back to 3:16 we should probably see the same meaning in the sinful desire of woman. When it says, “Your desire shall be for your husband,” it means that when sin has the upper hand in woman she will desire to overpower or subdue or exploit man.

Eve wants to control Adam, but Adam will rule over her. The play for power in Genesis 4:7 is overlaid onto 3:16, and as a result, we begin to hear popular speakers and preachers discussing the “curse” on Eve as wives desiring to manipulate and have dominance over their husbands, just like sin did to Cain. The ESV inserts this desire for dominance into 3:16 with the words, “your teshuqa (desire in ESV) shall be contrary to your husband.” Enmity achieved.

As stated previously, I believe relying solely on a word as it is used in another context is poor exegetical practice. And in this case, it results in a number of problems.

  1. There is a major linguistic complication in 4:7 that is not present in 3:16. The presence of a conditional phrase as introduction. God warns with the word “if,” and introduces two possible outcomes. This conditional element is not found in 3:16 and it complicates a straight parallel comparison with presumptions.
  2. Where do we draw the line at a straight parallel between the two verses? Woman has a teshuqa and sin has a teshuqa. Are they the same thing? Sin and women are both “ruled.” I hope we all get uncomfortable with the direction this could go in likening women to sin…and tragically you and I both know that religious scholars have delved deeply in these comparisons over the years resulting in millennia of subjugation and rotten theology.
  3. The parallel breaks down even further when we proceed to the second phrase found in both 3:16 and 4:7: “he/you will rule over you/it.” Cain did not succeed in ruling sin. Indeed no man anywhere (except Jesus) has subjugated sin. Too bad we couldn’t apply Cain’s same halfhearted effort to man’s rule over women! The contextual parallels of the two phrases just don’t match up without back flips and stretches.
  4. This mismatch of logical fallacies  should warn us against translating teshuqa in 3:16 on the basis of the context in 4:7.


The most widely used English translation for teshuqa today is “desire.” How did this definition make its way to our English page? Katharine Bushnell initiated the search for the roots of “desire” from teshuqa in the early 1900s, but continued study has not gained much momentum in the last hundred years outside egalitarian circles. Why was the meaning of teshuqa changed to desire? I like Bushnell’s explanation.

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 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 teaching with the spirit of Jesus Christ. (para. 112)

Bushnell suspects the definition was changed because the of male bias in the translation process. This charge deserves a post of its own along with the origin of lust/desire to Genesis 3:16.

But, what about the influence of Song of Songs (Songs) 7:10 on Genesis 3:16? Interestingly, all early English versions (15th-16th centuries) retain “turning” as the meaning of teshuqa in Songs 7:10, but translate teshuqa as “lust” or “power” or “appetite” in Genesis 3:16. So, the original meaning of teshuqa was not lost on the early English translators. Though, by the end of the 1700s, all three verses were unified in their translation to “desire.” And the turning of teshuqa‘s meaning in English was complete. So historically, the influence of “desire” did not originate in Songs 7:10, but the other way around with “desire” in Genesis 3:16 taking the lead.

Three Turnings

I close with the three uses of teshuqa translated with its original meaning.

Genesis 3:16 You are turning to your husband, and he will rule over you.

Genesis 4:7  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it is turning to you, but you must rule over it.

Songs 7:10 I belong to my beloved and he is turning to me!


Teshuqa Turnings (Genesis 3:16)

Teshuqa Turnings (Genesis 3:16)

In Genesis 3:16, the word that is most often translated as “desire” in today’s English Bible is the Hebrew noun teshuqa. It’s meaning underwent a transformation over the centuries from “turning” in the Greek Septuagint (and other early non-Hebrew translations) to “desire” in today’s English translations. Why this happened is a bit of an enigma and fodder for another post. (Read the history of this change.)

Teshuqa Turnings is an exploration of the original definition of the word. Through a series of posts, we’ll explore what could teshuqa  have meant for the story of the fall? What could it teach us about women and men? Where did the definition of desire come from? What is important about the ESV changes to this word? How has the altered definitions affected women through the centuries?

The etymology of teshuqa from Katharine C. Bushnell

The noun teshuqa is derived from the verb shuq  which means in its primitive form “to run.” It is prefaced with te which is an abstracting device, like adding “ness” to “good” to make “goodness.” The ending is a, which is a normal feminine ending for Hebrew. “If this word is taken from the intensive form of the verb, it would bear the sense ‘to run repeatedly,’ that is ‘to run back and forth.'” The back and forth motion necessitates turning which is where teshuqa might have found its source meaning. It is an abstract noun, not literal in meaning. It describes a quality of character. (This information was paraphrased or quoted from God’s Word to Women, para. 129)

Eve’s Curse?

Genesis 3:16 has traditionally been called “the curse of Eve.” This misapplied title must be rejected, for this verse holds no curse words. The curse on the serpent begins with the words, “because you have done this…cursed are you.” The curse on the ground because of Adam begins with the words, “because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you…cursed is the ground.” But there is no curse for Eve, no words of culpability. Even the notorious, “I will greatly increase your pain” is not so intentional in the Hebrew, lending a passive tone to Eve’s oncoming sorrows. This pain of children could be called a curse, but it is not inflicted by the hand of God as such. At least, He does not name it so. Eve was His friend.

Eve’s teshuqa or “turning”

Eve’s turning is to follow Adam away from God. Her pain begins when she leaves the Garden and God’s intimate friendship to follow Adam. Some points to consider:

Satan tempted Eve because Adam was already on or leaning toward his side. Adam didn’t need to be tempted. (Gen 2:15-18)

In her innocence, Eve was completely deceived by the serpent’s guile. Adam was not. (Gen 3:6, 13, 1 Tim 2:14, 2 Cor 11:3, Job 31:33, Hosea 6:7, Romans 5:12-21)

Adam continues in his rebellion and joins Satan in blaming God for the evil that was now present inside him. (Gen 3:12)

When queried, Eve accuses the true adversary. She tells the truth about her deception and that Satan was to blame. (Gen 3:13)

Because she named the enemy, Satan would war with woman. But God prophesied that woman would be victorious. Her heir would defeat him. (Gen 3:15)

Adam would toil for the things that God freely provided for him in the loving commune of the Garden. Adam would struggle in his new role of provider because that was not a role he was meant to play. (Gen 3:17-19)

Adam would physically die. (Gen 3:19)

Life was found in Eve. She is titled “the source of life” in hopeful anguish by her husband who had just received his death sentence. (Gen 3:20)

Adam, the man, was banished from the garden so that he would not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever separated from God’s goodness. (Gen 3:22-24)

Then, Eve turned and followed Adam.


ESV changes Genesis 3:16 – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

ESV changes Genesis 3:16  – A brief history of this verse’s transformation

One word in Genesis 3:16 has caused centuries of controversy. Why? Because this one word affects half the world’s population, the women. What is that word? teshuqa What does it mean? Well, let me introduce you to the evolution of teshuqa  from “turning” to “desire,” and now in the unchangeable ESV to “contrary to.”

A brief history of teshuqa

The following is a summary from Katharine Bushnell’s book God’s Word to Women.

Below is Genesis 3:16 in its natural beauty, in Hebrew. It is in this original form that you find the word teshuqa

 אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבֹונֵךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב

תֵּֽלְדִי בָנִים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ׃ ס

Below it is in the form as Jesus read it. This is from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). The seventy two Jewish scholars, whose goal was to put their ancient Scriptures into a language that the common (literate) person could read, translated teshuqa to ἀποστροφή in Greek. To a Greek reader, teshuqa is defined as “turning (BDAG 100).”

καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ εἶπεν πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει

For the next few centuries, the notable translations (Syriac version from the first century, Samaritan version, Old Latin version, various Coptic versions) all translated teshuqa in Genesis 3:16 with the same meaning as the Septuagint: “turning.” There were various other Greek translations that we have bits and pieces of. Most follow the Septuagint and render teshuqa as “turning” or some cognate. Notably, one of these Greek translations pulls in the idea of alliance to teshuqaThe Arabic version even concurs.

The first notable departure for teshuqa is found in Jerome’s translation to Latin in the late fourth century. Below is Genesis 3:16 in the Latin Vulgate.

mulieri quoque dixit multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos in dolore paries filios et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui

Jerome pulls rabbinical interpretation into the mix by rendering teshuqa  as “under the power of.” This is such a departure, Katharine Bushnell speculates Jerome picked up this idea from the Jewish Talmud’s Ten curses of Eve while studying in Palestine (now-Israel).  This rabbinic Midrash blames Eve for tempting Adam and expounds upon God’s curse of all women as the result. It is Jerome’s Latin Vulgate that we get the first definition of teshuqa with hints of desire or lust. Or, as Bushnell words so bluntly:

Jerome plainly shows he does not know what teshuqa means, but since the latter part of the phrase refers to the man’s part,—”he will rule over thee,”—he concludes that the beginning of the passage must refer to woman’s position, and renders, “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” –Katharine Bushnell 

Fast forward to English translator, John Wycliffe, in the 14th century. Wycliffe did not go back to the Hebrew to make his translation, he used Jerome’s Latin. Hence, it is evident his version of Genesis 3:16 completely misses the original meaning of teshuqa, but relies heavily on Jerome’s mis-translation.

Also God said to the woman, I shall multiply thy wretchednesses and thy conceivings; in sorrow thou shalt bear thy children; and thou shalt be under (the) power of thine husband, and he shall be lord of thee.

Drawing heavily on Jewish midrash on Genesis, which draws all sorts of conclusions surrounding a woman’s urge, lust or desire for men, Pagnino (an Italian Dominican monk in mid-16th century) translates teshuqa  as “lust.”  Every English version thereafter repeats this definition of teshuqa  as lust or desire. On the cusp of the 17th century, the Geneva Bible cements teshuqa as modern translators have adopted.

In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thy desire shall be subject to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

From “Desire” to “Contrary to”

Recently, the ESV translators have written their version of teshuqa in stone and declared they will never change it.

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

How did they get “contrary to” from “desire?” And what about its original meaning of “turning?” We’ve come a long way from the definition Jesus used!

My guess is that the translators are confusing Genesis 3:16 as God’s prescription for women for God’s description of what would occur to women after the fall. So what the ESV translators have given us is a their interpretive understanding of what God is talking about in Genesis 3:16, instead of what  teshuqa actually means. Naturally, this must happen in all translation because language doesn’t literally equate word for word and make sense. The ESV has prided itself on adherence to the original language, even at expense of a natural English reading, but it has failed miserably in Genesis 3:16.


My hope is that this brief summary of teshuqa ‘s  evolution will caution you to accept the new definition. Another article will have to be written on why ESV’s new definition is dangerous. Another day.