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.”

teshuqa-illustration 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.

A Time to Act or Be Silent?

The story of Dinah is ugly.

Dinah is the only named daughter of Israel (Jacob). Her name means ‘female judge’  as it is the girl version of the name Dan. Katharine Bushnell speculates Dinah was the heir of the female lineage of women “chiefs”…the line of God’s promise to Satan that woman’s seed would destroy him.  But Dinah’s line was barren. Why? Perhaps because she was kidnapped in broad daylight and nearly abandoned to the men who stole her. In that day, she was ruined; unmarriable and childless.

Dinah’s story (Genesis 34)

Recently settled in Canaan, Dinah – the female judge – made the rounds getting to know the women in the area. Shechem, the local chief’s son, saw her. He decided she was the woman for him and utilized the horrific custom of his day; bride capture. Shechem stole Dinah, a woman from outside his tribe, and carried her home as plunder. He sexually assaults her. (Sadly, this is where we get the modern day custom of carrying the bride over the threshold…leftover and forgotten symbol of taking your woman.)

The news traveled quickly to her father, but instead of immediately running to her rescue, he decided to wait until her brothers got home from work. Probably thinking something along these lines, “I’m new to this land, and I don’t want to make waves here;” or “This must be the way they do things.” Jacob waited. In fact, Shechem’s father Hamor is the first to act. But instead of taking Dinah home and condemning his son, he seeks to pacify the perpetrator.

“My son can’t live without your daughter!” Hamor offers to “buy off” Jacob. “I’ll even let your sons marry our women! And you can have some of our land. Our tribes can unite with the marriage of Shechem and Dinah.”

But Jacob doesn’t answer one way or the other! Is he considering allowing his daughter to marry these barbarian wife stealers? Who will rescue Dinah? The local government is complicit! Jacob is silent. Who will bring justice for the “judge?”


Moral outrage in the hands of youth is passionate, loud and often inappropriate. But, for Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi, the truth was clear. Dinah must be rescued. The perpetrator and those who were complicit in the crime must be punished. If the local government and her father wouldn’t protect her innocence, then they would.

At the age of thirteen, the two young men knew they were at a disadvantage against the local strong arms protecting their sister’s abuser. And so, taking the lesson from their family history, they tricked Shechem into agreeing to circumcise his entire clan. When the pain from the crude surgery was at its worst, they attacked the camp. They plundered. They captured women and children. They killed the men. They brought their sister home.

Yes, it was literally overkill. They went too far in vengeance. Their character was scarred from their retribution (Genesis 49:5-7), but they had brought justice to their sister’s abusers.

Jacob, thinking only about his reputation, condemned their action. “You’ve made my name stink to high heaven among the people here.”

Jacob, thinking only of his safety says, “If they decided to gang up on us and attack, as few as we are we wouldn’t stand a chance; they’d wipe me and my people right off the map.”

The boys, who became men that day, replied.

“Nobody is going to treat our sister like a whore and get by with it.”

A timely lesson

The Jewish bar mitzvah is the ceremony celebrating the “coming of age” for boys. It marks the transition to personal responsibility at age 13. Every wonder why the age is 13? Because that’s the age Simeon and Levi are calculated to be when they take up their swords to protect their sister. It signifies the ability to gauge right from wrong; to be held accountable for action … or inaction.

With the ever-increasing-snowball-rolling-down-the-hill accusations against institutions for covering up sexual abuse or mishandling victims in favor or shielding the “victors,” I think Simeon and Levi’s words should help us point our moral compass better than Jacob’s.

“Nobody is going to treat our sister like a whore and get by with it.”

Sign the petition asking Bob Jones University to remove Chuck Phelps from its board.

*I hope its obvious, I am not condoning the extravagant violence perpetrated by Simeon and Levi. Praise the Lord, we have a government who will punish sexual abusers for us…but we must report what we know.

And I quote… “Women should be silent.”

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Did Paul command women to be silent in church? What law tells women to be in submission and silent? Does it apply to women today? How can Paul change his mind so quickly? In chapter 11, he wants women to pray and prophecy. Now he tells them to not talk? Can’t he make up his mind?

Paul does not hate women. Quite the contrary. Paul liberates women from the social confines of his day. But the way his words have been translated into English, you might get the opposite impression of his strong language. Because not everything attributed as Paul’s words, were actually his.

Paul quoted others.

Written Greek does not use punctuation. No handy quotation marks designate another speaker source. Yet, Paul quotes slogans or the words from letters in a number of places in 1 Corinthians. Here are a few examples:

I have the right to  do anything,—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Really? Paul has the right to do anything? Do we have the right to do anything we want, too? Of course not. “I have the right to do anything” is a Corinthians slogan, not Paul’s declarative statement. Some English translations help us see this by encasing the slogan in quotes.

Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both. The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the  Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians 6:13

Does Paul liberate our stomach, yet restrict our body? No. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both” was what the Corinthian church believed. Paul was setting them straight. English punctuation helps clarify Paul’s original intent.

Now for the matters  you wrote about: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. 1 Corinthians 7:1

Wait. Sex isn’t good? But I thought Paul wants those who desire sex to get married 35 verses later? Is he flip-flopping on this issue too? Nope. “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” was what the Corinthian church was asking. It is good! And here Paul references the Corinthian’s question, so we know quotes are in order.

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 1 Corinthians 14:34

Silent? But he tells the women to pray and prophecy in chapter 11! And Paul wants us to follow the law?  That makes no sense according to his letter to the Galatians and Romans. So, what if Paul never declared any of these things about women? Instead, he quotes the words of others?

Quotations in English translations

Quotation marks and speaker designation are added to some English translations of the Bible and not to others. It is a matter of interpretational clarity. Since we can’t know for certain if Paul was quoting another source, due to the lack of original quotes, it requires study and judgment to know what to attribute as his words.

What if Paul was quoting a slogan when he said women should be silent? Not declaring a command for women, but refuting one?

Silent Women contradicts other Scripture

In Acts 2, men and women spoke freely as the Spirit came upon them. In fact, it was fulfilled prophecy that women would speak as well as men. (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29) Priscilla was not a quiet-ask-questions-of-her-husband-at-home, kind of woman, was she? She was a teacher; able to persuade and debate with learned men. (Apollos) Jesus encouraged women to learn – where? At home? No. At his feet, in public. Did he silence them? NO! He opened their mouths and encouraged them to tell others.

Neither is there an Old Testament “law” regarding the silence of women in worship, nor for women to be submissive to their husbands. If it was written there, Paul always indicates its authority with the words, “It is written.”  And he never asks Christians to base their behavior on law keeping. This appeal to the “law” is not consistent with Paul’s previous handling of Old Testament Scripture.

Next ask yourself this question: If this one only utterance of St. Paul’s is to be set up as a Scriptural “law” to silence women, then what is to be done with the hundred and one other “laws” in the O. T. opening the mouths of women, such as “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,” “Praise ye the Lord” (repeated about a hundred times in the Psalms alone), “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” “Declare His doings among the people,” “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord,” “Tell of all His wondrous works”? For it is simply impossible for men to set up an effectual claim, that all these admonitions and exhortations in the O. T. were meant for themselves only.  (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, para 200.)

But this “law” is consistent with either the Jewish oral traditions that were misogynistic toward women or popular Greek philosophy that was equally biased toward females. It is likely Paul was quoting a slogan from one of these sources that held influence over his Corinthian readers.

Adam Clarke (1762-1832) represents one of the earliest post-reformists biblical scholar who said that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 “was a Jewish ordinance” because “women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies or even to ask questions.” (source)


How does Paul respond to this oral law about the silencing of women? Read verse 36.

What! Came the word of God out from you or came it unto you only? (KJV)

Did men alone receive the Spirit at Pentecost? Is the Word of God for men only? Hogwash. The totality of Scripture and Paul agree. Women should NOT remain silent. Let the redeemed of the Lord, speak!

Further reading from a better article than mine! http://www.godswordtowomen.org/Preato2.htm

Moses’ Misogynic Law?


When my friends tell me the Bible is misogynistic, they’re not talking about Genesis or New Testament stuff, but stuff in the Old Testament where God wanted women stoned if they were raped, or have them married to their rapist. Women are unclean and segregated because they’re on their period? This is the sort of thing that shows Christianity to be misogynistic moreso than other stuff, I think.

General Answer

We must keep in mind what Moses’ law was intended for. It was not intended to make Israel into God’s perfect, ideal nation. It was intended to keep them from sliding into the ways of the pagans around them. It was not an elevating force, it did not make them better…it was a check. Like Paul says in 1 Tim 1:9-10, the law is not made for righteous people, but for those without rules and the disobedient.  The law makes nothing perfect, only Christ can. Heb 7:19

I always thought these verses meant that it was impossible to KEEP the law, but if you could somehow achieve that, then you’d be perfect. But that is not what it means. Moses’ law was NOT perfect. We know this because Jesus amended it. He made it stricter in parts and more lenient in others. Jesus also said that unless a person’s righteousness is better than the Pharisees, who prided themselves on keeping the law, he could not enter heaven. (Mat 5:20) Moses’ law is not the full will of God.

So what is it? Katharine Bushnell describes it like this:

Let us show the province of legislation by the aid of a homely illustration: A heavily loaded cart is being dragged, laboriously, by a man, up a hill. That cart will represent human progress. The man pulling, will represent moral and religious instruction, including such means of grace as God has put forth for our help, such as conversion, etc. Only one step is gained at a time, and there are many pauses, in other words, the progress of the human race has interruptions. Now human legislation, as aid to human progress, may be compared to a stone, which is being used by a boy (the body of legislators), as a brake, so that when the pull ceases the cart will not run backward down hill again. At each pause in front, the boy pushes his stone close up against the wheel behind, and so he greatly helps the man in front.

 It requires some skill on the part of the boy, in order to give the utmost help to the man in front. So the genius of the statesman consists, largely, in his gift of divining public moral opinion,  in other words, in knowing the precise moment when, and the precise point at which, to apply legislation. The stone will do no good if placed too far behind the cart; in fact, it will do some mischief, for when the cart pauses, its action will be reversed for the want of a stay, and the cart will run backwards, and perhaps gain such momentum as to over-ride the stone entirely, and plunge to destruction. This is the sort of mischief which results from lax laws. Good laws may not make men good; but bad laws certainly demoralize men. A legislative enactment is “good,” not necessarily because it is ideal,  it may be far from ideal but when it precisely meets the need of a brake, and prevents a nation from backsliding. And that law keeps “good” only as it keeps pace with the progress of the nation. (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women. para 567-570)

Moses’ law was written for the Israelites immediately after they spent a few centuries in slavery. Consider what kind of people they were. Uneducated? Dependent? Childlike? Irresponsible? And the women usually fared worse than the men in slavery.  Like children, they required many rules to keep them from killing themselves, and each other. “These commandments indicate the lowest level, not the highest, for the foundation of character.” (Katharine Bushnell. God’s Word to Women. par 580) Also note the world they lived in. Most historians I’ve read agree that Moses’ law was more humane to women than even Hammurabi’s which makes little provision for justice regarding women as either the victim or the perpetrator.

All that to say… Moses’ law is not God’s law for all people, for all time. It is hard to look down the hill from where we’ve progressed (farther along in kingdom) and judge it fairly. The fact that we’ve come a long way from it is precisely what God intended. Christians, compared to the Israelites, are like adults… with the Spirit of God to guide us. His TRUE law is written on our hearts. Christ came to fulfill the law… He showed us what God’s law truly was. Jesus altered and course-corrected Moses’ law.

So, it may be possible to look at Moses’ Law and conclude it was unfair to women. But, that law was not God’s eternal ideal. It served to stop the Israelites from sliding into even worse behavior that was normal for that day and age.

Specific Answer

Specifically about rape and menstural cycles, I think a thorough reading will show the law is fair.

  • Sure, women were unclean while on their periods, but men were also unclean if they had any discharge…semen, blocked bowels, blood (STDs). (Lev 15) The first part of the chapter covers men, the second half the women. The law is fair. The law also takes the health of the woman into account by regulating marital relations in this way.
  • The repercussions of harming a woman is the same for harming a man. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. (Ex 21:20-27) *Notice the husband serves as witness before the court for the harm inflicted to his wife and child. This is not a case of fined reimbursement for destroyed property as in verses 30- 36.*
  • Maligned wives are protected under Moses’ law. If her husband lies about her, she is to live with her parents yet remained married and not disgraced. Her husband provides for her still. (Remember virginity was important  because lineage was figured through the man’s line, and the only way to insure a child had a certain father was to guarantee the faithfulness of the wife or the virginity of the bride. See my post on female lineage to understand this concept better.) These laws erased illegitimacy. (Deut 22:13-21)
  • In cases of rape where consent is questioned, the law is again fair. If a woman screams or fights back or there is no one near to hear her, the man is charged. If there is no sign of struggle or its obvious they both agreed, both of them are punished. (Deut. 22:22-27)
  • In cases of rape where a virgin maiden is involved, marriage is required. Why? A “spoiled” woman was a drain on her father’s income because she had no way to provide income as an umarried woman, and it was hard to find a husband for a non-virgin. So the rapist is required to provide shelter and provision for the woman he stole. He is never allowed to divorce her. Remember, this was a hand-to-mouth society. A woman not under protection of a man, has no way to support herself. Happiness is not a factor compared to staying alive. The law provides a just solution for a horrible crime that destroys her chances of marriage, shelter, children and even food. The law was written to protect the virgins by preventing rape , not to harm them by requiring them to marry their rapist. (Deut 22:28-30)

Here are some other ways Moses’ law elevates the plight of Israelite women.

  • God gave women their father’s inheritance and allowed them to earn their own income. Number 27
  • Single or widowed ladies could marry who they wanted within their own tribe (probably due to economic reasons). Number 36:6 and 1 Cor 7:39
  • Maidens gave their consent to marriage patterned after Rebekah’s choice in Genesis 24:57-58.
  • You shall not commit adultery is another way to reinforce God’s ideas about marriage: one flesh/unity. (Exodus 20, Genesis 2) In ancient times, this protected the wife since a roving husband was a danger to her well being. It also protected children from illegitimacy and being a societal outcast.

Yes, this ancient law was primitive. It could have done more to lift the position of women. But compared to the laws of the land of the time, Moses’ law revealed that God cared for justice for women and children as well as the men.