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Blog - 17th January 2024

Why does the translation of Genesis 3:16 vary?

In this article
Blog - 17th January 2024

Why does the translation of Genesis 3:16 vary?

Let's dive into why the translation of Genesis 3:16 varies so much. Looking at the ESV and NIV versions, we notice a significant difference. In ESV, it reads, "Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you." Meanwhile, the NIV states, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." So, the big question: is the desire 'contrary' to or 'for' the husband? These are two distinct interpretations, leading to different understandings.

The Hebrew Word 'אֶל' and Its Meanings

At the heart of this issue is the Hebrew word 'el' (אֶל)  It's crucial not to mix this up with 'el' (אֵל) which means 'God'. I can appreciate those two look pretty similar.

'el' can typically mean 'towards' or 'for,' but in specific conflict contexts, it can mean 'against.' We see this in Genesis 4, where the same word is used to describe Cain's action against Abel. So, this word can swing both ways: 'to/for' and 'contrary/against.'

Examining Each Translation

Let's start with the NIV's "your desire will be for your husband." This often leads to interpretations around women being inherently weaker or needing a man for guidance, procreation, or leadership. Personally, I find this viewpoint does a disservice to women. It seems more about projecting existing male-female dynamics onto the scripture rather than letting the Bible shape these views.

Moving to the ESV's "your desire shall be contrary to your husband," we find a different narrative. Here, it's vital to understand that when God addresses Adam and Eve, He is descriptive, not prescriptive. He's outlining the consequences of their actions, not cursing them.

The idea is that now, with their newfound knowledge of good and evil, disagreements will arise, leading to moments where the husband will have the final say. This interpretation seems to be a more accurate reflection of human history, where men have typically made the decisions.

Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

To be clear, this is descriptive of the consequences of Adam and Eve's actions, not a prescription of how things should be. As believers redeemed by Christ, we have the opportunity to change this narrative and work towards equality and partnership as initially intended.


So, this passage is not about depicting women as weak and needing to be ruled over. Instead, it's about the realities and consequences of choices made. It's a call to understand the scripture in its context and implications, both historical and contemporary.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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Author Bio

With a deep understanding of ancient religious texts, historical contexts, and original languages Bryn Joslin is a dedicated Christian author and teacher who is passionate about helping others understand the Bible better. He strives to cultivate God's presence in the world and curate His word for the benefit of all believers.

Bryn understands that expanding the kingdom of God involves bringing peace, love, and unity to every situation he encounters. He shares God's love and message in tangible ways to make a positive impact on those around him.

With an appreciation of the importance of daily Bible study, Bryn has dedicated himself to helping others develop a strong foundation in their faith. He believes that immersing oneself in the language, imagery, and themes of the Bible is crucial to understanding its meaning and message.