Your Desire Shall be for Your Husband: The Meaning of Tshuwqah


Dr John Hagee wrote in his Life Plan Study Bible, that a woman's desire for her husband would be the desire to rule in the home and subordinate her husband's [alleged] spiritual authority. and this would be the cause of the majority of marital problems.  

John Piper published on his Desiring God website that a woman's desire would be contrary to the desires of her husband. 

This ideology is disseminated by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). 

I call it the "Evil Woman" Doctrine.

Evil Woman


Satan found in her an ally; and so pleased was he with the results of the partnership he has never dissolved the firm.

Justin D. Fulton  

The True Woman, 1869 

Most complementarian leaders interpret Genesis 3:16, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband," to mean that all women, since the fall of creation, are born with innate desires to dominate their husbands.[1] This idea was introduced in 1975 by Susan T. Foh.[2] Prior to that date, even traditional role religionists interpreted Genesis 3:16 to mean that a woman’s desire for her husband could refer to either a physical desire strong enough to compensate for the pain of childbirth, or a desire to submit to her husband’s leadership. Both interpretations obviously come from male perspectives involving either sexual relations or submission to male authority. A more logical perspective would be that the woman would continue to long for a loving relationship with her spouse in spite of his tyranny over her.  Either way, no one argued that a woman’s desire would be for her husband. There was so much agreement among Christians concerning that portion of the verse that the 1909 edition of Schofield’s Reference Bible contained no commentary at all on it. However, since Foh set forth her theory in 1975, discussion has accelerated with complementarians adopting her position, and in 1988, the editors of a new study Bible set forth the traditional interpretations that a woman’s desire would be for her husband, but also added Foh’s theory that a woman’s desire might also be against her husband.[3]

Foh’s theory cannot be substantiated by scripture and introduces further theological complications as complementarian males seem quite willing to be taught by this female in opposition of their own policy which forbids women to authoritatively teach men.[4]

Bruce Ware, Senior Associate Dean and professor of Christian Theology of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (and past President and current board member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) is in agreement with Foh. The official website of the CBMW contains a statement which reads: Sin introduced into God's created design many manifestations of disruption, among them a disruption in the proper role-relations between man and woman…Genesis 3:15-16, informs us that the male/female relationship would now, because of sin, be affected by mutual enmity. In particular, the woman would have a desire to usurp the authority given to man in creation, leading to man, for his part, ruling over woman in what can be either rightfully-corrective or wrongfully-abusive ways (emphasis added).”

There are a number of problems with this statement, not the least of which is a non-biblical blame-shift to the woman for any abuse she may “bring on herself” through non-submission to so-called male authority. There is also no mention in Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible concerning a “mutual enmity” between males and females—only between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Men who are of the serpent’s seed will be at enmity with women and women are certainly justified in viewing such as enemies, husbands or no. Nowhere in scripture is woman identified as being the “particular” enemy of man; but man is clearly identified in Genesis 3:16 as being the particular enemy of woman. . . and he shall rule over thee.

The scriptures are clear that we are each accountable for our own sin. No matter what the provocation, if we sin, it is our choice and ours alone, so for the council[5] to absolve husbands of personal responsibility for abusive behavior, for whatever reason, is reprehensible. And we would also ask for examples of actions one autonomous adult might take against another autonomous adult (specifically husbands against wives) that the council would deem rightfully corrective.

Is there ever a situation where a man can rule over a woman, just because he is a man and she is a woman, in a rightfully-corrective manner? At one time, the law permitted a husband to beat his wife or “correct” her in other ways, but the scriptures are clear that even those who are legitimately over us in the Lord, our shepherds, pastors, bishops, etc., are  commanded not to rule over the flock of God. They are to prefer their flocks before themselves even as their flocks are commanded to do the same for them.[6]

How dare the council teach that “In particular” the woman would have a desire to usurp the authority given to man; this statement is in direct contradiction to the words spoken by the Lord God Himself who said that it would not only be a particular desire of husbands to rule over wives, but a physical reality. Where, in the Genesis account, is a clear witness to the alleged “authority” of males? Genesis 3:16 was not a command, blessing, or promotion in status for the man. This was a prediction of cursed behavior directly resulting from sin. But men who would be God embrace cursed behavior as divine.

Proponents of the “mutual enmity” error also read into the text the non-existent idea of the passive man. And then, of course, blame the woman for his passivity.  

Carolyn Mahaney, author and wife of C. J. Mahaney,[7] writes that women will have a, “sinful tendency to resist their husband’s authority, women will have an urge to manipulate, control or have the mastery over men.”[8]

DeMoss,[9] joins with Mahaney in chanting the “evil woman” mantra in her book, Lies Women Believe. In this book, she instructs women in how to be free from their evil drive to control men. She accuses women of de-motivating and emasculating the men in their lives.[10] There is neither historical nor scriptural ground for such vicious accusations on the part of Mahaney, DeMoss, the council, and a host of other complementarian authors.

No complementarian can produce even one verse of scripture that validates the “Evil Woman” theory. Yet they keep chanting the mantra. Virtually every author endorsed by the CBMW chants the same “mantra” concerning the usurping, dominating, emasculating wife.

Are those who promote this view aware that in interpreting Genesis 3:16 as they do, they are actually teaching that wives have an evil desire dedicated to, not just ruling over husbands, but to the utter destruction of them? In spite of this devastating interpretation, Susan Foh’s construal of the word desire in Genesis 3:16, has come to be almost universally accepted among complementarians.

Those who hold to Foh’s explanation, base their entire case on just one verse located in Genesis 4:7 where we read of sin lying at the door with its desire being for Cain. The phrase “sin lieth at the door…,” in Hebrew, has a connotation of a lion, a carnivorous predator, crouching at the door. The lion’s “desire” is for its prey. And what does a lion want to do with its prey? Why does a lion crouch? Doesn’t a lion crouch in preparation to pounce? And doesn’t a lion pounce in order to kill and eat its prey? 

A lion’s desire for its prey is to utterly destroy and consume it—not to dominate and control it, or to usurp authority from it. The hermeneutical bungee jumping required to reference Genesis 4:7 in defining a woman’s desire for her husband is astonishing.

The word desire, translated from the Hebrew word, tshuwqah, has been a matter of controversy for centuries among Bible scholars. The Hebrew translators of the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translated tshuwqah as “turning,” and not as desire. In the Hebrew, similarities to, tshuwqah, are found in a primary Hebrew word “shuwb[11] translated “bring again” (or return) in 2 Chronicles 11:1. Upon inquiry concerning the Greek LXX translation and whether or not the Hebrew word tshuwqah may have descended through the primary root shuwb, the answer was negative, but that both Greek words in the LXX did carry the connotation of “turning.” Our question then, is why isn’t it a consideration that both Hebrew words might carry similar connotations (even if one did not descend from the other) especially as no one claims to know for sure what tshuwqah actually means.[12]

Nineteenth and early twentieth century Hebrew and Greek scholar, Katharine Bushnell, rejected the current translation of tshuwqah as desire and gives compelling evidence for why the word should be translated “turning” as it is translated in the LXX .[13]

In the 1535 Coverdale Bible, tshuwqah is translated as “turn” in Song of Solomon 7:10, “There wil I turne me vnto my loue, and he shal turne him vnto me.”[14] The Douay Rheims Bible also translates the word as turning, “I to my beloved, and his turning is towards me.” Prior to either of these translations, ancient evidence abounds that turning is the correct translation of tshuwqah. Not only the Greek Septuagint attests to this, but the Syriac Peshitto and the Old Latin Bible (among many other ancient sources) render tshuwqah as turning in both Genesis and The Song of Solomon.

Even if tshuwqah is correctly translated desire, which, in view of the ancient evidence is unlikely, it is important to understand that on this single portion of scripture the entire evil-woman doctrine rests. If we are to accept tshuwqah defined as “desire,” we can find no other definition that fits beyond simple “longing.” Anything else is pure conjecture. The context in which this word is found must determine whether the tshuwqah is good or bad. Just because, in Genesis Chapter Four, sin’s tshuwqah for Cain is destructive, does not mean that in Genesis Chapter Three, the woman’s tshuwqah for her husband does not parallel the tshuwqah found in the Song of Solomon.  

In modern Bibles, Tshuwqah is translated “desire” in the Song of Solomon, Chapter Seven, where Coverdale translated, “There will I turn me unto my love, and he shall turn him unto me.” The Song of Solomon is both a prophecy and a tender love story. No one would dare say the desire, in this passage, is a desire to pounce on and destroy. Yet it is the same Hebrew word, tshuwqah that is used in Genesis 3:16 where the woman was told that, in spite of the fact that her husband would rule over her instead of loving and cherishing her as he was created to do, her tshuwqah would be towards him.

Those who have attached a destructive connotation to the use of the word “desire” as used in Genesis 3:16 ignore the other two contexts in which tshuwqah has been used.  

Wives are predators whose desire is for the utter destruction of their husbands? The idea is preposterous. The Bible doesn’t teach it and neither do history, statistics, psychological studies, nor surveys prove it. There is not a shred of evidence, anywhere, that can back up such a claim.

The illustration of a wife crouching at the door, like a lioness, in readiness to pounce upon her husband paints an ugly picture that ascends straight out of the abyss. If this interpretation is true, then stakes in the gender war are high indeed with the very survival of the male gender at stake. If that is the case, then the writers of the Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts, 1837, had every right to claim they were forced by woman to array themselves in “self-defense against her.”[15]

But the survival of the male sex is not at stake, and woman is not the natural and most powerful enemy of man. Aside from God, if man would only accept it, woman—not dog—is his best friend and strongest ally. And she functions best in this capacity when her practical equality is acknowledged and implemented. In spite of the difficulties involved with engaging in intimate relationships with those who consider themselves rulers and betters by divine mandate, woman has shown dogged persistence in efforts at taking a difficult—and sometimes deadly—concept and trying to make it work.  The well known tendency of wives in longing for, and turning towards disinterested and even abusive husbands is beyond dispute—and that has been prophesied in the word tshuwqah, whichever meaning one assigns to it.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain true intimacy and affection with a subordinate. Military experts know this, and that is why all branches of the U.S. military have non-fraternization policies between officers and subordinates. Historically, as the Pastoral Letter so clearly illustrates, anytime woman has attempted to voice an opinion or receive respect on equal terms with man, her efforts have been interpreted as insubordinate and hostile and been met with instant corrective action. This is still the case today as illustrated in Bruce Ware’s address to the Denton Bible Church in 2008—apparently in response to Christian women’s attempts to gain equality with men in their homes and churches. In spite of his piteous argument about how he felt forced to leave more important things in order to deal with the tedious issue of gender roles, Ware clearly felt that keeping women in line was the most important issue or he would have exerted his time and energy in dealing with all those other more important things. In practical application, Ware addressed the subordination of women with utmost urgency while at the same time attempted to minimize his actions by referring to more important things. What’s caught is more important than what’s taught, and actions speak louder than words. There is little doubt that the subjection of women is the most important thing on Ware’s agenda.

As with Ware’s message at Denton Bible Church, there are times the “corrective” action, taken to maintain male authority, resembles a declaration of war. The Christian leadership of their time considered the public lecturing of Angelina & Sarah Grimk√® to be an imminent threat to male authority. Bishops in Massachusetts wrote that when a woman declares no need for the care and protection of men, she is actually making a declaration of war against men, thereby causing them to place themselves in a position of self-defense against her.[16] That declaration was essentially in agreement with the attitudes and beliefs of the majority of Christian males of the period regardless of denomination. Not surprisingly, in reading the policies of evangelical organizations such as the CBMW, we see that many of the same attitudes that prompted the Pastoral Letter still prevail today.

The gender war has produced many casualties over the centuries—literally—with most of the dead and wounded being female. So, if Genesis 3:16 is indeed a prediction that women would be like lions crouching at the door desiring men as their primary victims, it has turned out to be a false prophecy altogether, with women proving to be very poor predators.

[1] One of the consequences of the Fall for women…is that their “desire shall be for their husbands…because of the curse, we now have a sinful tendency to want our own way and to resist our husband’s authority. This evil desire poses the greatest opposition to our submission…when a wife is not submissive; she is only caving in to her natural inclination to usurp authority and demand her own way. Carolyn Mahaney, Feminine Appeal, 2003, 2004

[2] Susan Foh "What Is the Woman's Desire?", 1975, “Sin’s desire for Cain was one of possession or control. The desire was such that Cain should master it, wrestle with it and conquer it; it required an active struggle. . . . [In Gen. 3:16] there is a struggle . . . between the one who has the desire (wife) and the one who must / should rule or master (husband). . . . After the fall, the husband no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. The woman’s desire is to control her husband . . . and he must master her, if he can. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. And so, the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny, domination, and manipulation…”

[3] The King James Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1988

[4]In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men…” 1 Timothy 11-15. The Danvers Statement

[5] The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW)

[6] 1 Peter 5:5 KJV

[7] C. J. Mahaney is President of the patriarchal Sovereign Grace Ministries as well as Board Member and  Council Member of the CBMW

[8] Feminine Appeal, Crossway Books, 2003, 2004

[9] DeMoss is a member of CBMW’s Board of Reference

[10] “We end up emasculating the men around us…I find myself wondering how many wounded or strong men I have cast down…How many men have I discouraged or intimidated?...We strip men of the motivation to fulfill their God-given calling to provide leadership.” Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Biblical Womanhood in the Home, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2002

[11] Strong’s Reference H 7725

[12] Dear Jocelyn, What an interesting question.  As you know, the data on "teshuquah" is scarce. . . the word occurs only three times in the Hebrew bible:  Genesis 3:16, 4:7 and Song of Songs 7:11.  The LXX (Septuagint) renders it with "apostrophe" the first two times and "epistrophe" in the Canticle. . . and you are correct that these Greek words have to do with "turning." …What to say?  I wish there were more data… Dr. Ting Wang, Biblical Hebrew Instructor, Stanford University (Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College--Jewish Institute of Religion).

[13] Katharine Bushnell, (1856-1946), God’s Word to Women, 100 studies began in 1908, lessons 17 & 18,, [11/30/2009]

[14] Coverdale Bible, 1535, Miles Coverdale

[15] “…when she assumes the place and tone of a man as a public reformer, our care and protection of her seem unnecessary, we put ourselves in self-defense against her, she yields the power which God has given her for protection, and her character becomes unnatural.” Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts, June 28, 1837

[16] ibid

This is an excerpt of the book, Woman this is WAR! Gender, Slavery, and the Evangelical Castes System.

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