An Old Testament KnoWhy
for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 4:
“Because of My Transgression My Eyes Are Opened” (Moses 4; 5:1–15; 6:48-62) (JBOTL04B)
[See the link to the video supplement to this lesson at the end of the article under “Further Study.”]
Question: After the Fall, God told Eve: “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” However, some say that the words “rule over” should be translated “rule with.” Which translation is correct?
Summary: A modern English translation makes the meaning of this difficult phrase clear: “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” Looking at the verse in context, it is evident that the Lord is not telling the couple how they should treat each other, but rather describing a tragic tendency in mortal marriages that they must avoid. As further evidence for this interpretation, note that the same Hebrew terms for “desire” and “rule” that describe a relationship of competition and rancor will later reappear in God’s warning to Cain: “Satan desireth to have thee; … And thou shalt rule over him.” In an honest effort to make sense of the troubling English translation of “rule over” in the King James Version, some have suggested that it should be read instead as “rule with.” Unfortunately, the “rule with” translation does not hold up under scholarly scrutiny. For example, in her BYU Masters Thesis, RoseAnn Benson argued conclusively that the “rule with” translation should be abandoned. In every occurrence of the underlying Hebrew she examined the phrase is best understood as “rule over,” as when a king rules over his subjects. This further confirms the idea that the verse is describing broken marriage relationships that would become a common tendency in the fallen world, with each spouse contending to “rule over” the other. It’s obvious that God did not intend Adam and Eve’s marriage to work that way. Instead, as the Proclamation on the Family explains, “fathers and mothers” — both then and now — “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
Challenges to the marriage relationship in a fallen world. Moses 4:22 records God’s words to Eve:
I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
While scripture describes the results of transgression differently for Adam than for Eve, the ultimate effect of these consequences is essentially the same: a mortal life replete with the opposing experiences of good and evil. Unfortunately, one of the most poignant sources of pain in a fallen world comes within marriage and family relationships.
Some scripture readers are misled when they read this verse, assuming that the woman’s “desire” and the man’s “rule” should be read prescriptively as a biblical marriage model to be followed rather than descriptively as a tragic condition to be reversed.
However, when the Lord tells Eve “thy desire shall be to thy husband,” the word Hebrew word for “desire” does not refer to a romantic attraction, but rather a contentious wish to “overcome or defeat another.” In addition, the “rule” of the husband depicted in Hebrew version of the phrase is not benevolent but controlling. The sense of this terrible situation is well captured in a modern Bible translation: “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” As further evidence for this interpretation, note that the same Hebrew terms for “desire” and “rule” that describe a relationship of competition and rancor will later reappear in God’s warning to Cain: “Satan desireth to have thee; … And thou shalt rule over him.”
Bible scholar Victor Hamilton sees God’s words as a warning to Adam and Eve. Unless they are careful, the conditions of a fallen world may lead them “to break the relationship of equality and turn it into a relationship of servitude and domination. … Far from being a reign of co-equals over the remainder of God’s creation, the relationship [would then become] a fierce dispute, with each party trying to rule the other. The two who once reigned as one [would] attempt to rule each other.”
This is a war that can never be “won,” since God’s intent was not for one party to dominate the other. The Hebrew word for “help meet” means “a helper or strength corresponding to him” — or, in other words, a completing counterpart. “This term cannot be taken as demeaning because Hebrew ‘ezer, employed here to describe the intended role of the woman, is often used of God in His relation to man.” President Howard W. Hunter said: “The Lord intended that the wife be … a companion equal and necessary in full partnership.” Thus, in Moses 2, both man and woman are created in the image of God, and in Moses 3, they are described as corresponding strengths.
Westermann observes further that there is more intended here than merely “help at work” or “the begetting of descendants”: “The man is created by God in such a way that he needs the help of a partner; hence mutual help is an essential part of human existence.” Targum Yerushalmi captures this sense when it refers to the woman as the man’s “yoke-fellow.”
After the Fall, God warned Adam and Eve — and us — of the sad consequences that would result if they turned their powers away from their originally intended, mutually fortifying purpose. Such a turning away would result in an equal match of opposing wills, each spouse contending for domination over the other.
A Christian phrasing of Adam’s punishment describes how such a struggle would spread beyond the couple to their children: “your family will be forever contending against you.” Summarizing the unfortunate new state of affairs, LDS author Lynn A. McKinlay observed that “the Fall of man and the continual source of degeneration in this world have resulted in the estrangement of parents from God, from each other, and from their children.”
Like the blessing of childbirth, the experience of married love holds out a promise of happiness, yet its practice, in a fallen world, will be frequently mixed with sorrow “till God make men of some other mettle than earth.” Unfortunately, as Joseph Smith observed, “[t]here has been no change in the constitution of man since he fell.” “Sad experience” has shown “that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, [to] immediately exercise unrighteous dominion,” a tendency which modern prophets have repeatedly condemned.
Marriage as a school of love. It might well be said that the continued application of the healing and sealing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ within and between families is “the essence of eternal life.” Indeed, Martin Luther aptly described God’s purpose for marriage when he called it a “school of love.” As couples and families learn to live together in intimacy, affection, and oneness, they experience the finest kind of preparation for eternal life that mortality can provide.
President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized that in celestial marriage the “man and the wife are equals” and that the designation of “authority” to man “does not mean that he is superior.” He explained that the role of the husband is to “preside” rather than to “rule” and stressed the need for women to be “contributing and full” partners in marriage. Going further, Elder Dallin H. Oaks further described the difference between presiding in Church organizations and in the home. As summarized by Elder Bruce C. Hafen:
[Elder Oaks] quoted the “equal partners” principle from the Family Proclamation and then said this concept does not apply to a ward organization. The Relief Society president and her ward bishop, for example, are not equal partners in administering the affairs of the ward; however, that same Relief Society president is an equal partner with her husband in administering the affairs of their home…
Elder Oaks also compared Adam and Eve’s relationship to each other with their relationship to the Lord. He said that “the word “obey” is used in describing our covenants with the Lord and [the word] “counsel” is used in expressing [a married couple’s] relationship with one another.” …
The point is a simple one: Marriage is a partnership of equals whose most essential roles both revolve around their families.
Hugh Nibley observes further:
There is no patriarchy or matriarchy in the Garden; the two supervise each other. Adam is given no arbitrary power; Eve is to heed him only insofar as he obeys their Father — and who decides that? She must keep check on him as much as he does on her. It is, if you will, a system of checks and balances in which each party is as distinct and independent in its sphere as are the departments of government under the Constitution — and just as dependent on each other.
Indeed, Catherine Thomas observes that a primary objective of mortality seems to have been precisely “to foster the conditions in which the man and the woman may achieve interdependence,” thus affording us an opportunity to rise to “the challenge of not only perfecting ourselves individually but also perfecting ourselves in relationships. … Relationships were given to us to develop us in love.”
The notion of the “interdependence” of husband and wife is perhaps best expressed through the scriptural concept of “cleaving”: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” The underlying meaning of the idea of two distinct entities becoming attached to one another while preserving their separate identities becomes clear, “if it is noted that the verb d-v-k [cleave, cling] is often used to describe human yearning for and devotion to God.” Likewise “forsake” is often used in a biblical context to describe Israel’s departure from her covenant with the Lord. Noting that Adam and Eve “symbolically represent all men and women,” Jolene Edmunds Rockwood observes:
Male and female were created from one flesh; as separate individuals who are now companions to one another, they strive to again become as one in their relationship. Note that it is the man who leaves his parents and cleaves unto his wife. In view of the patriarchal society in which this passage was written, one would instead expect to hear the reverse: a woman leaves her parents and cleaves unto her husband. Three important insights are, then, encapsulated in this summary statement: the woman is an independent and equal creation, marriage does not make her the possession of the man, and achieving oneness should be the common goal of both.
Through partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve began to know good and evil — in that respect becoming “as gods.” While the serpent had painted a picture of a jealous God, the Lord’s actions after the Fall bear out His intent to further bless the couple.
For example, Cassuto argues that what may seem solely as punishments for Adam and Eve should be regarded instead as “measures taken for the good of the human species in its new situation.” Exposed in nakedness, God will clothe them; subject to temporal and spiritual death, God will bless them with posterity and the eventual possibility of eternal life; and bereft of the food of the Garden, God will provide Adam and Eve with the seeds of life-sustaining grains.
Most important of all, God will provide a Savior for them, and will make the Gospel with its covenants and ordinances available so that, through their faithfulness, they might be sanctified and return to His presence. The healing of the broken harmony between man and woman is an essential prerequisite for their eventual joint exaltation.
For more explanation on the connection between the story of the Fall and the Israelite temple, see the video supplement to this lesson: “The Tree of Knowledge as the Veil of the Sanctuary.” The video can be seen on the Interpreter Foundation YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/LfIs9YKYrZE) or the FairMormon YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-B1FeOcTZ8). It is also available for download from our server at http://cdn.interpreterfoundation.org/ifvideo/180113-Tree+of+Knowledge+as+the+Veil.m4v. This is an updated 2018 version, not the 2014 video of the presentation that was made at the Sperry Symposium. If the video plays when you left-click it, right-click within the video and select the “Save video as …” menu option to download it.
For more detailed analysis of Adam and Eve’s transgression and its consequences, see J. M. Bradshaw, et al., Mormonism’s Satan. See also J. M. Bradshaw, Moses Temple Themes (2014), pp. 61–157. The book is available for purchase in print at Amazon.com and the book and the article are available as free pdf downloads at www.TempleThemes.net.
For a verse-by-verse commentary on Moses 4 (Genesis 3), see J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 82–212. The book is available for purchase in print at Amazon.com and as a free pdf download at www.TempleThemes.net.
For a scripture roundtable video from The Interpreter Foundation on the subject of Gospel Doctrine lesson 4, see https://interpreterfoundation.org/scripture-roundtable-54-old-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-4-because-of-my-transgression-my-eyes-are-opened/.
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Anticipating the great blessings that await all generations of women who have suffered abuse and mistreatment, Elder James E. Talmage promises that women will be “recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality” (J. E. Talmage, Eternity of Sex).
Thanks for your reply. Happily we are in agreement about the most important thing: namely, President Kimball’s (and others’) counsel that the husband’s role is to “preside” in love and respect of his wife as an equal partner, not as a superior.
The answer to the question raised in the title of the article “Was Adam meant to ‘rule over’ or ‘rule with’?” is that neither one is an option. He should not rule as an ancient king or queen rules his or her subjects and, on the other hand, the Hebrew text behind the term does not justify the hopes of those who would like to find a workable alternative in the English translation of “rule with.”
Similarly, we cannot make the Hebrew behind “desire” mean whatever we think it *should* mean in English. The modern translations I cite are not reflecting newfangled interpretation influenced by modern culture, but rather reflect a better understanding of the of the Hebrew text in context, an understanding that has been part of the mainstream Jewish tradition for millennia. Just as Cain is warned about getting tangled up in an endless relationship of contention and rancor with Satan, Eve is being warned about not following the world’s way of contention in the relationship she and Adam have with each other. The word “desire” in the context of this verse in Genesis has nothing to do with how we usually think of the word today.
Yesterday, I responded to a comment in a similar vein with respect to the word “beguiled.” The reader had looked up the word “beguiled” in an English dictionary and had decided that it the word did not always imply deception. I replied that in this case, consulting a Hebrew dictionary was a better idea than consulting an English dictionary, since finding exact matches of meaning across languages for the translation of a given word are impossible. (Actually, even consulting an etymological dictionary to learn what the word meant when the King James translators used it would have provided a little more help, since the basic meaning of the Old French root of guile is “deceit, wile, fraud, ruse, trickery,” probably from Frankish *wigila “trick, ruse.”)
What matters in the case of “beguile” is that “deceive” is the primary meaning of the verb “hishya” used in the Hebrew of the Bible verse. Whether or not Satan used his reputed personal charm as the means to persuade Eve (thus “beguiling” her in one of the modern English senses of the word), what he did was intended to “deceive” her. And that is the meaning that we are meant to get out of the phrase when we read it.
Please know of my appreciation and respect for your thoughtful comments.
Jeff, I agree with your rejection of the interpretation of “rule with,” but am having difficulty with your suggested modern interpretation of Eve’s desire to her husband and Adam’s ruling over her, as being an inevitable contentious struggle for power between them as a result of their fall, and a curse upon them from God parallel with the curse upon the earth. It appears to be a modern interpretation to go along with the emphasis today on the so-called “war between the sexes.”
I much prefer our modern prophets’ interpretation that Adam would “preside” over Eve and her children, the way the Lord presides over His Church, which provides a sense of order, organization and the responsibility of Adam to his wife and family. Eve’s “desire” to her husband is simply that, and is also required in order to make the family unit function properly.