The first three chapters of the Book of Genesis set the stage for the drama that unfolds throughout the rest of the Bible. We have the overview of Creation: God making everything ex nihilo, culminating with the creation of humans. The second chapter is a recapitulation of the first chapter, and concludes with the institution of marriage. In chapter three the conflict is presented that will frame the main struggle for the rest of the Bible: people reject God and elevate themselves into His place. This decision by Adam and Eve to sin brought the consequence of separation and struggle for the remainder of their (and by extension, our) existence. The key verse is Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that the “seed of the woman will bruise his head,” while the serpent would “bruise his heel.” This is commonly called the protoevangelium where deliverance from the punishments given is promised.
I think we often miss the point; however, of what is really going on in this passage and throughout the rest of Genesis. When we read Genesis, it is easy to overlook certain things because they are confusing (the names of people, and family relationships, and just what are the Nephilim?), but one word that we can easily miss is the Hebrew word transliterated toledoth which is found throughout the book. The word means “generations,” and gives us the insight to what God is really talking about, the continuation of the generations of “the woman” to get the promised seed. It is one of the the themes of Genesis, and the meta-narrative of the Scripture – preservation of the Seed of woman. This is why Genesis records the family lines the way it does, and why there is always tension that the seed might be forsaken, or lost (the Flood, Jacob/Esau, Joseph). Missing the idea that the Seed is the most important thing, allows us to misapply and wrongly conclude many things from Genesis 1-3.
Why is this important, or what is an application for rightly understanding the seed theme of Genesis? One of the primary arguments for women being submissive to men comes from Genesis 1-3, and Paul’s argumentation in his writings that God instituted a created order. Specifically cited is the statement of God in Genesis 3:16
“To the woman He said,
‘I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.'”
First, notice what is in view: childbearing. God is reinforcing the idea that the seed is primary, stating that even though there will be pain in bearing children, your desire will be for your husband. This statement has given rise to many ideas about the nature of women: they were built to be co-dependent, they have to have a man, they want to dominate men (read this passage in the NET), etc… The seemingly obvious conclusion based on the theme of Genesis, is that God is referring to the need to procreate and make more “seeds.” Despite the pain in childbirth the woman, and other women, will seek to have children.
Secondly, God says “and he [her husband] will rule over you.” Notice that everything in the passage from 14-19 is a new punishment, and changes the original design that God had planned. At the end of Genesis 2, the husband and the wife are one, but now in Genesis 3:16 they are separated. When they are one, the preservation of the human race would not seem to be an issue; however, when they are separated by their desires, the safety of the seed is in doubt. The woman (the helper from 2:18, his corresponding sexual partner), will suffer for the seed; but will be brought back to her husband for its sustenance (this is part of the promise of deliverance in the midst of the Curse). The rule of a husband over his wife, is not part of the marriage relationship until the Curse is given; and as a punishment a man’s rule will put the seed in jeopardy also, because it creates a struggle in the relationship.
From this point on, the struggle for the seeds protection graces the pages of Scripture, culminating in Jesus. If we miss that fact, it is very easy to turn to Genesis 3, see that a man will rule over his wife, and conclude that it is good and proper. God’s design was very different. He wanted husband and wife to be one, not in a hierarchical struggle, but truly one entity. Understanding the story of Scripture, and this one major theme, helps us to get to the right conclusion from Genesis 3:16: Fight against the punishment for sin that causes men to rule their wives, and seek to be one in Christ.
It is high time that evangelicals repudiated the idea that husbands are meant to rule their wives. Rule was a judgement not an endorsement. The Lord wants one thing above all others in our marriages: oneness. The unity of the husband and wife, sex and the continuance of the seed both declare that God’s promise is fulfilled: the seed will come and crush the serpent.