It's not uncommon—at least in my experience—for Genesis 3:16 to be used as a proof text to support complementarianism, particularly the form that says men are to give orders and women are to follow them. The verse is also used to call women's desire for any authority over a man as a sinful part of the Fall. Sometimes this even happens in the middle of discussions asking, "What, precisely, does this verse even mean?"
Unto the woman he [God] said, 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.
That bold part is what's both debated and used as a proof text.
Now, if you happen to look at the specific words in the original, two things are obvious:
- This verse relies on its context for meaning. (Not all words are explicitly in the sentence ["shall be"]; some are assumed/understood from context. This is normal in language.)
- This verse doesn't translate easily into English. (It could be read a few ways, and looking at the original words ["desire to thy husband"?] suggests there is a nuance missing in the translation. Again, this isn't unusual in translation.)
So what does this verse mean? Let's take a look.
It's worth noticing the phrasing: "he shall rule over thee". That "shall rule" is yimšāl. When you look at how yimšāl is used elsewhere in Scripture, it looks as if that phrasing indicates a declaration about what is—"this is what will happen," not "this is what should happen." (Ex. Proverbs 22:7: "The rich ruleth [yimšāl] over the poor, and the borrower [is] servant to the lender.")
The precise construction of the word in Hebrew is not entirely the same across all references, but that doesn't necessarily indicate a change in imperative. The entire "thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" could be saying "Men are gonna rule the world in general, but you women are gonna want your husband's power."
Such a construction—of curse followed by prophecy—would also be consistent with the context, which has just both cursed the physical serpent and given prophecy about the metaphorical serpent (ref. v. 14 & 15a for curse, v. 15b for prophecy). And then the following verses speak to Adam, the man, and give a curse (v. 17–v. 18) followed by a prophecy (v. 19).
So…are women actually cursed to be subservient to men, where that's our God-created place? Or is that subservience merely something that exists as part of life and isn't necessarily true in a universal sense or as something that necessarily "should" be?
I've just shown that the actual verbiage and context of Genesis 3:16 better fit the latter scenario—which is consistent with the female deacon named in Romans 16:1 and the female apostle named in Romans 16:7. It's also consistent with Galatians 3:28 (which explicitly says there is neither male nor female because [gar] we are in Christ).
Genesis 3:16b as a description of reality in general would also explain why there are more male than female examples in Scripture—and works with II Timothy 3:16 to undermine the claims that all the women leaders in Scripture [many described here] are exceptions. When you put those concepts together, it's not unlikely that the women in Scripture intended to be examples.
Men in Scripture are often accepted as examples for the Christian. Sometimes—as in the cases of Lot's incest and David's adultery and murder—those examples are what we should not do; sometimes they're what we should do. No other kings committed adultery and murder in the same fashion David did, so why is that not dismissed as an exception, just as Deborah is?
Dismissing anything in Scripture as an "exception" seems risky, to me. Deuteronomy 4:2 and all.
What are your thoughts on my analysis or the topic under discussion? :-)