Last time, I went into the "husband rules over wife" part of Genesis 3:16. Now let's look at the first part and see what meaning that adds (and if it changes how what follows can be interpreted):

Unto the woman he 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.

bold added to show the part I'm looking at; brackets indicate words added in translation but not in original text; some translations use italics to show the same thing

"Desire shall be to thy husband"? What does that even mean?

First thing to note is that there are necessary-in-English parts of speech left implied by context rather than explicitly stated. The omission of words is common in languages, including in English. English speakers just tend to be less aware of it because what we skip and why [we skip it] tends to be more context-specific than [it is] content-specific. (Those brackets indicate spots that can be understood with or without those words.)

Many languages leave subjects or pronouns stated via the context rather than putting the actual nouns or pronouns on the page. English has this in in the imperative form of verbs ("Go home!") and, in my experience as a student, is very badly and even outright incorrectly explained in English classes. But what matters here is that the subject of "Go home!" is necessarily whoever or whatever it is being told to—which means the subject is stated by context, which is precisely what's going on in the "and thy desire to thy husband" in Genesis 3:16.

Looking back at the specific words in the original, we see that "and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband is more literally "and unto thy husband thy desire [shall be]." That makes a bit more sense, but still isn't precisely clear. Unto can mean "to" or "until", and "strong desire to" WHAT "thy husband"? Or might it actually be meaning "your husband, you [will] desire"? (I don't think that last one likely, since it changes the part of speech on desire.) And why is the verb missing from this tidbit, anyway?

The common assumption in complementarianism is that the desire is a reference to the following "and he shall rule over thee"—but there's a distinct problem with possibility.

The clauses are in the wrong order.

Perhaps you're thinking, "Well, duh it isn't in the same order as English!" And you're right that Hebrew does not have the same syntax as English. But that's not what I'm referring to.

No, I'm referring to two things:

  1. the conjunction ("and") separating "and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband" and "he shall rule over thee"—which makes these two distinct albeit potentially related thoughts
  2. words can't be omitted/understood from context until after the context has been defined—which means the reference to ruling should be in the first item, not the second*

It's possible for a translator to swap things to that degree and thereby accidentally change meaning, but that doesn't seem to have been the case here.

Now, this logic, about words needing to be defined before they can be omitted, does indicate that, to supply the verb missing from Genesis 3:16, we need to look to earlier in the context, not later. Digging into the original words indicates that it can't be "thou shalt bring forth"—besides the construction not working, the pronoun is already built into that verb. We need a verb that didn't have the subject built in, because "thy desire" already is the subject here—that's why the King James has added that "shall be" in there.

At first glance, "will greatly multiply" might work—it could be read as a reference to the lengths many women are willing to go to keep their men or to women having sexual desire—but unfortunately that verb has the subject ("I") built in, too. So it looks as if "thy desire [will greatly multiply] unto thy husband" isn't right, either, though it makes sense and describes reality.

This means we have to step back into to Genesis 3:15. (For those who don't know or don't remember, the numbering of chapters and verses is an artificial construct out of convenience. They aren't in the original texts.)

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Verbs! We have verbs without built-in pronouns! Yay!

…er, wait. "Shall bruise" doesn't work, not with the preposition. "And thy desire [shall bruise] unto thy husband"?

And even if that did work, there's another problem: God's talking to someone else in this verse. (The serpent.) That kind of jump is possible…but odd—especially since an omitted "shalt bruise" doesn't show up in the verses addressed to Adam. If it were going to be defined but omitted in one, that would need to happen in both other sets of comments—that's basic parallelism, which is an element of structure, logistics, and syntax that is integral and essential to much skillful nonfiction writing, especially when it's intended to teach. And if the text's author were intentionally making such jumps, the context should have more of them.

Okay… Looking back for a verb isn't working, and trying to interpret the line that way is getting convoluted in ways that tend to indicate the reader is adding meaning. That's means it's time to take a step back and look at the text, again, to make sure there isn't something simple that's getting missed. (Because, from the context, there probably is.)

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Genesis 3:16, KJV (added words omitted)

Hey, wait a minute (and I seriously noticed this at this point in writing this post). Why is the line punctuated like that? Punctuation isn't in the original text—or so I understand, from multiple sources—and that punctuation outright creates the undefined sentence fragment ("and thy desire to thy husband") that necessitates the addition of the verb "to be". If you remove that second semicolon, the sentence isn't missing anything.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Genesis 3:16, semicolon removed after children

"In sorrow thou shalt bring forth […] thy desire to thy husband" fits with the context before it, which references conception, and the "[…]" I omitted is a reference to childbirth, which is consistent with that topic. So maybe the entire "thy desire to thy husband" is a reference to sexual intercourse and/or the hymen, which probably wouldn't have hurt before the Fall. Offspring are spoken of as the woman's in v. 15 and v. 20, which is also compatible with that continuing to be the focus of how the Fall effected women.

So a reference to intercourse does fit the context logically and linguistically. (Awkward, I know.) Such a reference even fits the structural considerations that any skilled didactic writer would have in mind while writing.

But why, then, to translations consistently add punctuation that breaks the sentence in the way that doesn't really make sense? Is it expectation and bias affecting the translation, or is there some other reason to believe that "and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband" is intended to be a grammatical clause with unstated pieces rather than an entirely explicit phrase?

Do you see any other ways of looking at it? What do you think of the potential interpretation I've pointed out?