So there is an interesting discussion going on out there about the curse declared upon the woman in Genesis 3:16. I don’t exactly have a dog in the fight, but I might have a cat to set among the pigeons because I might have a dogma in the fight. I only ask, running counter to the old saying, that my dogma not be beaten with any stigma. Okay, way too much going on, especially for the first paragraph.
Back on track:
“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” (Gen. 3:16).
At question is whether or not the woman’s desire for her husband is a desire for mastery. This interpretation was apparently first advanced by Susan Foh in the seventies. It amounts to saying that the woman will always want to gain mastery over the man, but, tough luck, the man will nevertheless “rule over” her. In other words, the conflict for mastery between the sexes is a function of the curse. There is a parallel construction in the next chapter (Gen. 4:7), one which seems to make the desire/rule formula a question of mastery. Cain was being warned against sin, and God apparently refers to Abel’s desire to defer to Cain, and the firstborn Cain’s rule over him—therefore, given this reality, if you do right, will you not be accepted? (In my view, sin being the entity having the desire to master Cain introduces too much grammatical and theological weirdness into the equation.)
On the other hand, Foh’s interpretation is a novelty. Prior to this fairly recent attempt to parry the feminists, the standard interpretation was simply that the woman would be oriented toward her husband, and therefore subject to him.
Here is Calvin on it:
“For this form of speech, “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband,” is of the same force as if he had said that she should not be free and at her own command, but subject to the authority of her husband and dependent upon his will; or as if he had said, ‘Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes.’ . . . She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude.
But if we return to the classic view, given how much feminist water has run under the feckless evangelical bridge in the meantime, we have to be careful how we return to it. As a case in point, I would point to an interpretation that Wendy Alsup offers here:
“I believe it means an idolatrous longing for something from the man that she was created to receive from God alone.”
To interpret it this way is to introduce something new—it is more than just a simple return to an older view. Because of the curse, man was going to have a tough time with the thistles, and woman was going to be burdened with pains in childbirth. Now such things can be the occasion for sin, but there are not sin in themselves. Living in a fallen world is not the same thing as sinning. The frustrations that arise in a fallen world make it easier to sin, but having weeds in my garden is not essentially a sin.
Headship and submission can certainly be an arena where sin occurs, but headship and submission are not essentially sinful.For God to consign the woman to an “idolatrous longing” is to consign her to an essentially sinful condition. Even if you argue that Christ came to reverse the curse, it still means that all married women from Eve to the era of Christ were idolaters. But if it is simple desire for her husband, then you leave room for that desire to be pursued sinfully or righteously. The responses a woman has to this desire can be obedient or disobedient, godly or ungodly. Headship and submission can certainly be an arena where sin occurs, but headship and submission are not essentially sinful.
But this interpretation means, if you come to the conclusion that this longing is essentially idolatrous, the Christian duty is therefore to mortify it. If Christ has dealt with this problem in the cross, then what does repentance look like?
Near the end of her post, Alsup points to the situation where a wife has to stand up to an abusive husband. I agree that there are such situations. In this fallen world, no human authority can be treated as an absolute. Every human authority has appointed creational limits. Of course. There are times when women have to play the role of Abigail. But this interpretation would mean that every married woman has to cast down this idol. Not only so, but doing this while at the same time she is being submissive to her husband in all things (Eph. 5:24), being in subjection to him (1 Pet. 3:1), and having her submission be fitting in the Lord (Col. 3:18). But this is a real challenge. How can you cast down the idol of desire for your husband, that which enables him to rule over you, while simultaneously pursuing the desire to honor and serve him in all things? There would have to be a lot of higher math involved.
 John Calvin and John King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 172.