Can you give some insight on Genesis 3:16?
February 1994

“Can you give some insight on Genesis 3:16?” Ensign, Feb. 1994, 63

Many people have difficulty understanding or correctly applying the Lord’s words to Eve at the time of the Fall: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Gen. 3:16.) Some feel this is demeaning to women, and some men use it as an excuse to exercise unrighteous dominion. Can you give some insight on this verse?

S. Michael Wilcox, instructor, Salt Lake University Institute of Religion. Part of the reason this verse troubles some people is that they place the emphasis on the word rule instead of on the word desire, which is the key word of the phrase. The root origins of desire give added meaning. Desire means “to long for, to stretch out towards, and to yearn for.” This was not a curse upon Eve but a blessing. Let’s suppose that just before my daughter was to be married, she came to me and asked for a father’s blessing. Let’s further suppose that when I laid my hands on her head, I gave her the following blessing: “I bless you that you will always feel a desire toward your husband. You will long to be with him in eternity. Your heart will stretch out to him in love, and you will yearn for his companionship. I further bless you that he will preside over your home in righteousness and honor.” Would she feel I had cursed and punished her? Surely every righteous woman in the Church desires to be married to a husband and to be able to love him in that manner.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered this valuable insight regarding the phrase “thy husband … shall rule over thee”: “I have a question about the word rule. It gives the wrong impression. I would prefer to use the word preside because that’s what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family.” (Ensign, Mar. 1976, p. 72.)

Also we remember the man the Lord was talking about when he said these words to Eve. Adam was the great Michael, he who had helped Jehovah create the earth, the great first prophet of the Lord on earth, a most righteous son of God. Those who interpret God’s blessing upon Eve as a punishment have not understood the meaning of scripture. The Lord was telling Eve that she would be watched over, cared for, and protected by the righteous love of a noble husband as she entered the fallen world. In the misunderstandings typical of mortality, how ironic that many men take this verse and use it as license to exercise unrighteous dominion and to rule over their wives instead of treating their wives in a manner to encourage a spouse’s desire toward them.

In October 1993 general conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve said: “Should a man ‘exercise control or dominion or compulsion … in any degree of unrighteousness,’ … he violates ‘the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.’ … Then ‘the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved.’ … Unless he repents he will lose his blessings.” (Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 22; see D&C 84:39; D&C 121:37.)

In the general Relief Society meeting held prior to general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, said: “God has revealed through his prophets that men are to receive the priesthood, become fathers, and with gentleness and pure, unfeigned love they are to lead and nurture their families in righteousness as the Savior leads the Church (see Eph. 5:23). They have been given the primary responsibility for the temporal and physical needs of the family (see D&C 83:2). Women have the power to bring children into the world and have been given the primary duty and opportunity as mothers to lead, nurture, and teach them in a loving, spiritual environment. In this divine partnership, husbands and wives support one another in their God-given capacities. By appointing different accountabilities to men and women, Heavenly Father provides the greatest opportunity for growth, service, and progress. He did not give different tasks to men and women simply to perpetuate the idea of a family; rather, He did so to ensure that the family can continue forever, the ultimate goal of our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan.” (Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 90.)

Adam and Eve Kneeling at an Altar, by Del Parson