Christianity Today shared an interesting article about changes that were made to the English Standard Version this summer and it playfully mentioned how the ESV is now "literally the unchanging Word of God" (Read more here).
Changes to translations are necessary as language changes, and our Bibles are continuously being updated for this very reason. But what may have gone unnoticed by the casual reader is that these changes included Genesis 3:16.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
This change is not warranted by the original text. Instead it follows current theology, and the new interpretation of the text that now says the woman desires to control the man, as described by Raymond C. Ortlund in CBMW's flagship book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 1994):
Because she usurped his headship in the temptation, God hands her over to the misery of competition with her rightful head. This is justice, a measure-for measure response to her sin. … First, God may be saying, “You will have a desire, Eve. You will want to control your husband. But he must not allow you to have your way with him. He must rule over you.” … In this case, we would take “rule” as the exercise of godly headship. … Second, God may be saying, “You will have a desire, Eve. You will want to control your husband, But he will not allow you to have your way with him, He will rule over you.” If this is the true sense, then, in giving the woman up to her insubordinate desire, God is penalizing her with domination by her husband. Accordingly, 3:16b should be rendered” “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The word “rule” would now be construed as the exercise of ungodly domination. (109)
This is not the first time Genesis 3:16 has been changed to reflect changes in theology:
How many times can a verse be changed in Bible translations before anyone notices that something fishy is going on? Is it possible to do it, say, nine times over the course of sixteen centuries? Yes, it actually is. Genesis 3:16 has been changed numerous times over the centuries. With every major change in theology, this one verse has been changed in both wording and meaning. But why this particular verse of all the verses in the Bible? Because it is the only verse in the Bible that talks about the man’s rule.
The first change was made by Jerome in the beginning of the fifth century in his newly created Latin translation. Instead of providing a literal translation, he decided to express the meaning of the verse as the patristic church understood it. In the Vulgate, Genesis 3:16 tells us that the woman was placed under the man’s authority for Jerome thought the verse said God caused the woman to turn to the man as a punishment for her sin. For about a thousand years the Latin translation was the only one available. When the reformers decided to rid themselves of the obsolete language in favor of languages actually spoken by the people the meaning of the verse was changed again. The German reformer, Luther, changed Jerome’s paraphrase with a small addition of his own; he added the word “will” to the text making the woman’s will subject to the man as a punishment for her sin. Calvin agreed with Luther for he thought the verse said the woman would desire only that which the husband wished, as her punishment was servile subjection.[i] The creators of the Geneva Bible decided that it was the woman’s desire that was subject to the man while Luther’s English contemporary Myles Coverdale chose the word “lust,” making the woman literally lust after the man. The King James Version scholars must have felt uneasy about using such a crude word for they chose the more polished word “desire,” setting precedence for four centuries of English translations. A deviation from the norm—and the Septuagint itself—is found in the nineteenth-century English translation of the Greek Septuagint in which the woman’s submission is said to be to her husband. The latest change, made at the end of the twentieth century, is found in the footnotes of The New Living Translation: the desire is now understood to be the woman’s desire to control the man. (Genesis 3: The Origin of Gender Roles, 27-28)
[i] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Volume I, Part
By altering Genesis 3:16 in the ESV, hierarchical theology proved once again that this particular verse is at the center of our understanding of the consequence of sin and our origin as humans created in the Image of God. It also shows what happens when theology is allowed to dictate Bible translations, instead of allowing the Bible dictate our theology. The original reading of the verse affirms the man's rule to be a consequence of sin, which of course explains the need to change the verse to better fit a theology that says the man's rule is a good thing and approved by God. I doubt God would agree with it, but more about that another time.