Further Reflection on Genesis 3:16
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Further Reflection on Genesis 3:16

After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3:16 relates that God told Eve “he [Adam] shall rule over you.” Historically, many Christians have understood this to be a model of a husband’s relationship with his wife. It has been my impression and understanding that, when this model is put into practice, it rarely produces a happy marriage.

The marriage might be stable and functional, but it generally is not mutually satisfying. Every long-term relationship has issues of conflict, and common sources of tension include finances, sexual activities, and how to raise the children. When these conflicts are not respectfully discussed and negotiated (and renegotiated as needed over time), there is almost always resentment. Frequently, there is violence to enforce the dictates of the head of household.

Many Christians no longer take Genesis 3:16 as a literal prescription for marriage. At first glance, this might seem surprising. Men are generally stronger than women and are capable of enforcing relationships that resemble slavery. Why would men relinquish the opportunity to have sex whenever they wanted, to have control over household finances, and to enjoy other prerogatives?

I think there are likely many reasons. For one thing, women do have some power. For example, they can resist sexual demands by claiming illness (and often the symptoms become very real to them); they can gossip about their husband’s bad behavior, which can hurt his reputation (though doing so risks angering the husband to the point of violence); and in some countries they can enlist the assistance of law enforcement. A second reason is that men might be inspired to treat their partners respectfully out of a sense of justice, which itself is inspired by factors including biblical passages encouraging universal justice as well as secular enlightenment thought. A third reason is that respectful relationships can be much more gratifying that domineering ones. Benefits can include much better sex, wiser use of finances, and less tension and anger in the household.

Next week, I want to turn to Genesis 1:25, in which Adam was given “dominion” over the animals. While many Christians have found ways to reinterpret Genesis 3:16 in ways that encourage respectful husband-wife relations, most resist reinterpreting passages that seem to endorse harmful exploitation of nonhumans. Next week, I’ll start to consider how the three reasons husbands might want to engage in mutually respectful relations with wives can apply to human relations with nonhumans.

Go on to: Motivations to Protect Nonhumans, part 1
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