In the biblical book of Genesis, God expels the first two human beings from the Garden of Eden after Eve entices Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. God “curses” Eve for her misdeed, using ominous words that seem to doom her to live subordinately to Adam. In the phrasing of the historic King James Version familiar to many Protestant readers, God says, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
This phrase was recently altered in the English Standard Version translation of the Bible—which is produced by a committee of prominent theologians and typically used by evangelicals—so that the intent of the “curse” seems different. Whereas the first half of that sentence formerly read “Your desire shall be for your husband,” it now reads, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband.” It appears to suggest that women naturally oppose their husbands’ desires, and thus are responsible for marital conflict. While many major Bible translations are regularly updated, this alteration isn’t as inconsequential as it may seem: Translations like this have the potential to invisibly shape evangelicals’ thinking about women’s role in marriage.
The text as other major translations have it—and as the ESV originally did—acknowledges female desire, a relatively progressive move given the ancient context. But the new translation erases the allusion to Eve’s natural want for physical and emotional intimacy and replaces it with anticipation of marital strife. This matters because for most evangelical readers, the Bible translation they use represents divinely inspired scripture. Because the “curse” supposedly applies to all women, the new translation may lead readers to believe the Bible says God cursed women with the desire to resist their husbands’ wishes.