Genesis (Part 17)

Genesis 3:16

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

“pain” = עִצָּבוֹן ʻitstsâbôwn, its-tsaw-bone’; from H6087; worrisomeness, i.e. labor or pain:—sorrow, toil.

“childbearing” = הֵרוֹן hêrôwn, hay-rone’; or הֵרָיוֹן hêrâyôwn; from H2029; pregnancy:—conception.

“desire” = תְּשׁוּקָה tᵉshûwqâh, tesh-oo-kaw’; from H7783 in the original sense of stretching out after; a longing:—desire.

“will be for your husband” / “will be contrary to your husband” =
 ʼîysh, eesh; contracted for H582 (or perhaps rather from an unused root meaning to be extant); a man as an individual or a male person; often used as an adjunct to a more definite term (and in such cases frequently not expressed in translation):—also, another, any (man), a certain, champion, consent, each, every (one), fellow, (foot-, husband-) man, (good-, great, mighty) man, he, high (degree), him (that is), husband, man(-kind), none, one, people, person, steward, what (man) soever, whoso(-ever), worthy. Compare H802.

“and he will rule” = מָשַׁל mâshal, maw-shal’; a primitive root; to rule:—(have, make to have) dominion, governor, × indeed, reign, (bear, cause to, have) rule(-ing, -r), have power.

“over you” = [not derived from any translated word… added to clarify.]


I guess the first thing to notice here is that translations are difficult. This is a relatively short passage and we have English words solely to provide context – not derived from the underlying ancient language. And we also have a disagreement. Also, “will be for your husband” vs “will be contrary to your husband” seem to be opposite in meaning.


Let us look at what God said to the Woman, one at a time

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; IN PAIN YOU SHALL BRING FORTH CHILDREN.”

Three questions come to mind here:

1) Does that mean the Woman bore children prior to the Fall?

  • If she did, it is not mentioned overtly. However, as we will see in the text soon, there are people of unknown origin outside the Garden. (Gen 4:15-17) There was also a mention of settlements outside the Garden encountered earlier in the text (Gen. 2:11-14)
  • The notion of “increasing your pain” certainly implies a prior experience of child birth.
  • Genesis 2:24 refers to Adam and the Wife/Woman (can be translated either way) as being “one flesh.” Were they ever “one flesh” prior to the Fall? Did that produce children? We do not know.

2) Was that prior child birth less painful?

  • If indeed Woman had children prior to the Fall, then yes, the birth was less painful according to the text.

3) Where are those prior children?

  • It is never stated explicitly that prior children even exist at all. If they *did* exist, would they not have been born without a sin nature conceived and born prior to the Fall – thereby needing their own Fall story?
  • We do eventually meet people outside the Garden, of unknown origin, and those people are sinful. There are theories about where *other* people may have come from, if they were not from Adam and the Woman/Eve, and we will explore that in Genesis 4.

The across-the-board consensus on the issue of the Woman having children prior to the Fall is that… there is no consensus.

Is painful childbirth a punishment or curse? I believe most women would say yes.


“Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

This translation seems important. So let’s look at the other translation of this text:

“your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”

Does the difference in translations here matter?

The first translation implies Woman unwillingly living under the Dominion of her man/husband. The second translation implies a willing submission to the Dominion of a man/husband. Does it matter to submit willingly or unwillingly? I suspect that most people living under the rule of another believe that it matters.

Who then gets to decide whether submission is willing or unwilling? The Woman. Perhaps that internal debate/struggle is part of the punishment.

Is living under the Dominion of a man/husband a curse or a punishment? I believe here we see that it is included as part of the Woman’s punishment.


Regarding “dominion,” does this mean that Adam did not have dominion over the woman prior to The Fall? The text implies he did not. How do we know Adam did not have dominion prior to the Fall? He had not yet named the Woman. Adam named the things over which he had rule. And as we will see, once Adam is given rule/dominion/authority over the Woman, she gets a name (which we will see in just a few verses.)

  • If you look at the translations, prior to this point, the words wife and husband, as translated in English, often can also just mean man or woman in the original language.
  • God created the Woman, as a “helper” (Gen 2:18) עֵזֶר ʻêzer, ay’-zer; from H5826; aid:—help.
  • Helper for what? See Gen. 2:15. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” In the Parks Department of Creation, Adam and the Woman were in charge of things together. Whereas he was in charge alone, before, he has a co-Manager.
  • The woman’s job as helper is our description of what she does prior to Gen 2:24. Then at that verse, we get this: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (As I pointed out when we covered this verse, the translation of “wife” is also “woman.”) One flesh seems like a relatively clear meaning and it might lend weight to the idea that the Woman bore children prior to the Fall. But we are not told about a marriage ceremony of any kind. At least not explicitly. And we are not told about children, either.

Why did God levy this particular punishment on The Woman? We can only speculate. However, as she took the lead in leading to sin, she then is placed below Adam – whom she led into sin.

But that’s the second curse. Why the child birth curse? This is speculative on my part, and we will compare more after looking at Adam’s curse, but the goal for both humans seems to be making their primary work more difficult. For most of human history, women primarily bore and raised children. Men worked to provide for families. Both “jobs” then were cursed.

We will look at Adam’s punishment from God, next time. Among other things, we will consider whether Adam’s dominion over the Woman, a section of text given as the Woman’s punishment, might also be rightly interpreted as Adam’s punishment, too.

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