This note is supplemental to the current series on Women in the Church (Part 8: The Old Testament), examining the portion of the Creation narratives in Genesis (chap. 3 on the “Fall” of humankind) addressed to the woman (hV*a!h*). In the narrative, God (YHWH) declares judgment (punishment) on each of the three characters involved: (1) the Serpent (vv. 14-15), (2) the Woman (v. 16), and (3) the Man (vv. 17-19). The punishment here is sometimes referred to as the curse, but actually the man and woman are not ‘cursed’ per se—the word rWra* (°¹rûr, lit. “bound”, i.e. by a curse or spell, etc) is only applied to the serpent (possible wordplay with <Wru* ±¹rûm, “cunning” in v. 1) and to the ground of the earth. There is an indirect curse upon the man, in that his punishment entails hard labor working the ground to grow food and earn a living—note the wordplay between “the man” (<d*a*h*, h¹°¹d¹m) and “the ground” (hm*d*a&h*, h¹°¦d¹mâ).
God’s declaration is recorded in poetic form, and the portion addressed to the woman (“To the woman he said…”) in verse 16 can be divided neatly into four lines:
“I will increase your pains and your engendering (children),
In pain you will give birth to sons,
And your longing (will be) to(ward) your man,
And he will have control on [i.e. over] you.”
Each element will be examined briefly:
hB#r=a^ hB*r=h^ (literally, “increasing, I will increase”)—this Hebrew syntactical form generally serves to intensify the verbal action; here it means something like “I will surely increase” or “I will greatly increase”, both in the sense of increasing the number and the degree. The Hiphil (causative) stem of the verb indicates that God will bring about the increase, within the order of creation.
En@r)h@w+ En@obX=u! (“your pain[s] and your engendering [childre]n”)—here we have two plural nouns with a pronoun-suffix attached; the pairing probably represents hendiadys (two words for one thing), but also the second term builds upon the first., i.e. “your pains, that is to say (especially) your engendering”. One may even read the second term as the fulfillment of the first: “I will increase your pains and you will engender (children)”. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that God is introducing a physical/biological sexual component into the created order. The pain and toil the woman will have to endure is related principally to the process of conceiving and bearing children. The noun /orh@ (“engendering”, from the verb hr*h*) refers essentially to the conception of a child, as the result of sexual intercourse.
bx#u#B= (“in pain”)—this noun (bx#u#, ±eƒe») is closely related to that in the previous line (/obX*u!, ±iƒƒ¹»ôn), which is also applied to the man’s punishment in v. 17; both words fundamentally mean “pain”, either in the simple sense, or in terms of bodily “labor, toil”, or emotionally as “sorrow, grief,” etc. The first two lines are partly parallel:
“…your pains and conceiving (children),
in pain you will give birth…”
It has been suggested that both words indicating pain (bx#u#//obX*u!) reflect a wordplay with “tree” (Ju@, ±¢ƒ), the sin of the man and woman manifest in their eating from the tree (cf. Cassuto, p. 165).
<yn]b* yd]l=T@ (“you will give birth to [i.e. bear] sons”)—the verb dl*y` represents the second part of the childbearing process, the actual giving birth, during which the physical pain is most prominent and acute. In Hebrew “sons” (<yn]B*) often means children generally, and so presumably here; however, the specific male designation serves to foreshadow the situation in the last two lines.
Ev@ya!Ála#w+ (“and to your man”)—note the transition with the previous line: “sons” / “man”; here the noun vya! (°îš) is used for “man” instead of <d*a* (°¹d¹m), since the situation involves the relationship between man (°îš) and woman (°iššâ). These words can also mean specifically “husband” and “wife”; that is certainly the generally meaning here, but to translate with “husband” instead of “man”, while contextually accurate, distorts the important wordplay used throughout the passage. The preposition la# (“to”) indicates direction—i.e., “toward”.
Et@q*WvT= (“your longing”)—the root verb qWv seems to refer to something which drives or attracts (a person), i.e. “urge, impulse, desire, longing”, etc. The sexual connotation is obvious, as in Song 7:11; the only other occurrence of the word is in Gen 4:7 (cf. below). It is possible that a sense of (socio-economic) dependence is also implied, but this would be far secondary to the sexual emphasis in context. A verb has to be supplied (parenthetically) in translation: “and to(ward) your man (will be) your longing”.
aWhw+ (“and he”)—the pronoun is emphatic, as well as serving to fill out the rhythm of the line; it emphasizes the position of the man (in relation to the woman).
EB*Álv*m=y] (“will have control on/over you”)—the verb lv^m* is usually rendered “rule”, but tends to indicate specifically a person having control in or over a particular situation; we might translate it here “he will exercise control”. In other words, it signifies not so much a position of authority, but the guiding/governing control such a person exercises. The preposition B= has a wide range of use in Hebrew, typically meaning “in” or “with”, in a locative or relational sense. Sometimes a relation of tension or opposition is indicated (i.e. “against”), as well as a distinction of position (“toward, over”, etc). The phrase is parallel with that in the previous line: “to(ward) your man” / “he…with you”. It is possible that these two lines are set in contrast:
“your longing (will be) to(ward) your man,
and (yet) he will rule [i.e. exercise control] with/over you”
Most commentators prefer to read a contrastive conjuction between the second and third lines—i.e., the woman is to experience great pain in bearing children, and yet she will still have (sexual) longing/desire toward her man. Does the fourth line continue the primary sexual theme of the verse, or does it extend to the wider social circumstances of the (new) relationship between men and women (esp. in marriage)? At the very least, it would seem to foreshadow the context of verses 17-19, which deal with (the man’s) hard labor in working the ground, to raise food and earn a living. Interestingly, nothing is said of the man’s sexual urge/desire toward the woman in this passage; the declaration in v. 16 is entirely from the woman’s standpoint. This should not be misconstrued, as though men do not suffer in various ways as a result of sexual attraction; but the punishment announced by God has to do specifically with physical pain and suffering. In the literary form and context, this has been divided into clear spheres: (1) childbearing, with its related sexual implications (for the woman), and (2) life-long manual labor, esp. in agriculture and working the ground (for the man).
With regard to the last line of verse 16, which establishes a ‘weaker’, subordinate position for women, it is important to remember that this is a result of the “fallen” human condition, it is not something established initially by God as good (1:31). Admittedly, the evidence from the Creation narrative is slight, but it would seem that the relationship between man and woman prior to the “fall” was egalitarian, i.e. in equal position and partnership (1:27ff; 2:18, 22-25). Sexuality (and sexual intercourse), if it is to be assumed at all in the original created order, had a very different sense about it—note the clear distinction between 2:25 and 3:7, 10ff. The connection between sexual desire and sinful desire generally, would seem to be confirmed by a comparison between 3:16 and 4:7:
3:16—”your desire [Et@q*WvT=] (will be) toward [la#] your man, and he will exercise control [lv*m=y]] with/over [B=] you”
4:7—”its [i.e. sin’s] desire [otq*WvT=] (will be) toward [la#] you, and (yet) you will [i.e. can] exercise control [lv*m=T!] with/over [B=] it”
The precise similarity of language and vocabulary is hardly coincidental; it indicates that the situation in 3:16b, reflects the sinful (fallen) condition of humankind. Unfortunately, many commentators (especially men), including quite a few Christians today, read this as part of the good created order intended by God. This view (or assumption) has been influenced, in part, by the use of the creation narrative in the Pauline letters (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy). I have discussed this already in Parts 1 and 5 of this series, but it is necessary to examine again in light of the study on Gen 3:16 here. This I will do in a second daily note.
References marked “Cassuto” above are to U. Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part I: From Adam to Noah, translated by Israel Abrahams, Magnes Press (The Hebrew University: Jerusalem), 1989 (original Hebrew publication 1944).