The consequences of sin for Eve

Eve shared in some of the consequences of the sin which Adam had, the knowledge of good and evil, shame and fear.  Additionally, there are some specific consequences for her:

  • Her sorrow in conception and childbirth would increase Gen 3:16a
  • Her relationship with her husband would change Gen 3:16b

Did the punishment for Eve drive a change in her body in terms of reproduction which then became a curse for all subsequent women?  No.  Firstly this contradicts God’s principle of not punishing the children for the sins of the fathers (or mothers) per Deut 24:16 and Ezek 18:20.  Secondly, a detailed review of the Hebrew demonstrates the passage is not dealing with any of the physical processes of reproduction.

Commenting on the Hebrew Meyers says:

The traditional translations render both terms with words for physical pain. Since ʿṣb II refers more to mental than to physical pain, however, this traditional interpretation must be called into question. That the two other occurrences of ʿiṣṣāḇôn (3:17; 5:29) refer explicitly to physical labor suggests that here too physical labor is mandated for the woman. Moreover, the first verb (rbh) of this verse has two objects, ʿiṣṣāḇôn and hērôn, “conception” or “pregnancy.” In the nuanced biblical lexical field of pregnancy and birth (הרה hārâ), the latter does not refer to the actual process of childbirth. Since neither conception nor pregnancy is painful, the ʿiṣṣāḇôn connected with pregnancy cannot mean “pain.” The first part of v16 therefore says that God will increase the number of the woman’s pregnancies and also the amount of hard work she has to do, for in ancient agricultural society women performed a high percentage of the necessary tasks. The second clause of v16 deals with the theme of “having children”; it does not necessarily refer to the process of childbirth itself, for ילד yālaḏ can mean simply “have” or “produce” children and is used of both men and women. Having many children was a desirable and fundamental aspect of the labor-intensive agricultural society, albeit not without difficulties: parenting had its own special “pain.” Thus the meaning of ʿeṣeḇ in this text is ambiguous: it can mean “labor” and “work” and intensify that statement of the preceding clause; it can refer to the psychological stress of family life; or it can mean both. But it does not mean physical pain.”[1]

Zevit similarly notes “Iron Age Hebrew used three words to refer to pains associated with childbirth” but observes none of them is selected here.[2]

Practically therefore rather than a universal sentence falling on all women because of Eve, the angel communicates that Eve’s life will take a turn for the worse and her children will become a source of pain and grief.  Genesis 4 records this happening as her firstborn – in whom she appears to place much hope – murders her second son.  Pain and sorrow indeed.

What of the second part of the verse which speaks of Eve’s desire to her husband and him dominating her?  It is sometimes suggested the phrase is the subjugation of Eve to Adam and the establishment of male leadership as a punishment on all women for mother Eve’s failure.  The NET translates the phrase in Gen 3:16 as “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you”.  The same expression and Hebrew words are used in Genesis 4:7 by God to Cain “…But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.“  In this instance, God is talking about the internal struggle within Cain and encouraging him to overcome and not sin.  So the phrase to Eve doesn’t indicate subjugation but rather struggle.

Paul drew on Genesis for support of his instructions on the roles of men and women in worship.  He did not use this passage to buttress his arguments – which would have been logical if the expression established the headship of men.  Instead, the enduring principles of the relationship between husband and wife are drawn from Genesis 2 – the order and the unity of the man and his bride.  The punishment of Gen 3:16b is not referenced in the New Testament.  It rationally reads as a unique punishment for Eve, whereas once her relationship was as per Genesis 2 – one of harmony – now it would now suffer through the competing self-interest of her and Adam.

The punishments outlined to Eve are personal, reflecting her experience, rather than being a set of changes imposed on females through all time.


[1] Meyers, C. L. (2001). עָצַב. G. J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren, & H.-J. Fabry (Eds.), D. E. Green (Trans.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Revised Edition, Vol. 11, p. 280). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[2] Zevit, Z. (2013). What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden.  London, UK. Yale University Press

1 thought on “The consequences of sin for Eve

  1. Pingback: Post list – to make it easier :) | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

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