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Today's Study

Genesis 3:16: Is Childbearing a Curse or a Blessing?

If bearing children was declared a blessing from God in Genesis 1:28, why did God totally reverse this blessing as a result of the Fall? Indeed, the "pains," a word which reappears in verse 17 in the curse on man as well, are said to have increased. But no pain had been mentioned previously; only a blessing.

There is no doubt that this term refers to physical pain. Its root lies in a verb that means "to injure, cause pain or grief." Whether the pain would lie in the agony of childbirth or in the related grief that accompanies raising that child cannot be finally determined; the text would seem to allow for both ideas.

Katherine C. Bushnell, in God's Word to Woman, suggests that verse 16 be translated differently since the Hebrew text could support such a reading. She noted that some ancient versions attached the meaning of "lying in wait," "an ambush" or "a snare" to the word generally read as "multiply." This idea of a snare or a lying in wait, however, may have been moved back to Genesis 3:15 from its more normal position in Genesis 3:16. Bushnell would render the opening words of verse 16 this way: "Unto the woman he said, `A snare has increased your sorrow and sighing.' "

This translation is not all that different in meaning from the more traditional "I will greatly multiply . . ." The difference between the two readings is found wholly in the interlinear Hebrew vowel signs which came as late as the eighth century of the Christian era. The difference is this (using capital letters to show the original Hebrew consonantal text and lowercase to show the late addition of the vowel letters): HaRBah AaRBeh, "I will greatly multiply," and HiRBah AoReB, "has caused to multiply (or made great) a lying-in-wait." The participial form ARB appears some fourteen times in Joshua and is translated as "ambush" or "a lying in wait."

If this reading is correct (and some ancient versions read such a word just a few words back in verse 15, probably by misplacement), then that "lier-in-wait" would undoubtedly be that subtle serpent, the devil. He it was who would increase the sorrow of raising children. This is the only way we can explain why the idea of "a snare" or "lying-in-wait" still clings to this context.

But another matter demands our attention in verse 16, the word for conception. This translation is difficult because the Hebrew word HRN is not the correct way to spell conception. It is spelled correctly as HRJWN in Ruth 4:13 and Hosea 9:11. But this spelling in Genesis 3:16 is two letters short, and its vowels are also unusual. The form is regarded by lexical authorities such as Brown, Driver and Briggs as a contraction or even an error. The early Greek translation (made in the third or second century before Christ) read insteadHGN, meaning "sighing." The resultant meaning for this clause would be "A snare has increased your sorrow and sighing."

What difference does such a rendering make? The point is simply that this curse cannot be read to mean that the right to determine when a woman will become a mother is placed totally outside her will or that this function has been placed entirely and necessarily in the hands and will of her husband.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that this statement, no matter how we shall finally interpret it, is from a curse passage. In no case should it be made normative. And if the Evil One and not God is the source of the sorrow and sighing, then it is all the more necessary for us to refuse to place any degree of normativity to such statements and describe either the ordeal of giving birth to a child, or the challenge of raising that child, as an evil originating in God. God is never the source of evil; he would rather bless women. Instead, it is Satan who has set this trap.

The next clause strengthens the one we have been discussing by adding "in sorrow [or pain] you will bring forth children." Once again note that bearing children in itself was a blessing described in the so-called orders of creation of Genesis 1:28. The grief lies not so much in the conception or in the act of childbirth itself, but in the whole process of bringing children into the world and raising them up to be whole persons before God.

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