Did Eve Experience Pregnancy While In Eden?

In the first 8 words of Genesis 3:16a we read,

אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב   

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains …

During the discussion of this verse, a student of mine raised the following question: Greatly relative to what? Had Eve experienced pregnancy in Eden prior to her expulsion? If not, how then are we to understand this phrase? Good question. The author is clearly comparing the pains Eve will experience as a mortal woman once outside the provenance of Eden with something else? Could that something else be previous,  but not so painful pregnancies?

The answer is no, and this post explains why. First, let’s convince ourselves that the translation, “greatly increase” is correct. Let’s begin with a literal translation of the highlighted text (blue and red):

To-the-wife He said, to-make-many I-will-make-many your-pain and-your-pregnancy…

The blue text is translated from a literary figure called an infinitive absolute[1]A grammatical form in which the infinitive of a verb immediately precedes a conjugated form of the same verbe, e.g., “to eat you will eat” meaning “surely you will eat” or … Continue reading.  In this case, because this particular infinitive is in the Hiphil stem many (most?) commercial translations render “to-make-many” as “greatly” but “certainly” or “surely” would also be appropriate although I can find no commercial Bible that renders the this infinitive as such.

The red text (“I will make many”) is a standard, first person, Hiphil imperfect verb and is almost always translated as ‘I will multiply” or “I will increase”. Taken together, the text reads “greatly will I increase” or “greatly will I multiply“. Both are equally defensible. Now, I have been unable to find any scholarly research advancing (or dismissing) the idea that Eve had previously experienced one or more pregnancies as indicated by the text[2]Of course, this does not mean that scholarly research doesn’t exist. Only that I couldn’t find any. If you are reading this post and know of such a thing, please drop me a line or post a … Continue reading. Indeed, the plot of the narrative is critically based on the idea that Adam and Eve could not procreate prior to gaining the knowledge of good and evil.  I have found lots of lay speculation dealing with this question, none of which are grounded in the text of the story.

In his magisterial commentary on Genesis (Sarna, 1989, p. 28), Nahun Sarna observes that “intense pain in childbearing is unique to the human species and generally unknown to other female mammals“. This being the case (and it is … see this article in the American Scientist) one explanation – and the one that I favor – is that the author knew of this phenomenon (tho’ not of its scientific explanation), likely having seen domesticated animals experience parturition with nary a whimper. Thus the phrase in 3:16 “greatly increase your pain…” likely refers to Eve’s pain relative to that of other female mammals.  Paraphrased, 3:15-16 might read something like this:

Now, God said to the serpent, “You are cursed above all other animals. On your belly you will eat dust all the days of your life”. To the woman He said, “I will greatly increase your pain in child-bearing above all other animals, moreover, since you will no longer have me to turn to, you will turn to your husband and he will be the one to help

There is  a pleasing coherence between the God’s treatment of the serpent and His treatment of Eve – both are relative to other animals.

Now, go and study


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