אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵךְ בְּעֶצֶב תֵּֽלְדִי בָנִ֑ים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children, but towards your husband you will turn and he will take care of you.
This verse is widely misunderstood for two reasons: context and mistranslation. Let’s first get the context right:
In the classic telling of the Eden story, Adam and Eve are punished for disobeying God and eating from the Tree of Knowledge. With this traditional context in mind, however, most readers are puzzled by the nature of the woman’s punishment. Why pregnancy? What is there about this narrative that motivated God to inform Eve that pregnancy will now be more painful?
If you’ve been following the storyline so far, you know that its lesson is not about disobedience and punishment, but choice and consequence. In this case, Eve chose a path that lead to the act of sexual intercourse as implied in verse 3:7.
The context that best explains why pregnancy is in view is that Adam and Eve had engaged in sexual intercourse immediately after eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the consequence of which was pregancy. More generally, and fitting with the narrative of story being about the loss of sexual innocence, God informs Eve that pregnancy will be now be painful and because she will no longer reside in of Eden her only comfort, God reminds her, is her husband Adam.
you will turn: the Hebrew of this phrase can also be translated as “you will return“. Now, with one exception (the Greek Septuagint), this verse is translated to mean that the wife will “desire” her husband. The Septuagint is likely correct. This [mis]translation as desire may have arisen as a consequence of a translation error called a parablepsis. In this case, a single letter is mistakenly copied((a PDF describing the details of my translation can be downloaded and studied by clicking on this link – Does the Husband Rule I)).
he will take care of you: normally translated as “he will rule over you“, I argue that the intent of the author was to show that the woman (and the man) can no longer appeal to the providence of the utopian Eden but must rely on each other ((as previously, a PDF describing the details of the translation can be downloaded and studied by clicking on this link – Does the husband rule II)).
My translation conventions can be found here.
to-the-woman He-said, to-make-many will-I-make-many your-pain and-your-pregnancy; in-pain you-will-bear descendants and-to-your-husband your-turning and-he will-rule over-you.
To the woman He said, greatly will I increase your pain and your pregnancy((“your pain and pregnancy” is a textbook example of an hendiadys meaning “the pain associated with the bearing of children – see (Westerman, 1974, p. 272) )). In pain you will bear [your children((Literally sons or descendents.))] but to your husband [will be] your turning and he will rule over you.
Commercial Bible Translations
- (nas) To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children; Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
- (kjv) Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
- (niv) To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
- (nlt) Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you. “