Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 3:16

Genesis 3:16

16 To the woman he said, I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.
(NET Bible)

A complicated relationship

If there is one thing you want to avoid at all costs, it is having God personally opposed to you. That condition is a sure formula for a hard life. How do we avoid negative consequences flowing from God to us? How can we avoid the regrets that come from knowing what we have lost by our own sin? What does God do to sustain us, even when we have failed him?

We have previously said that Gods declaration of consequences involves a life function and a relationship for each of those who took part in the first human sin. In Genesis 3:16, the life function is the birth of children and the relationship is the crucial one between the woman and her husband.

The original language uses a special form to heighten the intensity of the verb so that the result is greatly increase. What is increased? The King James Version says thy sorrow and thy conception. However, better linguistic evidence now demonstrates that the second word is not conception but trembling, pain,[1] apparently a reference to labor pains. The verse makes clear that the woman will bear children, but the difficulty and pain will be greatly increased.

Several of the words for pain are spelled similarly to the Hebrew word for tree, making it plain that the consequences were connected to the sin. The author of Genesis selected these words with care because they are not the common words for pain.

The second half of the verse explains the struggle for power that has manifested itself between man and woman in marriage and society. The NET Bible Notes explain: In Gen. 3:16 the Lord announces a struggle, a conflict between the man and the woman. She will desire to control him, but he will dominate her instead. This interpretation also fits the tone of the passage, which is a judgment oracle.[2]

The interpretation given in the previous paragraph flows out of the very closely parallel passage in [Gen.] 4:7, where sins urge is said to be for Cain, but he must master it.[3] The husbands relationship to his wife will become he will dominate (NET) or he will rule (ESV). The verb is a powerful one, and it is used for Abrahams servant who rules his household (Gen. 24:2) and for Joseph ruling over all Egypt (Gen. 45:8).

Hamilton describes how the tragic consequences of sin have changed the relationship of the man and woman: Far from being a reign of co-equals over the remainder of Gods creation, the relationship now becomes a fierce dispute, with each party trying to rule the other.[4]

Only in Christ do we find this breach healed.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female — for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27-28).

Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter 3:7).

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 3:16.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 3:16.

[3] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 81.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 202.