Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16

This is my first installment of response to the article written by Annie Laurie Gaylor found in my Feminism and the Bible blog. (The second installment can be found .)I have found that I am not good at writing anything short. So, as it pertains to Gaylor’s very first issue, I have written a very succinct nine page response. There will be more installments to follow in time. I also can’t claim exclusive rights to the ideas in this blog; many of the best points were unearthed in discussion and debate with others whom I respect.

Other related posts:

Women and the Bible – Church Roles

Women and the Bible – Heroines?

I know I don’t have all of this together. I feel like I have barely even scratched the surface on researching this, but I have solidified some mindsets that I was not certain of before. I will warn readers that I am going to be treating the validity of Christianity as a fact because I believe it to be one. Besides this, because the accusations made were directed at the Bible and Christianity, I must, logically, use the Bible and the tenets of Christianity to refute them. I cannot use a different philosophy to refute this philosophy. If the refutation of it cannot be found within itself, then there is no refutation. Therefore, I will probably make some points that people who are not believers will think inadequate because they depend on the character of God, the truth of the Bible and the action of Jesus’ death and resurrection as it pertains to redemptive power. The proofs of these issues would be entirely different subjects. If their validity is in question, then there is no reason to even be interested in this discussion. Who would care what the Bible has to do with women if the whole Bible is invalid to begin with? The point then would be simply to invalidate the Bible itself, and all doctrines that you believe to be false within it would follow. My point is that this argument is simply a response to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s accusation that the Bible and organized religion have almost solely propagated women’s oppression. Her references to organized religion seem almost exclusively focused on the Christian faith, so that is where the focus will lie.

First, I would like to point out that in the opening statements of her article: “Why Women Need Freedom from Religion,” Gaylor gives us two verses. She believes that these verses sum up the Bible’s position on women. There are literally hundreds of verses that mention women and groups of women generically and even more if you take into consideration events and happenings recorded about specific women. The Bible is a large, complex work, and there are many more verses that would have to be taken into consideration before you would be able to “sum up” its position on women. In addition to this, she states that there are over 200 verses in the Bible that belittle and demean women. She does not cite these references in the article. Perhaps she does in her book. I would like to know which verses she is referring to and see them in their context. I can’t respond to the “200 verses” if I don’t have the list. However, when I get down to this section of her article, I do plan on looking at each and every verse that I can find referencing women, and doing a comparative study of these verses. Based on the rate of study I am following now, this will come at a much later date, but it will come, nonetheless. In any case, I am responding here only to the first specific charge she made in her article.

Now, I’m not a Hebrew scholar. I’ve tried to research the words in these verses in my handy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, which lists every time every word is used in the Bible, shows the actual original word used, whether in Hebrew or Greek and all of the interpretations for this specific word. I have also tried to research interpretations by those who ARE Hebrew and Greek scholars and have looked at various commentaries. I pray that nothing I state is false. I ask that you will also pray over all of the information I disseminate here in a spirit of discernment, and hope that you would take the time to do your own study for any verification or rebuttal. II Timothy 2:15 (WEB) says, “Study to show thyself approved to God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Please do this, because God is the final authority.

We’re dealing with Gaylor’s first point of contention in this segment – Genesis 3:16: “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.” (KJV) Gaylor’s take on this is that it is a curse, and that by the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, it has taken away a woman’s rights, standing and identity, and that motherhood was given as a part of this curse. Now, the truth is, I partially agree with her in the aspect that women lost much of their true standing and identity. However, I believe the same is true for the men. Sin, by nature, does this automatically…not because of any “curse,” but because it is propagated by Satan, the Father of Lies, whom the Bible says comes to “steal, and to kill and to destroy.” (John 10:10, WEB)

Let me point out that in the actual text of Genesis, the word “curse” is only used when referring to the serpent and the ground. God does not use this word when, after cursing the serpent, He then turns to Adam and Eve. All of His animosity was directed at the deceiver, and then He turns his attention to the plight of the victims of this deceit. This is not to minimize their guilt, but it is more like God is stating the consequences for their behavior. We have to understand that Adam and Eve had been forewarned that disobeying God’s one rule would have some negative results. They did not heed the warning, thereby “activating” their own punishment. You could argue that eating the fruit off of a certain tree does not seem like ample cause for these consequences, but if you study the text, you come to understand that the sin was a combination of things, including, namely, pride – a pride that made them believe God was withholding knowledge from them for the purpose of limiting their potential. They wanted to elevate their status in relation to Him.

I want to talk just for a moment about the concept of pride I am discussing, because it comes up again later, and I don’t want my intent misconstrued because of any lack of clarification. This concept encompasses the entire human race, and I am in no way saying that it is specific to women. When I say that pride is negative, I do not mean that women (or the entire population) should go around groveling in self-effacement. I also do not mean that measures should not be taken to return our society to the system of equality God designed it for. The real oppression of any people group should be combated with perseverance. What I am speaking of is that particular pride that seeks our own good at the expense of someone else’s. It is not wrong to want good for ourselves, but it is wrong when the want for the good is simply based on comparison and the desire to be ranked higher than someone else. It is not wrong to want to win, but it is wrong to extend beyond that to hoping that someone else loses. The Bible says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39 and others, NIV) This is what we have lost, and anything opposite to this concept gives the negative context of pride that I am trying to get across. There are all sorts of ways pride is misused in our society, but here I just wanted to touch on what I mean when I speak of it.

Back to the point, I do not think that God suddenly turned on Adam and Eve because of their disobedience, and pronounced this evil curse in response. I believe that there are natural consequences designed for all evils so that there will be boundaries we can recognize. These are not boundaries for controlling or containing us, but boundaries designed for our own safety and happiness – like a fence around your yard so that your children do not run out into the street. You put it there on purpose, because you love them; you want them to be able to see the fence and know that within the fence they are safe, but that outside the fence there are dangers such as busy streets and strange dogs, etc. You would never will that your child walk outside the fence and get hurt. You would also hope that no evil stranger comes along and convinces them that you are limiting them and trying to keep them down by telling them to stay within this fence. You would be devastated if your child believed a stranger telling them these lies, exited the confines of this fence and was hurt in the process. And in the case of the evil stranger, you would undoubtedly be aware that he wanted to lure your children out of their safety so that he could harm them. This was Satan’s plan; the fence God set up was impenetrable to him, but once God’s children willingly stepped outside of it, we put ourselves in direct danger as it relates to all evil. Just as God warned of the negative consequences that would result from Adam and Eve’s disobedience, you would have warned your child of the dangers outside of the fence. God gave us the fence in order to safeguard us against these dangers. This verse is just God’s explanation of the jeopardy in the street – the street that His children had knowingly walked out into the middle of. I believe that He was greatly saddened by Adam and Eve’s actions, as any parent would be.

Now, there are times in the Bible where it seems that God adds His own extra punishments to evil, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the plagues on the Egyptians for not releasing the Israelites from captivity, etc. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen; just saying that it is the exception and not the rule of the natural laws of action and reaction that God set up as it correlates to sin and its consequences.

Continuing with this concept, I definitely believe that sin produces its own consequences. There will be some who believe that this is not true. To put my explanation as succinctly as possible, I believe that God put all of our physical laws into effect with these natural fences set up, as I said, to guide us by showing us that when we go outside of them, things don’t go so well. When you overeat, you get fat or you get heart disease or diabetes. When you do drugs, your health and your mind begin to deteriorate. When you are selfish, you have trouble in your relationships. These things are not cruel punishments from God. They are the obvious, natural consequences of misbehavior, and my belief system is formed on the foundation that almost all consequences fall into this same category. This is not to say that all consequences are repercussions of our own misdeeds. Unfortunately, as John Donne stated in his famous quote, “No man is an island.” I’m afraid that you can suffer for my misdeeds and vice versa.

OK, let’s get back to what Eve’s consequences actually are. (We will briefly cover Adam’s further on, but since this is a rebuttal to an accusation relating to women, we will obviously concentrate on Eve’s portion.) I’ll begin with the bit about children: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…” (KJV) Now, the original Hebrew words used for sorrow here (two different words are used in the one verse) can both be interpreted pain. I see no contradiction in God’s character simply because pain (in whatever capacity) is a consequence of sin. I happen to believe that all pain (and death: Romans 6:23) is a direct result of sin. Pain or discomfort in the process and condition of pregnancy or in the act of childbirth is just a segment of this – a segment that happens to be exclusive to the woman.

To begin discussing this, I think I need to first go back to the curse given to the serpent. It states that “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (NKJV) This “Seed of Woman” mentioned is not only speaking of her offspring generically; it is also the first prophecy of Jesus coming in the form of the virgin birth (also prophesied in Isaiah 7:14). It says, “HE shall bruise your [the serpent’s] head.” (NKJV) So, although, the woman was deceived and she sinned, in the curse on the serpent, God immediately states that the He will ultimately defeat Satan and the repercussions of Satan’s deceit and this victory will come through the woman. She has a share in her own redemption, in a sense. Note that the man is not given any part in this share. Motherhood is not given as a curse, but becomes the path to redemption for all mankind.

In her article, Gaylor states, “Contempt for women’s bodies and reproductive capacity is a bedrock of the bible.” (I will touch on this more later, but I just have to breeze over it now because it is such a key element in this prophecy and the fulfillment of this prophecy.) If the reproductive capacity was so contemptuous to God, I doubt He would have sent His Son, Jesus down through ONLY a woman, using her reproductive system. After all, He could, seemingly, have sent Jesus down here as a grown man or used any other method He so desired; any method you can imagine. But, He didn’t. He sent Him down singly using the role of motherhood. Pain in pregnancy or in childbirth, although I have never experienced it, cannot be compared to the value of being the tool through which God would send the Savior of the World (I John 4:14). Even if this pain is a direct result of God’s anger, I still maintain that it is a pain given for our ultimate redemption. As a parent sometimes must make decisions that seem cruel to a wayward child, knowing that in the end it is the only way the child will learn, God allows us the difficulties our decisions have afforded us as a tool in order to bring us back to the relationship with Him that He designed us for. We may not be able to comprehend how this particular pain will ensure our eventual good, but there are not many children who can understand every punishment he or she is given. As it states in Psalm 30:5, “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (ESV) This verse is also very parallel to the act of childbirth. I have heard, more times than I can recall, that the joy you feel at the first glimpse of your child makes all of the pain of labor worth suffering, and the Bible even spells out this exact scenario out in John 16:21: “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come, but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (NKJV) There is another verse that is a picture of this prophetic concept as it relates to Jesus. Psalm 126:6 says, “He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (RSV) I am aware that the verse says “He,” but believe this is not exclusive of women, and simply the literary style. The woman is given the bearing of this seed in sorrow, but in the end the result of it is salvation and the foundation for survival and redemption. Christ is called the “Bread of Life.” (John 6:35, John 6:48 and John 6:51) The seed, sown in labor, is harvested and turned into the bread that sustains us eternally.

Beyond the physical pain discussed in this verse, I believe that Adam and Eve’s consequences encompass another type of sorrow. Before they sinned, everything was in harmony; every relationship was in harmony. Afterwards, everything had (and still has, because we have all continued to follow in their footsteps) the capacity for evil, which is naturally divisive. Any good mother will tell you that watching your children make poor decisions, even just knowing that they could possibly make a poor decision, is one of the hardest things for a mother to bear. There is a constant, nagging fear and worry over how your children will live their lives. And if (when) they do make bad choices, it rips a mother’s heart out to have to watch. This is definite sorrow, but it is also a natural consequence of introducing the capacity for sin into the world.

On to the next phrase of Genesis 3:16, which is definitely a sore subject: “…and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (KJV) Yikes. Again, I’d like to point out that before Adam and Eve sinned, their relationship was in harmony. The main issue in this verse is that this will no longer be true, which, as I also said before, is the natural result of allowing evil into your life; nothing works quite like it was intended to. First, I would like to say that Eve (and Adam as well) deliberately took her desire away from its proper place. We were created for God to be the fulfillment of our desire, and everything else to be a sort of bonus, but when Eve was deceived, she turned her desire from God and to her own desire for personal elevation (think back to the concept of pride I discussed earlier). The desire spoken of in this verse is simply God stating that this desire for personal elevation was now something that she would have to war with, and specifically in relation to her husband. She had embraced it, and it would now be her constant companion and a source of contention in her relationships. The Hebrew word for “desire” here, in its literal translation, means a sort of “stretching out after.” The exact word is only used in two other places in the Bible. The first of these is discussing sin’s “desire” for us in Genesis 4:7. The type of desire that sin has for you is not an uplifting, wholesome type of desire. It is the desire that seeks to control. This verse is stating that now, woman will desire to control her husband and his response (as an also fallen man) will be to “rule” over her in a way that God never intended. God’s design was for the husband to be a guide with the woman’s best interests always in mind in such a way that conflict would never even arise because of his sacrificial love. (Ephesians 5:15) Now between her desire to put herself over him (and others as well), and his sinful nature (also wanting to be elevated over others) responding to that, both of their roles are subverted and distorted. The system set up to preserve order is now a broken system prone to chaos, primarily because of the egocentric natures they allowed into their lives through the first sin.

The second and last other use of this same word for “desire” is in Song of Solomon 7:10, where it is used in a sexual manner. It is an entirely different context, but I would feel remiss if I did not mention that there is a different type of usage here. I do not know what the popular scholarly thoughts on connecting this to the Genesis uses would be, but I can give you a personal idea. Perhaps since it is used sexually here, it means a literal, physical “stretching out after,” thereby implying none of the negative grasping/controlling that is connotatively seen when used in its more abstract form. This is just an idea to consider, as I was not able to find any commentaries specifically comparing and contrasting the use of this word in these two very different situations. Perhaps it is a word that can be used both positively and negatively.

There is another valuable excursion we need to take, and this is to remind the world that Eve was not the only one who faced consequences. Adam’s consequences are delineated in Genesis 3: 17-19: “…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…” (KJV) Now, I am not going to expound on this because our study is focused on women. However, I did need to bring the specifics of it to light for a couple of reasons: 1) so that we can see that woman was not alone in her plight of sorrow and 2) so that we can hit on how the consequences play out in society. Man’s sorrow as indicated here seems to be predominantly found in his work…the duties of provision are suddenly much more arduous than God seemingly intended.

The thing I want to point out may ruffle a few feathers, but be that as it may, these are thoughts I’ve had and, if nothing else, I would like opinions on them. There is something that I recognized several years ago that immediately made these “curses” seem more real to me. Now, these ARE generalizations, which I try to steer clear of, but they are so widespread, it would just be silly to pretend they don’t exist. I am not claiming they are across the board irrefutably true, but here goes: one day I suddenly came to the (very obvious) realization that when I conversed with my female friends about their biggest struggles, those struggles were nearly always relational. “I want a man; I’m having trouble with my man; I wish I had children, but I can’t get a man, or can’t conceive, etc.” When I conversed with my male friends about their biggest struggles, it was almost always about their career. “I can’t get ahead; I can’t get a break; I can’t pursue what I love and make enough money; I don’t want to be a failure, etc.” In our fallen world, a large majority of women seek to solidify their identity through a relationship and a large majority of men seek to solidify their identity in a career. Neither of these methods of fulfillment will work. It is a direct result, as I said before, of turning our desire away from God, and fixing it on something else: in these cases, a part of our person-hood that was meant to be a crucial, but non-defining aspect of our roles in this world. Our society has convinced us that work and career is what makes you worthwhile and what makes you who you are. It has convinced men AND women of this, but it is true for neither. Everyone is searching for something to validate his or her existence, and until you find it in the person of Christ, you will constantly be seeking it in some other venture.

I do believe that God created us with very definite roles, which I realize will not be popular, but here is my reasoning. Adam was created for maintaining the order of all of the things God created; speaking of the garden, “to tend and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, NKJV) In other words, he was created for work. Eve was created as Adam’s companion… because “it is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18, NKJV) In other words, she was created for relationship. These assertions are not meant to be taken to the extreme. I do not mean that women cannot work or that men cannot have relationships. (Although people have and still do take it to mean things such as this.) I simply mean that God created us with a natural inclination towards these functions. A partial, and very observable defense of that is what I was saying above about noticing the primary struggles in a person’s life and how they seem largely defined by gender. Neither role is more or less important than the other. Without either, society, as a whole, cannot function.

The consequence of sin is that these roles got harder. We are unwilling or unable to see the beauty in these roles because our models were broken. The only place we can see it perfectly is in the person of Christ, who calls the church His bride (Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 62:5, Jeremiah 2:2 and many others), and does love her with a pure love, which caused Him to sacrifice Himself (Hebrews 10:12) for her good. God tells us all through His Word that He is our lover, pursuing us as He has Hosea pursue and love Gomer in the book of Hosea. (Check that book of the Bible out if you do not know the story.) In the same way that Adam was created for work, this is also God’s role; He wanted us for a relationship, as His bride. I realize this is a very church-y concept. I hope it doesn’t put anyone off, but it is a very prominent theme in the Scriptures and one I believe to be relevant here. I am saying it to state that although the roles I mentioned above, of “work” and “relationship,” are valid, I do not want anyone to be confused and think I mean that is where we gain our identity. I mentioned it above, but I want to reiterate after this paragraph that our identity and fulfillment is found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ. (John 15:15-19, Romans 5:11, Romans 5:17, Romans 8:37, Colossians 3:3 and many others)

I do still have a few questions relating to this subject, and am open to dissenting opinions on anything I have stated. One thing I definitely would like input on is the consideration that according to the consequences for the woman in Genesis 3:16, a single, childless woman has no specific consequences. However, it seems that the consequence given to the man also encompasses the women in the sense of causing work to be more laborious. Thoughts?



  1. July 3, 2008 at 10:21 am

    […] be found in the following post: Feminism and the Bible.  My first installment can be found here: Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16.  I’ll be the first to admit that both of us got seriously side-tracked from this project, […]

  2. July 3, 2008 at 10:31 am

    […] post is below, but find my first response to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article (also below) here: Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16, and the second response to it here: Finally More on the Feminism […]

  3. July 19, 2008 at 8:54 am

    […] Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16 […]

  4. July 31, 2008 at 12:33 am

    […] Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16 […]

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