Barry Newman's Blog

May 24, 2011

Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24 (part XIV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:00 am

Yahweh Elohim and his judgement on the woman

As with the serpent, Yahweh Elohim’s judgement on the woman is twofold with the first part of that judgment relating to the women’s basic existence – her basic existence as one who conceives and bears children.

Walton (p. 227) claims that the translation, “childbearing” is inappropriate, “conception” (as in KJV) being a better rendering (p. 227).  Indeed, “conception seems to be the sense of the Hebrew word in Ruth 4: 13 and Hosea 9: 11 where the NIV translates it as such.  As Walton points out the problem for exegetes is how “pain” is related to “conception”.

The word translated “pains” (“painful” is understandably a related word) occurs two other times in Scripture (Gen 3: 17 and 5: 29).  In both instances the reference seem to be to a physical type of pain given that the context in both instances is the ground with which man has to contend – the ground that God has cursed.  However Walton claims that, “Nouns from the same root … refer to pain, agony, hardship, worry, nuisance and anxiety … (and that the verbal root) is not typically used to target physical pain, but mental or psychological anguish (though physical pain may accompany or be the root cause of the anguish)” (p. 227).  If Walton is correct it may be that we should understand even the Gen 3: 17 and 5: 29 texts as not restricted to references to physical pain but the mental and emotional anguish which can accompany unrelenting and necessary physical labour.  With the understanding that the “pain” is to be understood as “anxiety”, Walton argues that “the first half of v. 16 is an extended merism … referring to the anxiety that a woman will experience through the whole process from conception to birth”.  The anxiety begins at conception, extends through pregnancy and onto the giving of birth.  He suggests that a suitable paraphrase of v. 16a would be, “I will greatly increase the anguish you will experience in the birth process, from the anxiety surrounding conception to the strenuous work of giving birth”.  This writer’s suggestion is that while anxiety may be part of the experience, the “pain” is to be thought of in quite broad terms, encompassing mental and emotional anxiety and anguish as well as severe physical pain.

While the NIV states that God will make her pains very severe, arguably the text could be translated to indicate that God will “greatly increase the pain” (“greatly multiply your pain” -The New American Standard Bible).  A further possibility is to render the text, “Surely I will increase your pain.” (“I will surely multiply your pain” – The English Standard Version). The Hebrew is something like, “increasing, I will increase”, an idiomatic way of conveying the notion of “surely” (see the earlier reference to “dying you shall die”.)  If this last possibility is correct we could have a direct play on words, with the “surely, I will increase” of 3: 16 echoing “surely you will die” of 2: 17 and its denial by the serpent in 2: 4.  Furthermore the reference to “increase” in 3: 16 could be understood to be an echo of the “Be fruitful and increase” of 1: 28 with a touch of irony that the increase in numbers will now come about by means of an increase in pain.

If the understanding of either The New American Standard Bible or The English Standard version is close to the mark, then the implication is that “pain” at some level would have been experienced anyway, but now that “pain” shall be greatly increased or shall without a doubt be increased. There is a tendency for some to imagine that life in the garden was to be “a bed of roses”.  If one of the responsibilities given to the man and the woman was to tend the garden and if the woman was to have children (this is certainly implied) and if the bearing of children was to be accompanied by some “pain” from the beginning, then it should be clear that “the bed of roses” notion should be abandoned.

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