Did Eve Experience One or More Pregnancies Prior To The Expulsion?

Genesis 3:16 certainly seems to suggest as much. Here’s the translation of the first 8 words of the verse:

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing...

Other translations use ‘multiply’ instead of ‘increase’. Both seem appropriate to me.

This question was asked by a student of mine and it arose from the phrase, “greatly increase”. Greatly increase compared to what? Is the author suggesting that she had had previous pregnancies, but with little or no pain, but now that she is to be expelled that’s all going to change?



That’s a good question! I guess I’d always seen that passage as describing human conditions broadly since the curse has such far-reaching consequences – when Adam was told he’d battle thorns and thistles, that was indicative of the difficulties all human societies would deal with – whether Adam personally did, it’s hard to say.

By the way, I’m not sure which is more accurate, but the NIV says simply,

I will make your pains in childbearing very severe

Thank you for your reply, Elle. It’s a fun problem. This question was asked of me by one of my students and I had to admit, that I had never really thought about it. So, last week I spent several days researching what the scholarly community thought. What I found I’ll hold off till later :slight_smile:

The NIV translation of this verse is misleading. I’ll get a bit technical here, but quick glance at most any Hebrew text book will substantiate what’s to follow.

But first before we dive into the weeds, most commercial Bibles to which I have access also use “greatly increase” or “greatly multiply” (e.g., RSV, NRS,NAS, NAU, NIRV, KJV, among others, including the English translation of the Septuagint). The problem with the other translations (you correctly cite the NIV’s translation, but the NLT gets it wrong as well) is that their translation ignores the underlying Hebrew grammar. Specifically the first word of the Hebrew phrase in question, harbah `arbeh, is an emphatic infinitive (see NOTES 1 and 2 below) and the second word is the verb phrase “I will increase”. Translated literally, the two words are read as “to be many I will make many”. Now, since an emphatic infinitive describes the following verb (i.e., “I will increase”) the translation is “greatly I will increase/multiply”.

Bottom line? The translation of “greatly increase” or “greatly multiply” is as close to accurate as English can get.

So, we’re still left with wondering to whom or what was the author comparing Eve’s soon to be painful pregnancy?


NOTE 1: Young’s Literal Translation of this verse reads, “Multiplying I multiply”. Young’s is on the right track, but is not quite there in that the translation doesn’t use an adverb. OTOH, this Bible dates back to the mid 1800s when the knowledge of BH was very, uh, superficial.

NOTE 2: An emphatic infinitive is an infinitive that occurs immediately prior to the infinitive’s verb. This form occurs frequently in the 2nd creation story, to die, you will die or to eat you may eat. Throughout the Hebrew Bible when you run across the phrase “surely you will…” or “certainly you will …”, you can bet the underlying grammar is an emphatic infinitive.


The most unusual interpretation I heard was put forth by folks like Arthur George in his book the Mythology of Eden:

I am always skeptical about books that are written by people with non-Academic backgrounds but none the less the idea was at least interesting as it seems that he aimed to engage various scholars on these topics.

Why did Eve have to experience pain in childbearing? He first paints a picture outlining Eve as a goddess figure/allusion with the mother of all the living being similar to:

  • Siduri, the “genius of life” (Albright 1920 from the epic of Gilgamesh)
  • Ninti, the “lady who makes live” (also lady of the rib as in enki and ninhursag)
  • Mami, the “creatrix of mankind” (Atrahasis)
  • Asherah in Ugrait “Mother creatrix of the gods”

He goes on a little bit more about her name, which is derived from the canannite word (hyy/hwy) to make alive/live which he claims could be a euphonic word play for serpent.

Anyways the ‘fall’ of the Garden is also a story about the fall of the goddess which one of the features of goddesses is that they did not experience pain in childbirth so for eve to experience pain was a significant mythological point.

Broadly speaking there was some sort of transition going on around the time Genesis was written where the sky God was taking over in cosmogonies where the earth goddess was originally supreme. This takeover coincided with our ability to predict eclipses and mathematically describe the heavens and moving into cities where people were not as dependent directly on the crops the ‘mother earth goddess’ provided.

Anyways, just an idea I came across that was interesting where the answer to:

In which in this framework the answer would be compared to the goddess who experienced no pain in giving birth to all living things.


Did Eve experience pregnancy prior to the fall? No. There is no evidence of any such thing.

…compared to what it would have been otherwise. Arbitrarily forbidding counterfactual alternatives in this case is absurd. Each is prefaced with the premise… “because you have done this” and is thus explaining how things will be compared to what they could have been.

If all of this hinges on ‘increase pain’ then if Eve had a child before the fall then she did experience pain. Some would have trouble with this. Or is it, ‘increase pain over what you would have had’ Even this has the idea that there was or could have been pain in Eden beyond the feedback pain used to keep us from damaging ourselves. There is also the idea that childbearing extends from birth to the point that the child leaves home and that this whole time is full of anxieties and other spiritual pain. In that case it is a spiritual pain that is increased

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