You are currently viewing Genesis 3:16 and Eve’s Punishment: In the Early Jewish and Christian Writings 


After the fall, there were consequences for the sin of Adam and Eve. God decided to punish Adam, Eve, and the serpent because of their disobedience. Genesis 3:16[1] focuses on woman’s Punishment. That the woman will give birth with more pain, she will have a desire for her husband, and her husband will rule over her. The way we interpret and understand Genesis 3:16 is very important to determine how the relationship between husband and wife should be like. This verse poses many confusing questions. Many interpreters tried to answer and used this text to approve or disapprove a specific type of permanent relationship between man and woman. While others see that the childbirth, sexual desire, as a result of the fall which didn’t exist before and this punishment is kind of a curse from God on all women. The main question this paper will argue with is: How the early Jewish and Christians texts understood woman’s punishment and exegesis Genesis 3:16? The paper will look at seven early Jewish texts receptions of Genesis 3: 16 from Talmud, Midrash, and others Jewish writings. And from others eight early Christians texts from Augustine, John Chrysostom, Ephrem the Syrian, Tertullian, and John of Damascus.

The Early Jewish Writings

  • Eruvin 100b

Eruvin[2] is the second tractor in the second order of Mod in the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud focuses on God’s sentence on women in many texts and considers that this punishment was a curse from God. One of these texts is Eruvin 100b:

  1. Isaac b. Abdimi stated: Eve was cursed with ten curses, since it is written: Unto the woman He said, and I will greatly multiply, which refers to the two drops of blood, one being that of menstruation and the other that of virginity, “thy pain” refers to the pain of bringing up children, “and thy travail” refers to the pain of conception, ‘‘in pain thou shalt bring forth children” is to be understood in its literal meaning, “and thy desire shall be to thy husband” teaches that a woman yearns for her husband when he is about to set out on a journey, “and he shall rule over thee” teaches that while the wife solicits with her heart the husband does so with his mouth, this being a fine trait of character among women?—What was meant is that she ingratiates herself with him. But are not these only seven?—When R. Dimi came he explained: She is wrapped up like a mourner, banished from the company of all men and confined within a prison. What is meant by “banished from the company of all men”? If it be suggested: That she is forbidden to meet a man in privacy, is not the man also, [it could be retorted,] forbidden to meet a woman in privacy? The meaning rather is that she is forbidden to marry two men. (Eruvin 100b)[3]

In general, this text dealing with disadvantage of being a woman. God’s sentence because of Eve’s disobedience is not just a punishment, but also, it’s kind of a curse which it follows all the women. Eruvin text explain that there are ten curses we could understand from Genesis 3: 16. Theses ten curses as Paul Hershon‏ explained are:[4]

  • “Greatly multiply, these are the two drops of blood unique to a woman”, it refers to catamenia (woman’s period) and the second blood is the blood of virginity.
  • “Thy sorrow”, in rearing (raising children).
  • “Thy conception” (pregnancy pains).
  • “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children” (labor pains).
  • “Thy desire shall be unto they husband”, refers to reproduction.
  • “’He shall rule over thee”, the man expresses his needs and demand it, but the woman keeps her desire and can’t express it.
  • She is wrapped up like a mourner. (cover her head, or should wrapped her hair)
  • Dares not appear in public with her head uncovered.
  • Is restricted to one husband, while he may have many wives.
  • Is confined to the house as to a prison.

Eruvin text used many inappropriate expressions which we consider it today as insult to the woman. The text shows how some Jewish teaching took the extreme approach towards the woman. When we look at Genesis 3, God didn’t curse the human, but the curse was mentioned to the serpent and the earth.  

  • Bereishit Rabbah 20. 6- 7

Another text is from Bereshith Rabbah or the Great Genesis[5]. The text is very similar to the last one Eruvin 100b. But Genesis Rabbah 20.6 focusing more in the pain of conception:

THY PAIN refers to the pain of conception; THY TRAVAIL, to the discomfort of pregnancy; IN PAIN, to the sufferings of miscarriages; SHALT THOU BRING FORTH, to the agony of childbirth; CHILDREN, to the suffering involved in the upbringing of children. (Genesis Rabbah 20.6)[6]

  1. Rabbah sharing the same kind of woman’s pain with the Talmudic text Eruvin 100b. It added a new kind of pain which is child abortion. In Genesis Rabbah 20.7 explaining what’s the meaning of the desire shall be to the husband:

Another interpretation of AND THY DESIRE SHALL BE TO THY HUSBAND: When a woman sits on the birth stool, she declares, “I will henceforth never fulfil my marital duties,” whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, says to her: “Thou wilt return to thy desire, thou wilt return to the desire for thy husband.’’ R. Berekiah and R. Simon in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Because she fluttered in her heart, she must bring a fluttering sacrifice [i.e., a bird]: She shall take two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons (Lev. 12:8). (Genesis Rabbah 20.7)[7]

When a woman is about to give birth to her baby, she feels severe pain during childbirth at this time of weakness, she undertakes that she will avoid the relationship with her husband in the future in order she don’t have children and not pass through the same pain again. But God solved this problem by placing the desire and longing in the woman’s heart to return back to her husband.  

  • Pesahim 118a

Pesahim[8] belongs to the second order, Moed. In this text Rabbi Yoḥanan is comparing between the man’s pain in Genesis 3: 17 and the woman’s pain in Genesis 3: 16:

With regard to the praise due to God for sustaining the world, the Gemara cites a statement that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The task of providing a person’s food is twice as difficult as the suffering endured by a woman in childbirth. While, with regard to a woman in childbirth, it is written: “In pain [be’etzev] you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16), with regard to food, it is written: “In toil [be’itzavon] you shall eat of it, all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). Itzavon is a superlative form of etzev, which indicates that it is more difficult to support oneself than to give birth. (Pesahim 118a:6)[9]

In God’s sentence on the woman, Genesis 3: 16 uses the word “pain [be’etzev]”. For God’s sentence on the man, Genesis 3: 17 uses a superlative form of pain which means more pain or great pain. Therefore, the man toil in his work more than the woman’s pain in the childbirth. The same comparison in Genesis Rabbah 20.9, The difficulties of earning a livelihood are twice as great as those of childbirth:

IN TOIL (BE-’IZZABON) SHALT THOU EAT OF IT. R. Issi said: The difficulties of earning a livelihood are twice as great as those of childbirth. In respect of birth it is written, “In pain (be-’ezeb) shalt thou bring forth children,” whereas in respect of a livelihood it is written IN GREAT PAIN (BE-’IZZABON) SHALT THOU EAT OF IT. (Genesis Rabbah 20.9)[10]

  • Sotah 12a

Sotah[11] belongs to the third order of the Babylon Talmud. This chapter of Sotah 12a, it’s context about the story of child Moses birth and how he got to the Pharaoh’s palace:

And the woman conceived and bare a son. But she had already been pregnant three months! R. Judah b. Zebina said: It compares the bearing of the child to its conception; as the conception was painless so was the bearing painless. Hence [it is learnt] that righteous women were not included in the decree upon Eve. (Sotah 12a)[12]

When a woman does not suffer in pregnancy and childbirth like Moses’s mother that means she is a good and righteous woman. And God’s sentence on women to suffer in her childbirth and pregnancy does not work on some good women. Because they return to their condition to a live without pain or suffering which it was before the fall.

  • Song of Songs Rabbah 2.14

Song of Songs Rabbah[13] (Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah) is a Midrashic commentary on the Song of Songs. This text makes a reception of Genesis 3: 16 giving a strange interpretation about woman’s pain and how it’s related to her beauty:

  1. Hunyi said in the name of R. Meir: Why were the matriarchs so long barren? In order that their husbands might enjoy their beauty. For when a woman conceives, she becomes clumsy and stout. The proof is that so long as Sarah was barren she sat in her house like a bride in her bridal chamber, but when she became pregnant her charm faded; and so it says, In pain thou shalt bring forth children (Gen. 3:16). (Song of Songs Rabbah 2.14)[14]

The barren woman remains beautiful if she does not pass the pregnancy phase. The Rabbi gave Sara as an example, when she was barren, she was like a bride in her house. But when she became pregnant, her beauty faded. Some Jewish teachers saw that pregnancy and childbirth affect a woman’s beauty, so if the woman has not been pregnant before, she remains beautiful, because she escaped from God’s sentence on all the women.

  • Life of Adam and Eve

The Greek version of “The Life of Adam and Eve” (GLAE)[15], has a clear refer to the biblical text Genesis 3: 16:

Since you have listened to the serpent and ignored my commandment, you shall suffer birth pangs and unspeakable pains; with much trembling you shall bear children and on that occasion you shall come near to lose your life from your great anguish and pains, and you shall confess and say, LORD, LORD, save me and I will never again turn to the sin of the flesh. And by this, according to your word I will judge you, because of the enmity which the enemy has placed in you. And yet you shall turn again to your husband, and he shall rule over you. (GLA E 25.1–4)[16]

This text is taking directly about the woman’s pain, adding that the woman could lose her life during the birth. She will feel a great pain at this time that she will cry to the Lord to save her, and she will never back again to the sexual relationship (sin of the flesh). It’s a similar interpretation to Genesis Rabbah 20.7 which we studied above. In both texts, the woman during the birth and her great pain giving a promise not to back for the sexual relationship with her husband. Despite all this, she returns to her husband because God’s sentence on her with permanent desire.

There’s another expression which is not familiar to be used to express the sexual relationship as “sin of the flesh” in the context of Genesis 3: 16. Magdalena Díaz Araujo gives study about this expression and it’s meaning in GLAE 25[17]. It refers to the sexual relationship between Adam and Eve, but to consider it as a sin in marriage never mentioned before in Genesis or the whole Bible. According to Díaz Araujo, “this idea seems to be what is expressed by the term “sin of the flesh” and to be the result of a specific exegesis of the biblical account developed by the authors of GLAE.”[18] It’s very interesting to see how some Jewish look at the sexual relationship as a sin in marriage, Some of the fathers of the church thought so. This concept which is against the bible, it formed from long history of the traditional interpretations from the religious teachers of the scripture.

  • Jubilees 3: 23- 25

In the book of Jubilees, it uses the same quotation in Genesis 3: 16:

And the LORD cursed the serpent and he was angry with it forever. And he was angry with the woman also because she had listened to the voice of the serpent and had eaten. And he said to her, I will surely multiply your grief and your birth pangs. Bear children in grief. And to your husband is your return and he will rule over you. (Jubilees 3: 23- 25)[19]

We could notice that Jubilees text added two expressions to the biblical text. First, God was “angry” from the woman, and the second, the woman’s pain will be with “grief”. The text used “your return” instead of “your desire” which gave an interpretation to the text to make it clearer than the desire. So, despite the woman’s pain, she will return at the end to her husband.      

The Early Christian writings

  • Augustine of Hippo

Augustine understood woman’s punishment not just in the pain of bearing children because even for the female animals give birth with pain. Augustine said that, “the great punishment: they have come to the present bodily mortality from their former immortality.”[20] He considered that the great woman’s punishment when she subjected to death. Also, Augustine assumed that Adam and Eve before they sinned, God gave them “genital organs for the purpose of procreation”, but without lust “disordered passions” and the birth supposed to be without pain if the human didn’t sin.[21]

Augustine saw the conception and reproduction wasn’t a result of sin. Because God created the human with genitals for reproduction, even if the human did not sin, in order to ensure the continuity of humans. For Augustin, woman’s pain is seen as a natural part of her biological nature.

  • John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom providing a unique interpretation of Genesis 3: 16. He saw woman’s punishment in a positive way, considered that the “punishment accompanied by admonition”[22] from God. Despite all the woman’s pain due to God’s punishment, he’s still the loving God, converting the woman’s pain to joy in her life, changing the suffering into happiness. He quoted from Jesus’s speech in John 16: 21, “when she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the distress for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” We need to see woman’s punishment from this perspective that there is a blessing beyond God’s punishment.

He also addresses the relationship between husband and wife, he saw that in the beginning God created Adam and Eve equal. God entrusted both to control everything.

In the beginning I created you equal in esteem to your husband, and my intention was that in everything you would share with him as an equal, and as I entrusted control of everything to your husband, so did I to you; but you abused your equality of status.[23]

John Chrysostom saw that the domination of man over woman was a result of sin and it didn’t exist before the fall. He saw equality between man and woman, and God entrusted each of them to manage the creation.

  • Ephrem The Syrian

Ephrem the Syrian his view is like Augustine in existence of a marriage before the fall. He said, “Even though she would have given birth to children anyway–seeing that she had received the blessing of childbirth along with all creatures.”[24] And if Eve had children before the fall, they would be immortal. The different about woman’s punishment is for Ephrem the Syrian not the birth but the way the woman giving birth in pain and the difficulty raising children. Also, before the fall the woman shall not experience any lamentations feelings at the deaths of her children because the will be immortal, but after the fall, part of her punishment that she will experience these lamentations feelings because some of her children could die.

  • Tertullian

In his book Against Marcion, Woman is condemned to bring forth in sorrow, and to serve her husband.[25] She heard God’s command before the fall that she will increase and multiply without pain, after the fall she will give birth in pain. Tertullian understood that the woman before the fall was created to be a help not a slave for her husband.[26] He and John Chrysostom agree about the state of equality for woman before the fall which changed after the fall because God’s punishment. 

  • John of Damascus

John of Damascus disagree with most of views we showed above, he saw the marriage was a result of sin. He mentioned that, “Virginity was practiced in paradise.”[27] Because before the fall they were naked and not ashamed. Part of the woman’s punishment is to get birth so that the human race could continue and be preserved. This was the reason of why God invented marriage after the fall.


We studied in this paper many early Jewish and Christians texts, to show the receptions they used of Genesis 3: 16, and how they understood woman’s punishment. We could divide all the views in two different groups. The first group that most of Genesis 3: 16 receptions in the early Jewish and some Christians texts used to limit the woman’s role and her freedom in the society, underestimated her, and make advantages for the men over women. Some texts used far interpretations, ideas which the biblical text didn’t included. The second group like John Chrysostom and others tried to make a theological reconciliation about the consequences of women’s punishment. I see we need more this perspective, not to focus in the consequences of the fall like woman’s punishment in Genesis 3: 16, but how could we make reconciliation with this text to restore God’s image before the fall and to look at it by the new testament context and redemption of Jesus Christ to all the creation.



Chrysostom, John. Homilies on Genesis 1- 17: The Fathers of the Church. V. 74. Translated by Robert C. Hill. Michigan: Baltimore Catholic University of America Press Ann Arbor, 2010.

Díaz Araujo, Magdalena. “The Sins of the First Woman: Eve Traditions in Second Temple Literature with Special Regard to the Life of Adam and Eve.” In Early Jewish Writings.  Edited by Eileen Schuller and Marie-Theres Wacker. Vol 3.1. Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2017.

  1. Kvam, Kristen and Linda S Schearing, Valarie H. Ziegler. Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Hershon, Paul Isaac. Genesis: with a Talmudical Commentary: The Pentateuch According to the Talmud. Translated. M. Wolkenberg. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1883. (accessed December 8, 2019)

Johnson, M. D. “Life of Adam and Eve.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the Old Testament and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. Vol 2. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1985.

Oden, Thomas C. Genesis 1-11: Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture, Old Testament. Hoboken, NJ: Routledge, 2014.

Patristic Bible Commentary. Https:// (accessed December 24, 2019).

Tertullian. The Writings of Tertullian. Vol. 2. Edited by Anthony Uyl. Ingersoll, Ontario: Devoted Publishing, 2019.

[1] 16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;

    in pain you shall bring forth children,

yet your desire shall be for your husband,

    and he shall rule over you.” (NRSV)

[2] “Composed in Talmudic Babylon (c.450 – c.550 CE). Eruvim (Mixtures) belongs to the second order, Moed (Festivals) and discusses the Eruv or Sabbath-bound – a category of constructions/delineations that alter the domains of the Sabbath for carrying and travel,” in (accessed December 8, 2019)

[3] Kristen E. Kvam, and Linda S Schearing, Valarie H. Ziegler, Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 92.

[4] Paul Isaac Hershon, Genesis: with a Talmudical Commentary: The Pentateuch According to the Talmud, trans. M. Wolkenberg (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1883), 38.

[5] “Composed in Talmudic Israel/Babylon (500 CE). Bereshith Rabbah (The Great Genesis) is a midrash comprising a collection of rabbinical homiletical interpretations of the Book of Genesis,” in (accessed December 8, 2019)

[6] E. Kvam, Eve and Adam, 92.

[7] Ibid., 93.

[8] “Composed in Talmudic Babylon (c.450 – c.550 CE). Pesahim (Passover Festivals) belongs to the second order, Moed (Festivals) and discusses the prescriptions regarding the Passover and the paschal sacrifice. It has ten chapters,” in (accessed December 8, 2019) 

[9] “Pesahim 118a:6,” in (accessed December 8, 2019)

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Composed in Talmudic Babylon (c.450 – c.550 CE). Sotah (Wayward Wife) belongs to the third order, Nashim (Women) and discusses the ritual of the Sotah – the woman suspected of adultery (Num 5) as well as other rituals involving a spoken formula (such as breaking the heifer’s neck, the King’s septa-annual public Torah reading, the Blessings and Curses of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, etc…). It has nine chapters,” in (accessed December 8, 2019)

[12] E. Kvam, Eve and Adam, 93.

[13] “Composed in Talmudic Israel/Babylon (c.880 – c.900 CE). Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah (The Great Song of Songs) is a haggadic midrash on the Song of Songs, quoted by Rashi. Simon Duran, in quoting this midrash claims it is from Israel,” in (accessed December 8, 2019)

[14] E. Kvam, Eve and Adam, 92.

[15] “The Greek Life of Adam and Eve, written probably in the first century CE in a Jewish-Palestinian milieu from preexisting oral traditions”, Magdalena Díaz Araujo, “The Sins of the First Woman: Eve Traditions in Second Temple Literature with Special Regard to the Life of Adam and Eve,” in Early Jewish Writings, ed.  Eileen Schuller and Marie-Theres Wacker, vol 3.1 (Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2017), 112.

[16] M. D. Johnson, “Life of Adam and Eve,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, ed. James H. Charlesworth, vol 2 (Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1985), 283.

[17] Díaz Araujo, Early Jewish Writings, 107.

[18] Ibid.

[19] H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 60.

[20] Thomas C. Oden, Genesis 1-11: Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture, Old Testament (Hoboken, NJ: Routledge, 2014), 93.

[21] Ibid., 93- 94.

[22] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 1- 17: The Fathers of the Church, V. 74, trans. Robert C. Hill (Michigan: Baltimore Catholic University of America Press Ann Arbor, 2010), 240.

[23] C. Oden, Genesis 1-11, 93.

[24] Patristic Bible Commentary, (accessed December 24, 2019).

[25] Tertullian, The Writings of Tertullian, Vol. 2, ed. Anthony Uyl (Ingersoll, Ontario: Devoted Publishing, 2019), 112.

[26] Ibid.

[27] C. Oden, Genesis 1-11, 93.

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