On that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when Eve chose to disobey God, she ate from the only tree that was forbidden (Genesis 3:3). Because Eve disobeyed, God said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children” (Genesis 3:16). God chose this particular judgment for woman as the natural consequence of sin entering the world.
In God’s original design of woman, she was without flaw, with an immortal body incapable of death (Romans 5:12). She was superb in every way and would have been utterly blameless in her maternal instincts and how she loved, taught, and cared for her children. Remember, God had already instructed Adam and Eve to “be fruitful,” so the curse was not in having children (Genesis 1:28). Without sin, Eve would been able to give birth without the extreme suffering that women experience today.
In Genesis 3:16, the original Hebrew word translated “pain” in many of our English Bibles is estev, which means “pain, hurt, toil, sorrow, labor, hardship.” The pain inflicted upon Eve was not only the physical pain of the birthing process, but also the emotional pain associated with raising children. And, of course, any woman who has had children can testify to the reality of both kinds of pain.
Some women believe that taking medication to mitigate the pain of the birthing process is a sinful bypassing of God’s curse. They would rather “take their punishment” than try to avoid God’s will. However, taking medicine is not wrong; a pain reliever to lessen headache pain, for example, is perfectly fine. To take medication to ease the pain of childbirth is not wrong, either; as a matter of fact, it’s a blessing from God that He would enable doctors to invent such a thing.
The apostle Paul told women how they can relieve some of the pain in childbearing: “But women will be saved through childbearing-if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Timothy 2:15). “Will be saved” in this text is not referring to women escaping the eternal consequences of sin, because that would contradict the Bible’s teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone (Romans 3:19-20). The word translated here as “saved” can also mean “to rescue, to preserve safe, to heal, to set free, or to deliver from” in a temporal sense. Paul is teaching women how to set themselves free from the worry and anxiety of childbearing. It is to “continue in faith” by living godly, Christ-centered lives. As a woman does so, her children will know Jesus Christ, have godly morals, and copy her example. Although it’s true the woman “became a sinner” (1 Timothy 2:14) and brings little sinners into the world, she can “redeem herself” by living righteously and raising a righteous generation. For a godly woman to know her children are safe and sound in the hands of a sovereign God is to know peace of mind and relief from fear.
A woman’s pain in childbirth is part of the suffering brought into the world through sin. As a direct result of the original sin, Adam, Eve, and the serpent were all cursed in one way or another. Genesis 3:16 lists one of the judgments for Eve’s sin as pain in childbirth: “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.”
It appears that, even before the fall, there would have been some pain in childbirth. God says, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth” (ESV), using a Hebrew word meaning “to increase.” The pain of childbirth would be more than before. The pain was amplified.
The pain in childbirth that Eve and all her daughters would experience involved more than the actual delivery of the baby. The phrase “painful labor” indicates that the whole process of childbirth, from conception to delivery, would include much difficulty.
This judgment from God was meant to be one that every childbearing woman would experience. Pain in childbirth was placed on Eve and on every future mother. This pain serves as a universal reminder of God’s judgment for the sin Adam and Eve brought into the world.
Of course, Adam did not experience the pain of childbirth. His judgment included a curse on the ground for his sake (Genesis 3:17-19). In the Garden of Eden, food was plentiful without laborious farming. But after his sin Adam spent the rest of his life working to provide food for himself and his family. While Eve’s judgment took place during the times she carried and delivered children, Adam experienced his judgment every day for the rest of his life.
Interestingly, this judgment passage is immediately followed by Genesis 3:20: “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” Despite God’s judgment of painful and difficult childbearing, God gave His blessing to Adam and Eve in the form of children. Even in judgment, there is mercy. Eve took on the role of mother of all living; in the pain of childbirth, she would also receive a blessing.
A further blessing, even in the face of the pain of childbirth, is found in the condemnation of the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is a messianic prophecy, but it is also contains an immediate focus: Eve will have children who will be in conflict with the serpent (Satan). This conflict between Satan and humanity has been ongoing ever since, and it began with Adam and Eve and their offspring (Genesis 4).
Certainly, Genesis 3 does not provide every detail regarding why Eve was judged with increased pain in childbirth. However, we know that this judgment impacted the rest of Eve’s life and serves as an ongoing reminder of the far-reaching consequences of sin.