Good Verse / Bad Verse
by Bruce C. E. Fleming
Every hear about the bestselling book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad? This is not about that book.
Rich Verse / Poor Verse. The rich verse of Genesis 3:16 has been translated in a poor way. This is about the contrast in what our modern English versions give us in their translations of the good verse God gave us in Hebrew.
True Verse / False Verse. Genesis 3:16 needs to be translated in a way that is true to the Hebrew words in the original text and not in a way that gives a false message of those words.
The Big Picture. Dr. Joy Fleming found that in the 11 Hebrew words God spoke to the woman in Genesis 3:16, and in all of Genesis 2-3, God didn’t curse Eve (or Adam) or limit woman in any way. The word “curse” is used in Hebrew only two times; once on the serpent and once on the ground.
Most translations into English make it appear that God laid a special punishment on woman by giving her “pain” in the moments of childbirth. Sadly, this is true of modern translations into other languages as well.
When Joy and I lived and worked in Africa, and we heard this in Europe and North America too, people told us obviously there was a curse on Eve too. And if she received a curse she must have deserved it. And if she deserved it, they reasoned, it must be assumed that she was a major sinner in a way the man was not.
Yet this reasoning is based on bad translation. This leads to bad theology. Alarmingly, this bad theology leads to bad, and even hurtful, practices where women are concerned!
In Line 1 of Genesis 3:16 God spoke four words and took action. In Lines 2-4 God explained what had and would happen but took no further action.
Words #1 and #2 (multiplying, I-will-multiply) showed the Creator was going to take additional action. Everybody translating this verse gets this part right. They all are true to the original Hebrew text.
The next two words are joined with “and.” Each one points to someone else in the immediate context.
Word #3 points down to verse 17 where it is used again. God tells the woman she will have “sorrowful-toil.” No details are given on it in verse 16 but in verse 17 we learn much more. The man and the woman will experience this” sorrowful-toil” when they work the ground. God would take action and curse the ground because of the man. Does this “sorrowful-toil” speak about the act of childbirth? No. It has to do with working the soil with their hands. (See also Genesis 5:29.)
Word #4 points back up to verse 15 where God spoke about the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent tempter. God would take action and assures the woman that she would yet have “conception” or “pregnancy.” God had punished the man and the woman with death when they ate the forbidden fruit. This was no punishment. It was a blessed confirmation that she would indeed fulfill the blessing of Genesis 1 and be fruitful and multiply. Better yet, her offspring would crush the head of their Attacker.
This way of pointing down and pointing back up, centered in 3:16 and linking verses 17 and 15, links the two words in the middle of Line 1 to the surrounding context. We have called it “a linchpin construction.” There is also a linchpin construction in the corresponding section of Genesis 2.
But the bad news is most translations cover over the two linking words in the linchpin with a single and very different and negative new idea. They make it look like God promised to “zap” woman’s body with “pain in childbirth”!
Look at what these versions give us! The two words of the linchpin are not present at all. The links to the man and the serpent are not shown. God’s confirmation that she would bear the champion who would crush the head of the serpent is covered over by a very negative set of words!
– I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy (TLB)
– I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing (ESV)
And the rest of the story?
Having made it look like the woman was a very guilty culprit deserving a severe punishment in Line 1, these translations go on to make the following Lines in Genesis 3:16 to be all negative toward her as well!
In reality the verse in Hebrew reads quite differently. Before the Attack by the murderous Liar, everything was good, even very good, for the man and woman. Afterwards it was mix of good and bad. This reflected the mixed knowledge represented by the tree which was about that which was good and that which was evil.
After the man and woman ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil their experience became good and bad. This is reflected in the good news / bad news pattern that can be seen when we true the verse of Genesis 3:16.
There is much more to cover in this verse. Dr. Joy Fleming wrote about it in her book Man and woman in Biblical Unity, Theology from Genesis 2-3. Rev. Bruce C. E. Fleming wrote about it in The Book of Eden, Genesis 2-3 and covered it in Season One of The Eden Podcast available on Apple Podcasts and on Spotify.
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