“I will greatly increase your conception”

Genesis 3:16 says:

To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.’

There is much debate surrounding this verse (especially about the second half). And it was interesting to translate it a few weeks ago for my Hebrew Exegesis class. What made it interesting?
Because of this phrase: עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ

A gloss would render this phrase something like: your pain and your conception

Now, in most translations of the Bible you will see something about “childbirth” here. But that word doesn’t exist here in the Hebrew. There is another word for childbirth in Hebrew (ילד as it is used later in this context Gen. 3:16 or Gen. 38:27-28) – the word here refers to pregnancy or conception, not childbirth. Now isn’t that strange?

The reason other translations render this phrase “childbirth” is because they believe nominal hendiadys is going on. But is that really what is going on?

First of all what is nominal hendiadys?

1.8.3. In nominal hendiadys (Gk. hen dia dus, “one by means of two”), two nouns express a single idea.

1.8.3a. The first modifies the second, so that their translation often sounds like a noun with an adjective.

דְּמָמָה וָקֹל אֶשְׁמַע

I heard a whispering voice (Jb 4.16)

תֹּהוּ וָבֹהוּ

a formless void (Gen 1.2)

1.8.3b. Two-member [adjectival] construct chains may also be considered a form of hendiadys (§1.8.1c(2)).



(taken from: Frederic Clarke Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert : A Student’s Guide to the Syntax of Biblical Hebrew (Quakertown, PA: Stylus Publishing, 2002, c1996, c2002), 20.)


There is much debate about this subject – even Genesis 1:2 is debated (and actually Putnam’s whole premise that the first noun modifies the second – some believe, as I am coming to see, that rather in clear examples the second modifies the first), as many of my professors here at TMS do not believe it to be an example of nominal hendiadys (because of the context).

Looking at the whole of the Old Testament and all the possible nominal hendiadys that takes place (http://net.bible.org/) we see a pattern – rather than the first modifying the second as Putnam has stated, in clear examples the second modifies the first. It is the more debated passages that the first modifies the second – mainly because many believe that in nominal hendiadys only the second term can modify the first.

This is somewhat confusing – but I think by going back to our text it will clear things up a bit.

If we look at the construction of Genesis 3:16 the problem is this – there is no word refering to childbirth, and therefore if we take this as nominal hendiadys as many translations do we would come up with “painful conception,” which doesn’t make any sense. Even if it was “painful pregnancy” it still doesn’t totally make sense.

In talking with my professor about it he presented it this way:

Take the two words separately – “your pain and your conception”.

Then look at the next part of the verse – pain is explained – pain in childbirth.

Then look at the next part – the reason for the increase in conception is shown – God will instill in the woman “desire” for her husband.

This is a normal construction in Hebrew – two words are used and then explained in the following context (we see this with formless and void in Genesis 1:2 for first God “formed” the earth and then he “filled” it).

But isn’t this a curse? Why would God increase the frequency of conception for the woman?

Well, remember the provisions in the curse – God just got done addressing the serpent – and included in the curse was provision for the ultimate “bruising” of the serpent (through the seed of the woman).

And what was it that God had commanded the man and the woman to do before they ate of the fruit? “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28)

Be fruitful and multiply”

Now, think about it – death has just entered the world – hardship and suffering. It is going to be much harder to do what God commanded humankind to do because the earth is now a harsh place (as we see later, harsh also because people hate each other and murder). So God gives provision to the woman so that along with her husband they can do what God commanded them to do, mainly be fruitful and multiply.

Isn’t it amazing to see how merciful God is? Adam and Eve just rebelled against him – they did the one thing he told them not to do. And yet God shows great mercy to them, in helping them to do what is right in the future.

It reminds me of Augustine’s famous quote: “Command what you will and grant what you command”


This translation is interesting in light of how much has been written about the the word “desire” in the second half of this verse and the whole “headship” issue. It would be interesting to do more study on how following this translation would affect that whole issue, but that is another subject.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s