Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Genesis 3:16 says:

To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.

If God "multiplied" the woman's sorrow (pain), does this necessarily imply that she suffered from sorrow before the multiplication took place?

share|improve this question
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Those of us trained in mathematics tend to interpret words like "multiply" as if a mathematical problem was being stated. However, making an argument of this sort on the basis of the word רָבָה, to cause to increase, would be a stretch. Remember that even the root meaning of the English word multiply is to make many. Given the context, the emphasis on this verse is that she has plunged herself into sorrow when she was in bliss before, not she had pain and now it would be increased.

On the other hand, it is notable that the line between pain and a strong pleasure is not distinct. For example, I enjoy a level of spiciness in my food that many people would consider painful; but there are others to whom the level of spice which I can tolerate does not seem painful at all. It is purely in the realm of speculation to try to pin down exactly what type of sensory experiences there might have been prelapsarian. A weak pain may be a pleasure, where a multiplied pain is agony.

The deciding issue is really the context. She has passed over from a state of beatitude into one that is accursed. Regardless of the exact meaning of pain, sorrow clearly would not exist in a world pronounced so profoundly good (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The point of the narrative is to show that the blame for the sorrows of the human race rests squarely on its own shoulders.

share|improve this answer
The man and woman were supposed to be fruitful and multiply. This does not mean they had children previously. – Bob Jones May 28 '12 at 23:08

(Assuming a literal interpretation): the Hebrew is actually, "Ha-ReBah" (pardon the transliteration, I don't have the right font on this machine), which I believe also translates to "increase". The same root is translated "increase" in Gen. 7:17 referring to the raising of waters in the flood:

The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased ("Yi-ReBu"), and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. (RSV)

If you take the meaning to mean, "increase", then, since going from 0 to 1 is necessarily an increase, it does not need to have the implication that there was pain before the fall.

share|improve this answer

It may be noteworthy (in addition) that neurophysiologically one highly aggravating factor to pain is anxiety. The very same verse names two compensatory strategies to ameliorate the future fears and insecurities (for the woman: desiring / for the man: ruling).

Pain they may have experienced before, but probably never to the point of threat.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.