Genesis 3:16: what is the meaning of "woman's sorrow"?

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Genesis 3:16: what is the meaning of "woman's sorrow"?

Postby owl3951 » Mon Aug 29, 2011 9:08 am

I think this verse has for countless years been misunderstood. The Scripture is part of God’s judgment of Adam and Eve after they have eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. From the King James version of the Bible, God speaks to Eve as follows:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

In Catholic school I was taught, as so many people were, that this verse meant that:

1. God made birth painful in order to punish women for Eve’s part in Man’s “original sin”; and
2. women should be subservient to men.

Re-reading this verse, I now think that this interpretation is wide of the mark. Way wide.

God does not say that His Prophecy should be true. He merely prophecies what shall be true. It is, in afterthought, ludicrous to see this verse as a punishment “befitting” some crime.

The clue is the phrase “and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband.” Historically what has been the ‘desire’ of ‘Woman’? More to the point, what role has she been allowed? Woman builds the family and the community. For her children’s sake, she grounds the family and the community in values; she wants effective healing; she wants education so her children are better off than her own generation; and so on. None of these goals should have required Woman to relinquish her own capacities as artist , governor, entrepreneur, scientist, etc. These fulfillments were taken from her.

Note that these goals are only worthy goals if a soul knows good from evil. Animals do not share these goals. God set up creation such that humans have significantly different concerns the more enlightened they are. Hence, when God speaks, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow...” it is not tit-for-tat punishment. Rather, it is evolutionary development.

However, in order to achieve both her desire and her own self-fulfillment, she, perforce, needed her husband: “and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband”. Many have written of how women have been held in virtual slavery by men. The primary weapons men had were

1. greater brute strength; and
2. the ability to walk away.

By far, the greater weapon of these two is man's ability to desert the family. Men have lacked the capacity so to bond with their offspring that they would be incapable of not providing, to be incapable of leaving. Women have been hostage to the rule of men because of their children.

Consequently, God says that Woman’s sorrow shall be “and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Husband rules over Woman. She gives up her self-fulfillment and must depend upon what can be an unreliable—even capricious--someone for completion of her vision. If she has any success in her vision, whether at the familial or the societal level, Husband rules over that success. Hence, “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”. Her children could have been an unmitigated joy, if husband had seen them as his children as well.

Why is childbirth painful, then? The physical world reflects spiritual truths.

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Re: Genesis 3:16: what is the meaning of "woman's sorrow"?

Postby brettz9 » Tue Aug 30, 2011 1:25 am

Hello Owl,

While outwardly Genesis here does appear to indicate this as a punishment, given that this verse was preceded by their having sinned (though note that Adam is also punished with having to toil on the fields, with heavy labor traditionally being for men), and as an anecdote, it is making concrete how we ought to obey God in the first instance, this parable should not be used as a literal history or justifying a literalistic interpretation. The invention of "original sin" as a literal belief, is rejected in the Baha'i teachings:

Adam was the cause of physical life, and as the physical world of man is the world of imperfections, and imperfections are the equivalent of death, Paul compared the physical imperfections to death.
But the mass of the Christians believe that, as Adam ate of the forbidden tree, He sinned in that He disobeyed, and that the disastrous consequences of this disobedience have been transmitted as a heritage and have remained among His descendants. Hence Adam became the cause of the death of humanity. This explanation is unreasonable and evidently wrong, for it means that all men, even the Prophets and the Messengers of God, without committing any sin or fault, but simply because they are the posterity of Adam, have become without reason guilty sinners, and until the day of the sacrifice of Christ were held captive in hell in painful torment. This is far from the justice of God. If Adam was a sinner, what is the sin of Abraham? What is the fault of Isaac, or of Joseph? Of what is Moses guilty?

('Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, Chapter 29, p. 120)

'Abdu'l-Baha explains that the story of Adam and Eve has symbolic meaning (e.g., in Chapter 30), some of which are explained in different places such as p. 449 of Promulgation of Universal Peace (talks attributed to 'Abdu'l-Baha, some of which are confirmed as authentic, some of which have not yet been documented as to their status) and Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, sec. 220. Another is in an unauthenticated Tablet: where it indicates that Eve represents the first believer of a Dispensation.

The Baha'i Writings speak of a mother's suffering for birth as a moral strength:

"The mother bears the troubles and anxieties of rearing the child, undergoes the ordeal of its birth and training. Therefore, it is most difficult for mothers to send to the battlefield those upon whom they have lavished such love and care. Consider a son reared and trained twenty years by a devoted mother. What sleepless nights and restless, anxious days she has spent! Having brought him through dangers and difficulties to the age of maturity, how agonizing then to sacrifice him upon the battlefield! Therefore, the mothers will not sanction war nor be satisfied with it. So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it. This is true and without doubt.
It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation. This is pure imagination."

('Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 134-135)

Sacrifice, the greatest act which human beings can make, in the case of child-birth, is both indicative of the honor given to women to undergo this ordeal (while medicine ought to seek to avoid undue suffering) and the sacredness of child-birth itself.

As far as ruling over women, I think that in this case, the Bible actually was justifying it at such a time of human immaturity where force was the rule of the day.

From the beginning of existence until the Promised Day men retained superiority over women in every respect. It is revealed in the Qur'án: "Men have superiority over women." But in this wondrous Dispensation, the supreme outpouring of the Glorious Lord became the cause of manifest achievements by women.

('Abdu'l-Baha, From a Tablet - translated from the Persian, Compilation on Women, at

The Baha'i Dispensation is the first one in which women have been declared fully equal to men ("except in some negligible instances"). Men are still seen as the "head" of the family (see ) in the sense of holding certain responsibilities (such as to provide for his family), but this is not seen as justifying dominance in decision-making ("There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other.")

Best wishes,

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Re: Genesis 3:16: what is the meaning of "woman's sorrow"?

Postby BruceDLimber » Tue Aug 30, 2011 7:55 am

brettz9 wrote:The invention of "original sin" as a literal belief, is rejected in the Baha'i teachings

Not to mention the Jewish scriptures: Ezekiel 18:14-20 explicitly rejects inheritance of sin, which makes the frequent Christian insistance on it all the more bizarre!



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Re: Genesis 3:16: what is the meaning of "woman's sorrow"?

Postby iranpour » Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:25 am

brettz9 wrote on 29 Ague. 2011:
The invention of "original sin" as a literal belief, is rejected in the Baha'i teachings.

Hello brettz
That is absolutely true and the interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve by Christians is not fair because:

1). It is far from the mercy of God to be so cruel to punish women or men for what their ancestors have done. Even in our courts whose justice is in question, they do not condemn a son for his father’s crime or a daughter for her mother’s sin.

2). Scientifically sin is not a factor that could be transmitted by genes.

3). In the scriptures of Judaism it is attested that “the son does not bear the iniquity of the father”, and what is believed by Christian contradicts the Old Testament which is the complement of their Book, the Gospel.

As men’s physical body is stronger than women, the latter were dominated by the former, from the beginning of man’s life in this planet. The divine religions by means of their social laws tried to adjust and improve the problem of inequality, but as God’s operation is based on the wisdom of gradual progression, this job was done gradually in the process of “PROGRESSIVE REVELATION” till the Time of Baha’u’llah’s Dispensation when the human society stepped to maturity and was able to hear and accept EQUALITY OF SEXES.

As the story of Adam and Eve has symbolic meaning and as The Bible and The Qur’an are sealed till the advent of Baha’u’llah, to clarify the metaphorical meanings, we have to refer to His Revelation:

“And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? 12:9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for THE WORDS ARE CLOSED UP AND SEALED TILL THE TIME OF THE END”. (Daniel, 12:8).

What have they to wait for now but its interpretation? WHEN ITS INTERPRETATION SHALL COME, they who aforetime were oblivious of it shall say, "The Prophets of our Lord did indeed bring the truth; shall we have any intercessor to intercede for us? (The Qur'an, 7:51).

“Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, WE HAVE UNSEALED THE CHOICE WINE with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!... (Baha'u'llah, The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, p. 119).

In His Tablets, Bahá'u'lláh identifies the "CHOICE WINE" with HIS REVELATION whose "musk-laden fragrance" has been wafted "upon all created things". He states that He has "unsealed" this "Wine", thereby disclosing spiritual truths that were hitherto unknown, and enabling those who quaff thereof to "discern the splendours of the light of divine unity" and to "grasp the essential purpose underlying the Scriptures of God".

If it was appropriate, I may send a post interpreting the story of Adam and Eve recorded in the Bible.

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