The Eden Podcast with Bruce C. E. Fleming

Genesis 3:15-17 The HIDDEN Patterns

Episode Summary

My wife, Dr. Joy Fleming, unlocked the Hebrew word patterns related to Genesis 3:16. One is a 7-part pattern written into Genesis 2-3. One is smaller pattern written into Genesis 3:15-17. With these in mind, the meaning of these verses becomes clear!

Episode Notes

God did NOT curse the woman in Genesis 3:16  IN ANY WAY! But modern translations make it look like God did. So it is necessary to think again about the word patterns in 3:15-17, and the larger context of Genesis 2-3, to see what God really said. 

Genesis 2-3, in Hebrew, is a  meaningful seven-part pattern that is a chiasm. A chiasm can be pictured as a rainbow or as a bell curve.

Line 1 of 3:16 is the center of a linchpin pattern that links verse 15-17. The first linking Hebrew word is ‘itsebon which means “sorrowful-toil” and points down to the same word used in verse 17. There God tells the man that the curse on the ground made because of him will result in ‘itsebon or “sorrowful-toil.” In working the ground with their hands each one, the woman and the man, would have ‘itsebon or “sorrowful-toil.”

In Line 1 of 3:16 the second linking Hebrew word heron which means “pregnancy” or “conception” points back to the Hebrew word zera‘ which means “seed” or “offspring” which is used in verse 15. 

A literal translation of the four Hebrew words of Line 1 of Genesis 3:16 in English would be as follows: (1) Multiplying (2) I-will-multiply (3) your-sorrowful-toil (4) and-your-conception.


Episode Transcription

The focus of this episode is: Genesis 3:16 - Defined in part by Meaningful Word Patterns. 

Let’s get started.


In the days before GPS technology, a six-seater, single-engine missionary plane took off from a grass airstrip heading out across the raw African rainforest. The destination? Another isolated grass strip more than a hundred miles away. Before it could get there the ground below was covered by a thick layer of clouds that went on and on and on. Time passed. Where was the airstrip? Any other place than that hand prepared airstrip would result in a terrific crash. The pilot asked the passengers to pray, then help look for a gap in the clouds so he could get oriented. Eventually they would have to descend into those clouds to set down. 

Finally one of them spotted a gap in the clouds. The pilot looked, recognized a land mark and based on that insight immediately banked the plane down into a rapid descent. As the plane descended below the cloud layer the way to the airstrip was clear.

I’ve been in planes like that. And, I’ve felt like the six in that little plane who found that gap in the clouds.

The meaning of some verses in the Bible has been clouded as well. For me the greatest insight through confusing clouds came when my wife, Dr. Joy Fleming, told me she had found the key to unlocking the reading in Hebrew of God’s words to the woman in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:16.

Using that key insight to navigate she opens up the meaning of God’s words to the woman given to her after God addresses the serpent-tempter in 3:14-15. Many people think God cursed the woman in some way and even perversely reordered relations between men and women in Genesis 3:16. 

Some people reject a God who would say things like they think was said in this verse. Others, grit their teeth and hang on as they read through the words in their English translations waiting till they get out of the clouded mess that seems to cover the verses at the end of Genesis chapter 3.

When that pilot took off from the grass airstrip part of the success of the pilot in finding a landing place came in knowing the lay of the land. Also, the pilot knew the landmarks and could navigate by them. In her doctoral research my wife discovered a clear pattern written into Genesis 2-3. It is written in a seven-part pattern that is a chiasm. A chiasm can be pictured as a rainbow or as a bell curve. In a chiasm the theme or words used in a first line or section (let’s call it A) are repeated in the corresponding section (A’). Likewise with the second section from the beginning (B) and the next to the last section (B’). A chiastic pattern works this way until the center section is arrived at. That section is often the key or turning point to the chiasm. 

In Genesis chapter 2 God creates the man and puts him in the Garden of Eden. God continues to create and relate until the summit is reached in 2:25. Then, in chapter 3, Satan attacks and there is a sharp downward slope until the expulsion of man from the Garden at the end of chapter 3. 

That discovery of the parts of the Genesis 2-3 passage provides the overview or the map of the terrain in Eden, so to speak. The discovery of the gap in the clouds came about after my wife came across an obscure article about smaller word pattern in Genesis chapter 11 by Dr. Isaac Kikawada. As he analyzed the structure of that passage he referred to a similar structure located in Genesis chapter 2.

That drew her attention. If there was a special word pattern in chapter 2 in the first section of the upward curve of the passage then there should be a similar word pattern in the corresponding slope on the downhill side in Genesis chapter 3. But she had never come across anyone commenting on that. 

People who earn a master’s degree are supposed to gain a mastery of what is known about something. People who become a doctor with a research degree are supposed to go beyond the master’s level. They are supposed to reveal something new, something to add to our knowledge in their field of study. Had she found that something new here? More importantly, was there a truth in the Bible text that had been overlooked, or that had somehow been obscured over the years?

She peered into the cloud of Genesis 3 looking for that word pattern. It was a linchpin construction. In Genesis 11 and Genesis 2 key words in the center section of a linchpin construction are linked to the same or similar words above and below the center section. According to Kikawada, in the Genesis 2 linchpin, two key words linked verse 8 to the verses before it and after it. One word pointed forward to verse 9. One word pointed back to verse 7. 

In verse 8, God brings together both plant life and humanity. Kikawada showed that this important “linking” takes place not only in what the words say but also in the way the words are arranged. The initial Hebrew word “planted,” in verse 8, points down to verse 9 and the similar Hebrew word “made-grow.” The last Hebrew word in verse 8, “formed,” points back to the Hebrew word “formed” in verse 7.

When Joy checked the Hebrew of the corresponding Section in chapter 3 to see if it had a linchpin with a verse with key words that linked it to the verses around it she found it. There were the two linking words in the center of a linchpin. They were joined by the Hebrew conjunction “and” in Line 1 of verse 16. Genesis 3:16 was linked to 3:17 and 3:15!

Right away she banked her plane, so to speak, and dove down for a closer look at the details of what she had found. As in the first linchpin in Genesis 2, there are two distinct words, one that links to the verse after it and one that links to the verse before it. The Hebrew word “sorrowful-toil” in verse 16 links to the same Hebrew word, “sorrowful-toil,” in the verse after it and the Hebrew word, “conception,” in verse 16 links to the similar word Hebrew word “seed” in the verse before it.

This precise way of arranging these words did not happen by accident. It is one of the ways Hebrew is written out to deliver information in a memorable way.

In Line 1 of 3:16 the first linking Hebrew word ‘itsabon which means “sorrowful-toil” points down to the same word used in verse 17. There God tells the man that the curse on the ground made because of him will result in ‘itsabon or “sorrowful-toil.” In fieldwork each one, the woman and the man, would have ‘itsabon or “sorrowful-toil.”

In Line 1 of 3:16 the second linking Hebrew word heron which means “pregnancy” or “conception” points back to the Hebrew word zera‘ which means “seed” or “offspring” which is used in verse 15. 

A literal translation of the four Hebrew words of Line 1 of Genesis 3:16 in English would be as follows: (1) Multiplying (2) I-will-multiply (3) your-sorrowful-toil (4) and-your-conception.

But translations don’t correctly translate the last two of these four words at all. Instead they treat words 3 and 4 as if they could be merged into one idea. They could do this if they had grammatical justification to do this. They could if in these words there were an indication of the presence of what’s called a hendiadys.

Modern English versions have been putting together into one idea the important two linking words of Line 1 of Genesis 3:16! They treat line one with its last two words joined by “and” as if they had come across a phrase with grammatical element called a hendiadys. By doing this they come up with a single new idea that totally breaks the links that should be followed to the verses after and before it.

This is equivalent to covering over God’s inspired Hebrew with repugnant word pollution. And this word pollution has flowed downstream causing damage in a half dozen major passages elsewhere in the Bible.

Here is the wrong idea that gets plastered thickly over God’s words in Line 1 of 3:16. It is the wrong-headed idea that God basically cursed the woman regarding only what would happen at the end of her 9-month-long pregnancy.

Here are just three translations that word Line 1 of 3:16 this way. 

NIV:      “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing”

NASB: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth”

ESV:     “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing”

Can they do this? They are doing this. But should they do this? 

Let me take you back to an interesting meeting we had when we were thinking about whether or not a hendiadys might be located in Line 1 of 3:16.

One crisp autumn, Joy’s studies led us to New England. This area of the country is especially beautiful when the leaves change color. It is also the home of several renowned research schools and libraries. So she scheduled a visit with an Old Testament professor at a famous school and asked me to accompany her.

As we went down the half flight of stairs to his office entry, a few copper colored leaves swirled around our ankles in the autumn breeze. Inside, his office was crammed with books. 

We found space to sit and talk about the “and” in Line 1 of Genesis 3:16. “Professor, would you look at this Hebrew ‘and’ and tell us what you see?” 

His comments, punctuated by long pauses as he reflected deeply, ran something like this:

Here we have an example of a hendiadys – two things joined by ‘and’ to mean a different thing. … Yes, an example of a hendiadys. … Of course, this one doesn’t look like your ordinary hendiadys. The typical indicators are not present. … In fact, there is nothing in the grammar to indicate that the words in this verse should be combined as if there were a hendiadys present. The words could very well be read normally as two separate things with ‘and’ in between joining them. …  But, even though this doesn’t look anything like a hendiadys and it could be correct to say there is no hendiadys here … we know that it is a hendiadys.

“Thank you so very much, professor,” Joy said when the time came to a close. As we climbed up the stairs into the breeze and the leaves that greeted us, one thing was perfectly clear from our hour-long discussion on the word “and.” There wasn’t any reason to drop it out.

There wasn’t any reason to push the words together in Line 1 even though the professor had said, “We know it is a hendiadys.” Perhaps he was influenced by the writings of others who had passed along the incorrect assumption that this was a hendiadys. But, the professor’s observations, made in front of us, clearly showed that the widely held view wasn’t necessarily correct.

Without squeezing the words of Line 1 into a hendiadys, the math in Genesis 3:16, Line 1, is easy to calculate: One thing, plus one more thing, joined by the word “and” adds up to two different things – “sorrowful-toil and conception.” Line 1 does not add up to one new thing – “pain-in-childbearing”!

Joy likes to compare this to a math equation. To illustrate how the Hebrew grammar in Line 1 works, she refers to the distributive property in mathematics. In math language, the distributive property goes this way: 

(b+c)= ab + ac

The left side of the equation is equivalent to the right side of the equation. The “a” term is simply distributed to each of the other two terms, “b” and “c.” The result is that both the left and right sides of the equation are equivalent.

In the case of Line 1 of Genesis 3:16 the left side of the equation is “God will surely multiply.” The right side of the equation has two elements. The resulting meaning is that God will surely multiply “sorrowful-toil” and also that God will surely multiply the woman’s “conception.” As in the math equation, God is going to multiply, not one, but two things. That’s what a good translation should show us. But that’s not what’s out there in practically every translation.

Joy’s discovery uncovers a major error that modern translations are making on the way they are wording Genesis 3:16 for us into English. And the more we look at it the more it becomes clear that this is a BIG PROBLEM!

Have you ever wondered why God was so harsh with the woman in 3:16? So have others. They have asked, “If she was treated this way by God then did she deserve it? And if she deserved what was practically a curse imposed only on her just think of how bad she must have been.”

To treat her this way goes along the lines of the man’s accusation that she had been his temptress. That was false charge. The man had also blamed God. Both ideas were wildly incorrect. Neither the woman nor God tempted the man. Satan-in-the-serpent tempted the man. 

Why would the man treat her as if she were his enemy? She was the enemy of the serpent. God had confirmed her as Satan’s adversary. 

Would this powerful adversary have anything to do with working behind the scenes to twist translations of the words of God to the woman? It would be a master stroke against her in public opinion. It would lead to serious mistreatment by those who thought her deserving of severe punishment.

God treated the woman with respect. God warned her that she would have sorrowful-toil in participating in field work just as would the man, her fellow farmer, when they worked the fields God had cursed because of the man. God then strengthened his blessing to her. God renewed his promise that she would have multiplied pregnancy. And one of her offspring would be the Messiah. 

In his defiant challenge to God, the man dared to accuse God of being his tempter. And then the man had also blamed the woman as being his tempter. Neither charge was correct. And modern translations that promote the idea that God changed the last hours of her conception and pregnancy into a special moment of punishment are incorrect as well.

We need to let Genesis 3:16 communicate its message to us clearly without the word pollution. And we need to spread the true meaning of 3:16.


I invite you to visit our website at for links to our books, blog posts and our YouTube Channel with more than a dozen in-depth Workshops on the 7 key Bible passages on women and men from Eden on. 

You can also receive a free study guide on this episode for use in small groups and more. You can find it in the blog posts on or write me at And thanks for listening to The Eden Podcast!