Question: "Why did God punish women with pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16)?"
Answer: As a direct result of the original sin, Adam, Eve, and the serpent were all cursed in one way or another. Genesis 3:16 lists one of the judgments for Eve’s sin as, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.”
First, it appears that childbirth would have included some pain even before the sin of Adam and Eve. “I will surely multiply” (ESV) uses a Hebrew word meaning “to increase.” The pain of childbirth would be more than before. The second phrase includes “painful labor” to indicate that the process of childbirth, from conception to delivery, would include much difficulty for Eve and other women after her.
This judgment would be one that every childbearing woman would experience. Pain in childbearing was not only placed upon Eve but upon every future mother. This pain would serve as a universal reminder of God’s judgment for the sin Adam and Eve brought into the world.
Eve’s internal judgment is in contrast to Adam’s external judgment. Adam’s judgment included the necessity of difficult work to raise food (Genesis 3:17–19). In the Garden of Eden, food was plentiful without laborious farming. After his sin, Adam would spend the rest of his life working to provide food for himself and his family. While Eve’s judgment would take place during the times she carried and delivered children, Adam would experience his judgment every day for the rest of his life.
Interestingly, this judgment passage is immediately followed by Genesis 3:20: “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” Despite God’s judgment of painful and difficult childbearing, God gave His blessing to Adam and Eve in the form of children. Even in judgment, there is mercy. Eve took on the role of mother of all living.
A further confirmation of Eve’s important role is found in the condemnation of the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is a clear messianic prophecy, but it is also contains an immediate focus: Eve will have children who will be in conflict with the serpent (Satan). This conflict between Satan and humanity has been ongoing ever since, and it began with Adam and Eve and their offspring (Genesis 4).
Certainly, Genesis 3 does not provide every detail regarding why Eve was judged with increased pain in childbirth. However, we know that this judgment impacted the rest of Eve’s life and serves as an ongoing reminder of the far-reaching consequences of sin.