Since the world was originally very good (Genesis 1:31) and truly perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4)—without any death or suffering of living creatures (Genesis 1:29–30)—would pain have existed before the Fall?

Let’s examine what the Bible tells us. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, the world went from a perfect state to an imperfect state. The Lord cursed the ground (Genesis 3:17) and animals (Genesis 3:14) and sentenced mankind to die (Genesis 2:17, 3:18).

“Increased Pain”

However, from a cursory glance at Genesis 3:16, one may think that pain was part of this original perfectly created world. Let’s take a look at this verse where the Lord is speaking to Eve and judging her due to her sin of eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain [Hebrew: itstsabown] in childbirth, In pain [Hebrew: etseb] you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”

Some may assume that if pain was to be multiplied, then there was already pain—the intensity merely increased.1 But is this correct? To understand this passage better, let’s look at the Hebrew words used for pain and dive deeper into the Scriptures. The Hebrew words used for pain in Genesis 3:16 are itstsabown and etseb.

What Kind of Pain Increased?

Both words have similar definitions, meaning “pain” and “sorrows” with other connotations like “hurt” or “labor.” So, their differences are miniscule. But really there is a two-fold aspect to this pain. There is physical pain in the actual birthing process (most mothers can attest to this) and mental anguish (e.g., sorrows) associated with having children in a sin-cursed world.

Consider that Eve not only went through the pain of child bearing during delivery, but she also had to endure the loss of Abel, her own son, slain by his own brother. Consider also Mary, who saw her son Jesus die on the cross. So, there are two prongs to this, and, of course, seeing one of your children die is an extreme example. But it would be rare, if not impossible task, to find a mother who has not seen her children suffer in some manner, from starvation to sickness, cuts, scrapes, and so on.

Does “Increased Pain” Mean Pain Before the Fall

Let’s evaluate these two types of pain with regards to pre-Fall times. When dealing with mental anguish, such is brought on by the suffering or death of a child. But in a pre-Fall world with no death or its associated aspect of suffering (Romans 5:12), this pain would have been non-existent. So, an increase (where death and suffering entered the creation) wouldn’t necessarily mean that this pain previously existed, but its mere entrance into the world made for an increase. From nothing to something is obviously an increase.

With regards to physical pain as in childbearing, a similar reading can be applied. Increased pain doesn’t necessarily mean pain before.

Consider what physical pain is. With your hand, you can touch a surface that is warm and you can detect the warm surface. There is no pain involved, merely sensation. However, if the surface temperature increases, at some point the sensation turns to pain.

In the same way, if I were to put my hand between two objects that merely rested against my hand, then I would have sensation. But if the objects began to “sandwich” my hand and continued to squeeze together, there would become a point where it is no longer mere sensation but pain.

Increased physical pain doesn’t mean there was pain before, but merely sensations that were useful. So, pain wasn’t a part of the original creation, but sensation—the sense of touch—was.

What Happened at the Fall That Allowed Us to Feel Pain?

But this brings up another point: what changed during the Fall to result in pain? There are actually several possibilities, such as:

  1. Sensation, as a whole, intensified at the Fall to permit pain.
  2. Innerworkings of the body (e.g., the pelvis bones for childbearing) no longer function as originally designed, causing increased sensation.
  3. Potential design changes at the Fall (e.g., pelvic bones for childbearing) resulted in increased sensation.
  4. God no longer upholds the world in a perfect state so that extreme sensation can now be felt resulting in pain. [Recall that while the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, their clothes did not wear out and their feet didn’t swell (Deuteronomy 8:4; Nehemiah 9:21) Remember that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in the fiery furnace where no flame affected them (Daniel 3:27)? Moses died at 120 years old, and yet his eyes were not dim and his natural vigor was not diminished (Deuteronomy 34:7 )? With God upholding everything in a perfect state, there would have been no pain.]

In fact, pain may be a combination of these or other factors in a post-Fall world.

Does Genesis 3:16 Reference Pain before the Fall?

When Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, there was a change. Genesis 3:7 points out that after they ate, they felt ashamed and realized they were naked. So, really, they had a sense of pain from this moment—which Scripture lists as shame (cf. Genesis 3:7 in contrast to Genesis 2:25) as well as fear (Genesis 3:10).

So, when the Lord spoke to the woman and said that she would have increased pain and sorrows in childbearing, this is not to be taken as compared to the pre-Fall point, but from the Fall to the point when the Lord spoke. She began feeling pain due to sin, but then Lord revealed there was much more to come (greatly increase the pains). And, of course, it finally results in death (Genesis 3:19).

The Lord pointed out that if she thought this pain they were feeling at that point was bad, she hadn’t felt anything yet! In light of this, it may not be wise to use Genesis 3:16, which was discussing pain in a situation post-Fall, as a reflection of a pre-Fall world.

Something to Look Forward To

Regardless, sin led to pain as well as death and suffering. But this is not the final chapter. Heaven will be like the pre-Fall world, and there will be no more death or suffering or pain. It gives Christians something to look forward to.

Revelation 21:4
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

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Footnotes

  1. “Multiply” is the key term that many people get hung up on. They think of it like a math problem. Zero times anything equals zero, so it wouldn’t make sense to say that no pain would be multiplied. But when we think of it in terms of “increase” (the term the NIV translation uses), then there’s no problem here. Also, she may have experienced pain in between her sin and this pronouncement. Back