Recently, someone asked me to explain why God cursed women with a monthly period. She was referring to women’s menstruation, including a possible combination of symptoms about a week or so before the actual flow of blood. This premenstrual assortment of problems, called premenstrual syndrome (PMS), can include such effects as bloating, headaches, and moodiness, among other things. It is estimated that more than 90% of women suffer from one or more symptoms each month.1
Some people refer to this as “the curse,” but there are dozens of euphemisms for describing “that time of month” such as, well . . . that time of month. Other descriptions vary country to country and from vulgar to funny, and include such terms as “on the rag” or “Dracula’s tea bag” and a new one I heard recently, “I’m rebooting,” which may be a new geeky statement for modern ladies of this digital age — I guess!
Anyway, to answer the original question — God didn’t curse women with a monthly menstrual cycle. Nowhere in the Bible is that statement made, suggested, or implied. The idea, however, is commonly told to daughters by mothers and by word-of-mouth in the girly talk of youth, but it is not true. The idea probably originally came as an interpretation from the story of Adam’s and Eve’s fall into sin mentioned in Genesis, chapter three, which does mention curses because of disobedience.
We all know the story about Eve being deceived by the serpent (Satan) in the Garden in Eden, concerning eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and giving the same to her husband. God confronted all three of them and explained the repercussions of disobeying his command. Let’s read the entire text of God’s statements.
Then the LORD God said to the serpent. “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live. And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”
And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from the dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:14–19, NLT).
God, as you notice, cursed only two things: the serpent and the ground. Although he did not curse the man or woman, he did detail the consequences for their actions. There are always consequences to everything we do in life and most times the outcome affects others, too. Much can be gained by a deep study of God’s meaning for the serpent and the man, but that will have to wait until another time. In this study, we will explore only what was told to the woman in Genesis 3:16.
In the New Living Translation, above, (1) a woman’s pain in pregnancy and in child birth will be sharpened and (2) she will desire to control her husband, but he will rule over her. Various versions state these words differently, so it is always a good idea to have more than one version available for serious Bible study. Young’s Literal Translation states this same verse quite differently.
Unto the woman He said, “Multiplying I multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, in sorrow dost thou bear children, and toward thy husband is thy desire, and he doth rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16, YLT).
Young’s Literal Translation mentions an increase of sorrow in conception, and childbirth, along with a desire for her husband, but he will rule over her. There is no pain even mentioned here. Let’s examine what others think about this verse.
What do some scholars say about God’s words to Eve?
Author Stacia Guzzo implies that Eve didn’t receive a curse, but did receive a penalty. She states that the pain of labor is referenced many times in the Bible without any connection to sin, so a painful childbirth is not the punishment. The pain was that of relational damage, rather than one of literal bodily pain. She explains that besides ‘pain,’ the Hebrew word can be translated as ‘grief’ or ‘sorrow.’ If the relationship to God changed, “all her offspring would experience the same severance from God, even though they did not commit the sin. Could it be that the punishment was not a punishment of physical pain at all, but rather the spiritual and emotional anguish that we all experience as a result of being unable to directly experience God’s presence in our mortal lives? I think this is a distinct possibility.”2
Theologian, Victor Hamilton, believes the consequences of disobeying God’s law was a description of being separated from him. Eve’s role as mother — her highest fulfillment — will now be with pain and servitude. God created man and female to rule jointly, but now the male rules the female.3
Author Andrew Knowles implies that woman’s marriage changed and began to be a power struggle; she needs her husband, but he will rule. He goes on to say, “The fall of humanity spoils the relationship with the rest of creation as well.”4
So, there was no curse placed upon Eve, but there were consequences for disobeying God and we have all suffered because of this event several thousands of years ago. Our original parents had but one single and simple commandment to follow, but they failed — “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Genesis 2:16–17, NLT). They ate, so they died, just as everyone has died since that time.
Desire for Her Husband
Insight concerning the woman’s desire for her husband, comes from Dr. Allen Ross, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Beeson Divinity School, who wrote, “Because Eve’s desire probably refers in this context to her prompting Adam to sin, it is better to translate the verse ‘Your desire was for your husband.’ Having overstepped her bounds in this, she would now be mastered by him.”5
Biblical scholar, Adam Clark, alludes to a sexual desire by saying “Thy desire shall be to thy husband – thou shalt not be able to shun the great pain and peril of child-bearing, for thy desire, thy appetite, shall be to thy husband . . . .”6 Could it be that this increased desire was necessary for them to continue being fruitful and multiplying (Genesis 1:22), since her husband would now rule over her?
English Christian theologian and academic, C. J. Ellicott, wrote this about the woman’s desire, “God greatly multiplies it, that is the man had yielded to her too readily, henceforth she was to live in subjection to him, yet not unhappy.” Woman was reduced below equality, being inferior to the man.7
Keep in mind, God did not place any of these problems upon the woman — all the changes were brought as consequences of her own actions. To those who have read the New Testament, it is evident that after Jesus appeared and taught about the wonderful future world, the inequality of the female gender began to decrease. When Jesus returns, he will reestablished full sexual equality, like that which began in the Garden in Eden, before sin entered into the world.
The Menstrual Period, Other Thoughts, & New Knowledge
As for the menstrual period, I don’t think much, if anything, has changed since Eve was crafted from one side of Adam (another story that deserves study). The menstrual cycle, being a completely natural event (including some discomfort), is when the uterus lining builds up to prepare for pregnancy. If there is no conception, hormone levels fall and tell the body to begin menstruation, which discards the monthly buildup of the womb. Menstrual blood and tissue then pass out of the body through the vagina.8
Now, the Bible has plenty to say about menstruation being unclean (e.g., Leviticus 15:19–24), but we must understand the primitive culture at that time. It may have been easier for God to provide direction about hygiene, rather than teach biology, which could not have been completely understood.
Modern medical science adds evidence for the need of many strange reasons for God’s rules and regulations, and menstruation is no different. Researcher Margaret Profet proposes that “menstruation functions to protect the uterus and oviducts from colonization by pathogens.”9 If menstruation purges possible disease pathogens, would not isolation for short periods of time in ancient cultures help protect the population from disease-producing virus, bacteria, or other microorganisms?
Of course, science has made modern hygiene better able to protect us from many of the, so called, problems of ancient times. Even a woman’s monthly period can be completely eliminated. A Seattle family planning expert, Dr. Deborah Oyer, routinely asks her new female patients, “How often do you want to have your period? Monthly? Every three months? Or not at all?”10 Many women think of their period as too much of a problem, so there is a solution, if they wish.
“A woman can now choose to regulate or suppress her periods using either short acting contraceptives like pills or rings or a long-acting method like an IUD or injections.” When given the choice, about two thirds of women will make a choice to control their periods to some extent.11 I don’t know the pros and cons of the long term effects of doing this sort of thing, but it is available and being used by millions of women today.
Post Script (5 April 2020): There is another related article available on this site. It is titled “Menstrual Periods in the Bible and Other Bodily Discharges” and the link is: https://outlawbiblestudent.org/menstrual-periods-in-the-bible-and-other-bodily-discharges/
Copyright © 2018 Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- “Premenstrual syndrome (PMS),” (Office of Women’s Health, 16 March 2018), https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
- Guzzo, Stacia, “The ‘Curse of Eve’—Is Pain Our Punishment? Part 1,” (Feminism and Religion, 7 February 2012), https://feminismandreligion.com/2012/02/07/the-curse-of-eve-is-pain-our-punishment-part-I/
- Hamilton, Victor P., “Genesis,” Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, [Baker Reference Library], (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 14.
- Knowles, Andrew, The Bible Guide, [1st Augsburg books ed.], (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), p. 25.
- Ross, Allen P., “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord and Zuck, (eds.), (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p 33.
- Clarke, Adam, Commentary on the Bible, Unabridged, (Glasgow, UK: William Collins, Sons, & Company, 1878), Genesis 3:16.
- Ellicott, C. J., A Bible Commentary for English Readers, (London: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1905-1906), Genesis 3:16.
- “What is menstruation?” (Office of Women’s Health, 16 March 2018), https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle
- Profet, Margie, “Menstruation as a Defense Against Pathogens Transported by Sperm,” (The Quarterly Review of Biology, The University of Chicago Press), vol. 68, no. 3, September 1993.
- Tarico, Valerie, “A Brief History of Your Period, and Why You Don’t Have to Have It,” (Jezebel, 23 July 2012), https://jezebel.com/5928316/a-brief-history-of-your-period-and-why-you-don’t-have-to-have-it