Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Is Genesis 3:15 a promise of Christ’s victory over Satan? Recently I heard someone say that it has nothing to do with it.
Christians have for centuries called Genesis 3:15 the protoevangelium—that is to say, the “first good news”—found in the Bible. The passage has been interpreted as a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, through whom the serpent, Satan, was to be destroyed.
Today many scholars tend to reject the Messianic interpretation or any other interpretation that makes reference to Christian theology, arguing that the Christian view is found for the first time in the writings of Irenaeus (c. 115-202) and therefore is not biblical. Second, it is said that the term seed refers to the descendants of the woman and not to a particular descendant. Let’s look at the biblical evidence:
1. The Serpent Is a Symbol of Evil. The context of Genesis 3:15 clearly indicates that the serpent is a symbol of evil and rebellion against God. It misrepresents and contradicts God in an effort to persuade Adam and Eve to break away from the Lord, offering an unreal, alternate existence apart from Him. This power is identified in the New Testament as Christ’s archenemy, Satan (Rev. 12:9). In the Garden of Eden this evil power defeated Adam and Eve and extended its dominion over the descendants of the woman.
2. Victory Over the Serpent. The contrast between the serpent and its descendants and the seed of the woman suggests a final victory over the serpent. The serpent will “strike” the heel of the woman’s seed, but the woman’s seed will “crush” the head of the serpent. The Hebrew verb (sûp, “bruise, strike, crush”) is the same in both cases, suggesting that the seriousness of the assault depends on the part of the body that receives the wound. The attack against the woman’s seed is not permanent, but the fact that the woman’s seed aims at the head of the serpent indicates that the intention is to bring this evil power to a permanent end.
3. The Meaning of “Seed.” The Hebrew noun zeracis usually employed as a collective noun to designate “offspring, posterity” in the sense of descendants as a single group. However, it can be used to refer to a single descendant (e.g., 2 Sam. 7:12, 13). In Genesis 3:15 we find both usages present. We read about the descendants of the woman and the descendants of the serpent/Satan, but at the same time mention is made of a male descendant of the woman (hû‘) who will crush “your [singular] head,” that is to say, the serpent’s head. Whenever “seed” denotes a particular descendant, the pronoun that follows it is in the singular.
The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), suggests that the translators understood the passage to be a promise of a future descendant. In this particular case they understood “seed” not in its collective sense but rather as designating a single descendant. Some have found in the LXX, rather than in Irenaeus, the first Messianic interpretation of Genesis 3:15.
4. Allusions in the New Testament. There are at least two allusions to Genesis 3:15 in the New Testament. The first one is Revelation 12. There we find similar terminology and the concept of a conflict between the woman and the dragon and her child and the dragon. The dragon is explicitly identified with the “ancient serpent” (NIV), an obvious reference to Genesis 3. The “seed” of the woman defeats the serpent, determining its future extinction (Rev. 20). According to Revelation 12, what was announced in Genesis 3:15 is now being fulfilled in the flow of history. The seed of the woman has crushed the head of the serpent and the consummation of that victory is rapidly approaching.
The victory of the descendant of the woman assures the future victory of her descendants over the dragon. This is what Romans 16:20, the second allusion to Genesis 3:15, states: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (NIV). This wonderful hope was first announced to the human race in the Garden of Eden.