The gospel (good-news) of God first spoken is found in Genesis 3:15, often identified as the protoevangelium, finds its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3.15).
A couple of important points are embedded in this one verse. Let’s take a moment to look at them and their significance before we move on. First observe who the prophetic utterance of God is being given to… the serpent and the woman, the man is purposely left out. Secondly, the emphasis is placed upon their offspring. Thirdly, the vision speaks of hostility, hatred and violence (i.e., enmity), which is demonstrated in a conflict between the future children of the two.
The nature of this revelation…
What is the precise nature of this revelation? It is spiritual and physical. Now, I could spend a lot of time defending this position—the dualistic[i] nature in which Scripture deals with us created things—but I won’t. We are not merely natural products of the earth, but supernatural creations of the Creator. There is a spiritual (immaterial) and physical (material) aspect to mankind, we are body and spirit.
Take for example, the Law of God. (I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating). Obedience, true obedience, requires a two-fold response. We must physically carry out what the Law of God requires, but we must also do so spiritually with a heart that loves God and neighbor. True love is the fulfillment of the Law, but true love is not outwardly only but inward as well.
Therefore, it is a correct understanding of Genesis 3 to see this in more than a physical light. When you fail to account for this, you will stumble into serious blunders in drawing the intent of the passage out.
Spiritual and Physical Elements Existent…
The disobedience at the beginning of the chapter was more than a physical act. Both Adam and Eve coveted what God said was off limits to them. A clear violation of the 10th commandment. In that moment they also chose another god (i.e., themselves), blasphemed (i.e. treating lightly the Name of God), by creating an idol to worship (i.e., the fruit). All violations of the first 3 commandments. They also attempted to steal from the Lord, it was His tree not theirs. They refused to honor their Father who gave them life. They bore false witness against their neighbor when confronted in their sin. They demonstrated hate, not love for God when the moment presented itself. They preferred to play the harlot, rather than being committed to their relationship with the Lord God. And since we do not know the day when they sinned against God it is just as likely they did this act near the close of the seventh day; a day God declared holy. Breaking not just one of the commandments, but violating each and every one:
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2.10; comp. Matt 22.40).
So, when God comes into the garden and makes His presence known to His creatures; when He confronts them in their sin, holding them accountable; and, when He delves out a just judgment for the crimes committed we—the reader—would do well to note that there is both a physical and spiritual aspect of the events and decree being given.
Genesis 3:15 as a promise is negative and positive; good and bad. On the one had death and suffering will follow in its wake, on the other hand life and victory.
Snakes and Men
The enmity between offspring…
You hate snakes. They disgust you. You run and scream, you may have even taken the head off one or two with a hoe or a spade shovel. That is all well and good, but that is not a fulfillment of what God has promised here.
In Genesis 3:15 we find this “enmity between [the serpent] and the woman…between [his] offspring and her offspring….” This promise from God is given as a lynchpin between two verdicts. One given to the serpent, the other to the woman (Gen 3.16). To the serpent God promised, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Gen 3.14). This judgment is both physical and spiritual.
On the one hand there is a physical punishment that the serpent faces in God’s judgment. This springs forth from the way in which the Lord God refers to this cunning creature. He identifies it in contrast with livestock and beasts of the field. He does not say “creeping things” or that which is near the ground. So whatever form the first serpent kind was like then, it was different than what we might scientifically catalog today. The serpent is brought low (did it have legs? Did it fly?) and is commanded to move along on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life.
Snakes do not eat dust, so the curse is not to be taken in a wooden literal fashion. The point is that the serpent will be brought low even though it sought to exalt itself. The deceit in which the serpent entrapped Eve (Gen 3.1-4) was an assault against the image bearers of God, and therefore an attack against God whom they were created to represent. God had given mankind dominion over the earth and the creatures therein. Something malevolent drove this creature to attempt to rise above its station, but the Lord drove it to the ground.
The second half of God’s punishment against the serpent (Gen 3.15) addresses that malevolent force, whom we know to be Satan (symbolically). We are told that a continuation of the initial attack would be ongoing. “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3.15c). A result of the constant hatred and violence (Gen 3.15a), between the two types[ii] of offspring (Gen 3.15b).
**A serpent strikes on the heel, and the man who is above it strikes the head of the serpent. Both parties are attempting to kill the other; although, their methodologies do differ. Only the seed of the woman will be successful.[iii]
This would continue until their chief representatives battled it out. This is the reason for suffering, persecution and various trials that godly men and women face in this world.
Note the concern is on their children. The Hebrew word (zera’; זֶרַע) translated offspring or seed can be taken literally or figuratively, plural or singular depending upon its surrounding context and usage (cf. Gen 12.3, 7; 15.5, 18; 17.7; 22.18; Deut 31.21; Gal 3.16).
If we look a little bit closer at the enmity being discussed in Gen 3:15 we see the announcement of two different “heads” having been established in the rebellion. From one fount you would have the seed or “offspring” (i.e., children) of the serpent, and from the other you would have the seed or “offspring” (i.e., children) of the woman.
Two questions immediately come forth: 1) How do we know this? 2) Why is this important?
- In a technical sense the seed usually comes from the man, not the woman. Adam was designated as the head over the woman in function, but not in equality. He was the one given instruction on how to live having been formed first, and this knowledge was to be passed down to his wife (cf. Gen 2.16-17). Adam was given the charge “to work…and keep” (Gen 2.15) what had been given under his dominion. It is interesting to note that this charge of “working” is in line with the command to “subdue” in Gen 1:28, and the type of godly rule (dominion) the Lord expected him to “keep” what had been given him (Gen 1.26)—i.e., protect, build a hedge around. Rather than exercising godly rule in the garden, rather than protect what had been given to him, Adam rebelled. In seeking to throw off one Master, he became enslaved to another. Therefore, it makes sense that God would put the stress on the enmity between the seed of the woman rather than the seed of the man. Anything that came from Adam would be corrupted, for his offspring were to be slaves by nature. Only an act of grace changes the outcome.
- There are two ways in which one might enter the world. The first is by natural means. We who are born today have entered the world in this way. There are only two in the history of creation that have come a different way; in other words, supernaturally. As I said in my last post (Offspring (Seed) of David: Part III, Luke’s Genealogy) Jesus and Adam shared a commonality in that they both entered the world by supernatural means.
“Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli [his father-in-law]…the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3.23, 38b; italics added).
Through the virgin birth, Jesus bypassed being a natural product of Adam. His share in humanity was through His mother, not through our earthly father Adam. Pseudo-Christian theologians can debate the intricacies of this all day long, as they attempt to downplay the distinction given to Jesus through the virgin birth, but orthodox belief demands it. Sinners are born through Adam (Rom 5.12-21), and Jesus came about by other means. Thus, he could rightly claim later Satan “hath nothing in me” (John 14.30).[iv]
The reason that this is important is that the “seed of the woman” is the one who will crush the serpents head. Something only one in perfect union with the heavenly Father could do (John 10.30).
Again, we see a dualistic approach used here in the text. Both physical and spiritual aspects are stressed. All of life is spiritual. Humanity has spiritual value in their acts and state of being; either positively or negatively.
Genesis 4: Cain and Abel
We find this understanding not long after the decree of God in Genesis 3. Two offspring came by “the help of the Lord” (Gen 4.1). The first was Cain, the second was Abel. At first glance both children of Adam and Eve were indistinguishable. What defined the two offspring was their dealing with God. One acted in faith towards the Lord, the other did not. One loved the Lord God, the other did not. One was found in the Lord, the other was not.
The result? Cain slew his brother Abel. In a sense, he struck at the heel of his brother with sinful venom that poured from his own wicked heart. In this act Cain revealed who he was truly an offspring of, as did Abel. But Abel was the true victor for he triumphed even in death (Gen 4.10; Heb 11.4); which, is a figurative strike to the serpent’s head. For thinking he won, he truly lost.
Perhaps you are wondering, “What sort of offspring is Abel? For you said that through Adam we are born of corruption being sinners, so how then is Abel revealed as anything different?”
Abel was a true offspring of the woman; whereas Cain was an offspring of the serpent. Bear in mind we are speaking of spiritual quality here, not physical. Eve recognizing this to some decree rejoiced over her son Seth of whom she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring [Seth] instead of Abel, for Cain killed him” (Gen 4.25; cf. Luke 3.38).
This is not the first time that those who have opposed the will of God have been identified as children of snakes. One of the early themes in the gospel is that those who hate repentance, who hate obeying God, and refuse to honor His Name is that they are a “brood of vipers” (Matt 3.7; Luke 3.7). That is, children or offspring of serpents or Satan.
Jesus had the following to say to such individuals:
“Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8.43-44).
Those who are offspring of the serpent speak from “…the abundance of [their] heart” (Matt 12.34), and for them is promised an eternal “sentence to hell” (Matt 23.33).
The Cause of Different Types…
What is the cause of the different types? The short answer is natural versus supernatural birth. Or, if you prefer divine grace. The promise in Genesis 3:15 is that the offspring of the serpent would have enmity (hostility, hatred) towards the offspring of the woman, which wisdom reveals is Christ Jesus.
Grace is what enables the natural born children of Adam to be considered “types” of the seed of the woman, and only this is possible because of God’s grace in giving us the “anti-type” Jesus of whom it is said:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptions as sons” (Gal 4.4-5)
Apart from God’s grace we remain “types” of the seed of the serpent, and are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3), enemies of God (Rom 5.10), hostile to His Word (Col 1.21). By grace, we become children of God (John 1.12-13), being reconciled through the Son (Eph 2.13-16), and knowing the mind of God through the Spirit, love His commandments (1Cor 2.9-13; 1John 5.2).
[i] I am not speaking of an unbiblical form of dualism that sometimes pervades Christian thought (e.g. secular vs. spiritual categories; laymen vs. ministerial categories), but specifically the spiritual and physical aspects of reality we experience as God’s created beings, and in reading and interpreting His Word. For a discussion on this subject see: H. B. Kuhn, “Dualism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edition, Walter A. Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 357.
[ii] I cannot stress the importance of understanding biblical types and anti-types enough at this point. A type is a shadow, a symbolic representation of another; whereas, the anti-type is the image that the type is meant to reflect. This hermeneutical tool is vital to the biblical exegete if they want to draw deeper meaning from the text. Those that fail to notice them, often struggle with identifying categories and a proper understanding of the symbolic/figurative nature of God’s Word in key areas. E.g. Passover Lamb in Exodus 12 is a type of covering found in the anti-type Jesus of Nazareth identified as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29, 36) in relation to his crucifixion and the institution of the Last Supper rite (Matt 26.17-29).
[iii] I am merely speaking from the vantage point of Gen 3:15. That is the reason for my future tense. However, the fact is this event has already past, since Christ was victorious on the cross at driving the death blow against the vile serpent of old (cf. John 12.31).
[iv] Merrill G. Tenney admits that the KJV’s reading is the stronger reading that gets closest to the original of the NIV and other texts like the ESV whose reading emphasis “on me” instead of “in me.” The Greek en can be translated “on” rather than “in,” but the reason Satan “has no claim” (ESV) or “has no hold” (NIV) “on Jesus” is because unlike the rest of humanity Jesus was born without sin. The Living Word who put on flesh like the rest of us was/is distinct from us as He had no inner propensity/desire to sin. See: Merrill C. Tenney, “John,” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary with New International Version: John and Acts, Vol 9, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1981), 149, ft.note 30.