Question: Genesis 3:15: Is this verse really the “Protevangelium“? Yes or No.
Yes, this verse does teach protevangelium. The context of Genesis 3 is the fall. Eve eats of the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The result of this is that theya realize that they are naked and thus clothe themselves. God walks through the Garden looking to find Adam and Eve. Although He is all knowing they are hiding from Him in their shame. Adam and Eve come out of hiding where they tell God that they are naked, and God asks them how they knew they were naked. The result of them eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the curse and fall of man. This brief explanation of the passage is intended to give the proper context of Genesis 3:15 which says, “15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Dr. Kent Hughes says, “What we have here is an astounding gospel prophecy because God’s curse upon the serpent turned into a word of grace, giving what has been recognized from the second century A.D. as the “first gospel,’ the protevangelium, when the post-apostolic fathers Justin Martyr and Irenaeus preached that the woman’s offspring (literally “seed”) here referred to Christ who would crush Satan’s head. This has been the church’s position, with little variation, until the rise of modern biblical criticism, which views it as nothing more than a statement that there would be perpetual conflict between humanity and the snake population in which humanity would ultimately triumph.” 1
In Galatians3:16 Paul argues on the basis of the use of the singular “seed” in God’s promise to Abraham that the word seed refers to Christ: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.” It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” Here in Genesis3:15what we have is a prophecy of the cross. This prophecy includes when Satan would strike the heel of Christ (the suffering of the cross), but Christ would strike Satan’s head (through his death and glorious resurrection). All Christians (those who are in Christ) participate in the crushing of Satan’s heel through Christ, so that Paul could write in the conclusion of the book of Romans, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (16:20).
Dr. Matthews points out, “Specifically, Paul identified Christ as the “seed” ultimately intended in the promissory blessing to Abraham (Galatians3:16) and Abraham’s believing offspring includes the church (Romans4:13, 16-18; Gal 3:8).” This is further developed in the Gospel of John where the spiritual dimension is at the forefront. Jesus alluded to our verse when he indicted the Pharisees as children of the “devil” because of their spiritual apostasy (John8:44), contrary to their claims to be the offspring of righteous Abraham. (8:39). John used similar imagery when he contrasted God’s “seed” and those who are “of the devil” (1 John 3:7-10). This is heightened by his appeal o Cain’s murder of righteous Abel as a paradigmatic of one “who belonged to the evil one” (3:11-15). Finally the apocalypse describes the “red dragon” who is identified as “that ancient serpent” (Rev 12:9), opposing the believing community (i.e., the woman) and plotting the destruction of her child, (i.e. the Messiah.) Ultimately, “that ancient serpent” is destroyed by God for its deception of the nations (Rev 20:2, 7-10).” 2
Christ understood the first Gospel as contained in Genesis 3:15. In John 3:14-16 he said, “14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16″For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Christ’s reference here refers back to Numbers 21, where due to Israel’s sin God sent venomous snakes into the camp so that many people died and were dying. As Moses prayed amidst the death verses 8-9 says, “8And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”9So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
The snakes were the result of sin-in fact, the perfect expression of sin because it was a serpent who tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, thereby bringing sin into the world. Our very natures have been polluted by the serpent’s venom. Paul says in Romans3:10, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no not even one'”
Above the dying people we see the likeness of a serpent lifted up on a pole, foreshadowing Christ who was “made to be sin for us” (2ndCorinthians5:21). And it is significant that Moses elected not to use an actual serpent but a likeness! The symbolism would not have been so exact and perfect if he had used a literal snake. Our Lord became sin for us. Romans 8:3 says, “God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin.” 2ndCorinthians5:21says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And Galatians3:13states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” With the entire animal realm from which to choose, God choose the perfect representation-the serpent. On the cross, our Lord took the sins of the world upon himself as symbolized by the writhing serpent.
Numbers 21:9 says, “If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” The command to look at that uplifted serpent was a gracious foreshadowing of looking to the crucified Christ for our salvation. This is why the Lord in John3:14said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Moses raised that serpent up high in the camp, and all the dying Israelites had to do was look to that pole and be saved. No matter how horribly they were bitten, no matter how many times they had been bitten or how sick they were, the opportunity for salvation was there.
Dr. Ross said, “This struggle between good and evil would always be there in the human race, but ultimately the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent’s seed.” 3
The real beauty of Genesis3:15is that even the most degraded and miserable sinner who looks to Christ alone for salvation will be saved. Out of the chaos, God answers that He is incredibly interested in His creation. Out of chaos God brings forth His grace and mercy. This great grace had its origins and image in the first gospel in the garden; there was hope in paradise lost.
1 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning & Blessing, (Crossway,Illinois, 2004), 85.
2 Kenneth A. Matthews, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture: Genesis 1:11:26, (Broadman and Holman, USA, 1996), 247-248.
3. Allen P Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Baker Books, USA 2002), 145.