Posted On October 15, 2010

Genesis 315 and The Protoevangelium

by | Oct 15, 2010 | The Gospel and the Christian Life

Is Genesis 3:15 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 they realize that they are naked and thus clothe themselves. God comes along, looking for them and asking them where they are. The result is that Adam and Eve come out tell God that they are naked, and God says how did they know that. The result is the curse and the fall of man. In the midst of this setting then the passage on Genesis 3:15 is set, 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.” `

This view is sustained simply by the fact that in Galatians 3:16, Paul argues based on 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 Genesis 3:15 we have a prophecy of the cross 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 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 (Galatians 3:16) and Abraham’s believing offspring includes the church (Romans 4:13, 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 (John 8:44), 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

It is most important for the believer how Christ understands and viewed himself. Christ understood the first Gospel in Genesis 3:15. In John 3:14-16, he said, “14And(A) as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man(B) be lifted up, 15that whoever believes(C) in him(D) may have eternal life.[a] 16″For(E) God so loved(F) the world,[b](G) that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not(H) 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 say, “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(A) Moses made a bronze[a] serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”

The details or the event are remarkable. The snakes were the result of the sin-in fact, the perfect expression of sin because it was a serpent who tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, hereby bringing sin into the world. Our very natures have been polluted by the serpent’s venom. Paul says in Romans 3:10, “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 (2nd Corinthians 5:21). And it is significant that Moses elected nott o 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.” 2ndCorinthians 5:21 says, “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 Galatians 3:13 states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” With all the 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.

We dare not miss the meaning of this in relation to our faith! 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 John 3:14 said, “And s 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 bittern 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 Genesis 3:15 is 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.

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