And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel."
Genesis 3:15 has been called by many commentators and theologians the protoevangelium. This term simply means the first (proto) gospel proclamation (evangelium). In this foundational passage God himself declares the good news of the gospel in the midst of proclaiming the curse upon humanity for their rebellion against him.
Much can and has been said about this passage. Our purpose is not to discuss everything that can be said. Instead, we will focus on the elements that Christ outlined for his followers to testify about. Of particular interest is that this passage declares an enmity leading to death. This was fulfilled in the suffering of the Messiah.
Enmity is put between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Remaining in the immediate context of this passage a few observations can be made.
- Something odd is being declared about the "seed of the woman"; and
- The enmity is unto death.
The Seed of the Woman
This text prophetically declares a biological impossibility: the virgin birth of the Messiah.
Consistently throughout Scripture the seed is a byproduct of male biology, not female. Some translations bypass this oddity with the non-literal translation offspring (see, e.g., ESV, NET, NIV, NLT, etc.).
The terminology of the seed will be important for other passages declaring the lineage of the Messiah. We will see that the promised seed, the Messiah, will come through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David. All of these males will feature prominently in looking for the coming Messiah. However, the foundational text at hand in Genesis 3:15 declares boldly that the Messiah will come miraculously through a virgin birth by being the seed of the woman, not the man.
Unlike every other human being who is born by the seed of a man the protoevangelium declares that the decisive battle will be fought by the seed of the woman.
Prophecy regarding the virgin birth of the Messiah is more popularly understood from Isaiah 7:14 (cf. Matthew 1:22-25). However, we'd be missing an important nuance of this passage if we failed to note that the prophesied seed would be miraculously born of the woman.
Born to Suffer and Die
More important for our purposes is not the miraculous nature of the birth of the Messiah, but the purpose of his birth. This text explains that the Messiah is born to suffer and die.
While many commentators have taken pains to explain that the battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is one of victory, this is an idea that would be foreign to the text. This interpretation has a long history and has been very influential. However, it is still incorrect.
The original hearers who were familiar with the hostility between venomous serpents and human beings would read this passage differently. They would not see a victorious encounter being described. Instead, they would see a description of a struggle unto death.
A venomous serpent striking the heel of a person crushing its head with their foot would most naturally result in the destruction of both. A fatal wound is depicted on both sides.
As a result, this passage prophesies the coming purpose of the Messiah: that he would come to lay down his own life to put the enmity of the curse to death.
While most expectations of the Messiah emphasized his victorious ministry and the establishment of the kingdom of God, the very first gospel proclamation declares that the Messiah was coming to suffer and die. Yes, Christ would rise from the dead. This important truth was likewise prophesied in the Scriptures. However, to rise and enter into his glory, the Messiah first needed to suffer and die.
There is a reason that Jesus started here with the confused disciples on the road to Emmaus on the day of his resurrection. Jesus said, "Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26).
Yes, it was necessary. It was necessary to fulfill the Scriptures. Among these Scriptures is Genesis 3:15.