Genesis 3:15: The Protoevangelion

I’ll never forget hearing Tommy Nelson argue that the first promise of the Gospel comes in Genesis 3:15. Nelson pointed out that when the text speaks of the serpent’s head being crushed, it says “He will crush your head,” and I remember him saying something like, “that’s a singular, masculine pronoun, ultimately pointing to Jesus.”

Many scholars in the recent past have discarded the idea that Genesis 3:15 is a protoevangelion, and this was driven by several considerations. First, it was observed that the term “seed” (in the phrase, “I will put enmity between your seed and her seed, and he will crush your head . . .”) is often used to refer to a group of people rather than to an individual. Second, if Genesis 3:15 is so important, they asked, why isn’t it quoted in the rest of the Old Testament, and why aren’t there quotations of it in the New Testament? And then one of my professors actually mocked the idea that the snake was Satan. He said that we had to start getting rid of the myths somewhere–that’s what he said, and I studied at evangelical schools.

In an essay that just appeared in this summer’s issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, I try to address these issues. First, as Jack Collins and T. Desmond Alexander have persuasively argued, the term “seed” is a collective singular, which means that it can refer to an individual or a group (others hold this too, such as E. Earle Ellis and H. Wheeler Robinson). Second, Tom Schreiner drew my attention to the way that the Old Testament resonates with imagery that grows out of Genesis 3:15 (again, others argue this way, and they’re cited in the essay). And as for the snake being Satan, well, in Revelation, John refers to “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev 12:9), and the opinion of a modern scholar doesn’t carry the weight of an inspired biblical author.

So in an essay called “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15” I try to identify all the places in the Old and New Testaments where imagery, language, and concepts from Genesis 3:15 get interpreted. The footnotes point to many passages in extra-biblical literature that may interpret Genesis 3:15. I am of the opinion that we should read the Bible the way the biblical authors read earlier passages of Scripture, and I think that from the moment Genesis 3:15 was spoken those who were saved by faith were saved by faith in the coming deliverer whom God promised would crush the head of the serpent.