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Theology > Jesus > Anticipation of Christ > Protoevangelium


Yahweh God said to the serpent . . .
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise His heel.”
Gen. 3:14-15

In all of literature, secular or sacred, there is no statement comparable to this stirring and instructive utterance. Of it Luther said: “This text embraces and contains within itself everything noble and glorious that is to be found anywhere else in the Scriptures.” Attention has been given to this statement since the time it was spoken, and from the earliest days of the Church this declaration by God to the serpent has been referred to as the “Protoevangelium.”

Derived from the combination of two Greek words, proto meaning "first" and euangelion meaning "gospel" or "good news," the word “Protoevangelium” literally means “first Gospel.” It is the first Gospel proclamation, the first announcement of the good news of salvation. Edward J. Young concurred:

Despite all that negative criticism has written to the contrary, and it has written plenty, we would affirm, for all the evidence supports us, that this is a preaching of the Gospel (Genesis 3, 106).

The word has been associated with God’s word to the serpent in Genesis, a word actually spoken to the evil one who was using the serpent. This statement has been called “the first glimmer of the Gospel” (Derek Kidner, Genesis, 70), and the early Fathers considered it to be the initial Messianic promise in the Old Testament (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 100; and Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 23, 7). Throughout the history of the Church the significance of the Protoevangelium has been observed.

God is the One uttering the statement; He takes the initiative, therefore, it can be suggested that the Lord Himself was the first preacher of the Gospel. To Satan God declares what He will do: the deliverance will be accomplished by Him, because man is incapable of effecting his own salvation. What man cannot do, God must do if salvation is to be realized. Thus, the Gospel is of God not man; the good news is Theistic in its origin, accomplishment, and application. From no perspective can it be associated with man, because the salvation of God, which is declared by God, is the salvation wrought, and can only be wrought, by God.

Against the dark moment of sin’s entrance into the life of the race, the character of God is revealed and His deeds that flow from that character are initiated. God did not abandoned man to sin and its consequences but announced His redemptive work; in this is seen the grace and mercy of the holy God. The declaration of the Gospel (v. 15) follows the statement of the curse (v. 14), foreshadowing the truth given by Paul that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.

Not only is God revealed to be gracious, He is revealed to be just (see: God is Righteous). Sin must be dealt with; it cannot continue with immunity. Sin will be judged and man will be delivered. Within the statement is the entire Revelation, succinctly and comprehensively given; and all later revelations concerning Redemption enlarge and build on this embryonic statement.

Intricately related to the Protoevangelium is “enmity,” a word which speaks of hostility or struggle, specifying a state that even involves hatred. Enmity is the violent resistance between good and evil, between Satan and God. It is the struggle of sinful existence, the struggle between the City of Man and the City of God. The word speaks of an antagonism that is definite and continual; it is a rivalry that is the very essence of history. In fact, history cannot be comprehended without proper consideration being given to this phenomenon. The statement is a prophecy of the inveterate spiritual warfare between the children of the devil and the children of God.

Enmity or hostility is also directed against God, and is really the posture of every individual since the Fall; man has set himself against God. It is man’s attempt at autonomy and self-determination at the expense of God’s Will and His Theistic determination (see: Theistic Determinism). Man cannot do otherwise: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot” (Rom. 8:7; see: Jas. 4:4; Eph. 2:15-16; see: Hatred of God).

More specifically the enmity is between the serpent and the woman; it is between Satan’s descendants and the woman’s Descendant. It finds expression and completion in the conflict between the Righteous One and the evil one, with the full extent of the enmity being displayed in the crucifixion of Christ.

Associated with the struggle is suffering, suffering of both good and evil—a mutual suffering. Both will suffer but with different reasons for suffering and different results of the suffering: the One will be wounded with a wound that involves temporary death, while the other will be destroyed with a destruction that is eternal.

This enmity is God’s doing; He declares: “I will put enmity.” He has determined it to be so. On the one hand, the struggle, because of sin, is the doing of man—man rebelled against God’s Word in Eden and asserted individual autonomy—but on the other hand, the struggle that man experiences in his daily life has been placed upon him by God. It is part of God’s ongoing judgment of man.

The statement also speaks of “seed” and “Seed.” The Hebrew that is often translated as “seed/Seed” or “offspring” is the word zera and is rendered in the Septuagint as sperma. Zera is lineage or descent; it speaks of those who come after, one’s progeny. The point is that the word speaks of an individual or individuals, and can be used in a collective sense or in a particular sense. The question in the Protoevangelium relates to the identity of the individual or individuals spoken of in this verse in the two instances where this word is used.

According to the Revelation of John “that serpent of old” is “called the Devil and Satan” (12:9; also see 20:2). So the descendants spoken of in connection with the serpent are descendants associated with Satan. The “seed” of the serpent must be the children of the devil (see: John 8:38, 41; 6:70; Matt. 13:38; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:8-10, 12), or in more general terms, the entire human race. More specifically the word indicates those individuals who oppose God and His people, individuals such as Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Judas, and in more modern times, individuals such as Hitler, Stalin, and those intellectuals who seek to remove God from public discourse. The “seed” of the Devil are alive and well. The collective sense is obvious.

Who is the “Seed” of the woman? There are two possible interpretations as is evidenced in two different translations: “offspring” (ESV) and “Seed” (NKJV). The former could be understood in a more general sense, a collective sense, while the latter obviously has a much more definite intention.

The Hebrew word, zera, can be used in either a collective sense or in an individual sense. Following are two verses from Genesis with the first used in the collective sense, while the second is used in the individual sense:

For all the land which you see I give to you and your seed (zera) forever. And I will make your seed (zera) as the dust of the earth (13:15-16; NKJV has “descendants”);

And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a sin and named him Seth, “For God has appointed another seed (zera) for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed” (4:25).

There is no justifiable reason to deny the fact that zera is used in Gen. 3:15 in both of these senses; in the first instance the sense is collective, and in the second instance the sense is individualistic.

It is difficult to understand how anyone could fail to identify the zera of the woman with a specific individual. How can this not be true when the zera is spoken of in terms of “He” and “His,” pronouns indicating a specific individual? It seems grammatically untenable to think that the writer would use individual terms to refer to a collective concept. Surely an individual is intended.

In a subtle manner both the nature and the work of this individual are referenced. Insight into His nature is seen in His association with the woman, and revelation into His work is given in the reference to the double bruising.

He is identified with “her Seed”; in other words, the individual occupies a special relationship to the woman. He will be uniquely of the woman, meaning He will stand in a specific relationship to the woman. He is “her Seed,” obviously an early and veiled reference to the Virgin Birth.

Understanding is afforded by Paul’s statement to the Galatians: “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). “Made” is genomenon, a participle from ginomai, meaning to come into existence, to be created, to be born. The same basic word, in a different form, is used in John: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (1:2). Paul in Galatians is not merely stating the obvious that Jesus was born of a woman, born to a woman; he is affirming the unusual relationship between the conception/birth of Jesus and the woman. Without the presence of a man Jesus was made of a woman—He is the Seed of the woman.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, . . . behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son” . . . Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lu. 1:30-35).

The work of the Seed is seen in the double bruising: the heel of the Seed by the serpent, and the head of the serpent by the Seed. Hostility between good and evil reaches its focal point in the Cross of Christ, for there evil crucifies the Good. Christ is rejected by wicked men—His heel is wounded—and He is put to death. But it is said to be a wound in the heel, meaning that the wound is not permanent.

From a different perspective the heel wound to the Seed is a wound in the head of the serpent; that which seems to be defeat is actually victory. The Seed is put to death, but in His death Satan and the forces of evil are destroyed. The wound to the Seed is temporary—there is the Resurrection—while the wound to Satan is decisive and eternal—he will be confined to the Lake of Fire (see: Satan’s Destiny).

The Protoevangelium is redemptive, therefore, it is Christological. It is a declaration regarding Christ. It tells of His birth and His death.

The announcement declares ultimate victory, a complete and full victory. Historically the victory was accomplished at the Cross—it is a fact. But Satan is still operative, going about seeking who he can devour, but his present work will come to an end in the full manifestation of the Day of the Lord. And in this sense the Protoevangelium is eschatological.

See: Gen. 3:15

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