Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is Genesis 3:15 Really the Protoevangelium?

Before we can attempt to answer the question of whether or not Genesis 3:15 is really the protoevangelium, we must first define what is “protoevangelium”. The protoevangelium is the first gospel, or the first mention of the good news of a redeemer. This topic is highly debated between the dozen or so commentaries I consulted, it is split closely down the middle with many commentators leaning to the answer that yes this is the protoevangelium.

The strongest proponent against this verse not being the protevangelium, had to be John Walton. Walton says, “If we are going to take the text at face value, even on a canonical scale, we must conclude that 3:15 describes only the ongoing struggle between evil (represented by the serpent and all representatives of evil that succeed it) and humanity generation through generation.” (Walton 2001, 235-36) In light of his own argument Walton has somehow ignored the use of the words he and his in the verse. While he concentrated extensively on the grammatical use of the word “seed”, he did not really mention the fact that the word he (hu in the Hebrew) is used in a singular fashion. The word (hu) translated he is used in the Old Testament 1258 times and of those it is translated he 516. So it is a strong indication that this verse could be pointing towards one man in particular.

Bruce Waltke in his commentary on Genesis makes a very insightful point, “”Offspring” renders zera “seed”, which is used commonly as a figure for descendants. Like the English word, zera can refer to an immediate descendant (Gen 4:25, 15:3), a distant offspring, or a large group of descendants… Since the woman’s seed struggles against the serpent’s seed, we infer that it has a collective sense. But since only the head of the serpent is represented as crushed, we expect an individual to deliver the fatal blow and be struck uniquely on his heel.” (Waltke 2001, 93)

This explanation makes great sense to many of us, because we have sat in Sunday school classes or heard sermons referring to the seed of Abraham as being the whole nation of Israel. However when we hear things in the same verse, that are explained an a singular sense it tends to be a little confusing, unless we put in light of Christ defeating Satan on the cross. Warren Wiersbee explains how this verse is fulfilled at the cross, “At the cross, Satan “bruised” Christ’s heel, but because of His death and resurrection, Christ crushed Satan’s head and won complete victory over him (Eph. 1:17-23; Col. 2:14-15).” (Wiersbe 2007, 29)

A slightly alternate view that has been offered is that of John MacArthur, he speaks of Jesus winning the battle against Satan and the role we as believers play in it. MacArthur says, “Believers should recognize that they participate in the crushing of Satan because, along with the Savior and because of His finished work on the cross, they also are the woman’s seed.” (MacArthur 2005, 18)

In light of all the differing viewpoints, this writer believes that Genesis 3:15 is the protoevangelium. In the New Testament we can find several allusions back to the verse in Genesis (Rom. 16:20, Heb.2:14; Gal. 4:4). Mark Driscoll in his book Vintage Jesus gives us a little more insight into why this verse points to Christ through the virgin birth. Driscoll says, “God promises that Jesus would be born from a woman. This is unusual because the rest of Scripture speaks of children being born from their father. Here however, no father is mentioned for Jesus, which implies the he would not have a biological earthly father.” (Driscoll and Breshears 2007, 90) Understanding how birth is described in Israel normally following the father’s line gives us a greater understanding of how this verse can point to the coming Christ.

Looking at all of the different factors we have been provided I am fully confident in saying that this verse is the Protoevangelium.

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Vintage Jesus. Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 2007.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis- A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Walton, John H. The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis. Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. Colorado Springs,CO: David C. Cook, 2007.