Monday, November 19, 2012

Who is the Woman's Offspring? Who will Crush the Serpents head?

Genesis 3:15

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between you offspring and her offspring. He will pound your head, and you will bite his heal." Genesis 3:15.

In the beginning of the Torah we read Genesis 3:15, which is considered by many Christian’s to be the first "Messianic Prophecy" in the Bible.1 It is called by many the "Protoevangelium" and has also been called the "Bible in embryo." In this passage where God curses the serpent for his tempting Chava (Eve) to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Christians see the Nazarene’s virgin birth, suffering, and his ultimate defeat of evil. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this verse in the eyes of many missionaries, but we will see that this interpretation is unjustified by the text, and in the Christian Scriptures it is unmentioned and undermined by other passages.
"The only key to all messianic prophecy is found hanging at the front door of the Bible, and, strange though it may be, this key was given by God to that ‘old serpent, the devil.’ He was the first to learn of a Deliverer who would come to destroy his devilish works. To him was given the initial promise and prophecy of redemption from the sin he had brought into God’s fair universe." (Herbert Lockyer "All Messianic Prophecies of the Bible" 1973 Zondervan Publishing House Grand Rapids, Michigan, Page 59)

"With the first direct messianic prophecy in the Bible there commenced ‘the highway of the Seed.’ What God said about ‘the Seed of woman’ constitutes ‘the Bible in embryo, the sum of all history and prophecy in a germ,’ for here is intimated, not only the Virgin Birth of Christ, but also his sufferings" ibid page 59-60.

"Notice that it says "her seed." It does not say the man’s seed. Here is at least the suggestion of the virgin birth of Christ." (Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol. 1 page 26.)

After the serpent has tempted Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, Hashem "shows up", as it were, to respond to the situation. Adam blames Chava who blames the serpent, which is where Hashem begins his punishment for the transgression. Our verse is part of God’s curse to the serpent for his tempting Eve.

Hashem’s curse to the serpent contains several parts. The first main point of the curse is that the serpent will crawl on its belly. This is seen quite literally in regards to the snake being the most notable creature with no legs.

"I will put enmity between you and between the woman and between you and her seed" discusses the particular aversion mankind has to snakes, God decreed that since they had developed a partnership which lead to sin, He would punish them measure for measure by dissolving this relationship between Eve and her children.

"[The Seed] will bruise your head and you will bruise [the Seed’s] heal" can also be seen very clearly as relating to the natural point of conflict between man and snake. While with other animal attacks man is more inclined to defend himself (to whatever extent possible) with his hands, not so with a snake. The snake is crushed underfoot, and likewise mans feet are the most vulnerable to snake attack. Conversely, the snakes head is the most likely target for man's attack since this is the most efficient way of killing the snake.

Evidence for the fact that these curses should be understood primarily on a literal level is the reference not only to the serpent, but the serpents "seed". Not only would this battle be between Eve and the serpent, but the offspring of each.

While Rashi seems to understand the text along the line cited above, there is a midrashic understanding often cited by Christian's to support a Messianic nature of this verse. "Targum Yonathan" is cited by McDowell (and other apologists) to support this verse as Messianic.
Jewish source: Targum Pseudo Jonathan on Genesis 3:15 states, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right (at you) and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right (at them), and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be a remedy, but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel in the days of the King Messiah." (McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, page 145)
It becomes evident when reading the source that the only thing "messianic" is the time period of the event described. However the "seed" is NOT identified as the Messiah but rather Israel ("when the offspring of the women keep the commandments of the Torah, they will aim right at you..."). It is misleading to use this text to suggest the "seed" Gen. 3:15 is the Messiah when it identifies the "seed" with Israel.

What is more surprising however is that Paul in Romans 16:20 takes a parallel approach to the Targum above, however here the "community of believers" would be "seed" rather than Israel. "And the God of Peace will soon crush Satan [the serpent] underneath your [the believers] feet". From this direct allusion to Gen. 3:15 we can see two points; 1) the "seed" is not the Messiah and 2) the crushing of the serpent was still future (i.e. had yet to be fulfilled even after the crucifixion).

Part of the problem with the Christian interpretation is their focus on the use of the term "her seed" which they find peculiar and perhaps even an allusion to the virgin birth.2 The problem is that while this term is unusual, that is to be expected. Almost any feminine possessive noun is infrequent in the Hebrew Bible, if for no other reason than there are a lot more narratives involving men. While "seed" (זרע) can refer to semen it would be a mistake to restrict its meaning. It is also, probably more often, used in the sense of "offspring", see Genesis 19:24 for example. Likewise this root is used in its verbal form in Leviticus 12:2 in the feminine, "When a women conceives", i.e. "when a woman ‘seeds.’"

There is nothing contextual that would suggest a Messianic identity for the "seed", rather it suggest to the contrary. "The literal sense of the passage is clear, God is speaking to the serpent who has led eve into the sin of disobeying God’s revelation. God is saying that there will be hostility between human beings (the seed of the woman) and the serpents (the seed of the serpents), in the course of which human beings will be hurt (bruising of the heel) and serpents will be killed (bruising of the head)." (LaSor, Hermeneutics, page 109). The simple reason that the enmity against the serpent by "her seed" is because it was Eve whom the serpent tempted. The Targum does not identify the seed as Messiah and ironically enough it would seem Paul does not see the seed as Messiah either. Furthermore, Paul does not see the serpent as having yet been crushed even though he wrote after the Nazarene’s death. Christian suggestion that this verse is fulfilled in the Nazarene’s crucifixion (the seed crushing the head of the serpent) is inconsistent with the plain meaning of the text and with the New Testament’s own understanding of it.

1 "Genesis 3:15…Here at the dawn of man’s history is a promise of the Almighty God concerning the savior." Islam Revealed, Dr. Anis. A Shorrosh, page 117. "But let’s go back farther to discover the Protoevangelium, the first Gospel, that wondrous promise given by God to our first parents in Eden…that the seed of the woman would destroy the head of the serpent, even though the serpent would wound the heel of the seed of the woman." Why I Believe, Dr. James Kennedy, page 124.
2"In all of Scripture, there is no other person called ‘seed of the woman,’ which points to a virgin birth." (Why I Believe, Dr. James Kennedy, page 124-125). See also J. Vernon McGee cited at the beginning of this article.

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