Volume 48 - Issue 1

The Individual and Collective Offspring of the Woman: The Canonical Outworking of Genesis 3:15

By Jonathan M. Cheek


Studies on Genesis 3:15 often debate whether the seed of the woman refers to an individual or a collective group. The key words and concepts from Genesis 3:15 recur in numerous instances in the OT and the NT, which support the idea that the offspring of the woman should be understood as both an individual and as a collective group. This article will survey the key arguments for the individual view and for the collective view and will then present four arguments in support of the idea that the intent of Genesis 3:15 is to speak of both a collective offspring of the woman in addition to an individual offspring.

The past thirty years have provided something of a renaissance in the interpretation of Genesis 3:15 with many Evangelical scholars providing sound exegetical and theological argumentation that Genesis 3:15 explicitly anticipates a future individual offspring of the woman.1 Many scholars, though, still strongly affirm the collective understanding of the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15. Another view proposes that the expectation of the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is both individual and collective. In this interpretation, Genesis 3:15 anticipates both (1) an individual coming deliverer who will be at enmity with and exchange blows with the serpent and (2) a collective group associated with the individual coming deliverer who will participate in this enmity against the serpent and his seed. Though some interpreters have supported this view throughout church history, none have attempted a full presentation of this view in light of a canonical approach to Scripture.2 This article argues that a canonical reading of Scripture recognizes the outworking of Genesis 3:15 as both an individual offspring and a collective offspring.

1. The Collective Seed of the Woman

Some scholars understand the seed of the woman to refer either to God’s people as a whole throughout history or to the human race as a whole. The former idea positions the people of God against Satan and his demons, whereas the latter places the entire human race against either (1) Satan and his demons or (2) literal, physical snakes. Most Protestants followed the Messianic view of 3:15 (the view of Luther) until the time of the Enlightenment, during which the collective view became prominent among liberal theologians, as well as many conservatives.3 During this period, many who adhere to the historical-critical method argued that 3:15 represents “a quite general statement about mankind and serpents and the struggle between them which continues as long as the earth exists.”4

The collective view is supported by the idea that זֶרַע (“offspring”) is a collective noun. Without substantive discussion, Westermann asserts that “it is beyond doubt that זֶרַע is to be understood collectively. The text is speaking of the line of descendants of the woman as well as of the serpent.”5 John H. Walton argues similarly, “On the basis of grammatical fact, the Hebrew word for ‘seed’ is collective, and as such, it will typically take singular grammatical associations (pronouns, verbal forms).”6 Walton, therefore, argues that Genesis 3:15 speaks of “an ongoing battle” between humans and “evil’s establishment among humanity.”7 Some who hold to the collective understanding of 3:15 may still consider the verse as a protevangelium, in that it anticipates a promise of victory for the collective seed of the woman over evil, while rejecting the idea that an individual Messiah is in view.8

2. The Individual Seed of the Woman

Alternatively, many interpreters have understood the seed of the woman as a reference to an individual descendant who would be at enmity with the serpent and its seed. This individual understanding of the seed of the woman appears to predate the NT, finding support in the LXX translation of Genesis 3:15, which may provide “the earliest evidence of an individual messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15.”9 Several early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr (ca. AD 100–167)10 and Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. AD 125–200)11 understand 3:15 as a prophecy of Christus Victor. Martin Luther interprets the “seed of the woman” with reference to Christ, who will crush the serpent’s head,12 and the messianic view became the prominent post-Reformation Protestant view. In spite of the prominence of the collective understanding of “seed” during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, some conservative scholars still held to a messianic understanding of זֶרַע.13

Over the past thirty years, however, scholars have presented several strong arguments in support of the idea that in Genesis 3:15 זֶרַע was originally intended to refer to an individual seed of the woman.14 The lexical-syntactical work of C. John Collins has proven to serve as a critical turning point in the interpretation of 3:15 because it provides a strong exegetical foundation for understanding the seed of the woman to be individual and not collective. Collins analyzes how the OT uses pronouns and verb inflections for number when used with זֶרַע when it refers to “offspring,” concluding that “offspring” in 3:15 is an expressly singular rather than a collective reference.15 T. D. Alexander builds on Collins’s argument, providing further evidence from Genesis 22:17–18 and 24:60 that “the ‘seed of the woman’ must be understood as referring to a single individual and not numerous descendants.”16 Additionally, Alexander argues that the development of the concept of “seed” in the book of Genesis indicates the expectation of the development of a royal dynasty leading to a future king who will bless the nations. The זֶרַע is prominent in the patriarchal promises, which will result in the blessing of the nations through a future royal figure (e.g., 17:6, 16; 35:11; 36:31; 49:8–12).17

James M. Hamilton Jr. demonstrates that the promises to Abraham of land, offspring, and blessing are “direct answers to the curses of Genesis 3:14–19.”18 The seed promise in Genesis 3:15, therefore, serves as the foundation for the promise of seed to Abraham. Hamilton turns to the NT’s description of Jesus as the one through whom the promises of land, seed, and blessing are finally fulfilled and through whom the serpent is crushed (Rev 12). Therefore, the development of God’s redemptive plan in Scripture reveals the messianic identity of the seed of the woman.

The arguments presented by Alexander, Collins, and Hamilton in support of the individual view of in Genesis 3:15 are convincing and have met little resistance among scholars.19 Based on these arguments, this paper assumes that the seed of the woman must refer to an individual seed, regardless of how much the original author of Genesis may have known about the identity of that individual or exactly what that individual would do. The question here, then, is whether it is legitimate to understand the seed of the woman in both an individual and a collective sense.

3. The Individual and Collective Seed

The idea that the offspring of the woman refers to both an individual and a collective group of people is seen first in Cyprian of Carthage (ca. AD 200–258). In his comments on Isaiah 7:10–15, Cyprian speaks of Christ as “this seed God had foretold would proceed from the woman that should trample on the head of the devil.”20 Cyprian elsewhere alludes to the church as the agent who crushes the serpent: “Let our feet be shod with evangelical teaching, and armed, so that when the serpent shall begin to be trodden and crushed by us, he may not be able to bite and trip us up.”21 After the Reformation, John Owen identifies Genesis 3:15 as the “foundation of the Old Testament”22 and “the chief promise of the new covenant itself.”23 As such, Owen understands Genesis 3:15 as the promise of an individual messianic seed of the woman,24 though Owen holds that the seed of the woman is collective as well. Owen asserts, “By the seed of the woman is meant the whole body of the elect, Christ in the first place as the head, and all the rest as his members.”25

More recently, Hamilton presents this argument based on the use of the term “seed” in Genesis and the use of terms related to the crushing of heads in numerous OT and NT passages.26 Similarly, Bruce K. Waltke argues that “the further discourse of Scripture … merges” the individual and collective ideas of “offspring.”27 Therefore, “Since the seed struggles against the Serpent’s presumably collective seed, we infer it has its collective sense. But since only the head of the Serpent is represented as crushed, we expect an individual to deliver the fatal blow and to be struck uniquely on his heel.”28

The question, then, is whether it is legitimate to understand the seed of the woman in both an individual and a collective sense. This article offers four arguments, which scholars have not thoroughly addressed elsewhere, in support of the idea that the canonical outworking of Genesis 3:15 demonstrates that the seed promise looks forward to a collective offspring of the woman in addition to an individual offspring.

3.1. The Collective Identity of the Offspring of the Serpent Implies a Collective
Offspring of the Woman

The final clause of 3:15 clearly indicates that it is the individual serpent who is going to exchange blows in enmity with the seed of the woman. The use of singular pronominal suffixes in this section of the verse (“your head” and “his heel”) and the singular independent pronoun (“he will strike”) give clear indication that an individual seed of the woman is in view. It seems, then, that this portion of the verse certainly expects a battle with mutual strikes between two individuals. The earlier part of the verse, however, refers not to the serpent but to the offspring of the serpent. Interpreters consistently identify the seed of the serpent as a collective use of זֶרַע. Additionally, apart from those who see the serpent as nothing more than a mere creature, interpreters unanimously understand the collective seed of the serpent not in a biological sense but in a spiritual sense—those who resemble the serpent’s nature.29 Assuming that the serpent’s offspring must be both collective and spiritual (not biological), it is reasonable to expect that the woman’s offspring in this part of the verse would be both collective and spiritual.30 Though it is certainly possible that 3:15 looks forward to the individual offspring of the woman in opposition to a whole horde of the collective offspring of the serpent, it seems more natural to see a collective offspring of the woman in 3:15 in contrast to the collective offspring of the serpent. If this is the case, then when Scripture later alludes to Genesis 3:15, the reader would expect to encounter a reference to collective entities in opposition to each other as well as the singular opposition between the individual seeds. This paper will examine biblical allusions to 3:15 which include the collective references as well as the individual references.

In this view, Genesis 3:15 presents four key parties that are involved in the conflict: (1) the serpent, (2) the collective/spiritual offspring of the serpent, (3) the individual offspring of the woman who exchanges blows with the serpent, and (4) the collective/spiritual offspring of the woman who are at enmity with the collective/spiritual offspring of the serpent. Therefore, the “seed of the woman” represents the individual who delivers the crushing blow to the serpent, but the promise also finds its fulfillment in the enmity between the collective offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent. Genesis 3:15, therefore, presents the offspring of the woman as “the one who represents the whole group as well as the group itself.”31 Perhaps this is similar to (though perhaps not exactly the same as) saying that Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in contrast to saying that the British coalition defeated the French. Both are true. Wellington’s victory required a significant military force to defeat Napoleon’s force. It can be spoken of in individual and/or collective terms, but both the individual and collective entities are necessary.

Hamilton points out that the “self-referential” nature of Genesis gives the expectation that Moses’s understanding of the meaning of this promise will be explained throughout the subsequent narrative accounts in Genesis.32 This enmity between two types of seed first displays itself in the account of Cain and Abel, an account in which the text seems to clearly link Cain with the serpent.33 Once Abel is identified as the righteous brother, it is probable that he, rather than Cain, is the progenitor of the ultimate offspring who will defeat the serpent or that he himself is that offspring who will defeat the snake. Abel must be eliminated. Cain, who is “of the evil one” (1 John 3:12), murders his brother, who is potentially the righteous one who might defeat the serpent. In this episode, Cain becomes the spiritual offspring of the serpent, and Abel is evidently the spiritual offspring of the woman. This is why Eve later believes that Seth is “another offspring instead of Abel” (Gen 4:25). Eve apparently understands that Cain cannot be the anticipated offspring because of his unrighteousness—he is on the side of the serpent. Abel is obviously not the final offspring of the woman because he never crushes the serpent. Though Abel does not actively display enmity toward Cain, enmity clearly exists between them.34

Todd Patterson concludes, “The overall effect of the Gen 4 narrative then is to divide the seed of the woman into two contrasted lines. There is one line that is unrighteous and one that is righteous. As readers our attention is in this way trained to follow the righteous or chosen line, and eschew the other in our search for the promised seed of the woman.”35 Therefore, in the genealogies in Genesis 4 and 5, Cain’s “‘unrighteous’ line is placed alongside and contrasted with the ‘righteous’ line of Seth.”36 The unrighteous line is associated with the seed of the serpent, and the righteous line is associated with the seed of the woman.

3.2. The Enmity between Seed Lines in the OT Narrative Renders Collective
Enmity a Logical Necessity

At the stage in redemptive history when Genesis was written, it may have been difficult—but not necessarily impossible—for the human writer and his readers to understand how Genesis 3:15 would be fulfilled. If 3:15 divides humanity into two different groups—seed of the woman versus seed of the serpent—then the rest of Genesis—and the rest of the history of humanity—would demonstrate the outworking of this promise. Therefore, it is natural to understand that Genesis (and the rest of the OT) points to “an ongoing conflict between the righteous and unrighteous seed.”37

The fact that a future unspecified descendant is promised in 3:15 and that the serpent is aware that that descendant will come through a particular seed line gives the serpent the strongest motivation to exercise every effort toward the destruction of that seed line so as to prevent the arrival of that future individual. In order to prevent the coming of the individual deliverer, the serpent and his seed must wage war against the collective offspring of the woman. Martin Luther points out this obvious motivation of the devil, with, perhaps, a bit of overstatement included:

This promise and this threat are very clear, and yet they are also very indefinite. They leave the devil in such a state that he suspects all mothers of giving birth to this Seed, although only one woman was to be the mother of this blessed Seed. Thus because God is threatening in general when He says, “her Seed,” He is mocking Satan and making him afraid of all women…. This obscurity increased Satan’s care and worry…. He was hostile and suspicious toward all those who gave birth from that time on until Christ was revealed.38

The arrival of the future individual seed of the woman is dependent on the survival of a much larger collective group of people (Israel), a group constantly at enmity with the surrounding nations. This pattern of enmity between righteous and unrighteous is evident in the divine promise to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” (Gen 12:3; cf. 27:29). Enmity between the collective offspring of Abraham and the collective offspring of the surrounding nations persists throughout the OT. If the seed promise to Abraham is a continuation of the seed promise from Genesis 3:15, then the continuing enmity between Abraham’s offspring and the surrounding nations appears to be a manifestation of the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. The bondage in Egypt and subsequent exodus, the conquest of Canaan, and the captivity and exile of Israel continue this theme. The ungodly nations serve other gods and follow after their practices, and they continue to engage in enmity with Israel, often expressing a desire to destroy Israel (Num 22:15–17; Jer 1:14–16; Dan 7:21–25; Zech 12:3) and to eliminate Israel from being a people group (Ps 83:3–8; Est 3:6–13; 7:4; 9:24). In spite of the apparent success of Assyria and Babylon in destroying the nations of Israel and Judah and relocating many Israelites, the OT narrative ends with the people of Israel—the collective offspring of Abraham—returning to their land, preparing the way for the coming of the consummate seed of the woman to come, though the surrounding nations continue to work in opposition to the progress of the Israelites (Ezra 4:4–5:17; Neh 2:10, 19; 4:1–11; 6:7).39

Much of the OT displays the hostility of the ungodly nations toward a particular royal seed line descending from Abraham, later identified as the seed line of David.40 At various times in Israel’s history, the continuation of the line of David is at risk because of sedition and murder. In the time of Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, Joash, and Amaziah (2 Chr 21–25), in particular, “the Davidic messianic line was suspended by its most slender thread.”41 The historical record, however, does provide hope for the continuation of the Davidic line with the survival of Jehoiachin, who enjoys a position of favor in Babylon (2 Kgs 25:27–30). Therefore, in spite of the threat of extermination, the seed of David survives and has a future.42

3.3. Key OT Promises Look Forward to Individual and Collective Offspring

In various passages that are critical in the development of God’s redemptive plan and that anticipate future “offspring,” individual and collective entities are in view. The primary example of this feature is in the seed promises in the Abraham narrative. Several iterations of the seed promise to Abraham are clearly collective (Gen 13:15–16; 15:5, 13; 16:10; 17:7–12; 22:17), but an individual seed for Abraham is in view in 22:17–18 and 24:60.43 Since, as Hamilton argues, the seed promises to Abraham are the direct answer to the seed promise of Genesis 3:15,44 then it follows that the outworking of both individual and collective seed promises to Abraham would seem to imply that both an individual and a collective seed should be expected in 3:15.

Two other key messianic texts may support the idea of an expectation of individual and collective “seed.” Balaam’s second oracle speaks of the vast size of the encampments of Israel and says that Jacob’s “seed shall be in many waters” (Num 24:7), a reference to “Israel’s proliferating population.”45 In Numbers 24:9b, Balaam refers to the Abrahamic promise of blessing and cursing in terms that call to mind the promises to Abraham (Gen 12:3a).46 In Balaam’s third oracle, though, he speaks not of the vast numbers of Israel but of an individual “star” who will come out of Jacob to crush the forehead of Moab and exercise dominion (24:15–19). It is readily acknowledged that the word “seed” does not appear in this third oracle. However, in this series of key redemptive prophecies in a passage that clearly echoes the Abrahamic promises, Balaam demonstrates an expectation of both a collective entity (identified as “seed”) as well as an individual from Israel who will play a role in defeating Israel’s enemies. It is also noteworthy that the references to a “scepter” rising out of Israel who will “crush the forehead” of Moab (24:17) and “exercise dominion” (24:19) do seem to allude to messianic statements in Genesis (Gen 3:15; 49:8–12).47 The Hebrew words for “scepter” (שֵׁבֶט) and “exercising dominion” (רדה) are the same words used in Genesis 49:10 and 1:26, though the terminology for “crushing the forehead” is different in Numbers 24:17 (מחץ ,פֵּאָה) than in Genesis 3:15 (שׁוף ,רֹאשׁ). Nevertheless, the concept of Israel’s deliverer striking her enemies on the forehead appears to serve as a conceptual link to Genesis 3:15, as well as the Abrahamic covenant.48

Another example of both the individual and collective offspring in the same context is in the communication of the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7. God’s promise that he will build a “house” (a dynasty) for David supports the idea of a collective group of descendants. This collective group must, at the very least, include all of the descendants of David until the ultimate Son of David arrives. But God’s covenant with David certainly includes an individual element as well. Yahweh promises to raise up David’s “offspring” after him, the identity of which is notoriously ambiguous. The expected offspring is clearly an individual, since it consistently uses first person singular pronouns: “I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (7:12–13). Though portions of this promise may refer to Solomon to some extent, the promise gives hints of a fulfillment in an individual in the “remote future.”49

Furthermore, the Davidic Covenant is “rich in Abrahamic allusions,”50 providing “definite resonations of the promises to Abraham,”51 demonstrating its role as “a further development of the covenant with Abraham.”52 Yahweh promises David “a great name” (2 Sam 7:9; cf. Gen 12:2), a seed “who shall come from your body” (2 Sam 7:12; cf. Gen 15:4),53 and a dynasty which will experience eternal blessing (7:29; cf. Ps 89:29, 35–37). If, therefore, the promises to Abraham represent “a direct answer to the curses of Genesis 3:14–19”54 and if the Davidic Covenant serves to further the development of the Abrahamic Covenant, then the Davidic Covenant must also serve as a direct answer to the curses of Genesis 3:14–19, particularly in its reference to the future “offspring” of David. Perhaps the collective seed is included in the promises revealed to Abraham, Balaam, and David simply for the sake of producing the individual seed. However, if subsequent references to the original promise consistently include both individual and collective elements, it seems likely that the original promise of seed would also expect individual and collective elements.

3.4. The New Testament Writers Explain the Outworking of Genesis 3:15 as
Individual and Collective

Several NT passages allude to Genesis 3:15 and demonstrate a collective and an individual application of the outworking of Genesis 3:15. This article highlights seven examples that display the outworking of the individual and collective elements of Genesis 3:15.

3.4.1. The Opponents of Jesus as Offspring of the Serpent

The Gospel accounts display an ongoing enmity between Jesus and his followers (seed of the woman) on one side and Satan and his agents (seed of the serpent) on the other. On several occasions, Jesus identifies his opponents as children or offspring of the devil. In attributing their spiritual parentage to the devil, Jesus declares that his opponents are thinking and acting like the devil. Craig S. Keener explains,

Jewish people understood the principle of spiritual descent, that is, walking in one’s ways even if one was not physically a child of that person (e.g., Matt 23:31)…. The notion of spiritual parentage drew on the standard conception that children reflect the nature of their parents (as in 3:6); thus children of adulterers betrayed the adulterer by bearing his image. Hence one could revile another by attributing to him ancestors that better explain his behavior…. But sometimes people simply failed to act like their ancestors, in which case someone might deny that they were truly descendants in the ways that mattered.55

Jesus directly addresses the Pharisees as “You serpents, brood of vipers” (Matt 23:33; cf. 3:7; Luke 3:7). The significant point here is that a Jew identifying someone as the offspring of a serpent is, in view of the broader context of the OT, quite possibly alluding to Genesis 3:15 to some degree.56 These statements do not necessarily address whether the seed of the woman is individual or collective, but they do suggest that Jesus understands his opponents to be representative of the offspring of the serpent.

In John 8, Jesus identifies the Jewish religious leaders with the offspring of the serpent in his heated dialogue with “the Jews” (also identified as the Pharisees in 8:13) who insist that they are the offspring (σπέρμα) of Abraham (8:33, 39). Though Jesus concedes that these “Jews” are offspring of Abraham in a physical sense (8:37), they are not truly “Abraham’s children” (τέκνα τοῦ Ἀβραάμ) because they do not do “the works Abraham did” (8:39). True offspring of Abraham would not seek to kill Jesus, a man who speaks God’s truth (8:37, 40). Furthermore, God cannot be their father (8:41), since they are rejecting Jesus, the one whom God had sent (8:42). Instead, the devil is their father, since they fulfil his desires in their opposition to Jesus (8:44).57

Jesus points out the two primary sins of the devil that solidifies their connection to him: (1) he was a “murderer from the beginning” and (2) he is “a liar and the father of lies” (8:44).58 The Jews’ intent to murder Jesus (8:37, 40, 44, 59), their rejection of his truth (8:37, 43–47), and their propagation of lies (8:41, 48, 52) demonstrate that their character reflects the character of the devil; the devil, then, is their spiritual father, and they are his offspring. Because Jesus is certainly alluding to the serpent’s actions in Genesis 3 in identifying the devil as a liar and a murderer, he is likely thinking of Genesis 3 in referring to the unbelieving Jews as children of the devil—the offspring of the serpent.

A word that can easily describe Jesus’s relationship with such offspring of the serpent is “enmity.” When Jesus confronts the offspring of the serpent, he does not come peaceably; rather, he engages in a harsh war of words in which he identifies and overcomes the agents of Satan.59 This enmity does not end with the serpent’s seed’s rejection of Jesus; it continues with the offspring of the serpent persecuting, flogging, killing, and crucifying, Jesus’s messengers (Matt 23:34–35). If these entities are representative of the offspring of the serpent and if they are at enmity with the individual Messiah, then these references appear to support the idea of the individual offspring of the woman being fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus presents these as enemies not only of himself but also as enemies of his followers. Therefore, throughout Jesus’s ministry, the offspring of the serpent are at enmity with Jesus and his followers. Though Jesus’s followers are not specifically identified as “offspring of the woman,” their position of enmity with the offspring of the serpent assumes this identification. It is not necessary for Jesus to say, “You, my disciples, are offspring of the woman” in order to understand that the theme of enmity promised in Genesis 3:15 is being displayed in the Gospels. These conflicts support the idea of enmity between individual and collective offspring.

3.4.2. John’s Theology of the World

John’s theology of the world also reflects the individual and collective enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. John presents Satan as the ruler of the world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19), who works in direct opposition to Jesus. The “world” in this sense in John refers not to the created universe but to the sinful people and the systems that stem from those sinful people (and from their ruler, the devil). John positions the world in direct opposition to Jesus. Not only does the world hate Jesus (John 7:7; 15:18–24), the world also hates believers—those who follow Jesus (John 15:18–24; 17:14; 1 John 3:13). If Satan is identified as the serpent from Genesis 3, and those who follow after him are identified as his “seed” or his children—or “the world”—then it seems quite consistent to understand John’s theology of the world as unfolding the concepts presented in Genesis 3. Satan and the world persist in their enmity toward Jesus and believers. The world “hates” Jesus and believers. Satan and the sinful leaders of this world put Jesus to death (striking his heel), but Jesus ultimately is victorious over the devil (striking his head) and overcomes the world (John 16:33). Christians also participate in this victory, as they also overcome the world (1 John 2:13–14; 4:4; 5:4–5).60 Though John does not specifically identify believers as “offspring of the woman,” he clearly states that they are at enmity with the devil and those who follow the devil. To say that Satan and his “children” are at enmity with God’s people is to identify God’s people as the offspring of the woman who are at enmity with the serpent’s seed.

3.4.3. Parable of the Weeds

The parable of the weeds (or “tares”) among the wheat provides a subtle allusion to Genesis 3:15. In this parable, an “enemy” comes and sows weeds among good seed (Matt 13:25–28). Jesus is the one who had sown the good seed (identified as the “children of the kingdom,” 13:38), and the devil is the enemy who sows the weeds in an effort “to sabotage the harvest.”61 The weeds themselves are “the sons of the evil one” (i.e., seed of the serpent).62 Because the weeds are so intermingled with the wheat, they must grow together until the judgment. The sons of the evil one cause sin (σκάνδαλον), a phrase which likely refers to people who lead others into sin.63 The point is that Satan seeks to perpetuate the existence of sons of the evil one in the world to oppose God’s redemptive purposes.

It is striking that this parable presents the same key entities that are present in Genesis 3:15: the Son of Man (13:37), the “sons of the kingdom” (Matt 13:38), the “sons of the evil one” (13:38), and the devil (13:39). Furthermore, the two heads of the group (the Son of Man and the devil) are opposing each other, and the two groups who follow the heads are both identified as a type of “seed.” In the end, the seed of the devil will be judged. In relation to Genesis 3:15, it may also be noteworthy that the devil is identified as “an enemy” (Matt 13:28, 39; ἐχθρός / אֹיֵב), which reflects the language of “enmity” in Genesis 3:15 (ἔχθρα / אֵיבָה). Though the “seed” in the parable is obviously an agricultural reference, the use of the term in addition to the other key themes in this section seems to present a fairly strong allusion to Genesis 3:15.

3.4.4. Children of God and Children of the Devil (1 John 3:8–13)

In 1 John 3, John clearly has the early chapters of Genesis on his mind. He speaks of the devil who “has been sinning from the beginning” (3:8), and then he moves to a discussion of Cain, who murdered his brother (3:11–13). John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (3:8). This statement itself should certainly be understood to refer to the individual seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent. John then proceeds to contrast two different collective groups—the children of God and the children of the devil (3:10). The children of God are born of God, and they do not make a practice of sinning; the children of the devil are the ones who do not practice righteousness.

John, therefore, presents the same entities spoken of in Genesis 3:15: (1) the Son of God, who destroys the works of (2) the devil, (3) the children of God, in whom God’s seed abides,64 and (4) the children of the devil. The allusion to Genesis 3:15 seems clear, based on the presence of these entities placed in antithesis to each other, with one side ultimately being victorious over the devil and his children. It would be exegetically naïve not to see an allusion to Genesis 3:15 in these statements.65 Jesus clearly represents the seed of the woman who is crushing the serpent, and his children are clearly set in opposition to the children of the serpent. If John is describing the outworking of Genesis 3:15, then he appears to understand the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 in both an individual and a collective sense.

3.4.5. Crushing Satan under Your Feet (Rom 16:20)

Most interpreters acknowledge an allusion to Genesis 3:15 in Romans 16:20, although the language of Paul’s promise is not the same as the language in Genesis 3:15.66 The LXX rendering of שׁוף as τηρέω in Genesis 3:15 is known to be problematic.67 Therefore, it seems likely that Paul chose a Greek word that would more accurately translate שׁוף: συντρίβω, which means “to crush.”68 In the context, Paul seems to be representing the heretics in 16:17 as agents of Satan, an idea supported by other Pauline statements identifying false teachers as agents of Satan (2 Cor 11:14–15). In this sense, these two collective groups are at enmity with each other. What is noteworthy in Romans 16:20 is that it is both an individual (the God of peace) and a collective group (the church) who are involved in crushing Satan, though the key actor in the victory is God rather than the church. If Romans 16:20 is an allusion to Genesis 3:15, which seems quite probable, then it is definitely presenting both an individual and a collective understanding of the identity of the seed of the woman.

3.4.6. Seed and Seeds in Galatians 3:15–29

Galatians 3 does not contain a direct allusion to Genesis 3:15, but it is relevant in a discussion of whether seed is individual and/or collective.69 In the same contextual section of Galatians, Paul clearly uses “offspring” (σπέρμα) for an individual, “referring to one, … who is Christ” (Gal 3:16), as well as the collective group of the Galatian believers: “You [pl.] are Abraham’s offspring” (Gal 3:29). It seems best to see the reference to the individual offspring in Galatians 3:16 as “an exegetically grounded interpretation of Gen 17:8 (and/or 13:15; 24:7) within its broader literary context, especially 3:15 and 22:17–18).”70 The existence of the collective offspring depends ultimately on the work of the individual offspring, Christ. Thus, based on his reading of key passages in Genesis, Paul interprets the Abrahamic promises with the expectation of both an individual, Jesus the Messiah, and a collective group, the people of God, as “offspring.”

3.4.7. Cosmic Drama in Revelation 12

Revelation 12–13 describes the outworking of Genesis 3:15 so vividly that it may be said that Revelation 12–13 represents a “midrash on Genesis 3:15.”71 Paul S. Minear argues that “it is Genesis 3:15–20 that dominates the whole of Revelation 12.”72 The same four entities from Genesis 3:15 are active in these two chapters in Revelation in which the individual offspring of the woman wounds the head of the dragon (13:3). “The devil and his angels” engage in this conflict, representing the offspring of the serpent (12:7–10), and are waging war with the collective offspring of the woman, identified as “the rest of her offspring” (12:17).

In Revelation 12, a “woman clothed with the sun”73 gives birth to the Messiah, at whose birth the dragon unsuccessfully attempts to devour him (12:1–5). Upon the Messiah’s ascent to heaven, war arises in heaven, and Michael and his angels defeat “the dragon and his angels” who are thrown down to the earth (12:7–9). This dragon, identified as “the devil” in 12:12, pursues the woman and then goes “to make war on the rest of her offspring [σπέρμα], on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). In a context that clearly describes the outworking of Genesis 3:15, a reference to a collective group of godly people as “the rest of her offspring” certainly supports the idea of an expected collective offspring of the woman. G. K. Beale and Sean M. McDonough comment, “Such a contrast between individual and corporate seeds is supported by the fact that 12:17 is an allusion to Gen. 3:16, where John would have seen that Eve’s messianic seed has both individual and corporate meaning.”74 The two beasts aim to carry out the dragon’s work “to make war on the saints and to conquer them” (13:7) for forty-two months (13:1–18). If Genesis 3:15 is the basis for this text, then the collective groups on both sides seem to be engaged in the outworking of the enmity promised in Genesis 3:15.

One critical point in Revelation 13 is that the head of one of the beasts “seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed” (13:3). Beale notes that “such a wound on the head of the grand nemesis of God’s people reflects Gen. 3:15, especially when seen together with Rev. 12:17.”75 In spite of the apparent victory of the beast, who is “allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them” (Rev 13:7), the saints are ultimately victorious over the beast (15:2). When the beast kills the martyrs, “the beast’s apparent victory is the martyrs’—and therefore God’s—real victory.”76 Bauckham explains, “The point is not that the beast and the Christians each win some victories; rather, the same event—the martyrdom of Christians—is described both as the beast’s victory over them and as their victory over the beast.”77 In this way, the victory of the saints over the beast follows the pattern of the victory of Christ over Satan—Satan appears to be victorious at Jesus’s death, but Jesus’s death (and resurrection) is actually the critical event in his victory over Satan. And this actually reflects the fullest sense of the promise from Genesis 3:15, that the serpent would strike the offspring of the woman, but the offspring of the woman would emerge as the ultimate victor.78 The individual offspring of the woman, the one sitting on the white horse, accompanied by his army, will defeat the armies of the beast and his prophet (19:11–20).

In summary, Table 1 shows how each of the NT passages discussed here reflects the individual and collective understanding of the seed of the woman and the seed of serpent.

Table 1: NT References to Genesis 3:15

Canonical Reference The Individual Offspring of the Woman The Collective Offspring of the Woman The Serpent The (Collective) Offspring of the Serpent
Gen 3:15 He will strike your head Enmity between seeds He will strike your heel Enmity between seeds
The Gospels Jesus Believers The Devil Jesus’s opponents (Pharisees)
John 15:18–24; 16:33 Jesus Believers The Devil The World
Matt 13:24–30 The Son of Man “Children of the kingdom” The Devil/The Enemy “Sons of the evil one”
1 John 3 The Son of God “Children of God” The Devil “Children of the Devil”
Rom 16:20 (The God of Peace) The Church Satan (False teachers)
Gal 3:15–29 Christ Believers N/A N/A
Rev 12–13 Child of the woman clothed with the sun “The rest of her offspring” The dragon Evil angels; those whom the beast deceives

4. Conclusion

This paper has presented several arguments demonstrating that a canonical reading of Scripture supports an interpretation of Genesis 3:15 that anticipates both an individual and a collective offspring of the woman. The collective identity of the seed of the serpent implies that a collective seed of the woman is in view. Several key promises in the OT seem to anticipate a future individual and collective offspring of the woman. The fact that an individual offspring is expected and that the collective seed will be at enmity with that offspring necessitates the continued existence of the collective offspring until the individual offspring arrives. Finally, the NT writers seem to allude to Genesis 3:15 in several passages which, though not always using the same language as Genesis 3:15, speak of the same concepts and similar language to Genesis 3:15. Though it is difficult to know exactly how the original readers of Genesis would have identified the offspring of the woman, the fuller revelation of the canon of Scripture seems to draw attention to a fulfillment in both an individual and collective offspring.

[1] See Jonathan M. Cheek, “Recent Developments in the Interpretation of the Seed of the Woman in Genesis 3:15,” JETS 64 (2021): 215–36.

[2] I understand a “canonical” approach as explained by G. K. Beale: “NT writers may interpret historical portions of the OT to have a forward-looking sense in the light of the whole OT canonical context…. Rather than interpreting a text only in the light of its immediate literary context within a book, we are now merely interpreting the passage in view of the wider canonical context.” Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 15, 25. Douglas J. Moo and Andrew David Naselli clarify: “This approach does not appeal to the divine author’s meaning that is deliberately concealed from the human author in the process of inspiration (a sensus occultus); it appeals to the meaning of the text itself that takes on deeper significance as God’s plan unfolds (a sensus praegnans).” “The Problem of the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 736.

[3] Conservative representatives of the collective view include H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1942), 163–70; and Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, reprint ed. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 41–44.

[4] Sigmund Mowinckel, He That Cometh, trans. G. W. Anderson (New York: Abingdon, 1954), 8. Others who interpret the serpent in primarily a zoological sense include Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), 90; Claus Westermann, Genesis 1–11, trans. John J. Scullion, CC (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1984), 260–61; Terrence E. Fretheim, “The Book of Genesis,” in NIB, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 1:362–63; and R. W. L. Moberly, The Theology of the Book of Genesis, OTT (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 79–80.

[5] Westermann, Genesis 1–11, 260.

[6] John H. Walton, Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 230.

[7] Walton, Old Testament Theology for Christians, 213. Those holding to this view include Tremper Longman, III, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 66–67; Andrew T. Abernethy and Gregory Goswell, God’s Messiah in the Old Testament: Expectations of a Coming King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020), 11–21; and John Goldingay, Genesis, BCOTP (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020), 79–80.

[8] Walton, for example, does not see a promise of victory for one side or the other (Old Testament Theology for Christians, 230–31). Goldingay similarly argues that the reference is to an ongoing, unresolved conflict (Genesis, 79–80). Abernethy and Goswell, however, argue that 3:15 does anticipate a victory of Eve’s collective seed over evil (God’s Messiah in the Old Testament, 21).

[9] R. A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” JBL 84 (1965): 427. The LXX uses αὐτός (masculine singular) to refer to σπέρμα (“seed”). Since the word σπέρμα is neuter, not masculine, the most direct translation would have used the neuter form, αὐτό. Grammatically, the LXX should have used αὐτό (neuter) to refer to the neuter σπέρμα, and in other cases, the LXX renders the Hebrew pronoun with another gender (as necessary) to agree with the Greek gender of the antecedent. Of 103 instances in which the LXX translates the Hebrew הוּא (masc. sing.), Genesis 3:15 is the only reference in which the LXX “literalistically translates the Hebrew masculine pronoun with the masculine Greek pronoun αὐτός,” where the Greek would ordinarily require the neuter αὐτό.

[10] Justin Martyr identifies an analogy between Eve and Mary, who gives birth to the one “by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.” Dialogue with Trypho 100 (ANF 1:249).

[11] James R. Payton, Jr., Irenaeus on the Christian Faith: A Condensation of Against Heresies (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 83. See also pp. 152, 172–73.

[12] Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1–5, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther’s Works 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1958), 191. Ken Schurb presents Luther’s view and a summary of the early Protestant debates on the passage in “Sixteenth-Century Lutheran-Calvinist Conflict on the Protevangelium,” CTQ 54.1 (1990): 25–47.

[13] For example, Edward J. Young, Genesis 3: A Devotional and Expository Study, reprint ed. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1983), 120; Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC 1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 76n32; Francis A. Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 103–5; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 78–79; LaSor, “Prophecy, Inspiration, and Sensus Plenior,” TynBul 29 (1978): 53–60.

[14] C. J. Collins, “A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is the Woman’s Seed Singular or Plural?” TynBul 48 (1997): 139–48; and T. D. Alexander, “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” TynBul 48 (1997): 363–67. Prior to the work of Collins and Alexander, the primary foundation for the messianic understanding of Genesis 3:15 had been grounded only in progressive revelation or a carefully defined sensus plenior. For example, see LaSor, “Prophecy, Inspiration, and Sensus Plenior,” 53–60; and “The Sensus Plenior and Biblical Interpretation,” in Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation, ed. W. Ward Gasque and William Sanford LaSor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 272; and Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, WBC 1 (Dallas: Word, 1987), 81.

[15] Collins, “Syntactical Note,” 139–48.

[16] Alexander, “Further Observations,” 363.

[17] See T. D. Alexander, “From Adam to Judah: The Significance of the Family Tree in Genesis,” EvQ 61 (1989): 5–19; “Genealogies, Seed, and the Compositional Unity of Genesis,” TynBul 44 (1993): 255–70; and “Messianic Ideology in Genesis,” in The Lord’s Anointed, ed. Philip E. Satterthwaite, Richard S. Hess, and Gordon J. Wenham (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995), 19–39.

[18] James M. Hamilton Jr., “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” TynBul 58 (2007): 254.

[19] For a critique of the arguments of Collins and Alexander, see Walton, Old Testament Theology for Christians, 230; and Abernethy and Goswell, God’s Messiah in the Old Testament, 11–21.

[20] Cyprian, Testimonies against the Jews 2.9 (ANF 5:519).

[21] Cyprian, Letter 55.9 (ANF 5:350).

[22] John Owen, “The Beauty and Strength of Zion,” ed. Thomas Russell, The Works of John Owen 16 (Edinburgh: Johnstone & Hunter, 1850), 396. Owen also asserts that 3:15, which is “truly called Πρωτευαγγέλιον” is “the very foundation of the faith of the church.” The Glory of Christ, Works 1:120.

[23] John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1967), 95.

[24] Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Works 18:240.

[25] Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, 178. Owen elsewhere explains that “either seed hath a leader; there is he and thou, it and thou; that is, Christ and Satan: Christ is the leader of the seed of the woman, the captain and head of it in this great conflict.” Also, Owen argues that the bruising of the heel refers to the sufferings of Christ as well as the sufferings of his church. “The Beauty and Strength of Zion,” 396–97. For a helpful discussion of Owen’s view of 3:15, see Ryan M. McGraw, “The Foundation of the Old Testament,” JRT 10 (2016): 9–14.

[26] James M. Hamilton Jr., “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” SBJT 10.2 (2006): 31–33; see also God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 76–85.

[27] Bruce Waltke with Charles Wu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 280–81. See also Young, Genesis 3, 119–21; and Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 39–42; and The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 56–57.

[28] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 281.

[29] Sydney H. T. Page argues that the offspring of the serpent refers to demonic forces that side with Satan. Powers of Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 20. Most interpreters, though, hold that the offspring of the serpent must include those humans who align themselves with Satan in opposition to God’s purposes. See T. D. Alexander, The Servant King: The Bible’s Portrait of the Messiah (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 18; Waltke, Old Testament Theology, 28; and Kevin S. Chen, The Messianic Vision of the Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 40–41. It is likely that both the demonic and the human forces that follow after the ways of the serpent are in view as “offspring of the serpent.”

[30] Alexander comments, “If the serpent symbolizes the powers of evil, then the ‘seed of the serpent’ must denote not merely snakes but rather all who are evil. The corollary of this would be that the ‘seed of the woman’ designates here those who are righteous. Thus, 3:15 refers to a conflict between good and evil which will eventually result in victory for the righteous ‘seed of the woman.’” “Messianic Ideology in Genesis,” 31.

[31] Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, 39.

[32] Hamilton comments, “The creating and promising word of God resulted in earlier biblical authors (beginning with Moses) discerning certain patterns in their material.” And “For Moses himself, the word of God—the promises—shaped his worldview—his assumptions and presuppositions, perceptions and interpretations, resulting in the promised-shaped patterns that he introduced into the accounts.” Typology: Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2022), 5. Similarly, John H. Sailhamer argues, “The author of Genesis … surely knows his own understanding of the identity of the ‘seed’ as he writes Genesis 3:15, but as the author, he leaves the identity of the ‘seed’ ambiguous (or vague) until he supplies the proper answer in the remainder of the Pentateuch.” The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition, and Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 322.

[33] Numerous studies discuss this type of relationship between Genesis 3 and 4. For example, see Alexander, “Messianic Ideology in Genesis,” 24, 31; John L. Ronning, “The Curse on the Serpent (Genesis 3:15) in Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics” (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1997), 165–78; Seth D. Postell, “Genesis 3:15: The Promised Seed,” in The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Edwin Blum (Chicago: Moody, 2019), 243–45; Abernethy and Goswell, God’s Messiah in the Old Testament, 13; Hamilton, Typology, 6–17.

[34] Enmity between two sides does not imply that both sides are acting with enmity toward the other. If one side acts in enmity, there is enmity between the sides. In the Mosaic Law, a person can murder another with אֵיבָה (“enmity”) or without אֵיבָה. Murdering “with enmity” does not imply that both sides are acting in enmity toward each other (Num 35:20–24; e.g., Ezek 25:15; 35:5).

[35] Todd Patterson, “The Righteousness and Survival of the Seed: The Role of Plot in the Exegesis and Theology of Genesis” (PhD diss., Trinity International University, 2012), 164. See also Alexander, “Messianic Ideology,” 24.

[36] Alexander, “Messianic Ideology in Genesis,” 24.

[37] Alexander, “Messianic Ideology in Genesis,” 24.

[38] Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 1:193–94.

[39] For this theme, see Robert D. Bell, The Theological Messages of the Old Testament Books (Greenville: BJU Press, 2010), 183–86.

[40] The enmity against David himself is seen in several examples: (1) Saul, under the influence of the harmful spirit, seeks incessantly to kill David (1 Sam 16–26); (2) after Saul’s death, “a long war” begins between Saul’s house and David’s house (2 Sam 3:1); (3) the Amalekites take David’s wives away, a clear action against David’s potential seed (1 Sam 30:1–6). These examples are in addition to the many other examples of David in deadly conflict with his enemies.

[41] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 373.

[42] See discussion in Iain W. Provan, “The Messiah in the Books of Kings,” in The Lord’s Anointed, ed. Philip E. Satterthwaite, Richard S. Hess, and Gordon J. Wenham (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995), 67–85.

[43] Alexander, “Further Observations,” 363–67; Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 156 n. 30; Chen, The Messianic Vision of the Pentateuch, 74–77; Jason S. DeRouchie, “Redemptive-Historical, Christocentric Approach,” in Five Views of Christ in the Old Testament, ed. Brian J. Tabb and Andrew M. King, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022), 197–99. Walton (An Old Testament Theology, 230 n. 3) and Abernethy and Goswell (God’s Messiah in the Old Testament, 14–16) argue against the legitimacy of understanding “seed” here as singular.

[44] Hamilton, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” 254.

[45] Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 491.

[46] See Hamilton, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” 264.

[47] Hamilton displays Genesis 49:9b next to Numbers 24:9a and demonstrates that the latter passage quotes the former nearly verbatim. “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” 264.

[48] Hamilton summarizes, “These texts indicate that the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham would be realised through a triumphant king of Israel, descended from Judah, who would defeat Israel’s enemies. These enemies of Israel are regarded as the seed of the serpent, so that their defeat is simultaneously Israel’s victory.” “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” 266.

[49] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 661. David G. Firth comments, “We are to understand the singular distributively, since the promise of an enduring dynasty goes beyond the initial son, even if he would build the temple.” 1 and 2 Samuel, ApOTC (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 385. Robert D. Bergen points out that the eternal nature of the Davidic promise “seems to vault this portion of the prophecy beyond the bounds of Solomon’s reign and give it eschatological and/or messianic overtones.” 1, 2 Samuel, NAC 7 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 340. D. A. Carson examines the use of 2 Samuel 7:14 in coordination with Psalm 2:7 in Hebrews 1:5 to demonstrate that “both passages depict the Davidic monarch as God’s son, ideally imitating his heavenly father’s kingly rule. Both passages hint at a Davidic reign that eclipses anything in the first millennium BC.” Jesus the Son of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 48.

[50] Firth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 385.

[51] Hamilton, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” 266.

[52] Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT 15 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 143.

[53] Hamilton notes that this phrase is used in both texts (2 Sam 7:12 and Gen 15:4) and “appears nowhere else in the OT.” “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” 268.

[54] Hamilton, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” 253.

[55] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 1:756–57, emphasis original.

[56] Hamilton argues that “the authors of the Bible regard the enemies of the people of God as those whose heads, like the head of the Serpent (the father of lies), will be crushed. Those who are understood as opposing the purposes of God and his people appear to be regarded as the seed of the serpent.” “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman,” 33. See also Andrew David Naselli, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 95–97.

[57] Jo-Ann A. Brant helpfully explain this logic: “A son imitates his father. You are doing what the devil does by seeking to kill me. Therefore, the devil is your father.” John, Paideia (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 146.

[58] These descriptions of the devil almost certainly refer to “Satan’s seduction of Adam and Eve (cf. 1 John 3:8, 15), leading to their expulsion from Eden and the introduction of death to mankind (cf. Rom 5:12–14).” Grant R. Osborne, “The Gospel of John,” in The Gospel of John, 1–3 John, ed. Philip W. Comfort, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary 13 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 137. Most commentators agree that the serpent’s work of effecting death in the human race in Genesis 3 is in view here. See also J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 519. Alternatively, Raymond E. Brown argues that the devil’s work as a “murderer from the beginning” refers to his work in Cain to murder Abel, particularly since John specifies in 1 John 3:12 that Cain was “of the evil one and murdered his brother.” The Gospel According to John (I–XII): Introduction, Translation, and Notes, AB 29 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 358.

[59] Chris Keith contrasts the presentation of Jesus in Matthew 23 with the modern popular idea of Jesus: “Matthew 23’s Jesus is not a vacation Bible school Jesus or seeker-sensitive Jesus…. His message ends not with a head pat to a child and an aphorism about the kingdom, but with tales of murder and bloodshed.” Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 5. Andrew R. Simmonds adds, “It is verbal martial arts in which Jesus, the speaker, defeated the opponents by using their own weight to topple them.” “Woe to You … Hypocrites! Re-Reading Matthew 23:13–36,” BibSac 166 (2009): 349.

[60] For a fuller exposition of the concept of the NT theology of the world as the outworking of Genesis 3:15, see Jonathan M. Cheek, “Genesis 3:15 as the Root of a Biblical Theology of the Church and the World: The Commencement, Continuation, and Culmination of the Enmity between the Seeds” (PhD diss., Bob Jones Seminary, 2019).

[61] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 518. Though Jesus identifies the field as “the world” (κόσμος), he is referring to the world here in a geographical rather than an ethical/moral sense.

[62] Osborne notes that “‘The children’ (οἱ υἱοί) with a genitive is an idiom describing the chief characteristic of a group, so the battle is between the kingdom and the cosmic forces of evil for the souls of humankind, and some belong to God’s kingdom and others to Satan.” Matthew, 532.

[63] The Greek σκάνδαλον is used in this sense throughout Matthew (5:29–30; 13:21; 18:6–7). Osborne, Matthew, 534.

[64] It is likely that God’s “seed” is a reference to the Holy Spirit. See Andreas J. Köstenberger, “The Cosmic Drama and the Seed of the Serpent,” in Seed of Promise: The Sufferings and Glory of the Messiah, Essays in Honor of T. Desmond Alexander, ed. Paul R. Williamson and Rita F. Cefalu (Wilmore, KY: Glossa House, 2020), 273–76.

[65] Köstenberger identifies this passage as “the strongest connection to Gen 3:15 anywhere in the Johannine corpus.” He points out, though, that “remarkably, the grounding of 1 John 3:9 in Gen 3:15 is almost universally overlooked.” “The Cosmic Drama and the Seed of the Serpent,” 273 n. 21.

[66] Michael J. Thate comments, “It is rather difficult to deny the thematic parallel despite the lexical and linguistic difficulties.” “Paul at the Ball: Ecclesia Victor and the Cosmic Defeat of Personified Evil in Romans 16:20,” in Paul’s World, ed. Stanley E. Porter (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 152. The majority of recent commentators support an allusion to Genesis 3:15 here. For example, see Robert Jewett, Romans, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 994–95; Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 581; and Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, BECNT, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 779. Douglas J. Moo notes that “the language of the promise may allude to the ‘proto-evangelium’ of Gen. 3:15d,” though he acknowledges that “the language of Paul’s promise is not that close to that of Gen. 3:15.” The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 932 n. 40. Some interpreters question the idea that Genesis 3:15 is in view. For example, Collins argues that the text of Romans 16:20 is “pretty far from the Genesis 3:15 text” and argues against the relationship of the two. Genesis 1–4, 158. Frank Thielman argues that “Paul’s language is more directly indebted to Psalms 8:6 and 110:1, … a combination early Christians often used to describe Christ’s victory over God’s enemies.” Romans, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), 740. In light of this concern, it is important to understand that Psalm 110:1 itself likely alludes to Genesis 3:15. See Schreiner, Romans, 779.

[67] Schreiner, Romans, 779 n. 14. For a discussion of the translation of שׁוף here, see Jonathan Cheek, “Bruising, Crushing, or Striking: The Translation of שוף and the Promise of Victory in Genesis 3:15,” Journal of Biblical Theology & Worldview 2.1 (2021): 29–31

[68] BDAG, “συντρίβω.”

[69] Galatians 3 serves as the battleground of much debate, particularly relating to the validity of the exegetical methodology Paul uses when he interprets Genesis in support of an individual seed. See Jason S. DeRouchie and Jason C. Meyer, “Christ or Family as the ‘Seed’ of Promise? An Evaluation of N. T. Wright on Galatians 3:16,” SBJT 14.3 (2010): 36–48. See also Collins, “Galatians 3:16: What Kind of Exegete Was Paul?” TynBul 54 (2003): 75–86.

[70] DeRouchie and Meyer, “Christ or Family as the ‘Seed’ of Promise?,” 40.

[71] This is not original with me. In a conversation with Todd Patterson, Patterson attributes this description of these chapters to Richard E. Averbeck.

[72] Paul S. Minear, “Far as the Curse Is Found: The Point of Revelation 12:15–16,” NT 33.1 (1991): 71.

[73] Scholars generally hold to one of two primary interpretations of the “woman clothed with the sun.” Some hold that the woman clothed with the sun refers to Israel. See R. L. Thomas, Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 119–21; and Buist Fanning, Revelation, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 349–50. Others argue that the woman represents the people of God throughout redemptive history, including faithful Israel as well as he church, or “the faithful community, which existed both before and after the coming of Christ.” G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 625. For this view, see also Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 456; and Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone, NSBT 48 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 106–7. The idea that the woman is Israel seems preferable; it is difficult to see how the church could have given birth to the Messiah; rather the church exists as an outcome of the work of the Messiah. Neither view, however, creates a problem with a connection to the woman (Eve) in Genesis 3:15. The picture of the individual offspring, the Messiah, being born out of Israel (the collective offspring of Eve), fits quite well with the idea that Genesis 3:15 anticipates a collective group, Israel (and the church), whose ultimate victory over the serpent comes through an individual, the Messiah.

[74] G. K. Beale and Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 1126. Numerous other scholars see a reference to the offspring of the woman in Genesis 3. For example, see Beale, The Book of Revelation, 677–78; Ian Boxall, The Revelation of Saint John, BNTC 18 (London: Continuum, 2006), 185; and Osborne, Revelation, 485. Theoretically, one could argue that the offspring of the woman in Revelation 12 refers to Abraham’s numerous offspring (spiritual Israel). However, this ignores the strong connection of the rest of Revelation 12 with Genesis 3:15 and ignores the concept that the Abrahamic seed promise is a continuation of the seed promise of Genesis 3:15.

[75] Revelation, 688. Michaels agrees: “Clearly the beast from the sea bears the battle scars of the combat prophesied in that ancient text [Gen. 3:15].” Michaels continues, “The beast’s wounded head suggests a previous encounter between the Lamb and the beast, probably centered in Christ’s death on the cross. Both the Lamb and the beast were ‘slaughtered’ or ‘slain’ in that encounter, yet both are ‘alive’ (1:18; 13:14).” Revelation, IVPNTC (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997), 156. Most scholars acknowledge that the elements of a woman and her seed engaged in conflict with the dragon and the beast, coinciding with a deadly wound to the beast’s head must allude to Genesis 3:15. For further support, see also Beale, Revelation, 687–90; Michaels, Revelation, 156; Osborne, Revelation, 496; Hamilton, “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman,” 42–43.

[76] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, NTT (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 91.

[77] Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 90.

[78] See Cheek, “Bruising, Crushing, or Striking,” 29–31.

Jonathan M. Cheek

Jonathan Cheek is a PhD graduate from Bob Jones University and lives in Taylors, South Carolina.

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