1998 Issue 4 - The Protoevangelium - Counsel of Chalcedon

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The messianic interpretation of Genesis 3:15 is very old. Though Irenaeus is the first known author of the Christian era to make an explicit connection between the seed promise and Jesus Christ, both the Septuagint and the Jewish targums (Ps. -J., Neofiti Frg.) view the passage messianically. This position has been largely abandoned by commentators and theologians who embrace higher critical principles of biblical interpretation. In his commentary, von Rad adopts what has become an accepted maxim, that the passage is an aetiological explanation of man's natural animosity toward snakes. He later affirms that the passage serves the larger purpose of explaining man's hopeless struggle against evil. He denies any messianic sense. Eissfeldt similarly views the passage as an "aetiological animal saga," and he later adds that the verse is a good example of a "lay saying" which teaches that a good deed is repaid with a blessing and an evil one with a curse. Brueggeman takes an existential approach to the text and writes that "it is rather a story about the struggle God has in responding to the facts of human life. When the facts warrant death, God insists on life for his creatures." Wifall summarizes these two leading, modern approaches when he writes that "Genesis 3:15 must be 'demythologized' as an expression of man's existential predicament in this world, or can be viewed as an aetiological myth which attempts to explain the natural hostility between mankind and the serpent." Either way, the events recorded in these early chapters in Genesis are mythical, ancient stories meant to explain the origins of man and his predicament in the world.


<ul><li><p>Introduction , chapters in Genesis are mythical, ' Ute messianic interpretation of , ' anci~m stoties meant to explain </p><p>Genesis 3:15 is very old, Though the ,origins of man and his Irenaeus is the first known author predicament in the world of the Chrtstian era to make an The above approaches to explicit connection between the Genesis 3:15 must be rejected; seed promise and Jesus Christ, they are evidence ofa "wooden both the Septuagint and the head and a cold hean. ". They Jewish targums (Ps,:!., Neofta Frg.) proceed from unbelieving view the passage messianically.' ptinciples of biblical criticism and This position has been largely interpretation which are not abandone</p></li><li><p>is the pronouncement of God's curse upon Satan.1' The devil in the form of a snake is cursed above all the beasts of the field, and his destiny is one of perpetual degradation and defeat (v. 14). His defeat is cenain for Almighty God takes the initiative and performs for man what he cannot do for himself; he creates hostility between the serpent and his seed and the woman and hers." God will not, in other words, allow sin and Satan to hold sway over fallen man. They will be restrained, fought against, and eventually defeated. This hostility will produce incredible antagonism between good and evil, the righteous and the rebellious. "HOStility," therefore, is the leading thought in v. 15. It is a strong expression sigrtifying "the hatred with which a hostile act is perpetrated. "1&lt; ' The imperfect verb implies repeated attacks and aggression between the two parties." "God wants man to continue in undying opposition to this evil one and He arouses the enmity himself. "16 If this divinely imposed antagonism were the only reason why this passage has been historically designated as the protoevangelium, it would be suffident, Almighty God has by sovereign grace intervened to produce within redeemed man a deep-seated hostility toward sin and Satan. Herein tests the promise of Satan's eventual defeat and man's gradous deliverance from the dominion of sin." As Boice wrote, "God makes sin miserable and sets up an antagonism between ourselves and Satan which modifies the hold of sin and makes it possible for us to hear God's.loving voice, even in OUT misery."18 </p><p>The context of cursing is </p><p>essential to a proper understanding of verse 15. God is not here promising a draw, as if history will proceed interminably, with Satan biting and being bitten, but neither party gaining the upper hand. As Wenham has written in his recent commentary, "On the other hand, it must be remembered that this is a curse on the serpent, and something less than a draw would be expected."l9 Woudstra is incorrect, therefore, when he suggests that God is declaring "a condition which would prevail from the beginning of history to its very end."'o On the contrary, it is Satan's defeat in history by the godly line of the woman and its ultimate representative which is clearly indicated by the hostility introduced at the outset of verse 15. The curse on the serpent is a . promise of victory for redeemed humanity.2l It is not a curse upon Satan if he is allowed to harass men continually throughout the course of human history without ever being defeated in his purposes. The curse is that God will frustrate Satan's attempts by causing men, whom Satan purposed to turn against God, to hate him, and actively campaign through grace for his defeat and subjugation. This hostility will continlie unril Satan is defeated and the seed of the woman victorious. </p><p>The Two Seeds Whether or not we adopt a </p><p>direct messianic reference to the woman's seed, it is not difficult to conceive how "seed" can be used with reference to woman: offspring, descendants, children. It is true that the use of zera with a feminine possessive pronoun is rare in the Old Testament, but if some of the early Christian writers </p><p>would have noticed its presence (e.g., Genesis 16: 10; 24:60), they may have avoided the error of seeing in "her seed" a reference to the Virgin Birth of Christ.22 . Lewis correctly observes that "to say that the passage is messianic does not necessarily imply that it is virgin-birth messianic."" We must not ignore the fact, however, that man's victory over Satan will be achieved through the instrumentality of a woman, i.e., one born of her. Chilton observes that this is a theme which is illustrated throughout Scripture and reaches its climax in the imagery of Revelation 12." </p><p>The "seed" of the serpent presents other difficulties, however, and one's view of the serpent will largely determine how "seed" is interpreted. It should be noted that zera is used very rarely with reference to the offspnng of animals. B.D.B. lists only two possibilities: here and Genesis 7:3. There it is said that Noah took the animals Into the ark to keep their zera alive. While this is generally translated offspring, it might be better rendered "kind." For properly speaking, the animals were not taken into the ark to keep their "offspling" alive, for these were not yet born. Rather, it was to perpetuate the species du1ing the period of time in which the earth was inundated with flood waters. It is inappropriate, therefore, to appeal to Gen. 7:3 to prove that zem can occasionally be used of the offspring of animals.25 If that is the author'S jntended meaning, this would be the only instance of it in the entire Old Testament. Etymologically, in my opinion, we are led away from the view that "your seed" means the whole line of snakes, and in this connection, </p><p>August/September, 1998 ~ THE COUNSEL of Chalcedon ~ 5 </p></li><li><p>the ;ietiological interpretation of Genesis 3:15 is proven untenable. </p><p>We are, moreover, unavoidably : faced with a demonic force behind the speaking serpent. The serpent's approach, actions, words, and goals all demonstrate the presence of a definite personal being who is hostile toward the authority ofjehovah and desires to cause the woman w doubt and disobey God's command.'8God's response to the serpent verifies that this is a 'rational; terribly evil being with whom we are confronted. The New Testament abundantly confirms this interpretation.21 Satan deceived Eve and is the snake or serpent who was present in the Garden.'" </p><p>How then should we take the "seed" of Satan? Do demons have offspring? The Scriptures nowhere countenances such a hypothesis. Thus, with reference w Satan, zera must have a non-literal reference.2 Further consultation with B.D.B reveals another use ofzera which is highly appropriate in this context: persons or a community marked by a certain moral q1Ilility: ;We are confronted, therefore, with Satan as thehead of a cominuitity or line of evildoers, who will engage in constant hostility against the woman and her seed.3 To simplify, we might say that "your seed" refers to all those evil men who db not fearGdd, do not embrace his promise of deliverance from sin, and refuse to surrenderthemselves to him in love, worship, ,and obedie~e. </p><p>In "her seed," a direct and exclusive reference to Jesus Christ isgramIl,\aticaily inappropriate.3l "Commencing with Gen. 3:15, th~ word 'seed' is regularly used as a collective noun in the singular."32 </p><p>Since these two seeds are placed antithetically, if one is to be taken asa collective, the other should be as welU3 Another f\lcwr mitigating against an exclusive reference to a personal Messiah is the fact that in the majority of cases where zera refers to a specific child, it is to an immediate offspring rather th~ to a distant relative.3+ Moreover, as, Young has pointed out, a clear..cut representation of the Messiah at this earliest point in redemptive history would be somewhat strange." Ac~ordingly, both these seeds should at this point be taken in the collective sense of lines or communities of followers which are represented by eve and </p><p>Satan.~ More specifically, these two lines are hostile factions, the one redeemed by God to hate the serpent and war against his wicked followers, and the other in , league with the devil who exist to do his bidding and persecute the godly line, of the woman. God is h~e promising that the hostility will continue unabated until victory ,is won by the wom;in and her descendants.37 We might say that human history from the ; Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15) to its termination is intended by God to, be the unfolding of the total warfare between these two lines. </p><p>This interpretation is well supponed by the developing theme of Genesis.' As the book progresses. ,there is a focusing in on the seed of the woman, the godly line of Eve, as that family through whom the promised salvation would extend to an the families of the earth. This line culminates in chapter 12 in me seed of Abraham, and it is with his family th</p></li><li><p>prefer, however, in order to avoid some of the subjectivism which often accompanies the sensus plenior approach to Scrtptural interpretation, to view the one meaning of the text in a typical fashion. The unfolding of histolY and revelation will reveal the identity of the seed of the woman who will crush Satan's head and thereby give specificity to the promise. </p><p>The ReJerent oj the Pronoun We must not stop our </p><p>investigations here, however, for the Hebrew pronoun increases our understanding of how this great battle will play out upon the field of human history. Hu' (it or he) is a masculine singular independent personal pronoun and refers back to seed, a masculine noun. Por this reason, many translate it he. The ASV and RSV are two notable examples. The LXX translators also adopted a masculine reading of the pronoun. Their decision is remarkable since the Greek word for seed, spenna, is a neuter noun, and the translators could (should) have followed it with the available neuter form of the pronoun. They did not, however, and chose the masculine autos instead Manin notes that in the 103 instances of hu'in Genesis, 3: ~5 is the only instance in which the LXX translators have done violence to the agreement between the pronoun and its antecedent." This is far more than a coincidence. As Kaiser has commented, "What is more imponant, in other insl</p></li><li>conflict between the two leaders of the two lines. I fitinly agree with DeIit:</li><li><p>directed against the serpent and "bruise" or "strike at" with respect to the blow given by the serpent. "The Hebrew language is fond of using a play on words and this is obviously what we have here, with the euphonious repetition of the word 'crush:"" When used with reference to a snake, the somewhat flexible shuph should be translated in a manner consistent with that creature's capability to inflict pain or destruction, i.e., to strike out against with its fangs and deliver its poison. This is essentially what the translators have done in Psalm 139: 11. How does darkness "crush" a man? The best answer is that it covers or surrounds him, and this is how the translators have rendered it. This is the manner in which we should proceed here. The deliverer will shuph the serpent by crushing his head; the serpent will shuph the deliverer by striking at his heel. Thus, Hamilton is guilty of a forced exegesis when he demands an exact parallelism of the verb sense in this passage,'" especially since the context allows for and suggests a slight variation. While "strike at" is not at all inappropriate to describe Satan's attack upon the seed of the woman, Woudstra and Hamilton'S insistence that this exact nuance of the verb be adopted in both instances is due more to their misapprehension to the true scope and promise of this passage rather than to grammatical considerations. The hostility God is introducing is a curse upon Satan which guarantees his defeat in history by a coming individual of promise. "Strike at" is acceptable with respect to him only if one views the subsequent history of these two warring factions as a continual striking at </p><p>one another, with neither side being a clear winner until the very end. This is an eschatological outlook which I believe to be incompatible with divine revelation and utterly inconsistent with the present context of cursing. </p><p>Moreover, we should recognize that the "same word is used in connection with both the head and the heel, to show that on both sides the intention is to destroy the opponent."" These two combatants are engaged in mortal combat, each seeking to overcome and annihilate his opponent. Though the intention of both is the same, the outcome of the conflict will prove disastrous to Satan and his hordes. He will war against God's people and deliver a terrible blow to the seed of promise. Yet in the process, he will receive a mortal blow to the head by the ultimate seed of the woman. "What is meant is that the seed of the woman will deliver a capital blow, whereas the serpent for his part will deliver a lesser blow:'" Aalders suggests this sense is indicated by the word order of the sentence, with Satan's strike being given a secondary position to indicate "that the final triumph would be on the part of the seed of the woman while in the process of gaining that victory that seed of the woman would be wounded by the serpent. ".3 This is jehovah's curse upon him, one which promises salvation and victory for the people of God and the defeat of Satan. As Leupold wrote, "So in every positive way the victory is guaranteed to the seed of the woman. The struggle is not to be interminable. It does end in complete defeat of the serpent. .... </p><p>Woudstra's objection to this </p><p>interpretation must be carefully considered. He writes, </p><p>In this connection it can easily be seen that if "crush" were to be chosen for what would happen to the head of the serpent and if this crushing blow were to be linked with Christ's victory over the devil at the cross, then, in terms of this passage at least, the enmity of which it speaks could no longer be exercised. One of the combatants would have been knocked out. Yet, as was noted, it was this enmity and its mutual expression in terms of the Hebrew verb shuph that was made to stand out in this passage.' </p><p>In response, it cannot be forgotten that this is jehovah's curse upon Satan predicting his defeat in history by a coming conqueror. The enmity which the text emphasizes will result in the victory of grace and salvation and the demise and defeat of Satan and his kingdom. Moreover, it is not necessarily true that if the cross of Christ is viewed as the promised blow, then the conflict between the two seeds has reached its conclusion in that event. The New Testament must be allowed to speak here, for it is a matter of chief importance for our faith.66 Christ viewed not only his life's purpose but the focal point of redemptive history to be the blow he would deliver to </p><p>~tan by his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection and ascension. jesus stated that his lifting up from the earth on the cross would be the judgment of the world and signal the casting out of the prince of the world.7 Hebrews 2: 14 teaches that the purpose of the incarnation was the destruction...</p></li></ul>


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