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The Seed, the First Messianic Prophecy
Genesis 3:15

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In this Advent period we will examine 4 Messianic prophecies, which have presented problems to either scholars or sceptics, Jews or Jehovah Witnesses.

Astoundingly there are more than 456 Old Testament references to the Messiah and his times (Law/Pentateuch 75, the Prophets 243, Writings/Hagiographa 138; supported by more than 558 separate quotations from Rabbinic writings). An American statistical study calculated the probability of one man fulfilling just 8 or 48 of these prophecies. The results were 1/1017 (equivalent to the state of Texas covered 2 feet deep in coins and the chances of finding one amongst them) and 1/10157 respectively. Both of these probabilities are too small to imagine and scientifically would be considered impossible, or miraculous.F1

Jesus himself said that he was spoken of in all the Scriptures, the Law (Moses specifically wrote of Jesus, John 5:46), the Writings and the Prophets (Luke 24:27), this is our basis for seeking to find these references to him and that you might believe he is the Messiah (John 20:31).

In the early church the greatest proof of Jesus' teachings used in evangelism was the witness of his resurrection and the testimony of messianic prophecy.

There are 39 Old Testament references specifically to Messiah, though 30 of these don't refer to THE Messiah!

Genesis 3:15

Genesis 3:15 is sometimes called the first Messianic prophecy or Protevangelium, "first gospel", and refers to 'The Seed', Jesus the Messiah. However a number of groups including modern Jewish counter-missionary movements think otherwise. See, for example:

From just a small selection of Bible translations an immediate problem arises from just who will do the "bruising/crushing", "he, she, it" or "they". For immediate comparison lets compare the King James (1611) with the Catholic Douay (Old Testament, 1609).

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15, AV)

"I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." (Genesis 3:15, Douay)

The Catholic rendering of this verse rests upon a faulty translation in the Latin Vulgate. Ipsa conteret "she shall bruise" instead of ipse "he". Enmities has also become pluralized compared to the Hebrew and Greek singular. Calvin was cutting on this:

"This passage affords too clear a proof of the great ignorance, dullness, and carelessness, which have prevailed among all the learned men of the Papacy. The feminine gender has crept in instead of the masculine or neuter. There has been none among them who would consult the Hebrew or Greek codices, or who would even compare the Latin copies with each other. Therefore, by a common error, this most corrupt reading has been received. Then, a profane exposition of it has been invented, by applying to the mother of Christ what is said concerning her seed." (Calvin on Genesis 3:15)

An equally acerbic comment is found in Professor Lee's Hebrew Lexicon where he rightly points out that the Hebrew verb would have to change and be misread substantially to justify the Latin rendering:

"The attempt that has been made gravely to justify a blunder of the Vulgate, which here reads ipsa for ipse, is a melancholy proof of the great neglect of the study of Hebrew in this country. Any one acquainted with the first elements of the grammar would see that, to make the Vulgate correct, we must substitute תשופר for ישופך, and תשופנה for תשופנו"

The modern Jewish English versions equally mistranslate with no justification from the Hebrew or the Aramaic Targums, which render "he" or "it". Somehow the Jewish Publication Society version ends up pluralizing "he" into they, probably based upon a plural inference from seed's singular or plural meaning (like sheep in English).

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel." (Genesis 3:15, JPS)

The AV had "it" but the NKJV and the majority of other versions stick with the obvious Hebrew translation as "he".

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel." (Genesis 3:15, NKJV)

Many modern Jewish commentators and some liberal Christian ones regard Genesis 3:15 as an aetiological (study of causation, origin, disease) story retrospectively creating an origin for man's fear of and antipathy towards snakes. Even Josephus mentions this.

However, the early Jewish targumim (Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriuptures), such as Targum YerushalmiF2 , refer this passage to "the days of the King, Messiah".

"And it shall be that when the sons of the woman study the Torah diligently and obey its injunctions, they will direct themselves to smite you on the head and slay you; but when the sons of the woman forsake the commandments of the Torah and do not obey its injunctions, you will direct yourself to bite them on the heel and afflict them. However, there will be a remedy for the sons of the woman, but for you, serpent, there will be no remedy. They shall make peace with one another in the end, in the very end of days, in the days of the King Messiah." (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

A Jewish midrash (early commentary on Genesis) has:

"Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rabbi Samuel, Eve had respect to that Seed which is coming from another place. And who is this? This is the Messiah, the King." (Midrash Bereshith Rabba 23)

The 12th century Rabbi, David Kimchi, seems to speak of this passage:

"As You went forth for the salvation of Your people by the hands of Meshiha, the Son of David, who shall wound satan, who is the head, the king and prince of the house of the wicked..." (Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160-1235 A.D.)

Some have suggested that the Christian seizing of this verse as a messianic prophecy was late and not found until Irenaeus in the late second century. However, Justin Martyr also refers to it, a little earlier in the second century.

"Christ became man by the Virgin that the disobedience which issued from the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it originated. Eve was still an undefiled virgin when she conceived the word of the serpent and brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin received faith and joy, at the announcement of the angel Gabriel...and she replied, "Be it done to me according you your word". So through the mediation of the Virgin he came into the world, through whom God would crush the serpent" (Justin Martyr, Apologia, 100).

Irenaeus, a direct disciple of Polycarp - himself a disciple of St John, around 189 A.D., wrote on Genesis 3:15 as follows:

"As thou canst perceive in Genesis that God said to the serpent, 'And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed...'. For from that time, He who should be born of a woman, [namely] from the Virgin, after the likeness of Adam, was preached as keeping watch for the head of the serpent" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.21.1).

Thus some Jews and many Christians alike saw this as a messianic verse. It prophesies the defeat of Satan by a suffering Messiah, who is born of a woman. The serpent is clearly either Satan or influenced by him (Revelation 12:9; 20:2) and even without New Testament evidence, the Hebrew word for enmity, עיבה 'eybhah (Strong's #342), is only used to express enmity between persons, not animals.F3

Further, although the text begins by speaking of plural offspring (seed) it changes to the singular. The word 'seed' sometimes means a single person, (Genesis 4:25; 15:3; 21:13; 2 Samuel 7:13) and sometimes plural,F4 however this is amply clarified by the singular pronoun, "he will crush your head". The pronoun 'he', is also explicit, not 'it', nor 'she', nor 'they'. Thus one of the primary purposes of the Messiah is coming is to crush Satan, as Jesus said he had come to do (John 12:31; 16:11; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) Old Testament translation shows that the Jewish translators understood the passage to be a promise of a single future messianic descendant. This is the case as the translation renders 'seed' in its singular sense, not as a collective plural.

'Seed' is a key word concept in Genesis, as is 'generations', זרא zera' (Strong's #2233) and תולדת tôledhôth (Strong's #8435) in Hebrew, respectively. Seed occurs 59 times in Genesis out of 232 Old Testament references, more than a quarter of all references, a disproportionate amount. Genesis is not so much the history of the world as the history of The Seed. Genesis is replete with genealogies; Matthew and Luke begin their gospels similarly.

Eve clearly understood the significance for when she gave birth to Cain the Aramaic Palestinian Targum renders her words as "I have obtained the man, the angel (messenger) of the Lord". After Cain's killing of Abel, and the birth of Seth, Eve realised that God had "appointed another seed" (Genesis 4:25), the same Hebrew word.

God has continuously intervened in history to keep salvation on course:

  • Barrenness - wombs opened: Sarah (21:1), Rebekah (25:21), Rachel (30:22f.)
  • Fratricide/Homicide - Seth 'appointed' born to replace Abel killed by Cain (4:25)
  • Infanticides - Hebrew males in Egypt & under Herod in Christ's time
  • Genocides - under Haman (Esther 3:6)
  • Onanism - avoiding reproduction of the Seed (Genesis 38)

Genesis 38 is interesting as it records how Judah's first son (Er!) was killed for his wickedness and yet his second son (Onan) would not obey his father (and God) and sire a son from the first brother's wife and he emitted on the ground to avoid conception of the child. He too died. Judah then 'forgot' to give his 3rd son to Tamar and so instead she disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah into siring a son of Jesus' line. Afterwards Judah confessed that despite her actions she should be accounted more righteous than he (Genesis 38:26).

Further surprises in Jesus' genealogy include a number of singled out women: Rahab the harlot, Ruth the foreigner and Uriah the Hittite's adulterous wife.

Contrary to modern Jewish practice, where Jewishness is derived from the mother, biblical legal descent was invariably derived via the father, never from the mother (except Ezra 2:61 and Nehemiah 7:63). Both Jesus' genealogies and Genesis 3:15 hint at women's role in the Messiah's family tree.

Thus, Jews and gentiles can agree on the hints in Genesis 3:15 that the Messiah will be male and born of a woman (Galatians 4:4), that his lineage will be under constant threat, and that he will crush Satan, "And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:19-20).

F1: Ankerberg, The Case for Jesus the Messiah, p.18-21, Harvest House, 1989
F2: (Jerusalem) [700 A.D.] in Rosen's, Y'SHUA, p.70, also Targum Pseudo-Jonathan [650 A.D.]. Targum (Targumim is the plural), an Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible
F3: cf. Leupold, Barnes Notes on the OT, Genesis, p.16
F4: See the article in the Tyndale Bulletin, 48.1 (1998): A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is The Woman's Seed Singular Or Plural?, pp139-48 by Jack Collins.

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Friday, May 29th, 2020
the Seventh Week after Easter
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