The Church and the World at Enmity
Relying on God’s grace, BJU Seminary aims at the expansion and edification of Christ’s church. This is true even at the highest academic level, our PhD program. With that in mind, today we begin a five-part series by one of our recent PhD graduates, Jon Cheek. It’s based on Jon’s dissertation, “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.” The more intensely the world pursues its agenda, the more desperately we need to grasp the Bible’s teaching on the true nature of the world and the church.
Genesis 3:15 is often correctly understood as the Protevangelium—the first promise of the gospel: the victory of Christ and his people over Satan’s kingdom. The Protevangelium provides the statement of conflict for the remaining plot line of Scripture. God’s positioning of the two seeds against each other establishes the theological foundation for the conflict between the church and the world in the storyline of the Bible.
The Identity of the Serpent and His Seed
Some interpreters argue that the serpent in Genesis 3 was merely a creature, a beast of the field with “unusual intelligence” (Whybray, Introduction to the Pentateuch, 44–45). It is likely, though, that the original readers inferred what the rest of Scripture makes clear (Rom 16:20; Rev 12:9)—that the serpent was either possessed by an evil supernatural being (Satan) or was a visible form of Satan himself (just as unfallen angels appear able to take visible form at times).
If the serpent is not merely a creature, then the seed of the serpent is more than a mere creature. The curse is not on baby snakes or on biological offspring of Satan but on those who are the serpent’s seed because they are like him. In the biblical world, “son” and “seed” language often speaks of behavioral and character resemblance rather than mere biological descent (see Judg 19:22; 20:13; John 8:44; Rom 4:16; cf. 1 John 3:8–10)—they bear a familial resemblance to Satan in their thinking and behavior. The seed of the serpent, then, consists of human unbelievers and possibly also supernatural beings (demons) who work to accomplish the will of Satan. In this sense, then, all humans are born as part of the collective “seed of the serpent.”
The Identity of the Seed of the Woman
If the seed of the serpent refers to descendants in a spiritual rather than a biological sense, then it is reasonable to expect the seed of the woman to be a spiritual referent. In this case, the collective seed of the woman refers to that portion of humanity that gives allegiance to God rather than the serpent. Genesis 3:15 is “contrasting two types of creature: those who display a positive attitude towards God and those who are fundamentally opposed to him” (T. D. Alexander, The Servant King, 18).
Though “seed” is often used as a collective noun, in this case, the seed of the woman also has a particular singular referent: an individual offspring of the woman. Genesis 3:15 uses the masculine singular pronoun hu’ to refer to the seed (zera‘) of the woman and the masculine singular suffix with the verb shuph to refer to the heel of the woman’s seed, “his heel” (cf. Gen 22:17). Consequently, “we are entitled to join the Septuagint in seeing an individual as the referent here” (Collins, Genesis 1–4, 15).
A canonical view of Scripture supports the idea of a collective and an individual seed. Genesis 3:15 looks forward to the establishment of a dynasty—a people who will devote themselves to God and a people from whom the Messiah would come. This dynasty will be at enmity with the serpent’s seed. The singular seed of the woman, though, will deliver the crushing blow to the head of the serpent (Heb 2:14). The collective seed, on the other hand, participates in this victory over the serpent by virtue of their connection to the Messiah (cf. Rom 16:20).
The Expression of Enmity Between the Seeds
This curse implies that the seeds will express mutual enmity toward each other throughout history, but the woman’s seed will achieve ultimate victory. The theme of enmity between the seeds plays a central role in biblical theology and in the advancement of God’s kingdom. The curse on the serpent (Gen 3:14–15) refers to the crisis moment in redemptive history through which God initiates his sovereign plan of building the divine kingdom in the face of opposition from the serpent. From this point on, humanity is divided into two groups: those who submit to Yahweh and those who follow the serpent; the line of Seth and the line of Cain; the line of Shem and the line of Canaan; Israel and the nations.
This enmity between the seeds provides the theological foundation for the NT distinction between the church and the world. The church is the NT manifestation of the seed of the woman, and the world is the continuation of the spiritual seed of the serpent. The world follows after its ruler, the devil (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph 2:2–3; 1 John 5:19). The world, therefore, hates the spiritual seed—Christ and believers (John 15:19; 17:14; 1 John 3:13). The serpent is hostile to the existence and health of the church (2 Cor 4:3–4; 11:3–4, 13–15; Eph 2:2–3). In spite of the hostility of the world to the church, believers will overcome the world through Christ’s victory over the world (e.g., John 16:33; 1 John 2:13–14; 5:4–5). In the end, the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Messiah (Rev 11:15). These themes in the NT are a direct outworking of the promise in Genesis 3:15.
A professing believer who adopts a lifestyle that is indistinct from that of an unbeliever aids and abets the serpent’s enmity against God and actually makes himself the enemy of God (Jas 4:4). When a believer adopts the mindset of the world and lives according to passions of the flesh, he places himself on the enemy’s side in a losing battle—and this enemy’s final destruction is certain. The next post in this series will demonstrate how the OT presents the outworking of Genesis 3:15.