Most evangelical authors understand Genesis 3:15 to be the first promise of a coming deliverer. In fact, so many identify the verse as the first promise of a deliverer that there is a special name for it. It is called the protoevangelium, which literally means “first good news”. Here is what Genesis 3:15 says:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.””
Commentators and theologians identify “you” as the talking serpant in v. 14 who is identified as Satan in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2. “Her offspring” is the seed of the woman. In light of the New Testament revelation about Jesus they say that this offspring or seed is none other than Jesus. Some also point out that every other geneaology in the Bible traces the line of descent through the father (e.g. Genesis 5). This verse, they will point out, specifies that the seed will come from the woman. This, they say, hints at a virgin birth. This of course makes perfect sense in light of the virgin birth of Jesus.
The problem with this approach, in my opinion anyway, is that it resorts to reading New Testament revelation back into the Old Testament. This is a big no-no in dispensational hermeneutics. Madness lays in that direction! Covenant Theologians are forever reading the New Testament into the Old to justify ideas like infant baptism and the replacement of Israel by the church. As dispensational Bible readers we want to ask, “What did the original hearers of this think it meant?”. Happily, we don’t need to go too far to find out. Take a look at Genesis 4:1:
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.””
We could just stop here and point out that Eve is clearly thinking that the birth of Cain was the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide a victorious seed. James Hamilton comments, “Eve’s response to the births of Cain and the Seth (4:1, 25) indicate that she is expecting a fulfillment of the promise of a “seed” who will triumph over the serpent (3:15)…”1 But, let’s not stop here. I think this verse is telling us more about Eve’s expectation.
Did you notice that in this verse the phrase “the help of” is in italics? That means that those words are not in the Hebrew text. Instead, the translators added those three words to smooth out the reading. Unfortunately, the translators do more than that. By adding these words they miss the point of what Eve is saying. To catch her meaning let’s look at the grammar of this verse (don’t be afraid, I wasn’t very good in grammar so I am going to keep this simple).
First note the verb “know”. The next word specifies who Adam “knew”, it was “Eve”. That makes “Eve” the direct object of “know”. Hebrew makes it really easy to identify the direct object of the verb because it puts the little word “et” right at the front of the direct object. We see this again when it says “…and bore Cain…”. The verb is “bore” and the direct object, marked with “et” in Hebrew, is Cain. The last verb is “gotten”. The direct object, again marked by “et” in Hebrew, is Yahweh. So, if we consistently follow the grammar, this verse says that Eve thought she was giving birth to Yahweh in some sense. Now, my point here is only to establish the fact that in light of Genesis 3:15, Eve thinks she has given birth to Yahweh, the Lord Himself, who will rescue them from the serpent.
It is not just modern translators who insert those little words “the help of”. The ancient rabbinic commentary, Midrash Rabbah, says of Genesis 4:1, “…if it is said ‘I have gotten a man: the Lord’ it would have been difficult to interpret, hence “et” ‘with the help’ of the Lord is required’” Those rabbis are doing exactly what our Bible translators did. They added a few words to try to help out the reader. However, the rabbis also added a footnote. It says that if they did not interpret the “et” as “with the help of” then “it might imply that she had begotten the Lord.” This is exactly what Eve is saying.
I like what the scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum had to say on this. He wrote, “Eve has clearly understood from God’s words in Genesis 3:15 that the serpent will be defeated by a God-Man. She obviously thinks that Cain is Jehovah. Her basic theology is correct: Messiah would be both man and God. Her mistake is in her application of that theology. She has assumed that Cain, her first child, was the promised God-Man.”2 So, we don’t need to read the New Testament back into the Old Testament in order to find a promise by God to bring a God-Man to defeat Satan. We only need to look to Genesis 4:1.
Now, let’s take a look at Genesis 5:28-29:
“When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.””
This is a very exegetically and theologically rich couple of verses. However, I am going to focus on Lamech’s expectation about Noah. Now, Lamech’s dad was Methuselah (v. 29). Methuselah is a compound word meaning “His death shall bring”. Lamech understood this to mean his death shall bring the promised deliverer. So, when Lamech had a son he reasoned that Methuselah was getting up there in years so His son must be the deliverer promised in Genesis 3:15. So he named his son Noah, which means rest, repose, or comfort. Lamech’s announcement contains echoes of Genesis 3:17. “…ground…cursed…work…toil…” all refer to God’s curse, which Lamech expected Noah to reverse. So, here again we don’t need to run to the New Testament to find evidence that Genesis 3:15 is the first promise of a coming deliverer. On the contrary, the evidence we need is within a few verses of the promise. Clearly those closest to the promise understood it to mean that there was going to be a God-Man, born of a woman, who would restore the earth to Edenic productivity and beauty.
Why care about this? Let me suggest two reasons. First, we can be confident that we don’t need to read the New Testament back into the Old Testament to unlock what the Old Testament is saying. Instead, if we study carefully, we can understand what the original audience thought the Old Testament was saying. Second, this shows us that the Bible views itself as a book about the coming Messiah. From its earliest chapters to its last the Bible is telling us of a glorious and coming Messiah who will fulfill all the promises of God.
1 James M. Hamilton, “Messianism in Song of Songs”, Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy (Chicago IL: Moody, 2019) 774
2 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 15.