Offspring of a Serpent

The past 30 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 this verse explicitly anticipates a future individual offspring of the woman. However, many scholars still strongly affirm the collective understanding of the seed of the woman.

Another view proposes that the expectation of the seed of the woman is both individual and collective. In this interpretation, the verse anticipates (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.

Several New Testament passages allude to Genesis 3:15 and demonstrate a collective and individual application of its outworking. Here are seven examples.

1.  Opponents of Jesus as Offspring of the Serpent

The Gospel accounts display an ongoing enmity: 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 his opponents are thinking and acting like the Devil.

Jesus directly addresses the Pharisees as “serpents” and a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 23:33; cf. 3:7; Luke 3:7). A Jew identifying someone as the offspring of a serpent is, in view of the broader context of the Old Testament, quite possibly alluding to Genesis 3:15 to some degree. These statements don’t necessarily address whether the seed of the woman is individual or collective, but they do suggest 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 v. 13) who insist they’re the offspring (σπέρμα) of Abraham (vv. 33, 39). Though Jesus concedes these “Jews” are offspring of Abraham in a physical sense (v. 37), they’re not truly “Abraham’s children” (τέκνα τοῦ Ἀβραάμ) because they don’t do “the works Abraham did” (v. 39).

True offspring of Abraham wouldn’t seek to kill Jesus, a man who speaks God’s truth (vv. 37, 40). Furthermore, God cannot be their father (v. 41) since they’re rejecting Jesus, the One whom God had sent (v. 42). Instead, the Devil is their father, since they fulfill his desires in their opposition to Jesus (v. 44).

Jesus points out the two primary sins of the Devil that solidifies their connection to him: he was a “murderer from the beginning,” and he is “a liar and the father of lies” (v. 44). The Jews’ intent to murder Jesus (vv. 37, 40, 44, 59), their rejection of his truth (vv. 37, 43–47), and their propagation of lies (vv. 41, 48, 52) demonstrate their character reflects the character of the Devil. The Devil, then, is their spiritual father, and they’re 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’s likely thinking of that chapter in referring to the unbelieving Jews as children of the Devil—the offspring of the Serpent.

“Enmity” describes Jesus’s relationship with such offspring of the Serpent. When Jesus confronts the offspring of the Serpent, he doesn’t come peaceably; rather, he engages in a harsh war of words in which he identifies and overcomes the agents of Satan.

This enmity doesn’t 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’re 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 of his followers. Therefore, throughout Jesus’s ministry, the offspring of the Serpent are at enmity with Jesus and his followers.

Throughout Jesus’s ministry, the offspring of the Serpent are at enmity with Jesus and his followers.

Though Jesus’s followers aren’t specifically identified as “offspring of the woman,” their position of enmity with the offspring of the Serpent assumes this identification. It isn’t 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 both individual and collective offspring.

2.  John’s Theology of the World (Gospel of John)

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), but 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 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 his people. 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 participate in this victory as they also overcome the world (1 John 2:13–14; 4:4; 5:4–5).

Though John doesn’t specifically identify believers as “offspring of the woman,” he clearly states they’re at enmity with the Devil and those who follow the Devil. To say 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. Parable of the Weeds (Matt. 13:25–28)

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 “sons of the kingdom,” v. 38), and the Devil is the Enemy who sows the weeds in an effort “sabotage the harvest.” The weeds themselves are “the sons of the evil one” (i.e., seed of the Serpent, v. 38).

Jesus ultimately is victorious over the Devil (striking his head) and overcomes the world. Christians participate in this victory as they also overcome the world.

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. 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’s striking that this parable presents the same key entities present in Genesis 3:15: the Son of Man (Matt. 13:37), the “sons of the kingdom” (v. 38), the “sons of the evil one” (v. 38), and the Devil (v. 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 (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 strong allusion to Genesis 3:15.

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 (vv. 11–13).

John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil” (v. 8). This statement 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 (v. 10). The children of God are born of God, and they don’t make a practice of sinning; the children of the Devil are the ones who don’t 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, and (4) the children of the Devil. The allusion to Genesis seems clear, based on the presence of these entities placed in antithesis to each other, with one side ultimately being victorious over the other.

It would be exegetically naive not to see an allusion to Genesis in these statements. Jesus clearly represents the seed of the woman who’s 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 that verse in both an individual and a collective sense.

5. Crushing Satan Under Your Feet (Rom. 16:20)

Most interpreters acknowledge an allusion to Genesis in Romans 16:20, although the language of Paul’s promise isn’t the same as the language in Genesis. The LXX rendering of שׁוף as τηρέω in Genesis 3:15 is known to be problematic. Therefore, it seems likely Paul chose a Greek word that would more accurately translate שׁוף: συντρίβω, which means “to crush.”

In the context, Paul seems to be representing the heretics in Romans 16:17 as agents of Satan, an idea supported by other Pauline statements identifying false teachers as agents of Satan (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:14–15). In this sense, these two collective groups are at enmity with each other. It’s noteworthy in Romans 16:20 that both an individual (the God of peace) and a collective group (the church) are involved in crushing Satan, though the key actor in the victory is God.

If Romans 16:20 is an allusion to Genesis 3:15, which seems probable, then it’s presenting both an individual and a collective understanding of the identity of the seed of the woman.

6. Seed and Seeds (Gal. 3:15–29)

Galatians 3 doesn’t contain a direct allusion to Genesis 3:15, but it’s relevant in a discussion of whether the seed is individual and/or collective.

In the same contextual section of Galatians, Paul clearly uses “offspring” (σπέρμα) for an individual, “referring to one, . . . who is Christ” (3:16), as well as for the collective group of the Galatian believers: “You [plural] are Abraham’s offspring” (v. 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.”

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.”

7. Cosmic Drama (Rev. 12)

Revelation 12–13 describes the outworking of Genesis 3:15 so vividly that it may be said to represent a “midrash on Genesis 3:15.” Paul S. Minear argues “it is Genesis 3:15–20 that dominates the whole of Revelation 12.”

The existence of the collective offspring depends ultimately on the work of the individual offspring, Christ.

The same four entities from Genesis 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 dragon and his angels” engage in this conflict, representing the offspring of the Serpent (12:7–10), and they’re waging war with the collective offspring of the woman, identified as “the rest of her offspring” (v. 17).

In Revelation 12, a “woman clothed with the sun” gives birth to the Messiah, at whose birth the dragon unsuccessfully attempts to devour him (vv. 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 verse 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” (v. 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.”

The two beasts aim to carry out the dragon’s work “to make war on the saints and to conquer them” (Rev. 13:7) for 42 months (vv. 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 promised enmity.

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” (v. 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.”

In spite of the apparent victory of the beast, who is “allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them” (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.”

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.”

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 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. The individual offspring of the woman, the One sitting on the white horse, accompanied by his army, defeats the armies of the beast and his prophet (19:11–20).

Though it’s 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.

Jonathan Cheek

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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