And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring [seed] and hers [seed, who is Christ];
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.
But others don’t. Who gets it right? How do we decide? Does the weight of Christian interpretation decide? Or does sound historical exegesis decide? Does the latter constrain limits or does the former expand limits?
Well, my colleague, Claude Mariottini, in his book Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding, probes this one and contends the typical Christian reading is not supported by sound exegesis. He uses as his example of the traditional view, Victor Hamilton, who says “any reflection on Genesis 3:15 that fails to underscore the messianic emphasis of the verse is guilty of serious exegetical error” (11). Note that word “serious” … how serious is not clear but he’s tipping his hat toward some serious level of disapproval.
Some translations tip their hands enough to reveal interpretation. KJV: “… it [seed of the woman] will bruise thy head, and thou [personal seed] shalt bruise his [now woman's seed is a person, but who?] heel.” NASB: “He [capital means Christ] will bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” HCSB seems the same as NASB. A standard Catholic translation (DRA) has “she [Mary] shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”
But Claude says the Hebrew word for seed, zera, is a collective noun with a plural meaning. At work here is the word seed is (1) the descendants of the woman and (2) the descendants of the serpent. So the Common English Bible and the Jewish TNK. Thus, “they will strike at your head and you shall strike at their head.” Gerhard von Rad said there was no messianic prophecy in the original context. Gordon Wenham says much the same though in light of subsequent revelation leads some to messianic. Instead, the original author did not see it that way.
Yes, some NT texts are possible riffing off of Genesis 3:15, in particular, Romans 16:20 (scroll over reference and it will appear), and then also 2 Sam 7:16; Psalm 89:23; Galatians 4:4 and 1 Corinthians 15:25. A targum finds messianism in Genesis 3:15 (TgPseudoJonathan).
But the original text, Dr Mariottini argues, was not messianic. Was Jesus in Genesis 3:15? Probably not.