In Christian theology, the protoevangelium (also known as the protevangelium, proto-evangelium or protoevangelion) is God's statement to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden about how the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head:
"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, KJV)
"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-Rheims)
Protoevangelium is a compound of two Greek words, protos meaning "first" and evangelion meaning "good news" or "gospel". Thus the protevanglium in Genesis 3:15 is commonly referred to as the first mention of the good news of salvation in the Bible.
Strictly speaking, the protoevangelium refers to the last part of Genesis 3:15, "it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel." According to H. C. Leupold, this passage uses a zeugma in the word "bruise", which may be translated "it shall crush thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel."
Because of the grave nature of the context, the fall of man, some interpreters perceive this passage as describing more than just a man stepping on a snake's head. The reference to the seed of the woman as Christ is believed to relate to the Virgin birth of the Messiah, as well as the Hypostatic union of the Divine nature with the Human nature of Christ.
Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner describes the Protoevangelium as "the first glimmer of the gospel." Several of the early Church fathers, such as Justin Martyr (160 AD) and Irenaeus (180 AD), regarded this verse "as the Protoevangelium, the first messianic prophecy in the Old Testament."
Prophecy of the Virgin Birth
The reference to the "seed of the woman" as being Jesus is believed to be a prophecy of the Virgin birth of the Messiah. Elsewhere in the Bible, a child is referred to as the "seed" of his father, exclusively. For example, Jesus is called the "seed of David" at Romans 1:3, and the whole nation of Israel is referred to as the "seed of Jacob" at Jeremiah 33:26. For the Messiah to be called the "seed of woman", therefore, is interpreted to mean that the Messiah will have no earthly father.
The woman does not have seed, only man does. How then was that (Gen 3:15) said of the Woman? Is it not evident that there is here question of Christ, whom the holy Virgin brought forth without seed? As a matter of fact, the singular is used, "of the seed," and not the plural, "of the seeds."
Bruising of the serpent's head
The reference to the bruising of the serpent's head is taken to refer to a number of biblical topics, primarily the concept that Satan will be defeated both spiritually and eschatologically.
The defeat of Satan, when spoken of together with Christ's work, usually begins with the crucifixion of Christ. At the cross, Satan's power over mankind is undone, and so in a spiritual sense, he is defeated. Leupold says "But at the same time a crushed head spells utter defeat."
In the 1899 Douay-Rheims Bible, the footnote on Genesis 3:15 states:
"She shall crush": Ipsa, the woman; so divers of the fathers read this place, conformably to the Latin: others read it ipsum, viz., the seed. The sense is the same: for it is by her seed, Jesus Christ, that the woman crushes the serpent's head.
In eschatology, the study of the end times, Satan's defeat is expected to come when he is cast into a lake of fire. "And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Revelation 20:10 RSV)
Bruising of the seed's heel
The bruising of the heel of the seed of the woman is almost universally taken to mean the crucifixion of Christ. Louis Berkhof says, "The death of Christ, who is in a preeminent sense the seed of the woman, will mean the defeat of Satan."
In Romans 16:20, there is perhaps the clearest reference to the Protoevangelium in the New Testament, "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen." Here the seed of the woman is identified as "the God of peace" and yet the Church is identified as the feet that will bruise Satan's head. From the masculine singular Hebrew pronoun in Genesis 3:15, we see that the seed of the woman is a man, and yet in Romans 16:20 he is called the god of peace, which identifies him as Jesus Christ.
There is a direct reference to the Protoevangelium in the opening moments of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, when the character of Jesus, while praying in a garden, stomps on the head of a snake.
- West, Christopher (20 January 2019). "Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II's "Gospel of the Body"". Gracewing Publishing. Retrieved 20 January 2019 – via Google Books.
- Sproul, R. C. Jr (1 March 1999). "Almighty over All: Understanding the Sovereignty of God". Baker Books. Retrieved 20 January 2019 – via Google Books.
- Exposition of Genesis, H. C. Leupold D.D, Online Bible edition, Gen 3:15
- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Eerdman's 1996, page 294
- Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, (IVP, 1967), p. 70.
- Gordon J. Wenham, WBC: Genesis 1-15, (Thomas Nelson, 1987), pp. 80–81.
- Smith, Scott L. ""What is the Protoevangelium?"". All Roads Lead to Rome. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
- Unger, Dominic J., “Patristic Interpretation of the Protoevangelium,” Marian Studies 1 (1961): 111-64
- Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Pentateuch, Baker Academic, 2005, ISBN 9780801027161, p. 46
- Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, Genesis 3:14, 15, E-Sword edition.