Seed of the woman

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The seed of the woman or offspring of the woman is an unnamed person or community of people prophetically referred to in the biblical Book of Genesis. As a result of the serpent's temptation of Eve, which resulted in the fall of man, God announces (in Genesis 3:15) that he will put an enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. In Christianity, this verse is known as the protoevangelium,[a] and is interpreted as a prophecy of the coming of Jesus. In Judaism, the "seed of the woman" is taken as a collective reference to mankind in general.

Source text[edit]

In Genesis 3, Eve is tempted by a serpent to disobey God's orders and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When confronted by God, she blames the serpent for her actions. God therefore curses the serpent to crawl on its belly and eat dust, and adds:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel.

— Genesis 3:15[3]

There are several different ways of translating this verse. The Latin Vulgate, which is generally used as a source text for Catholic bibles, has feminine rather than masculine pronouns in the latter half of the verse. Additionally, the second occurrence of the Hebrew shuph (שׁוּף), "bruise", is translated in the Vulgate as insidiaberis, "lie in wait". Consequently, Catholic bibles often give a reading such as that found in the Douay–Rheims Bible: "... she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel".

The first shuph may also be translated as "crush" ("he shall crush thy head"). Authors such as H. C. Leupold have argued that a zeugma is employed to give the word a different meaning when applied to the injury inflicted on the heel.[4]

Some modern translations, such as the English Standard Version, have "offspring" instead of the more literal "seed".


In rabbinical Judaism, the contrasting groups of "seed of the woman" and "seed of the serpent" are generally taken as plural, with the promise "he will bruise your head" applied to Adam and mankind bruising the serpent's head.[5] There is a Jewish tradition where a messiah is said to be a remedy to the bruising of the heel of the "seed of the woman."[6]

Although a possible Jewish messianic interpretation of Genesis 3:15 in some schools of Judaism during the Second Temple period has been suggested by some Christian scholars,[7] no evidence of such an interpretation has yet come to light.[8]



In Christianity, Genesis 3:15 is known as the protevangelium. This is a compound of two Greek words, protos meaning "first" and evangelion meaning "good news" or "gospel". Thus the verse is commonly referred to as the first mention in the Bible of the "good news" of salvation. Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner describes the Protoevangelium as "the first glimmer of the gospel",[9] and Victor P. Hamilton emphasises the importance of the redemptive promise included in the curse.[10]

The reference to the "seed of the woman" is believed by Christians to be a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus. 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 Jesus to be called the "seed of the woman", therefore, is interpreted to mean that he will have no earthly father.[11] The phrase "seed of the woman" is sometimes counted as referring to Jesus.[12]

Identification of the "seed of the woman" with Jesus goes back at least as far as Irenaeus (180 AD),[13][14] who along with several other Church Fathers regarded this verse as "the first messianic prophecy in the Old Testament".[15] Serapion, the Bishop of Thmuis, wrote the following:

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." The seed of the woman is referred to again in Revelation 12:17.[16]

Among those who follow a Christological interpretation of the verse, the bruising of the serpent's head is taken to refer primarily to the final defeat of Satan, while the bruising of the heel of the seed of the woman is taken to refer to the crucifixion of Christ. Louis Berkhof, for example, wrote: "The death of Christ, who is in a preeminent sense the seed of the woman, will mean the defeat of Satan."[17]

A tradition found in some old eastern Christian sources (including the Kitab al-Magall and the Cave of Treasures) holds that the serpent's head was crushed at Golgotha, described as a skull-shaped hill at the centre of the Earth, where Shem and Melchizedek had placed the body of Adam.[18]

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.[19] Martin Luther, in his Lectures on Romans, also identifies the seed of the woman with "the word of God in the church".[20]


Catholics often understand the "woman" of Genesis 3:15 to refer primarily to the Virgin Mary, rather than Eve. The text in Genesis is also seen as connecting to the sign the Lord gives to King Achaz through Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." The English Douay–Rheims Bible 1609 onwards has "she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel". This reading was supported in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus of December 1854 and is defended by Anthony Maas in the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia.[21]

Having interpreted the seed of the serpent as a reference to the followers of Satan, Maas also writes:

One may be tempted to understand the seed of the woman in a similar collective sense, embracing all who are born of God. But seed not only may denote a particular person, but has such a meaning usually, if the context allows it. St. Paul (Galatians 3:16) gives this explanation of the word 'seed' as it occurs in the patriarchal promises: 'To Abraham were the promises made and to his Seed. He saith not, and to his seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to his Seed, which is Christ.'[21]

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission explains the controversy:

The Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15 speaks about enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between the offspring of both. The personal pronoun (hu’) in the words addressed to the serpent, "He will strike at your head", is masculine. In the Greek translation used by the early Church (LXX), however, the personal pronoun autos (he) cannot refer to the offspring... but must refer to a masculine individual who could then be the Messiah, born of a woman. The Vulgate translates the clause as ipsa.... This feminine pronoun supports a reading of this passage as referring to Mary which has become traditional in the Latin Church.[22]

Modern Catholic bibles often refrain from using feminine pronouns in this verse. The revised Latin version, Nova Vulgata, authorised by the Vatican, has the masculine ipsum instead of ipsa;[23] the New Jerusalem Bible has "it [the seed] will bruise your head"; and the New American Bible has "they", explaining in a footnote that "offspring" is a collective noun, referring to "all the descendants of the woman".[24]



  1. ^ Alternative spellings include protevangelium, proto-evangelium[1] and protoevangelion.[2]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Sproul, R. C. Jr (1 March 1999). "Almighty over All: Understanding the Sovereignty of God". Baker Books. Retrieved 20 January 2019 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Genesis 3:15
  4. ^ Leupold, H. C. (1950). "Chapter III: The Temptation and the Fall". Exposition of Genesis. Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
  5. ^ Jacob, Neusner (1984). Our Sages, God, and Israel. Chappaqua: Rossel Books. p. 165. ISBN 0940646188. Man became frightened, saying: This is the one concerning whom it is written: He will bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel, Genesis 3:15. Perhaps this one has come to bite me.
  6. ^ "PsJon Gen. 1-6".
  7. ^ Eisenmenger, Johann Andreas (2006). J P Stehelin and Michael A Hoffman II (ed.). The Traditions of the Jews (1st ed.). Coeur d'Alene: Independent History and Research. ISBN 0970378440.
  8. ^ Patai, Raphael (1986). The Messiah Texts. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814318509.
  9. ^ Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, (IVP, 1967), p. 70.
  10. ^ Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Pentateuch, Baker Academic, 2005, ISBN 9780801027161, p. 46
  11. ^ Smith, Scott L. ""What is the Protoevangelium?"". All Roads Lead to Rome. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  12. ^ Armour, Michael C (2002). A Newcomer's Guide to the Bible. Joplin: College Press Publishing Company. p. 43. ISBN 0899009018. To remove those barriers, God made a special promise to Eve. Before He sent her from the garden, He promised that one of her descendants would eventually crush Satan's head, receiving a painful bruise in the process (Genesis 3:15).
  13. ^ Irenaeus. "Against Heresies 5.21". New Advent.
  14. ^ Mcdowell, Josh (2007). Nueva Evidencia Que Demanda un Veredicto [English: New Evidence that Demands a Verdict] (in Spanish). Casa Bautista of Pubns. p. 334. ISBN 0311050484. Aquí Dios promete que la simiente de la mujer aplastaría la cabeza de la serpiente. Claus Westermann, un experto en el Antiguo Testamento, afirma: "Desde el tiempo de Ireneo, la tradición cristiana ha entendido este pasaje como una profecía acerca de Cristo (y María)
  15. ^ Gordon J. Wenham, WBC: Genesis 1-15, (Thomas Nelson, 1987), pp. 80–81.
  16. ^ Unger, Dominic J., “Patristic Interpretation of the Protoevangelium,” Marian Studies 1 (1961): 111-64
  17. ^ Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Eerdman's 1996, page 294
  18. ^ Budge, Ernest Aldfred Wallis (2010). The Book of the Cave of Treasures. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, LLC. p. 127. ISBN 1169774628. And it was called "Gaghulta," because it was round Pike the head], and "Resiphta" (ie a trodden-down thing), because the head of the accursed serpent, that is to say, Satan, was crushed there, and "Gefifta" (Gabbatha), because all the nations were to be gathered to it." Kitab al-Magall: "The place was called Gumgumah, "of a skull", because in it was placed the skull of the Father of mankind, and Gulgulah, because it was conspicuous in the earth, and was despised by its sons, for in it was the head of the hateful Dragon which seduced Adam.
  19. ^ Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, Genesis 3:14, 15, E-Sword edition.
  20. ^ Luther, Martin; Pauck, translated by Wilhelm (1961). Luther: Lectures on Romans (Ichthus ed.). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 183. ISBN 0664241514. The seed of the devil is in it; hence, the Lord says to the serpent in Gen. 3:15: "I will put enmity between your seed and her seed." The seed of the woman is the word of God in the church,
  21. ^ a b Maas, Anthony (2009). "The Blessed Virgin Mary". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  22. ^ Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission, Donald Bolen, Gregory Cameron, Mary: grace and hope in Christ: the Seattle statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission; the text with commentaries and study guide, [Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006], p. 33 footnote 4
  23. ^ "LIBER GENESIS - Nova Vulgata, Vetus Testamentum".
  24. ^ "scripture".