It was Paul’s habit to go into a community of Jews and reason with them from the scriptures. Paul did this because of his conviction; he wrote to the church in Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, KJV). Paul did not pursue an intellectual path, discussing the finer points of the Law of Moses. Instead, he made it his mission to convert those of his country, his heritage (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-22; Rom. 9:1-5).
It was Paul’s intent to persuade and convince those of his heritage that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed of God. Many of the Jewish community rejected this, although some were convinced.
The approach Paul took has intrigued me for years. I do not live nearby a Jewish synagogue, but if I did would I be capable of doing the same? No, I could not. Because I was not able to, I set in motion for myself to learn from Rabbinic writings what they say about the Scriptures, especially in relation to Messianic passages of Scripture.
This article and some following articles will give attention to this very matter. Whether we live near or in a Jewish community, the principles of Paul should be applied by each New Testament Christian as one seeks to reason with people of faith, seeking to learn together and persuade others about New Testament Christianity, getting back to the Bible, doing Bible things in Bible ways as well as speaking with Bible words.
Messianic Passages in Genesis
In the beginning, the Lord created Adam and Eve putting them in His garden, the Garden of Eden. It was there the Lord directed they were to work. They could eat of anything the Lord put in that garden, but not from one specific tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord had His reasons for this prohibition, and it was the obligation of the first couple to comply with the Lord’s directive.
God desired man to experience the joys of living in His created world, but this joy could not (and cannot) be realized as God intends if man is disobedient to His revealed will. History told us the first couple failed to enjoy God’s intended blessings in this life. The Lord responded to this failure:
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 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. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3:14-16, KJV).
I want to notice the words of the Lord to Eve and the one who generated the temptation. Notice: 1) there was separation between the pinnacle of God’s creation (human beings) and the beasts of the field (represented by the serpent); 2) the serpent was controlled by the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) utilizing deception and lying to bring down God’s pinnacle; 3) the beast of the field was subservient to human beings; 4) man’s great adversary (Satan) as represented by the serpent would have his head crushed; 5) man’s great adversary will not go down without a fight (so to speak) for he will bruise or sting; 6) human beings cannot crush the serpent’s head, that is, overcome the great adversary. This can only be done by God’s hope given to humanity as revealed in these words.
In the words of the Holy Spirit to Adam and Eve there was hope given by God. Admittedly, the hope is not easily seen, but it is there. From the New Testament, we know it is there. Notice: “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.” The pinnacle of God’s creation will be (and is) hurt terribly, but the tempter is crushed. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). Where did that “sting of death” come from, but in the Garden! Paul wrote to Timothy, “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).
What did the Rabbis teach on Genesis 3:15? I was disappointed in what I read, for it was not at all what I thought I would see. Some of interpretations move from the reasonable into strange and weird speculation (completely useless). There is nothing said in what they wrote about hope overcoming Satan except to say this will occur with the study of the Torah (the Law of Moses as revealed in the first five books of the Bible). Nothing is said about the serpent’s head being crushed by man, except to make known to a reader what intentions the serpent had (who had hands and feet walking uprightly), “The serpent’s plan was to have Adam die and to then marry Chavah [Eve].” Michael Brown, in a footnote, gave attention to Genesis 3:15 being understood by some (not all) in the Jewish community as Messianic.
I thought I would consider what some through the centuries said on the passage. Jerome, biblical scholar of the 5th century, wrote, “Later revelation will confirm this first vague message of victory [Gen. 3:15] and specify the manner in which the victory will be attained.” Alfred Edersheim, a 19th century authority on Jewish ways and teachings, did not give attention to what the Rabbis taught in regards to Genesis 3:15, but did offer his perspective that the passage is Messianic in early form (protoevangelium). The 16th century reformers are on both sides as to whether the passage is Messianic or not, most thinking it is. In fact, of the 18 citations, only two (John Calvin and Johannes Oecolampadius) doubted the exegetical application. “If we should cite this text to dispute against the Jews, I fear we would more likely be ridiculed than accomplish anything” (Reformation 161).
Can Genesis 3:15 be exegetically understood to refer to the Christ? Even though Judaism does not regard the Messiah as being a necessary interpretation here , clearly a case for the Christ must start here. Admittedly, it is from a New Testament context and from an overall picture of the Old Covenant that one is better able to see it unfold. Consider the following points. First, there is an adversarial relationship between what the serpent represents and man. In Revelation 12:9, the serpent is the dragon making war against those of God’s creation. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (12:17). Second, the enmity between the woman and the serpent was separation, hostility, hatred. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and his only intent is to separate man from his Creator, developing within him hatred and bitterness toward the Almighty. He has had great (numerical) success at this. Third, the serpent will bruise the heel of man, but man will crush the head of serpent. Coffman, who is dismissive of those who reject the protoevangelium, said, “‘Thou shalt bruise his heel…is undoubtedly a reference to the Crucifixion.’ The reason many scholars fail to see this is because ‘[t]heir blindness is due to their failure to recognize that the key to understanding the O.T. is Jesus Christ (2Cor. 3:15-16). The terminology of this verse is such that it cannot apply to anything in heaven or upon earth except the long spiritual conflict between Christ and Satan’.”
A case can be made that Genesis 3:15 is the first reference to man’s hope, albeit an obscure reference and one that can only be seen in the context of the whole of Scripture.
The Chumash with the Teachings of the Talmud, The Milstein Edition, p. 30.
Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections: Messianic Prophecy Objections, Vol. 3; Baker Books, p. 198.
The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, 2:28, p. 13.
Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament, Hendriksen Publishers, p. 14.
Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Genesis 1-11, Vol. 1; IVP Academic, pp. 156-162.
“In Judaism, the estrangement caused by the innate human appetite for evil does not require an act of messianic redemption to be healed” (The Jewish Study Bible, p. 18).
James B. Coffman, Commentary of Genesis, pp. 68, 67.