You can read the Bible in such a way that you deny it any internal coherence and refuse to allow it to tell its own story. That’s the wrong way to do it. Find a way of understanding the earlier parts of the Bible that fits with and makes sense of the later parts. That’s the way to read, and that’s the way to see how Genesis 3:15 is the protoevangelium in the big story of the whole Bible.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
I well remember the questions. They reflected the very perspective I had been taught: If Genesis 3:15 is so important, why isn’t it quoted in the rest of the Bible? That’s what those bright students, who had heard the line from other teachers, fired at me.
It took me back to my second year of a master’s program at an evangelical seminary, when in a first semester Hebrew class I made the mistake of asking the professor whether Genesis 3:15 really was the protoevangelium—the first announcement of the gospel. “We’ve got to start getting rid of the myths somewhere,” the professor retorted with his customary disdain, “it’s just a snake in a garden!”
My faith survived that professor, but I came out of that school having learned the warped view that seemed the standard line: “The only thing that justifies the way that New Testament writers interpret the Old Testament is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You’re not inspired by the Holy Spirit, so don’t you dare read the Old Testament that way
Fast forward to my early days of teaching: I had recently completed a PhD, and while studying at Southern Seminary under Tom Schreiner, he and others (Beale, Dempster, Gentry, Alexander, Sailhamer, Ellis, House, etc.) had convinced me that the New Testament authors had rightly understood the Old Testament. Genesis 3:15 was not only the protoevangelium, but its division of humanity into the seed of the woman and seed of the serpent was determinative for the rest of the Bible.
My thinking had undergone revolutions. I had become convinced that the New Testament authors had rightly discerned what the Old Testament authors intended to communicate, and that everything they themselves intended to communicate was in keeping with the intentions of those Old Testament authors. And Genesis 3:15 was foundational for all this.
The Folly of Historical Critical Reading
There are terrible reading strategies that lead to the conclusions I was taught, the conclusions my students spat back at me in my first years of teaching. These reading strategies characterize the so-called historical critical method, which I reject not only because it is not historically plausible, but also because it fails to engage in sufficiently critical thought. Those who read the Bible this way chop it up into bits. They refuse to read the earlier part with the later. They assume that there is no coherence, no story, and in the end, no God. It’s a hopeless perspective. It’s also godless. Rightly did Adolf Schlatter say it was the atheistic method of biblical scholarship.
But the Bible is literature, and Moses was a literary genius. There is a story that begins in Genesis. It’s a story that tells the truth about God, the world, and man. It’s a story that gives hope—hope that stems from the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15.