C. J. Collins and the Singular “Seed” of Genesis 3:15

God promised the serpent in Genesis 3:15,
“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.”

Now the question that must be answered is whether God means only a collective offspring of faithful descendants or whether Someone, a singular “seed,” is ultimately in view.

In his excellent book Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (P&R, 2006), C. John Collins says, “…in Biblical Hebrew the key signal for a singular or collective offspring is the grammatical number of the pronouns that refer to the word: if the author had a specific offspring in view he would have used singular pronouns; and if he meant posterity in general, he would have used plural pronouns.  In this text we have two singular pronouns that refer to the woman’s offspring” (p. 156).

In other words, this is the situation:

“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.”

The Septuagint (LXX) also reads Genesis 3:15 this way.  The Greek noun for seed is neuter, and the pronoun referring to it is masculine.  Says Collins, “The mismatch in gender indicates a specific offspring” (p. 156 fn. 31).

Now to the next question: should Genesis 3:15 be considered messianic?

To that question Collins says, “We are within our rights to say that this text envisions an individual who will engage the serpent in combat and defeat him….We are further entitled to say that he will be a human (an offspring of the woman), but one with power extraordinary enough to win.  The rest of Genesis will unfold the idea of this offspring and lay the foundation for the developed messianic teaching of the prophets” (p. 157).

In summary: “Genesis fosters a messianic expectation, of which this verse is the headwaters” (p. 157).

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