The Seed of Woman
A curious expression occurs in Genesis 3:15 that might easily escape the notice of the inattentive reader.1 The verse reads: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This prediction is uttered in context by God in His remarks to the serpent.2 What’s peculiar about the prediction is the fact that the woman, presumably Eve, is spoken of as producing or possessing “seed.” The Hebrew term that underlies the English word in this verse is the normal word for seed that is sown in order to produce crops (e.g., Genesis 1:11-12). In this sense, it can also refer to human seed, i.e., semen (Leviticus 15:16,32; 22:4).3 By metonymy, the same term can refer to “posterity,” “progeny,” “descendants,” or “offspring.”4
The usual nomenclature that has characterized much of human history has assigned the notion of “seed” to the man—not the woman. Prior to the discovery of modern genetics—a science that largely commenced with Gregor Mendel, a 19th century Augustinian monk, now recognized as the Father of Modern Genetics—popular understanding perceived the male as the primary, if not exclusive, contributor to the reproduction process. The woman was certainly an important variable in the production of children—so much so that she was uniformly blamed by male monarchs for their own failure to produce male heirs. However, her role was generally viewed in much the same way that an incubator is integral to the hatching of eggs. The prevailing perspective did not conceptualize the equal contributory role of the female to the production of progeny.
This circumstance was well-stated by Reginald Punnett roughly a century ago. A British geneticist, who co-founded the Journal of Genetics in 1910, Punnett is probably best remembered today as the creator of the Punnett square—still used by biologists to predict the probability of genotypes of offspring. He authored the book Mendelism—considered by many to be the first textbook on genetics. Punnett served as a professor of biology and, later, was appointed the first Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics at Cambridge. Here is Punnett’s summary assessment of the popular misconception that prevailed prior to the 18th century:
Few if any of the more primitive peoples seem to have attempted to define the part played by either parent in the formation of the offspring, or to have assigned peculiar powers of transmission to them, even in the vaguest way. For ages man must have been more or less consciously improving his domesticated races of animals and plants, yet it is not until the time of Aristotle that we have clear evidence of any hypothesis to account for these phenomena of heredity. The production of offspring by man was then held to be similar to the production of a crop from seed. The seed came from the man, the woman provided the soil. This remained the generally accepted view for many centuries, and it was not until the recognition of woman as more than a passive agent that the physical basis of heredity became established. That recognition was effected by the microscope, for only with its advent was actual observation of the minute sexual cells made possible. After more than a hundred years of conflict lasting until the end of the eighteenth century, scientific men settled down to the view that each of the sexes makes a definite material contribution to the offspring produced by their joint efforts.5
Unlike the prevailing misconception that characterized most of human history, the Bible demonstrated its divine origin by using terminology that harmonizes with now better understood scientific truth. While also referring often to the seed of man, on one other occasion, God refers to the “seed” of woman when the Angel of the Lord reassured Hagar: “I will surely multiply your offspring” (Genesis 16:10; cf. 24:60). The term “offspring” is the usual word for “seed.” Translators tend to render into English their own conclusions, rather than allowing the biblical text to retain its original terminology.
Indeed, someone might suggest that “seed” in Genesis 3:15 is merely used colloquially to refer to “posterity,” “offspring,” or “descendants,” with no intention of suggesting that the female possesses “seed” comparable to the male. However, observe that language would not use the term to refer to a woman’s offspring unless she also possesses literal “seed” from which that offspring could descend. The colloquial or metonymical meaning rises out of and is dependent upon the underlying reality of the literal meaning of “seed.” Moses used the same term repeatedly throughout the rest of Genesis to refer to the “seed” of the patriarchs.6 Notice: “offspring” or “descendants”—whether from male or female—must come from literal, actual “seed,” i.e., genetic material that combines to create another human being.
This remarkable Messianic prophecy, uttered at the beginning of human history and recorded by Moses 3,500 years ago, contains an uncanny allusion to an intricate feature of the human anatomy. Such sophisticated awareness is inexplicable on any other grounds than that the author of the book of Genesis was guided by a higher, supernatural Power Who was responsible for the creation of the human body. That same Creator has provided the world with an inerrant record of His intricate, incredible dealings in the history of mankind.
1 Dave Miller (2021), Hidden Meanings Buried in the Bible (Montgomery, AL: King Solomon Publications).
2 For discussion of the Messianic nature of this prophecy, see Walter Kaiser (1980), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer Jr., and Bruce Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody), 1:253; Jack Lewis (1991), “The Woman’s Seed (Gen. 3:15),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 34:299-319.
3 Josiah Gibbs (1832), A Manual Hebrew and English Lexicon (New Haven, CT: Hezekiah Howe), p. 62; William Osburn (1845), A New Hebrew-English Lexicon (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons), p. 77. Cf. Numbers 5:28—“she shall be made pregnant with seed”— F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs (1907), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), p. 282.
4 L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner, M.E.J. Richardson, J.J. Stamm (2000), F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs (1907), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), p. 282 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, electronic ed.), 5:283; Brown, et al., p. 282. See also Samuel Lee (1840), A Lexicon, Hebrew, Chaldee, and English (London: Duncan & Malcolm), p. 178; Selig Newman (1834), A Hebrew and English Lexicon (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green), p. 152.
5 R.C. Punnett (1913), Mendelism (New York: MacMillan), pp. 1-2, emp. added.
6 1212:7; 13:15-16; 15:13,18; 21:13; 22:17-18; 24:7; 26:3-4,24; 28:13-14; 32:12.
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