“your seed and her seed.” The Hebrew word for “seed” can be singular or plural, like “seed” in English. That is why some translations say “offspring,” indicating more than one. Also, although used technically the female has an egg while the male has sperm or “seed,” the Hebrew word “seed” was used for offspring in general, as it is here in Genesis 3:15 (cp. Gen. 4:25; 9:9; 24:60; 46:6; Ruth 4:12; Esth. 9:27). The singular “seed” (offspring) of the woman, which was of primary concern to God at this time, was Christ, who would ultimately defeat and destroy the Devil (cp. what God said to Abraham; Gen. 12:7; Gal. 3:16), although the general nature of the prophecy would have included those among Eve’s “seed” (offspring) who were godly people and who throughout history have opposed the Devil and his minions.
The “seed” (offspring) of the serpent is all his children. For more on the children of the Devil, see commentary on Matthew 12:31.
“I will put hostility.” Once the Devil knew that he would be destroyed by one of the offspring of the woman, he started an aggressive campaign against them. At first, it was against all people, and resulted in God rescuing humankind by Noah’s flood. As the people who would bring forth the Messiah narrowed, the intensity against the progenitors of the “seed” increased; thus, for example, came the aggressive attacks on the Jews.
“He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” The Hebrew text uses the same word, shup (#07779 שׁוּף), two times, and so it is translated as “strike” in both places in the REV and many other English versions (some versions use “crush,” but that meaning is less likely). The fact that the Hebrew text uses the same verb for both what the serpent (the Devil) does to the seed of the woman and what the seed of the woman does to the serpent points to a genuine and hard-fought battle between good and evil. The Messiah will come and conquer the serpent, but it will not be an easy battle. Both sides will be focused and determined, and both will suffer from the battle. God revealed more and more about this battle as the books of the Bible, and ultimately in the book of Revelation, were written, so Bible readers eventually learned from the text that Jesus suffered torture and death but was raised from the dead and healed by God, whereas the Devil will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.
Some versions translate the word shup differently, for example, the NIV says, “he will crush [shup] your head, and you will strike [shup] his heel,” but there is no justification in the Hebrew text for having two different translations of shup.
Victor Hamilton writes: “Presumably we should translate the verb the same way both times, there being no evidence in the Hebrew text to support divergent readings…. It seems unwise to translate the first shup as “crush” and the second as “strike at,” as is done in the NIV and JB. For this creates the impression that the blow struck at the serpent is fatal—its head is crushed—while the blow unleashed by the serpent against the woman’s seed is painful but not lethal—it comes away with a bruised heel. …The precedent for translating shup in two different ways is the Vulgate rendering. While the LXX [the Septuagint—the Greek Old Testament] chose to translate shup both times with [the Greek word] tereō, “to watch, guard,” the Vulgate uses [the Latin word] conterero, “to crush, grind, bruise” the first time, but shifted to insidior, “to lie in wait, to lie in ambush, to watch,” in the next phrase.”a
The Latin version known as the Vulgate was translated by Saint Jerome in the late 300s AD. Hamilton points out that it was because the Vulgate translated the Hebrew word shup in two different ways that scholars started suggesting that the verbs in the Hebrew text should be understood differently. Once the Roman Catholic Church adopted the Vulgate as its official Bible, there was a lot of pressure to understand the Hebrew text the way Jerome understood it. In fact, today some scholars suggest that the two uses of shup in Genesis 3:15 come from different verbal roots, in spite of the fact that there is no evidence for that being the case. Genesis 3:15 points to a titanic battle between the “seed of the woman” and the serpent, and that battle was described in more detail in later books of the Bible.
A noteworthy subtheme in the wording of the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15 is that the word “heel” is part of the name of Jacob. There is good evidence that the original meaning of “Jacob” was “heel snatcher” or “heel grabber,” and the Hebrew can also mean “supplanter.” Genesis 25:23-26 speaks of the birth of the twins Esau and Jacob, who were born to Rebecca, and verse 26 says, “And after that [i.e., after Esau was born], his brother came out, and his hand was holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named ‘Jacob.’” The Devil has bruised the heel of the seed of the woman for generations, culminating with bruising the Messiah himself.