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Protoevangelium is a compound word. Proto means first. A prototype is the first creation of some item.
Evangelium sounds a lot like the word evangelize, and it is. When you evangelize, you share the gospel. That’s what evangelium is. The gospel.
So, protoevangelium is the first gospel. It is the first good news. It is found in Genesis 3:15 when God first tells us that he is going to send Jesus (even though he doesn’t mention Jesus by name!)
After the Fall of Man, God pronounces judgment on man for his sin. But He also offers the good news that the seed of the woman, Jesus, would crush the head of the serpent, Satan. Satan would strike Jesus on the heel, his death on the cross, but it would not be mortal as Jesus would rise from the dead. Jesus would strike back with a mortal wound to Satan by crushing his head. The protoevangelium is God’s first announcement that Jesus was coming and that Satan would be defeated.
The First Good News
The strange words of Genesis 3:15 are of central significance to biblical theology. The verse reads:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
Christians call this verse the protoevangelium—that is, the “first good news.” The expression “good news” is a free translation of the Greek word for “gospel.” The message of the Christian gospel is that the death and resurrection of Jesus crushed the head of Satan—who, is personified in the serpent of Genesis 3.
According to New Testament writings, Jesus is the “offspring” foreshadowed in Genesis 3:15. He is the one who brings about the great reversal of mankind’s plunge into sin and destruction. Jesus overcomes the curse of God upon humanity by defeating death and sin on our behalf. Therefore, according to biblical Christianity, Genesis 3:15 points to God’s promise to rescue humanity from its divine dislocation. “
The Law of Double Reference
Here we have the first occurrence of the law of double reference (cp. Isa. 14:12- 14; Ezek. 28:11- 17; Mt. 16:22- 23; Mk. 5:7- 16; Lk. 4:33- 35, 41). In these and many other passages a visible creature is addressed, but certain statements also refer to an invisible person using the visible creature as a tool. Thus, two persons are involved in the same passage. The principle of interpretation in such passages is to associate only such statements with each individual as could refer to him. The statements of Gen. 3:14 could apply only to the serpent and not to Satan. The first part of Gen. 3:15 could apply to both the seed of the serpent and Satan. The last part of Gen. 3:15 could only refer to Satan and Christ. A simple example of this law is the case of Christ addressing Peter as Satan. When Peter declared that he would never permit anyone to crucify his Lord on the cross, Christ rebuked him saying, "Get thee behind Me, Satan" (Mt. 16:22- 23). Both Satan and Peter were addressed in the same statement, and both were involved in the rebuke. Peter, for the moment, was unknowingly being used as a tool of Satan in an effort to keep Christ from going to the cross. Satan was the primary one addressed, and so it is in Gen. 3:15. A literal serpent is addressed, but the primary reference is to Satan. We have other examples in Isa. 14and Ezek. 28:11- 17 where the kings of Babylon and Tyre are addressed, but the statements mainly apply to Satan-- the invisible king of Babylon and Tyre. There are some statements in these passages which could not possibly refer to an earthly man.
b [enmity between thee and the woman] There is a natural enmity between snakes and men, and between children of Satan and God (Mt. 10:34- 38; Jn. 15:18- 19; Jas. 4:4; 1Pet. 4:12- 19; 1Jn. 2:15- 17; 3:8- 12; 4:1- 6).
c [thy seed] Mt. 13:38; Jn. 8:44; 1Jn. 3:8- 10.
d [her seed...]
The Seed of the Woman
Gen. 3:15 refers to the seed of the woman, not the seed of man. This could only refer to the coming of the Son of God through Mary (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 7:14; 9:6- 7; 11:1; Mt. 1; Lk. 1:31- 35; Jn. 1:14; Rom. 1:1- 3; 8:3; Gal. 3:16, 19; 4:4; Php. 2:5- 11; 1Tim. 3:16; 2Tim. 2:8; Heb. 1:1- 8; 2:9- 18; 1Jn. 4:1- 6; Rev. 5:5). The virgin birth is one of the most essential doctrines of the whole plan of God. Without faith in it and in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ one cannot be saved (1Cor. 15:1- 8; 1Jn. 4:1- 6).
What is important to note is that the enmity does not merely arise, it is specifically said to be set or appointed by God himself. The animosity we experience from unbelievers is sin, but it is divinely ordained hatred. God tells us here that he intends the wicked to hate the righteous. This is not the origin of ‘culture wars’ because the people of God are neither to create their own ‘culture’ nor are they to defend a conservative agenda for American (or European or English) culture. The world’s hatred of the church is not to be because the church represents morality. The world will hate Christians because we believe in Christ (John 3:19-20; 2 Cor. 2:15-16). There is a big difference between these two. The world is not to hate us because we are offensive in and of ourselves; the offense is in the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17-18, 21,23 ;cf. Rom 9:33; Gal 5:11). They hate us because we testify to the truth of Christ and they do not believe (1 Tim 1:13). It is true that our new life in Christ can convict them, Paul gets at this in Ephesians 5:3-21, but we have no business parading a self-righteous attitude in our rejection of homosexuality, divorce, abortion, etc. Our transformed minds are by grace, not our own wisdom, so we have no place to boast. At any rate, the point is that the course of history is according to God’s will, he is sovereign over all aspects of his creation, both before and after the fall.
David R. Helm and Jon M. Dennis, The Genesis Factor: Probing Life’s Big Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 105–106.