What is the protoevangelium?

by Matt Slick
6/2/15

The protoevangelium1 is the term used to describe the first mention of the gospel in reference to Genesis 3:15 where God says, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”

  • "protoevangelium The 'first gospel,' a reference to the statement in Gen. 3: 15, which has been taken by some biblical interpreters as predicting the defeat of evil by the victory of Jesus Christ and thus as the first promise or 'gospel' of the coming Redeemer."2

The word "proto" means first and "evangelium" means the evangelistic message of salvation. Therefore, Genesis 3:15 is the first promise given by God after Adam sinned, that God will save people and send the Messiah.  Let's analyze the verse.

  1. And I will put enmity between you and the woman
    1. God says that there will be hatred between the serpent and the woman.
  2.  and between your seed and her seed.
    1. There will be hostility between the descendants of Satan and Christ. This does not mean that Satan literally has biological descendants but that those who are followers of him will hate the person of Christ.  Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies," (John 8:44).
    2. When it says "her seed" it must refer to her distant descendant Jesus because women do not have seed, men do. Therefore, this speaks of the virgin birth and the person of Christ.
  3. He shall bruise you on the head,
    1. The Devil will ultimately lose the battle between good and evil. But, as we will see in the next phrase, he will injure the Messiah, via the crucifixion.
  4. and you shall bruise him on the heel.
    1. The serpent, being low to the ground, can only strike at the heel. But we see from point 3 above, the serpent will be defeated since a bruise upon the head is more severe than a bruise upon the heel.  And, who is he bruising? Some commentators say all of the descendants of God's people are intended here, but it seems more evident from the text that "him" singular and refer to the Messiah who will be injured (crucified) but, as we know from the New Testament, Jesus will rise from the dead.

From that verse onward through the end of the book of Revelation we see that promise being carried out in recorded history. We see the expansion of the descendants of Adam and Eve, the formation of civilizations, the division of nations, the rise of Israel, the promise of the Messiah through Israel, and the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus who died for our sins.

Something Extra

The Bible tells us that no one has seen God the Father at any time (John 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:16).  So, when they were seeing God in the Old Testament (Genesis 17:1; 18:1; Exodus 6:2-3; 24:9-11), they were not seeing God the Father.  Instead, they were seeing the pre-incarnate Christ (John 1:18). Likewise in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sinned, it was the pre-incarnate Christ who walked with them and who covered them with animal skins and gave them the promise of the coming Messiah found in Genesis 3:15. So, it was the pre-incarnate Christ who initiated the gospel in the garden of Adam and Eve, and also began the final completion of the gospel when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and was led to the cross.

  • 1. the protoevanglion (ion, not ium, refers to the Gospel of James, a non-canonical book written after 150 A.D.)
  • 2. McKim, Donald K. (2014-04-21). The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded (Kindle Locations 11357-11359). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.