Posts Tagged ‘protoevangelium’


I’ve been enjoying Daniel Strange’s For Their Rock Is Not Our Rock in preparation for a session for the iServe Africa second year apprentices. (The fact that it opens with a quote from Bavinck which begins, “We live in a strange world…” is not the only reason I love it.)

In the most recent issue of Themelios (41:1), Kyle Faircloth provides a helpful review of Strange’s work – particularly his dissertation The Possibility of Salvation Among the Unevangelised (published 2006) and his more recent 2014 book Their Rock. However, Faircloth goes on to challenge Strange on the idea that the definitive protoevangelium (first preaching of the gospel) is at Genesis 3:15 (rather than at Gen. 12) and particularly that this pre-Abrahamic gospel provides a source of ‘remnantal revelation’, transmitted, suppressed and distorted within pagan cultures, worldviews and religions. Faircloth’s challenge is not only exegetical and historical but also doctrinal – that the idea that special revelation is mixed into general revelation and that non-Christian cultures are supressing not simply the truth about God in general terms but specifically supressing the remnantal revelation of Gen. 3:15 (the serpent crusher promise) opens the possibility of people being saved in other religions apart from gospel preaching.

Strange makes a rejoinder to Faircloth’s critique in the same issue of Themelios where he clarifies a number of issues. Although I’m not really equipped to add anything to the debate I made some notes of my own in response to Faircloth:

  1. Against the idea that Genesis 12:1-3 is the preferable historical starting point for gospel proclamation over Genesis 3:15 see the excellent points by Glen Scrivener (Genesis 12 – Key to the Old Testament).
  2. Against the claim that no one in the generations from Adam to Abraham could have understood the promise of Gen.3:15 as messianic see Jack Collins, “A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is the Woman’s Seed Singular or Plural?,” Tyndale Bulletin 48, who argues from Hebrew syntax that the ‘he’ in Gen. 3:15b would normally taken to refer to an individual. Some have suggested that Eve may have thought that in Cain she has gotten The Man (Gen. 4:1). As Jack Collins notes, “in Genesis 4:25 the woman calls her son Seth zera‘ ’aִhēr (‘another seed [descendant]’) in place of the one slain. That is, she recognises that neither Cain nor Abel could be the ‘seed’ of 3:15: Cain because of his banishment from the Lord’s presence (4:16), and Abel because of his premature death.” To make it even stronger, perhaps Michael Barret is right (Beginning with Moses, p. 128) to translate Gen. 4:1 “I have acquired a man, even Jehovah” which would mean that Eve understood Gen. 3:15 not only as a promise of a human saviour but of the God-man.  Later, the naming of Noah by Lamech (Gen. 5:28-29) is given prominence in the narrative similarly to Cain’s naming by Eve  and again there seems to be something of the sense of anticipation – “Could this be The One to save us?”
  3. Against the suggestion that the messianic/singular understanding of Gen. 3:15 does not appear until the 2nd century AD: Jack Collins (same article) concludes that the LXX translators understood it (rightly) that way in the 2nd century BC. Furthermore, as G. K. Beale and many others have noticed, Noah is presented very much as another Adam, as are Abraham and Isaac and many other later Bible figures (e.g. Samson, Solomon, Uzziah, Job). This, together with the head-crusher theme (cf. Joshua 10:24; Judges 5:26; 9:53; 1 Samuel 17:49) strongly suggests that, throughout OT times, Gen. 3:15 was a very important source of messianic expectation – they were looking for the serpent crusher.
  4. Against the suggestion that this view (seeing Gen. 3:15 as the protoevangelium, understood by the Adam and his descendents as referring to Christ) is not a particularly Reformed/Calvinist view, note the puritan Matthew Henry (1662-1714) on Gen. 3:15: “A gracious promise is here made of Christ, as the deliverer of fallen man from the power of Satan. Though what was said was addressed to the serpent, yet it was said in the hearing of our first parents, who, doubtless, took the hints of grace here given them, and saw a door of hope opened to them, else the following sentence upon themselves would have overwhelmed them. Here was the dawning of the gospel day. No sooner was the wound given than the remedy was provided and revealed… By faith in this promise, we have reason to think, our first parents, and the patriarchs before the flood, were justified and saved and to this promise, and the benefit of it, instantly serving God day and night, they hoped to come.” The early Baptist theologian John Gill (1697-1771) called Gen. 3:15 the “declaration of the grace, will, and work of Christ” (Doctrinal Divinity, ch. 9). Both Henry and Gill pointed to kephalidi in Hebrews 10:7 [“In the heading of the scroll it is written of me”] and understood this to mean that Christ is telling us that he is written about at the beginning of the Law – i.e. in Gen. 3:15 – and specifically that it is written there that he will come to do the will of God – i.e. come on a mission to destroy the devil through his sacrificial death (cf. Heb. 10:7-10).
  5. In support of Dan Strange’s monogenetic (single beginning) view of human origins, culture and religion we might mention:
    1. The clear biblical teaching that all are descended from one man (Acts 17:26).
    2. Dan Strange’s account is actually more focused on the proximity of all humanity to Noah’s family and Babel than on simply on Gen. 3 (in his rejoinder he registers surprise that Faircloth spends so much time there). So to the promise of Gen. 3:15 is added the cataclysmic salvation-judgment event of the flood, the proclamation of the Noahic covenant and then the judgment of Babel.
    3. Supportive evidence in the widespread ancient stories of divine creation and flood (e.g. the animals went in two by two), linguistic echoes (e.g. perhaps in ancient Chinese characters?) and a disproportionate attention to snakes, serpents and serpentine monsters (and dragons) in the mythologies of cultures across the world (e.g. the Leviathan of the Ancient Near East, king dragons of China, Shesha and Vasuki of Hinduism or giant snakes narrated by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History 8:11-13,17).
  6. Against the charge that the remnantal revelation view opens the door to ‘implicit faith’ and members of other religions being saved without hearing the gospel, it is important to emphasise (as Dan Strange is very keen to do in Their Rock and underlines in his rejoinder to Faircloth) that remnantal revelation is a) twisted beyond salvific usefulness and b) always supressed. Actually this is not only an issue for the remnantal revelation view – if those are right (and I think they are) who say that the sermon of creation (Ps. 19:1-6) is a Christological sermon then the truth supressed and faith rejected when we look at the heavens and turn away is also a ‘gospel’ truth which is (perhaps) hypothetically salvific but the point is, again, that it is never salvific because it is always supressed. There is no more chance of someone being converted by remnantal revelation or creation revelation than someone being born without a sinful nature. We are born blind to Christ and eyes are opened as the Word is preached.

So what? Does any of this matter very much. Well perhaps it does in emphasising a) that the promise of the serpent crusher is the fountain of all our gospel hope and b) that it is this serpent crusher whom the world is rejecting (John 16:9).

Serpent crusher


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