Friday, November 9, 2012

Who is "the woman" in Genesis 3:15?

Eve and Mary by Sr. Grace Remington, O.C.S.O (From Dolce Domum) 

"And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this thing, you are cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon your breast shall you go, and earth shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmities between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed: (s)he shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for (her)his heel. To the woman also he said: I will multiply your sorrows, and your conceptions: in sorrow shall you bring forth children, and you shall be under your husband's power, and he shall have dominion over you. And to Adam he said: Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded you, that you should not eat, cursed is the earth in your work: with labor and toil shall you eat thereof all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, and you shall eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread till you return to the earth out of which you were taken: for dust you are, and into dust you shall return." (Genesis 3)

Who is “the woman” in Gen 3:15?

Many Protestant scholars claim that "the woman" is Eve because she is the only woman present. The woman, however, is indeed Mary, the Mother of Jesus:

  1. A permanent “enmity” between the serpent and Eve is impossible: In the story of the fall, Eve becomes the serpent’s ally, the enemy of God. The enmity, therefore, cannot be between Eve and the devil; the enmity is between Eve and God. This is the fundamental moment in human history where mankind became estranged from God and servants of evil. Even after this prophecy, Eve did not become the devil’s enemy, but his slave, and is incapable of being placed as his opposite.
    • Eve and the woman have opposite tasks: In the garden, Eve became the associate of the devil in unleashing sin upon the world. In the Protoevangelium, God promises a woman who will do the exact opposite. It is impossible to think of Eve as “the woman” through whom victory will come; her contribution is primarily the world’s loss of original justice. Scheeben points out that Eve is eternally the instrument of the devil’s victory; Mary is eternally the instrument of his defeat. Their tasks could not be more opposite and incompatible.
    • Eve is never seen as someone through whom victory could come: Eve is never portrayed as one through whom any glory might come. As Da Fonseca notes, “one would hardly understand from what follows, why, when speaking to Eve, God had nothing but words of reproof and chastisement; and that throughout the entire history of redemption there is found not even a minimal allusion to a fact so important. For every time Eve is mentioned, she is described as the cause of our ruin, never as the beginning of our restoration.”[1]
    • Eve’s descendants have not crushed the serpent’s head: In general, Eve’s descendants are plagued by her sin, not the destroyers of it. One seed, the seed of Mary, has crushed the serpent’s head: Jesus Christ.
    • The serpent has to be punished: In this passage, God is punishing the serpent. To set Eve at enmity with the devil will hardly be a punishment for him at all—very often she will remain his slave. Scheeben notes that the enmity must be “a victorious pursuit” and an “invincible enmity” for “the woman” and “her seed” or the serpent will not be punished at all—enmity with Eve would be essentially a reward.[2]
    • The passages addressing the serpent and addressing Eve are so different in tone: it is impossible to believe that the woman who is spoken to with such bitterness and disdain in Gen 3:16 can be the same as the one mentioned as the Mother of the Redeemer, the one through whom victory is achieved, in Gen 3:15.
  2. The verse essentially reads “I will put enmities between you and A woman:” In Hebrew, when an article is used in the manner of this verse, it is used “to denote a single person or thing (primarily one which is as yet unknown, and therefore not capable of being defined) as being present to the mind under given circumstances.”[3] The circumstances in which God is speaking refer to Mary who is, as of the time of the prophecy, unknown. With this in mind, the verse should read “…between you and a woman” because “the woman” mentioned in the prophecy cannot yet be known and refers to a woman who will appear “in the fullness of time.” [4] 
  3. 3. Galatians 3:16 makes it clear that “her seed” is Jesus and not some collection of descendants: “To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He says not: And to his seeds as of many. But as of one: And to your seed, which is Christ.” Referring to a similar example of the type of messianic prophesy made in Genesis 3:15, Galatians 3:16 makes it clear that these prophecies refer, when speaking about “a seed,” to the incarnate Jesus Christ. Who then is the “her” spoken of when the prophecy mentions “her seed?” Of course it is Mary.
    • “Her seed,” namely, the seed of a woman refers to the Virgin Birth of Christ through Mary: In all Old Testament literature, any mention of “a seed” refers to the descendant of a man, for example Abraham. Any stress at all on the seed of a woman should appear peculiar and can only make sense in light of the future Virgin Birth, where Mary gives birth without the seed of a man. In addition, the “seed of the woman” refers to something that can only be fulfilled supernaturally, without the seed of a man; there has been just one of these births. With this in mind, then, we know that “the woman” is Mary and that “her seed” is Jesus.
  4. “The seed of a woman” can refer to no one but Jesus [5]: If the woman was Eve and this phrase—the seed of a woman—were referring to all of Eve’s descendants, it would not say “woman” but “the seed of a man;” for the births of all her descendants came through the seed of a man by necessity. Knowing the peculiarity of this phrase, then, it’s impossible to look beyond the supernatural implications and reference to the Virgin Birth. Only one birth took place supernaturally and can warrant the phrase “seed of a woman” exclusively: the Virgin Birth of Christ through Mary. 
    • The woman appears closely tied to the Son: The seed of the woman is closely tied to the seed itself; they appear in fact to be inseparable. Eve, however, is never presented in a way that might suggest a link between her and any of her offspring; Cain is her firstborn. Mary, on the other hand, is linked inseparably from the saving work of her Son through her divine motherhood, co-redemption, mediation, and, most apparently in this passage, her immaculate conception.
  5. They are three separate punishments: In this scene of Genesis, God is revealing the consequences of Original Sin to each of the actors separately. There is a temptation to read “the woman” as Eve because she is the only woman present. However, each punishment is addressed to each actor separately and must be read with this in mind (Gen 3:14-15 is to the serpent, Gen 3:16 is to Eve, and Gen 3:17-19 is to Adam). When read as a punishment separate from that of Eve’s, the text shows a profound foretelling of the serpent’s death under the foot of Jesus and has nothing to do with some permanent relationship between the serpent and Eve.
  6. The imagery matches that of Revelation 12 where Our Lady appears as “the woman”: Revelation 12 speaks of “a woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Further, there is an image of a woman struggling with birth pangs (Gen 3:16) and a dragon/serpent figure, all undeniable images from Genesis 3. Just because it is Eve who is cursed with birth pangs in Gen 3 does not mean she is pictured in Rev 12. In fact, the woman in pain is a figure of Mary, the Church, and Israel’s Daughter Zion, “a maternal figure that represents the holy remnant of Israel groaning for redemption.” (Is 26:17; Mic 4:9-10)[6] All three figures are perfectly fulfilled in Mary. Though Mary herself felt no physical pain in giving birth to Jesus, she does feel pain as mother to men. In addition, the pain that Mary feels in Rev 12 is the pain of Christ’s passion which pierced the side of the mother as well (Luke 2:35). In fact, Jesus himself, in the Gospel written by John—the same John who wrote Revelation—likens the pain of his passion to the pain of a woman in labor (Jn 16:20). We know for certain that “the woman clothed with the sun” in Rev 12 is Mary because she “brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev 12:5). Who else is this, but Christ? As a result, then, we know that in Gen 3:15, where the Marian imagery mirrors that of Rev 12, it is Mary who is “the woman.”

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[1] P.L. Da Fonseca; In Mariology: A Guide for Priest, Deacons, Seminaries, and Consecrated Persons; Page 7
[2] M.J. Scheeben; Mariology; Page 242
[3] Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar; Google Books; Page 427-428
[4] Catholic Encyclopedia; Entry on The Blessed Virgin Mary by Anthony Maas
[5] M.J. Scheeben; Mariology
[6] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible; Page 506

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