Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How can Mary crush the serpent's head? A look at Genesis 3:15

I've run across an accusation against the Catholic Church that goes something like this one from Christian apologist Keith Thompson:
One example of distortion of scripture to support Catholic exaltation of Mary has to do with the translation of Genesis 3:15....Genesis 3:15 [says...] "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.”...“He” (הוּא) in the original Hebrew is masculine. It is pronounced “hoo” and can also mean “it.” Many think it means “it” in reference to collective offspring of the woman crushing the head of the serpent. In the LXX, however, it is rendered autos “he,” indicating that the passage should be understood as a Messianic prophecy about Jesus Christ alone crushing the head. “He [Jesus] will crush the serpents head.”

However, Jerome (342-430) in his Latin Vulgate translation made a major error changing “it” or “he” into “she” using the feminine pronoun ipsa in the Latin. Roman Catholic scholars who accepted the Latin Vulgate then translated Genesis 3:15 in their Douay-Rheims Bible as:

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
First we begin with the term for "he/it/she" in question. Thompson notes that the Hebrew word is masculine and translated as "he" or "it." Several Protestant translations do use the word "it" including the fairly literal King James Version. Catholic apologists such as Jimmy Akin or Robert Sungenis acknowledge the masculinity of the Hebrew word as well, which admits to "he" or "it." There is an artistic sense in which the Hebrew word could be copied as feminine, and that is in the case of poetry, which the Jewish Encyclopedia states sometimes uses masculine and feminine interchangeably. But for the sake of this apologetic, according to my research, I am going to agree that "he" and "it" are the most accurate translations.

Before I move on, I just want to point out that the term "she" was not a corruption that came about because of Jerome. Jerome's translation is circa 400 A.D. Yet we can find at least one early Christian interpreting the same verse with "she," such as Tertullian writing around 205 A.D. in his work On the Apparel of Women.

Now, no one disputes that the principle defeater of Satan is God, as even Romans 16:20 echoes: "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." However, both Protestants and Catholics alike recognize that the "he" and "his" in the phrase "he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" refers back to the word "offspring." Thompson also admits "many" interpreters recognize this meaning in the structure of the text. And I think the text demands that the "offspring" of the "woman" includes the Church.

Let's look again at Romans 16:20: "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Satan is crushed "under the feet" of the Roman church, albeit by God through them. Thompson's objection to this understanding due to the Septuagint's use of the word "he" does not preclude the Church as a participant in Christ's work because the "he" could be understood as "the 'he' who crushes through the Church" just as Romans 16:20 suggests.

John MacArthur, whose contra-Catholic ideas I previously discussed, wrote:
Believers should recognize that they participate in the crushing of Satan because, along with their Savior and because of His finished work on the cross, they also are of the woman's seed.1
Protestant "Reformer" John Calvin, in his commmentary on Genesis, wrote similarly of this verse:
[I]t comes to pass that, in the same manner, the whole Church of God, under its Head, will gloriously exult over him. To this the declaration of Paul refers, “The Lord shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly,” (Romans 16:20.) By which words he signifies that the power of bruising Satan is imparted to faithful men, and thus the blessing is the common property of the whole Church.
There are Catholic sources that agree with these sentiments, such as the New American Bible's footnote:
He will strike...at his heel: since the antecedent for he and his is the collective noun offspring, i.e., all the descendants of the woman, a more exact rendering of the sacred writer's words would be, "They will strike...at their heels."
Or the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition footnote:
he shall bruise your head: i.e., the seed of the woman, that is, mankind descended from Eve, will eventually gain the victory over the powers of evil. This victory will, of course, be gained through the work of the Messiah who is par excellence the seed of the woman.2
Even in Revelation 12:7-8, Michael the archangel and his angels are said to have vanquished the devil from heaven, but this does not trump Christ's ultimate victory over the serpent. The angels are, after all, fellow members of the Church as well. So anyway, a variety of Catholics and Protestants alike agree that Jesus is the primary force striking the head of the serpent, but this does not preclude the Church as a secondary agent as well.

And it is at this point we turn to Mary. Can she be said to play a special role as well in striking the head of the serpent?

Along with the Church, which participates in the victorious sufferings of Christ (e.g. 1 Pt 4:13), Mary's suffering is specifically tied to the sufferings of Christ in the prophecy of the Holy Spirit through Simeon:
Luke 2:25,34-35 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. ... and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."
A second reason Mary can be seen to have a special role in striking the serpent's head is because, typologically, Mary is understood as figure of the Church, which we have established as a very fair understanding of the "he/it" that strikes the serpent's head. Among many reasons, Mary is understood as a figure of the Church due to the Spirit coming together with her to bring forth a child. Nuptually, children are brought forth via the union of husband and wife, and thus, Mary in this sense is the "spouse" of the Spirit. And Scripture often refers to the Church as the spotless, virgin bride of God as well (e.g. Mt 25:1, Eph 5:27-32, Rv 21:9-10) thus the Virgin Mary is the Church's figure. Pope John Paul II recognized this, as well as the bishops at Vatican II, and even in antiquity from the likes of St. Ambrose in the 4th century (see Pope John Paul II, Mary is Outstanding Figure of the Church).

There are also other strong places in Scripture overlapping Mary and the Church such as Revelation 12 which uses imagery much like Genesis 3:15.
Revelation 12:5-6a,17 [S]he brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness...Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.
Verse 9 in between also calls the dragon "that ancient serpent," tying it even further with Genesis 3:15. The woman in this passage is Mary because she brings forth the one to rule all nations. And like ancient Israel fleeing through the "wilderness" to Egypt, Mary also fled to Egypt with Joseph (Mt 2:13-14). In turn, Israel is the prefigurement of the Church of the new covenant (e.g. Jer 31:31-33). And coming full circle, Mary can be seen to strike the serpent's head in her role as figure of the Church.

Finally, I'd like to look at two other women in the Old Covenant who struck the head of the enemy on behalf of the people. In what other way can the "he" or "it" term in Genesis 3:15 be understood to include Mary specifically? I think the following is perhaps the most compelling evidence.

The first woman described to "strike the enemy's head" is Jael. In Judges 4:21 and Judges 5:26, she is described killing the oppressive king's general Sisera by driving a tent peg into his head.

The second woman is Judith. In Judith 13:8-9, she is described cutting off the head of Holofernes, who is called later in the chapter the "leader of...enemies," and whose name means "stinking in hell."3

Before I proceed, it should be noted that the Old Testament also includes stories like the one of David, who strikes the head of the enemy Goliath. David, as a figure of Christ, reflects Christ's role in smiting the enemy's head.

Now back to the women. So in what way is Mary connected to these women who struck the enemy's head? One very strong connection is that all three women, Jael, Judith, and Mary are called "blessed among women."

Jael is called "blessed of women" in Judges 5:24. Judith is called "blessed...among all women on earth" in Judith 13:18. And Mary, of course, is called "blessed...among women" in Luke 1:42.

Mary's weapon is not a peg, like Jael, or a sword, like Judith. Rather can Mary's weapon be considered her very immediate offspring––Jesus Christ? I think the typology here supports that understanding.

Therefore, we can better see that Mary in a very real sense strikes the enemy's head when we study the text of Genesis 3:15 in light of the totality of Scripture. We needn't worry if the word "she" is incompatible with the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15 because Mary's role is deducible without forcing the translation. She is a figure of the Church as well as the women in the Old Testament, all whom are said in Scripture to strike the enemy's head. And none of this participation detracts from the ultimate victor over the serpent––Jesus Christ.

1MacArthur, John, The MacArthur Study Bible, Thomas Nelson (publisher), 1997, p. 20-21.
2Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1965-1966, p. 985.
3Many Protestant traditions do not recognize the book of Judith as Scripture. However, I think the strength of the argument can be drawn from the Jael story alone, or by acknowledging the historical tale of Judith as part of Jewish tradition even if one denies its Scriptural quality.


  1. More Catholics...and non-Catholics should discover your blog. So I'm posting it on facebook. Thanks for this article. When I converted to the Catholic Church - or even before my conversion - I never had any problem with the role of the 'Woman' and our Blessed Mother.
    I certainly don't know how to argue or articulate like you do, which is a precious gift. But one thing I notice different between those who think with the holy mother Church and those who prefer opposing her is how they think of 'power'. The very power of God is Love and what I call 'divine humility'. Whereas the evil power of the fallen principalities is arrogance, pride, deception and unwillingess to serve.
    Thus, it is impossible to iamgine the ancient serpent saying to humans like us [funny and ridiculous as we are many times and in various circumstances] "I came here not to be served, but to serve"
    And the certainty of our Blessed Mother's victory is already made evident when she declared in the Catena, "He looks on His servant in her lowliness, henceforth all ages will call me blessed", and has already prosecuted the presumptuous one when she said,"He puts forth His arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted. He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly."
    So, every time the Protestant distances himself from the 'handmaid of the Lord', he unconsciously elevate Satan, himself to the level of God, which is exactly what the ancient serpent wants man to do - until his proud and ugly head is crushed by the very humility of our Blessed Mother, the powerful Queen of Heaven and Earth.

    1. Im gonna try to serve this in humulity. im not trying to start an argument; just discussion. Its hard to go into too much by typing, but I have grown up in the Catholic church and understand Catholic beliefs, and believe it or not, although I wouldn't call myself Catholic anymore, i do have a lot of respect for the Catholic church and still go to the Catholic church when I go back to my hometown where my parents live. That being said: I do however have to say if you truly understand that Satan has no new tricks, and as Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun, you will understand that Satan has used a few tricks throughout history in all cultures to recieve worship. One of them is being worshipped as the Queen of Heaven. Read Jeremiah 44:19 and Jeremiah 7:18. I do understand that Satan has perverted even the Virgin birth through the stories of Nimrod, Semiramus, & Tammuz (Babylon). Osirus, Isis, Horus (Egypt), etc. but one of satan's main forms of worship was and is the belief there is a queen of heaven. (not saying Catholics worship Mary). My belief without being able to go into too much is that Satan has tried to elevate Mary beyond her status in a Queen of Heaven type person who even has powers on par with Christ. Some do believe Mary to be a co-redemtrix (that she can save like Jesus, which is absolutely unbiblical). Mary is an amazing person, but Jesus made it clear in Matthew 12:47-50 that whoever does his will are his mother and brothers. Plus there is absolutely no biblical evidence that says Mary was born without original sin. That status is for Christ (God) alone. Jesus, on several occasions referred to Mary as woman. I believe it was for a reason so that people realize that all that is good comes from God alone. Mary was not good because she was born without original sin, it was because of her faith in God. God does not share his status with anyone, even Mary. He has no equal and no queen. I come from a Catholic upbringing and know that although many Catholics will say they don't worship Mary, it absolutely leads to worship. I know the Hail Holy Queen pray and it ends with ...but in your mercy hear and answer me... God is the only one that can give mercy. He is the only one who hears and answers. My parents are practicing Catholics, but take no part in praying to Mary because they know it isn't biblical. I know Satan hates truth and will do anything he can to mess with the Catholic (universal body of christ) church. I could go on and on with problems in other Christian denominations, but it doesn't mean God is not with the Body of Christ. I know God is in the Catholic Church and a lot of who I am today is because of my great Christian Catholic upbringing, but in my beleif, once you start going down the road of elevating Mary to a status never intended for her, you start getting into deceptions that satan has used throughout history. Regardless, we are all on the same team with Jesus at the head of the Church. God bless!

    2. Anonymous, I think you have some remaining misconceptions about coredemptrix and intercessory prayer. May I recommend:
      And see my other article on praying to saints with regard to asking other saints in heaven for intercession.
      You may also want to check out Jimmy Akin's article on the "pagan influence fallacy" regarding all those other goddesses you mention.

    3. I just got done reading the jimmy akins article. I agree with what he is saying and thats why I posted the example of Osirus, Horus, and Isis. I actually believe that, satan, knowing that a messiah would come from the seed of woman, has purposely tried to pervert the truth prior to the Messiah coming. I know athiests try to use this to discredit the Bible. Like I said earlier, because satan can't create anything, his best weapon is to take God's truths and throw a little arsenic in it. I believe you can absolutely find pieces of truth in secular ideas. We just need to have discernment and as the Bible says test the spirits.
      My background is; im 31 and grew up Catholic (Catholic grade school, high school, college, was an alter boy growing up and even considered being a priest). I started going to a non denominational church about 8 years ago and for the first time really started reading the Bible. For the first time I really started focusing my prayers toward Jesus and began understanding what protestants would say when they ask do you have a personal relationship with Jesus. I have always believed that Jesus died for my sins and even got a tattoo that says nos redemit sanguine (which my priest gave me the words from an old latin Catholic prayer that hopefully says we have been redeemed by His blood). I even stick up the the Catholic church around people that don't even know if Catholics believe in Jesus (a lot of ignorant people out there). But I can say for certain that there is a level of relationship with God that we can have through Jesus, that I never understood growing up in the Catholic Church. There is so much focus (intercessory) prayers to Mary and the saints that you can loose the focus of what the whole New Testament talks about. As Paul stated, I preach Christ and Christ crucified. Its a simple but profound message. I understand it means so much more than that and having people intercessing is extremely important. God doesn't need us or our prayers but he chose do His works through us and because of the principles he put into place he in a sense does need us to be active so he can accomplish His will through us (hopefully that makes sense). I do understand the importance of intercessory prayers. I just tend to believe that the Bible is tending to refer to the saints (believers in Jesus) on earth doing the intercessing than people that have died. I do understand there is activity in heaven from those that have died and have read the book of revelation many times (i just have a different view on the interpretation of those passages in Revelation).

    4. The problem i have had with the non denominational church is that people don't seem to know exactly what that personal relationship means to them. It almost started feeling like it was an end all be all statement with not much substance to it (not saying it was that way for everyone in the church). I felt like there was more to the relationship with jesus than what was being taught. Basically I Love Jesus and the more I have sought out a deeper relationship with Him through prayer, worship, devoting my life to Him, the more He shows me. Jesus came to connect us back to the Father and says that He is the only mediator between God and man. Im not saying its bad to ask for intercessory prayers, I just know it has caused many in the Catholic world to almost forget the point of Christianity; That we now have the ability to connect with the Father through Jesus (the veil was torn). So much time in the Catholic Church as been spent focusing on people other than Jesus. I read somewhere (take it for what its worth) that a survey was taken in Italy on who the Catholics go to first in prayer and Jesus was number 7 on the list.
      Ill end with this. I believe God has shown me a lot when it comes to Biblical prophecy. This world is getting spiritually darker and the name of Jesus carries power over the enemy. (i know many people who do prayer ministry for people who other churches dont know how to deal with) Through prayer and knowing the power we have (the name of Jesus) as sons and daughters of the living God; we have authority over the enemy and demons. Could tell many crazy stories about that. The name of Jesus is the only name that carries authority over demons. Trust me its gonna get much worse in this world before Christ returns. No other name will carry any weight. God bless

  2. Thank you for your kind comments. :)

  3. Just speaking from the heart right now and just want to repeat that Im not trying to argue, just discuss. I am different than the most Christians. I truly believe in the days ahead, the whole universal body of Christ is gonna need to come together like never before. Unfortunately, as the Bible shows, it usually takes persecution for Christians to come together. That is definitely evident in America today and is only gonna get worse. But where there is perscution, Christians start waking up. I feel like God is gonna be using me to connect people in the Church together (Catholics and Protestants). Maybe weird, but thats just what I feel. Love chatting, and I will read that other article from the website you posted.


  5. Anonymous March 31, your question is addressed in the article.

  6. Mary is not the Queen of Heaven and Earth. God is the all-powerful ruler and creator of the universe; Satan is the "king" of the Earth - it's his territory. Mary's titles have been added by the Catholic church along the way - besides if Mary is "Queen" of Heaven, that would place her along with God as the "ruler" of Heaven, which she is clearly not. But really, all theological and intellectual tennis is pointless - the fact on the ground is that people WORSHIP Mary, not venerate her. They pray to her, sing to her, ask her for things, and commit their lives, hearts, and minds, and souls to her - and she bears all qualities of Christ, which have been added by the Catholic church and made Dogma. She is NOT Christ and she is NOT used for intercession - the concept of intercession is yet another form of cheapening Christ's sacrifice - He said it Himself, the way to God is through Him. The word "intercession" is just a word that is used to conveniently try to hide the idolatry of Mary. As much as the church may intended well, the consequence and repercussions are as Anonymous in November said - people WORSHIP Mary and give her more attention and power, even MORE than Christ himself, which is idolatry. Satan is a deceiver, a liar, a fabricator, and he is very skilled and preys on human weaknesses and desire for God - and tries to constantly usurp and elevate himself and take the worship AWAY from God - even if he can't take it directly for himself.

  7. Anonymous May 31, 2014:
    The assertions you make are made gratuitously and not derived from argument, nor does the subject matter apply to what was exposited in this post. Some of what you say is not even Church teaching, such as that Catholics worship Mary. If a Catholic is giving Mary the worship due to God alone, I, the Popes, and other practicing Catholics would join you in disapproving such behavior. So there is no need for defending positions which are not held. If you are interested in Mary as Queen of Heaven, I might recommend Dr. Scott Hahn's book Hail, Holy Queen, which is fraught with Scripture and typology. I also recommend reading Revelation 12 which describes the woman in heaven who is crowned. That description would certainly not take worship "away" from God when it is contained in God's own revelation.

  8. Anonymous,

    You keep saying that you don't want to argue. What you really mean is that you want Catholics to rebut your false accusations.

    Now, if you believe that Jesus is the King of Heaven, you will understand that Mary is the Queen of Heaven, because the Mother of a King, is a Queen.

    Rev 12:1 clearly shows that the Mother of the King was crowned in heaven:

    Revelation 12:1King James Version (KJV)

    12 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:

    The Woman there crowned is the Mother of the King of Heaven:
    5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.

    That child is Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven. And His Mother was crowned Queen of Heaven by God the Father. Who else could produce a Crown of 12 Stars?

    So, Anonymous, if you don't want to argue, quit making false accusations against Catholics and the Catholic Church.

  9. I am not sure why Mr Entile is dismissive of the young man's heartfelt points. The semantic differences aside, the main point is that Mary is worshiped, and in many cases, as a pagan deity. I grew up Polish Catholic, with pictures of Our Lady of Czestochowa iconography in every room, as well as crosses. We should of course celebrate The Virgin Birth, and hold Mary as Holy within our hearts, but Catholics seem to divorce themselves from reality when they deny how Mary is used in many countries as a pagan deity. Now of course, it is not for us to judge exactly, how things will all work out, but Protestants have a point. As a Catholic Apologist, you have the opportunity to tell your side of the story, as the young man did his. I have not met a Catholic online yet who has been able to explain Mary in real terms. Like another commenter pointed out, there is a Virgin Queen aspect to it, but that is not touched upon much in verse. There is vitriol on both sides of this issue, Catholics are on the defensive, and Protestants are up in arms over the Pope, and Catholic Liberation Theology, which is used politically as a Democrat tool.
    Peace Be With You.

  10. @jasondylan - if Mr. De Maria did not explain Mary in real terms to you, how would you like someone to explain it? De Maria's explanation is very clear to me.