A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is The Woman’s Seed Singular Or Plural? -- By: Jack Collins

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 48:1 (NA 1997)
Article: A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is The Woman’s Seed Singular Or Plural?
Author: Jack Collins


A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15):
Is The Woman’s Seed Singular
Or Plural?

Jack Collins

Summary

This article addresses the question whether the woman’s ‘seed’ in Genesis 3:15 is an individual (as LXX interprets) or her posterity, by an empirical study of how Biblical Hebrew used its pronouns and verb inflections when they are associated with zera’, ‘seed’, when it has the nuance ‘offspring’. Syntactically Genesis 3:15 exhibits the pattern found when zera’ refers to an individual. The article concludes with some suggestions for following the exegetical consequences of this syntactical result.

I. Introduction

wě’êbâ ’āšît bêněkā ûbên hāiššâ
ûbên zar‘ăkā ûbên zar‘āh
hû’ yěšûpěkā rō’š
wě’attâ těšûpennû ‘āqēb

And enmity shall I set between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he, he (?) will bruise you on the head,
and you, you will bruise him (?) on the heel.

It has been customary for some time now to state that the woman’s seed in Genesis 3:15 refers to her posterity in general; and that the ‘crushing’ or ‘bruising’1 of the snake’s head is represented as being

done through humanity in general. That is to say, the word zera‘ (‘seed’) is taken as a collective, and the pronoun hû’ is masculine singular in order to match its antecedent (za‘āh, ‘her seed’), and is better rendered ‘it’ or even ‘they’ (so too the suffix on těšûpennû, ‘you will bruise him/ it/them’).2

Authors who find a Messianic promise in this verse do not usually dissent from this grammatical analysis. They tend to see the Messiah as the representative or crystallisation of the woman’s seed/posterity.3

Some have pointed to the LXX rendering, where Greek σπέρμα (‘seed’, neuter) renders Hebrew zera’, and αὐτός (‘he’,

masculine) renders Hebrew hû’....

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