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  • Revd Tim Lewis

Seed, Serpents and the Saviour



God's Work and Satan's Assault on Human Life in the Womb


From the Patristic period Genesis 3:15 has been viewed as the “Protoevangelium” – the first articulation of the Gospel – with the woman’s seed interpreted messianically as the singular figure who will finally crush the serpent’s head, defeating humankind’s great foe, Satan. Salvation does not come through the man’s toil (Genesis 3:17–19), but through the seed of the woman, and is dependent on her pregnancy and childbirth (Genesis 3:16). For this reason, Martin Luther calls Gen 3:16 a “happy and joyful punishment,” because it signals Satan’s doom. Luther also argued that pregnant women and their children are a particular torment to Satan, reminding him continually of his fate.


Although a conquered adversary, the Devil does not go quietly. He thrashes about, seeking to do maximum damage and to take as many people with him as he can (cf. Revelation 12:12). Throughout Scripture, and continuing today, he wages a consistent, sustained attack on all that is good, true and beautiful in God’s world. This includes an assault on image-bearing life in the womb. The evil one is ultimately behind all ideological attempts to dehumanise the unborn child, enabling a culture where destroying the preborn child is euphemistically termed “healthcare” or “reproductive justice” (Jesus aptly called Satan the “Father of lies”).

We see this contest between good and evil, life and death continue in Exodus.


God’s people are fulfilling the creation mandate (compare Exodus 1:7 with Genesis 1:28), but the population growth of the Israelites perturbs Pharaoh, who enacts a secretive scheme to destroy the Hebrew baby boys. Cynically Pharaoh attempts to use midwives to carry out his infanticide. To their credit, and at great personal risk, Shiphrah and Puah refuse to participate in this culture of death. Like others in Scripture, the midwives realise that obeying God and resisting dehumanising evil sometimes means disobeying sinful laws. If the Hebrew women and their midwives are presented as contemporary Eves (see Genesis 3:20), nurturing life, within and without the womb, it is not hard to see in which role Pharaoh is cast. Claire Mathews-McGinnis captures the wider theological point: “to side with YHWH results in the protection and nurture of children. To side with Pharaoh is to acquiesce in their death.”


One of these baby boys survives and Moses eventually leads the children of Israel to the Promised land. God rescues his people, collectively described as “my son” in Exodus 4:23. Fast forward over a thousand years to Roman-occupied Judea and the start of the New Testament and “a new Pharaoh,” Herod, also determines to murder Bethlehem’s baby boys. The wise women Shiphrah and Puah are paralleled by the magi, who refuse to cooperate with the Herod’s evil. Mary, Joseph, and their new-born son have to flee, only returning once Herod has died; as God again calls his son out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1).


In his pre-martyrdom summary of salvation history Stephen too mentions the plight of the Hebrew baby boys in Acts 7:19, which he terms brephe (plural of brephos, βρέφος). This is also the word Luke uses in his Gospel to describe the infant Jesus lying in a manger (Luke 2:12, 16). Importantly brephos can equally depict the unborn child, and this is exactly what Luke the physician does when writing about John the Baptist, leaping in prenatal prophetic witness to the embryonic Christ (Luke 1:41, 44). For the New Testament, as for the early Church, from conception the child was endued with a dignity, status and personhood equivalent to the new-born infant. It is telling that in Luke’s Gospel it is precisely infants (brephe) whom Jesus welcomes and blesses (Luke 18:15).


Although John’s Gospel does not have an infancy narrative it is possible to interpret Revelation 12 in this vein and the linguistic connections with Matthew 1:23 are striking. Jesus is the male child of Revelation 12:5, born to rule the nations and share God’s throne. While his mother can be interpreted collectively as Israel, from whom the Messiah emerges, a reference to Mary should not be excluded. Nor should it be overlooked that the jeopardy begins while his mother is still pregnant (Revelation 12:2). The “great red dragon” who threatens to devour them is revealed as none other than “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:3, 9), recalling Satan’s first appearance in Genesis 3. The pressing question for Christ’s Church today (“the remnant of her seed,” Revelation 12:17), facing our own culture of death, is whether we will take our stand on the side of life?


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Tim Lewis is Church Network and Theology Lead for Brephos and a PhD candidate at Union Theological College, Belfast.


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