… with a nod to my former Greek teacher and colleague Dr. Mike Barrett.
One of my favorite experiences is gaining an insight into biblical material that has never occurred to me before.
That happens to me fairly frequently, and yesterday it happened right in the middle of class, thanks to a student question.
We know that the entire Scripture is about Christ. Jesus himself made that point in a conversation he had with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection (Lk 24.13ff). (And that passage, Lk 24.27 precisely, is where Dr. Barrett got the title for his book.) Boy do we wish Luke had seen fit to include a transcript of that conversation in his Gospel!
I suspect it was pretty much like Paul’s standard synagogue sermon, recorded in Acts 13.14ff, but with a lot more prophecies included.
Those two disciples said that their hearts burned within them when they heard these things (Lk 24.32). It’s easy to see why. Here they were realizing that the Tanakh (the Old Testament)—a document they had studied all their lives and thought they knew well—was filled with meaning that they had completely missed. It was like the old book had become completely new again; they were starting over as neophytes, going over long-familiar words and seeing completely new things in them.
It’s also easy to see why the early church became really taken with the idea of finding Christ in the Old Testament, looking under every bush—burning or not—to see if he was there. They found a lot of good examples, but sometimes they found things that weren’t even there—for example, when they decided that Solomon’s personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8 was actually talking about Christ. The heretic Arius was able to turn that unfounded interpretation against them by citing Prov 8.22 as proof, then, that Jesus was created by God “in the beginning.”
Mistakes like that have made more recent interpreters, including yours truly, a little wary of suggesting that Christ is somewhere in the OT where he hasn’t been widely recognized before.
So it’s with some trepidation that I share my “insight.”
[Deep breath.] Here goes.
The New Testament tells us repeatedly that Jesus, the Son, is in fact the creator of all things (Jn 1.3; Col 1.16; Heb 1.2). I take that to mean that the Father is the visionary, the designer, in creation, while the Son is the active agent, actually doing the work of creating, while the Spirit hovers over and tends to what is created (Gen 1.2). (So far, that’s a fairly standard, common interpretation.)
And I take that to mean that Elohim (“God”) in Gen 1 and the first paragraph of Gen 2 is actually the person of the Son. (Many others would argue that the name refers to the united Godhead, the essence rather than any one of the persons. That’s not a hill I’m interested in dying on, but bear with me here.)
In Gen 2.4 the name changes from Elohim to Yahweh Elohim (“the LORD God”). Does that indicate a change of person, or is the protagonist still the Son? Well, if “God” created man in Gen 1.27, and in the theological retelling of the story “the LORD God” created man in Gen 2.7, then it seems reasonable to continue to see the Son as the protagonist in the account.
Now, “the LORD God” continues as the main character through the end of Gen 3; Gen 4 begins to use the name Yahweh (“the LORD”). (Eve uses that name in Gen 4.1, and the narrator—Moses—begins using it in Gen 4.3.)
All of this serves as a reasonable basis for seeing Jesus as the one acting in Genesis 3. An additional evidence of that is that “the LORD God” is described as “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3.8)—and the Son is the only person of the Godhead described as physically embodied in Scripture. (But is Rev 5.6-7 an exception? Hmm.)
So, finally, here’s the thought I had in class today.
Is it actually Jesus who utters the prophecy of Gen 3.15?
Is it Jesus who, perhaps with an animated glint in his eye, tells the serpent that one day, the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head?
Wouldn’t that put quite an edge on those words? Wouldn’t it be a lot like the time David gave Goliath a list of all the things he was going to do with Goliath’s various body parts (1Sa 17.45-47), but exponentially more fearsome, and exponentially more consequential?
The Son and the Serpent, standing in the Garden, face to face, making an appointment for a battle to the death, thousands of years into the future?
I’m going to have to think about that.