Saturday, June 22, 2013

Andrew Perriman on Genesis 3:15: An Apologetic of the First Gospel Proclamation


Recently I argued that Andrew Perriman’s understanding of the central starting point of the gospel is responsible for much of the error in his system. I argued that the gospel began initially in Gen. 3:15 as good news for the entire human race as opposed to Andrew’s view that it began with a promise to Abraham. Andrew has done some work on Gen. 3:15, no doubt in response to criticism of some of his other conclusions about how wrong orthodoxy has been for the last 2,000 years or so. My goal is to interact with some of the basic components of Andrew’s treatment of Gen. 3:15 in what I will call an apologetic of the first gospel.

Andrew points to Calvin’s commentary on this text and says that Calvin “reluctantly” admitted to not seeing a promise of the coming Messiah in Gen. 3:15. Andrew, as he does with Scripture, uses Calvin in a limited fashion to prop up his own project, to support his personal agenda, which seems to be to refute nearly every claim that orthodoxy has ever made. Perhaps that is a bit of hyperbole on my part, but I think Perrman has earned it at this point. What is interesting is that Perriman quotes Calvin and literally stops just prior to a sentence that contains a contrasting conjunction. An oversight perhaps, but it is not at all insignificant. Calvin continues, “But since experience teaches that not all the sons of Adam by far, arise as conquerors of the devil, we must necessarily come to one head, that we may find to whom the victory belongs. So Paul, from the seed of Abraham, leads us to Christ; because many were degenerate sons, and a considerable part adulterous, through infidelity; whence it follows that the unity of the body flows from the head.” [Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 170-171]

Calvin does see a final victory of humanity over Satan, contrary to Andrew’s implication that Calvin thinks this enmity continues into perpetuity, that is, as Andrew would define it. A reading of Calvin’s interpretation of this text informs us that Calvin did think God was not only cursing the animal, but the devil who had used him. “I therefore conclude, that God here chiefly assails Satan under the name of the serpent, and hurls against him the lightening of his judgment.” [Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 169]

In respect to Calvin then, we see that while Calvin may not recognize a direct promise of the Messiah in the text, at least not in his commentary on Genesis, he most certainly sees an indirect promise of such. Andrew spends a great deal of time pointing out passages that obviously indicate that the singular “seed” in the Hebrew does not have to mean a singular person. That is all well and good, but it does not follow that because a word is used this way here and here and there, that it cannot be used differently in other places. If it does, then Andrew or someone needs to demonstrate why this must be the case. Language does not work this way today and I would speculate that it never has, except maybe for our first parents who were at the fountainhead of language. Words change and expand meaning over time. The implication is that if we rewind time, the range of meaning necessarily contracts.

Moving back to Calvin, the question whether Calvin saw Gen. 3:15 as a promise of salvation is answered in the institutes with this comment from Calvin himself, “Accordingly, at the beginning, when the first promise of salvation was given to Adam (Gen. 3:15), only a few slender sparks beamed forth:”[1]

And again here, “And if due weight is given to the testimony of Moses (Gen. 3:15), when he says that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent, the dispute is at an end. For the words there used refer not to Christ alone, but to the whole human race. Since the victory was to be obtained for us by Christ, God declares generally, that the posterity of the woman would overcome the devil. From this it follows, that Christ is a descendant of the human race, the purpose of God in thus addressing Eve being to raise her hopes, and prevent her from giving way to despair.”[2] 

Andrew would be better served to really understand an author’s view before selecting one isolated, partial paragraph to represent him. Perriman should have kept reading. At best, this was an incompetent error while at worse, one could accuse Perriman of intentionally misrepresenting a champion of orthodoxy in order to attack orthodoxy. The less informed would simply not know any better and when we couple that to the lack of critical thinking that people practice, the consequences are predictable.

The point is that Andrew pushes Calvin’s position too far. While Calvin does not limit Gen. 3:15 to the promised Messiah, he most certainly thinks it necessarily includes that promise, for this is the means by which the seed of Eve will crush Satan. In addition, Calvin refers to this as the first gospel, contrary to Andrew’s inference. Moreover, Andrew said that Calvin made this admission reluctantly as if Calvin were looking for and even hoping to find support for the first gospel here only to find none. In other words, Andrew paints Calvin’s language as one of disappointment. NOTHING could be further from the truth and Andrew ought to be ashamed of himself for engaging in such blatant dishonesty.

Now, here is fact that Andrew ignores entirely. If God is speaking just as much to Satan as He is to the serpent, then we have to be able to see if there are things that may be “serpent specific” and perhaps distinguish them from what might be “Satan specific.” How could it be otherwise? Is Perriman suggesting that the curse in the garden was limited to the instrument of the Devil, but not the Devil himself? Such a view is nothing short of preposterous. Calvin holds that for the benefit of man, God speaks to the serpent. This makes sense because the serpent is not a rational creature and is unable to communicate expect by programmed biochemical activities in the physical brain. God’s language to the serpent was for man’s benefit. However, God also speaks to Satan. He promises Satan that the woman’s seed will crush Satan, even though Satan will bruise the heel of the woman’s seed. I must say that I am not naïve enough to say that the animal could not have understood God’s language by way of the miraculous. That is a possibility that I shall not entertain here.

Andrew requires a very specific understanding of the Hebrew verb שׁף, which means to crush or bruise. In order for Perriman’s interpretation to hold, the imperfect must be interpreted as iterative. However, anyone familiar with biblical languages and the imperfect in BH knows that to place such tight restraints on their usage is artificial exegesis. Professor Choi lists several uses of the Hebrew imperfect; future, customary, contingent, and preterite. [Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax] The imperfect aspect generally, but not always, denotes an incomplete action. According to Steinmann, “A common use of the imperfect aspect is to denote a future event.” [Steinmann, Intermediate Biblical Hebrew] Hence, future and incomplete seem to be congruent with one another. An act that is future is indeed incomplete even if it has not begun.

I suspect one can make an argument against an iterative interpretation in this case because the action describes an act that has yet to begin. However, I must confess that I need to give the data a much fuller examination before drawing any conclusions. It would seem to me that this would be the place to begin. We simply ask the following question of the text: are there examples of future tense imperfects with iterative aspect, and under what circumstances do they appear? Such a study is beyond the scope and purpose of blog articles.

The idea of seed in Biblical Hebrew is interesting. Of the over 230 occurrences of this word in BHS, it is in the plural only twice. In 1 Sam. 8:15 it refers to non-personal seed and in Dan. 1:12 it refers to vegetables that will be eaten. We simply cannot make anything out of the number of this word in BH. For Andrew to point out the singularity of זֶ֫רַע is more than a little interesting.

I did notice that Andrew failed to acknowledge that Paul in fact did see the promise to Abraham as a promise not to his seeds, plural, but to his seed, that is Christ. Now this interpretation most certainly requires additional revelation because Paul could not have arrived at this understanding any other way. The promise to Abraham was a promise to one, to Christ. If Andrew is going to chide us for reading our theology back into Gen. 3:15, then it seems to me that he should also extend the same courtesy to Paul.




[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).
[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

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