KJV Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."

The Swedish version(s) do not translate the subject as a masculine singular, but non-gender plural ("they" for "it" and "his"). Why would the two translations be so different?

The reason I'm wondering is because I fell into a quarrel with an english friend who suggested that the verse is a prophecy (of the Messiah) whilst I insisted that it was too unspecific to be seen that way, and that it is phrased more as a judgement upon the snake, than a prophecy. Turns out we were reading it in two very different ways, due to the translations in our swedish vs english bibles.

How does the original Hebrew phrase it? Are we/I missing something?

Edit: the swedish verse reads like "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heels.""

  • So, I'd love to know why the post got downvoted. It sparked lots of debate, and I got my point across to users... But what should one expect from a religious forum lol.
    – Newman
    Mar 7, 2019 at 13:16

7 Answers 7


Let me quote myself instead of retyping everything:

" First, I recommend that you all start using biblegateway.com In there, you can put the passage in question and then you can click (just below the translation) on " Genesis 3.15 in all English translations." It will then list almost, if not all, English translations and revisions in existence. It's astonishing that people heavily continue to use the KJV and its editions and revisions, and barely mention or reference more up-to-date and more reliable translations such as the ESV, ISV, NET and LEB. Second, I recommend that you all start taking advantage of the NET Bible and its translation notes. Yes, the NET Bible is free online and it includes translation notes by the translators. It's not flawless, but it's scholarly and extremely useful. "

In biblegateway.com, the only English translation that translates "heel" in the plural is the CEB (Common English Bible, 2011). None of the translations are wrong. There are a variety of translation methodologies and philosophies. So, some people that have never done biblical translation (a bit different than modern translation work in modern languages) will often erroneously accuse translations of mistranslation where it sometimes does not apply ( Im not denying that this never happens! Of course, it does ). Let's be careful -- Im not accusing Newman of this -- not to jump to conclusions and accuse translators of mistranslating.

In this case, the passage in question refers to the woman's descendants (humanity--and only remotely: Israel, David, Christ) and the serpent's descendants (anyone in line with Satan and the enemies of Israel and God--not a biological genealogy). But, the Hebrew text uses the singular which immediately refers to the woman's offspring (collective singular) and the serpent's offspring (collective singular). Therefore, the Hebrew text's "head" and "heel" are also singular, but evidently referring to many individuals and groups of beings on both sides. Therefore, again, a collective singular.

It's not completely wrong, then, to translate with a plural. But, translating with a plural means translating not only the text, but the meaning of the text.

Here are the NET Bible translator notes, which align somewhat with what critical commentaries and Hebrew scholars have said in the past:

On "hostility" in Gen 3.15

tn The Hebrew word translated “hostility” is derived from the root אֵיב (’ev, “to be hostile, to be an adversary [or enemy]”). The curse announces that there will be continuing hostility between the serpent and the woman. The serpent will now live in a “battle zone,” as it were.

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

On "offspring" in Gen 3.15

sn The Hebrew word translated “offspring” is a collective singular. The text anticipates the ongoing struggle between human beings (the woman’s offspring) and deadly poisonous snakes (the serpent’s offspring). An ancient Jewish interpretation of the passage states: “He made the serpent, cause of the deceit, press the earth with belly and flank, having bitterly driven him out. He aroused a dire enmity between them. The one guards his head to save it, the other his heel, for death is at hand in the proximity of men and malignant poisonous snakes.” See Sib. Or. 1:59–64. For a similar interpretation see Josephus, Ant. 1.1.4 (1.50–51).

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

On "attack" in Gen 3.15

tn Heb “he will attack [or “bruise”] you [on] the head.” The singular pronoun and verb agree grammatically with the collective singular noun “offspring.” For other examples of singular verb and pronominal forms being used with the collective singular “offspring,” see Gen 16:10; 22:17; 24:60. The word “head” is an adverbial accusative, locating the blow. A crushing blow to the head would be potentially fatal.

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

On "you" in Gen 3.15

sn You will attack her offspring’s heel. Though the conflict will actually involve the serpent’s offspring (snakes) and the woman’s offspring (human beings), v. 15b for rhetorical effect depicts the conflict as being between the serpent and the woman’s offspring, as if the serpent will outlive the woman. The statement is personalized for the sake of the addressee (the serpent) and reflects the ancient Semitic concept of corporate solidarity, which emphasizes the close relationship between a progenitor and his offspring. Note Gen 28:14, where the LORD says to Jacob, “Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you [second masculine singular] will spread out in all directions.” Jacob will “spread out” in all directions through his offspring, but the text states the matter as if this will happen to him personally.

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

On "heel" in Gen 3.15

as an explanation for the hostility between snakes and humans. (In the broader ancient Near Eastern context, compare the Mesopotamian serpent omens. See H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon, 309.) This ongoing struggle, when interpreted in light of v. 15, is a tangible reminder of the conflict introduced into the world by the first humans’ rebellion against God. Many Christian theologians (going back to Irenaeus) understand v. 15 as the so-called protevangelium, supposedly prophesying Christ’s victory over Satan (see W. Witfall, “Genesis 3:15—a Protevangelium?” CBQ 36 [1974]: 361–65; and R. A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” JBL 84 [1965]: 425–27). In this allegorical approach, the woman’s offspring is initially Cain, then the whole human race, and ultimately Jesus Christ, the offspring (Heb “seed”) of the woman (see Gal 4:4). The offspring of the serpent includes the evil powers and demons of the spirit world, as well as those humans who are in the kingdom of darkness (see John 8:44). According to this view, the passage gives the first hint of the gospel. Satan delivers a crippling blow to the Seed of the woman (Jesus), who in turn delivers a fatal blow to the Serpent (first defeating him through the death and resurrection [1 Cor 15:55–57] and then destroying him in the judgment [Rev 12:7–9; 20:7–10]). However, the grammatical structure of Gen 3:15b does not suggest this view. The repetition of the verb “attack,” as well as the word order, suggests mutual hostility is being depicted, not the defeat of the serpent. If the serpent’s defeat were being portrayed, it is odd that the alleged description of his death comes first in the sentence. If he has already been crushed by the woman’s “Seed,” how can he bruise his heel? To sustain the allegorical view, v. 15b must be translated in one of the following ways: “he will crush your head, even though you attack his heel” (in which case the second clause is concessive) or “he will crush your head as you attack his heel” (the clauses, both of which place the subject before the verb, may indicate synchronic action).

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).


Some have doubted the "collective singular". It's in three specialized resources I have:

Christo Van der Merwe et al., A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (electronic ed.; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999)

Frederic Clarke Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert: A Student’s Guide to the Syntax of Biblical Hebrew (Quakertown, PA: Stylus Publishing, 2002)

James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997)

It's also in the Lexham Interlinear produced by the same grammarian who produced BHRG (1999).

Christo van der Merwe, The Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2004

For examples other than Gen 3.15, look at the comments below.

Now, Im not saying I prefer the Swedish translation nor am I saying that they respect some sort of grammar rule--they did not. In other words, the Swedish translators seem to have translated the meaning of the literal Hebrew text. That is, their translation reflects an interpretation of the collective singular nouns. So, it's not completely wrong, but I do not prefer it. It's preferable to translate what it is and have Bible footnotes to explain what it might actually mean. This is why I like the NET Bible translator notes. It's not flawless, but it's excellent.

In Gen 3.15, the Hebrew text reads "... her offspring " and then becomes "he". In other words, what is the antecedent of "He will bruise your head"? The antecedent of "He" is not the woman, but her offspring. Therefore, the woman's offspring = He, and He will bruise the serpent's head and the serpent will bruise his heel. So, again : Woman's OFFSPRING = HE = HEEL.

It works in Hebrew and English because the woman represents the mother of humanity. Her offspring might represent (must be interpreted) the chosen/good generation that will come out of her = Israel + kings + Messiah--however we interpret it. Also, note that the seed of the serpent is not necessarily biological descent. Therefore, there isn't necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between the woman's seed and the serpent's seed. So, it doesn't matter what happens to the feminine. The woman's offspring or seed represents other people other than her own self, and so can be represented as a "he". As I said in my initial answer above, the Swedish translation translated the text by interpreting the literal text "he" --> "they" | "heel" --> "heels".

  • Thanks for the detailed answer. Should I conclude then that it does in fact not specify one singular male, but a collective of the woman's offspring (masculine term)?
    – Newman
    Mar 2, 2019 at 17:50
  • 1
    @Newman Yes, that is exactly what "collective singular" means in the above comment on "offspring". It is a singular form but the intent is collective future offspring, literally "seed". The collective singular usage is common in all historical layers of the Hebrew language.
    – user17080
    Mar 2, 2019 at 18:04
  • Newman...yes...Abu...yes.
    – XegesIs
    Mar 3, 2019 at 12:05
  • It seems to me from your comments here and elsewhere that you have not understood the reasons for rejecting the W&H/NA Greek texts and retaining the TR text (and retaining the KJV). I recommend Dean Burgon's 'Revision Revised' which - intelligently and academically - states those reasons.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 4, 2019 at 5:50
  • I have heard of a 'collective noun' but I have never heard of the 'collective singular'. Could you please supply a reference to this.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 4, 2019 at 5:56

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, correctly interprets the seed of Genesis.

Galatians 3:16

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.

This is the same as unto Adam and Eve. The promise was made the the heel of the Seed should be bruised, and that Seed was Christ.

Unfortunately, modern Bible translations use critical texts have taken corrupt manuscripts from ancient history and asserted them as accurate above the majority text. These manuscripts are distorted by the hands of heathen philosophers and occultists; and naturally so they have sought by their unbelief to blot out references to Christ from the Old Testament. For more on this, I recommend the following works:

The Faithful Witness

Our Authorized Bible Vindicated

  • I'm a bit sceptical to your response. Firstly, I was specifically referring to the scene with Adam, Eve and the Serpent - whatever may have been said to Abraham is irrelevant in this particular paragraph. Secondly, I was interested in the original Hebrew grammar of the dialogue, which the answers above conclude meant seed in plural. Thirdly, Abraham was very specifically instructed about his seed in plural, thus the imagery with the sand and the stars. Finally, ancient texts are closer to source material, and fortunately untouched by later 'biased' authors. OT was not written with NT in mind.
    – Newman
    Mar 3, 2019 at 19:53
  • Jacob M....Unfortunately, your sources about the "Authorized Bible," are completely unreliable and are only pet theories. They have been refuted in EVANGELICAL scholarship for decades now. This is another reason why relying on articles we find online at times can become devastating if we're not familiar with the literature. You are correct, though, that the seed is Christ, as Paul viewed it--and I did mention this myself. But, it stands to reason that before Christ came Israel and proselytes--therefore plural. Paul was interpreting in light of Christ, not in light of our own concerns today
    – XegesIs
    Mar 3, 2019 at 23:41
  • Very astute point - that we have Paul the Apostle's interpretation of the Hebrew, recorded in Greek. +1.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 4, 2019 at 5:53
  • Paul didn't limit it to Christ, just as John didn't in Revelation 12: "and the rest of her seed who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." I.e. "may the God of peace crush Satan under your feet swiftly." The argument of Paul is not about the literal word seeds being plural or not, but is a rhetorical argument. Dec 14, 2020 at 13:06

"וְאֵיבָ֣ה ׀ אָשִׁ֗ית בֵּֽינְךָ֙ וּבֵ֣ין הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וּבֵ֥ין זַרְעֲךָ֖ וּבֵ֣ין זַרְעָ֑הּ ה֚וּא יְשׁוּפְךָ֣ רֹ֔אשׁ וְאַתָּ֖ה תְּשׁוּפֶ֥נּוּ עָקֵֽב׃ ס"

Wooden translation of last part of the verse: "He will bruise head you you will bruise heel"

Having looked at the original Hebrew, I can tell you that I found no reason for a plural translation. It is singular and masculine.

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your answer. Do not forget to take the tour below.
    – user25930
    Mar 5, 2019 at 10:58

A collective (but grammatically singular) noun is single in form but not in function. When we speak of "the poor" it is singular formally but plural functionally ("the poor ones" or "the poor people"). So we can translated such expressions with a plural because that is the meaning although not the morphology. To always make it singular would be a wooden or rigid literalism. See Isaiah 53:9, where it is critical exegetically to recognise that "wicked ones" (or "the wicked") in the first line is restated as the "rich" in the second and parallel line of the poetic stanza. "Rich" (morphologically singular) there is not "a specific rich man" but the collective singular. In biblical thought rich people often got rich through wicked schemes.

  • Structure impacts function. Genesis 3:15 is structurally singular in every aspect. The claim of a plural rendering of a singular pronoun in an exclusively singular verse is invalid on its face. One of the first rules of semantic analysis is to address the interrelationships between and among the words in the verse and then analyze the verse in the context of the adjoin verses. Once that it done it becomes obvious that there is no structural, grammatical or syntactical support let alone semantic “level” support for a plural rendering of any of the nouns or pronouns in Genesis 3:15.
    – Howard
    Mar 6, 2019 at 19:21
  • Howard...You said in your initial answer that " We all know how it translated generally, the thing is that the translation twist the genders ". But, this is not quite right. It's the Hebrew that does that. The Hebrew "her seed" becomes "He" in the very next clause because "her seed = he = heel" was understood to be Messianic. Genesis, especially chapters 1-11, is known to have been composed most likely around the Babylonian Exile. It is Exilic. Gen 1-11 contains a lot of elements that match Egyptian and Babylonian elements from the Exile. This is a standard view among Hebrew OT scholars today.
    – XegesIs
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:06
  • Howard...[ Im not upset by the way although it may feel that way ], you say " The claim of a plural rendering of a singular pronoun in an exclusively singular verse is invalid on its face " Well, I think you are temporarily forgetting or mixing up what the text says in Heb. and its translations. Read it again. It's not the pronoun that is a collective singular, it's " seed / offspring " that is a collective singular. The problem you refer to does not exist. The NET Bible translator notes correctly says that " offspring " is a collective singular. Therefore, nothing wrong as you perceive.
    – XegesIs
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:11
  • Also, the NET Bible notes say : " For other examples of singular verb and pronominal forms being used with the collective singular “offspring,” see Gen 16:10; 22:17; 24:60. "
    – XegesIs
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:13
  • Howard...I should not have typed "her seed = he = heel" , instead I should have typed " seed = he = heel ".
    – XegesIs
    Mar 7, 2019 at 1:55

I am writing this as a separate post for reasons: First and foremost I would like to thank Xegesis for his very accurate criticisms of my posts on this thread. He made me realize that I had completely misunderstood this thread and his positions on it.

What was (and is) most important for me is the loving way in which he wrote those criticisms. Yes, I found it humbling but I also found it exemplary of the spirit of Christianity, the agape Jesus speaks of.

With that said and since I am not a fan of self-flagellation I will spare myself the chore of reviewing my errors. I will however parse my understanding of the Hebrew of Gen 3:15 as I promised Xegesis I would.

וְאֵיבָה – and EMNITY (noun feminine + coordinating conjunction)
אָשִׁית – I am SETTING (v – Qal Imperfect)
בֵּינְךָ - BETWEEN you (preposition + masculine singular)
וּבֵין - and BETWEEN (preposition + coordinating conjunction)
הָאִשָּׁה - the WOMAN (noun feminine + definitive article)
וּבֵין - and BETWEEN (preposition + coordinating conjunction)
זַרְעֲךָ - SEED of you (noun masculine zero plural + masculine possessive)
וּבֵין - and BETWEEN (preposition + coordinating conjunction)
זַרְעָהּ - SEED of her (noun masculine zero plural + feminine possessive)
הוּא – HE/IT/THEY (personal pronoun masculine Note: antecedent = zero plural SEED)*
יְשׁוּפְךָ - he will FALL.UPON you (v – Qal Imperfect + masculine singular)
רֹאשׁ - HEAD (noun masculine – also connotes FIRST)**
וְאַתָּה - and YOU (pronoun - masculine singular)
תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ – you (masculine singular) will FALL.UPON (v – Qal Imperfect) him/it/them (masculine singular – antecedent = zero plural SEED)*
עָקֵב - HEEL (noun masculine – also connotes LAST)**

*Jared M. August, The Messianic Hope of Genesis - Themelios (vol. 42, April 2017) 53-58
*R.A. Martin, The earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15 - JBL 84 (1965): 425
** John Parkhurst, M.A., An Hebrew and English Lexicon Without Points (1813) 550 - 551

With love and thanks,

  • Howard...Very good attitude. Amen. I realize that I sometimes may sound upset when typing ( after re-reading what I've typed ), but Im not. These are intellectual exchanges, not personal attacks...Also, check out my brand new blog : mtl-ct.ca
    – XegesIs
    Mar 7, 2019 at 13:57
  • Howard...Your parsing looks on point, except for one detail: the zero plural. I studied both biblical Hebrew as well as modern Hebrew (although only 20 lessons back in 2009-2010) and I dont recall ever seeing zero plural in any grammar ( and I read many in biblical and modern). I looked for zero plural in my Logos Bible Software with all the grammars I have and online. Zero plural is only found in modern Hebrew grammars, not biblical Hebrew grammars. I found zero plural examples in modern Hebrew for Avocado / Avocados and the like. So, if I were you, I would ditch the zero plural argument
    – XegesIs
    Mar 7, 2019 at 14:02
  • Howard...I found The Messianic Hope of Genesis (Jared M. August) online and quickly reading through it, he is on point! He gets it right. This is the kind of scholarly resource that people should be using here on Biblical Hermeneutics, but instead rely on outdated or refuted literature. For other people out there: themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/article/…
    – XegesIs
    Mar 7, 2019 at 14:05
  • A collective noun is a noun that bespeak of a group or collection of things that are related but also have a plural linguistic form produced by combining the single base with various inflectional elements. Words such as herd (herds), flock (flocks), etc. Whereas zero plurals are words which have no other linguistic form words such as deer and offspring in English and words such as (זֶרַע) seed/offspring as well as (מים) water or (שמים) sky/heavens in Hebrew.
    – Howard
    Mar 8, 2019 at 20:20
  • Howard...Ok, alright. Im no expert in grammar so I cannot go any further. But, I would not take terms that are only found in modern Hebrew grammars and inject them into biblical Hebrew grammar discussions. Unless you specifically saw zero plural in a biblical Hebrew grammar? Did you? As I said, I have not seen this term anywhere other than modern Hebrew grammars. Modern Hebrew uses verbal tenses as well (past, present, future); biblical Hebrew does not and so verbal parsing also doesnt work the same. And some of the similar functions in both are termed differently.
    – XegesIs
    Mar 9, 2019 at 12:10

Not really qualified to say much about the grammar, but the context of Gen 3:15 makes the meaning clear. The passage Gen 3:14-17 contains stories that explain how certain aspects of the natural world came to be. Thus, the serpent is made to go on its belly (3:14), just as they do. Enmity is put between humans and snakes: humans will crush their heads, while snakes will strike us on our heels (3:15), just as they do. The pain of women in childbearing will be greatly increased (3:16). Men will have to toil for their food (3:17), just as they do.

These are the equivalent of "just so" stories, as Rudyard Kipling would say. The concept of the serpent as Satan would not come until later. On that understanding, the plural translation in 3:15 would make more sense; singular translations appear to be theological driven.

  • Teamonger...Genesis 1-11 is Exilic. It was most likely composed around the Exile at Babylon. Therefore, the backdrop and background of Genesis 3 is very similar to Isaiah 14.12ff and Ezekiel 28.12ff. In Isaiah and Ezekiel, the heavenly being that is castigated by God on the mountain of God (most likely Eden as the imagery and the wording implies) is said to be, and act like, exactly what we see in Genesis 3. The serpent of Genesis 3 is a DIVINE being. There is a double entendre in Genesis 3.1 when it makes it sound like it's just an animal. It's clearly not in light of the ancient Near East
    – XegesIs
    Mar 8, 2019 at 2:36
  • Teamonger...recall that divine beings were often depicted as animals. This is well known in the ancient Near East which the Hebrew OT stems from. Read the early chapters of Isaiah and Ezekiel. They are throne guardians, yet represented as serpentine or as winged bulls (or the like). Look for Ezekiel Lamassu in the scholarly literature online....Now, the fact that the passage can be read from a purely physical, earthly, literal perspective is only remotely correct in light of the Biblical and ANE worldview.
    – XegesIs
    Mar 8, 2019 at 2:42
  • Also, check out my brand new blog mtl-ct.ca
    – XegesIs
    Mar 8, 2019 at 2:45
  • @Xegesis - I agree the time of final composition was probably Exilic, but the stories behind the early chapters of Genesis may be much older. The surrounding passages are clearly about explaining aspects of the natural order, how certain things got started. This is the function of creation stories, after all. Gen 3:15 fits directly into that context, don't see how that can be ignored.
    – Teamonger
    Mar 8, 2019 at 3:36
  • Teamonger...You are in part correct because Im not denying what you're saying. What Im saying is that you are missing the double entendre. Recall that there are other elements throughout Genesis that clearly presuppose the reader is already familiar with Leviticus. The backdrop of Genesis 3 is the same as Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Thus, the serpent that can talk and deceive is not just a normal reptile of a supposed mountainous garden. Also, note that Genesis 3 ends with Cherubim with spinning swords--natural order you say ? The natural order is there, but it's merged with the supernatural
    – XegesIs
    Mar 8, 2019 at 12:12

The Hebrew is as follows:

Genesis 3:15 (WLC) ואיבה אשית בינך ובין האשה ובין זרעך ובין זרעה הוא ישופך ראש ואתה תשופנו עקב׃

The following is my (defendable) translation:

And I will set enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: the same shall strike your head; and you shall strike the heel thereof.

Couple of things:

  • "Seed" (זרע zar'aa) in Hebrew refers to posterity, neither singular or plural (Paul's particular argument notwithstanding, and not affected by this fact)

  • The pronoun הוא (hu), depending on the vowels attached, can mean in its usage in the Torah, "he" or "she." Since it is marked with the vowels for the masculine pronoun "he" (הוּא), and since the verb is masculine (ישופך—He shall strike you), we know it's all referring to the "seed" (זרע—which is a masculine word) but not whether a singular person is intended or not—or their gender.

Indeed, St. Paul seems to interpret, at least if not exclusively, then as one of the valid uses of the passage, this seed to refer to Christians:

Romans 16:20 (DRB) And the God of peace crush Satan under your feet speedily. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

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