An earlier version of this article first appeared here in January 2011.
Then God said to the serpent, "Because you were used as a tool of Satan, I cannot continue to let you be the most beautiful creature in the garden. You will now be lower than any of the animals and will crawl on the ground eating its dust. Also, I will place a hatred of sin in the heart of the woman and her descendants. This hatred of sin will find its ultimate expression in One of her offspring. Satan, like a striking serpent, will try to kill Him, but as a man crushes the head of a poisonous snake with his bare heel to save his children - knowing he will die - so the Savior will sacrifice His own life to save those who love Him, and He will utterly crush the serpent's head.
Blanco is hardly the first Christian writer to find in these verses a prophecy of Christ. I first came across this bit of exegesis as a kid, when I should have been doing something really useful like reading Superman comics. Being just a kid I was puzzled. Exactly how does this verse refer to Christ? I guess it would have been clearer to me if The Clear Word had been around back then, but it wasn't, and I decided that this whole interpretation trip was obviously far too deep for someone like myself.
Here are those same two verses in the JPS:
Then the LORD God said to the serpent,
"Because you did this,
More cursed shall you be
Than all cattle
And all the wild beasts:
On your belly shall you crawl
And dirt shall you eat
All the days of your life.
I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your offspring and hers;
They shall strike at your head,
And you shall strike at their heel."
So where's Satan? Where's the One? Where's the prophecy? Not there. They're not in the text. It's an aetiological account of why snakes get around without legs and cause most humans to react with fear and revulsion. Is there more significance to it than that? Maybe, but if so it's certainly not evident in the text itself. Anything more is pure speculation. The Oxford Bible Commentary states it succinctly:
The various punishments imposed by God on the guilty (3:14-19) all have aetiological bases: serpents have no legs and are thought to 'eat dust', and bite human beings but are killed by them...So why does the New Berkeley Version - a Reformed translation popular when I was growing up - provide this interesting footnote to those verses: "First promise of the Redeemer, Victor over sin and Satan." A more recent and egregious example comes from the footnotes of the God's Word translation.
The snake was Satan, the devil... Satan bruised Jesus' heel in the crucifixion, but Jesus crushed Satan's head by defeating the power of sin in the world through that very same crucifixion.Yeah? Says who? To find that in these verses you have to read it back into the text. It's not even an intertextual reference. How could you make an intertextual reference to something that hadn't been written about yet?
It's not fashionable in certain circles to use the term eisegesis any longer, but if you wanted a clear example of the phenomenon, this would surely be it. To read these verses as prophecy, first you need to put on your metanarrative blinkers.
Metanarrative: big word but simple concept. The idea is that there is a grand narrative, a saga, a big story that gives sense to the world, "an overarching story that defines your reality and who you are within it." There are, according to the theorists, competing metanarratives, but the one we're talking about is the story about sin, death, saviour and salvation (Eden, Satan, the Fall... all leading to Christ - birth, death, resurrection - and ultimately salvation from the sin that began back in the Garden.) Metanarrative is especially significant as a concept, according to Don Cupitt, in Reformed theology.
John Calvin in particular stuck so close to Augustine and was so Grand-Narrative-minded that preachers in his tradition (variously called Reformed, Calvinist, Presbyterian or puritan) long tended to maintain that the entire story, the Plan of Salvation, was implicit in every verse of Scripture...And so it's deemed okay, even necessary, to go on a treasure hunt through Genesis, trying to find ways to tie it in to a theology that only emerged long after. The problem is not only that the Old Testament is pillaged for dubious proof texts, but that the standard metanarrative has gaping holes in it anyway. Is it worth rescuing? Death and suffering long predate the rise of human beings on this planet. Nature has always been red in tooth and claw. We didn't do it!
Apart from that obvious objection, there is no undisputed metanarrative in the Bible, only in the minds of certain of its interpreters. The popular version owes as much to Milton's puritan classic Paradise Lost as to the Bible. You have to mutilate the scriptures to make them "fit" into a metanarrative.
Which is, in my opinion, what Jack Blanco has done. The pack of cards doesn't stack up, so you flick the Jokers off to the side and replace them with some more convenient cards from an entirely different deck. Creative writing for Blanco, creative exegesis for conservative scholars.
This prophecy exists only in the eye of the beholder.