The Church’s Desire toward Christ Her Sin Offering in Genesis 3:16

Aaron P. Mize

Geerhardus Vos, speaking of biblical theology and the organic-progressive nature of special revelation, said:

From the beginning all redeeming acts of God aim at the creation and introduction of this new organic principle, which is none other than Christ. All Old Testament redemption is but the saving activity of God working toward the realization of this goal, the great supernatural prelude to the Incarnation and the Atonement.[1]

The purpose of this article is to follow the biblical, theological thread of Scripture, conveying its progressive and unfolding nature on Christ as its substance and goal, seen primarily in Revelation 12 and its connection to Genesis 3. Put succinctly, Genesis 3:16, in the immediate context of 3:15 with its focus on the promised Messiah, and in the broader context of its interpretation in Revelation 12:2, presents the relation between the promised Last Adam and his church. This reading of the text challenges many traditional readings that reduce the focus of the verse to the marital relation between Adam and Eve.

Revelation 12:2, reflecting on Genesis 3:16 and related texts, describes a woman laboring in the anguish of childbirth as a great red dragon stands before her ready to devour the child when he is born. The woman does not represent any single individual; she represents the faithful covenant community of the church. Such a conclusion arises initially from the description and allusions in the Old Testament that conceive of Israel as pregnant.[2]

Revelation 12:1–2 is really the redemptive historical narrative of the people of God awaiting the birth of the promised Messiah. In the trial of waiting for their deliverer, who was promised in Genesis 3:15, they are persecuted by the serpent and his offspring who stand ready to devour the child. Revelation 12:5 then speaks of the male child being born and taken up into heaven to God and his throne, and the dragon who consequently pursues the woman to make war on her and her offspring. Revelation 12:5 then is the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ in one verse. So the woman can be said to represent the one persecuted covenant community of faith from the Old and New Testaments.

Of the many Old Testament allusions present in this section of Revelation, one stands out as the primary focus: Genesis 3:15–16. Here we see that the entire canon of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is framed as a woman, her offspring, and a serpent. Just as we can read of pre-fall Adam as a type of the person and work of Jesus Christ the second Adam, so, too, we can understand more about Eve and how she also represents the covenant community of faith.[3] So while holding to the view of the historical Eve who was created supernaturally by the Lord from the side of Adam, and in light of the organic character of progressive revelation, the woman of Revelation 12 can and does help us better understand the narrative regarding the first woman Eve, mother of the living.

In Revelation 12:2 the woman who is symbolically representing the one covenant community from the old and new covenants is described as being “pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.” The Greek word translated here as “agony” is the verb βασανίζω (basanizō). It can mean, “to subject to punitive judicial procedure, torture, to subject to severe distress, torment, harass.”[4] The verb is used in several places of the New Testament to describe persecution or trial. For example, consider the italics in the following passages:

And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29)

And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them . . . (Mark 6:48)

(For as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard) . . . (2 Pet. 2:8)

They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. (Rev. 9:5)

And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. (Rev. 11:10)

These birth-pangs are then the persecution caused by the great red dragon, identified in Revelation 12:9 as, “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” Satan stands before the woman ready to devour the Christ-child who is born and “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:5). The serpent hates this Son of Man because he knows that the person and work of the Son born to the woman guarantees his doom. The dragon knows that this is the one spoken of in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 who will bruise (crush or strike) his head. The dragon knows that this is the one spoken of in Isaiah 27:1, “In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” And so he rages against God and the divine Son of God. He sweeps a third of the stars from heaven in his malice. Stars here refer to the offspring of Abraham who was promised that his offspring would be multiplied “as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17).[5]

After the Christ-child is born and is taken up to the throne of God, the woman flees into the desert wilderness which is the redemptive historical place of testing and trial.[6] She is pursued by the dragon, who in his fury, knowing that his time is short and doom is sure, goes to “make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). The woman then is clearly the persecuted church, representing the prophetic (Old Testament) and apostolic (New Testament) witness to the person and work of Christ and the deeper conflict between the Serpent and his offspring and the righteous offspring of the covenant community.

Understanding the broader meaning of the woman in Revelation 12 helps us to understand the broader symbolism of Eve in Genesis 3. That is not to say that Eve was not a historical person and the first woman of creation. She was supernaturally created out of Adam’s side as the first woman. One cannot stress the historicity of both Adam and Eve enough. Without them there cannot be a gospel. However, there is also a deeper structure that needs to be exegeted to shed light on some of the mystery surrounding Eve. This article is seeking to pull out the biblical theological significance on a broader scale. If the woman of Revelation 12 is symbolic of the covenant community, awaiting the promised offspring (also having other offspring), while being tormented by the serpent and his offspring, then the same can be said about Eve in Genesis 3.

Before focusing again on Genesis 3:15–16 in light of what we have seen in Revelation 12, let us consider the overall context. The serpent has entered the temple sanctuary of Eden. His malicious and blasphemous strategy is to undermine God’s Word to Adam and Eve, who bear God’s image,[7]and to call into question the glory of God’s righteous character. The serpent goes to the woman and deceives her while the man stands silently by until he also joins the woman in eating the fruit that the Lord had commanded him not to eat. God then comes to them in judgment. Judgment against the serpent. Judgment against Adam and Eve. He summons them before him as they hide from his face. They hide from the judgment of the Lord like the unbelieving earth dwellers are said to hide in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains in Revelation 6:16–17, pleading in their distress to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

The Great Day of the Lord has come in the garden temple, and God summons all to stand before him and to give an account. God addresses the serpent first:

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:14–15)

It is within this judgment against the serpent that we get the first light of gospel hope. God promises that the enmity that now corrupts his image bearers, which is directed toward him, will be redirected toward the serpent. There will be hostility, or hatred, between the woman and the serpent, and between the woman’s offspring and the serpent’s offspring. This sounds strikingly similar to Revelation 12.

God then turns to the woman after pronouncing judgment on the serpent and says something that is widely misunderstood:

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

We can understand the words of the Lord toward the woman by remembering how the woman of Revelation 12 also brought forth children in the pain of persecution. This is the enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman played out.  Eve truly experiences the most painful aspect of child bearing when Cain her oldest son, murders Abel, her youngest son. This is the serpent seed persecuting the seed of the woman as foretold in Genesis 3:15. This enmity is recapitulated over and over throughout redemptive history. Think of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Shem and Ham, Isaac and Ishmael, David and Saul. Mary, the mother of Jesus, experiences the same pain at the cross. It recalls the words spoken to her by Simeon in Luke 2:35, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” This is the persecution of the serpent and his seed against the seed of the woman. This is the agony of childbearing that is being described in Genesis 3:16 and Revelation 12:2 as she awaits the coming of a suffering Messiah who will redeem the woman and her offspring by crushing the serpent’s head through the bruising of his own heel.

When we come to Genesis 3:16 everything said so far must be kept in mind; we must read it in light of the history of special revelation which focuses on Christ and his church. The last part of the verse in particular has been interpreted in various ways, many of them problematic and unhelpful because they assume there is conflict between Adam and Eve and miss the redemptive focus between Eve and Christ. The text says, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” The word translated here as “husband” (ish, אִישׁ) is translated as “man” the majority of the time. In light of the context, it would be better translated as “man,” not referring to Adam her husband, but to the Messianic Champion who was just promised in Genesis 3:15.              

Moreover, the next time this noun is used is when Eve exclaims in gospel filled hope that she has, “gotten a man (ish, אִישׁ) with the help of the LORD” (Gen. 4:1). Eve is expecting the male offspring who will come from her body and crush the head of the serpent. In her heart and mind she presumes that Cain is the one promised. The reality turns out to be more sinister. Cain becomes the first of the serpent’s seed, the first antichrist figure who manifests enmity and malice toward righteous Abel “at the altar of worship.”[8] Climactically, Cain eventually murders his brother in the field, “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).

Before Cain murders his brother Abel, and after the brothers present their offerings to the Lord, God speaks to Cain in Genesis 4:7. Understanding this verse correctly sheds light on how to interpret Genesis 3:16, because it is in Genesis 4:7 that we find the parallel verse to 3:16: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” This verse, like its counterpart in Genesis 3:16 has been often misunderstood. If you cannot make sense of one, you will not make sense of the other.

In Hebrew, the word for sin and sin offering חַטָּאת (chattā’t) are identical. The meaning is determined once again by context, which is the offering of sacrifice at the door of Eden. Moreover the Hebrew word translated as crouching (rābatz, רֹבֵץ) is used of animals lying down in green pastures. Michael Morales writes,

Conceivably, then, it was to the original sanctuary door, the gate of Eden guarded by cherubim, that Cain and Abel would have brought their offerings. Indeed, an alternative translation of Genesis 4:7, once common, makes this door the probable referent in YHWH’s address to Cain, reading ‘a sin offering lies at the door/entrance [petaḥ]’ (rather than ‘sin crouches at the door’, as in the door of Cain’s heart or tent). In Hebrew both ‘sin’ and ‘sin offering’ are rendered by the same word (ḥaṭṭāʾṭ), the meaning of which must be determined by context, and the participle rendered ‘crouching’ or ‘lurking’ (rōbēṣ) by some translations is, in fact, more commonly used in the Hebrew Bible with reference to an animal lying down tranquilly. Psalm 23, for example, expresses the psalmist’s reflection upon YHWH as shepherd with this same word: ‘he makes me lie down [rbṣ] in green pastures’. It could be, then, that YHWH had revealed to Cain the means by which he might be restored to divine fellowship, precisely the same means he would later reveal to Israel through Moses in the book of Leviticus: a sin offering at the sanctuary doorway.[9]

So if one reads “sin offering” in place of sin, which is a viable translation, what we have before us is God graciously revealing to Cain the means by which he himself might be restored. What is offered to Cain is the righteous, sacrificial offering of another at the door of Eden before the flaming sword of judgment. In other words, Genesis 4:7 is the second instance (following Genesis 3:21 and the garments of animal skins made for Adam and Eve) of substitutionary atonement. It is the sin offering of righteous Abel that lies at the door. Its desire is toward Cain, or for Cain, and Cain must rule “with” or “in” it[10] in the way that the saints reign with the Lamb that was slain for their sins (Rev. 5:9–10). The righteous offering of another could restore Cain to divine fellowship and lift his gaze from the cursed earth to the heaven of heavens. Abel and his sacrifice typifies Christ and his high priestly office, Christ the unblemished Lamb of God whose blood “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24) because it says, “it is finished.” (John 19:30)

Seeing how the same language is used in Genesis 4:7 and applying what we have discovered to Genesis 3:16, what we have is this, “Your desire will be toward your man (the Messianic-Redeemer-Offspring who will deliver her from her sins as a sin offering and by the bruising of his heel in crushing the serpents head), and he shall rule with you.”

In summary, Genesis 3:16, immediately following Genesis 3:15, is not speaking about an issue between Adam and Eve in their marriage relationship. It is concerned with the church and the Last Adam. It is speaking of the hope of the gospel for the covenant community typified in Eve, a community in a wilderness world persecuted by the dragon and the curse. Living on this side of the cross, we do not have to wonder when our hope will manifest and accomplish our redemption. It has already been accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection has secured the church’s salvation and seated us in the heavenly places to reign with the Living One who died, and is “alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:18).


[1] Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline,” in Redemptive History and Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980), 12.

[2] Several biblical texts make clear this leitmotif that sheds light on our understanding of Revelation 12:1–2 along these very lines: Isa. 26:17–18; 66:7–9; Mic. 4:9–10; 5:3.

[3] Augustine writes of the symbolic meaning of Genesis 3:16: “There is no question about the punishment of the woman. For she clearly has her pains and sighs multiplied in the woes of this life. Although her bearing her children in pain is fulfilled in this visible woman, our consideration should nevertheless be recalled to that more hidden woman. For even in animals the females bear offspring with pain, and this is in their case the condition of mortality rather than the punishment of sin. Hence, it is possible that this be the condition of mortal bodies even in the female of humans. But this is the great punishment: they have come to the present bodily mortality from their former immortality.” Augustine, Two Books on Genesis Against the Manichaeans. Fathers of the Church: A New Translation 84, trans. Ronald J. Teske (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1947), 123.

[4] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, eds., William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), s.v. “βασανίζω.”

[5] See also Genesis 15:5 and Matthew 13:42. Daniel 8:10 also speaks of stars being cast down by a beast and trampled upon in the last days, while Daniel 12:3 identifies those stars as God’s covenant people.

[6] See Deuteronomy 8:3, Exodus 16:2–3.

[7] “It is self-evident that by ‘image of God’ is expressed what is characteristic of man and his relation to God. That he is God’s image distinguishes him from animals and all other creatures. In the idea that one forms of the image is reflected one’s idea of the religious state of man and of the essence of religion itself.” Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. and ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012-2014), 2:12.

[8] Meredith Kline writes, “ Cain’s murder of Abel was not the upshot of a merely social or civil disagreement. It was in the cult, at the altar of worship, that enmity had broken out. Cain’s hatred flared when the Lord exposed the hypocrisy of his act of worship. It was because he was still in league with the deceitful serpent that he could not be accepted at the sacred place. Cain’s quarrel was with the Lord God, and with Abel as the one accepted by the Lord. This violence was an erupting of the predicted conflict between the serpent’s seed and the seed of the woman. Ominous indeed that the spiritual source at the origin of the city of man was the spirit of Cain, devilish and antichrist.” Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 182.

[9] L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. New Studies in Biblical Theology 37. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015), 57.

[10] The Hebrew particle בּֽ can be translated as “in” or “with.”

Aaron P. Mize is an Orthodox Presbyterian minister serving as the pastor of Providence Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Kingwood, Texas. Ordained Servant Online, April, 2024.

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Ordained Servant: April 2024

Irresistible Grace

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