What does Gen 3:15 mean when God says that he will place “enmity” between the serpent and the woman?


In order to answer this question, we need to know what “enmity” is, as well as the identities of the “serpent” and the “woman.” First, some background information.

So, Eve has been persuaded by the serpent to disobey God and eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; Adam has done likewise. This is the “original sin” that we all inherit and that brought sin and suffering into the world. God responds by declaring certain punishments. Here are God’s words to the serpent, once Eve tells Him that she was tricked by the serpent:

Gen 3:14-15 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Let’s dissect what is going on here. First, the word “enmity”: it refers to deep-seated, mutual hatred or animosity, as might be felt for an enemy. The serpent, of course, is the devil. He is “a murderer from the beginning . . . a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). He is “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9).

The identity of the woman is a little trickier. Since Scripture can have several layers of meaning, the woman can take on different identities. Some say the woman is Eve. Others say she is the nation of Israel, or more generally, the people of God. Catholic scholars often say that the woman is Mary. Each interpretation is correct in its own way. I would like to address the Marian interpretation.

Scholars say that this woman is Mary for many reasons. Jesus referred to His mother as “woman” at the wedding at Cana (cf. Jn 2:4) and as He hung on the Cross (cf. Jn 19:26). Also, it is her seed, Jesus, who ultimately defeats the devil. He bruised the devil’s head (which, to a serpent, is a lethal blow) when He conquered sin and death with His own death and resurrection.

If the woman is indeed Mary, then the enmity between her and the devil is seen in her own protection from original sin. It is in that way that Mary and the devil are utterly opposed. The devil breeds nothing but sin and destruction. But, since God protected Mary from inheriting original sin and thus committing any sin in her life, the devil was not able to wound her with his poison, as he does the rest of mankind. We see in Rev. 12 that, no matter how hard he tries, the devil cannot overtake the woman. This is a frustration that he will take to his grave.

Peace of Christ to you,

Nicholas Hardesty,
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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