This post is an excerpt from the thesis upon which I am currently working. Even this section is a work in progress, so your feedback is welcome.

All Paul says in Rom. 16.20 is “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” At first glance this (1) causes the biblically literate to hear an echo of Gen. 3.15[1] and (2) many to pause before committing to this interpretation since Paul elsewhere has said that the “seed” is none other than Christ himself (Gal. 3.16). Yet the rhetorical move made in his letter to Galatia should not distract the reader from what he has already said in this very epistle.

In 4.13 Paul has already included Abraham’s descendants in Abraham’s promise. In the context of that part of the epistle he shows that Abraham’s true children are those who approach God in faith like he did, especially faith in God’s ability to bring life from death. These people are defined by their relationship to Christ, so it is no leap in logic for Paul to say in one place that Christ is “the seed” singular only to include all of those “in Christ” since Christians are included in Christ’s inheritance (cf. 8.1-25; 1.1-7).

Even if Paul said two seemingly contradictory things (which he does not) this should not prevent us from seeing the Gen. 3.15 reference in 16.20, especially considering the context. Throughout this epistle Paul has addressed the disunity between Jews and Gentiles in the church in Rome. This is most evident in 14.1-15.13 where he must address specific issues related to things like eating certain foods, which could have split Jewish and Gentile Christians very easily. Instead, Paul admonishes them to “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (15.7)

Prior to his statement in 16.20 he writes the following:

“Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Jesus Christ, but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore, I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” (vv. 17-19)

Several observations:

(1)                    There are some who seek to disrupt the unity of the church. Paul says they must be avoided. Since this whole epistle has fought for unity it is not surprising that he would add one last warning.

(2)                    These irritants seek to cause the church to turn away from what it has learned. It could be argued here that we should begin hearing the serpent’s tempting words being echoed. The serpent sought to turn Eve from what she had been taught. (Gen. 3.1-5)

(3)                    Whether or not the statement about “appetites” has root in Gen. 3.6 where Eve “saw that the tree was good for food” is difficult to establish, but that these irritants use “smooth and flattering speech” is very much like the serpent. Likewise, that these teachers would “deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” seems to depict Eve.[2]

(4)                    Finally, Paul’s words of encouragement are strange though explainable if grounded in the Genesis-narrative. He wants the Roman Christians to be  “wise in what is good” but “innocent in what is evil”. Again, if we listen closely this seems to carry echoes of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Paul’s reading Christians can “know the good” while being blissfully ignorant of “knowing” evil in an experiential sense. In this passage the evil that they would know would be disunity, which is something we find in Gen 3.12.

In this context it seems evident that the crushing of Satan has to do with the church overcoming the satanic influence on those who seek to divide the church in Rome into a Jewish camp and a Gentile one. Paul is calling this divisiveness the work of Satan and he sees maintained unity as the grace of Christ working through the church to enact the Gen. 3.15 promise of victory, at least in this particular replaying of the scenario.[3]

[1] The serpent as Satan tradition of early Christianity is also found in Rev. 12.1-13.10. In this passage a great cosmic battle takes place between a woman (often interpreted as Israel, Eve, and/or the church) who gives birth to a child who will rule the nations (Christ and/or the church) yet who is as risk of being destroyed by a dragon. The author provides the identity of the Dragon as “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (12.9)

This concept is taken from Jewish tradition. Osborne (2004) mentions “Testament of Simeon 6:6; Testament of Levi 18:12; cf. 1 Enoch 54:6; Jubilees 10.8-9”. This is evidence that there is likelihood that Paul interpreted Gen. 3.15 in 16.20 in line with an already established tradition of finding Satan present.

[2] Elsewhere, Paul says that Eve was “deceived” and therefore she “fell into transgression” (ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἐξαπατηθεῖσα ἐν παραβάσει γέγονεν.) What Eve did, a παραβάσει is different from what Paul says Adam did. In Rom. 5.12 he says that through “one man”, Adam, “sin entered the cosmos/world” (ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν). While there is no way to know whether Paul understood this as a categorical difference (or a student of Paul if someone doesn’t accept the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals) or not it is interesting that Eve’s error is a “transgression” while Adam’s was a “sin” and that it was through the “man” that sin entered even though in the Genesis narrative Eve disobeyed first.  When we pair this information with that of n. 29 we see that Paul may have been aware of a tradition in which Eve was not the “disobedient” one since Adam (1) received the command; (2) relayed it incorrectly; and (3) seemingly stood by watching the serpent deceive Eve though he did nothing to stop it.

[3] Many commentators have noticed the connection between Gen. 3.15 and Rom. 16.20. Since Christians have often read Gen. 3.15 through an eschatological lens it is assumed that Paul does so here. Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (trans. William Montgomery, New York, New York: The Seabury Press, 1968), 53, cf. 67, sees this passage as evidence of Paul’s expectation of God’s immanent eschatological victory in Christ over Satan. Likewise, Dunn (1998), p. 308-309, 312, uses this passage as a proof-text for the theory that Paul saw eschatological salvation as being very near. Terrance Paige, “Demons and Exorcism” in Hawthrone, et al. (1993), p. 211, interprets it to mean that “God would make complete victory” over demonic forces. I. J. Kreitzer (Ibid.), 262, says this it refers to “the ultimate judgment and defeat of Satan”. Many more could be cited in favor of some similar interpretation.

Others are more nuanced in their interpretation. John Calvin, Commentary on Romans (trans. John Owen, accessed from on 13 June 2011) notes that Satan “renews the war continuously” and that Paul “does not speak only of the last day” as regards Satan’s defeat, but that there would be a victory soon for the church in Rome. Grant Osborne  (2004), p. 415, recognizes that this is an allusion to the protevangelium. He connects this saying of Paul to the situation in Rome stating, “The false teachers are Satan’s emissaries, but their influence is both temporary and doomed.” Yet he makes sure to emphasize “The crushing of Satan has already begun but will not be consummated and finalized until the eschaton”, which is a theologically relevant point but beyond the scope of 16.20. N.T. Wright (2002) discusses 16.20 under the auspices of spiritual warfare in general, implying a similar application to that of Osbourne.