Ineffabilis Deus, the document in which Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary, states:

“All our hope do we repose in the most Blessed Virgin – in the all fair and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world.”

If you are a Roman Catholic, you must believe that Mary has crushed Satan’s head and brought salvation to the world. Because this is an infallible document, its interpretation of Genesis 3:15 is likewise infallible. This interpretation is confirmed by Pope Pius X in Ad Diem illum laetissimum:

“Adam, the father of mankind, looked to Mary crushing the serpent’s head, and he dried the tears that the malediction had brought into his eyes.

The traditional Catholic interpretation of Mary as the one who crushes the serpent’s head had been in existence long before Ineffabilis Deus as demonstrated by artwork and the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible. It translates Genesis 3:15 as “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”

The problem is that this is not what the original Hebrew text says. It uses a masculine pronoun, not a feminine one. The translation “she shall crush thy head” is based on a copyist’s error of the Latin Vulgate after Jerome faithfully translated the Hebrew into Latin as “he will crush your head.” The Douay-Rheims translation is based on the Latin Vulgate and the manuscripts they used contained this variant reading. Hence, the interpretation of Genesis 3:15 in Ineffabilis Deus is likewise based on this textual variant within the Latin manuscript tradition.

Catholic apologists argue that while the original Hebrew text is talking about the Messiah, it is true that both Jesus and Mary crushed the serpent’s head. By definition, they must defend the theological accuracy of Mary crushing the serpent’s head even though this interpretation is based on a copyist’s error. But if the textual variant had never existed, then the Douay-Rheims translation never would have translated the text as “she shall crush thy head” and Ineffabilis Deus never would have spoken of Mary crushing the serpent’s head.

Another example of a mistranslation leading to error is the example of Abraham and the fire of the Chaldeans in the Quran. As David Wood explains:

“In the Bible in Genesis 15, we’re told that God called Abraham out of ‘Ur of the Chaldeans.’ In Babylonian language, ‘Ur’ means city. But in the first century, a Jewish Rabbi named Jonathan Ben Uzziel was translating Genesis 15 into Aramaic and he came across the word ‘Ur,’ now Jonathan did not know Babylonian, so he confused the Babylonian word ‘Ur,’ which means ‘city,’ with the Hebrew word ‘Ur’ which means ‘fire.’ This caused him to mistranslate the passage. Instead of saying that God delivered Abraham out of ‘Ur, city of the Chaldeans,’ Jonathan’s mistranslation said that God delivered Abraham out of ‘the fire of the Chaldeans.’ Now, why is this important? Well, Jewish writers ran with this idea of Abraham escaping from the fire and soon the Talmud contained all kinds of stories of Abraham being thrown into the fire by the Chaldeans and being miraculously rescued by God and these stories were quite popular in Arabia during the time of Muhammad among the Jews living there. And this is crucial because in Surah 21 we read about Abraham being delivered from the fire. Now Muhammad claimed that he was getting this story from God, but we know from history that this entire idea of Abraham being delivered from a fire was based on a mistranslation. So, what makes more sense here? That God also mistranslated the word ‘Ur’? Or that Muhammad was getting his information from the people around him?”

Notice the parallel between how Muslims respond to the Christian argument against the Quran based on this mistranslation and how Catholics respond to the Protestant argument against Mary crushing the serpent’s head based on a mistranslation:

“Secondly, it is actually possible that both statements are true. God did deliver Abraham both out of the city of Ur and the flame, but the Bible only mentions the city. Just because the Bible is silent on the issue of the flame, that doesn’t mean that the story is false.”

Now, let’s rephrase this in Catholic apologist lingo:

“Secondly, it is actually possible that both statements are true. Jesus did crush the serpent’s head together with Mary, but the Bible only mentions him crushing the serpent’s head. Just because the Bible is silent on Mary crushing the serpent’s head, that doesn’t mean she never did.”

Catholics cannot consistently condemn Muslims for believing in the falsehood that Abraham was rescued out of the fire of the Chaldeans since it is based on a mistranslation while they believe Mary crushed the serpent’s head based on a mistranslation. As David Wood would say, “So, what makes more sense here? That God also mistranslated Genesis 3:15 in Ineffabilis Deus? Or that Pope Pius IX was getting his information from a textual variant in the Latin Vulgate?”

But what about Simeon’s words to Mary in Luke 2:35: “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed”? Doesn’t this prove that Mary’s heel was bitten by the serpent as well? But Luke never mentions Mary at the cross like John does and therefore could not have expected his original readers to draw this conclusion. The sword of this verse is not the pain Mary experienced when Jesus was crucified, but is symbolic for the teachings of Jesus which divide the righteous from the wicked. Even Mary was not exempt from having to choose between her Son or siding with the religious leaders who rejected him. The sword is an instrument of judgment and division which separates the wheat from the chaff. How we respond to Jesus’ words demonstrates where our heart is before God (Matt 10:34-36; Luke 12:51-53; Heb 4:12). It is a sword which reveals the thoughts of the heart. Even if this verse is describing the emotional pain Mary experienced when Jesus was crucified, why is her suffering meritorious and laid up in a treasury of merit? The suffering of Christ alone has perfected believers for all time (Heb 10:14).

2 thoughts on “The Misinterpretation of Genesis 3:15 in Ineffabilis Deus

  1. Catholics do not think the entire document are infallible, only the infallible statement is infallible. So, a Catholic can still hold the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, while there being an error in other parts of the document. This is catholic theology 101, you should do your homework before posting about denominations you know so little about. That being said, the better translation is he/it will crush.

    In a similar thought, Romans 16:20 says that all Christians (through God) will crush the head of Satan: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our LORD Jesus be with you.” Mary being a Christian certainly is included in the above verse.


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