Is this a rock or not? I Would like to know (NT use of "seed" , Gen. 12-22)

Dan Wagner Dan.Wagner at
Fri Mar 2 16:34:38 EST 2001

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Liz Fried [mailto:lizfried at]
> Sent: Friday, February 16, 2001 21:19
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: RE: Is this a rock or not? I Would like to know
> Dear Dan, et. al.
> >
> > It should not, cannot, and does not *change* the meaning. 
> I'm against the
> > idea that the NT writers or any other interpreter can or 
> should change the
> > meaning of any text. They may argue logical conclusions, 
> expand, give
> > implications, interpret what was formerly ambiguous or 
> elusive in meaning,
> > but they can never alter or reinterpret the meaning of a passage.
> >
> This is precisely the difficulty tho.
> NT writers did change the meaning to suit their
> agenda. Yet the new meaning often is assumed to be the
> original meaning.

Sorry, but i don't agree.

> Inerrentists often cannot believe that the
> NT writer is not using the word according to its original intent.
> One example is Paul's use of the word 'seed.' It is obvious that
> when God says to Abraham that his seed will number more than
> the stars in heaven or the number of grains of sand on the beach
> that he was not talking about one seed.

Yes, it is *extremely* obvious that _ZERA(_ is a collective singular noun
and used regularly with plural reference in Gen. 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 22 for
Abraham's descendents (ch. 21 is a little different). That should be a clue
to us to not assume too quickly when coming to a passage that deals with
this concept.

> Yet that is how Paul uses
> the term. Paul changes the meaning of the term to suit the point
> he's trying to make. He feels free to do that.

I don't think Paul is doing what you assume here. If he really thinks that
the singular form of _ZERA(_ *necessarily* indicates only one
descendent/child and expects the plural form otherwise, then he's so totally
missed it, what can we say? Whatever may be said about Paul, he's not
typically considered a dummy, certainly not to that extent (esp. when his
Galatian audience included educated Jews). Furthermore, looking at his
context, he clearly does not think that the singular number of seed
precludes the possibility of plural reference, for he says later (3:29),
"And if ye [plur. _humeis_] are Christ's, then *ye* are [2nd pers. plur.
verb] Abraham's seed [*sing* _sperma_], and heirs [pl] according to the

promise" (cf. Paul in Rom. 4:16-18).

So if he is not arguing the point that the singular form necessarily
indicates singular reference, what does he mean? The focus is on the promise
vs. the law. Paul is arguing that there is a promise established by the
covenant which cannot be negated by--nor dependant upon--the law. (The Jews
in Galatia were trying to require observation of all the law code upon
Gentiles as part of their salvation; Paul is arguing through this context
against them and focusing upon the sufficiency of salvation in Christ.) It
is upon the promise of a "blessing" to the Gentiles that Paul argues
salvation was made to Abraham in the OT/HB, which promise came *before* the
law came by Moses (vv. 14-15), and the law can't undo that (v. 17).
Inheritance (the privilege of a "seed" or posterity) is based on promise,
not law (v. 18). 

Now, what is the nature of that "promise" (a part of the Abrahamic covenant)
as it applied to the Gentiles of Galatia? It was *by means of* a
*particular* "seed" of Abraham. His theological point is to highlight
particular election. So then, what is the point of his the singular vs.
plural form? Without going into discussions of grammar, he is appealing to
the fact that "seed" as a collective singular *CAN* have a singular
*referent* (cf. Gen. 4:25 where another seed is Seth), whereas a plural
substantive could not (had one been used). Thus, Abraham's elect "seed" does
not necessarily reference just any or all biological Jews. 

Allow me to paraphrase vs. 16: "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to
his seed. The Scripture does not say, hypothetically, 'and to seeds,'
meaning all his biological descendents are included, but 'and to your seed,'
which can reference one chosen descendent, and this one ultimate seed is
Christ." I think he is primarily referring to and interpreting Gen.
22:17-18. Here the "seed" are first the plural descendents (22:17), but he
interprets that blessing to "all the gentiles" (cf. Gal. 3:14) to be
channeled ultimately through only one elect individual among them (22:18).

This theme is common for Paul, and comparing with Romans (mostly ch. 4 & 9)
he does the same, arguing that "seed" indicates specific election, not just
"any old seed" but a specific seed of promise. It's based on the same
reasoning as in Gen. 21:12, where although there could almost be said to be
"two seeds" (Isaac and Ishmael), it was only through one (Isaac) that his
seed "was called" (cf. Jacob vs. Esau later; cf. Rom. 9:6ff). Thus,
theologically, that promise of the Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled *not* by
Gentiles *becoming* "seed of Abraham" through Jewish/Mosaic law-keeping, but
rather through union with the one ultimate Seed of promise who was *alone*
was sufficient for Gentiles' salvation (they all become Abraham's seed by
faith in the promise, not by law, in Gal. 3:26; thus the fulfillment of the
blessing to all families/clans/nations of the earth through "Abraham's

I should add that the big problem that the Galatian Christians had little to
do with the *identity* of Christ, but with His *sufficiency*. Thus, this
understanding of chapter 3 fits nicely into the message of a book as a
whole, whereas a literalistic view of 3:16 in isolation from context would
not fit.

> How do we know that the author of GMt isn't doing the same thing?
> Liz

There are various types of usage of the OT by NT--application of a
principle, reassertion of moral law, prophecy fulfillment, secondary
implication, systemization of passages, mere use of Biblical language for
rhetorical purposes (like we do in English, a mere "drop in a bucket" etc.),
analogical corespondence, etc. In my personal study, it's evident to me that
Matthew, Paul, et al did a consistently good job with the text and theology
of the HB.

Dan Wagner

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