Gal 3:16 as midrash (was...)

Christian M. M. Brady cbrady at
Sat Mar 10 18:37:12 EST 2001

On 3/9/01 2:48 PM, "John Ronning" <ronning at> wrote:

> "Christian M. M. Brady" wrote:
> (re. Gal 3:16 as midrash)
>> I say that it is an example of "midrash" (and let us all say together, "it
>> is notoriously difficult to define 'midrash' as a method of exegesis" ;-)
>> since there are examples from rabbinic midrashim that employ a similar
>> attention to the singular/plural. See e.g., Shmot Rabbah to Ex. 15.1.
> To be similar to Gal 3:16 (as commonly interpreted) they
> would have to be making a point of a word being singular
> that was always singular (thus there is no point worth
> making).  Midrashes that I've seen supposedly similar to Gal
> 3:16 are in fact dealing with words that could be either
> singular or plural.  Such is not the case with zera` or
> sperma, which are always singular when used in the sense of
> offspring.  And of course, I don't think you could find a
> single practitioner of midrash who thought Paul's argument
> in Gal 3:16 (as usually interpreted) was anything but
> ridiculous (to put it mildly).

First of all we cannot say what an ancient figure would or would not have
thought about something, especially when we are dealing with some "single
practitioner of midrash." (We can say with a little more certainty what
someone would say based upon their writings, but that is another matter.)
Secondly, midrash was an extremely broad method of exegesis and encompass a
great variety of exegetical techniques. Quite frankly, other than making the
assumption that God did not write the Bible, I cannot think of any example
of what a darshan would not have at least considered as a possible
interpretation. (Not to break my own first observation! ;-)

Finally, in the Greek NT the plural "seeds" is used and is therefore
relevant to this passage. There are examples of midrash where the darshan
uses a fact of Aramaic to interpret a Hebrew text. Perhaps Paul is using the
natural ambiguity of the Greek, which like English can employ both the
singular or the plural grammatical form in order to refer to the collective.
(In fact, LXX uses the singular when it *could have* used the plural,
according to Greek usage. Perhaps this is also key to Paul's argument.) We
thus find the same sort of word-play/exegesis that occurs in some midrashim
between Hebrew and Aramaic, but here it is between Hebrew and Greek.

>>> Secondly, Paul himself contradicts your translation given
>>> above a few verses later in Galatians 3:29 where he says
>>> Christians in general (not one person) are the seed of
>>> Abraham.
>> Well, 1) it is not "my translation" it is the NRSV, but the vast majority of
>> translations follow it since the passage is relatively straightforward to
>> translate. 2) Paul is making a separate, but parallel and complementary
>> argument in 3.29.
> One cannot argue first that since "seed" in "seed of
> Abraham" is singular it refers to just one person  (Christ)
> and then turn around and say well actually the whole Church
> is the seed of Abraham - that is in fact contradictory, not
> complementary.

Not in the least! That is part and parcel of the midrashic genre. You can
have multiple and various interpretations of the same passage and all can be

cbrady @
"The man who does not read good books has no advantage
over the man who can't read them."
--Mark Twain

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