Tuesday, 29 March 2016
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. Galatians 3:16
The words of Paul in this verse are the subject of an almost countless number of pages of analysis, speculation, and frustration. If one is truly concerned about the complete meaning of what is being discussed, referring to many of those commentaries is a must.
First, Paul begins with “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made.” It is already known that the promise was made to Abraham; however, this says “promises.” The Bible reveals that the promise was reiterated to him on several occasions. Therefore the plural is used. Further, it says that the promises were made to “his Seed.” Therefore, the promises were made to more than just Abraham. The word in the NKJV is capitalized as “Seed” because they believe Paul is explaining the Seed as Christ the Person. But this becomes problematic.
Paul next states that “He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one.” This becomes rather difficult because though it is true that the word for “seed” is singular, it always involves a multitude within the singular. In other words, when speaking of the “seed of Abraham” it is referring to many people. The singular is used for the whole. Whether in Hebrew or Greek the same truth is seen. In Greek, Paul says sperma (seed) instead of spermata (seeds), but sperma still includes a corporate whole who issue from one.
What is often inferred is that Paul is saying that this word is referring to Christ the Person and that this was justifiable when speaking to non-Jewish Galatians, or it was acceptable based on rabbinical ways of analyzing Scripture. A third option is that this is speaking of Christ the singular Person as spiritually representing a collective whole. For example, in Matthew 2:15, Christ is used as a fulfilled “type” of the collective body of Israel. But these are just simple ways of dismissing what is not at all obvious. If the word “seed” consistently means a corporate whole when speaking of offspring, then that is how it should be taken. Does this mean Paul is wrong? Of course not!
It must be understood that Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Therefore, the “seed” is speaking of a certain section of his offspring. The “promises” were repeated to only one of them – for example Isaac received the promise. After this, Jacob received the promise, etc. Thus the use of “seed” and “promises” is speaking of a corporate whole, not of the Person of Christ. However, this corporate whole is one in Christ; it is not speaking of Christ the individual, but of Christ the body of believers. This is made explicit later in this same chapter.
To give the whole thought, the NKJV says, “He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.” In this, they have made the supposition that the “seed” is Christ. They capitalize “Seed” and they use the pronoun “who” to translate the Greek word hos. This supposition, however, is incorrect. The word hos can have various meanings, such as who, which, what, that, etc. Translations which read something like, “‘And to thy seed,’ which is Christ” (YLT) convey the proper meaning.
It is the corporate body, in Christ, to whom the promises were made. The promise does not include Ishmael, for example, even though he was a descendant of Abraham. The promise does not include Esau, although the same is true with him. However, it does include any and all who have called on Christ and who are now adopted into the family of Abraham by faith, being now “in Christ.”
The Geneva Bible rightly comments that “Paul does not speak of Christ’s person, but of two peoples, who grew together in one, in Christ.” Both Jew and Gentile alike are the seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made. This conveys the whole point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is not those who are dependent on the law (meaning observant Jews) to whom the promises were made, but to any and all who – like Abraham – take God at His word and demonstrate simple faith in Him.
Life application: It is a shame that people get caught up in a single translation of the Bible. In so doing, there is always the chance that the rendering is incorrect. In the case of this verse, a simple capitalization and the use of one incorrect pronoun can bring out an entirely different meaning than that which is intended. This misunderstanding will not necessarily lead to some type of heresy, but it may lead to confusion when someone is approached with the original meaning of the word translated as “seed.” In this inability to properly explain what is being said, a perceived inaccuracy is found in the Bible. Thus it can give ammo to deniers of the Bible to further challenge its inspiration. Doctrine does matter. Detailed study of the word is important.
Heavenly Father, how often people challenge Your word and attempt to tear it apart! Without our having a sound knowledge of what it says, or at least the ability to know where to go to defend difficult passages, how much easier is it for them to continue to malign it. And so Lord, help us to challenge ourselves by studying this precious gift and in searching out those difficult areas. Grant us that we may be able to defend it as we would defend our own families and even our own lives! Amen.