Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (ASV)
What OT text was Paul quoting or referring to?
The exact wording, as he quotes it, is found in only two passages.
"For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever." (Genesis 13:15)
The plural descendants of Abraham, and not just one seed, recieved the land god promised in 13:15.
"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." (Genesis 17:7)
Again we see that in Genesis 17:7, "and to thy seed" and "thy seed" refer to "in their generations..." i.e., plural descendants.
First, if Paul is referring to the word itself (seed, Hebrew: zerah) then he is flat wrong, because there has never been any such thing as a plural form of the Hebrew word for "seed" (zerah). Whether it is plural or singular must be interpreted from the context.
Second, if Paul is instead saying that the context in which "seed" appears in the OT passage he quotes, shows that "seed" refers to one person, he is wrong in that sense as well. As I showed above, whichever passage he may have had in mind, they all clearly use "seed" to refer to MANY in context.
Third, those Genesis passages define the promise to the seed or descendants in context as being "land", not a spiritual leader or salvation. To assume that the land promise was a figure of speech for salvation is to assume the accuracy of Paul, which begs the question since his accuracy is exactly what is being challenged here. If there is more to the land-promise than just the dirt mentioned in the text, let the inerrantist demonstrate FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT text.
What Paul did is like one of us saying "It says not 'and to deers', as to many, but 'and to thy deer', meaning one, that is, Bambi."
Although it tries to soften the force of Paul hitting the floor hard, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia nevertheless agrees that Paul used a faulty grammatical argument here:
"In Gal 3:16 Paul draws a distinction between "seeds" and "seed" that has for its purpose a proof that the promises to Abraham were realized in Christ and not in Israel. The distinction, however, overstresses the language of the Old Testament, which never pluralizes Hebrew when meaning "descendants" (plural only in 1Sam 8:15; compare Rom 4:18; Rom 9:7). But in an argument against rabbinical adversaries Paul was obliged to use rabbinical methods (compare Gal 4:25). For modern purposes it is probably best to treat such an exegetical method as belonging simply to the (now superseded) science of the times."
Adam Clarke best answers this:
It was one particular kind of posterity which was intended: but as of one-which is Christ; i.e. to the spiritual head, and all believers in him, who are children of Abraham, because they are believers, ver. 7. But why does the apostle say, not of seeds, as of many? To this it is answered, that Abraham possessed in his family two seeds, one natural, viz. the members of his own household; and the other spiritual, those who were like himself because of their faith. The promises were not of a temporal nature; had they been so, they would have belonged to his natural seed; but they did not, therefore they must have belonged to the spiritual posterity. And as we know that promises of justification, &c., could not properly be made to Christ in himself, hence we must conclude his members to be here intended, and the word Christ is put here for Christians. It is from Christ that the grace flows which constitutes Christians. Christians are those who believe after the example of Abraham; they therefore are the spiritual seed. Christ, working in and by these, makes them the light and salt of the world; and through them, under and by Christ, are all the nations of the earth blessed. This appears to be the most consistent interpretation, though every thing must be understood of Christ in the first instance, and then of Christians only through him.
Argument for Error "Third, those Genesis passages define the promise to the seed or descendants in context as being "land", not a spiritual leader or salvation. To assume that the land promise was a figure of speech for salvation is to assume the accuracy of Paul, which begs the question since his accuracy is exactly what is being challenged here. If there is more to the land-promise than just the dirt mentioned in the text, let the inerrantist demonstrate FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT text."
Answer The fact that the promise refers to the descendants of Abraham possessing it forever itself hints that this is spiritual, much like David reigning forever. Since it is not only physically impossible, but historically demonstratable as not so, this has to be relegated to a spiritual context, and this is not at all incompatible with the fact that this is a spiritual covenant being established due to Abraham's faith.
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