Christ the “Seed” of Promise
It is the promise to Abraham – the covenant with him – that is absolutely central to Paul in Chapter 3. He first raised the topic in verse 8: “In you shall all the nations be blessed,” citing Genesis 12:2,3. Then in Galatians 3:16 he referred to the promise of Genesis 13:15 and Genesis 17:7, 8, on which he bases his rather strange to us argument of offspring (seed) rather than offspring’s (seeds). “And,” we read, “will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to the God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7 KJV). After making the point, in good rabbinic style, that Genesis uses the singular rather than the plural, Paul goes on to claim that the singular descendant is Christ (Galatians 3:16).
Of course, the literal reference of the promises in Genesis was to Abraham’s physical decendants, who were to receive the land of Canaan. This is why most translation render the Hebrew word in Genesis 17:7 as descendants (so in the RSV), even though the original word is singular. But it is a collective singular that could be translated as either a plural or a singular. In this way, even though the promise was for Abraham’s many physical descendants (as the dust on the earth” (Genesis 13:16)) the apostle knew that this did not exhaust its meaning; nor was it the ultimate reference in God’s mind. Indeed, it could not have been, for God said that in Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. Paul realized that both the ‘the land’ which was promised and the ‘seed’ to whom it was promised were ultimately spiritual. God’s purpose was not just to give the land of Canaan to the Jews, but to give salvation (a spiritual inheritance) to the believers, who are in Christ.
There are wider implication of the use of the singular of descendant or seed when we realize to have Paul’s definition of seed contradicts the Jewish nationalistic interpretation of this term. Jews were convinced that the term seed referred to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people and no one else. Therefore, they believed it was absolutely necessary to belong to the Jewish nation in order to receive the blessings promised to Abraham. That logic of course, formed the rationale as to why Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and observe the law of Moses in order to be right with God.
But the Way Paul employed seed in Galatians 3 is a bit more complex than just the fact that it is used in the singular referred to Christ. In verse 29 we read that “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (KJV). Thus Christ the one seed of Abraham, includes within himself a new community of all believes where there are no racial, social or gender divisions. The promised seed of Abraham becomes the center of a new unity.
As a result, the qualifying factor for belonging to God’s community is not circumcision, but FAITH IN CHRIST. That faith alone puts people into a right relationship with God.
Verse 18 states “for if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” The apostle’s argument has no middle ground. The inheritance comes either through law or through promise rather through some combination of the two. In the end, Paul stakes his case on the theological axiom that salvation is always, first to last, a matter of divine initiative and grace. The point is strengthened by the idea of inheritance. For inheritance is wholly in the hands of the testator. The means of getting right with God is always His gift.
This is good news not only for Galatians of old but to us in the twenty-first century. Not endless deeds but faith in Christ who became a curse in our place on the cross of Calvary will alone put us in the right relationship with god. To have faith is to be in the path of Abraham with whom God established His covenant of faith.
But then Paul asks in verse 19, why did God even give the law if keeping it cannot be used to get right with Him? That topic will lead an exposition of how the law leads to salvation in Christ (verses 19-25) which we will explore next week.