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The interpretation of the concept of "Seed of Abraham" in Galatians 3:16

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This article was prepared for publication in the Biblical Studies section on the website of the Bible Society of Uzbekistan. Biblical Studies is a research division of Theology, in which sacred texts are studied using scientific methods and in accordance with scientific principles. Narrative Biblical Hermeneutics and the Bible is devoted to a search of the scientific principles for the interpretation of Scripture. The interpretation of texts is the practical application of scientific principles and Biblical studies is called exegesis. Despite the fact that the interpretation of the text using a scientific approach, it does not mean that the Bible is considered only as an artifact of antiquity, or simply as an object of study. Hermeneutical key to understanding this ancient books are the faith and recognition of the revelation of God in the Bible and the Bible.

I hope that this study will awaken interest in the Scriptures, many visitors to the site and provide an impetus for a serious approach to the study of this ancient book.


When reading the message of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, many researchers question arises: what criteria guided the Apostle, in his message using the Old Testament? This is the main issue, which gives this study area.


Moses Silva (MoisesSilva) in his article «OldTestamentinPaul» (Silva, 1993, c.631) provides a list of quotations from the Old Testament epistles. From this list it is clear that the Apostle Paul more than a hundred times quoted Old Testament scripture in his letters and in his epistle to the Galatians of such quotations, there are eleven. We are interested in a quote in the third chapter of the message. The apostle uses the concept of "seed of Abraham" five times in one chapter (3:16,19,29). The main purpose of the Apostle - to show that all believers in Christ are children of Abraham, heirs of the great blessings of the patriarch. To do this, Paul Gal.3 16 quotes a passage from Genesis 12:7 and attaches to its interpretation of the quotation. The table below shows how to do it the Apostle (emphasis expression of interest to us):



As the table shows, the quote is made accurately and, moreover, it is not at odds with massaret text. In this translation Synodal translation into Russian language does not require supplements. Analyzing the quotation, questions arise, they arise in the analysis of the interpretation of this passage the Apostle. He argues that we are talking about one person - Jesus Christ, while in the Old Testament book clearly traces the idea of multiplicity. Indeed, the expression «tw / | spe, rmati, sou» in the Septuagint is in the singular, but the immediate context speaks of the descendants of Abraham as a great nation (Gen.12 3). Thus, there is a contradiction of the biblical texts. But does the contradiction is so obvious, and perhaps a contradiction can only be seen when analyzing the surface? Why the apostle did was so interpreted the Scriptures? Can a text have more than one value? This study focuses on finding answers to these questions. For this method will be used, called a "canonical approach» (canoncriticism) (Bruce, 2003, c.327). The description of this technique is based on the article Elmer Dick "Canon as a context for interpretation," published in a collection of essays devoted to aspects of the interpretation of biblical texts. Based on this study and the example of an episode of Dick Elmer Emmanuel of Isaiah and in the context of the Gospel of Matthew will try to explore the concept of the "seed of Abraham" in Genesis 12:7, and the message of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:16. The purpose of this study is also to show the unity of ideas as the author of Genesis and the author of the Epistle to the Galatians.

The canonical approach as a method of investigation

Using traditional methods of biblical interpretation, the researcher is very difficult to answer some questions concerning the use of the New Testament authors of books of the Old Testament. Elmer, Dick draws attention to some of the examples. He asks: how salutary escape of Jews from Egypt celebrated the return of the infant Jesus in Nazareth (Matt.2 15) how the child from the book of Isaiah (Emmanuel) turns out to Jesus in Matthew (Matt.1 23) minimizes the importance of why Paul " seed "of Abraham, saying that it is only about Jesus Christ (Gal.3: 16)? (Dick, 2002, p.41). In fact, a lot of similar questions, the list go on and on. As a result, we, together with Elmer, ask the main question: whether in the Old Testament text to be more than one value, and the first value is within the historical method, and the second - a mystical and requires special insight? (Dick, 2002, p.42)

The most popular response, which the students receive theological faculty is that the New Testament writers were moved by the Holy Spirit, they used the inspiration of the Old Testament, and modern scholars have no right to do so because they are not apostles. Martin Luther, commenting on the interpretation of Old Testament passages Paul speaks of it as a truly apostolic method, which is based on an allegorical approach (Luther, 1997, s.343). In today's scientific circles correspond to different "interpretation of Scripture was carried out by a limited number of exegetical methods" (Zhukov, 1998, p.159) or "Paul borrowed illegal rabbinical method in order to prove his assertion" (Verkler, 1995, p. 31). Unfortunately, none of these responses did not clarify the situation. Moreover, these responses actively contribute to the development of a doubt in the hearts of researchers destroyed the foundations of the Christian, lost credibility, as the Bible and Christianity in general.

So, we need a method of research that will help you understand how to use the Old Testament the New Testament writers. This will help to give satisfying answers to tough questions and apply the ancient texts for the modern generation.

The canonical approach is the method by which it is possible to solve the tasks. Frederick Bruce (F.Bruce) defines this method as "an approach to biblical books, in which they are treated not as a single document, and as part of the whole body of Scripture." He then formulates the problem of this method: "... to establish that the means or that passage, not only in its immediate context of dating, authorship, and" place in life, "but also in the broader context of the canon, in which he is» (Bruce, 2003 , c.327). Elmer, Dick wrote about it this way: "the text should be interpreted as due to its immediate historical surroundings, and because of the ultimate, unchanging form of the canon" (Dick, 2002, p.42). Further, in his article, he cites the conclusions to which he came:


1) Text should be read in its final form;

2) The historical context in which he emerged a text by itself is insufficient to exegesis;

3) The canon itself is the context for interpretation;

4) Introduction of a process through which texts and books get finished form, though the experience is speculative, but extremely useful.

Exegesis of the text almost looks like a doll. That is, less is more, more, in turn, is even greater, and so several times. The researcher should first consider the text in the light of his immediate literary context. Secondly, the text is examined in light of the books or stories in which there is. Thirdly, the need to extract the meaning of the text in the context of the entire Old Testament. Finally, consider the text in the light of the New Testament. It should be remembered that "when interpreting the New Testament, we must take into account the Old, but the interpretation of the Old Testament should not come from the New, as the New Testament is not part of the Old Testament's outlook" (Dick, 2002, p.52). The purpose of exegesis is to find the same fundamental values of the text, the total for both the original text and for all quotations. Elmer, Dick calls it a value of "reality", pointed to the text (Dick, 2002, p.52).

Exploring the way the text from the Epistle to the Galatians, we can give adequate answers to difficult questions, to show that the New Testament writers are not manipulated by the Old Testament to defend their Christian beliefs, to reject the claim ambiguity of the text.

The concept of "seed of Abraham" in the 12 and 22 chapters of Genesis

The test text is in the context of the narrative of the life of Abraham. In the Genesis story is devoted to an excerpt from 11 to 25 chapters. In this section, the expression of Genesis spe, rmati, sou (thy seed) occurs seven times [2] and the first time in Gen. 12 7. Hypothetically, the Apostle Paul could be used as quotes in his message to any of these references. But given the context of the third chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, it is our choice to stay either at the twelfth chapter (Gen. 12 :1-3, 7), or the twenty-second (Gen. 22 :16-18), because only in these chapters is an expression which the apostle quotes the above in his letter: "... And the scripture foretold to Abraham saying, In thee all nations be blessed" (Gal.3: 8). Logically, the assumption that the apostle quoted the Old Testament passage from one, it looks quite real, but most likely during the writing of letters, Paul had in mind both of these passages, as one, because the semantic load of both passages is identical. However, it should be noted that in Gen. 22 18 we investigated the expression does not look like he is the apostle in his epistle to the Galatians:



As seen from the comparative table, Paul uses the dative case as an object (the promise given to Abraham's descendants), and the author of Genesis uses the dative case as a vehicle, or facilitator (a blessing to all nations would come through Abraham's descendants).

To understand the essence of the concept should be investigated further to consider the context in which there are all the cases. All seven of these excerpts are direct speech of God addressed to Abraham. All these applications are the promises of God to Abraham and his descendants. Usually these pieces are called the covenant of God and Abraham. Speaking of the covenant, it must be said about what promises God gave to Abraham. Based on all the texts, we can conclude that God promised Abraham a) a great many children, 2) the territory of Palestine and its environs, and 3) through the blessing of Abraham spread to all nations. Elmer Martin comes to a similar conclusion: "Triple the promise of offspring, and the territory included in the blessing of the covenant given to Abraham" (Martins, 1995, p.15). These items are very well looked after reading Gen. 22 :17-18:

First point: I bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand on the seashore;

Second point: and thy seed shall possess the cities of their enemies;

The third point: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth, that thou hast obeyed my voice.

In the twelfth chapter of Genesis the first paragraph of the covenant says of the many descendants who are childless and have been quite old at the time of Abraham: "I will make of thee a great nation" (Gen. 12 2). From this it follows that God, speaking of the seed of Abraham, had in mind a lot of descendants.

The second paragraph of the covenant in Genesis 12 is in the seventh verse: "Unto thy seed will I give this land." The formal expression of kai. tw / | spe, rmati, sou of Genesis. 12:7 is singular, immediate context truly said about the set. We are talking about the many descendants of the patriarch, who will in future have a certain territory.

The third paragraph of the covenant in Genesis 12 is in the third verse: "... and in thee shall all families of the earth." This formulation is the third promise is a little different from the formulation given in Genesis. 22. If in our text says "blessed through you", then later in the text says, "in thy seed shall." In this case, is permissible to speak of "Abraham's seed" of Abraham as a person in the singular. Although there is a hint that this promise is fulfilled in the future, and that this promise is spiritual. Wolf writes about it this way: "Talent is the offspring of physical and spiritual dimension ... This is probably the first true" missionary "text in the Bible» (Wolf, 2003, c. 9). The words' in thee shall all families of the earth "point to the fact that it is a descendant of Abraham, Christ, called to carry out the blessing of mankind (Shchedrovitsky, 2000, p.123).

Thus, interpreting the concept of "seed of Abraham" in Gen. 12 and 24 cannot be argued that this concept is always set. We have reason to talk about this concept in mind and have a unique number. It must be remembered that the contract is concerned, first of all, Abraham himself, though talks about the large number of his descendants. So if you think about the descendants and territories, then, of course, we are talking about many, but a blessing for the people concentrated at the Abraham.

The concept of "seed of Abraham" in the Old Testament

Since we consider this concept in the context of the covenant of God and Abraham, the Old Testament need to focus on repetition or it hints at the agreement.

These promises were given to Abraham as part of a covenant. This tells us that God promises to fulfill all the items of the contract. In this part you should pay particular attention. Abraham was not easy to believe God, but if you carefully follow the chronology of the life of the great patriarch, it will be obvious that God has for forty years, reminded of his promise to Abraham. Starting from the release of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 12: 2,3) and ending with a history of sacrificing Isaac (Gen. 22: 17,18). Later, a few years later, he remembered Abraham, this promise when instructed his servant to give Eleazar who goes in search of a bride for Isaac: "Beware that thou bring not my son thither: the LORD, the God of heaven, which took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying: "Unto thy seed will I give this land '" (Gen. 24: 6.7).

Next, a reminder of this contract is found to Isaac in Genesis 26:3-4, Jacob, in Genesis. 28:3-4, 35:11-12, Joseph in Gen. 48 :3-4, Moses in Iskh.33 :1-3, Vtor.34: 4. King Josaphat remembered this covenant in 2 Chron. 20:7, the prophet Isaiah Is.63 18, Nehemiah in Neem.9 :7-8. In addition, there are several references in the book of Psalms (36:22, 29; 104:9-12, 111:1-2). In all these references refers to the territory, in many states of the large number of descendants, and only in two cases referred to the blessing for all peoples.

Historically, the first paragraph of the contract was executed during the life of Abraham in Egypt: "... and the children of Israel were fruitful and multiplied, and grew, and waxed exceeding mighty, and the land was filled with them" (Iskh.1 7). The second item was filled later, after hundreds of years after the return of the Israelites in Palestine: "... the LORD gave Israel all the land which he swears to give unto their fathers, and they possessed it and dwelt therein" (Iis.Nav.21: 43).

Execution of the third paragraph of the contract was postponed to a later date. However, Abraham's descendants have not forgotten about the third promise in the covenant between his great ancestor and God. They wanted to the third point, too, turned, and from each new king they were waiting for something outstanding, allowing God to fulfill all the promises to the end. This expectation can be seen in Psalm 71, which is the king: "... his name will for ever, as long as the sun will be transferred to his name, and be blessed in him [the tribes], all nations call him blessed" (Psal.71: 17). While reading this Psalm, some have concluded that "in some sense, all the pious king, seated on the throne of David, played the covenant between God and Abraham» (Wolf, 2003, p.9). But this psalm is written in the form of prayers or wishes of the king on the day of his coronation. Motyer says that this psalm is similar to David's prayer for his son Solomon (Motyer, 2000, c.82). This Psalm is not statements of fact, there is the wording of dreams. Descendants of Abraham dreamed of the day when God will fulfill all the points before the end of the covenant with Abraham.

Centuries passed, and the prophet Ezekiel continues to believe that the third paragraph of the contract be performed by God: "And they shall dwell in the land which I gave to my servant Jacob ... and make with them a covenant of peace will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will build them, and multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever. And they will be my tabernacle, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forever "(Iez.37 :24-28). The mention of people in this text, most likely, is an allusion to the covenant between God and Abraham.

Unfortunately, over time, the descendants of Abraham no longer expect the performance of the third paragraph in the contract. The promise of blessing for all peoples to reinstall the memory of people, perhaps because this promise was not entirely clear. This conclusion can be reached by reading the "Antiquities" of Josephus. Referring to his work in this covenant, he says not a word of blessing for all peoples, "James ... you are born good children. The number of offspring they will be countless, as they will leave behind an even greater number of sons. They and their children, who will fill the earth and the entire sea coast, which looks not only to the sun, I will give authority over this land (Josephus, 1999, p.49).

So, it became clear that the Scriptures of the Old Testament contain references to the covenant between God and Abraham. We also saw a performance of the two items promise and expectation of the execution of the third. The concept of "seed of Abraham" is not found in all references to the covenant between God and Abraham, but this idea is reflected in all of these citations. As seen in Ps.71: 17, this idea does not always speak about the set. Thus, studying the entire corpus of Old Testament books, we can come to a conclusion similar to that which we have done in the study of biographies of Abraham, we have the right to talk about this concept in mind and have a unique number.

The concept of "seed of Abraham" in the Epistle to the Galatians

As mentioned above, studied the concept mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, three times (3:16,19,29). But talk about the descendants of Abraham, it starts earlier. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul asks a few rhetorical questions our readers to help them understand the inconsistency of teaching, which they accepted. And with the sixth verse, well-read author talking about Abraham and his descendants, and formulates the main goal of this section the message: "Know also that the believers are sons of Abraham" (Gal.3: 7). This section ends with the statement: "If ye be Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to promise" (Gal.3: 29).

By reading this section, you can see how many times Paul speaks of the covenant between God and Abraham. In Russian Synodal translation of the agreement referred to as a "promise" [3]. Therefore, we can not talk about the seed of Abraham outside the context of the covenant. "Gal.3 :14-16 definitely send investigators to the covenant" (Wright, 2004, p.119).

And if so, then we need to figure out what point of the covenant referred to in the epistle to the Galatians. The answer is in verse 8: "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, foretold to Abraham saying, In thee all nations be blessed" (Gal.3: 8). The Apostle Paul in his letter reminded of God's promise to Abraham, the third and submitted it to his readers in an entirely new light, arguing that the children of the great patriarch is not so much a direct biological descendants, but all believers in Jesus Christ. It was through him, according to Paul, every person, regardless of nationality, can become the heir of the great blessings of the patriarch. It is stated in the fourteenth verse, "so that the blessing of Abraham through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles ...".

Earlier we talked about that third promise is to Abraham personally, and the blessing of all nations concentrated in it, like in personality. In Gal.3: 16 the phrase "seed of Abraham" is grammatically in the singular, and seems to be deliberately used by the author in order to show the uniqueness of the person of Jesus Christ. This is done to dissuade Galatians the error of the doctrine, which they accepted. By doing this, the Apostle very rational approach to the selection of arguments. Speaking of the covenant with Abraham, he disarms the false teachers, arguing that all believers are heirs of the latter. False teachers also insisted on the continuity of the Patriarch (Rassel, 1990, c.331). Paul, quoting Gen. 12 7, believes that there is about Christ. "In verse 16, he stressed that the word" seed ", in fact, is singular and, therefore, points to Jesus. Consequently, the Messiah and his followers are also Abraham's seed, and heirs of the promises. Paul points out that the contract with Abraham, God could not be changed due to the adoption of a later treaty "(Fisher, p.28).

So, we found that the Apostle respectful attitude toward the Old Testament Scriptures, and very correctly quoted in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians. However, his interpretation of the quote is not at odds with the meaning of the ancient text. The only thing that distinguishes the Old Testament text from his interpretation of the Apostle is the application. Paul sees in the "seed of Abraham," Jesus Christ. But the application is in the category of creative exegesis. Anyone who reads the Scriptures may have a different use of the Bible.


The study is certain that Paul did not use the Bible for their own selfish purposes, not speculated biblical text and did not change the original meaning of the text. It became obvious that the apostle is not cheating its readers repelled by false teaching, and through careful and thorough exegesis of Old Testament text.

It turned out that the contradiction between the books of Genesis and the message of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians is only apparent. It became clear after the interpretation of the text through the prism of the canon.

In addition, in the context of the third chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians can affect the rhetorical aspects, which the Apostle had in mind when writing this message. For example, Alexander Men wrote about the moral and homiletic method of interpreting the Old Testament, which aims, above all, edification, and a sermon (2003, p.45). This will give new impetus to the study, but it is - a topic for a future article.


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Wolf H.M. (2003). Abraham / / Encyclopedia of Theology. Edited by Walter Elwell. (Pp. 7-8). M., "The Spiritual Revival".

Russell W.B. (1990). Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia? Bibliotheca Sacra 147. A Theological Quarterly Published by Dallas Seminary Press. p. 329-350.

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