He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one ... - He does not use
the plural term, as if the promise extended to many persons, but he speaks in
the singular number, as if only one was intended; and that one must be the
Messiah. Such is Paul's interpretation; such is evidently the sentiment which he
intends to convey, and the argument which he intends to urge. He designs
evidently to be understood as affirming that in the use of the singular number
σπέρμα sperma (seed), instead of the plural σπέρματα spermata (seeds), there
is a fair ground of argument to demonstrate that the promise related to Christ
or the Messiah, and to him primarily if not exclusively. Now no one probably
ever read this passage without feeling a difficulty, and without asking himself
whether this argument is sound, and is worthy a man of candor, and especially of
an inspired man.
Some of the difficulties in the passage are these:
(1) The promise referred to in Genesis seems to have related to the posterity
of Abraham at large, without any particular reference to an individual. It is to
his seed; his descendants; to all his seed or posterity. Such would be the fair
and natural interpretation should it be read by hundreds or thousands of persons
who had never heard of the interpretation here put upon it by Paul.
(2) the argument of the apostle seems to proceed on the supposition that the
word "seed" σπέρμα sperma, that is, posterity, here cannot refer to more than
one person. If it had, says he, it would be in the plural number. But the fact
is, that the word is often used to denote posterity at large; to refer to
descendants without limitation, just as the word posterity is with us; and it is
a fact, moreover, that the word is not used in the plural at all to denote a
posterity, the singular form being constantly employed for that purpose.
Anyone who will open Tromm's Concordance to the Septuagint, or Schmids'
Concordance on the New Testament will see the most ample confirmation of this
remark. Indeed the plural form of the word is never used except in this place in
Galatians. The difficulty, therefore, is, that the remark here of Paul appears
to be a trick of argument, or a quibble more worthy of a trifling Jewish Rabbi,
than of a serious reasoner or an inspired man.
I have stated this difficulty
freely, just as I suppose it has struck hundreds of minds, because I do not wish
to shrink from any real difficulty in examining the Bible, but to see whether it
can be fairly met. In meeting it, expositors have resorted to various
explanations, most of them, as it seems to me, unsatisfactory, and it is not
necessary to detail them. Dr. Burner, Doddridge, and some others suppose that
the apostle means to say that the promises made to Abraham were not only
appropriated to one class of his descendants, that is, to those by Isaac, but
that they centered in one illustrious person, through whom all the rest are made
partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.
This Doddridge admits the apostle says in "bad Greek," but still he supposes
that this is the true exposition. Noessett and Rosenmuller suppose that by the
word σπέρμα sperma (seed) here is not meant the Messiah, but Christians in
general; the body of believers. But this is evidently in contradiction of the
apostle, who expressly affirms that Christ was intended. It is also liable to
another objection that is fatal to the opinion. The very point of the argument
of the apostle is, that the singular and not the plural form of the word is
used, and that therefore an individual, and not a collective body or a number of
individuals, is intended. But according to this interpretation the reference is,
in fact, to a numerous body of individuals, to the whole body of Christians.
Jerome affirms that the apostle made use of a false argument,
which, although it
might appear well enough to the stupid Galatians, would not be approved by wise
or learned men - Chandler. Borger endeavors to show that this was in accordance
with the mode of speaking and writing among the Hebrews, and especially that the
Jewish Rabbis were accustomed to draw an argument like this from "the singular
number," and that the Hebrew word זרע zera‛ "seed" is often used by them in this
manner; see his remarks as quoted by Bloomfield in loc.
But the objection to this is, that though this might be common, yet it is not
the less a quibble on the word, for certainly the very puerile reasoning of the
Jewish Rabbis i
s no good authority on which to vindicate the authority of an
apostle. Locke and Clarke suppose that this refers to Christ as the spiritual
head of the mystical body, and to all believers in him.
LeClerc supposes that it
is an allegorical kind of argument, that was suited to convince the Jews only,
who were accustomed to this kind of reasoning. I do not know but this solution
may be satisfactory to many minds, and that it is capable of vindication, since
it is not easy to say how far it is proper to make use of methods of argument
used by an adversary in order to convince them. The argumentum a.d. hominem is
certainly allowable to a certain extent, when designed to show the legitimate
tendency of the principles advanced by an opponent.