The seed of Abraham

The Abrahamic covenant is also the underlying foundation for Israel’s relationship with God and we do well to respect its enduring nature.

Stars 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Stars 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The word of God is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” (Hebrews 4:12), which means that a misinterpretation or misapplication of Scripture can also have powerful consequences. This has been especially true for those Christians through the centuries who have twisted Scripture to justify their rejection of the Jewish people.
In modern times – with Israel’s restoration to her promised homeland – you’d think some of this would have faded. But alas, it still persists in far too many church circles today.
One of the New Testament verses that has been methodically misused to strip Israel of her enduring calling before God is Galatians 3:16 [which quotes from Genesis 22:18]: “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.”
This has often been read narrowly to mean that the covenant promises delivered to Abraham and his descendants were ultimately intended for Christ alone, cutting Israel out of her inheritance. Taken to its extreme, there are even those today who argue that the Land of Israel belongs solely to Jesus, and not to the Jewish people.
The point which the Apostle Paul is making in Galatians 3:16 is a valid one, and no Christian can dispute that. But the verse needs to be understood within its context, which is a contrasting of the righteousness that comes by faith in light of the Abrahamic covenant versus the works of the law in the Mosaic covenant, which was “added” for a different purpose.
The word seed in both English and Hebrew is an invariant noun, meaning it can be either singular or plural. Paul employs the singular form of “seed” in crafting a rabbinic argument for the messianic credentials of Christ. We can infer from his phrasing that the more inclusive plural form of “seed” would have denoted the people of Israel’s collective pursuit of the law.
Yet throughout his epistles, Paul never limited his use of the expression “seed of Abraham” exclusively to the singular form, and he does not want us to do so either. In fact, just a few verses later, he says that anyone who belongs to Christ is also the “seed of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:29)
Elsewhere, he again uses the more expansive meaning of “seed” – in the plural – to refer to all the natural descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. We see this in 2 Corinthians 11:22 (see also Hebrews 2:16).
And in Romans 4:16, Paul uses it to refer to both Abraham’s natural and his spiritual offspring: “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
The Apostle Peter also addresses his fellow Jews as the “seed” of Abraham in Acts 3:25: “You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
From all this, we can draw several conclusions:
1) We must always consider the full counsel of Scripture on a matter and not be dogmatic about our narrow interpretations of certain verses. Otherwise, the consequences can be tragic.
2) Those who seek to divest Israel of her inheritance in God by manipulating Scripture will always wind up in error.
3) The Abrahamic covenant is remarkably inclusive, containing promises to the natural descendants of Abraham, to his spiritual sons and daughters, and indeed to Christ as well. It is important to identify who each promise was made to, and then who also may benefit from those promises.
4) The Abrahamic covenant is also the underlying foundation for Israel’s calling and relationship with God, not the Mosaic covenant, and we do well to respect its enduring nature.
So may we all be “blessed with believing Abraham.” (Galatians 3:9)
David Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem;