About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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The Seed Of Abraham


In our post-modern Christian world, being Biblically precise no longer seems to matter.  That sure wasn't the case with the apostle Paul.  Galatians 3:16 reads, "the promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed.  The Scripture does not say 'and to his seeds', meaning many people, but, 'and to your seed', meaning one person, who is Christ". 


The "promises" Paul speaks of are in reference to the promises God spoke to Abraham in what we call the "Abrahamic Covenant".  Paul says that certain promises were spoken to two recipients, Abraham and his seed.  He then goes on to make a big deal over one letter, the letter "s".  In reference to the Abrahamic Covenant, Paul says the word "seed" is singular, not plural.  So, "seed" can only refer to one person, not to many people.  He concludes that the seed is Jesus.  This verse has prompted much controversy over the centuries. It's also a foundational passage to what is called "Replacement Theology".  


To make a long story short, Replacement Theology states that only Abraham and Jesus are recipients of the promises God spoke to Abraham, as Paul says in Galatians 3:16.  Israel is excluded from these promises because she rejected Jesus the seed.  However, the church is included in the promises because she embraced the seed and is now found in Christ.  Therefore, these theologians interpret all Old Testament prophecies directed towards Israel , as now being directed towards the church, leaving Israel out of any meaningful existence in the sight of God.  How you think about this one word "seed" will determine how you understand many Biblical issues, including Israel's place  in prophetic history.


Now for the rest of the story.  God spoke a number of promises to Abraham throughout the book of Genesis.  In these promises the Hebrew word "zera" is used to denote the recipient, or recipients, of these promises.  "Zera" corresponds to our English words "seed" or "offspring".  Every time "zera" is used in these Genesis passages, the King James translators translated "zera" into the one word "seed".   This isn't so with the New International Version.  The NIV translators translated "zera" into the two words, "offspring" (another word for seed) and "descendents".  Why this difference?


With the understanding of the word "seed" in Galatians 3:16 being the one person Jesus, the KJV translators would have translated "zera" as a singular "seed" instead of plural "descendents".  The reason for this could be due to the fact that Replacement Theology was the common understanding of the day.  Theologians for the most part had an anti-Israel bias that would not allow them to include Israel as a recipient of the Abrahamic Covenant, thus excluding her from prophetic history.  Besides, there was no national Israel back then to prompt them to think otherwise.         


However, the NIV translators did, and do, have a national Israel to consider in their translation.  If you read the list of NIV translators, you might easily conclude that many of  them were and are Replacement Theologians.  That being said, the NIV translators appear to have translated "zera" as both "seed" and "descendents" based on the context in which "zera" is found, not on a presupposed bias.    


Our English word "seed" can be both singular and plural, while the word "descendents" is clearly plural.  In Hebrew the word "zera" can also be singular or plural.  Here lies the root of our differing translations.  Should we think of "zera" as being singular or plural in the Genesis account?  


This is the point.  The NIV translates "zera" as both "offspring" (seed) and "descendents".  The KJV translates "zera" as "seed".  How you understand "zera" or "seed" makes all the difference in the world.  Those studying the KJV with Galatians 3:16 in mind will think that only Abraham and the seed Jesus are recipients of the promises spoken to Abraham.  Those studying the NIV will think there are three recipients of the promises spoken to Abraham; Abraham, Jesus the seed, and Israel the descendents.  Those who study only one translation will not know there is a differing view point.  Those studying both translations will have to determine for themselves which side of the fence to fall on.  Is Israel in or is she out?   


I know what side of the fence I've fallen on.  I've climbed the fence and looked in both directions.  After teetering for a number of years on the top of the fence, I finally fell onto the other side.  I once believed that Israel was excluded from the Abrahamic Covenant, making her of no consequence today.  I no longer believe that.  


Just in case you think that Paul always understood "seed" as being singular, I'll quote what he says in Galatians 3:29.  "If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise".   The word "seed" here is in direct reference to the plural word "heirs".  So, "seed" in this sentence must be understood in the plural sense, not singular sense.  Clearly, Paul doesn't always understand "seed" to be  singular.   


The context of "seed" in Galatians 3:16 concerns salvation in the name of Jesus only.  Paul is not discussing the prophetic and historic significance of Abraham's "seed" Israel as it relates to the Abrahamic Covent.  He does that in Romans 9 through 11.        


I conclude that there are three recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant, not two.  They are Abraham, Jesus, and Israel.  That means Israel is still prophetically and historically significant in the mind of God.  I'd suggest that we keep an eye on Israel these days.  Their future will determine the future of all nations.              

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