" For we say that Avraham's trust was credited to his account as righteousness;" Romans 4:9

Abraham's Seed ?

Replacement Theologians take Paul's letter to the Galatians as justification for their arguments that the Church has replaced Israel and that God's promises to Israel no longer stand.

The Way of the Patriarchs seen from Biet El (Bethel).  The place of Jacob (Isael's) dream in the left foreground.

The Way of the Patriarchs seen from Biet El (Bethel). The place of Jacob (Israel's) dream in the left foreground.

Galatians 3 v16 is a favourite. But before discussing its meaning it is best to first read the whole chapter; better still the whole letter to the Galatians.

Now to verse 16

16 (NIV) The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.

16 (CJB) Now the promises were made to Avraham and to his seed. It doesn’t say, “and to his seeds,” as if to many; on the contrary it speaks of one – “and to your seed” (Genesis 12:7, 13:15, 17:7, 24:7) – and this “one” is the Messiah.

Replacement Theologians take this idea of singular seed to rule out the idea of the promises applying to multiple seed ( all Abraham's descendents) although this would make a nonsense of much of the Bible.

What are the promises? Apparently, and according to Replacement Theology, they are about the land of Israel and given in Genesis 12 verse 7 - so we will check it in different translations.

NIV - Gen 12:7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, " To your offspring I will give this land ." So he built an altar there to the LORD , who had appeared to him.

CJB - Gen 12:7 ADONAI appeared to Avram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”

KJV - Gen 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed (Strong's 2233) will I give this land; and there built he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

We can look at the Hebrew for seed or offspring or descendents using the Strong's Dictionary reference above

Strong’s dictionary 2233 zera‛ zeh'-rah זרע

From H2232; seed; figuratively fruit, plant, sowingtime, posterity: - X carnally, child, fruitful, seed (-time), sowing-time.

Check the other references

(17:7) I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants (descendants CJB) after you for the generations to come , to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God."

(24:7) "The LORD , the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ` To your offspring (descendants CJB) I will give this land'—

Nearly all these references refer to plural seed. It looks as if Paul is making a midrash based on a possible but unlikely reading of one English word in the KJV that is not supported in other translations or the Hebrew? This is clearly ridiculous.

Anyway, all the promises of the land are clearly “forever” and “everlasting” and this is what Paul explained in Romans 9-11.

Surely it would be dangerous to start saying that we must discard what Paul said in v16. That would be the top of the slippery slope of saying parts of our Bible are wrong and untrustworthy?

There must be another explanation. Paul must be referring not to the promises of the land but to salvation and the role of the Messiah, for which we must search by checking the context.


Check the context of this teaching and you will find that it is not the gift of land.

The subject of the whole letter is legalism as against trusting and the role of the Torah as against Messiah’s sacrifice.

Important verses in the context before v 16 are

6 Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)

7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.

8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."

10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." (Deuteronomy 27:26)

11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." (Habakuk 2:4)

12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them."(Leviticus 18:5)

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

and after v 16...

17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.

Here Paul says clearly that the covenant was not set aside subsequently. Or, as he said in Romans 11, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Paul is using a what-if argument to point out that the inheritance does not depend on the law but on a promise; not on Israel's obedience.

The context of the singular seed in this teaching is the “Law” until Messiah came to deliver the promised righteousness by trusting.

22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.


29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

(This reference to us as Abraham’s seed contradicts the idea (v16) of seed being singular and referring to Christ. )


In all of this, Paul is talking about faith, justification and redemption; not about ownership of the land or the relevance of Israel. This argument is about the fulfilment of the promise of Genesis 12 v3 . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."


It seems clear, in context, that Paul is referring to the time when that blessing would be fulfilled through Yeshua the Messiah; the seed, singular, of Abraham. He is certainly not saying that God rejected Israel

For a more technical answer with the benefit of a Jewish perspective, see David Stern’s JNTC on v16.

In the Tanakh the term "seed" (Hebrew zera`), like English "posterity," is used in the singular as a collective noun to refer to all of a person's descendants. Thus the p'shat simple sense, (Explained in JNTC comment on Mt 2:15N) of this text has "seed" referring to Avraham's descendants. But Sha'ul is not expounding the p'shat; rather, his emphasis on the singular form of the Word allows the seed to sprout into a richly layered midrash:

( 1 ) Israel is God's son.

(2) The Messiah is God's Son.

(3) Israel is descended from Avraham, is Avraham's seed, the children of Avraham.

(4) The true children of Avraham are those who trust.

(5) Those who trust in Yeshua are united with him by that trust - they are part of his Body, one with him, one, singular.

(6) In the thinking of the Tanakh, a king represents his people to the point of being one with them; and the king of Israel is treated as representing Israel, standing for them, being one with them.

(7) The Messiah Yeshua is the King of Israel, the promised Son of David, one with Israel.

(8 ) By trusting, Gentiles become identified with and in some sense a part of Israel.

(9) All of God's promises reach their culmination and fulfilment in the Messiah, who is Avraham's "seed."

All nine of these truths lead to this verse, and this verse leads to these nine truths, each of which is expressed at greater length elsewhere in Galatians and the rest of the Bible (See, inter alia, Hosea 11:I ; Mt 2:15&N; Yn 17:20-26; Ro 9:6-13&NN; 2C 1:20&N; see below, 3:26-4:7&NN, 4:21-31&NN).

Clearly, from the context, this passage and particularly verse 16 has nothing to do with enabling Replacement Theologians to prove that God withdrew his promises concerning the land.

Paul is calling on the patriarch Abraham to witness that Christ is the fulfilment of the principle that we are justified by trusting; not in legalistically following the Torah.



Created 09/10/10

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