I went to the second session of my church’s Bible study. We’re going through The Unbreakable Promise: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David With Michael Rydelnik. I have two items: Abraham’s seed, and generosity being motivated by faith that God will work things out.
1. Paul says in Galatians 3:16: ” Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”
I said in the group that I thought Paul’s reasoning here was pretty poor. Michael Rydelnik on the DVD employed similar argumentation. What I recall Rydelnik saying is that there is a shift to the singular in the Hebrew of Genesis 22:17. Genesis 22:17 states: “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17). According to Rydelnik, the seed that will possess the gate of his enemies is Christ. The thing is, though, I’m not sure where exactly Rydelnik believes the shift to the singular is, for the Hebrew word for seed, zera, is singular throughout Genesis 22:17. Zera often is a collective noun: it is singular, yet it is collective, like the words “nation,” or “community.” Even if zera is in the singular, it can still refer to a group of people rather than a single individual.
One person in the group, whom I will call “Joe,” responded that we have to look at the context: when the passage is talking about Abraham’s seed being more numerous than the stars of heaven, or Abraham’s seed possessing the land of Canaan, then the seed there is collective and applies to the nation of Israel; when it says that all the nations will be blessed through Abraham’s seed, however, then the seed there is Christ, for the only time when all the nations were blessed through Abraham’s seed was when they received salvation through faith in Christ.
I did not find Joe’s argument to be entirely convincing (though I let him have the last word), for he seemed to be assuming Christianity to argue for Christianity. Where does Genesis ever say that Abraham’s seed blessing the nations will entail people becoming saved and going to heaven after they die because they accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior? Are there other ways to understand the blessing that Abraham’s seed brings to the nations, ways that are more faithful to themes within the Hebrew Bible itself: Jacob bringing blessing to Laban when he was working for him, Joseph bringing blessing to the nations amidst famine as vizier of Egypt, or Israel bringing the nations knowledge of the one true God, in its history or in its time of eschatological restoration? Even Michael Rydelnik seemed to acknowledge some multifaceted application to God’s promises to Abraham.
And yet, Joe’s comments made me think: Does “seed” always mean a collective? Could it ever refer to a single individual? Someone else in the group made that sort of point: a person has offspring, and the offspring has offspring, etc. I did a search after I came home, and it appears that zera can sometimes refer to a particular person. In Genesis 4:25, after Eve gives birth to Seth, Adam says that God has given him seed in place of Abel. Seth is a zera.
But maybe the singular and the collective can overlap, on some level. Seth is a zera, and yet he will also produce a line. Even within the New Testament, Paul acknowledges that Abraham’s seed is collective. Granted, Paul believes that Abraham’s seed was Jesus Christ, yet Paul also argues that those who have faith are Abraham’s seed (i.e., Galatians 3:29).
I may have overstated my case in the group by arguing that zera is always collective. I still don’t think that Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:16 is very good, at least in terms of supporting his interpretation of Genesis. One can say that Paul was following rabbinic methods of interpretation, or that Paul was speaking to insiders to the Christian community rather than trying to convince outsiders. Perhaps, but I would have to hear more before those proposals sit well with me.
2. In Genesis 13, Abraham lets Lot have the land of his choice after their herdsmen dispute due to lack of room. Michael Rydelnik contends that Abraham could be so generous because he realized that God would eventually give all of the land to him (or at least his offspring), anyway. In my opinion, that made Abraham’s generosity sound less than generous, for Abraham is still thinking about what’s in it for him. At the same time, I do appreciate the theme that I am more likely to give to others when I firmly believe that God loves me and will work things out for my good. Attaining that sort of faith and then maintaining it can be rather difficult, however.