Introduction – There are those that say that Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers in Messiah form what is now termed “true Israel” and replace the Jewish people (physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God’s covenant people.
This article is Part 2 of 3 in a series of articles, taking a deeper look at God’s promises to the Jewish people and God’s promises to the Gentiles.
The first article in the series can be found here: http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/pauls-use-of-the-term-israel-in-the-book-of-romans/
Beginning at the Beginning
The first two chapters of Genesis recount the creation of the earth and man and the beginning of Chapter 3 recounts the fall. In response, God doesn’t waste time, He does not leave the situation hopeless but immediately after the man and woman eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God speaks of the solution that He will someday bring and in speaking to the serpent, God says:
“I will put hostility (enmity) between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Immediately, God speaks of His solution; that someday, He will put an end to the hatred and hostility that Satan (the serpent) has for man by sending “the seed of the woman” who will strike the serpent’s head. He promises here that He will send the Messiah, the “seed of the woman” who will incapacitate the enemy — signified by striking his head, even though it will not be without a minor wounding to God’s Messiah — signified by the enemy striking His heel.
Paul, in the New Testament, relates back to this promise of “the seed of the woman” in Galatians 3:16 when he speaks of “the seed” in the singular and that “seed” being Messiah;
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ”
Paul makes the differentiation because readers of his letter (who were predominately Gentiles) would know that he was referring to the singular form of the word “seed” in Greek, because”seed” in Greek as well as Hebrew, could be used in two ways; in the singular and in the plural.
Understanding the word “seed”
The word “seed” in Hebrew (Strong’s H2233) and in Greek (Strong’s 4690) is a collective singular noun and can be used in two ways; to refer to (a) one person or (b) numerous, related people.
In Genesis 3:15, (“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”), the collective singular noun “seed” (Hebrew זֶרַע ), refers to one person, the Messiah.
In Gen 12:7, the collective singular noun “seed” (same Strong’s word H2233) is used to refer to the land that God promised to Abraham’s “seed” and applies to numerous, related descendants, the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews.
What were God’s promises to the Gentiles?
Speaking to Abraham of His promises, God says;
“I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse those who curse you,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
As we’ll develop in the next article, God lays out in detail who this “great nation” is and His “everlasting covenant” with them as a people, and the land He promises to give them as an “eternal possession”. He leaves no doubt that He is speaking of the physical descendants of Abraham, because He later repeats the same promises He gave Abraham to his son, Isaac and then repeats the same promises He gave Abraham to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (whose God later changes his name to Israel — and from whom the 12 tribes of Israel, the Jews, come).
But before God goes into all that detail, He speaks of His promise of the inclusion of the Gentiles!
The “all nations clause”
The book of Genesis from Chapter 12 to Chapter 50 pertains to the physical nation of Israel, the Jews — yet from the first time God begins to speak His promise to Abraham’s physical descendants, God speaks of His promise to the Gentiles!
The inclusion of the Gentiles is no afterthought – but is spoken of from Genesis Chapter 12, in the “all nations clause” ;
“…and all the peoples (nations) on earth
will be blessed through you.”
From the very first time that God promises Abraham that he will be the father of “a great nation” — a specific nation (Hebrew: לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל) though Isaac and Jacob, He promises (Genesis 12:3) that through a physical descendant of Abraham, a Jew, “all the peoples (nations) of the earth will be blessed“!
The word for “peoples” (sometimes translated “nations”) in Hebrew is the word “families” (Hebrew מִשְׁפְּחֹת) — so there is a contrast being made between (1) the promises being made to this “great nation” (singular) and (2) the promises begin made to “all the families of the earth” (plural) (Hebrew: מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה).
Paraphrasing, God is saying;
‘while there is the great nation that I will bless, and I make Abraham’s name great as a result of this nation, and that this nation will be a blessing, and I will bless the nations that blesses them and curse the nation that curse them — everybody, all the families of the earth will be blessed through a physical descendant of Abraham — a Jew, the Messiah.
This is how the “blessings of Abraham” come to the Gentiles in Jesus (Galatians 3:14)!
That One is the “seed of the woman” that God also spoke of in Genesis 3:15 — the One that will crush Satan’s head. He is the “seed” that all nations of the world are blessed though — the “great nation” and “all nations“.
Paul speaks of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Galatians 3:6-9, when he says;
“Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, then understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.”
…and Paul continues with the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Galatians 3:14-16, when he refers to the “seed” singular, meaning the Messiah — in contrast to “the seeds” (plural) which are the Jews.
“The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith. Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified. “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.“
Since “seed” can be used to refer to a single person or a group of related people, Paul in this passage is quite specific that he is suing the singular of “seed”, because he is referring back to the promise given to Abraham regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles — the “all nations clause” in Genesis 12:2-3; “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” which points to the original promise of the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15 (“I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”).
Paul specifies that he is using the singular form of the term “seed” because he is referring to the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15) — which is One person, the Messiah. In Galatians 3:16, Paul is saying “this is that“!
This Jesus is that “seed”.
He is the descendant of Abraham, through which all the nations of the world are blessed!
Inclusions of the Gentiles is anything but an afterthought to God. He spoke of His promises to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3) when He first spoke about His promises to the “great nation” (Genesis 12:1-2). He then repeats the exact same promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob i.e. the “great nation” in Genesis 25:16-7 and to “all the families of the earth” in Genesis 25:18!
It should not be missed, that just before Paul refers to Jesus being that one “seed“, in Galatians 3:15, he emphasizes in Galatians 3:15 that he is using a human illustration and that “No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified“.
What Paul is saying here is that even when people make a covenant with other people, no one sets aside or makes addition to a covenant after it has been ratified. The implication is ‘how much more will God not set aside or make addition to a covenant He makes, after it had been ratified?
Paul is saying is that inclusion of the Gentiles in no way alters God’s covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham (the Jews) and that likewise, God’s promise to the Gentiles, in no way supersedes God’s promises to the Jews.
God made promises to both the Jews and the Gentiles and He will keep His promises to both;
“Is God a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind? Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?”
God said to Moses (Deuteronomy 32:16-21) that because the Jews made Him jealous and angered Him by serving worthless idols, that He would make them envious and angry by choosing the Gentiles. (Deuteronomy 32:16-21, esp. verse 21)
“They made Me jealous by what is no god
and angered Me with their worthless idols.
I will make them envious by those who are not a people;
I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.”
God did exactly as He said He would by calling those from the Gentiles;
And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory—on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As He also says in Hosea:
I will call Not My People, My People,
and she who is Unloved, Beloved.
And it will be in the place where they were told,
you are not My people,
there they will be called sons of the living God.
Note: There are other related in articles in this current series, including;
God’s Promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant
“Paul’s Use of the term “Israel” in the Book of Romans”