Who is Abraham’s Seed

INTRODUCTION: Understanding who “Abraham’s seed” is, is to understand God’s plan of redemption to ‘all nations of the earth’ since the book of Genesis! This article follows the previous 3 which covered the promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant, the promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant, as well as Paul’s use of the term “Israel” in Romans.

As mentioned in an earlier article, the term “seed” in Hebrew (זֶרַע ) is a collective singular noun and can be used to refer to an individual person or to a group of related individuals. Collectively, Scripture uses the term “seed” to apply to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and singularly to Jesus, the Messiah, but does Scripture use this term to refer to the Church?

God’s Promises in the Abrahamic Covenant

As covered in the last two articles, God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12 and gave promises to two groups of people;

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.

Genesis 12:2-3

The “great nation” (singular) that are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and Abraham’s “seed” (plural)

“All the nations (literally families) of the earth” (plural— are the Gentile nations of the earth that will be blessed through a specific physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — a Jew, the Messiah, who is the “seed” of Abraham (singular).

God refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Exodus 19:5 as “My own possession out of all the peoples” or “a particular people”, so there are “all the nations of the earth” and the “great nation“. But as we’ve said in earlier posts and repeat here, the redemption of those from the Gentiles nations was by no means an afterthought to God!

The Jews as Abraham’s Seed

God specified who this “great nation” He would make of Abraham would be — and who they would NOT be.  He left no room for doubt that He was speaking of the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and not Ishmael, and through Jacob, and not Esau.

[see God’s Promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant: http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/gods-promises-to-the-jews-in-the-abrahamic-covenant/]

God repeated the same promises that He made with Abraham concerning the “great nation” that He would make of them and the land that He was giving to them  — to Isaac (Abraham’s son through Sarah) and to Jacob, Isaac’s son (whose name God changed to “Israel” — and from whom the 12 tribes of Israel, the Jews, come).

God made an “everlasting covenant” with this people and in it gave this people a specific land as an “eternal possession“;

“I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.”

Genesis 17:7-8

God also promised through the prophet Jeremiah that as long as the sun shines in the day and the moon and the stars shine at night, that this “great nation”, Israel will be a nation before Him.  Only if the heavens above and the foundations of the earth below can be measured, will He reject Israel’s descendants because of all they have done;

This is what the Lord says:

The One who gives the sun for light by day,
the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar—
Yahweh of Hosts is His name:
If this fixed order departs from My presence—
this is the Lord’s declaration—
then also Israel’s descendants will cease
to be a nation before Me forever.
This is what the Lord says:

If the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below explored,
I will reject all of Israel’s descendants
because of all they have done
this is the Lord’s declaration.”

Jeremiah 31:35-37

Finally, God swore by Himself to uphold this covenant He made with the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He alone walked through the cut animal parts – He alone ratified the Covenant.

The only reason the Jewish people still exist is because of God’s faithfulness to His word — to keep the covenant that He made with Abraham, and restated to Isaac and to Jacob, and that He swore by Himself to uphold, even if the Jews broke it, which they did.

[Note: The penalty for the Jew’s disobedience was exile from the land (Leviticus 26: 30-33), see http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/fullfullment-of-the-second-gathering-of-the-jews-to-the-land-of-israel/]

The Jewish people (physical Israel) remains the nation before Him and will ever remain a nation before Him.  They are the people with whom God has an eternal covenant and to whom the land belongs as an eternal possession.

He has a plan of redemption for this people that He will fulfill — “when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled“.

[see “A Partial Hardening has Come to Israel Until the Full Number of the Gentiles has Come in” http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/a-partial-hardening-has-come-to-israel-until-the-full-number-of-the-gentiles-has-come-in/]

Jesus as “Abraham’s Seed”

Most occurrences of the term “seed” in Genesis ( זֶרַע ) is the collective use of the term and refer to Abraham’s physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob.  There are a few instances where the use is singular.

To understand whether the term “seed” is referring to a collective group of related people or to an individual requires looking at the context of its use. For example, in Genesis 17:9 (” God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations are to keep My covenant.”), the third person masculine plural personal pronoun in Hebrew (the equivalent of the word “their”) makes “seed” (or “offspring”) explicitly collective. However, in Genesis 3:14-15, where God speaks of the remedy He will someday bring after the fall of man, it is clear by the use of pronouns in the Hebrew (and reflected in the English translation, by the pronoun “He”) that God is referring to a single individual;

“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.”

Genesis 3:15

The “seed of the woman” is the One that will crush Satan’s head and He is also the “seed” that all nations of the world are blessed though;

“…and all the peoples (nations) on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:3

Paul refers to Jesus as “the seed” (singular)

From the beginning of Chapter 3 of Galatians, Paul is speaking of the inclusion of the Gentiles;

“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.”

Galatians 3:6-9

…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.

Galatians 3:16

Since “seed” can be used to refer to a single person or a group of related people, Paul in this passage is 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 uses 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“!

He is saying that Jesus is that “seed” — He is the descendant of Abraham, through which all the nations of the world are blessed!

Peter refers to Jesus as “the seed” (singular)

Peter, in speaking to the Jews at the Temple, also identifies Jesus as this “seed” or “offspring”;

“…all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.”

Acts 3:24-25

The Church as “Abraham’s Seed”

God made a promise in Genesis 3:15 to “all the nations (or families) of the earth” that they would be blessed through a very specific physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and that He would put an end to the hatred and hostility that Satan (the serpent) has for man by sending “the seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:16) who will strike the serpent’s head. The One being spoken of is the Messiah, the “seed of the woman”.

As mentioned above, from the beginning of Chapter 3 of Galatians Paul is speaking about how salvation came to the Gentiles:

“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.”

Galatians 3:8-9

Paul is still taking about salvation to the Gentiles in verse 14, when he says that the purpose of Messiah being hung on the tree and taking the curse for us was that the “blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles“;

“The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus…”

Galatians 3:14

Paul is still speaking about how salvation came to the Gentiles in Galatians 3:16, when he speaks of “the seed“, the Messiah, in the singular;

“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”

Galatians 3: 16

As mentioned previously, Paul is relating this “seed” of Abraham back to this .promise of “the seed of the woman” and saying that this “seed” is Messiah.

In verse 19 of Galatians 3, Paul is still speaking of this “seed” in the singular;

“Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. The law was put into effect through angels by means of a mediator.”

Galatians 3:19

 

Paul is saying that the coming of the Messiah — Abraham’s “seed” (Galatians 3:16) was to enable Gentiles to be granted the same title  – Abraham’s seed!

“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”

Galatians 3:28-29

Messiah is the descendant of Abraham in whom all the nations (or ‘families’) of the earth are blessed.

Reading backwards

Those that view that the “seed” in Galatians 3:16 as referring to the “singular family” of those that believe in Messiah (i.e. the “Church“) and not to the Messiah Himself, base it on it ‘being good exegetical practice to understand more obscure texts in light of clearer ones” (N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology).

They maintain that since verse 29 refers to those who belong to Messiah (whether Jew or Gentile) as “Abraham’s seed“, and it is [allegedly] not clear what verse 16 is referring to, we necessarily need to understand verse 16 in light of verse 29.  In other words, we understand verse 16 by reading backwards, beginning at verse 29.

Reading backwards to understand a text is not only incredibly poor exegesis but it is abundantly clear from the beginning of Galatians 3 what Paul is speaking about.  He says so! Paul says in verse 8 and 9 of Galatians 3 that he is speaking about how salvation came to the Gentiles:

“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.”

Galatians 3:8-9

…so Paul is still speaking about how salvation came to the Gentiles in Galatians 3:16, when he speaks of “the seed” in the singular;

“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”

Galatians 3: 16

Furthermore, in verse 16, Paul says that the “seed” is Messiah!  How much clearer could it get?

As God had promised in the “all-nations clause” of the Abrahamic Covenant, salvation came to the Gentiles though the “seed” (singular),  who is the Messiah — the “seed of the woman“, who strikes the serpent’s head. It is through the Messiah, a physical descendant of Abraham, through Isaac and through Jacob – a Jew, that “all the nations of the earth are blessed” (Genesis 3:15).

This is what Paul is saying throughout Galatians 3 — and a straight-forward reading of the text clearly shows this.

In addition, this is also what Peter was saying in Acts 3:24-25 when he identifies Jesus as this “seed” or “offspring” of Abraham;

“…all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.”

Acts 3:24-25

Israel, the Gentiles and the Church

Paul says in Galatians 3 that even when people make covenants with each other, they don’t set aside or makes addition to it after it has been ratified;

“Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified.”

Galatians 3:15

The implication here is ‘how much more will God not set aside or make addition to a covenant He makes, after it had been ratified’?

God ratified the Abrahamic Covenant when He alone walked through the cut animal parts. It is an eternal covenant; with the “all-nations clausestill in effect to the Gentiles and the promises of a “land” and a “people” to the “great nation” (the Jews) still in effect.

Inclusion of the Gentiles in no way alters God’s covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and 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.

In fact, Paul warns the Gentile believers in Romans 11:14-25 not to think that God has rejected the Jews and in speaking about the unbelief of much of physical Israel exhorts the Gentile Christians “not to brag (:18), not to be arrogant (:20), not to be conceited (:25) and not to be unaware (:25) of the mystery of God’s plans of redemption — that a partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

Why did God allow this partial hardening to happen to the Jews? Romans 9:23 says specifically that it was to allow the Gentiles to come to faith (i.e. “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”).

God has done as He said He would;

“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.

~Romans 9:23

Choosing the Gentiles

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.”

Deuteronomy 32:21

…and 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.

Romans 9:23-25

One New Man

Those who have faith in the Messiah – both Jew and Gentile according to the promise are “the Church” (Galatians 3:28-29) – the “one new man” of Ephesians 2:11-15;

“So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands.  At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.  For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.  He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.”

Final thoughts…

Understanding who “Abraham’s seed” is — is to understand God’s plan of redemption to ‘all the nations of the earth’ and ‘the great nation’ since the book of Genesis!

 

Inclusion of the Gentiles as “Abraham’s seed” in no way alters God’s covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham (the Jews) and God’s promise to the Gentiles in the “all nations clause” in no way supersedes God’s promises to the Jews.

It is “both” / “and”.

The “Church” are those, whether Jews or Gentiles, who belong to Messiah, the “one new man” of Ephesian 2: 11-15.

“And if you belong to Messiah,

then you are Abraham’s seed

—heirs according to the promise.”

Galatians 3:28-29

Israel the Church the Nations