Galatians 3:16: What Kind Of Exegete Was Paul? -- By: C. John Collins

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:1 (NA 2003)
Article: Galatians 3:16: What Kind Of Exegete Was Paul?
Author: C. John Collins

Galatians 3:16:
What Kind Of Exegete Was Paul?

C. John Collins


This article aims to understand Paul’s argument about ‘seeds’ and ‘seed’ in Galatians 3:16 — first, by discerning which text of Genesis lies behind it; and secondly, by using recent grammatical work on ‘seed’ in Hebrew to discern whether the Hebrew is collective or singular. The article concludes that Paul was using Genesis 22:18, which speaks of an individual offspring, and that he properly applied it to Jesus as a Messianic text.


In Galatians 3:8 and 3:16 Paul claims that his mission and message to the Gentiles fulfill what Genesis had said about Abraham:

8 προϊδοῦσα δὲ ἡ γραφὴ ὅτι ἐκ πίστεως δικαιοῖ τὰ ἔθνη ὁ θεὸς προευηγγελίσατο τῷ Ἀβραὰμ ὅτι ἐνευλογηθήσονται᾿ ἐν σοὶ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη...16 τῷ δὲ Ἀβραὰμ ἐρρέθησαν αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ. οὐ λέγει· καὶ τοῖς σπέρμασιν, ὡφ ἐπὶ πολλῶν ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἐφ᾿ ἑνός καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου, ὅς ἐστιν Χριστός.

8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ … 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many; but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ which is Christ. (ESV)

The purpose of this study is to see if we can discern how Paul used these Old Testament passages. To do that, we will need first to discern just which text or texts he has alluded to; and then to consider what those passages mean in their context in Genesis. Then we will be able to see the relationship between their original meaning and Paul’s application.

Paul’s use of Genesis has provoked much discussion, because it is not immediately clear how he got his point from the texts he cited. For example, H.J. Schoeps declared Paul’s argument to be ‘both in

contradiction to the meaning of the word [seed/offspring] and to Biblical linguistic usage’; and one of Paul’s defenders, Leonhard Goppelt, has still called Pau...

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