Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Galatians 3:16

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Now to Abraham and his seed - The promise of salvation by faith was made to Abraham and his posterity.

He saith not, And to seeds - It was one particular kind of posterity which was intended: but as of one - which is Christ; i.e. to the spiritual head, and all believers in him, who are children of Abraham, because they are believers, Galatians 3:7. But why does the apostle say, not of seeds, as of many? To this it is answered, that Abraham possessed in his family two seeds, one natural, viz. the members of his own household; and the other spiritual, those who were like himself because of their faith. The promises were not of a temporal nature; had they been so, they would have belonged to his natural seed; but they did not, therefore they must have belonged to the spiritual posterity. And as we know that promises of justification, etc., could not properly be made to Christ in himself, hence we must conclude his members to be here intended, and the word Christ is put here for Christians. It is from Christ that the grace flows which constitutes Christians. Christians are those who believe after the example of Abraham; they therefore are the spiritual seed. Christ, working in and by these, makes them the light and salt of the world; and through them, under and by Christ, are all the nations of the earth blessed. This appears to be the most consistent interpretation, though every thing must be understood of Christ in the first instance, and then of Christians only through him.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Now to Abraham and his seed - To him and his posterity.

Were the promises made - The promise here referred to was that which is recorded in Genesis 22:17-18. “In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”

He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one … - He does not use the plural term, as if the promise extended to many persons, but he speaks in the singular number, as if only one was intended; and that one must be the Messiah. Such is Paul‘s interpretation; such is evidently the sentiment which he intends to convey, and the argument which he intends to urge. He designs evidently to be understood as affirming that in the use of the singular number σπέρμα sperma(seed), instead of the plural σπέρματα spermata(seeds), there is a fair ground of argument to demonstrate that the promise related to Christ or the Messiah, and to him primarily if not exclusively. Now no one probably ever read this passage without feeling a difficulty, and without asking himself whether this argument is sound, and is worthy a man of candor, and especially of an inspired man. Some of the difficulties in the passage are these:

(1) The promise referred to in Genesis seems to have related to the posterity of Abraham at large, without any particular reference to an individual. It is to his seed; his descendants; to all his seed or posterity. Such would be the fair and natural interpretation should it be read by hundreds or thousands of persons who had never heard of the interpretation here put upon it by Paul.

(2) the argument of the apostle seems to proceed on the supposition that the word “seed” σπέρμα spermathat is, posterity, here cannot refer to more than one person. If it had, says he, it would be in the plural number. But the fact is, that the word is often used to denote posterity at large; to refer to descendants without limitation, just as the word posterity is with us; and it is a fact, moreover, that the word is not used in the plural at all to denote a posterity, the singular form being constantly employed for that purpose.

Anyone who will open Tromm‘s Concordance to the Septuagint, or Schmids‘ Concordance on the New Testament will see the most ample confirmation of this remark. Indeed the plural form of the word is never used except in this place in Galatians. The difficulty, therefore, is, that the remark here of Paul appears to be a trick of argument, or a quibble more worthy of a trifling Jewish Rabbi, than of a serious reasoner or an inspired man. I have stated this difficulty freely, just as I suppose it has struck hundreds of minds, because I do not wish to shrink from any real difficulty in examining the Bible, but to see whether it can be fairly met. In meeting it, expositors have resorted to various explanations, most of them, as it seems to me, unsatisfactory, and it is not necessary to detail them. Dr. Burner, Doddridge, and some others suppose that the apostle means to say that the promises made to Abraham were not only appropriated to one class of his descendants, that is, to those by Isaac, but that they centered in one illustrious person, through whom all the rest are made partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.

This Doddridge admits the apostle says in “bad Greek,” but still he supposes that this is the true exposition. Noessett and Rosenmuller suppose that by the word σπέρμα sperma(seed) here is not meant the Messiah, but Christians in general; the body of believers. But this is evidently in contradiction of the apostle, who expressly affirms that Christ was intended. It is also liable to another objection that is fatal to the opinion. The very point of the argument of the apostle is, that the singular and not the plural form of the word is used, and that therefore an individual, and not a collective body or a number of individuals, is intended. But according to this interpretation the reference is, in fact, to a numerous body of individuals, to the whole body of Christians. Jerome affirms that the apostle made use of a false argument, which, although it might appear well enough to the stupid Galatians, would not be approved by wise or learned men - Chandler. Borger endeavors to show that this was in accordance with the mode of speaking and writing among the Hebrews, and especially that the Jewish Rabbis were accustomed to draw an argument like this from “the singular number,” and that the Hebrew word זרע zera‛“seed” is often used by them in this manner; see his remarks as quoted by Bloomfield in loc.

But the objection to this is, that though this might be common, yet it is not the less a quibble on the word, for certainly the very puerile reasoning of the Jewish Rabbis is no good authority on which to vindicate the authority of an apostle. Locke and Clarke suppose that this refers to Christ as the spiritual head of the mystical body, and to all believers in him. LeClerc supposes that it is an allegorical kind of argument, that was suited to convince the Jews only, who were accustomed to this kind of reasoning. I do not know but this solution may be satisfactory to many minds, and that it is capable of vindication, since it is not easy to say how far it is proper to make use of methods of argument used by an adversary in order to convince them. The argumentum a.d. hominem is certainly allowable to a certain extent, when designed to show the legitimate tendency of the principles advanced by an opponent.

But here there is no evidence that Paul was reasoning with an adversary. He was showing the Galatians, not the Jews, what was the truth, and justice to the character of the apostle requires us to suppose that he would make use of only such arguments as are in accordance with the eternal principles of truth, and such as may be seen to he true in all countries and at all times. The question then is, whether the argument of the apostle here drawn from the use of the singular word σπέρματα spermata(seed), is one that can be seen to be sound? or is it a mere quibble, as Jerome and LeClerc suppose? or is it to be left to be presumed to have had a force which we cannot now trace? for this is possible. Socrates and Plato may have used arguments of a subtile nature, based on some nice distinctions of words which were perfectly sound, but which we, from our necessary ignorance of the delicate shades of meaning in the language, cannot now understand. Perhaps the following remarks may show that there is real force and propriety in the position which the apostle takes here. If not, then I confess my inability to explain the passage.

(1) there can be no reasonable objection to the opinion that the promise originally made to Abraham included the Messiah; and the promised blessings were to descend through him. This is so often affirmed in the New Testament, that to deny it would be to deny the repeated declarations of the sacred writers, and to make war on the whole structure of the Bible; see particularly John 8:56. If this general principle be admitted, it will remove much perplexity from the controversy.

(2) the promise made to Abraham Genesis 22:18, “and in thy seed זרץ zera‛Septuagint ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου en tō spermati sou), where the words both in Hebrew and in Greek are in the singular number) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” cannot refer to all the seed or the posterity of Abraham taken collectively. He had two sons, Isaac by Rebecca, and Ishmael by Hagar, besides numerous descendants by Keturah; Genesis 25:1 ff. Through a large part of these no particular blessings descended on the human family, and there is no sense in which all the families of the earth are particularly blessed in them. On any supposition, therefore, there must have been some limitation of the promise; or the word “seed” was intended to include only some portion of his descendants, whether a particular branch or an individual, does not yet appear. It must have referred to a part only of the posterity of Abraham, but to what part is to be learned only by subsequent revelations.

(3) it was the intention of God to confine the blessing to one branch of the family, to Isaac and his descendants. The special promised blessing was to be through him, and not through the family of Ishmael. This intention is often expressed, Genesis 17:19-21; Genesis 21:12; Genesis 25:11; compare Romans 9:7; Hebrews 11:18. Thus, the original promise of a blessing through the posterity of Abraham became somewhat narrowed down, so as to show that there was to be a limitation of the promise to a particular portion of his posterity.

(4) if the promise had referred to the two branches of the family; if it had been intended to include Ishmael as well as Isaac, then some term would have been used that would have expressed this. So unlike were Isaac and Ishmael; so different in the circumstances of their birth and their future life; so dissimilar were the prophecies respecting them, that it might be said that their descendants were two races of people; and in Scripture the race of Ishmael ceased to be spoken of as the descendants or the posterity of Abraham. There was a sense in which the posterity of Isaac was regarded as the seed or posterity of Abraham in which the descendants of Ishmael were not; and the term σπέρμα spermaor “seed” therefore properly designated the posterity of Isaac. It might be said, then, that the promise “to thy seed” did not refer to the two races, as if he had said σπέρματα spermata“seeds,” but to one σπέρμα sperma“the seed” of Abraham, by way of eminence.

(5) this promise was subsequently narrowed down still more, so as to include only one portion of the descendants of Isaac. Thus it was limited to the posterity of Jacob, Esau being excluded; subsequently the special blessing was promised to the family of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob Genesis 49:10; in subsequent times it was still further narrowed down or limited to the family of Jesse; then to that of David; then to that of Solomon, until it terminated in the Messiah. The original intention of the promise was that there should be a limitation, and that limitation was made from age to age, until it terminated in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. By being thus narrowed down from age to age, and limited by successive revelations, it was shown that the Messiah was eminently intended, which is what Paul says here. The promise was indeed at first general, and the term used was of the most general nature; but it was shown from time to time that God intended that it should be applied only to one branch or portion of the family of Abraham; and that limitation was finally so made as to terminate in the Messiah. This I take to be the meaning of this very difficult passage of scripture; and though it may not be thought that all the perplexities are removed by these remarks, yet I trust they will be seen to be so far removed as that it will appear that there is real force in the argument of the apostle, and that it is not a mere trick of argument, or a quibble unworthy of him as an apostle and a man.

(Whatever may be thought of this solution of thee difficulty, the author has certainly given more than due prominence to the objections that are supposed to lie against the apostle‘s argument. Whatever license a writer in the American Biblical Repository, or such like work, might take, it certainly is not wise in a commentary intended for Sunday Schools to affirm, that the great difficulty of the passage is “that the remark here of Paul appears to be a trick of argument, or a quibble more worthy of a trifling Jewish Rabbi than of a serious reasoner and an inspired man,” and then to exhibit such a formidable array of objection, and behind it a defense comparatively feeble, accompanied with the acknowledgment that if that be not sufficient the author can do no more! These objections, moreover, are not only stated “fairly” but strongly, and something more than strongly; so that while in the end the authority of the apostle is apparently vindicated, the effect is such, that the reader, unaccustomed to such treatment of inspired men, is tempted to exclaim, “non tali auxillo, nec defensoribus istis, tempus eget” Indeed we are surprised that, with Bloomfield and Burger before him, the author should ever have made some of the assertions which are set down under this text.

As to objection first, it does not matter what interpretation hundreds and thousands of persons would naturally put on the passage in Genesis, since the authority of an inspired apostle must be allowed to settle its meaning against them all. The second objection affirms, that “the word σπέρμα spermais not used in the plural at all to denote a posterity,” on which Bloomfield thus remarks, “it has been denied that the word זרץ zera‛is ever used in the plural, except to denote the seeds of vegetables. And the same assertion has been made respecting σπέρμα spermaBut the former position merely extends to the Old Testament, which only contains a fragment and small part of the Hebrew language. So that it cannot be proved that זרץ zera‛was never used in the plural to denote sons, races. As to the latter assertion it is unfounded; for though σπέρμα spermais used in the singular as a noun of multitude, to denote several children, yet it is sometimes used in the plural to signify several sons of the same family; as in Soph. OEd. Colossians 599, γῆς εμῆς ἀπηλάθην Προς τῶν ἐμαυτοῦ σπερμάτων gēs emēs apēlathēn Pros emautou spermatōnelaborate Latin Note of Borger, part of which is quoted in Bloomfield, will give complete satisfaction to the student who may wish thoroughly to examine this place. He maintains:

1. That though the argument of the apostle may not be founded exactly on the use of the singular number, yet the absurdity at his application of the passage in Genesis to the Messiah, would have been obvious if, instead of the singular the plural had been used, “si non σπέρματος spermatossed σπέρματων spermatōnmentio fuisset facta;” from which he justly concludes, that at all events “numerum cum hac explicatione non pugnare.”

2. The word זרץ zera‛is in certain places understood of one man only (de uno homine) and therefore may be so here.

3. The apostle, arguing with Jews, employs an argument to which they were accustomed to attach importance; for they laid great stress on the respective use of the singular and plural number; which argument. indeed, would be liable to the objections stated against it by Mr. Barnes, if the thing to be proven rested entirely on this ground, and had not, besides, its foundation in the actual truth of the case. If the singular number in this place really had that force attached to it which the apostle declares, and if the Jews were influenced in other matters by arguments of this kind, it was certainly both lawful and wise to reason with them after their own fashion.

4. What is still more to the point, the Jewish writers themselves frequently use the word זרץ zera‛not only of one man, but especially of the Messiah, “non tantum de uno homine, sed imprimis etiam de Messia exponere solent.”

On the whole, the objections against the reasoning on this passage are raised in defiance of apostolical interpretation. But, as has been well observed, “the apostle, to say nothing of his inspiration, might be supposed to be better qualified to decide on a point of this kind, than any modern philologist” - Bloomfield in loco.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The covenant God made with Abraham, was not done away by the giving the law to Moses. The covenant was made with Abraham and his Seed. It is still in force; Christ abideth for ever in his person, and his spiritual seed, who are his by faith. By this we learn the difference between the promises of the law and those of the gospel. The promises of the law are made to the person of every man; the promises of the gospel are first made to Christ, then by him to those who are by faith ingrafted into Christ. Rightly to divide the word of truth, a great difference must be put between the promise and the law, as to the inward affections, and the whole practice of life. When the promise is mingled with the law, it is made nothing but the law. Let Christ be always before our eyes, as a sure argument for the defence of faith, against dependence on human righteousness.
Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 222

Plain and specific prophecies had been given regarding the appearance of the Promised One. To Adam was given an assurance of the coming of the Redeemer. The sentence pronounced on Satan, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15), was to our first parents a promise of the redemption to be wrought out through Christ. AA 222.1

To Abraham was given the promise that of his line the Saviour of the world should come: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16. AA 222.2

Moses, near the close of his work as a leader and teacher of Israel, plainly prophesied of the Messiah to come. “The Lord thy God,” he declared to the assembled hosts of Israel, “will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken.” And Moses assured the Israelites that God Himself had revealed this to him while in Mount Horeb, saying, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him.” Deuteronomy 18:15, 18. AA 222.3

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 169

In choosing a home, God would have us consider, first of all, the moral and religious influences that will surround us and our families. We may be placed in trying positions, for many cannot have their surroundings what they would; and whenever duty calls us, God will enable us to stand uncorrupted, if we watch and pray, trusting in the grace of Christ. But we should not needlessly expose ourselves to influences that are unfavorable to the formation of Christian character. When we voluntarily place ourselves in an atmosphere of worldliness and unbelief, we displease God and drive holy angels from our homes. PP 169.1

Those who secure for their children worldly wealth and honor at the expense of their eternal interests, will find in the end that these advantages are a terrible loss. Like Lot, many see their children ruined, and barely save their own souls. Their lifework is lost; their life is a sad failure. Had they exercised true wisdom, their children might have had less of worldly prosperity, but they would have made sure of a title to the immortal inheritance. PP 169.2

The heritage that God has promised to His people is not in this world. Abraham had no possession in the earth, “no, not so much as to set his foot on.” Acts 7:5. He possessed great substance, and he used it to the glory of God and the good of his fellow men; but he did not look upon this world as his home. The Lord had called him to leave his idolatrous countrymen, with the promise of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession; yet neither he nor his son nor his son's son received it. When Abraham desired a burial place for his dead, he had to buy it of the Canaanites. His sole possession in the Land of Promise was that rock-hewn tomb in the cave of Machpelah. PP 169.3

But the word of God had not failed; neither did it meet its final accomplishment in the occupation of Canaan by the Jewish people. “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made.” Galatians 3:16. Abraham himself was to share the inheritance. The fulfillment of God's promise may seem to be long delayed—for “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8); it may appear to tarry; but at the appointed time “it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Habakkuk 2:3. The gift to Abraham and his seed included not merely the land of Canaan, but the whole earth. So says the apostle, “The promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4:13. And the Bible plainly teaches that the promises made to Abraham are to be fulfilled through Christ. All that are Christ's are “Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise”—heirs to “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away”—the earth freed from the curse of sin. Galatians 3:29; 1 Peter 1:4. For “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;” and “the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Daniel 7:27; Psalm 37:11. PP 169.4

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 370

It was their own evil heart of unbelief, controlled by Satan, that led them to hide their light, instead of shedding it upon surrounding peoples; it was that same bigoted spirit that caused them either to follow the iniquitous practices of the heathen or to shut themselves away in proud exclusiveness, as if God's love and care were over them alone. PP 370.1

As the Bible presents two laws, one changeless and eternal, the other provisional and temporary, so there are two covenants. The covenant of grace was first made with man in Eden, when after the Fall there was given a divine promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. To all men this covenant offered pardon and the assisting grace of God for future obedience through faith in Christ. It also promised them eternal life on condition of fidelity to God's law. Thus the patriarchs received the hope of salvation. PP 370.2

This same covenant was renewed to Abraham in the promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 22:18. This promise pointed to Christ. So Abraham understood it (see Galatians 3:8, 16), and he trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It was this faith that was accounted unto him for righteousness. The covenant with Abraham also maintained the authority of God's law. The Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” Genesis 17:1. The testimony of God concerning His faithful servant was, “Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Genesis 26:5. And the Lord declared to him, “I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” Genesis 17:7. PP 370.3

Though this covenant was made with Adam and renewed to Abraham, it could not be ratified until the death of Christ. It had existed by the promise of God since the first intimation of redemption had been given; it had been accepted by faith; yet when ratified by Christ, it is called a new covenant. The law of God was the basis of this covenant, which was simply an arrangement for bringing men again into harmony with the divine will, placing them where they could obey God's law. PP 370.4

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