Skip to content

The Seed, the Many and the One

1319105_43172689Lionel J. Windsor, “The ‘Seed,’ the ‘Many’ and the ‘One’ in Galatians 3:16: Paul’s Reading of Genesis 17 and its Significance for Gentiles” in “All That the Prophets Have Declared”: The Appropriation of Scripture in the Emergence of Christianity. Edited by Matthew R. Malcolm. Authentic Media (Paternoster), 2015.

Summary of the essay

Galatians 3:16 reads:

Now it is to Abraham that the promises were spoken—and to his seed. It does not say, ‘and to the seeds’ (καὶ τοῖς σπέρμασιν), as referring to many (ἐπὶ πολλῶν), but as referring to one (ἐφ᾿ ἑνός): ‘and to your seed’ (καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου)—who is Christ.

This essay offers a fresh interpretation of Galatians 3:16, by paying close attention to features of the source text on which it is based: Genesis 17. The essay argues that Paul is carefully re-reading the text of Genesis 17 in a new, yet surprisingly coherent, fashion, interpreting it in light of the death of Christ. Paul is claiming that Christ, according to the Scriptures, is the ‘seed’ who alone bore the curse of the law for the sake of others—the exclusive ‘one’ who died on behalf of the ‘many’.

This interpretation is made in opposition to two broad lines of scholarly interpretation:

  1. The majority of interpreters argue, in various ways, that Paul is making a contrast here between the many physical descendants of Abraham—Israelites—and the single descendant of Abraham who is the only true heir to the promises—Christ. The problem with this interpretation is that Paul seems to using his source text in an arbitrary and/or linguistically naive manner.
  2. Another, minority line of interpretation understands the contrast between plurality and singularity not as a contrast between the collective Israel and the individual Christ, but rather as a contrast between two different collective possibilities for Abraham’s posterity. The first possibility is the plurality of ‘families’ (Jews and Gentiles) which would result if the people of God were demarcated by circumcision and Torah. The second possibility is the single, united family which will result if the people of God are demarcated by faith in Christ. There are a number of problems with this interpretation, including the untenable requirement that “Christ” must be understood as a corporate figure rather than an individual.

Our fresh interpretation of Galatians 3:16 is consistent with, and further undergirds, Paul’s understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death. Firstly Christ is individual who acts exclusively, by his death, to redeem others by taking on their sin and curse; and consequently Christ is the representative of a new people, standing in corporate solidarity with those whom he has redeemed. Christ’s exclusive role precedes his inclusive role; Christ’s substitution precedes believers’ participation.

Publication details and availability

9781842278703_934815The essay appears in the book “All That the Prophets Have Declared”: The Appropriation of Scripture in the Emergence of Christianity. Edited by Matthew R. Malcolm. Authentic Media (Paternoster), 2015.

Publisher’s description:

Jesus and the New Testament writers use their Scriptures in ways that may seem foreign to those who use those same Scriptures today.This volume considers how the identities and missions of Jesus and his earliest followers were informed by their surprising readings of the Scriptures.

Contents:

  • Larry Hurtado, Core OT texts and their Christological Interpretation
  • Ian Malcolm & Matthew Malcolm, All the Scriptures
  • Roland Deines, Scripture and Jesus
  • Donald West, Acts 4 and Prayer
  • Ben Sutton, Acts 10 and Peter
  • Mark Seifrid, Scripture and Paul
  • Lionel Windsor, Seed, Many, One in Galatians
  • Martin Foord, Psalm 68 in Ephesians
  • Mark Keown, Scripture in Philippians
  • Allan Chapple, Scripture and 1 Peter
  • Matthew Malcolm, Triadic Figures in Hebrews
  • Rory Shiner, Reading the New Testament from the Outside.

 Commendations:

This collection of essays brings together leading scholars from around the world to explore how the New Testament authors use the Old Testament to express the identity of Jesus Christ. The result is a penetrating insight into how the first Christians expressed their faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Taken together, the various studies explain what it means to say that the things pertaining to Jesus happened “according to the scriptures”. A first-class study for anyone desiring a deeper grasp of biblical exegesis and early Christology.

Michael Bird, Ridley College, Australia

The talented authors of this volume present fresh and stimulating perspectives on the perennial challenge of the use of the OT in the NT. They employ insights from cognate studies, particularly linguistics, cultural memory, and identity, examining test cases from different parts of the NT canon, and illustrating the early church’s re-appropriation of the texts. There is a feast of good things here that demonstrate how productive and helpful believing scholarship can be. This deserves a wide readership.

Donald A. Hagner, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, USA

Recent blog posts

  • Holding child's handImitators of God (Ephesians 5:1–2)
    Christians are God’s dearly loved children, raised from death to life and secure with him, now and forever. This is what gives us the power to sacrifice.
  • Preaching sermons and shepherding the flock: What’s the connection?
    Lionel Windsor | 2 Feb 2015 | Priscilla and Aquila Conference | Moore College, Sydney I’m here republishing my 2015 paper, which originally appeared as a PDF and video. See here for more on the
  • Photo: NASA/ISS CrewThe Amazon Fires: A Gospel Response
    Unprecedented numbers of fires are now burning in the Amazon rainforest. How can the gospel of Jesus Christ be brought to bear on the situation?
  • Photo by Xan Griffin on UnsplashThe Victory of the Cross
    According to the Bible, Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s victory and triumph—a victory and triumph Christ shares with all who trust in him... (Audio)
  • Photo by Lina Trochez on UnsplashThe power of forgiveness (Ephesians 4:31–32)
    Believers are to forgive, as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness is not only possible for believers, it’s also powerful for our lives and relationships.
  • Photo by Brett Jordan on UnsplashWords with purpose (Ephesians 4:29–30)
    Christians have a whole new reason to speak. Instead of rotten words or selfish words, we are to speak good words: word that build and give grace.
  • Photo by Ben White on UnsplashThe gospel for criminals (Ephesians 4:28)
    Paul preaches the gospel to thieves. God’s grace gives us a new identity. That means we have work to do: not so we can take, but so we can give.
  • Sun setting on ruinsGrace and anger (Ephesians 4:26–27)
    Whether our anger is right or wrong, we can’t deny it’s there. But because we belong to Christ, we must make it a priority to deal with anger. How?
  • Is God Green? By Lionel WindsorIs God Green? Audio/video links
    Here are some links to audio and video for events I've spoken at recently based on my book: Is God Green?
  • Donald Robinson Selected Works volumes 3 and 4Donald Robinson on the Origins of the Anglican Church League
    History matters. It makes us question things we take for granted, it helps us to understand who we are, and it gives us a broader perspective on the issues we face today. One example – relevant for evangelical Anglicans, especially in Sydney – is an essay in Donald Robinson Selected Works, volume 4 (recently published by the Australian Church Record and Moore College). The essay is called “The Origins of the Anglican Church League” (pp. 125–52). It’s a republication of a paper given in 1976 by Donald Robinson (1922–2018), former Moore College Vice-Principal and later Archbishop of Sydney. In the paper, Robinson traces some of the currents and issues that led to the formation of the Anglican Church League in the early twentieth century. The essay is classic Donald Robinson: full of surprises, yet definitely still worth reading today to help us gain perspective on issues for evangelical Anglicans past and present.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor