Lionel 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:
- 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.
- 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
The 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.
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.
- 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.
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