A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 36

The Argument From Seed (Gal 3:16)

He saith not “And to seeds,” as of many; but as of one, “And to thy seed,” which is Christ.

It is necessary for Paul’s argument to show that all nations, and not Jews alone, have the right to share in the blessings promised to Abraham. He finds the proof in the fact that the various promises made to Abraham were made equally to his seed.1 Now, as Lightfoot says, “with a true spiritual instinct even the Rabbinical writers saw that ‘the Christ’ was the true seed of Abraham: in Him the race was summed up, as it were; without Him its separate existence as a peculiar people had no meaning.” In “the seed of Abraham” all nations were to be blessed (Gen 26:8). It cannot be doubted by those who regard the evolution of Hebraic religion and the coming of Christ as a series of steps in the gradual working out of the will of God, that this interpretation of the “seed of Abraham” is justified.

But, instead of using this way of reasoning simply, Paul seems to have been tempted to aim at the same result by a verbal argument. The Greek philosophers were often led astray by an idea that mere grammatical facts and forms contained some deep philosophical or mystical truth: Plato’s Cratylus is sufficient evidence of this. Paul, therefore, argues that as the singular, “seed,” is used, not the plural, the single great descendant of Abraham is meant, and not the many less important descendants. If we rightly take the meaning, this is, obviously, a mere verbal quibble, of no argumentative force. Paul sees clearly and correctly the result to be aimed at, but he reaches the result by a process of reasoning which has no more force in logic than the poorest word-splitting of any old Greek philosopher or Hebrew Rabbi.

The attempt which Lightfoot makes to defend the character of the reasoning from “seed” and “seeds” cannot be pronounced successful. It amounts practically to this “the theological result aimed at is right” (as we fully admit), “therefore the reasoning can hardly be wrong”.

If we set aside the verbal fallacy, the argument remains complete and correct.

The promises were made to Abraham and to his seed.

The true “seed of Abraham” is “the Christ”.

“The Christ” is the whole body of true Christians.

The promises were made to all Christians.

That is to say, the promises made to Abraham are the heritage of the whole Church of Christ, the whole multitude of those who are justified by faith in Christ.

The argument is one more of the many ways in which Paul reiterates the fundamental truth that he has to drive home into the minds of the Galatians, or rather to revivify in their memory.2 It is specially obvious here that Paul is appealing to familiar doctrines, already set forth to the Galatians, and not arguing to a circle of readers on a topic new to them.

 

[1] Gen 13:15; Gen 17:8.

[2] See XXI.

Book Navigation Title Page Preface Table of Contents Religion in Asia Minor      ► Chapter 1      ► Chapter 2      ► Chapter 3      ► Chapter 4      ► Chapter 5      ► Chapter 6      ► Chapter 7      ► Chapter 8      ► Chapter 9      ► Chapter 10      ► Chapter 11      ► Chapter 12      ► Chapter 13      ► Chapter 14      ► Chapter 15      ► Chapter 16      ► Chapter 17      ► Chapter 18      ► Chapter 19      ► Chapter 20      ► Chapter 21      ► Chapter 22      ► Chapter 23 Historical Commentary      ► Section 1      ► Section 2      ► Section 3      ► Section 4      ► Section 5      ► Section 6      ► Section 7      ► Section 8      ► Section 9      ► Section 10      ► Section 11      ► Section 12      ► Section 13      ► Section 14      ► Section 15      ► Section 16      ► Section 17      ► Section 18      ► Section 19      ► Section 20      ► Section 21      ► Section 22      ► Section 23      ► Section 24      ► Section 25      ► Section 26      ► Section 27      ► Section 28      ► Section 29      ► Section 30      ► Section 31      ► Section 32      ► Section 33      ► Section 34      ► Section 35      ► Section 36      ► Section 37      ► Section 38      ► Section 39      ► Section 40      ► Section 41      ► Section 42      ► Section 43      ► Section 44      ► Section 45      ► Section 46      ► Section 47      ► Section 48      ► Section 49      ► Section 50      ► Section 51      ► Section 52      ► Section 53      ► Section 54      ► Section 55      ► Section 56      ► Section 57      ► Section 58      ► Section 59      ► Section 60      ► Section 61      ► Section 62      ► Section 63      ► Section 64