Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

How does one rescue Paul from the obvious blunder(?), considering that in Genesis "seed" although singular in form is clearly plural in meaning:

Genesis 13:[15] For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. [16] And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.

If the seed is to be multiplied to number beyond the dust of the earth, obviously its plural.

And a followup: Since Hebrew seemingly only has the singular form of the word seed, does this blunder demonstrate a lack of acquaintance with Hebrew and thus lead to the realization that Galatians is Deutero-Pauline rather than an authentic Pauline epistle?

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    I'd like to see this question edited to remove such a strong bias. I see that you are biased, but I'm not sure it makes for a better question.
    – DonJewett
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 7:48
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    Or perhaps he's not arguing from the Hebrew, but from the Greek LXX....
    – Dan
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 12:11
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    The apparent contradiction between Gal. 3,16 and Gen. 13,16 is there, whether you read the latter in the MT, the LXX, or any other version.
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:05
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    Regarding your followup, I think you'd have a hard time finding many scholars who classify Galatians as Deutero-Pauline. If Paul didn't write Galatians, he probably didn't write anything at all. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 22:42
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    If someone other than Paul wrote Galatians, then someone else did, and whoever that was wrote at least six of the other texts of the New Testament, in which case we're still talking about a single author. Whether that was the Paul is irrelevant to the primary question; we still have a prolific author writing before AD 70 who has interpreted a passage from Genesis in a peculiar way. Asking if he was really 'Paul' is a distraction from the main question.
    – user2910
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 7:19

9 Answers 9


No Blunder at All

The word "seed," whether Hebrew or English, is often used in a figurative sense to refer to one descending from another (and not normally to the actual sperm or egg of the parent that is the source of propagation). The word can have a singular or a collective meaning. Even a collective meaning, however, is viewing the individual elements as a unit together, as a whole. So even the plurality contained within the collective is considered as a single unit.

Thus, to the contrary, it clearly does not have a plural meaning, at least not apart from the collective. The Hebrew could have used a plural form (it is not that the language was incapable of forming a plural of the word), but God does not so move the writers of the Old Testament.

This singular as collective is Paul's emphasis in the distinction. Now let's reexamine Genesis 13:15-16 (using the KJV, as you did... other translations over translate this by putting "descendents" or "offspring," both of which lose the collective idea that the Hebrew carries).

15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. 16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.

The Promise here is that the land is going to go to Abraham, and to his seed, "for ever." At this point, there are two meanings the term could have:

  1. A reference to the singular son, Isaac.
  2. A reference to the collective of descendents, those who Abraham begets.

That the collective is in view is evident from v.16; but of course, the collective will itself manifest by further generation from the original singular, Isaac (Gen 21:12; Rom 9:7; et. al.). Thus, in Gen 35:12, God can say to Jacob a similar promise, even referencing that Isaac is part of that promise, "And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land." The promise to the seed stays constrained, being given to a specific lineage. But it is also constrained in a different way by Gen 21:12, "for in Isaac shall thy seed be called."

So we see that the #2 meaning above is a special type of begetting from Abraham. Physical offspring are not "called" out (they are generated through sexual reproduction), and so the promised seed that God was referring to with Abraham was to be generated by calling. In truth this is the type of offspring that God had made the promise to, and that He was engendering through Abraham all along (Rom 4:13), to any who would believe (Rom 4:16) the word of God (1 Pet 1:23). Which word started the promise of the seed back in Gen 3:15, and is just being constrained to Abraham's physical and spiritual line in this promise.

It is this call to believe in God's promise that Esau obviously despised and Jacob sought diligently (Gen 25:31-32; Heb 12:16; of course Jacob was trusting in his own devices to attain to the promise, rather than trusting God to make it come to pass without Jacob's help). Thus faith in the promise (specifically, promised ONE) is what differentiates even the physical seed of Abraham (ethnic Israel) from the promised seed within the physical (believing Israel; Rom 9:6-7). It is the remnant of faithful within Israel that obtains the promise (2 Kg 19:30-31).

The physical lineage having the specific promise terminates in Jesus Christ, the seed of David (Rom 1:3), the seed of Abraham (Heb 2:16), who we learn was the terminal point of the promise from Gal 3:16. Christ has no physical offspring, but He does still engender spiritual offspring through the word. And it is this collective seed, those who heed the calling of the word to believe the promise of God in Christ, as Mike quoted in his answer, Gal 3:29...

And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

The spiritual seed is the collective of the faithful (whether Jew or Gentile; Eph 2:14-16), generated by the call to believe the promise of the single physical seed that terminated the physical line of where the promise focused. These are those that will be heirs (again, Gal 3:29; Rom 8:17; et. al.).

  • +1 for this answer, explaining Paul's referal to 'seed' being spiritual seed.
    – Tau
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 4:14
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    Actually the language does not have a plural of the word! Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 19:22
  • @GregoryMagarshak, actually it does, and in both the Hebrew and Greek Old Testament Scriptures. See my answer on this topic.
    – Austin
    Commented Feb 24 at 2:11

The answer is very simple.

First, as already noted by the OP, the Hebrew word for seed (zera`) is both collective and singular. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the particular word occurs in the grammatical singular but with reference to the collective plural sense (and sometimes even to the singular sense); in these respects context is very important.

For example, this word appears twice in the following verse with no hint as to whether the word is singular or collective in meaning, until the last letter of the last word appears in the verse.

Gen 22:17 (Westminster Leningrad Codex)

enter image description here

The Apostle Paul was referring to this verse in the Book of Genesis when he wrote Gal 3:16, which hinged on the Hebrew letter waw (possessive pronoun masculine singular suffix). In this respect, the Apostle Paul was able to declare that the ultimate promised seed of Abraham was a singular male person based on the plain and normal reading of Gen 22:17.

Isaac was therefore the type, which pointed to that ultimate seed, or son, who would be the sacrifice, and through whom the blessings of Abraham would flow to the world.

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    I would have thought the pronoun was singular just due to some element of "attraction" to the grammatical number of its antecedent (not unlike the verb ירש). I understand that this doesn't always happen, but does it actually "force" it to be read as a single individual? (It may; I'd be interested in finding a reference in a grammar if you know of one.)
    – Susan
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 19:03
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    @Susan Perhaps of relevance, 1 Samuel 14:30 - I don't see any way the antecedent of אֹיְבָ֖יו can be read as semantically singular. That said +1 as this shows Paul's argument is not a blunder since the grammar of 22:17 can legitimately allow for a single "seed". (If this verse can be shown to have previously understood to be interpreted Messianicly, the argument would be stronger.)
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 20:55
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    @Susan - Hebrew appears to lean toward attraction of the meaning of the antecedent. For example, I just ran a script to capture the word seed in Scripture near any 3rd person pronoun suffix. Please note Lev 26:16 where vegetation seeds are in view (collective) but the singular personal pronoun masculine appears; but when human beings are in view (see Is 6:13), the 3rd person personal pronoun now is feminine singular because the people are represented by "the tenth," which is feminine. In other words, context appears to be the most important discriminator.
    – Joseph
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 22:38
  • @Joseph, is this also the case in Genesis 26:4? ("in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed")
    – pbarney
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 17:06

It is not about grammar but about the mystical interpretation of Abraham's seed that both the Hebrew and the Greek scriptures argue according to Pauline theology:

He is not laying stress on the particular word used, but on the fact that a singular noun of some kind, a collective term, is employed, where τὰ τέκνα or οἱ ἀπόγονοι for instance might have been substituted. Avoiding the technical terms of grammar, he could not express his meaning more simply than by the opposition, ‘not to thy seeds, but to thy seed.’ A plural substantive would be inconsistent with the interpretation given; the singular collective noun, if it admits of plurality (as it is interpreted by St Paul himself, Rom. 4:18, 9:7), at the same time involves the idea of unity. The question therefore is no longer one of grammatical accuracy, but of theological interpretation. (SAINT PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS J. B. LIGHTFOOT)

Once we see that Paul's reference is to a mystical unity represented by the word 'seed' we can understand the expression would be more like saying only 'apple' seeds are blessed not apple, pear and grape seeds. One seed, not seeds. But even here the point is not a grammatical one but from the references in the scripture to Abraham's seed in a theological context.

According to Pauline theology the blessing did not pass to all of Abraham's children but went along a certain lineage and became associated with a Messiah that would one day be born. It is from the Messianic exegetical context where we actually follow Paul's thoughts while the grammatical diversion misses it altogether. The point Paul is making is that the seed of Abraham has a mystical organic unity to it and it was ultimately a prophetic projection to the One who would come and be the spiritual heir of the universe. To further prove it is not about grammar, in similar fashion Paul himself turns the singular concept of one seed, or lineage terminated in the Messiah, into a plural use. By faith he argues that even the Galatians become part of that mystical redeemed unity, or seed, by being united in the collective body of that that single Messiah.

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NIV, Galatians 3:29)

Clearly Paul was not mucking around in complicated and erroneous grammar but in theological symbolism that he believed was a genuine representation of what the Hebrew scriptures intentionally taught and foresaw and which he was granted the high calling of preaching to the Gentiles.

  • It actually is about the grammar. We've just missed the argument...
    – Austin
    Commented Feb 24 at 2:18

It is clear, from the text in Galatians that you quoted, that the seed is Jesus. Jesus Himself clarified how this seed goes from a singular to a plural seed:

23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain (John 12:23-24)

Here Jesus is speaking about His death and how, if He would have not died, he would have been alone, exactly as a seed: if the seed does not die, it is alone. And Jesus would have actually been alone, being the only human being who never sinned, and so the only one righteous in front of God. But Jesus died, so that we could have the opportunity to be saved, being considered righteous in front of God:

2 Corinthians 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The text in John 12 continues saying at verse 32:

32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.

With Jesus crucifixion He would have not been alone, having many brothers and sisters drawn to Himself. In fact, we find in Hebrews that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers:

9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:9-11)

So the promise to Abraham in Genesis is refered to Jesus, Abraham's Seed, who would have brought salvation to human beings, so that the seed would become as the dust of the earth, yet starting from a single one.

In other occasions Jesus spoke about the Word of God being the seed (see Luke 8:11), but it's interesting that in John 1, the Word of God is Jesus Himself. When the seed, spoken of in the parable in Luke 8, finds a good ground, it "yielded a crop a hundredfold" (Luke 8:8).

So it is Jesus (the seed) who brings salvation to sinful human beings, so that He is not the only worthy of being considered righteous in front of God, but He justifies (makes just) others too, so that the Father may give to many what Jesus deserves: eternal life.

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    Just because the word seed is used in this verse, then in that one, doesn't mean they mean the same thing everywhere. The parable of the sower, seed is the word of God. In the promise to Abraham, seed is his descendants who will be multiplied as the sand of the sea. Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 7:38
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    @david brainerd, I understand your point, but you should consider the possibility that they may actually mean the same thing! As I said, Jesus IS the Word of God (according to John 1), which in the parable is represented as the seed. You speak about the seed (singular) as Abraham's descentantS (plural)... Paul in Galatians 3:16 didn't agree with what you just said. The seed, at the end of the day, is Jesus. So you'd better start from this point in reconsidering everything else.
    – clami219
    Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 9:26
  • I think John 12:24 is quite appropriate since it explains how you get from one seed (Jesus) to many (His death and resurrection provide the new birth). Paul is driving at the same point in Galatians and this is central point of the Abrahamic Blessing.
    – wcochran
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 4:34

Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles. He would use the LXX when pointing them to the OT:

15 For all the land that you see, I will give it to you and to your offspring forever 16 And I will make your offspring like the sand of the earth; if anyone can count the sand of the earth, your offspring also shall be counted. (LXX-Genesis 13 NETS)

15 ὅτι πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ἣν σὺ ὁρᾷς σοὶ δώσω αὐτὴν καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος 16 καὶ ποιήσω τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς τὴν ἄμμον τῆς γῆς εἰ δύναταί τις ἐξαριθμῆσαι τὴν ἄμμον τῆς γῆς καὶ τὸ σπέρμα σου ἐξαριθμηθήσεται

In both cases the LXX has the singular σπέρμα. It is true one may consider this was intended to be a collective plural. However, the LXX also uses the plural σπέρματα (cf. Leviticus 26:16, 1 Samuel 18:5, Psalm 126:6, Isaiah 61:11, Daniel 1:16) and σπερμάτων (cf. Daniel 1:12). Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say the LXX understood "seed" and not "seeds."

Paul is not manipulating Scripture, he is simply quoting how Jewish scholars translating the Hebrew to Greek understood the passage 200 years before Christ was born. Apparently, those scholars understood the Messianic element in what was spoken to Abraham.

  • Most prophecies are Midrash and Midrash is manipulative
    – Michael16
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 3:27
  • not sure how it can be singular - Isaac & Ishmael are referred to his 'seed' - let alone nation and multiply etc - otherwise there is a contradiction with other passages. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 9:54
  • +1 Good answer. Turns out the Hebrew word for 'seeds' is also used in the Masoretic text. See my response for more info on the context.
    – Austin
    Commented Feb 24 at 8:22

The Septuagint LXX from academic-bible.com very distinctly shows different words between singular and plural. Here are some passages:
Gen. 12:7 – to your descendants (singular) I will give this land καὶ ὤφθη κύριος τῷ Αβραμ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Τῷ σπέρματί σου δώσω τὴν γῆν ταύτην. καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν ἐκεῖ Αβραμ θυσιαστήριον κυρίῳ τῷ ὀφθέντι αὐτῷ.

Gen.13:15 for I will give you and your offspring (singular) forever all the land that you see. 16 I will make your offspring (plural) like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust of the earth, then your offspring (plural) could be counted. ὅτι πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν, ἣν σὺ ὁρᾷς, σοὶ δώσω αὐτὴν καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος. 16καὶ ποιήσω τὸ ** ** σου ὡς τὴν ἄμμον τῆς γῆς· εἰ δύναταί τις ἐξαριθμῆσαι τὴν ἄμμον τῆς γῆς, καὶ τὸ σπέρμα σου ἐξαριθμηθήσεται.

Gen. 15:4-5 Now the word of the LORD came to him: “This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body[c] will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then He said to him, “Your offspring (plural) will be that numerous.”

καὶ εὐθὺς φωνὴ κυρίου ἐγένετο πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγων Οὐ κληρονομήσει σε οὗτος, ἀλλ᾽ ὃς ἐξελεύσεται ἐκ σοῦ, οὗτος κληρονομήσει σε. 5ἐξήγαγεν δὲ αὐτὸν ἔξω καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ᾿Ανάβλεψον δὴ εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἀρίθμησον τοὺς ἀστέρας, εἰ δυνήσῃ ἐξαριθμῆσαι αὐτούς. καὶ εἶπεν Οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου. 6καὶ ἐπίστευσεν Αβραμ τῷ θεῷ, καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην.

Gen. 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring (plural) will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed[ καὶ ἐρρέθη πρὸς Αβραμ Γινώσκων γνώσῃ ὅτι πάροικον ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου ἐν γῇ οὐκ ἰδίᾳ, καὶ δουλώσουσιν αὐτοὺς καὶ κακώσουσιν αὐτοὺς καὶ ταπεινώσουσιν αὐτοὺς τετρακόσια ἔτη.

Gen. 15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring, (singular) from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates River:[f] ν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ διέθετο κύριος τῷ Αβραμ διαθήκην λέγων Τῷ σπέρματί σου δώσω τὴν γῆν ταύτην ἀπὸ τοῦ ποταμοῦ Αἰγύπτου ἕως τοῦ ποταμοῦ τοῦ μεγάλου, ποταμοῦ Εὐφράτου,

Gen. 16:10 The Angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will greatly multiply your offspring (plural), and they will be too many to count.” καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ ἄγγελος κυρίου Πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου, καὶ οὐκ ἀριθμηθήσεται ἀπὸ τοῦ πλήθους.

Gen. 17:7-10 I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring (sperm) throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. 8 And to you and your future offspring(singular) I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” 9 God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring (plural) after you throughout their generations are to keep My covenant. 10 This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your offspring (sperm) after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised. καὶ στήσω τὴν διαθήκην μου ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον σοῦ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός σου μετὰ σὲ εἰς γενεὰς αὐτῶν εἰς διαθήκην αἰώνιον εἶναί σου θεὸς καὶ τοῦ σπέρματός σου μετὰ σέ. 8καὶ δώσω σοι καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου μετὰ σὲ τὴν γῆν, ἣν παροικεῖς, πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν Χανααν, εἰς κατάσχεσιν αἰώνιον καὶ ἔσομαι αὐτοῖς θεός.— 9καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Αβρααμ Σὺ δὲ τὴν διαθήκην μου διατηρήσεις, σὺ καὶ τὸ σπέρμα σου μετὰ σὲ εἰς τὰς γενεὰς αὐτῶν. 10καὶ αὕτη ἡ διαθήκη, ἣν διατηρήσεις, ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ ὑμῶν καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός σου μετὰ σὲ εἰς τὰς γενεὰς αὐτῶν· περιτμηθήσεται ὑμῶν πᾶν ἀρσενικόν,

Gen. 18:19 For I have chosen[i] him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just. ᾔδειν γὰρ ὅτι συντάξει τοῖς υἱοῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ μετ᾽ αὐτόν, καὶ φυλάξουσιν τὰς ὁδοὺς κυρίου ποιεῖν δικαιοσύνην καὶ κρίσιν· ὅπως ἂν ἐπαγάγῃ κύριος ἐπὶ Αβρααμ πάντα, ὅσα ἐλάλησεν πρὸς αὐτόν. Gen. 21:12-13 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be concerned[e] about the boy and your slave. Whatever Sarah says to you, listen to her, because your offspring (plural) will be traced through Isaac. 13 But I will also make a nation of the slave’s son because he is your offspring (plural).”

εἶπεν δὲ ὁ θεὸς τῷ Αβρααμ Μὴ σκληρὸν ἔστω τὸ ῥῆμα ἐναντίον σου περὶ τοῦ παιδίου καὶ περὶ τῆς παιδίσκης· πάντα, ὅσα ἐὰν εἴπῃ σοι Σαρρα, ἄκουε τῆς φωνῆς αὐτῆς, ὅτι ἐν Ισαακ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα. 13καὶ τὸν υἱὸν δὲ τῆς παιδίσκης ταύτης, εἰς ἔθνος μέγα ποιήσω αὐτόν, ὅτι σπέρμα σόν ἐστιν. Gen.22:17-18 7 I will indeed bless you and make your offspring (plural) as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring (plural) will possess the gates of their enemies. 18 And all the nations of the earth will be blessed[h] by your offspring (singular) because you have obeyed My command.” ἦ μὴν εὐλογῶν εὐλογήσω σε καὶ πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ὡς τὴν ἄμμον τὴν παρὰ τὸ χεῖλος τῆς θαλάσσης, καὶ κληρονομήσει τὸ σπέρμα σου τὰς πόλεις τῶν ὑπεναντίων· 18καὶ ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς, ἀνθ᾽ ὧν ὑπήκουσας τῆς ἐμῆς φωνῆς.

Isaac Gen. 26:3-4 The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; 3 stay in this land as a foreigner, and I will be with you and bless you. For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring (singular), and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your offspring (plural) as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring (singular) all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed[a] by your offspring (singular), καὶ παροίκει ἐν τῇ γῇ ταύτῃ, καὶ ἔσομαι μετὰ σοῦ καὶ εὐλογήσω σε· σοὶ γὰρ καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου δώσω πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ταύτην καὶ στήσω τὸν ὅρκον μου, ὃν ὤμοσα Αβρααμ τῷ πατρί σου. 4καὶ πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ δώσω τῷ σπέρματί σου πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ταύτην, καὶ ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς,

Gen. 26:24 and the LORD appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring (plural) because of My servant Abraham.” καὶ ὤφθη αὐτῷ κύριος ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ἐκείνῃ καὶ εἶπεν ᾿Εγώ εἰμι ὁ θεὸς Αβρααμ τοῦ πατρός σου· μὴ φοβοῦ· μετὰ σοῦ γάρ εἰμι καὶ ηὐλόγηκά σε καὶ πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου διὰ Αβρααμ τὸν πατέρα σου. Isaac to Jacob Gen. 28:4 May God give you and your offspring (singular) the blessing of Abraham so that you may possess the land where you live as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” καὶ δῴη σοι τὴν εὐλογίαν Αβρααμ τοῦ πατρός μου, σοὶ καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου μετὰ σέ, κληρονομῆσαι τὴν γῆν τῆς παροικήσεώς σου, ἣν ἔδωκεν ὁ θεὸς τῷ Αβρααμ.

Gen. 28:13-14 13 Yahweh was standing there beside him,[a] saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring (singular) the land that you are now sleeping on. 14 Your offspring (plural) will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring (singular). 13ὁ δὲ κύριος ἐπεστήρικτο ἐπ᾽ αὐτῆς καὶ εἶπεν ᾿Εγὼ κύριος ὁ θεὸς Αβρααμ τοῦ πατρός σου καὶ ὁ θεὸς Ισαακ· μὴ φοβοῦ· ἡ γῆ, ἐφ᾽ ἧς σὺ καθεύδεις ἐπ᾽ αὐτῆς, σοὶ δώσω αὐτὴν καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου. 14καὶ ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς ἡ ἄμμος τῆς γῆς καὶ πλατυνθήσεται ἐπὶ θάλασσαν καὶ ἐπὶ λίβα καὶ ἐπὶ βορρᾶν καὶ ἐπ᾽ ἀνατολάς, καὶ ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν σοὶ πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου.

  • I agree that the LXX would be one of the first things I would like at. Good comparison. I think your answer would be more helpful if you would provide commentary on how this answers the question specifically. Some more up front info would be helpful to the quick reader. Also, it doesn't look like Gen 18:19 has any of the relevant words, just a different Greek/Hebrew word for "children." Probably should be removed for this comparison? Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 3:43
  • 1
    All of the instances of the Greek word are singular. The ones you gloss as plural are preceded by the singular neuter nominative/accusative article τὸ
    – b a
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 8:47

Paul claims in Galatians 3.16 the promises (plural) were made to one, which is Moshiach (Christ) (Yet, typical of Paul, he obscurely makes a point [promise or promises] not handed down to the Elders of the Ekklesia):

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."

Paul attempts to paint the promise of anointing of the whole house of Yisrael ("And Moses said unto him: 'Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the L-RD'S people were prophets, that the L-RD would put His spirit upon them!' " ) to extend to the non-Jews: "That the Blessing of Avraham might come on the Gentiles which is Anointing!"

In my honest opinion, this is one of Paul's many linguistic blunders, in an attempt to solidify his Messianic (egalitarian {Hellenistic} Greco-Roman, non-Jewish) theology!

For instance, Paul partially quotes Devarim [Deuteronomy] 30.14, "But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; Romans 10.8.

In fact, the Torah (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 30.14) says, "that you may do it!" Paul says in his theology (Acts 15.10 "which neither we nor our fathers were able to keep." Romans 7.14-24) you can not do it!!!!

In another place, (Romans 11.26) he misquotes Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 59.20 which says, "A Redeemer shall come to Tzion, those of Ya'acov who repent from willful sin, the Words of HaShem." (Romans 11.26 misquoting Isaiah 59.20 says, "There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, And shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:"

Paul's argument is a blunder in grammar because he ignores or is unfamiliar with the rules of interpretation: the word zerechah (your seed, B'rashith [Genesis] 13.15) is used (expressly qualified) in B'rashith (Genesis) 15.13 in the singular (yet 13.15 is further qualified by the phrase "im Yitzchaq" in 21.10).

Both 13.15 and 15.13 seed in the singular is qualified in the plural as them (a collective unity, that is, an afflicted NATION) and as they. (According to Rabbi Yishmael's Rules of Interpretation, this is known as a gezeera shavah, which is also called hekesh, comparison! That is, where one passuk [verse] is unclear, two verses containing similar words come to clarify the unclear passuk!) 13 And He said unto Abram: 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

Paul's blunder is compounded by the fact that, the phrase, "im Yitzchaq" (with Isaac in B'rashith 21.10) is superfluous: In other words, the Torah does not need to say, "shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac;" as Sarah only produced one [singular] son, Yitzchaq [Isaac] through whom the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] passes! Wherefore she said unto Abraham: 'Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.'

Although, im Yitzchaq is superfluous, it qualifies what Yishmael was guilty of so as to merit being disinherited:

The inheritance of the Land of Israel comes with joyous (faithful) laughter (of Avinu Avraham: "Avraham fell on his face and laughed"); not the laughter of mockery (by Yishmael) of the Covenant of Circumcision!

Paul mockingly, calls the Covenant of Circumcision a "mutilation" (Philippians 3.2) but the Torah specifies who can partake of the Pesach (Passover) Korban (Sacrifice) (that is, the Torah specifies who can come into the Commonwealth of Israel; only those who are circumcised: "And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Pesach to the L-RD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land; but no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof." "And One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.'" And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the Pesach unto the L-RD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.

Because, Paul and the Jerusalem Council stated that those non-Jews turning to HaShem did not need to be circumcised they made a judgement contrary to the Torah, and counted as seed, non-Jews those HaShem explicitly excludes from the Covenant of Circumcision which preceded the "Mosaic (Sinai) Covenant!"

In conclusion, Paul tries to make a type-graphic (illustrative) or allegorical argument that is not founded in the Torah!


I will not repeat what has already been stated in other answers. It is clear without doubt that Paul is attempting to misuse the OT to singular to apply to Jesus only. It is clear from numerous OT text that it was not singular and that Abraham’s seed would multiply.

Genesis 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; (Genesis 15:13) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (Genesis 22:17) And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:18) And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; (Genesis 26:4)

And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 28:1)

Genesis 17:20 - 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.

Genesis 21:13: And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

It is arguable if it relates to Jesus or someone else

seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, ….. four hundred years; (Genesis 15:13)

“And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.’” “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” (Isaiah 28:11)

Isaiah 29:12 - “And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.’”

Isaiah 28:11 - 1 Nay, but by men of strange lips and with another tongue will he speak to this people;


Clearly Abraham seed will multiply (as many as stars) many seeds, two being Isaac and Ishmael. this doesn’t necessarily relate to Jesus as a book will be given to someone cannot read and those who speak a different language.

Seed also comes from the father, as Y chromosomes are only passed from father to son, that would mean that the Y is a record of one’s patrilineage / lineage.

So, a number of issues are not clear, but one thing that is beyond doubt is that Paul is manipulating the OT – to point the passages towards Jesus as a singular.

  • there is another theory - that we just have missed the nuanced grammatical point that Paul is making. I responded to this question with just this other theory.
    – Austin
    Commented Feb 24 at 2:36

Contrary to popular belief both the Old Testament Masoretic Text and the LXX used the word "seeds" in plural form.

1 Samuel 8:15 (ESV)

15 He will take the tenth of your grain (literally "seeds" in both Masoretic & LXX) and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 1 Samuel 8:15

1 Samuel 8:15 (Masoretic) (remember Hebrew is read from right to left)

1 Sam 8:15

*(the plural 'seeds' is also arguably used in Isaiah 61:11 - see Mishnah Shabbat 9:2 commentary https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Shabbat.9.2?lang=bi&with=Translations&lang2=en )

1 Kingdoms 8:15 AKA 1 Samuel 8:15 (LXX)

*(The plural 'seeds' is also used in Leviticus 26:16, Psalm 125:6, and Isaiah 61:11 in the LXX)

1 Kingdoms 8:15

Answering the assertion that Paul is making a grammatical error by focusing on the collective meaning of the singular form of the word 'seed' misses the point. Indeed the singular form of 'seed' can be used in both the collective and individual sense, but this does not explain then why Paul makes the grammatical argument contrasting the use of the singular form for 'seed' with its plural form.

To explain Paul's argument, it is helpful to understand that 'seeds' here is used in the plural form not for discussing simply more than one individual seed, but more than one kind of seed. This is similar to, in English, how we will use 'fish' for one or more fish but 'fishes' for more than one kind of fish, (e.g. "all the fishes of the sea").

Thus we may understand that the argument Paul makes is a bit more so-fish-ticated than simply stating that the seed of the promise is a hidden reference to the individual Jesus. Instead, Paul is making the case that the promise was made to one kind of seed (or people) and not to multiple kinds of seeds (or peoples) and that this seed or people group is of those who belong to the spiritual lineage of the anointed (the Christ)... even Gentiles..

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring (seed), heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29

Additionally, he distinguishes between two different kinds of seeds by contrasting the children of the promise born of Abraham with the children of the flesh born also of the same Abraham.

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Galatians 4:22-23


28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. Galatians 4:28


31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
1 For freedom Christ has set us free... Galatians 4:31-5:1

So understanding better Paul's nuanced use of 'seed' vs 'seeds', we may see that it is not Paul who needs saving from grammatical blunder, but it is those of us (myself formerly included) who believed Paul didn't know what he was talking about - we who, from our own poor grasp of Paul's grammatical argument, need saving. Of course, as we have just read from Paul (Gal 3:26-27), true salvation, true freedom from the curse of sin, is available to all who through faith are baptized into Christ (Gal 3:26-27) and become seed not of the flesh but of the promise.

*Note: I'd like to credit Jason Kerrigan for his insightful video in helping me answer this question https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUto4MKTfQk&ab_channel=JasonKerrigan

The video also discusses the use of the plural "seeds" in the Hebrew Mischna when scripturally justifying the use of different kinds of seeds in the same garden.

  • +1, I think you argument is the correct one as verse 27-29, heavily shows that Paul means Christ as a specific collective in verse 16. After all he literally tells us to "put on Christ" and to "be in Christ".
    – User2280
    Commented Feb 26 at 8:02
  • @ Austin - yes indeed another theory - seed I agree can be more than 'one' - just like we went to tend the 'sheep' does not imply only 'one'. As to the rest IMO pure assumptions – Paul making his own Gospel (2 Tim 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, having been raised out from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel) who never mentions the teaching of Jesus or on what basis he comes to these conclusions. Commented Feb 26 at 12:21
  • As to Hagar arguable if she was a slave or not, but that’s irrelevant and better than the ‘seed’ of his ‘half-sister’ wouldn’t you think! see more: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/87294/33268 Also, Jesus being God and before Abraham how can he be his ’seed’ - Abraham should be Jesus’s seed at best, yet you have a genealogy of God to human fathers – amazing! Commented Feb 26 at 12:23

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