Friday, November 7, 2008

The Hermeneutics of Paul: Seed and Seeds

Galatians 3:15-16 “Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ.”

Paul opens the section by highlighting just how important it is to take a covenant with God seriously. He takes it so seriously that he is willing to base an argument on a precise grammatical point, namely the singularity of the word “seed.” And at a glance, the Holy Spirit is quite clever at foreshadowing. The author of Genesis somehow knew to use the singular of 'seed' so that people would one day realize that all nations will be blessed not through the Jews as a group, but through Jesus in particular.

With this in mind, it's quite deflating to look back at what Genesis says. Paul is not clearly referring to any one particular verse, so a broad view will be necessary. In most of the relevant places in Genesis, the phrase is translated in the NASB as “Abraham's descendants.” In Hebrew or other English translations, the clash isn't quite so strong. In Hebrew, the same word would have been used regardless of whether singular or plural is intended – context must be used to determine if it is singular or plural, just like the English phrases “Abraham's offspring” or “Abraham's seed.” The NASB translators thought it was plural, as would any reasonable person reading God's promise to Abraham in context. Some of the particular verses I'm referring to are:

Genesis 12:7 “The LORD appeared to Abram and said 'To your descendants I will give this land' So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.”

Genesis 13:15-16 “for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered.”

Genesis 15:5 “And He took him outside and said, 'Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.'”

Genesis 15:13 “God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.”

Genesis 17:5-7 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”

The contexts of “descendant” are being given land, as the dust of the earth, as the stars of heaven, enslaved for four hundred years, and multitude of nations throughout generations. This is my case for Genesis' seed being plural – I challenge those who disagree to find a verse to support the singularity of Genesis' seed.

As far as I can tell, this is completely fatal to the more conservative definitions of biblical inerrancy. Paul starts by instructing us to take the covenant seriously. He then bases an entire theological argument off a grammatical point, when the grammatical point is demonstrably false using purely biblical evidence. If this isn't an incorrect statement, just how wrong must a statement be before being considered actually wrong? The problem isn't that Abraham's promise was plural and Christ is singular – analogies are flexible things. The problem is that Paul said the promise is singular and it's not.

Premise 1. In Genesis, seed is plural.
Premise 2. Paul says that seed in Genesis is singular and not plural.
Premise 3. Singular is not plural.
Therefore, Paul was wrong.

I don't see how you can get much purer of a syllogism than this. However, much can be said in defense of more moderate views of inspiration, or at least, the competency of Paul.

My first impression after looking back at Genesis was to think Paul was a complete hack who barely knew the story of Abraham or at least didn't bother to read it again while composing his letter. But this opposite side of a pendulum swing is as poorly supported by the text as the view of full inerrancy.

Galatians 3:29 “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.” Here, Paul refers to the exact same promise within the exact same chapter, and this time lets “seeds” be plural to refer to the entire church! If 3:16 was a sly maneuver, he wouldn't have highlighted it by using the word “seeds” again. It couldn't have been an honest mistake due to ignorance or forgetfulness of Genesis, because he expresses his knowledge of the plurality of seeds. Whatever, Paul was doing, it looks like it was intentional and that he wanted his readers to see what he did. This is consistent with neither being a mistake nor deception.

Apparently, this kind of thing was kosher back then, or so the apologetic defense goes. The fact that the same word is used for plural and singular invited a sort of grammatical flexibility, even when the entire context shows that the grammar was not actually flexible when read by modern minds (i.e. people trying to figure out what it actually says.) Peter Enns makes a strong case for this in Inspiration and Incarnation using extra-biblical texts to support the claim that Paul's hermeneutics would have been seen as acceptable in the first century. Thus, if an orthodox Jew read this in the first century and was unconvinced, he would not call foul over Paul's grammar, but would argue against the conclusion along different lines. So viewing Galatians as its original audience would have viewed it, Paul did not make a mistake. And if you believe Paul was inspired, and the central message of the Bible is Christ, you have reason to trust his conclusions even while expressing skepticism of how he gets there.

After this point, evangelical scholars and I diverge. The irony of reading Galatians as its original audience would is that to do so requires the understanding that Paul did not read Genesis as its original audience would. That's just fine for a scholar studying a secular document, but it's quite problematic for maintaining a level of biblical trustworthiness. All biblical interpretation, and hence essentially all Christian doctrines, rest on how the Bible is to be read. The Bible doesn't tell its readers to begin the interpretation process by reading it as its original audience would – evangelicals only do so because it is so transparently obvious that when reading a book you should try to determine what the author meant.

Paul's hermeneutics undercut this assumption underlying all biblical interpretation.

If it's obvious that Christians should seek to know what the original biblical authors meant, then it's obvious that Paul's approach was wrong. If it's not obvious, then the Bible has become so relativized that it's difficult to use as a guide to anything. This would imply the consistency of “Isaiah didn't mean X” and “from Isaiah we know X is true.”

The more serious problem is that when Paul is given so much latitude, it's hard to not justify giving the same latitude to other people. (There is a grain of reality in the coming comparison. But please note that it's meant to be an analogy, not an accurate depiction of the contents of the Koran, Islam, or the seventh century. A religious studies scholar could probably find a real example – I'm making one up.) The “Koran” argues that John 14:16's predictions of sending “another Comforter” means Muhammad. Thus, the Bible foretold the coming of Muhammad. Christians reply that's not what Jesus was talking about – Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by the other things Jesus said about the Helper that are not consistent with the Helper being Muhammad. Muslims then recognizes that to argue Jesus was talking about Muhammad is grammatically indefensible through looking at John alone. However, this is what people in the seventh century really thought about John. It was common practice for people in the seventh century to take a series of vague prophecies and accept the pieces that fit while discarding the one's that didn't. The Muslim recognizes the weakness of such reasoning in the “Koran” when viewed by twenty-first century eyes, but you have to look at it in the context of its culture, when that would have been acceptable reasoning. Also, the “Koran” is inspired by Allah, so that means the conclusions are still true.

The Christian response would not be to check out if that's how they really thought in the seventh century. The Christian response would be that if the words in John don't predict Muhammad now, and the words of John didn't predict Muhammad in the first century, then the words in John didn't predict Muhammad in the seventh century either. The argument puts Christians in the exact same situation with respect to Islam that Jews are in now with respect to Christianity. Christians ask Jews to believe that Christianity is the correct strain of Judaism when the Bible clearly uses the Jewish Scriptures to say things that they don't really say when read in context. The Muslim is asking to Christian to believe Islam is the true strain of Christianity based on readings of Christians' Scriptures which make it say things that it clearly doesn't say when read in context. To reject the Muslim's argument and accept Paul's argument is a double standard.

It's possible to rationally believe without seeing the work of God in some of the following: the writing of the Bible, the influence of the Bible, the person of Jesus, evidence for the Resurrection, fulfilled prophecy, creation/science, the power of prayer, the testimony of the church, personal religious experiences, etc. But to believe without seeing the work of God in any of these is highly determined ignorance. Galatians 3 goes a long way toward removing the work of God in writing the Bible from the list of possible places to find a reason to believe and placing it on the list of reasons to disbelieve.


  1. This is verse that really solidified my belief in bible errancy. The funny thing is that I found it on my own, not because of my biblical scholastic acumen, but because I was reading the ESV which translates the words "offspring" and "offsprings." Which immediately led me to think, "offsprings?" The particular word really highlights the problem, which makes me surprised they would have used it in the ESV.

    I'm glad you noted that Paul used the singular of seed previously, I just thought Paul wanted to have it both ways, which seemed unlikely.

  2. Sorry to post again, just re-read your post. Curious as to what your hypothesis is as to why Paul would reference Abraham using both the singular and plural form of seed, if you find the inerrantist apologetic provided unconvincing, which I do as well. Are you saying it might get Paul off the hook as to intellectual integrity, but not the NT off the hook as having valid continuity with the OT?

  3. >Are you saying it might get Paul off the hook as to intellectual integrity, but not the NT off the hook as having valid continuity with the OT?


    It's not that Paul was accidentally illogical or dishonest. It's a matter of some forms of blatantly illogical arguments being acceptable to his audience and Paul playing to the crowd. This is much like the "honesty" of freely admitting one's fideism.

    Ironically, I'm supporting less conservative theologies of the Bible with my suggestion that inerrantists' errors include the fact that they are not even understanding what Paul was writing.

  4. A very eloquent argument. I thank you for your contribution, because this verse has bothered me for some time and I was forced to search this out.

    I think the answer is really quite simple, and rests in the definition of the Greek word here for "say", legos.

    There often are various Greek words that can be translated into the English word at hand. There often is overlap of meaning among those words, but it is in the distinctions that we find the heart of the matter. Check out Vines, for instance, on the word "say". This formatting might not come through well, but it's worth combing through:

    Note: A characteristic of legō is that it refers to the purport or sentiment of what is said as well as the connection of the words; this is illustrated in Heb. 8:1, R.V., “(in the things which) we are saying,” A.V., “(which) we have spoken.” In comparison with laleō (No. 2), legō refers especially to the substance of what is said, laleo, to the words conveying the utterance; see, e.g., John 12:49, “what I should say (legō, in the 2nd aorist subjunctive form eipō), and what I should speak (laleō);” ver. 50, “even as the Father hath said (legō, in the perfect form eirēke) unto Me, so I speak” (laleō); cp. 1 Cor. 14:34, “saith (legō) the law;” ver. 35, “to speak” (laleō). Sometimes laleō signifies the utterance, as opposed to silence, lego declares what is said; e.g., Rom. 3:19, “what things soever the law saith (legō), it speaketh (laleō) to them that are under the law;” see also Mark 6:50; Luke 24:6. In the N.T. laleō never has the meaning to chatter.
    W.E. Vine and F.F. Bruce, Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

    Paul obviously wasn't trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes, and he even more obviously wasn't ignorant of the Hebrew scriptures, especially with regard to something as central as the promises to Abraham.

    Instead, he's viewing the Genesis scripture through the lens of Christ. He's not saying "Genesis says this literally", he's saying "Genesis means this echatologically".

    Paul's take is not contradictory to the primary plural "seeds" intent of the Genesis writer, but speaks in tandem on another level, that of the New Covenant fulfillment of the promise which comes through Christ, which is Paul's topic here in Galatians.

    Be blessed,

  5. If you're willing to allow Paul to claim Genesis "means" something diametrically opposite to what it says, then the Bible has been completely relativized. You have to yet to show how to avoid this conclusion.

    Perhaps Muslims are correct and Jesus' talking about "another helper" it really means Mohammad. Why cares if that isn't what Jesus said at all? Maybe Muslims are just reading John on a "higher level."

    The other more serious problem is not just with the defense of Christianity's consistency, but the blow to the case for Christianity in the first place. From this perspective, Paul doesn't start out with the authority of an inspired author who can claim Genesis says something that it doesn't say. When trying to defend the canon, Paul's misuse of Genesis should could very strongly against his credibility in the first place.

  6. I did understand your argument the first time you made it. Let me run through this one last time quickly.

    Note the purpose of this epicope:

    3:14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles

    Paul is on the eschatological plane here. He's not talking about the promise of the Jews possessing the land. He's showing how that promise has been immeasurably enlarged to eternal salvation for Jew and Gentile alike.

    So to make Paul's meaning explicit:

    3:16 Now the promises concerning this salvation were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. 33 Scripture does not mean in this regard, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,”

    I don't think we've done violence to the text, we've brought out Paul's specific intent. It's really a very simple understanding, and any other position is to charge Paul with ignorance or mendacity, both of which are preposterous.


  7. >Paul is on the eschatological plane here.

    I do not accept the legitimacy of this "plane" as a valid means for understanding what Genesis "really" means any more than I accept the Bible codes as a means for understanding the true message of the Bible. Words have the potential to communicate clearly and Genesis accomplishes this, at least as far as the plurality of seed. Your position has been noted and answered - this is why I repeated part of my argument.

    >I don't think we've done violence to the text, we've brought out Paul's specific intent.

    I agree. But the problem is that Paul's intent clashes with Genesis' intent.

    >any other position is to charge Paul with ignorance or mendacity, both of which are preposterous.

    First off, my post defends the competency of Paul quite explicitly. Also see the two comments above your first comment, but I won't repeat them.

    Secondly, I see no way you can make a proof by contradiction where the final line is "... and that would imply Paul was incompetent." To judge Paul as a poor or dishonest writer based on his *writings* seems like a very natural thing to do. Take away my defense of Paul's competency and one of these two would be my next guess.

  8. I hate to say this, but I think is kind of interesting that you think you know Hebrew better than Paul, who was raised up in Judiasm & probably has known it better than almost anyone who ever lived...but, may the Lord be kind to you (and to me!) and show you His grace, which we all need, (and I desparately need). I personally think you need something more solid than this to discount the scriptures. And I disagree with you on your interpretation of the scripture. The Hebrew word itself is in the singular, though, even being in the singular, it can be used in context to refer to the plural descendents of Abraham. I think this is what Paul meant (primarily because this is what he says he meant.) But, I know one fools opinion won't change anything. Grace be with you I pray!

  9. I further found this to be interesting. Happy new year!

  10. Scripture always amazes me. Looking at "seed" in Genesis 3:15

    As renowned Christian OT professor and scholar Walter C. Kaiser noted in reference to the use of "seed" in Genesis 3:15:

    "… Already in Genesis 3:15 we have come to understand that this ‘seed’ can be a collective noun and embrace one's whole biological progeny. At the same time, however, there is something distinctively singular and individualistic about this seed, for a certain ‘he’ will have it out with the Evil One in some future day (3:15), even though ‘he’ acts only as one of the woman's descendants. Paul picked up the same theme in Galatians 3:16, insisting that the text of the OT said ‘seed’ (a collective singular noun), not ‘seeds’ (a plural noun). He was not appealing to some midrashic or rabbinic principle of interpretation, as many have recently argued, echoing the latest eddies of thought stimulated by recent discoveries from Qumran and by rabbinical studies; he was carefully observing that the divine revelation had distinctly chosen the collective singular word over the plural in order to provide for the single but inclusive concept of corporate solidarity between the one and the many." (Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1995], pp. 48-49; bold emphasis ours)

  11. You wrote: "The Hebrew word itself is in the singular, though, even being in the singular, it can be used in context to refer to the plural descendents of Abraham." And from context we can see that it is plural.

    In fact, the bit of your comment that I quoted is essentially a paraphrase of what I wrote in the opening post: "In Hebrew, the same word would have been used regardless of whether singular or plural is intended"

    I spelled out my argument with extreme clarity. I'll repeat it.

    Premise 1. In Genesis, seed is plural.
    Premise 2. Paul says that seed in Genesis is singular and not plural.
    Premise 3. Singular is not plural.
    Therefore, Paul was wrong.

    Do you disagree with one of the premises? If so, then which one? If not, then what is your point?

    "Already in Genesis 3:15 we have come to understand that this ‘seed’ ..." This seed was Adam's seed. Paul is talking about Abraham's seed.

    1. Yes. Premise 1 is incorrect: In Genesis seed is a collective singular not a plural. See Genesis 3:15 where that same seed is directly referred to by the third person singular pronoun. A false 1st premise destroys the entire syllogism does it not?

    2. It's not that different in English: I have sown all of my seed one seed at a time.

    3. With a Hebrew to English translation in the way, I wouldn't know how to decide between a plural and collective singular. But look back at Galatians 3:29:

      "He does not ... [refer] to many, but rather to one."

      Genesis' seed refers to many individuals and not to one individual, so my main point stands up whether or not "many" is a plural or collective singular.

    4. Your premise #1 states: "In Genesis, seed is plural." This is a false premise. It CAN be used as plural but Genesis 3:15 definitively proves that this is not intrinsic to the word.

      Also, in Galatians 3:29, Paul is referring back to the usage of one word in a particular promise and not it's usage in the entirety of Genesis and so premise #2 fails as well.

    5. Opening post: “In Genesis, seed is plural.”
      Anon: “It CAN be used as plural but Genesis 3:15 definitively proves that this is not intrinsic to the word.”

      It was a summary. The way summaries work is that they deliberately sacrifice completeness and accuracy for the sake of brevity. A less concise but more accurate summary would have been:

      In Genesis, none of the references to Abraham's seed are referring to a single person, but rather to many people (perhaps “plural”, perhaps “singular collective”, but either way, it's referring to many people.)

      It is deliberate that I chose the first version, as I had already written a longer version.

      > Paul is referring back to the usage of one word in a particular promise and not it's usage in the entirety of Genesis

      I agree with this much. Paul is referring to Abraham's seed. Thus, the singularity/plurality of “seed” in Genesis 3:15 is irrelevant.

    6. > In Genesis, none of the references to Abraham's seed are referring to a single person, but rather to many people (perhaps “plural”, perhaps “singular collective”, but either way, it's referring to many people.)

      In Genesis 22:17 the word translated seed(s) appears twice. In the first instance it obviously relates to the multitude of Abraham's seed (as the stars and the sand).

      In the second instance it is referred to by the singular pronoun: "And thy seed shall possess the gates of his enemies", clearly making reference to a single individual in the same way that Genesis 3:15 has done.

      As Paul's audience here are gentile believers, the continuation of the promise in 22:18 is particularly appropriate.

    7. The NASB gives a plural translation: “and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.”
      NKJV: “their enemies”
      ESV: “his enemies” (with the footnote “or their”)
      RSV: “their enemies”

      I believe “their” to be more common among major translation, but by a thin enough margin that it matters how “major” translation is defined. Although, Christian translators sometimes allow what they believe about the NT to influence their translations beyond what can be justified from the actual Hebrew words, and I have to wonder if this is the source of the “his” translation.

      As best as I can tell from poking around on Blue Letter Bible, it seems that there isn't a particular Hebrew word translated his/their – it's an inference from context. So let's look at the context: suppose we are looking at the English translations and the word his/their is illegible. As you mention, we have the first part of the verse where “seed” is clearly referring to many people. This context is a strong piece of evidence suggesting the second half continues to reference to many descendants.

      But even out of context, the second half seems to be referring to many. What would “possess the gate(s) of his/their enemies” mean described more explicitly? To me, it sounds like “conquer the enemy city and now live in it” or maybe “slowly take control of the city through immigration and/or higher reproduction until now your descendants are the authorities; your descendants decide who can enter and who can leave.” This could be off, but I highly doubt the alternative is “one person will take control of a single gated house controlled by your enemy.” I'm reasonably certain that “gate” refers to a city gate or at least a large entrance of some kind controlled by a large group of people. Notably, before the gate is taken, it is held by “enemies” and never by an “enemy”, further suggesting that these gates are not the sorts of things that are held by a single person.

    8. It's actually not inferred so much from context. There is a grammatical suffix in the Hebrew attached to the word for enemies which refers it back to seed or offspring. So the word "seed" is the same but it is made singular by "his enemies" referring back to seed. Translations that rely heavily on the Septuigant sometimes miss it because it is not carried over into the LXX but it is there in the Hebrew in, for example, the Westminster Leningrad Codex and the Masoretic Text. This link is particularly helpful because it parses out the text to a high degree and highlights the suffix which you can then find in just about any Hebrew text: ( There are other common suffixes which could have been used if plural had been the intention.

      The point of all this is that Paul really wasn't out of bounds in doing what he did. It might take us by surprise or even upset or challenge us (it did me for the longest time) but he was not going beyond what was written.

      As for the possession of the you have said, a conquered city would need an occupying force and so multiple cities would need multiple occupying rulers. There would, however, be one ruler (the King in Jerusalem for instance) who could fairly be said to ultimately possess the gate, provide defense and determine, through sovereign authority, who comes and goes. Remember that Caesar, as emperor of Rome, was "possessing the gates" of the known world at the time Paul was writing. In Paul's hermaneutic this ultimately goes beyond an earthly king and finds it's fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the King that God has established and against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail.

    9. > There is a grammatical suffix in the Hebrew attached to the word for enemies which refers it back to seed or offspring.

      The link you provided only lists H8802 as a suffix for “enemies.” Chasing links on page, I see that the suffix suggests a “simple” or “casual” action and the participle is active. All of which has absolutely nothing to do with the claim that enemies refers to seed, or that anything in particular is singular.

      That leaves your claim as a bare assertion.

      > Translations that rely heavily on the Septuigant sometimes miss it because it is not carried over into the LXX

      That's ... incredibly false. Could you name a single major English translation that relied heavily on the Septuagint? It's been Protestant and Catholic tradition for quite a long time that the Hebrew is the inspired version, which tends to dominate English translations. (Even non-religious translators wouldn't be motivated to rely on the Septuagint.)

      > There would, however, be one ruler (the King in Jerusalem for instance) who could fairly be said to ultimately possess the gate

      What you've done is no more than simply naming a possibility. The real question is which is supported by the evidence. 100% of the contextual evidence named so far support seeds = descendants. I'll rename two pieces:

      1. The first reference to seed is plural
      2. The gates are currently owned by many people

      In addition, notice that under the “seed = descendants both places” hypothesis, 22:17-18 has a logical flow. Abraham's descendants become as the stars of heaven and thus through sheer number come to own the gate of the cities. Likewise, becoming powerful in the local region is a stepping point toward blessing all nations.

      Under the “seed = descendants first, Jesus the second time” hypothesis, the logic breaks down and we have a sequence of unrelated statements. Abraham's many descendants do not help Jesus acquire the gates. So I'll add:

      3. There's a logical connection between 22:17a and 22:17b only if seed consistently means descendants.

    10. 8802 is not the suffix, it is the conjunctive form of the verb which is rendered enemies. The active form represented makes enemies in the masculine singular. The grammatical suffix that you see highlighted on the left side in the masoretic text is a personal possessive pronoun. As it appears in the masculine singular form of the verb "hating" (translated enemies) it forces us to refer back to the one who drives out and occupies (rendered possess) whom we know from the context to be the seed.

      Therefore, what Paul has done is certainly allowable regardless of how we feel it violates the flow or context.

      There is sort of a standing practice in bible translation where, facing a difference between the MT and the LXX, preference is afforded to the MT. The existence of such a rule of practice certainly indicates that the LXX plays more than a cursory role in the translation process.

      Your contention about possession of the gates requires seed to be plural in that instance, which it is not.

    11. > 8802 is not the suffix ... The active form represented makes enemies in the masculine singular.

      On the left, I can see the green highlighted suffix on 0341, but no more detail is provided than “suffix – grammatical.” On the right, I note that the same word is also tagged with a green “grammatical” note, namely 8002. That's good evidence that the suffix is 8002. At best, qbible doesn't defend your claim.

      Additionally, I'll note that the singularity of verbs tend to show the subject (enemy) to be singular and not the direct object (seed). So if you happen to find a different webpage that actually supports the claim that the verb form of “hating” is singular (and with no further detail), this would only justify “enemy” being singular. It true, this would at least be relevant as a piece of contextual evidence, but would leave my main point in tact.

      > There is sort of a standing practice in bible translation where, facing a difference between the MT and the LXX, preference is afforded to the MT.

      That was my understanding too, which is why I concluded that blaming the Septuagint for the translations is unjustified.

    12. I've learned a lot from this (thanks for pushing!) and hope to correct some errors I have made so far. I've pasted in the Hebrew word rendered enemies from the Masoretic Text on qbible (I hope it comes through):


      This is an active participle of a primitive root verb (H340) meaning 'to be hostile to' and it reads right to left in the first three characters. There is a dot (Cholem) at the top left of the first character which is actually considered defective spelling. It represents a character (Cholem Vav) inserted between the first and second and, when written out fully, it looks like this: אוֹיֵב
      This is the active participle (8802) of the verb and it indicates that the subject is the doer of the action. Additionally, I think it is a substantive usage which makes enemies act like a noun rather than a verb. This would make the subject to be the one who has the enemies. see (

      Looking again at the qbible entry at the top, the fourth letter from the right (kind of like an apostrophe) renders this word plural and I think it is masculine plural although it could be dual gender. So it is definitely multiple enemies and not just one. see (

      The last character (the one highlighted in blue on qbible and labeled simply Suffix-Grammatical) is a possessive pronoun called a pronominal suffix. It is 3rd person masculine which renders as 'his enemies'. There is an entirely different pronominal suffix that would have been used to render as 'their enemies'. This makes the one who has the enemies and will possess the gates thereof a single male individual. see (

      Seeing as how the Masoretic Text is deferred to over the Septuagint and the Masoretic text definitely reads 'his' while the Septuagint reads 'theirs', can't we agree that what Paul did was allowable?

    13. I see what you mean about the suffix; those links were very informative. The suffix is a third person singular male possessive, showing that you are right about all of "singular", "male", and "modifies seed and not enemies."

      Nevertheless, I don’t think it does much to defend Paul’s argument. The suffix shows the word to be syntactically singular, but doesn’t help distinguish between the true singularity and a syntactically singular mass noun (or collective plural). Likewise, the word “seed” in English is syntactically singular, but this doesn’t tell us if it semantically refers to one seed or many seeds (as a mass noun.)

      Consider the following sentences, which capture nearly all of the same features, except in English:

      “The shipment of 50 bushels of seed wheat arrived last week. Yesterday, the seed was planted.”

      Just as in Genesis, on the “seed is many” side, we have:

      1. The context of the first sentence suggests seed is many.
      2. There’s a logical connection between the two sentences, with the first event enabling the second event if seed is many.
      3. If seed is just one, we have an odd change of topic.

      To dismiss the flow or logic as how I “feel” about it would be to discard crucial pieces of data. Even if the author of the English text had used the phrasing “the seeds were planted” in ten other contexts where many seeds were planted, I would still conclude this usage of seed to mean many.

      Suppose the second sentence replaced “the seed” with the unambiguous true singular “a seed” to leave it as:

      “The shipment of 50 bushels of seed wheat arrived last week. Yesterday, a seed was planted.”

      Here, I would conclude that a mistake of some kind was made. Perhaps the mistake was using the wrong word. Perhaps the second seed really is singular and the mistake is an awkward change of topic that seems almost designed to produce misunderstanding.

      The author of Genesis was more than capable of clearly communicating that a major portion of the promise involved a specific descendant. The entire prophesy didn’t have to hang on one suffix appearing in a context confusing the issue, to put it mildly. One option would be to have many dialogues about many descendants (as we have) as well as one or several other dialogues emphasizing a special descendant.

      Either the author or Genesis was bad at communicating clearly, or else they simply meant seed to refer to many.

    14. I guess I don't see the problem that you see. We have established that, syntactically, the second part of the verse has seed or offspring as a single male individual who will possess the enemy gates (Incidentally, Genesis 24:60 reads just the same, separating the first and second halves into plural and singular respectively the same way as the verse in question has done).

      In your two examples: "Yesterday, the seed was planted", and "Yesterday, a seed was planted" I do not see any contextual issue other than an assumption I might read in as surprise that only one seed out of 50 bushels was planted. Syntactically, both are clear and have broken no rules of language or logic. In fact, it demonstrates the whole purpose and necessity of syntax in rightly rendering meaning.

      I can not insist that "Yesterday, a seed was planted." must be plural based on the first half of the passage (50 bushels of seed) being clearly plural. I could only posit such a thing if the passage were syntactically ambiguous (Yesterday, the seed was planted). Here, 'the' seed could be singular but is most likely plural by context, however 'a' seed can be nothing but singular regardless of how awkward the passage might feel.

      Similarly, 'his' enemies carries that same syntactic weight; it would be ambiguous and left for context to define without the third person singular male possessive suffix. As I pointed out before, there is an entirely different pronominal suffix that could have been used had 'their' enemies been the intention and if context were meant to win the day then the suffix could have been left out.

      The only reason to insert such a suffix is to set apart this noun as definitively singular so that there will be no confusion with what has come before.

      I believe the author of Genesis did communicate clearly that a major portion of the promise culminated in a specific individual. I recognize separate dialogues for plural descendants and a single, special "one". Genesis 3:15 begins the dialogue of the "one" and there is a continual narrowing throughout the Genesis text and the OT as a whole as this "one" is distilled out of humanity.

  12. Looking at the Hebraic understanding of grammar and how their own words are used would shed light on the surface contradiction. Here's some discussion on this topic if your interested. Your syllogism is fair, but does it account for Hebraic syntactical meaning?
    One key to understanding this concept is called corporate solidarity. For us it's a legal term, for them it was too. Federal headship as well is a concept that will help shed light on your contradiction.