Treasures From the Original

A Singular vs. Plural Noun Reveals Who Is Truly a Christian

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In our final example of this series, vital truth is again at stake - the identity of those who truly belong to the Body of Christ versus those who do not.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 3 (final) of a series. Read part 2.

In our final example of this series, vital truth is again at stake - the identity of those who truly belong to the Body of Christ versus those who do not. 

With this installment we conclude our brief exploration of this vital truth: The Holy Spirit's choice of every word of Scripture is no matter of accident or mere human determination. Even the tenses of verbs, the use of the singular versus the plural, and the choice and use of a particular word in the original, are absolutely vital to sound doctrine. We began this study by examining Jesus' declaration of the truth of the resurrection of the dead in response to the unbelief of the Sadducees - the theological liberals of their day. We continued with a confrontation between our Lord and the Pharisees - the reputed theological conservatives of the time - in which He declared His Lordship over all things.

As we bring this study to a close, we shall examine the Holy Spirit's answer, through the pen of the Apostle Paul, to legalists who claimed that the Law of Moses somehow revised or abrogated God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis chapter 15. Vital truth was again at stake - the identity of those who truly belong to the Body of Christ versus those who follow another, illegitimate way to Heaven which instead leads to Hell. 

"Seed" Not "Seeds"

In Galatians chapter 3 the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, argued against the claims of the Jewish legalists. He refuted them on the basis of a single word:

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. (Galatians 3:16-19)

The crux of Paul's refutation of this false teaching is based not merely on a single word, but on the Holy Spirit's use of the singular versus the plural form of that single word - "seed" versus "seeds". Although I disagree with Warren Wiersbe in some critical areas (principally his Dispensationalist approach to Scripture), I believe he has done a masterful job of explaining what is at issue in this passage, and why. Wiersbe writes:

The word "promise" is used eight times in these verses, referring to God's promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). This promise involved being justified by faith and having all the blessings of salvation (Galatians 3:6-9). It is obvious that the promise to Abraham (and, through Christ, to us today), given about 2000 B. C., preceded by centuries the Law of Moses (about 1450 B.C.). The Judaizers implied that the giving of the Law changed that original covenant of promise. Paul argues that it did not.

To begin with, once two parties conclude an agreement, a third party cannot come along years later and change that agreement. The only persons who can change an original agreement are the persons who made it. To add anything to it or take anything from it would be illegal.

If this is true among sinful men, how much more does it apply to the holy God? Note that Abraham did not make a covenant with God; God made a covenant with Abraham! God did not lay down any conditions for Abraham to meet. In fact, when the covenant was ratified Abraham was asleep! (See Genesis 15.) It was a covenant of grace: God made promises to Abraham; Abraham did not make promises to God.

But Paul reveals another wonderful truth: God made this promise, not only to Abraham, but also to Christ. "And to thy Seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16).

The Bible concept of "the seed" goes back to Genesis 3:15, after the Fall of man. God states that there will be a conflict in the world between Satan's seed (children of the devil, see John 8:33-44) and the woman's seed (God's children, and, ultimately, God's Son). The Scriptures show this conflict: Cain versus Abel (see 1 John 3:10-12); Israel versus the nations; John the Baptist and Jesus versus the Pharisees (Matthew 3:7-9; 23:29-33); the true believer versus the counterfeit (see the Parable of the Tares, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)....

In the final analysis, God made this covenant of promise with Abraham through Christ, so that the only two parties who can make any changes are God the Father and God the Son. Moses cannot alter this covenant! He can add nothing to it; he can take nothing from it. The Judaizers wanted to add to God's grace (as though anything could be added to grace!) and take from God's promises. They had no right to do this since they were not parties in the original covenant.[1]

The True Seed of Abraham

Thus Paul writes in Romans of the glorious truth that all believers of all time are the true seed of Abraham in Christ:

Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed - God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants [in the original language, "seed"] be."

And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:9-25)

How Do You Handle the Word of God?

Let me end this series where we began: Every word of Scripture - even the tenses of verbs, and the use of the singular versus the plural - is absolutely vital in the revelation of the eternal plan of God and the Christian's understanding of sound doctrine. Jesus proclaimed that "not one jot or tittle" of Scripture - not a single letter or fragment of a letter - would remain unfulfilled (Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17). God's purpose and precision in the penning of Scripture extends even to the minutest details.

We live in a time when the idea that words have meaning in context has been swept aside by a flood of postmodernist revisionism - even in the church. But our God is no postmodernist, and no believer can be one either. His Word is not a book of contradictions, and it is not a wax nose that we can twist and shape according to our whims and feelings. This is why meticulously accurate translation of the Scriptures, using the most reliable manuscripts in the original languages, is absolutely vital. It is also the reason why careful exposition of the actual meaning of Scripture by the man in the pulpit is absolutely essential.

Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6).

Notice, finally, how the Holy Spirit's solemn warning at the end of the Bible concerning these things is stated. It is not in terms of thoughts, ideas, or a mere general sense - but in terms of words:

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this Book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this Book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this Book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The individual Christian, the Christian teacher, and the Church as a body must take these matters just as seriously as the Apostle Paul did:

But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

The truth can only be fully known, lived, and proclaimed by holding onto every word of the Book as our most treasured possession. Dear reader, how do you handle the Word of God?

References:

1. Warren W. Wiersbe, "The Law Cannot Change the Promise", entry on Galatians 3:15-18 in The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989).

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