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The Plain Sense(s) of Scripture: Questioning interpretive singularity in Galatians 3 and Romans 4

Editor's note: Aaron Morris was one of my interns for the 2005-06 school year at Dallas Seminary. He read this paper at the Evangelical Theological Society's southwestern regional section on March 24, 2006 at Southwestern Baptist Seminary. It's an excellent example of how to explore the relations of the Old Testament in the New, especially when the same author cites the Old Testament on more than one occasion and apparently with different understandings.

Daniel B. Wallace
June 2, 2006


We often assume a gracious posture and give the early church a sort of “benefit of the doubt” assuming our exegesis and theological method to be a far superior “refinement” of what has been handed down to us. What if, in fact, ours was a degradation of superior methods? What if they had not taken “The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts” as G. K. Beale’s title asks?1 Is it possible that we have reached orthodox conclusions by means of a shallow and anemic exegesis? If so, are we willing to take the large, bitter iron pill needed for recovery in the fullest sense?

Protestant exegetes and theologians have distinguished themselves from their Roman Catholic counterparts many ways throughout the nearly five centuries succeeding the reformation. The most consistent and recognizable has been the maintenance of the five “Solas”: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria: With scripture alone as our theological authority, we conclude that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and in this, God alone receives the glory.

Many of the arguments surrounding these distinctions dealt with the hermeneutical means as much as the theological ends. The Reformers objected to the medieval church’s perceived abuse of spiritual exegesis. As they saw it, interpreters from earlier generations had used the language of a given text to support a theological or moral point without regard to the true intent or meaning of the passage in its context.2 Hermeneutical differences between the two traditions have largely centered on the discussions of Scripture’s ultimate sense; whether it is singular, as maintained in the Protestant camp, or multiple, as touted in the Catholic view of sensus plenior.3 However, both branches of the Western Church share one and a half millennia of common stock. Moreover, multi-valent hermeneutics were not a recent innovation at the time of the reformation. Simultaneously honed, popularized, and scandalized by Origen, spiritual exegesis was injected early into the Western church’s mainstream. Even though the early church had mixed feelings about Origen, Jerome was greatly revered. He devoted much of his time to translating Origen’s work and drew heavily from his interpretive and text-critical practices for his own work.4 His Vulgate made what were potentially the most widespread and lasting impressions on the western church having created their primary translation of Holy writ.

As seen in the recent national ETS assemblies (and even some heated plenary sessions), the advent of Postmodernity has moved many discussions of meaning and interpretation within the walls of Protestantism. Many issues once taken for granted find themselves on the docket for reexamination. What is the nature of meaning? Where does it come from, and where does it reside? How is it apprehended? And to what degree and on the basis of what criteria can we be legitimately certain that we have captured it? These questions are not simply the by-products of a “philosophy du jour,” but the result of honest reflection on the Biblical text. Some texts seem to suggest that New Testament authors discovered secondary meanings in or else imposed new meanings upon older scriptural texts. In an attempt to examine their practices, this paper will compare Paul’s development of the Abrahamic seed in Rom 4 and Gal 3 as a test case for examining biblical issues in literary epistemology.5

The Problem

Does Paul view singular, authorial intent as a binding hermeneutical criterion? Many have discussed the irregularity of Paul’s premise and argument in Gal 3.16.6 Based on the singular morphology used for seed in Genesis (וּלְזַעַךָ Hebr. or τῷ σπέρματι in the LXX), he identifies that seed as Christ. As this paper will seek to address later, many have posed various solutions to uphold Paul’s reputation as a good, Protestant exegete. Very few have spent any length addressing the similarities between Paul’s language, sources, and argument in Rom 4 and Gal 3.7

At first glance, Gal 3.16 seems to be an example of careful grammatical exegesis; Paul observes and interprets the minutia of the text, stopping to parse a single word in the Biblical text: “But to Abraham the promises were spoken, and to his seed. [and] it does not say ‘and to seeds’ as if [they were spoken] to many, but as if [spoken] to one [recipient], ‘and to your seed,’ who is Christ.”8 After a cursory reading, one might assume that this text serves as a template for grammatical exegesis, but further consideration reveals complication in Paul’s argument. When considering the blessings YHWH vowed to Abraham in Genesis, singularity does not seem to be the most natural reading. In fact, much of the content in these promises revolves around the extreme plurality of the seed (that they will be as plentiful as the dust of the earth (Gen 13.14) and more numerous than the stars of heaven (Gen 15.5). Further lexical study demonstrates that the singular form is not as acutely descriptive as Paul may have let on.9 Later he will even use a singular form of seed (σπέρμα in 3.29) as predicate nominative with a pural antecedent,10 and so seems very familiar with this term’s collective usage.

So far, there are two levels of tension for this test case. Galatians 3.16 presents its own interpretive hurdles. Even if the reader overcomes those, he must accept the compounding effect presented by Paul’s development of the Abrahamic seed in Rom 4.13-18. Here Paul uses the same language to refer (plurally) to believers without any mention of the seed’s singularity. Exegetes, who move beyond the assumption that Paul is simply paying attention to textual detail, acknowledge the difficulty and offer a variety of solutions as grids for understanding Paul’s use of the OT.

One potential option lies in identifying Paul’s source text for his quotation. Most references to Abraham’s seed in Genesis are immediately preceded or followed by plural pronouns or other referents for which the seed serves as antecedent, seeming to make plain the term’s collective sense in the context.11 Gen 22.18 emerges from the promises in Genesis fitting for a singular referent and works well theologically as looking forward to Christ’s redeeming the Gentiles. In the context of Gen 22, it is much easier to find an individual referent in verse 18. Verses 16 and 17 still deal with the multiplication of Abraham’s seed, but in verse 18, the seed is named as the agent of blessing for the nations, a unique statement among YHWH’s promises concerning Abraham’s seed. It parallels the original promises of Gen 12.2, 3, in which Abraham is said to be a blessing for others and it is in him that all the families of the earth will be blessed.12

F. F. Bruce finds textual difficulty in attributing Gal 3.16 to Gen 22.18 directly (as will be discussed in greater detail below). To remedy this and still recognize the content of Gen 22.18, he views Paul’s language as other than direct quotation from any Genesis text, but as more closely approximating a thematic allusion referencing the agent of blessing concept in Gen 22.18. He concedes direct quotation as a possibility given Paul’s attention to textual detail as a premise for the argument, but seems to identify the citation as τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ (rather than τῷ σπέρματι σοῦ) relegating the quotation to the earlier portion of the verse.13 By doing this he is able to keep it in line with Gen 22.18 (as well as Sir 44.12). Mary’s language in the Magnificat (cf. Luke 1.55) lends biblical warrant to see this general thematic usage of “Abraham’s seed” as a technical Messianic reference in the first century.14

One final, plausible resolution is a corporate solidarity model:15 that Paul is using Christ here as the personal Messiah with a view to his organic union to the redeemed people of God, reminiscent of his use of ἐν Χριστῷ language throughout his epistles or his development of the σῶμα Χριστοῦ themes of in Eph 4 and 5. This argument is closely tied to and supported by Paul’s own corporate use of σπέρμα in 3.29. This option preserves both the singular and corporate senses of the term without pitting the two verses against one another.16 Augustine argued the legitimacy of this interpretive scheme in the late fourth century: “we need not be in a difficulty when a transition is made from the head to the body.”17 If Paul is using the language to refer to body and head as Augustine suggests, then there is no reason for the individual sense to war against the corporate, because the two are so closely tied to one another.

Sorting through proposed solutions for Galatians 3.16

Is Paul simply referencing Gen 22.18, and its following context? This solution seems to employ Occam’s razor to pose the neatest resolution and presents no interpretive stretch for the context of Gen 22. In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, YHWH’s promise to Abraham differs from His previous covenantal pronouncements. He has tended to promise Abraham and his unidentified seed blessings and land (cf. Gen 13.15, 17.8) whereas in Gen 22, YHWH emphasizes the blessing that will come through or “in” Abraham’s seed. In other pronouncements of the Abrahamic promises, the “seed” serves as the antecedent for plural pronouns in the following verses, as is noted above. However, in 22.18, even though there have been references to plurality (cf. 17a) there is a sudden shift to the singular in v. 17b. Often translated with a plural gloss to smooth out the reading,18 the text literally reads, “your seed will possess the gate of his enemies19.” This would seem to be a legitimate textual clue within the original context to see a sudden shift in referent, probably signaling some messianic or prophetic significance. As well, if this were the case, the dative (τῷ σπέρματι) in Gal 3 could still be syntactically legitimate if it is understood as a dative of means rather than a dative of indirect object.20

Isolated from the original Hebrew text this option appears to have great potential as a resolution for Paul’s seemingly deviant contention in Gal 3. Unfortunately, this view encounters more difficulties in the phrasing and syntax of Gal 3.16. As noted above, Paul makes his citation (whether allusion or quotation) using the dative (τῷ σπέρματι). And while the Greek dative allows for some ambiguity (in either the NT or LXX), the Hebrew constructions used are syntactically exclusive. The two semantic functions have the possibility of sharing a form in Greek, but in Hebrew there is a formal difference: either a prefixed בְּ or לְ preposition.

If he is not quoting Gen 22.18, is Paul alluding conceptually rather than quoting verbally as Bruce suggests? No; I agree with Hodge, Lightfoot, and Daube here most definitely!21 It appears too painstaking. Paul’s attention to the exact forms within the text coupled with his using an exact match for Gen 13.15 or 17.8 makes too compelling a case for direct quotation. It does not feel loose or divergent enough for a conceptual allusion. The presence of the otherwise rogue καί is even more compelling. In the context of Gal 3.16, the use of καί is too awkward to be anything other than a portion of the quote. In further contrast with Bruce’s option of “thematic allusion” described above, this reference to the Abrahamic seed is not phrased in a generic third person as in the Magnificat.22

So, if Paul is quoting, what is his source text? It is striking that “the promises made to Abraham and to his seed” are most definitely plural (αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι), and therefore almost certainly cannot come from Genesis 22.18 alone, if at all, as there is only one promise made to the seed in that passage (cf. 22.17). One possible tack is to see Paul referring to some or all of the Abrahamic promises (i.e., as iterations) of the single covenant throughout Abraham’s lifetime.23 In this scenario, Paul would be taking up language that is generic to several occasions and would not intend to emphasize one over the other or necessarily exclude the different concept in Gen 22.24. More than likely the phrase of choice for this tactic would have followed the third person, αὐτοῦ, as exemplified in the Magnificat rather than the second person, σοῦ, that is found in Gal 3.16b.25 However, Paul’s language here is not generic enough to include promises from Gen 12.2, 3; 15.5; or 22.18. His phrasing is an exact match for Gen 13.15 and 17.8, and given the use of the plural “promises” (αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι), it appears that he intends to encompass both iterations with a single quotation. So, Paul has quoted directly, and he has done so in a way that excludes Gen 22.18, the only text that seems to have a singular seed clearly in view.

Romans 4

Where does Rom 4 fit into this? After acknowledging and tripping over several hurdles in Gal 3, we round the corner to discuss Rom 4. Both texts reference the Abrahamic seed, but this does not necessitate quotation from the same OT source-text, as has been demonstrated. Some argue that they are clearly different passages and, by means of circular reasoning, dismiss the textual similarities on that basis. Granted Gal 3.16 and Rom 4.18 are clearly references to different texts. Their quotations are different: “to your seed,” coming from Gen 13.15 or 17.8 in Gal 3 and a clear reference to Gen 15.5, “so shall your seed be,” in Rom 4.18. However, one cannot account for promises alluded to earlier in Rom 4 as being made to Abraham’s seed from Gen 15.5 (the clear source for Rom 4.18). In Rom 4.17 (and possibly 4.18a), Paul clearly quotes Gen 17.5 from the LXX, “I have established you [as] the father of many nations” (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν τέθεικά σε).26 The promises are only made to Abraham, for the multiplicity of his “seed” in Gen 15.5, and promises are not extended to the seed for the 13 verses (until v.18), making this a difficult connection to see in the context. It seems a stretch that the reference in Rom 4.13 to “the promise to Abraham and/ or to his seed” would come from the context of Gen 15.5. More likely, the promise in view comes from Gen 17.5. The immediate context of Gen 15.5 describes Abraham’s seed as the content of the promise rather than its recipient(s). In Gen 17.5, however, the promises to the “seed” are made beginning as soon as vv. 7 and 8 and flow as a continuation of the original promise to succeeding generations.

The promises Paul cites in Gal 3.16 (both Gen 13.15 and 17.8)27 as being made to Christ are encased in the same cluster of verses in view during his quotation in Rom 4.13-18, although here the language limits the possible source text to Gen 17.5-8. Yet, in all of this, Paul never mentions the possibility in Rom 4 that the seed is truly singular or consumatively revealed in Christ. He explicitly distinguishes τῷ σπέρματι as plural in v. 13 by using it as the antecedent of the relative pronoun “those” (οἱ), the plural “heirs” (κληρονόμοι) in v.14, and even more emphatically referring to “all [of] the descendants” (παντὶ τῷ σπέρματι) in v.16.

Comparative Conclusions

So then what does all of this mean for Paul’s use of the Old Testament? Paul maintains the singularity of the original seed (σπέρμα or זֶרַע ) in Gal 3, while he underscores its plurality in Rom 4. Furthermore, he does this while quoting from the same OT text (or possibly two nearly identical iterations of the same promises from Gen 13 and 17). Regardless of the text cited, whether Gen 13.15, ff. or 17.5-8, the Old Testament interpreter would almost certainly read these references to the seed (σπέρμα/ זֶרַע ) as a collective singular; plural in meaning with no indication that the original human author intended a truly singular sense. As demonstrated in the preceding examination of Rom 4 and Gal 3, Paul reads them as both plural and singular, without any evidence from the original context to signal singularity other than a form that he himself uses as collective (cf. Gal 3.29).28 This leaves me with a view of Paul’s use of the Old Testament text that closely coheres to Raymond Brown’s definition of the sensus plenior. That is, an “additional, deeper meaning…not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist in the words of a biblical text.”29

Historical Considerations

Why does this make modern protestant exegete so uneasy; is there any significant historical shift? Early church Fathers seem to pick up the Abrahamic seed language as a technical Messianic reference without hesitation (much like Mary’s usage in the Magnificat), but have no problem toggling between the corporate and singular usage. In particular, Irenaeus and Athanasius use the language as a proper designation for Christ far more than they do as referring to plural heirs. Athanasius and Irenaeus consistently tie the Abrahamic seed to the Davidic seed (as in Rom 1).30 Irenaeus regularly uses the seed theme and language in his corrections of Gnostic misapplication for the same language.31

Based on a cursory survey of the citations listed in historical concordances like Biblia Patristica, and with the exception of Augustine, there seems to be little attention given to Paul’s use of seed language in Galatians.32 It is either unnoticed or taken for granted as legitimate. The first lengthy discussions on Paul’s use of the Old Testament seem to come from the Reformers, who explicitly react against the “spiritual exegesis” of their medieval predecessors. Luther spends little time on this use of seed but regularly proclaims the fathers’ folly in pronouncing the Scriptures as anything but clear. He praises their dedication to the interpretive task and blames their rife exegetical fallacies on an ignorance of the biblical languages.33 Ironically, not 3 paragraphs after one of these critiques, Luther takes up the allegorical himself to describe the simplicity in the task of exegesis. He claims that the Psalmist likens the proper study of Scripture to a hunt by saying: “to the deer God opens the dense forests.”34

Calvin appears much stricter on the nature of Scripture’s interpretation. He sounds much more akin to modern exegetes (F. F. Bruce in particular) when he ascribes the quotation in Gal 3 to Genesis 22.18, “For although God embraced the whole posterity of Abraham in his covenant, yet Paul properly argues that Christ was truly the seed in which all the nations of the earth were to be blessed.” However, Calvin views the identification and reality of the Abrahamic seed as a body to be “considered chiefly in one head”35 Though his explanation bears striking resemblance to Augustine’s, he explicitly defends Paul against any accusations or presumptions of allegory: “Had the term seed been used allegorically, Paul surely would not have omitted to notice it, when he affirms clearly, and without figure, that the promise was not given ‘to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.’” 36 Interestingly though, Calvin himself is surely aware that seed (σπέρμα), though singular in form, is not necessarily singular in meaning. He also uses and quotes from Rom 4 with plurality in view in the very same paragraph of his institutes.37

Modern Protestant exegetes recognizing the tension between the two passages have tended to follow suit with Calvin. Hodge, Longenecker, Betz, Burton, Barth, and Cranfield all try to preserve some semblance of singular hermeneutical order,38 and offer explanations for Paul’s behavior that alleviate any need for allegorical accusations.

Hermeneutical Conclusions

In the game of interpretation then, can we play by Paul’s rules? If one argues that Paul is an inspired apostle and therefore the hermeneutical exception, he or she will lay the burden of proof on those who would want to follow in Paul’s footsteps: “Why would you think that you could handle Scripture the way that Paul does? You’re not inspired as he is.” However, there is a false assumption of strength in that position. One can ask “why not?” just as easily as he can ask “why?” To phrase the question another way, “on what grounds do we assume that we should handle Scripture in any manner other than that which we observe from the apostles?”

Is it possible to see an original/ literal sense and at the same time read a present, ecclesiological sense in a single passage. As Hays so ably argues this seems to be Paul’s use of the Abrahamic seed in Gal 3.39 The two seem to be in parallel portions of a hermeneutical chiasm that converges at Christ and his advent. In this scheme Christ and the Christological meaning in the text would be the most inclusive and fullest sense (a sensus plenior) flanked by the two lesser (temporally bound) meanings, the original and the “ecclesiological.”

As I read various scholars debate the correct approach to Scripture and its meaning(s), both extremes in interpretation make me uncomfortable. They seem almost matters of preference, and unfortunately, I have reached no definitive answer on this. Tentatively, and though it cuts across the grain of my academic training in hermeneutics, I can think of no better examples to follow than the apostles themselves. Maybe Scripture’s sufficiency does not terminate in its historical and theological substance, but extends to its provision of hermeneutical templates as well. If this is indeed the case, it is fortunate then that there were only five Sola’s, and Solus Sensus Unum40 never became a hallmark cry of the reformation!


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1 G. K. Beale, Ed., The Right Doctrine From The Wrong Texts? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994).

2 Grant, Robert and David Tracy, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible, 2nd ed. (Philadelphai: Fortress, 1984), 92-6.

3 Though many have fought to maintain this distinction; Richard Longenecker, Walt Kaiser Jr., and Douglas Moo stand as some of its most stalwart sponsors. Cf. Richard N. Longenecker, Bilbical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), xxxi-xxxix; Walter C. Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 27, 47, 66, 189, 209-10, 219; Idema, “The Single Intent of Scripture,” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Ed. G. K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994); Douglas J. Moo, “The Problem of Sensus Plenior,” in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker: 1995).

4 John M. Court, ed., Biblical Interpretation: The Meanings of Scripture—Past and Present (London: T & T Clark, 2003), 20.

5 Often in discussions of Pauline texts there is some time spent defending particular views of authorship. While these issues fall outside the scope of this paper for discussion, the conclusions bear heavily on the discussion at hand. A good test case should find texts from the same author, so as to limit or otherwise rule out objections that different uses stem from private theologies or stylistic differences in textual citation. It is partially for this reason that I have chosen Galatians and Romans. As two of the four Hauptbriefe they are almost universally recognized as Pauline.

6 Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, Hermeneia, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979); F. F. Bruce, Galatians NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982); Earnest De Witt Burton, Galatians, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1921); R. Alan Cole, Galatians TNTC (Downers Grove, Inter-Varsity, 1989); C. J. Collins, “Galatians 3:16: What Kind of Exegete Was Paul?” TynBull 54.1 (2003): 75-86; Ronald Y. K. Fung, Galatians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988); Donald Guthrie, Galatians, NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973); G. Walter Hansen, Galatians, IvpNTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994); R. J. Kagarise, “The Seed in Galatians 3:16: A Window into Paul’s Thinking,” EvangJourn 18.2 (2000): 67-73; Brigitte Kahl, “Hagar between Genesis and Galatians: The Stony Road to Freedom,” in From Prophecy to Testament: The Function of the Old Testament in the New, ed. Craig A. Evans (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004); J. B. Lightfoot, Galatians, 8th Ed. (London: Macmillan, 1884); B. M. Newman, “Translating ‘Seed’ in Galatians 3:16 and 19,” BibTrans 35, no. 3 (1984): 334-7.

7 The most thorough discussion comes from Lightfoot. Dunn, Hodge, Ka>seman, and Godet offer good, though extremely brief, arguments in their respective commentaries on Romans. Most others have very mention any ties to Gal 3 cursorily. Cf. Lightfoot, Galatians; James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, WBC (Dallas: Word, 1988), 211-15; Frederic Louis Godet, Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1977), 175-76; Charles Hodge, Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 119-20; Earnest Ka>seman, Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 115-21; L. Goppelt, “Paulus Und Die Heilsgeschichte: Shussfolgerunger Ans Rom Iv and I Kor X 1-13,” NTStud 13.1 (1966): 31-42; Longenecker, Galatians; Douglas J. Moo, Romans, NICN, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); Herman Ridderbos, Galatians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953); William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, Romans, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1980); T. H. Tobin, “What Shall We Say That Abraham Found? The Controversy Behind Romans 4,” HTR 88.4 (1995): 437-52; Andrew H. Wakefield, Where to Live: The Hermeneutical Significance of Paul’s Citations from Scripture in Galatians 3:1-14, (Atlanta: SBL, 2003).

8 Unless otherwise stated, all translations within this paper will be my own.

9 The Greek term in Gal 3.16, σπέρμα, and the Hebrew term it translates, זֶרַע , are very often used as collective singulars. Cf. BDAG, σπέρμα 2 a, and BDB, זֶרַע 3 b.

10 Here σπέρμα is a predicate nominative referring to an implied ὑμεῖς, the subject of the 2nd person plural verb, ἐστέ.

11 In Gen 13.16, Abraham’s זֶרַע will become as numerous as the dust of the earth; in 15.5 the seed will be like the plural stars (הַכּוֹכַבִים); in 15.13 they will be strangers and enslavedוַעַבָדוּם) ), and in 17.7 it the promises will be kept for the seeds’ (plural possessive) generations (לְדוֹרֹתָם).

12 So Burton, Collins, Newman, and Hansen. Cf. Burton, Galatians, 182; Collins, “Galatians 3:16: What Kind of Exegete Was Paul?” B. M. Newman, “Translating ‘Seed’ in Galatians 3:16 and 19;” G. Walter Hansen, Galatians, 97-98.

13 Bruce’s choice for the quoted phrase runs contrary to the editorial choices reflected in the NA27 and most contemporary translations (cf. NAS, ESV, TNIV, NRSV). Though these are not sufficient grounds for critique, as will be demonstrated below, this seems an unlikely candidate for quotation when compared to the phrase including σοῦ later in the verse.

14 Bruce, Galatians, 172-3.

15 Another very reasonable consideration is that corruption of the text itself could account for the variation in quotation/ allusion. In the interest of space, that consideration will be confined to this footnote. The apparatus for the NA27 only lists two variants for Gal 3.16, and neither have any bearing on the nature or source of the quotation. Both are variations of the relative pronoun ὅς at the end of the verse. In the Western texts ο shows up in the original hand of D (D*) and in F’s correction (Fc); ου appears in the original text of F (F*) and in G. It would appear that the text here is very stable, as it is in the Hebrew and LXX of the potential source texts in Genesis.

16 Bruce picks up some of this theme in his commentary on Romans, but not whole-heartedly. Pyne, Fung, and Hays join Augustine in this view. Robert A. Pyne, “The ‘Seed,’ the Spirit, and the Blessing of Abraham,” BibSac 152.606 (1995): 211-22; Ronald Y. K. Fung, Galatians, 155-56; Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989), 85, 121.

17 St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, Early Church Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1890), Christian Doctrine § 31.

18 This is glossed as a plural possessive, “their enemies,” in NET, NAS, RSV, and the textual notes of the ESV. This is translated as a singular possessive, “his enemies,” in the ASV, the textual notes of the NAS, and the published text of the ESV.

19 Note the singular possessive,אֹיבָיו

20 Some interchange “agency” and “means” when discussing Christ’s personal activity as the “agent of blessing.” Most probably do this to preserve his personality and role in this proposed solution. It should be noted that dative of agency is only syntactically possible, but extraordinarily rare. Further, the dative can often be used to express means that are personal, and it is for this reason that “means” should be considered if anything in this instance. For a fuller discussion of the syntactical range and limits of the Dative case, see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 163-166.

21 Lightfoot, Galatians 141-3; David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, 2nd ed. (New York: Arno, 1956), 438-444; Hodge, Romans,119-20.


Cf. σοῦ in Gal 3.16 as opposed to αὐτοῦ in Luke 1.55. The presence of the second person pronoun in Gal 3.16 would strongly suggest that Paul is quoting a direct address.

23 Burton sees an even greater range of possible source texts within Genesis, though he limits the concept to that single book rather than expanding it to an Old Testament biblical-theological level. Burton, Galatians, 180-82.

24 Bruce and Burton follow this same line of reasoning, though to different degrees.

25 The phrasing in the Magnificat, “καί τῳ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ,” more than likely does function as a programmatic formula used to cite a collection of source texts and reference a significant Old Testament theme (i.e. the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant). Burton’s explanation coheres more tightly to texts that use the third person (αὐτοῦ). The phrase appears in various Old Testament texts, primarily referring to recipients of the covenant promises of YHWH made to Abraham or to David. Outside of Genesis see Neh 9.8, Ps 105.6, ff. and Ps 17.51 as referring to Abraham’s seed and incorporation to the promises made. See also 2 Sam 22.51 and 1 Kings 2.33 as referring to incorporation and fulfillment for David’s seed. Two other instances occur outside of Genesis, yet within the Penatateuch. Exodus 28.43 and Numbers 25.13 deal with the perpetuity with which the Aaronic priesthood is to observe commands handed to Aaron at the inception of Israel’s tabernacle worship. Betz also picks this up in his discussion of the “traditional interpretation;” Betz, Galatians, 157. The programmatic, summary usage of the phrase becomes more evident in the New Testament, as Mary even picks it up in the final phrase of the Magnificat in Luke 1.55: “just as it was spoken to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever (καί τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα).”

26 It is also possible to read Rom 4.18a, “πατερvα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν,” as a reiteration of the earlier quotation from Gen 17.5 (reiterating Rom 4.17). For this rendering see the editorial choices reflected in the NET.

27 As noted above, the reference to promises (αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι) is clearly plural, and the language of Paul’s quotation matches Gen 13.5 and 17.8. Since the promises made in both instances overlap considerably if not completely, it is likely that both texts are in view.

28 Ironically in discussing issues of authorial intent, one must argue based on Paul’s intention, at least in part. There are only two options left to the interpreter at this point; either Paul has intentionally used these texts (in which case, his interpretive methods need closer examination) or he has unintentionally cited the wrong texts by mistake in one or more of these New Testament passages. This latter option lies beyond the scope of this paper, but should b e considered in weighing the exegetical options. Paul’s attention to detail in Gal 3 suggests that at least that quotation is intentional; one might argue for a “mishap” in Romans 4, but this kind of judgment bears much greater explanation and consideration as it will grow out of and affect one’s outlook on the constraints of inspiration and inerrancy. For a fuller treatment of this subject, see Wes Gristy, Managing “Over-Cites”: Learning from Evangelical Treatments of Faulty New Testament Citations of the Old Testament, (Presented at Dallas Seminary April 16, 2004).

29 Raymond E. Brown, The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture (Baltimore: St. Mary’s University, 1955), 92.

30 Athanasius finds the incarnation, death, substitutionary atonement, resurrection, ascension, calling of the Gentiles and the final judgment in the Psalms as he instructs Marcellinus in interpretation. In a rapid-fire succession spanning fewer than five paragraphs, Athanasius pulls many seemingly unrelated quotations from Ps 2, 9, 22, 24, 45, 47, 49, 50, 69, 72, 88, and 110. St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (De Incarnacione Verbi Dei), Popular Patristic Series (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 100-102.

31 Irenaeus of Lyons. Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (Crestwood: Saint Vladimir's Seminary, AD 195. Reprint, 1997), pp. 55, 56, and 63.

32 See above for Augustine’s analogy of head and body for understanding the Abrahamic seed. Augustine, City of God and Christian Doctrine, § 31.

33 “But note how often [St. Bernard] plays (spiritually to be sure) with the Scriptures and twists them out of their true sense. This is also why the sophists have contended that Scripture is obscure…Because they were ignorant of languages, the dear fathers at times expended many words in dealing with a text. Yet when they were all done they had scarcely taken its measure; they were half right and half wrong.” Martin Luther, “Letter to the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools (1524),” in The Works of Martin Luther, vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1962), 373.

34 Luther is most likely pulling from Psalm 29, though the text of his letter, in its present form cites Psalm 129. This almost certainly a printer’s error or a mistake by Luther himself as the language is most closely tied to that of Psalm 29.9. Ibid.


John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846), Book II, § 6.2.


Ibid., Book 2, § 13.3.

37 Ibid.

38 Hodge, Romans, 119-120 Burton, Galatians, 182; Betz, Galatians, 157; Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 94-99; Karl Barth, Romans (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), 140-41; C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans 1-8, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975), 243-46.

39 So also Hays, Echoes, 118-120.

40 Lit. “One Sense Alone”

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