Paul’s (First Century) Use of Scripture (RJS)

Paul’s (First Century) Use of Scripture (RJS) February 28, 2012

The apostle Paul was a first century Jew. This should not be a controversial statement.

Paul was a first century Jew educated in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Paul used the Scriptures in the manner common to his day, age, and culture.

Paul was transformed by his experience of the crucified and risen Lord.

After this experience everything Paul read in the Hebrew Scriptures was transformed by and read through the lens of his definitive, life-changing experience with God. The Scriptures point to Christ.

Here then is the key point of the sixth chapter of the new book by Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Paul’s use of the Old Testament is also driven by his conviction that now, in the risen Messiah, God has spoken the final word in his plan to save humanity. This final word in Christ is understood by Paul as the necessary concluding chapter to Israel’s story. Conversely, the gospel is also the lens through which Israel’s story is now to be read in a fresh way. (p. 103-104)

Paul read, used, and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways common to his day, age, and culture – but he now saw, through the grace of God, that Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah, was the focal point of the entire story.

This needs to be unpacked and elaborated – and I will sketch some of the points Enns makes below.

How did Paul read the Scripture? What was his driving goal?

What do we mean (or should we mean) when we say Paul was inspired by God?

In Chapter 6 Paul as Ancient Interpreter of the Old Testament Enns looks at four different aspects of the insight we can gain as we consider Paul as a first century Jew using the Hebrew Scriptures.

First, Paul was a first century man. As such he had a view common to his culture on issues like cosmology, biology, and geography. There is no reason to think that God corrected these notions as Paul was inspired to reflect upon and write about the gospel of Jesus Christ that had transformed his life and transformed the world. Paul shared assumptions with his contemporaries that we know are inaccurate. This is entirely compatible with inspiration in the context of a personal God who meets us where we are.

If we begin with assumptions about what inspiration “must mean,” we are creating a false dilemma and will wind up needing to make tortuous arguments to line up Paul and other Biblical writers with modes of thinking that would never have occurred to them. But when we allow the Bible to lead us in our thinking on inspiration, we are compelled to leave room for the ancient writers to reflect and even incorporate their ancient, mistaken, cosmologies into their scriptural reflections. (p. 94-95)

Second, The kind of exegesis we expect today was not the norm of the first century. The period between the return from Babylonian exile and the life of Jesus and time of Paul was a time of significant and prolific reflection on the Hebrew Scriptures. Much was written reflecting on the story of Israel and on how to make sense of God’s promises in the light of contemporary circumstances. We see this in the pseudepigrapha, the apocrypha, and the early Christian writings. .

For the sake of the discussion of Adam it is helpful to consider the context that surrounded and helped shape the way Paul approached the Genesis narrative. Enns outlines several different approaches to the garden story active around the time of Jesus and Paul.

In the Wisdom of Solomon (Apocrypha, late 1st century BC to early first century AD) Adam is referred to as one who was “delivered from his transgression” and death entered the world “through the devil’s envy.”

Ecclesiasticus (Apocrypha, 2nd century BC) puts the blame for sin and death on Eve (a theme Paul uses in 1 Tim. 2:14). But elsewhere responsibility is placed on each individual.

Jubilees (Pseudepigrapha, 2nd century BC) turns Adam into “a priestly figure who actually offers sacrifices for his own transgression.” (p. 100)

Philo (ca. 20 BC to 50 AD) saw in Adam a decline that was instigated by his wife. “When she was introduced into Adam’s life, the desire for pleasure meant exchanging imortality for mortality.” (P. 101)

Second Esdras (or 4 Ezra) and Second Baruch also reflect on Adam and his sin in attempt to make sense of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

Third, Paul used the Hebrew Scriptures according to the conventions of his day and age. The works above are not part of our canon of scripture (well for protestants anyway, the Apocrypha is part of the canon recognized by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches). What matters for us is not so much what others thought, but Paul and how he saw Christ as the fulfillment of the story of Israel. But Paul and the other New Testament writers engaged with the Hebrew Scriptures in a manner consistent with their surrounding culture. The post a couple of weeks ago, Out of Egypt? … Say What? looked at this a bit.

In this chapter Enns looks at five specific examples in the writings of Paul that illustrate Paul’s use of the Hebrew Scriptures. I will give a brief glance at three of these here.

Paul reads everything through Christ. Paul quotes Isaiah 49:8 in 2 Cor. 6:2. But Paul’s reading and use of Isaiah’s words is not bound by the original intent of the prophet or the context of the original audience. Paul transforms the words of Isaiah to speak into a new situation.

Paul sees what Isaiah did not, that all of God’s saving activity through history is ultimately embodied somehow in the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul expresses that conviction by fostering a deep theological connection between the two events of deliverance from Babylon and resurrection of Christ. …

Paul’s theological conviction drives his interpretation of Isaiah 49:8 and recasts that passage to explain the significance of Christ’s coming. (p. 105)

Paul can use scripture creatively to make a point. In Galatians 3:15-29 Paul uses a play on words to make a theological point. He intentionally twists around the singular and plural nature of the collective noun “seed”. The promise to Abraham was that he would be the father of a great nation.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. (Gal 3:16 NIV)

But Gen. 13:16 has God telling Abraham 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. (KJV) Clearly the intent of “seed” here is plural.

The entire point of the promise is that the offspring will be many, not one. Paul, however, exploits the singular form of seed to argue that the promise to Abraham was for one son, not many, and that that son was Christ. Paul’s theological point is not surprising given the Christ-centered theology throughout his writing – in Jesus, Israel’s story finds its completion, its end point. (p. 106)

And Paul moves back to the plural form of seed when he returns in verse 29 to the subject of the church.

Paul can alter scripture to make his point. Romans 11:26-27 has Paul quoting Isaiah 59:20.

and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this ismy covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

But both the Septuagint and the Hebrew clearly state that the redeemer will come to Zion in Isaiah 59:20-21:

“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD. “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD.

“My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the LORD

Some have suggested that Paul had access to some version that we no longer have – but in this is pure speculation, and introduces theological problems of its own. The suggestion is made to protect Paul from error – but does this mean that the text we have is errant – or that Paul had and quotes an errant text? It requires fewer contortions to entertain the notion that Paul used the text according to the conventions of his day. Enns notes:

Paul’s creative citation of Isaiah, however, has ample precedent in the ancient world, where texts were mined and adjusted to allow alternate meanings of the text to emerge. What Paul does here would not have raised an eyebrow in his day. (p. 110)

A consideration of why Paul cited the text in this creative fashion should inform our understanding of Paul’s intent in the passage.

Fourth, Paul knew an interpreted Bible. Paul’s understanding of the Scripture was accompanied by an interpretive tradition that included details not contained in the text. These details, common knowledge in his day, come out at times in the way Paul uses and refers to Scripture in the New Testament letters. The reference to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Tim. 3:8 is one example of an interpretive tradition that makes its way into the text as a common knowledge reference.  The reference to angels in Gal. 3:19 and the “moving rock” of 1 Cor. 10:4 are other such examples.

Enns sums up the chapter:

What makes Paul so interesting, and sometimes so difficult to read, is that his use of the Old Testament is informed both by the ancient conventions we are looking at here and his conviction that the crucified and risen Jesus requires Israel’s story to be reinterpreted. Rather than a modern academic giving a neutral interpretation of the Old Testament, when we read Paul we must learn to expect from him an interpretive challenge. Our task as modern Christian readers is to understand Paul’s ways. (p. 116)

We follow Paul’s example – in our own fashion. As I was thinking about this chapter of Pete’s book, and about the way Paul used the scripture to make solid Christ-centered points it occurred to me that we do similar things in our own way. And it is good. When a preacher, grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, uses a passage of scripture in a way that is not necessarily consistent with the original intent of the author, God’s Word is still preached. Sometimes we bring God’s message alive for people today through a riff on the Word rather than a scholarly exposition.  At other times we make it alive by placing the text firmly in its first century context. There is a place for both. As long as God is the rock on which we stand and Christ is at the center of our teaching we cannot go far wrong.

Here is seems best to finish with the admonition to Timothy.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:14-17)

Scripture is from God and serves his purposes. We find God and Christ in scripture. But the dry text-book approach taken by many misses the point, and isn’t consistent with the way Paul or the other New Testament authors read, interacted with, and used the Hebrew Scriptures.

What do you think?

Is the only proper use of Scripture the original intent of the author? Does this both define and limit the truth contained?

Is a preacher today wrong when he or she uses a passage of scripture in a fashion unintended by the original author?

Does the way Paul used the Hebrew Scriptures challenge your thinking about the nature of Scripture and the use of Scripture?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

"It's always interesting and encouraging to read what personal meaning someone gets out of their ..."

Living Between Two Trees
"Dr. Holsclaw, thanks, we agree on both/and! And fired from his creedal employment, Enns is ..."

Reviewing Pete Enns: Saving the Bible, ..."
"Hi Tim,Thanks for the link to the comment thread.I'm not sure how you perceived yourself ..."

Reviewing Pete Enns: Saving the Bible, ..."
"I trip the filters here with some degree of frequency, so I get that. And ..."

Reviewing Pete Enns: Saving the Bible, ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Joe Canner

    This fits nicely with yesterday’s post about Jonathan Edwards and the “fecundity” of Scripture, i.e., his belief that Scripture has multiple meanings that can lead to a number of different lessons. Going back to the early Church, Origen apparently was quite fond of symbolic readings of the OT and found literal interpretations of certain parts of Genesis absurd.

    I grew up with a number of Bible teachers who liked numerology. Their interpretations always seemed a little fanciful, but I don’t think anyone considered them heretical. Same goes for interpreting supposed end times prophesies. The point being that we can’t know exactly what the original authors intended; so as long as an interpretation is plausible and doesn’t contradict other Scriptures, it should be considered in bounds.

  • Norman

    I actually think we can know largely the intent of the authors of the OT scriptures because the NT interprets them through Holy Spirit guided eyes. I believe it is a modern (some) scholarly idea that Paul had to reinterpret the OT away from its original intention. The original intention of “all” the OT scriptures invariably point toward the concept of a Messianic coming to set Israel right. That is how it was written and that is how it was ultimately interpreted. The seed analogy begins in Genesis 1 &2 is used throughout scripture. In fact Jesus interpreted the “seed” of the Devil in a singular and plural application. Satan was the father of the pharisaical brood of vipers that Christ spoke against. The same with Paul who sees the singular messianic seed headship as Christ and the church as in his body.

    Gen 3:15 and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

  • DRT

    This is spot on the way I see it.

    The best communicators use a variety of techniques to engage the audience. They will make plays on words (we see this in Paul), exaggerate claims (some here too, I contend), and also know how to get down to brass tacks and state stark truths (this too in Paul). This makes communication a rich human experience and not math.

  • AT

    I think I agree with most of this …but there is a question that keeps lingering with all this exploration of ‘cultural accomodation’ within scripture. I believe that this question has much more spiritual and personal significance…

    If use of scripture and theology (within the Bible) is shaped by culture…

    How much of the atonement theology that Paul (and Jesus?) expressed is grounded/accomodated within ancient barbaric cultural practices that were common throughout the era that scripture was written…

    I find any theology that removes any sense of sacrifice from the concept of the cross seriously lacking (and i’m not trying to start a debate about ‘propitiation). We end up with just a wishy washy love metaphor…

    How do we draw a line between cultural accomodation in use of scripture and cultural accomodation in one of the central theological truths within the Christian faith….?

  • Rodney

    Excellent, excellent post, RJS. This issue reveals the divide between laity and scholars when it comes to how we read the bible. Thus, all of us need to continue to work harder at bridging this gap.

  • I think it would do people a lot of good to understand Midrash, the way of using scripture homiletically, that pervaded the late Second Temple Period and early rabbinic periods. Paul was quite the midrash-maker and this way of looking at scripture is unlike modern hermeneutics (though it never denies the plain meaning of scripture). Recently on my Yeshua in Context blog I gave an example from Matthew called “‘My Son’ as Midrash.”

  • Nice post, RJS. I do think one oft-overlooked reason for the backlash against Enns’ book is not out of what he is doing with Scripture, but what passages he is doing it with (I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago on this, actually). But I certainly agree that this is what we do when we read the Bible anyway.

  • Good, common sense (which, as we know, is uncommon) treatment of Paul’s reading of Scripture. You remind us, correctly and wisely, that Scripture is vibrant, dynamic, and and reading of it dialogical and culturally contextualized– for Paul and for us. Thank you (and Enns) for unpacking the nuances of Paul’s religious and philosophical culture. Helpful for this preacher presently working through Acts in a weekday Scripture study.

  • Stephen W

    I finally got hold of a copy of Enns’ book last week and have been blown away by it. It’s not just that it has clarified issues surrounding creation/Adam etc. but it has really challenged my understanding of scripture – what it is, how it works and how we use it today. This chapter in particular, to see how Paul and other scripture writers used older scriptures, has been a real eye opener (I’d already got some way there through reading Perry Yoder).

    An example RJS doesn’t mention above is Paul’s quoting of Habbakuk in Galatians 3:11, a scripture that he uses to mean the exact opposite of what the original author was actually saying!

    Huge thanks to Peter Enns for a fantastic book and giving me much to think and pray about, and to RJS (and Scot) for bringing my attention to it here.

  • AHH

    This provides an excellent example of the point Enns and others have made, which is that our doctrine of Scripture needs to be shaped by the Bible we actually have, not by our modern ideas of what we think it should be like.
    We might like to think that inspiration worked in such a way that each OT passage had a unique meaning and that meaning was perfectly explicated any time a NT author like Paul quoted it. But the actual phenomena of Scripture force us to recognize that this is simply not so, and that instead Paul used the existing OT tradition in a very Jewish way (that would often make modern professors of exegesis cringe) to make his Christ-centered points.

    Maybe the hard part for some is recognizing that this does not negate the inspiration of Scripture; it only adjusts the way in which we picture inspiration as working.

  • holdon

    Isaiah 49:8 refers of course to v. 6. Paul uses it therefore very appropriately in 2 Cor 6:2. It is a day of salvation based on resurrection. See the pattern of suffering and the dying servant who will see a great recompense in resurrection, Isaiah 49 – 57. Although Isaiah may not have fully understood (1 Pet 10,11), he writes quite explicitly about it and the same theme runs through the entire bible: Isaac’s sacrifice; Joseph in Egypt; Psalms 2, 16, 22, 69, etc.etc… See what Peter said about it in 1 Pet 1:10,11: “Concerning which salvation prophets, who have prophesied of the grace towards you, sought out and searched out; searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them pointed out, testifying before of the sufferings which belonged to Christ, and the glories after these.”

    Gal. 3:16 refers to Gen 12 and Gen 22. Gal 3:16 says the promise was made to Abraham and was made again (confirmed) to his seed (singular). This refers to the blessing of the Gentiles was promised to Abraham (Gen 12:3) and separately to Isaac (Gen 22:18). And Isaac was as received from the dead. So, Paul again quite intelligibly uses that Scripture to make his point. Gen 13 has nothing to do with it.

    Re. Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20 in Rom 11, it is not so much that he is misquoting, but giving it a new perspective, because Paul finds himself between the two comings: that is his reasoning. Messiah would come to Zion (His second coming and so save all Israel and effectuate a perennial change) but this means that He had come from Zion (His first coming, but rejected and Israel blinded (see context)) and the gospel going to the gentiles, realizing Psalm 14:7.

  • Rodney

    @ holdon 11,

    You’re missing the point. Gal. 3:16 echoes Gen. 13:16 and 15:5, the promise of many descendants. The Hebrew word is a dual noun, a euphemism for Abraham’s loins/testicles. Paul knows Hebrew, but prefers the LXX, which translates the Hebrew dual noun as a singular noun “sperma.” This, of course, serves Paul’s purpose (sperma = Christ), but does this provide an example of sloppy exegesis on Paul’s part? And, if it does, should we emulate him?

    The answer to both questions is no.

    That’s the point RJS and Enns are making.

  • holdon

    @Rodney 12,

    How is the hebrew word a dual noun? It is always “seed”; just that. And Paul argues that this promise was confirmed to a single seed: Isaac without a doubt. And this you will find in Gen 22:18 where the promise of a blessing to the gentiles is repeated (from Gen 12) not to Abraham but indeed to Isaac. Pay attention to the word “confirmed” in Gal 3:15 as the argument hinges on that.

    Enns is wrong

  • Norman

    I think what we have here is a failure to communicate. 😉

    I just looked at the context of “seed” throughout Genesis again, and sure enough it’s easy to see how Paul is reading “seed” in the singular indicating a messianic message through the offspring of the covenant people is completely reasonable. Especially in the corporate sense that the ANE people communicated in collective terms. We should be already aware of this if we would realize how the singular word “body” is used extensively as a collective entity tied up in the one body of Christ. In fact many modern scholars continue to overlook this feature in its application but there are some who grasp this extensive usage. That is why I don’t have a high degree of confidence when scholars want to start making excuses for Paul misunderstanding OT sections when the reality is that they just have not yet fully discerned the OT and second Temple mindset as strenuously as they should.

    The answer to the literalist is not to declare that Paul changed the game plan of the OT writers but to realize that the language is much more complex and analogous and symbolic than we often imagine. This approach was common among the 2T and early Christians yet moderns and especially scholars just can’t consistently bring themselves to accept this “midrash” form of intended communication and understanding. And I’m afraid Enns has bought into this mindset to base some of his answers upon when it’s really a poor premise to follow. I would rather accept Paul the Hebrew scholar who would have been fluent in the nuance of Jewish Midrash and understood its implicational revelations than those far removed from the reality of the times.

    It’s the same with many other OT scriptures that are used to declare that Paul was misusing and bending them to his purpose. When you go back and examine them carefully in context it almost always becomes obvious that the message was written in a veiled expectation of the coming of the Messiah. This is illustrated in numerous ways in the OT. Until scholars start becoming more consistent in their theological application they are going to continue to be making declarations based upon false assumptions. It doesn’t mean that their total message is wrong it’s just that they are using the wrong approaches to demonstrate why literalism of scripture doesn’t work. In fact the problem is that they literalize the scriptures themselves when the intent was typically veiled in typology by the author. In other words the analogy of scripture often goes right over the head of some modern scholar and even more so over the head of a common lay reading.

    The term “seed” as Paul is inferring typically carries the idea of the declared and prophetic “promised seed” of God. It carries this connotation that the offspring of the covenant people were bearing the “seed” of redemption through their descendants. You can start to see this if you will pull out your computer Strong’s and search the Hebrew word for “seed” and notice the continuity that it establishes by using that simple illustrative word “seed”.

    Now I again need to state that Pete basically is correct on much of his approach but I have these little nits on how he gets there in some instances.

  • RJS


    It would help to keep comments a bit shorter.

    But to the point of your comment – I think you are misreading and misunderstanding Pete’s argument. He is certainly not claiming that Paul was misunderstanding or misinterpreting scripture. Rather he is accepting Paul as a well trained Jewish scholar fluent in midrash and who understood its implications. Paul was right – but we misinterpret or misunderstand because he doesn’t handle scripture the way we expect. The rest of your argument seems rather off topic to me.

  • Dan

    A few years ago, it was questions like the ones in this post that opened my eyes to the beautiful and dynamic way in which the Bible has worked and continues to work in the thoughts and lives of people throughout history.

    Thanks for this and all your efforts.

  • Norman


    I think you are missing the subtlety of my point. Your own question recognized the issue I’m addressing.

    “Is the only proper use of Scripture the original intent of the author? Does this both define and limit the truth contained?”

    Pete’s acceptance of Paul’s Midrash is fine with me but it’s his method of explanation that I find lacking and overstated. It seems Pete presents that Paul indeed changes the “original intent” of the OT author he quotes. I spelled it out that perhaps Pete has missed the original authors foreshadowing typology within and doesn’t realize that Paul hasn’t missed it. There seems to be a common idea that Pete is helping propagate that the OT was written from a strict literal idea originally but it was only when Paul came along that Midrash allowed them to exploit the language in a way they desired. I find that not accurate because if you follow OT and 2T literature you will see that this process was continually ongoing well before Christ. In fact 2T literature often spells out that there would be an individual messiah as it plays off the OT typology. That is why so many were expecting a Messiah at this time.

    Joh 1:41,45 … “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). … “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote,

    Also a good student of Genesis realizes that it was constructed with typology extensively throughout and so it should be considered a veiled piece of literature and the 2T Jews understood this much better than we do.
    I stand by my point that Pete’s explanation is not the most accurate way of describing what was happening. It’s a technical issue that I’m concerned with.

  • RJS

    Again Norman, I think you are misinterpreting and misreading. I don’t think Pete suggests that the OT was written from a “strictly literal” perspective and there was no veiled nature in the 2T literature. And he doesn’t convey the message to me that Paul was doing something novel in seeing the Messiah in the OT. But he is suggesting that the Bible isn’t a mystical inspired message about which the authors of the OT knew nothing. And he is suggesting that the crucified and risen Lord is central in any new reading of the Old Testament.

    Although I also think that you over read intended typology in the text of the OT … and this arises from your presuppositions, not from the text. Your view is one possibility, but far from the only one, and I think not the best approach.

  • Norman


    Well apparently Paul see’s more than Pete does, and we shall simply have to disagree. Perhaps you are simply not comfortable with 2T Jewish hermeneutics enough to grasp the issue I’m pointing out.

  • RJS


    Now I am completely befuddled. The entire point – both Pete’s and mine – is that we have to be comfortable with 2T Jewish hermeneutics. If you want to claim a misunderstanding about 2T hermeneutics, fine … why and how?

    Back to your first comment above … No one, least of all Pete, is saying that Paul misunderstood the text. Of course seed has multiple meanings and overtones – that is exactly what Paul is playing on to make real points about Jesus. And he does see – as should we all – that Jesus is the culmination and that he is of the seed of Abraham. One can even say, as Paul does, Jesus is the ultimate seed of Abraham – but he is more than just this.

  • Norman


    I’m not disagreeing with much of what Pete is putting forth, again it’s a technical point which I believe can lead to one thinking Paul is undermining what the original intent of the author was presenting. I believe Pete is clear that Paul essentially does that because of his Christology. There is likely a more seamless and natural explanation that doesn’t put Paul in conflict with the original author and he indeed touches upon it.

    My concern is that our fundamentalist brethren will take Pete’s explanation as Paul contradicting the OT when that is not the case. I believe Pete’s presentation could have been more accurate but that accuracy does require more in-depth explanations which might have glazed people’s eyes over. But in the long run an accurate understanding of 2T and early Christian hermeneutics is going to be needed and I just wish he had presented it in a deeper manner that would help that long term transitional viewpoint.

  • Rodney

    @ holden 13,

    Please forgive me. By dashing off an unclear post, I seemed to have muddied the water (which I regret, because the post by RJS is crystal clear).

    “Loins” (a dual noun) was used synonymously with “seed” (cf. Gen. 35:11-12). Seed, a collective noun, most often is translated “descendants.” Paul knows that the Hebrew word for seed refers to many descendants; “loins” refers to two. Yet, he plays on the singular form of the Greek word (sperma) to make his point: a Christotelic interpretation of the promise to Abraham. He’s not being coy, or deceiving. Rather, (as this post is emphasizing) he’s reading Scripture like a first-century Jew.

  • holdon

    @ Rodney 22,

    The word “seed” can indeed refer to many descendants. No question. But Paul is arguing in Galatians that Christians do not fall under the natural lineage from Abraham, for which the Judaizers had tried to make the case. Now, Abraham was promised two distinct things: out of his natural lineage: a great nation and multitude of descendants and father of a multitude of nations and kings and successfulness, etc.. But in Gen 12 and 22 we find precisely what Paul had picked for his argument in Gal. 3:8,14-19: the blessing for the gentiles. And since that promise was confirmed to Isaac as well, it could not be set aside or put under added conditions. Jews (Judaizers) would be sensitive the lineage of Isaac as that is where they were from naturally as well. See the development of that thought further in Gal 4.

    So, Paul is quite astute in bringing out the treasures of the Old Testament in order to stop the false teaching that threatened the Galatians.

  • Tom

    This post has 4 numbered points. I agree with all of them. This whole question about seed is just about one of three examples given to illustrate the 3rd point. I happen to think RJS has the correct understanding of the problem, but even if we just throw out this one example the 4 points still stand.

    I am more concerned about the question of a preachers use of scripture. RJS if you have heard some of the sermons I have you might not think it was such a good idea to use Paul’s methods. You did say they need to make a Christ centered point which may make if ok, but I’am still not sure. You can take it anywhere.

  • RJS

    Thanks Tom,

    One of the things I was thinking of in the last comment in the post was a tendency I have at times to be overly critical of a sermon on the grounds of “inaccurate exegesis.” The more I learn, the more critical I get – and as a scholar and thinker I can go overboard at times in picky exactness. As long as the sermon is still fully grounded in the gospel, generally because the preacher is grounded in the gospel, why should I be critical of such details?

    But I agree – there is a danger in the freedom to take it anywhere.