Who is the “Seed of Abraham”?

In Genesis 12:3 the foundation is laid for the concept of blessing the seed of Abraham. The LORD tells Abram, “. . . And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Not using any sort of hermeneutical principle employing grammatical historical exegesis but speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:8 that this was a pre-cross (“beforehand”) promise of the gospel.

The NT usage of the concept “seed of Abraham” (sometimes translated “descendents ” as in the NASU or “offspring” in ESV) is not used in one exclusive way in the NT. A common fallacy among some interpreters is to exalt one usage of “seed” to the exclusion of the other usages as if one canceled out the others. John Feinberg has warned of this when he writes, “no sense (spiritual especially) is more important than any other senses.”

So how is this concept used in the NT?

  • In can refer to biological descendants of Abraham such as in Romans 4:13, 16.
  • It can refer to the Messiah, who is uniquely the individual seed of Abraham as in Galatians 3:16.
  • It can refer to the righteous remnant of Israel (cf. Isaiah 41:8 with Romans 9:6).
  • It can refer in a spiritual sense to believing Jews and Gentiles in the faith as in Galatians 3:29.

24 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott Christensen on September 27, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    If you include OT usages, it would also include Isaac (Gen. 15:3-4). I think all these usages are implicitly or explicitly indicated in Genesis as well. It is interesting that “seed” in the Genesis narratives is singular even when Abraham’s “descendants” are promised to be multiplied like the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seashores (Gen. 22:17).

  2. Posted by tommy myrick on September 28, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Side Note: Paul isn’t your profile image a picture of the Mormon Temple in Houston Tx? Funny image for ET!

  3. Tommy,

    Strike one. Care to take another guess? I took the picture myself in a place that was basically my second home growing up.


  4. I agree completely. I have always found it so difficult to understand why some people would go to such lengths to divorce ‘Christians’ from ‘Jews’, making them completely seperate entities entirely, that they would willfully ignore such blatant passages as Galatians 3.

    I always love to poke fun at the silly Dispys and say with pride that I truly am an Israelite, I am part of Israel. For some reason the thought of me, a silly little Scottish gentile, being a descendent of Abraham just gets under their skin…

    …or maybe its the fact that I always laugh ridiculously at the map of the future created by the Dispy camp’s very own fortune teller, LaHaye…who knows?

  5. Sofyst,

    Although I tried to be clear, I think you have misunderstood what I wrote in this post. A person who is not a “silly Dispy” shouldn’t be satisfied with I wrote here because it questions some of the basic presuppositions of covenant theology.

    Good day.

  6. Paul,

    What if my satisfaction comes from the very fact that you DO question some of the basic presuppositions of covenant theology? Simply because one is not a Dispy doesn’t make them a Covenant (sorry, I can’t think of any sly name to call that camp…)

    awaiting the hope,

  7. Thanks Sofyst (what’s your real name? no offense if this is your real name but “John” or “Bill” might be easier). I see your point. I realize there is not a this or that when it comes to these things which is what I appreciate more than someone saying “I am of Westminster” or “I am of Dallas”. I find that sound exegesis and theological explanation often trumps the best of systems and constructs. Thanks for your comments.

    Keep on rockin in the free world,

  8. My real name is ‘Nathaniel Adam King’. My friends call me ‘Adam’.

    I know you may not like saying ‘I am of Westminster’, or ‘I am of Dallas’, but if you were pressed to identify yourself with any one particular camp, which would you say it is? I am just curious if you are familiar with any of the ‘Progressive Dispensationalist’ or ‘Historical Premillenialist’ (sp?)?

    awaiting the hope,

  9. Sofyst,

    While I’m not sure I would label myself as a “silly Dispy” – though it has a nice rhyme to it, I think your post underlines the basic tenant of what’s wrong here.

    This coming from one who used to lambaste those ridiculous Covenantalists who blatantly ignore the unconditional nature of the Abraham Covenant to Abraham’s physical descendants.

    I came to realize that those who leave all the rhetoric aside and simply study the issue believe that their system holds water under biblical scrutiny. We might disagree but we can at least discuss the issues in a way that honors the Lord. To say that either side “blatantly ignores” anything is unnecessary rhetoric that does not foster productive discussion, IMO.

    I believe that laughing at another brother or sister in Christ who holds to a different theological framework is not honoring to the Lord in any manner. I had to do some heavy repenting for my youthful arrogance towards my Cov brethren.

    And while I still do not agree with the arguments for Cov Theo, I still respect these brothers very much and hope that we will continue to sharpen each other’s theology in a way that is honoring to the Lord. I think the post that sparked this discussion has maintained that irenic nature on the whole. See the title of the link above for proof.

    As one of my sem proffs once said. Some of you are going to stand before Christ and he’s going to ask you what you did for my church and you’re going to point to another pastor and say, “I was fighting with him.”

    The world watches how we treat each other (Jn 17).

    By Grace,


  10. Paul, your second home was Disney World?

  11. Ryan, I think that one could read my words, as you have, and get the wrong impression of me. If one knew me, they would know that I love the ‘silly dispys’ more than most. Yes, they aggrivate me to the fullest. Yes, I disagree with most every bit of their theology. Yes, I would rather be called ‘Arminian’ than ‘Dispensationalist’ (if one knew my theology in other areas they’d know that Arminian is the farthest thing from what I am). But YES! I view them as my brothers and sisters and love their silliness.

    I think perhaps you could envision two brothers who had complete devotion to two different sports teams. Neither of them understanding why on earth the other would favor their particular team above the other. And neither ceasing to poke continual fun at the other’s choice. But both loving each other nonetheless and recognizing that the issue of sports team choice is a complete non-issue.

    That is how I view most of theology, my friend. I am a staunch hardcore hard-determinist who believes that not even God has freewill, but while I may laugh and criticize and poke fun at those who do not view God and reality as I do, I still EXPECT them to do the same towards my view (afterall, how ridiculous is it to think that God does not ‘choose’???)…

    All that to say that my ‘ridicule’ is not meant as such to demean or ‘lower’ my brothers. It is done in complete love, and if the need arised, I would defend my ‘silly dispy’ brothers and sisters with every bit of energy within my body.

    We never fight, we discuss.

    awaiting the hope,

  12. Thanks Adam,

    I must have read your brogue incorrectly. I understand your analogy. Paul and I share a similar bond between rival college football (real ‘merican football) teams.

    Please forgive my hasty assertion. But then again, under your system, God determined it so it was unavoidable. I am I getting it?

    Press on!

  13. Very unavoidable, and God was very pleased it happened…:)

  14. Adam (I think I like Sofyst better now that I think of it),

    You have to know how much I really don’t like “which one are you” styled questions. However, my wife, my mother, my friends would definitely say I’m in the camp known as dispensational. But let me give a BIG qualification by way of example. My dear friend, Matt Waymeyer, is politically conservative but I am a conservative. Do you see the difference? So in a similar manner I know folks who say, “I am a DISPENSATIONALIST” but I would say I’m dispensational.

    As one of my professors in my doctoral program recently said, “Their are some doctrines that I would take a bullet for and others I would not.”

    If you want to keep holding my feet in the flames, I might let the first few layers of skin burn off before I tell you that I really like theologians Erich Sauer, Walter Kaiser, John Sailhamer, Allen P. Ross (he’s the man), Robert Culver, anyone with the name Feinberg, and Robert Saucy. All of these fine scholars are dispensational to one degree or another and anyone who would characterize them as silly should be locked in a dungeon with their representative books and then ignored until the blasphemous individual repents.

  15. Posted by Scott Christensen on September 29, 2007 at 1:39 am

    Wow Paul! I like that inquistor talk!

  16. Paul

    The senior pastor of our church I attend is Covenant and I am pastor of Christian Education and I am a dispensational. We have remained friends four years now, we disagree yet have worked together to work together.

    Thank you for your list of theologians. To be honest I have not even heard of Erich Sauer, John Sailhamer, Allen P. Ross, Robert Culver, , and Robert Saucy. But have learned much from Kaiser and Feinberg. I will certainly check out these men.

    I too came to realize that those who leave all the rhetoric aside and simply study the issue believe that their system holds water under biblical scrutiny. We might disagree but we can at least discuss the issues in a way that honors the Lord and that is the secret how we can get alone.

    Kaiser book “Toward an Old Testament Theology” is in my opinion very good.

    Maybe you could point out books are articles by those you mention, via e mail.



  17. Thanks Charles,

    I think many pastors merely assume a theological system without always seeking to work out particulars. Many neglect strengthening their understanding of theology because they often neglect exegesis.

    Eric Sauer was a German theologian who was highlighting biblical theology at a time when his country men were consumed with frivolous things like the “the formation of Q”.

    Allen Ross (not to be confused with Hugh Ross) is an OT theologian who has written accessible commentaries on Genesis, Leviticus, and Proverbs (EBC). He has also written numerous articles and recently penned a monumental tome on biblical worship.

    John Sailhamer is not as accessible to the average Joe but has done excellent wok in Pentateuch studies. He has written loads on Genesis including the commentary in EBC. Our own, Randy McKinion completed his Dr. under this prof.

    Robert Saucy has written a dense but excellent treatment of church theology called “The Church in God’s Program.” He has also contributed a lot to the classic vs. progressive dispensational debate.

    Thanks Charles for your comments, I hope this helps explain more.

  18. I want to add a “ditto” to what Charles says about Kaiser’s book.

    Kaiser deals with the equivocity of “seed” in terms of the idea of “promise.” There is a promise to be fulfilled and each one of the referents of “seed” is somehow involved in helping to bring that promise to fulfillment.

    At least if I remember correctly.

    The book is on my shelf but I haven’t read it in a year or two.

  19. A very quality posted and those who made comments have been good and helpful.

    Paul thanks for the information on the men.


  20. Paul, I understand the difference completely. I am Calvinistic in some of my understanding, and sometimes conservative, sometimes liberal (depending upon my mood). But I do not normally like to refer to myself as a Calvinist or a Conservative or a Liberal.

    And so now, I would beg and plead with you to forsake your silly dispensational ways…;)

    :hears dungeon doors slamming:

  21. If a new believer were to start reading from Genesis to Revelation and just read the Bible, and he had not yet been introduced to all the hermeneutics what position would he hold after reading the Bible?

    So do we in reality come to our understanding of Scripture by what we have been taught in hermeneutics?


  22. Charles said, “The senior pastor of our church I attend is Covenant and I am pastor of Christian Education and I am a dispensational. We have remained friends four years now, we disagree yet have worked together to work together.”

    This reminds me of a quote our pastor related to us once. George Whitefield, a Calvinist if there ever was one, was asked if he would see John Wesley when he got to Heaven. I don’t remember the exact quote, but Whitefield said something like, “No, I won’t. I believe his mansion shall be so close to the throne of God I will not be able to approach it.”

  23. It is so beneficial to unerstand the distiction between meaning of the word “seed” based on difference contexts. I love good theological dialogue, but may people talk past each other because of emotional committments (which we all have) rather than fostering a humble theology. I desire to seeks truth at whatever the cost over folk theology or tabloid theology.

    Lables are useful in a very general sense but are abused because over time they communicate something different because of misunderstanding of positions and theological development.

    It is a great insight to study the different way the Bible uses the “seed of Abraham.” If this were the topic of dicussion, we might find that many would not be in either CT or DT camps.

    Has anyone studied New Covenant Theology in relation to the seeds of Abraham?

  24. […] Test Case: Who is the “Seed of Abraham”? by Paul Lamey […]

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