Seed, the One
Seed, The One (Ga 3:16). The logic of this passage has eluded the search of our best critics, and yet it is worth pursuing, even against hope. The question involved is one purely of grammar, and particularly of Hebrew grammar — namely, How may we determine the number of זֶרִע, when it is plural and when singular? This word, when representing the seed of plants, forms a regular plural like other masculine nouns; but when used for posterity, it never changes its form: in this use it resembles our English word sheep. We must, then, have recourse to the construction, and this is found to be very peculiar. The adjective is always singular, like itself, although the subject be numerous as the stars (Ezr 9:2; Job 5:25; Job 21:8; Ps 37:25; Ps 112:2). With verbs it is construed as a collective noun, the verb varying according to the circumstances, with no marked peculiarity. In connection with pronouns, the construction is entirely different from both the preceding. A singular pronoun marks an individual, an only one, or one out of many; while a plural pronoun represents all the descendants. This rule is followed invariably by the Sept., which always puts the pronouns of σπέρμα in the constructio ad sensum, just as the apostle does in the text, καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου· ῞ΟΣ ἐστι Χριστός. Peter understood this construction, for we find him inferring a singular seed from Ge 22:17-18, when speaking to native Jews in the city of Jerusalem before Paul's conversion (Ac 3:26), as David had set the example a thousand years before (Ps 72:17). Read this in the Sept.
זֶרִע, in the singular form, takes the pronouns plural in the following places: Ge 15:13; Ge 17:7; Ex 30:21; Le 21:17; 2Ki 17:20; 2Ch 20:7, etc.; Ne 9:2, etc.; Ps 106:27; Isa 61:9; Jer 23:8; Jer 33:26; Jer 46:27; Eze 20:5-11. זֶרִע, in the same singular form, has pronouns singular in the following: Ge 3:15; Ge 22:17; Ge 24:60; 1Sa 1:11; 2Sa 7:12; 1Ch 17:11. These passages embrace seventy-one pronouns in all — twenty-three singular and forty-eight plural. They are all the places where the pronoun represents זֶרִע. Pronouns merely in apposition do not come under the rule. This presents a syntax different from the word, showing that seed has a double construction. The distinction made by Paul is not between one seed and another, but between the one seed and the many; and if we consider him quoting the same passage with Peter (loc. cit.), his argument is fairly sustained by the pronoun "his enemies." Seed with a pronoun singular is exactly equivalent to son. It is worth noting that the Aramaean relatives of Rebekah have retained the peculiar syntax of the covenant, where our translators missed the mark, in Ge 24:60, "Those who hate him." Whether these Syrians understood the Messianic aspect of the promise, or whether, like the Sept., who did not see the ὁ ἐρχόμενος, they merely followed the grammar, their language conveys the idea of One among the thousands of millions who will subdue all His haters.
Isa 48:19, as it stands in our Hebrew Bibles, furnishes an exception to the principle laid down above. If we should attach importance to one exception, occurring in a composition highly poetical, against threescore plain examples, it is to be observed that the Sept. has a different reading, and Lowth prefers it — thus removing all difficulty in the case.
With this clue to the Abrahamic covenant, and through it to the protevangel, we arrive with precision at the unity of the seed promised there — the He that shall bruise Satan on the head. The masculine singular copied by the Sept. is twice used in that promise. He is the God of peace who bruises Satan (Ro 16:20). (R.H.)