In preparation for my first session of my Christ & the Cross class at Calvary Chapel Bible College York I was dwelling on the ambiguities in the word seed, how it could imply singular or plural, and had a few ‘aha’ moments that I thought I’d share. This is by no means exhaustive but it is a starting point.
Plurals and Singulars in the Bible
There seems to be an intentional haziness with plurals and singulars in the Bible (I said confuse above just to make the post title more interesting). I propose that in every case this phenomenon reveals a prominent Biblical theme of a singular figure acting as a representative of others. As I started to mull on this I realized there are a number of examples, and probably more that I haven’t yet noticed. Here’s what came to mind.
Here’s a simple example. Israel is both a nation and a person. Jacob/Israel is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, so it makes sense that he also represents them in being named Israel. So Israel can be singular or plural, depending on the context.
The Seed of the Woman
The word seed/offspring is either singular or plural, and it seems that the ‘seed of the woman’ in Genesis 3:15 is to be understood both as plural and singular.
- Plural: Eve’s descendants, the line of promise (Gen 3:15; 4:25, et al). In Genesis it appears we should see God’s people as the ‘seed of the woman’ (Gen 4:25) and their opponents as ‘seed of the serpent’ (Gen 4:11; 1 John 3:10-12).
- Singular: The ‘he’ that would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). So, there will also be a true, ideal, single seed, who will defeat the serpent on behalf of the plural seed.
The Seed of Abraham
- Singular: Paul draws from this double-meaning of seed/offspring to emphasize the singular meaning of the word and conclude that there is only one offspring – Christ. He is the seed and thereby the recipient of Abraham’s promises (Gal 3:16-18).
- Plural: And yet, Paul also recognizes the plural meaning – believers are considered seed of Abraham (Gal 3:29) due to their union with Christ, the true seed. This is not absentmindedness or old age showing through; Paul has an intention in saying there is only one seed and yet many. Moo says that Paul sees Christ “as a corporate figure”, representing those who believe in Him.
- Singular: Adam is of course the first human.
- Plural: Adam is also the Hebrew name of the human race (Gen 1:27). Adam’s actions affect all he represents – in this case, everyone (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22)!
Second Adam/New Man
- Singular: Christ is the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45)
- Plural: While second Adam is a title for Christ alone, we are called the new man, which many scholars take to be referring to our corporate identity in Christ (Col 3:10-11, ‘self’ is literally man). That is to say, we are a new mankind through our being in Christ, the Second Adam, and His work on our behalf (Rom 5:15; 1 Cor 15:22).
Son of God
- Singular: Jesus is the only son of God (John 3:16), and no other have this unique relationship between the Father and Son.
- Plural: Though there is only one unique Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, those who are in Christ are also considered sons of God (Gal 3:26; 4:6) through our union with Christ.
So, what do you think? I’d love any comments and feedback.