Who Died?

A Song. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. For the choir director; according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.  Psalm 88:1 (Hebrew text – NASB)

Sons of Korah – Our story begins with the rebellion of Korah against Moses’ authority.  The event is recorded in Numbers 16 and again in Numbers 26. But there is just one small difficulty (handled in various ways by both Christian and rabbinic commentators).

The punishment inflicted by God on the rebels is found in Numbers 16.

“and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions” (Numbers 16:32 NASB).

The Hebrew text is pretty clear.  Everyone involved in the rebellion and everyone who belonged to Korah, died.  The Hebrew noun, kōl, doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

(kōl). All, every, any, whole, none. A very common particle, occurring about 5400 times. Of these all but about 800 are in a genitive relation with the following word, signifying thus, “the whole of something.” It is commonly translated “all” if the following word is plural, and “every” if the word is singular and without the article.[1]

“‘All,’ if the following word is plural,” which in this case, it is.  All means everyone.

“who belonged to Korah” is the questionable part.  Does this mean only those who were part of the rebellion (who belonged to him in this challenge to Moses) or does it mean Korah’s line, that is, everyone who was part of the extended family of Korah?  It’s a fair question for on the surface, it seems to imply that God brought the verdict against the entire clan (as He did in other places where corporal punishment extended beyond those who were directly guilty of offense). But then we have this, just a few chapters later:

“The sons of Korah, however, did not die” (Numbers 26:11 NASB).

And, of course, there’s the fact that David, centuries later, attributes one of the poems set to music to “the sons of Korah.”  It’s pretty clear that not all of them died.  So apparently “all” doesn’t mean “everyone.”  So is it “all” or “not-quite-all”? Obviously, it has to be the latter.  But we don’t know that when we read Numbers 16:32.  We have to read Numbers 26:11 to find out that kōl doesn’t quite mean what we naturally assumed it meant.  And we need to read Psalm 88:1 to discover that Korah is still around, even if the earth swallowed him up.  No wonder people find the stories a bit difficult.  But, of course, you already thought through this little issue, didn’t you?

Topical Index: Korah, Numbers 16:32, Numbers 26:11, all, kōl, Psalm 88:1

[1]Oswalt, J. N. (1999). 985 כָלַל. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament(electronic ed., p. 441). Chicago: Moody Press.

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Brett Weiner B.B.( brother Brett)

I often wondered why some Psalms written to be read in ages to come, or eternal Psalms come on by sons k o r a h? So they could be read in the ages to come, allowing them to be remembered


We know that Gen 2 :17 reads, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” Perhaps the “death” of the entire clan of Korah was in a similar fashion, both future physical and spiritual present, and the sons of Korah, like Adam and Chavah, found repentance and forgiveness in YHWH.


Or another possibility is that these sons of Korah were not of the same Korah clan as those who rebelled and perished. Could the surname Korah be as common to that ancient culture as Stanley, Hayes or Moen is to ours?

Daniel Kraemer

I don’t see this as being much of an issue. “All” means all but as Skip notes it is qualified by, “who BELONGED to Korah”. As we can see that Korah’s entire line did not die out, then it is obvious it just relates to those who followed him in challenging Moses. Therefore there is no contradiction in the text and nothing to be concerned about.

Further, I note that the word, “belonged” to Korah, as found in the translation, is not even a translation of a Hebrew word. It is a word INSERTED by the translators to help smooth out our English text. The King James inserts a different word, “appertained”, but it puts it in light faced type so we know it is not in the original. Therefore, it is really up to us to properly limit, or not, the meaning of “all” from the context here and in other passages related to the sons of Korah.

While we are on the subject, my favorite “all” passage is this.
1Ti 4:10 NASB For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 11 Prescribe and teach these things.

Most Christians believe God is the “potential” savior of all men. But “all” is not qualified in this verse. In contrast, “all” meaning “all” is further emphasized by, “especially of believers”.
My question is; how are we NOT to understand that all means all in this passage?

George Kraemer

As this is your favourite usage of “ALL”, it must be the basis for which you defend your Universalist redemption belief. Maybe anyone who disagrees with this belief might like to chime in on Universalism. Skip, Laurita, Craig, Michael, Rodney (are you still with us Rodney)?

Can one small word carry the entire world?


I like how you phrased your last question.

Daniel Kraemer

Ironically, the “world” as used in the KJV is not nearly as big as you might think.

The King James can be horribly inconsistent in its translation of certain words, and the NASB just as bad. For example, they both translate three or four completely different Greek words with the very same English word, “world”. But one of the Greek words has primarily to do with being organized, (societies of the world – kosmos), one with time, (eons of the world – aion), one with cultures, (countries of the world and their citizens – oikoumene), and one with the physical land, (the soil/ground of the world – ghay.)

Over half the time, the “world” is a translation of the Greek, “kosmos” but it must not be understood as the English, “cosmos” because our use of cosmos has come to mean the universe. But Yeshua did not come to save the cosmos; His immediate task was only to save the kosmos. And that kosmos was the society of Israel. He was sent only to save His sheep and not the dogs.

How do I know the kosmos is limited to an organized human society?
Luk 2:1 KJV . . . there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world [kosmos] should be taxed.
Luk 2:1 NASB . . . in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [kosmos].

Both of these are misleading translations. As there is no argument that Augustus did not tax the entire universe, nor even the planet, nor the Chinese, nor even the Germanic tribes in northern Europe, all this word meant, in this context, was the society under Roman control, which was mostly around the Mediterranean.

Does God love the whole universe? I’m sure He eventually will, but not so much now. Remember this is still the same God who slaughtered tens of thousands of Egyptians and Canaanites etc. in favor of Israel. John 3:16 says God loves the society. The society in context here is all about, and only about, Israel. Christ’s whole ministry was only in, and, all about Israel even to the point of almost, but not quite, ignoring non Israelites. (A tiny hint of the future.)

God’s kosmos, and His focus, is actually pretty small right now. But that will change.



The 1 Tim 4:10 verse seems to present a conundrum when viewed with the rest of the NT. There are numerous passages which make it clear that salvation (sōtēria) is contingent upon faith/belief (pisteuō—and see 1 Tim 2:3-7), yet in this verse we have God as [NASB] “Savior of all people (sōtēr), especially of believers (pistos).” We even have this quote of Yeshua (Matt 24:13): “He who stands firm [in faith/belief—see surrounding context] to the end will be saved (sōzō)”, which implies the converse that those who do not stand firm will not be saved. What gives? Let’s look at some other uses of the word for “especially” in the NT.

The word translated “especially” is the adverb malista, which is the superlative of mala (not used in the NT): mala: very much, exceedingly > mallov (comparative): more so, much more, all the more so > malista (superlative): (most) especially. This word is used to strengthen the word(s) with which it is paired. Here are some NT examples:

Gal 6:10: …let us do good to all people, but especially (malista to those of the household of the faith (pistis).

Phil 4:22: greet all the saints, especially (malista) those of Caesar’s household.

1 Tim 5:8: But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially (malista) those of his household, he has denied the faith (pistis) and is worse than an unbeliever (apistos).

This sampling illustrates that the term is used to indicate a sub-grouping of a larger group, with this subset more pertinent to a point being made. As regards 1 Tim 4:10, this raises the question: Can a sub-group of faithful/believers be more ‘saved’ than the remaining non-faithful/non-believers? Given plain NT wording that ‘believers/faithful’ = ‘saved’, this is illogical on its face

I think George W. Knight III’s explanations (The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992]) provide the best answer. First, he explains that “all people” (pantes anthrōpoi) in 1 Tim 2:1 should be understood “all kinds of people” (bold added for emphasis and Greek transliteration in brackets):

What does “all people” (πάντες ἄνθρωποι [pantes anthrōpoi], Acts 22:15; Rom. 5:12a, 18a, b; 12:17, 18; 1 Cor. 7:7; 15:19; 2 Cor. 3:2; Phil. 4:5; 1 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; Tit. 2:11; 3:2) mean? The repetition of ὑπέρ [hyper] and further specification, as a subgroup, of civil rulers (v. 2) points in the direction of it meaning all kinds of people. This meaning would fit in the other occurrences of the phrase in 1 Timothy and Titus (especially Tit. 3:2) and would appear to be the understanding of the term when it was first presented to Paul as the perspective for his ministry (Acts 22:15). It is also the most natural understanding in a number of the Pauline passages where an absolute universalism is a virtual impossibility and a reference to all kinds of individuals is more likely (cf. Rom. 12:17, 18; 2 Cor. 3:2; Phil. 4:5; perhaps 1 Thes. 2:15; cf. also εἰς πάντας [eis pantas] in Rom. 10:12; an absolute universalism for πάντες ἄνθρωποι [pantes anthrōpoi] is demanded only where the sin of “all people” is spoken of, Rom. 5:12a, 18a). That this is the significance of πάντες ἄνθρωποι [pantes anthrōpoi] here is also borne out by Paul’s use of πάντες elsewhere to include different named categories of mankind (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11) (p 115).

With this understanding, we can proceed to “especially” in 1 Tim 4:10:

Μάλιστα ([malista]…Acts 20:38; 25:26; 26:3; Gal. 6:10; Phil. 4:22; 1 Tim. 4:10; 5:8, 17; Tit. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:13; Phm. 16; 2 Pet. 2:10) has usually been rendered “especially” and regarded as in some way distinguishing that which follows it from that which goes before it. Skeat (“Especially the Parchments”) argues persuasively that μάλιστα [malista] in some cases (2 Tim. 4:13; Tit. 1:10, 11; and here) should be understood as providing a further definition or identification of that which precedes it and thus renders it by such words as “that is.” He cites several examples from papyrus letters that would seem to require this sense and that would in their particular cases rule out the otherwise legitimate alternate sense. If his proposal is correct here, which seems most likely, then the phrase μάλιστα πιστῶν [malista pistōn] should be rendered “that is, believers.” This understanding is also in line with Paul’s assertion that all sorts and conditions of people are in Christ (even at times using πάντες [pantes]) and with his insistence in those contexts that all such are in Christ and have salvation by faith (cf., e.g., Gal. 3:26–28) (pp 203-204).

Thus, this verse could be paraphrased “…who is the Savior of all kinds of people, in other words/specifically, of believers.” In this way, “Savior” (nominative) is delimited by “all kinds of people” (pantōn anthrōpōn = genitive), which is further qualified/explained by malista pistōn (genitive), referring only to the believing/faithful Jew and Gentile, free and slave, etc. Somewhat alternatively, if “all people” means “all kinds of people”, yet meaning each and every person, then malista pistōn could be a further delineation of “all kinds of people” to indicate a subset of “all kinds of people”, specifically the kind that believes/is faithful (malista pistōn).

George Kraemer

Thanks for your comprehensive reply Craig. I have read somewhat about theologians who have looked at this question of Universalism over the years and rejected it but I have never really understood the basis upon which they did so. On what you say I can see now why much better. Thanks a lot!

Maybe Dan has a comeback on this.


You’re welcome!

Daniel Kraemer

As always, thanks for your input. You state the conundrum very well. Why is Paul making this statement in this way, when it seems to conflict with the accepted and fundamental belief that only Believers get saved?

1Ti 4:10 . . . we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

Let me first say that I agree; only Believers in Yeshua get saved, but Universalists open the time frame for their believing far into the future, meaning, even after their resurrection and judgment. Then they will get a “second” chance, (which for billions, will really be a first chance.) I think the “especially” refers to current Believers in this era, the ones who are believing by faith, not having seen Yeshua and the miracles in the flesh. Believing through faith alone, (not sight).

That, I believe, is the “especially” point behind what Paul is saying. Taking it any other way forces one to contort his simple statement. No doubt it can be forced, but why?

1. The old axiom is; this simplest answer is usually the correct answer. Just accept it the way it is written instead of trying to make it fit a certain paradigm. All men, means all men. Now, I will agree, that in a certain contexts, the meaning of “all”, can be limited, but I am not persuaded it should be limited here.

2. Just because the vast majority of translations read this verse as stated above, doesn’t mean they are correct but I checked 25 different versions and only two of them varied the wording enough to put a limit on this “all”. The Easy to Read Version read, “he is the savior of all those who believe in him.” But realistically, I don’t think any of us should be doing any exegesis with that simplistic version.

3. The other version, the International Standard, uses the alternative, “that is” instead of, “especially”, as per the above cited George Knight commentary. But then applying this formula to Gal 6:10, which is also cited, it backfires on the idea. Gal 6:10: …let us do good to all people, but ESPECIALLY to those of the household of the faith.” Do you now believe this should read, “. . . let us do good to all people, THAT IS, those of the household of the faith”?
The problem is that this now either means, “all people are of the household of faith”, or, “only do good to people of the household of faith.” I don’t think either of us agrees with either of those statements, ergo, “that is” can’t dependably replace, “especially”. Therefore, I think this version is doing more of an interpretation than a translation.

4. Although I don’t have a copy, I’m pretty sure the Jehovah Witness’s New World Translation, does translate this verse, “all kinds of people”. So, if one trusts their translation, one has the backing of their translators/interpreters. But I must ask, if Paul meant to further describe this “all” group of people to, “all kinds of” people, why didn’t he simply add the Greek, “poikilos”, as he did 2Tim 3:6, where he spoke of, “all kinds of” lusts?
Why would Paul write, “all kinds of people will be saved”, and then immediately write that only one kind will be saved, and that is “Believers”? Did Paul say, “Believers are all kinds of people”? Did he say, Believers are Jew and Greek, free and slave, male and female, etc? No. Paul said the opposite. He said at Gal 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Apparently, there is only one kind of people who are Believers.


Daniel, George and Craig: what do you make of Paul’s declaration in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved”? I have read that Paul, as a Pharisee, is aligned with Pharisee understanding that all Israel will in fact be saved and resurrected.

Daniel Kraemer

Dear HSB
As you asked, I offer this. It’s long because position # 3 is very controversial and so it needs some substantiating. (And this is only a start.)
I am aware of three answers.
1. All Israel means ALL Israel, as per UNCONDITIONALLY promised to Abraham by YHWH.
2. All Israel means all FAITHFUL GENETIC seed of Abraham plus all the FAITHFUL “SPIRITUAL” seed of Abraham within the Gentiles.
3. All Israel means BOTH HOUSES of Israel, JUDAH and the LOST TRIBES OF NORTHERN ISRAEL.
Rom 11:26 And so ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

1. Reading it through a Universalist lens, “all” means “all”. All Israel, without exception, will be saved. In Genesis 12 and 15, God grants Abraham land and a multitude of descendants but does not place any stipulations on Abraham for the covenant’s fulfillment. If God created them all unconditionally for the sake of Abraham, one might conclude He also plans to eventually save them all. If the promise was strictly for, “worldly and temporal” descendents, (and whom Abraham never experienced), it sounds somewhat hollow and akin to what Satan promised Yeshua.

2. A lot of Christians think that they are “Spiritual” Israel. Even if they are not genetic descendents of Abraham, they believe they can still be sons of Abraham in “spirit”, and thereby qualify to inherit everything that God promised to Abraham’s physical descendents.

Gal 3:29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

To the Christian paradigm this sounds pretty good, but this verse is actually saying the opposite. It says, if you are of the Anointed, (Greek, Christos), then you are of Abraham’s seed, (Greek, sperma). This “christ” is not referring to Yeshua. The OT tells us the Anointed were the people of Israel, and no one else. And Abraham’s “seed” is ONLY JACOB and his descendents. NOT EVEN Ishmael or Esau, are considered the “seed” of Abraham.

Gen 21:12 And God said to Abraham . . . In all that Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice. For IN ISAAC YOUR Seed SHALL BE CALLED.

This language is easily misconstrued to fit one’s paradigm. “Seed” can be understood to be a singular or a collective, noun. Capitalizing it infers a singular, but of course that is an interpretation and “Seed” should NOT be capitalized.
But how can this seed possibly be singular with many verses like this?

Gen 13:16 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.

But, one might ask, Is not the “Your Seed”, of Gal 3:16 referring to Yeshua? No, it says, christ, not Jesus Christ.

Gal 3:16 And to Abraham and to his Seed the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, “And to your Seed,” which is Christ.

Once again this is confirming the opposite. Jacob and his descendents were the one seed, – better understood by us as the one “family”. Abraham’s seed does NOT include Ishmael or Esau. The one seed is the Anointed (Greek, Christos). It is limited to Jacob/Israel. The “people of the anointed”, (the “body of the christos”) is NOT “Yeshua the anointed”, (Jesus the christos). Christianity uses these terms interchangeably when they are completely different and must be kept distinct. Jesus Christ, and, christ, are not necessarily the same entity. Yeshua was only one of that seed. Even believing He is the Son of God, the immeasurable promises made to Abraham cannot be fulfilled in a single person.

3. Lost Tribes. Let’s give a little more context, the previous verse says,

Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in PART is happened to Israel, until the FULLNESS of the GENTILES be come in.
Rom 11:26 And so ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

In verse 25, Paul says he is about to reveal a mystery. The Greek word, “musterion”, means, “silence”, and so it is sometimes translated as a, “secret”. So, what is this secret? Maybe Paul is reminding us that 700 to 900 years earlier, there were two parts of Israel, – Judah in the south and Israel in the north. And only when both parts have come to a belief in Yeshua, then all Israel shall be saved. But how can northern Israel be involved in this?
Paul writes consecutively in verse 25 and 26 that

PART of Israel has been blinded until the
FULLNESS of the Gentiles be come in, and so
ALL Israel shall be saved

If it weren’t for our paradigm that the Gentiles have nothing in common with Israel, an unbiased reader would naturally understand that Paul is making a literary equation. “Part Israel +full Gentiles = all Israel”. He would then reason that somehow, the Gentiles are a component part of Israel. (Otherwise, what sense does this statement make?) But how can this be?

Romans 11 is all about two groups of people, both somehow Israelites. The first group is easy to know. Paul says; God has not cast off His people Israel, even if presently, only a remnant of faithful believers remain in Israel. In verse 17 we then read of the Olive trees, the natural, the wild, and their branches. From Jeremiah we learn the olive tree is a symbol of the house of Israel and Jacob. We must remember this when reading Romans 11.

Jer 11:16 The LORD called thy name a leafy olive-tree, fair with goodly fruit; with the noise of a great tumult He hath kindled fire upon it, and the BRANCHES of it are BROKEN.
Jer 11:17 For the LORD of hosts, that planted thee, hath pronounced evil against thee, because of the evil of the HOUSE of ISRAEL and of the HOUSE of JUDAH, which they have wrought for themselves in provoking Me by offering unto Baal.

Is it not apparent Jeremiah is describing the unified Kingdom being broken into the two houses? Nine hundred years before Paul, the branches of Israel were already broken. And what happened to these two houses? Both went into exile but only Judah is described as largely returning from its exile while the northern Israelites are not. They “disappeared” and have become known, by many, as the legendary Ten Lost Tribes.

Rom 11:17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and became a sharer of the root and the fatness of the olive tree with them,

Who is a “wild” olive tree? It is important to note that Paul calls these Gentiles olive trees. There are dozens of other tree varieties that Paul could have used to describe these Gentiles but he used the term “olive” which he knows specifically refers to the Israelites. (Jer 11:16 above.) Why would he do that?

Rom 11:24 For if you were cut out of the natural wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more these being according to nature will be grafted into their own olive-tree?

These “Gentiles” were still olive trees but they had become wild. (Note that these Israelites were not just small scattered groups who dispersed and assimilated themselves among the pagans. No. They were the ten tribes who had migrated from Assyria in huge numbers into Europe and remained homogenous but who, over many centuries, forgot much detail of their heritage. Josephus (Ant., 11:133) states as a fact, “the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude and not to be estimated in numbers.”) Now, some of these wild branches were being broken off the wild trees and being grafted back into the natural tree to share the root.

Meanwhile, the cultivated olive tree was still primarily in Judah. It preserved God’s law, the Temple, and the worship of the true God which, if kept, would have produced a cultured and YHWH fearing society.

Consider Hosea in this light. The Israelites in the time of Hosea were called by God, “Not-My-people”. Yet, in His next breath, God says that there SHALL BE uncountable millions of them somewhere. And it SHALL BE then that they are called sons of the living God.

Hos 1:9 And He said, Call his name Not-my-people. For you are not My people, and I will not be for you. 10 Yet the number of the sons of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered. And it shall be, in the place where it was said to them, You are not My people, there it shall be said to them, You are the sons of the living God.

Paul is talking Roman citizens when he calls them the cast off, “not My people” Israelites. Why would he cite this verse if he was not making this point?

Rom 9:24 whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also of the nations? 25 As He also says in Hosea, “I will call those not My people, My people; and those not beloved, Beloved.” 26 And it shall be, in the place where it was said to them. “You are not My people; there they shall be called sons of the living God.”

If these tens or hundreds of millions of Israelites are from Judah only, where were they then, and today?

Why did Paul tell the Greek “Gentile” Corinthians . . .

1Co 10:1 Moreover, brethren, [Greek, adelphos – womb/uterus brother] I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all OUR FATHERS were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

Are the Corinthians spiritual brothers whose fathers got spiritually baptized by Moses?
This only scratches the surface.


Daniel: thank you for taking the time to respond in such detail! I appreciate your efforts. I think the key to understanding the meaning of “seed” lies in the Greek Septuagint. I understand the Hebrew word for “seed” can be either singular or plural depending on context (much like the word “deer” in English can apply to one deer or many deer) this is not so in Greek. Sperma/spermati is the singular and spermasin is the plural. The verses in Genesis 12:7;13:16; 21:12; 22:18 and 24:7 all use the singular in the Septuagint. Paul refers to this in Galatians when he says “seed” is singular not plural (Galatians 3:16 and 3:29). I think Paul is referring to one individual (Messiah) rather than to Israel as a whole.
Romans 11:26 does not simply drop out of the sky. Paul is well aware of Isaiah 45:25 and 60:21. The former of these starts in verse 23 with a glorious indication that every knee will bow, every tongue swear/confess…only in YHWH are righteousness and strength…all your offspring (of Israel) will be justified and will glory.” The Talmud in Sanhedrin 90a expands on the Jewish understanding of how this applies to the Jewish nation…. and yes just about everyone is included.



I’m glad you responded here, as I always seem to be the detractor. I don’t do so to be confrontational, but to sincerely challenge the exegesis.

In reading the surrounding context of 3:16, it becomes clear Christos refers to Messiah. See 3:19-20 (mediator). Messiah is Abraham’s “seed”, spermati (sing. in the dative).

As for 3:29, its immediately preceding context (3:26-28) indicates Messiah is the referent for Christos, while sperma is, in fact, a collective singular (neither Jew nor Greek: 3:28). The Greek word “you” in the beginning of 3:29 is plural rather than singular, and sperma (collective sing. in this instance) is its predicate nominative, in apposition with the Greek word for “heirs”. In other words, “heirs” (pl nominative) and sperma ([collective] sing. nominative) are the same entities–similar to God, Father.

But if you [pl] are Christ’s [sg], you are [pl verb] from Abraham’s seed [coll. sg], heirs [pl] according to the promise

Daniel Kraemer

HSB & Craig
Thanks for the replies and the criticism. If I am wrong I want to be the first person to know. And although I don’t know any Hebrew or Greek, I’m not giving up on this viewpoint yet.

If I understand you correctly, in Hebrew, one cannot know whether “seed” is singular or plural except by context (and paradigm.) So, because Genesis was originally written in Hebrew, (or something more ancient), the Greek Septuagint is not only a translation, but also an interpretation of whether “seed” should be singular or plural. I have great respect for the LXX but unless one believes it is actually inspired, it is subject to scrutiny.

Craig writes,
But if you [pl] are Christ’s [sg], you are [pl verb] from Abraham’s seed [coll. sg], heirs [pl] according to the promise

Craig, I don’t understand. You agree here that, “Abraham’s seed” is a collective singular, but then how can that refer to Jesus as an individual? It sounds like, when “Abraham’s seed” is used in the Old Testament you think it refers to Jesus (and not the Israelites), but when used in the New Testament, it refers to “varied Believers”, (and not Jesus). How can it be both?

You say the context clearly makes the Christos the Messiah. With respect, it is not at all clear to me. The context is all about the Israelites.

Gal 3:15 says that once a covenant is made, no one may cancel it, nor, add to it. The promise was made to Abraham for the benefit of his seed. I say the seed is His anointed Israelites, you say it is Jesus. One way or the other, Paul is saying that this promise CANNOT be expanded to include anyone who was not part of the original promise. If you are correct and Jesus was the sole benefactor, then that means everyone else is excluded, but I say christos is referring to all Israelites.

I can understand a mainstream Christians jumping on Gal 3:16 because it seems to make Jesus Christ the single beneficiary of God’s unconditional promise to Abraham. But if so, where does that leave the Jews? Is everyone here conceding that God’s great promise to Abraham, and reconfirmed to Isaac and Jacob, had absolutely nothing to do with the children of Israel, but had only to do with Jesus Christ? (And now Christians?)

Consider this,
Gal 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in “christos”, (Jesus??) the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

What does it mean that, the covenant was confirmed by God in Jesus? How could Abraham’s covenant be confirmed in Jesus when Jesus wasn’t born for another 1800 years? And what did Jesus, back then, have to do with the Law not annulling the covenant? This understanding makes no sense.

But if we understand, “christos” as the Israelites, then it does. The covenant was confirmed by God “in” (relating to the) “anointed Israelites”. And the Law, which came hundreds of years later, could not annul these Israelites from that promise. Jesus the Christ is completely out of context here. The verse has nothing to do with Him.

Gal 3:19 Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come to those to whom it had been promised, being ordained through angels in the Mediator’s hand.

OK, here I will agree that this “Seed” is Yeshua. That makes sense, and He is the Mediator. But He, as Mediator cannot also be the God in this context, and nor can the Mediator be the beneficiary; the beneficiaries are the “christos”, the Israelites. There are three different and distinct parties in mediated conciliation.

Gal 3:20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

That is what this awkward verse is trying to tell us. Two of the parties are, the Mediator, and, God. That leaves the benefactor as the third party, – the Israelites, the christos.

As an aside, this says the law was added UNTIL the Seed should come. So, does this mean the Law is now done away with? Well, it sounds like that, doesn’t it? But what Law? It says, the Law was added because of transgressions. Again, does that make any sense? No, one can’t transgress the law until there is a law, so the law has to come first. And why would more law be added because of transgressions? To make life even more difficult? But the verse also seems to suggest that somehow the law can remove the transgressions, but does that make any sense either?

But we can resolve all this. The “Law” is really a kind of Pauline shorthand for the, “rituals of the law”. Two things now make sense. The rituals of the law were added because of transgressions. Previously, they were the method by which the penalties of the law could be avoided but now that Yeshua had come and fulfilled the perfect sacrifice, this ritual was now redundant and “done away with”, (and not the ten commandments.)



Thanks for commenting. I truncated my above response to HSB, so let me expand it a bit while addressing your concerns. I think it best to completely put aside the LXX and focus on Paul’s words here. The immediate contexts of the two verses in question are a bit different from each other, so I’ll go in chronological order, bridging them, beginning with 3:16, but going back to 3:13-14 for more overall context:

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Observe that it is in Christ Jesus that the “blessing of Abraham” came to the Gentiles. This must refer to the Person of Christ, given the final explanatory clause. In other words “the promise of the Spirit” is only activated through faith in Jesus Christ. This conclusion to the subsection ending in 14 leads to Paul’s main subject of 15-29: Jesus Christ.

Verse 15 sets up the main point in 16: If even a human promise cannot have any terms modified, then certainly God’s covenant cannot be changed. In 16 Paul explains the Abrahamic Covenant: Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The “seed” here is singular in Greek. With his next sentence he expounds on this. The “seed” is indeed not plural (using the plural form of sperma this time), going so far as explaining (brackets in the following are mine to help explain), as [if] referring to many [seeds], but rather to one [seed]. So he makes it abundantly clear the seed is singular, not plural, and that this seed is Christos. Had christos been meant as a collective singular, as in your preferred translation “anointed”, then the Greek would have to be the plural form christoi (‘anointeds’, as in Habakkuk 3:13 LXX [though MT is singular]) instead. In any case, the immediately following context makes it clear that, indeed, the Person of Christ is the referent for Christos all the way through, and for sperma only in verse 16 (and 19) but not 29.

In 17 he reintroduces the Law from 13-14, pointing out that, though this came 430 years after the Abrahamic Covenant (AC), it in no way changes it—the AC remains in effect. Verse 18 compares the AC with the Law. This leads Paul to mentioning the “seed” (singular) again—until the seed would come, implying Jesus—in 19. (Now, here I must make a correction to my July 13, 2019 5:39 pm comment, for in my haste I erroneously attributed “mediator” in 19-20 to Christ, which is NOT the case since it is, rather, Moses instead.) Then, Paul closes this sub-section out by referring to faith in Jesus Christ, Iēsou Christou (genitive form)—like he did in verse 14—making it clear that the “seed” is the Person of Christ.

In the next sub-section Paul continues to juxtapose the Law with Christ, explaining that the Law was our “tutor” leading to (the Person of) Christ (23-25). In verse 26 he returns to the subject of faith, as believers are “sons of God” through faith in Christō̧ Iēsou (dative). Verse 27 continues the same subject of the Person of Christ, with verse 28 asserting there are no distinctions between this group or that group, for all are ‘one’ in Christ Jesus, Christō̧ Iēsou.

The crux of this entire section is verse 29 (“pl” = plural; “sg” = singular): If you [pl] [are] of Christ, then you [pl] are of Abraham’s seed [sg], heirs [pl] according to promise. Here, once again, christos refers to the Person of Christ, but “seed” does not. The word for “you” both times is plural, referring to believers, whether Jew or Gentile (verse 28). Thus, “…you [pl] are of Abraham’s seed [collective sg], heirs [pl] according to the promise.” In this context, “seed” is in apposition with “heirs” which are the predicates of “you are”, and thus, “seed” and “heirs” refer to the same group, i.e., “sons of God”. What is “the promise” here? This “promise” is Abraham’s promise from God, namely the “seed” [sg] from verse 16, aka Jesus Christ. So, you [pl] are of Abraham’s seed [collective sg], heirs [pl] according to the promise, this “promise” being the Abrahamic Covenant, which is the “seed” referenced in 16 (and 19), aka Jesus Christ.

To explain further, of Abraham’s seed in verse 29 should be understood as yet another identifier for both “sons of God” in 3:26 and “sons of Abraham” of 3:7, in addition to heirs according to the promise. Since, as in verse 28, “all are ‘one’ in Christ Jesus”, all are ‘one’ seed. Thus, believers in Christ Jesus are the “seed” [collective sg] of Christ Jesus (they are “heirs to the promise [to Abraham]”, which is Christ Jesus), and Jesus Christ is the seed [sg] of Abraham in reference to the Abrahamic Covenant.

No doubt Paul’s words can be a bit confusing when he refers to Christ Jesus as the “seed” of Abraham in verse 16, only to call believers collectively Abraham’s “seed” in 29, but that’s the way he chose to make his argument. One must follow the flow of his argument line by line to fully grasp his intent. The entire chapter 3 should be read verse by verse a few times to really grasp it.



Let me follow up my most recent response to you, by quoting J. Louis Martyn (Galatians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 340). The italics that begin of the two paragraphs are the author’s own translation of portions of 3:16:

The text does not say, “and to the seeds,” as though it were speaking about many people, but rather, speaking about one, it reads, “and to your seed.” Even in focusing his attention on this single verse, Paul ignores two factors: (a) the plain meaning of the word “seed” in Genesis 17, where it is clearly a collective referring to the people of Israel as the descendants of Abraham, generation after generation; (b) his own earlier willingness to discuss the issue of the identity of Abraham’s plural children (v 7; cf. v 29; Rom 4:13–16). Thus, bold move follows bold move, for the Galatians are sure to have learned of the expression “seed of Abraham” from the Teachers, and the Teachers will have used it in its collective sense, insisting that the Abrahamic blessing, having come long ago to the plural people of Israel, is now flowing to Gentiles who join that people by observance of the Law. Moreover, the collective sense can be proved from Genesis 17, a fact of which the Teachers may very well have taken advantage in offering the Galatians their own interpretation of Paul’s letter.

Given developments in his Galatian churches, however, the singular is what Paul actually hears in Gen 17:8, and he is sure that that reading honors the true voice of God’s scripture (cf. 3:8). Equating promise and covenant, Paul insists that God spoke his covenantal promise to only two persons: Abraham and his singular seed. What concerns him, then, is the identity of that seed to whom, in addition to Abraham, the convenantal promise was made.

and that seed is Christ. Paul continues the polemic of the preceding clause. The seed, and thus the God–given future of Abraham, is not the patriarch’s plural, ethnically distinct descendants. It is the singular person, Christ. Paul hears in Gen 17:8 a messianic prophecy, showing that the point of departure for his exegesis is the advent of Christ. It follows, as Paul will say in vv 26–29, that plural offspring of Abraham come into existence only when human beings are incorporated into Abraham’s singular seed, Christ. Were one to judge solely from the present verse, one would conclude that for Paul there were, prior to Christ, no sperma, no children of Abraham.

So, Paul is taking a midrashic approach to his use of Genesis 17:8 here.

Daniel Kraemer

It seems agreed that Abraham’s SEED in the Old Testament is plainly a reference to a FAMILY. And in this verse God is making a point that this family is of Isaac and Jacob.
Gen 21:12 (KJV) And God said unto Abraham, . . . for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
But then mainstream Christians are rightly confused by Gal 3:16 which seems to say different. I blame modern translations, such as this, which capitalize “Seed” and “Christ” because they INTERPRET them as meaning “Yesuha”. Let’s read,

Gal 3:16 And to Abraham and to his Seed the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, “And to your Seed,” which is Christ.

But if, “Seed” and “Christ” mean “Yeshua” then they should be interchangeable. Being consistent, I should be able to read it like this.

Gal 3:16 And to Abraham and to Yeshua the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to Yeshuas, as of many; but as of one, “And to Yeshua,” which is Yeshua.

Is that how Paul was trying to make Genesis 17 & 21 understandable? It’s total nonsense. (And when were the promises spoken to Yeshua?)

Abraham had at least three families, (and maybe more). They were all from his loins but only one FAMILY was of the promise and called “Abraham’s seed”. Paul was trying to drive home a point here, but he was CONFIRMING Gen 17 & 21, not contradicting it. So we should read it like this,

Gal 3:16 And to Abraham and to his (one) FAMILY the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to FAMILIES, as of many; but as of one, “And to your FAMILY (of promise),” which is ANNOINTED.

The Israelites were anointed, but not the families of Ishmael nor his family through Keturah.

We do not have to apologize for Paul. As Skip so often says, we were not the original readers of this letter. The Jews would have understood what these words meant 2000 years ago. Most of us do not.



After much delay—due, in part, to the ongoing issues with comments on this site– here’s my response. I didn’t want to post this only to have it not be visible. Fingers are crossed as I submit!

Yes, we agree the relevant contexts of the ‘Old Testament’ regarding Abraham’s “seed” are clearly a collective singular (“seed” in Gen 17:8 is singular in both LXX and MT). But for rhetorical effect, Paul is choosing a different tactic for his Galatian audience—a midrashic approach, not unlike, e.g. Jesus as the rock in the context of 1 Cor 10:1-4. In fact, after my above sort of off-the-cuff comment about Paul using midrashic exegesis (ME) here, I decided to look for articles online (and in my own database) to confirm this, yielding a number of hits, including this one—and I think everyone here should be interested: NEW TESTAMENT INTERPRETATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: THE THEOLOGICAL RATIONALE OF MIDRASHIC EXEGESIS (etsjets dot org/files/JETS-PDFs/51/51-2/JETS%2051-2%20353-381%20Pickup.pdf).

Unfortunately, most ‘Evangelicals’ are apprehensive about accepting this sort of thing out of concern that doing so would necessarily stand in conflict with the grammatical-historical (G-H) method and, hence, biblical inerrancy. So, the typical modus operandi is to explain such texts as 1 Cor 10:1-4 as being the sensus plenior, the “fuller sense”, yet this explanation falls short. But, the two (G-H and ME) needn’t be considered mutually exclusive. The Jewish Midrash texts are in no way meant to replace the plain sense meaning of the original texts in their original contexts, and, similarly, the NT writers should be seen as doing a similar thing where the NT cites the OT ‘out of context’. In fact, the NT use of the ‘OT’ in such instances is not dissimilar from the methods used at Qumran in their pesharim.

With that little diversion out of the way, I’ll return to your concerns about the singular “seed”. However—and this is important—the singular seed does not preclude a concurrent plural understanding in 3:29. That is, if the singular seed, Yeshua, provides the means by which believers are Yeshua’s ‘seed’ (collective plural), and, by extension, through which they are Abraham’s seed (collective plural), then this singular seed encompasses all the faithful. I’ll unpack this as I go.

Note that in the translation you cited for Gal 3:16 the plural “seeds” is not capitalized—only the singular occurrences are. Thus, shouldn’t your position that “Yeshua” should be a viable substitute apply to the singular “seed” only and look more like the following?

Gal 3:16 And to Abraham and to his Seed [Yeshua] the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to seeds [descendants], as of many; but as of one, “And to your Seed [Yeshua],” which is Yeshua.

Observe also that all the English versions at BibleHub do not capitalize any occurrences of “seed” (biblehub dot com/multi/galatians/3-16.htm)—including the KJV (and the Oxford Authorized/KJV in my library doesn’t either). In any case, once Paul makes his argument that it should be singular, he identifies that seed as Christ (by carefully examining its full context), accounting for why your KJV capitalizes only the singular “seed.”

You’re missing some important things in the larger context. Paul is clear that it is faith/belief that’s preeminent. He begins this line of argumentation at verse 6, using Abraham’s faithfulness as an example (and this requirement of belief/faith is a constant throughout the Tanakh, of course). Moreover, as I pointed out above, the fuller context illustrates that “Christ” here refers to the Person of Yeshua. Look more closely at the entirety of 3:19 in its immediate context: here “seed” just cannot be construed as a collective singular. Observe the flow of Paul’s rhetorical argumentation to verse 22, which identifies “Jesus Christ” as the referent. That is, Yeshua’s arrival must be that which is meant in this clause (italics): “until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made” in 3:19. This must be the same “seed” in 3:16, as I tried to explain above. The bolded clause must refer to the Gentiles (cf. 3:8-9).

Here’s something to consider. 3:29 is a first class conditional if/then statement, and in such conditionals, the converse is not necessarily true. For example, while it is true to state “if it is raining, then there are clouds in the sky”, one certainly cannot assert the converse “if there are clouds in the sky, then it is raining.” Similarly, “if you are of Abraham’s seed, then you are of Christ” is not necessarily true. That’s a different proposition. Are there some we could identify as Abraham’s seed (under the general understanding of Paul’s argument in this context) that are not “of Christ”? I suppose it depends on how all this is construed. For example, should we include those in Hebrews 11 as part of the group of those “of Christ” or not? I’m not making a call either way, just adding food for thought.

Following my last two posts above, there was one particular aspect in my exegesis of the grammar of 3:29 that just didn’t sit 100% right with me. In my search for a way to settle this, by sheer coincidence, a related article came my way, the contents of which may be of interest tangentially, so I’ll share it further below.

My inner turmoil was over the following: Could this “seed” in 3:29 be construed as a singular, referring strictly to Christ, just as it is in 3:16 and 3:19? I searched a number of commentaries (for the record, I did not consult any when I did my initial exegesis, and only looked at, then posted the Martyn quote above afterward), yet it wasn’t until a few days following the above post that I received some confirmation. The grammar does support either an understanding as a collective singular or as a singular. When viewed as a singular:

If you are of Christ, then you are of Abraham’s seed” is understood such that Christ = Abraham’s seed (just as in 3:16 and 3:19); that is, if you are “of Christ,” then it follows that you are at one and the same time “of Abraham’s seed.” In other words, of Christ and of Abraham’s seed are equative and completely synonymous in this context. Stated another way, if you belong to Christ, then you belong to Abraham’s seed. If one assumes this is the correct understanding, Paul would be using tautology as a rhetorical device.

On the other hand, if we understand 3:29 as a collective singular, once again where Christ = Abraham’s seed, then the verse is construed as such:

If you are of Christ (belong to Christ), then you are ‘from Abraham’s seed’; that is, Abraham is the ultimate source from which you descend (but only through Christ). Stated another way, you are descended from Abraham via Yeshua (since He is “Abraham’s seed” in 3:16 and 3:19), such that:

Abraham >> Christ, the seed of Abraham >> Christ’s followers by faith in Christ (which are the seed from Christ, who is, in turn, the seed of Abraham)

In other words, believers in Yeshua are descendants of Abraham by virtue of their belief in Messiah.

Here is the aforementioned article that came my way: THE TRANSITIVITY NETWORK AND KOINE GREEK: THE (IDEATIONAL) MEANING OF GALATIANS 3:1–5:12 (bagl dot org/files/volume8/BAGL_8-3_Yoon.pdf).



I hadn’t totally ignored your question, but I didn’t want to give it short shrift either. Thankfully, Dr. Michael Brown has elucidated his view, and I align with it (no ‘Replacement Theology’), thus making my response much easier:

youtube dot com/watch?v=7GGqBn9vEew&t=6m1s



You’ve laid out your rebuttal very well.

As to your #1 (and 4), I’m glad you concede this as a possibility. We know, e.g., anthrōpoi is sometimes gender non-specific to include men, women, and children, but other times it refers to only men. I found an online NWT, and your hunch is correct, as it translates this verse “all sorts of men”.

As for #2-3, the ISV was mostly translated by Greek teacher David Alan Black, and it is obvious he was familiar with Skeat’s work. While I previously couldn’t find the actual article online—except at places charging $49 to download!—I did find a reissued version today. You can see it here, beginning on page 297 of pdf: www dot scribd dot com/document/249126681/T-C-Skeat-The-Collected-Biblical-Writings-of-T-C-Skeat-Supplements-to-Novum-Testamentum-2004-pdf

We know that words do not always mean the same thing, so it would not be surprising that malista means different things in different contexts (Gal 6:10 compared to 1 Tim 4:10). Separately, Skeat states the following:

At 1 Tim. 5:17 the Revised Standard English Version translates as follows: ‘Elders who give good service as leaders should be reckoned worthy of a double stipend, in particular (malista) those who work hard preaching and teaching.’ I suggest that the real meaning is as follows: ‘Elders who give good service as leaders should be reckoned worthy of a double stipend, that is to say those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.’ In other words, double pay for a double job. The writer of the letter, having said that outstanding leaders deserved double pay realised that this could be a subjective assessment leading to arguments and recrimination, and therefore went on to suggest an objective test by which performance could be measured.

This is a pretty good argument. Double pay for double work! Additionally, the term is found only twelve times in the NT, with three in 1 Timothy (4:10, 5:8, 5:17, one on 2 Timothy (4:13), and one in Titus (1:10). If you look at all these contexts, each one would fit with the alternate rendering. Additionally, Liddell & Scott’s lexicon, which covers the period before the NT era (and NT), cites a selection from Sophocles where the interrogative τί μάλιστα (ti malista) means: “What precisely?” In fact, in current Greek the term is translated “in fact” (see here: translate dot google dot com/#view=home&op=translate&sl=el&tl=en&text=%CE%BC%CE%AC%CE%BB%CE%B9%CF%83%CF%84%CE%B1). Thus, there is plenty of evidence for Skeat’s conclusions. Taken all together, this provides an excellent argument in favor of this alternate rendering of “that is” (aka “in fact”, “precisely”, “specifically”, etc.).

Judi Baldwin

Perhaps God is chuckling because we’re missing the greater point of this story by focusing on HOW God was able to spare Korah’s sons. The story of Korah’s rebellion has many valuable lessons. It teaches our spiritual leaders to rely on God rather than fighting back. It teaches us that everyone needs to be accountable to someone. It teaches that we should not question the authority or reliability of the Torah of Moses or the Aaronic right to the priesthood. It teaches us that we do indeed need an intercessor and we must submit ourselves to God’s choice. We also learn that we can easily be contaminated by our neighbors. Korah was from the tribe of Levi but Dathan and Abiram were from the tribe of Ruben. According to the arrangement for the tribal encampments, the Kohathites and Reubenites both encamped on the south side of the Tabernacle. A proverb says “woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor.” Rebellion often starts with a small group of disgruntled people and spreads. In this case, they were saying “we don’t need Aaron to be our mediator…we can hear from God ourselves.” But, the Torah teaches otherwise. If we want to draw near to God, we must do so through the agency of an intercessor. Anti-missionaries often claim the same…that Judaism does not require a mediator between man and God and there is no need for Messiah’s atoning sacrifice or His role as intercessor because every Jew has direct access to God. The story of Korah’s rebellion refutes the anti-missionary claim. If anything, the Torah affirms the role of priest and intercessor between God and Israel. From the Tabernacle, to the sacrifices, to the priesthood to Moses, the whole Torah seems to point toward the need for a mediator between God and Man. And, now, Messiah is our mediator…a living Tabernacle, a sacrifice for sin, a priest like Aaron and a redeemer like Moses…all in one!!