Historical grammatical inerrant view of Hebrews 7:9-10

The verse in question:

9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

Without inventing things such as a weirdly accommodated throwback to genetics, or using federal headship to do all lifting at all times, how is this inerrant?

I can easily understand and follow the general point and usage of the inheritance and priestly systems with the Melchizedek/Abraham interaction just as with Jesus and the mustard seed. Yet if this level of accommodation is acceptable, how then is not the majority of scripture at this level?


We should ask ourselves whether the author is trying to tell us something about biology, or something else.

I would argue it is the latter. If you ask a Jew “who is greater, Abraham or Levi?” He or she would answer Abraham. Because he is the progenitor of all the Israelite tribes, including Levi. All peoples on earth would be blessed through him. (Although you may call that federal headship.)

So if Abraham pays tribute to Melchizedek, how much more should Levi!

This way the author argues Jews shouldn’t worry about abandoning the Levite priesthood. Because now there is a better high priest: Jesus, in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).

I think we should look at each passage on a case-by-case basis.

Besides, perhaps we need to focuss more on the message of a whole chapter or even the whole book. The BibleProject does a great job at this.


The majority is “at this level”: God does not override the writers’ cosmology or other aspects of their worldviews. It’s why any reading that doesn’t take into account the literary genre the writer used and his worldview is pretty much guaranteed to get things wrong.


It helps here to go to the Hebrew concerning the “Ten Commandments”: the Hebrew doesn’t say “commandments”, it calls them “words” – the “Ten Words”. This use of “word” indicates a grammatically complete thought that asserts something. Applying that to the rest of scripture, it isn’t every piece that is inerrant, it’s the things being asserted. The assertion may be in a single sentence, but usually it is a paragraph (or more).


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I totally get that. The problem then arises because many major denominations’ doctrines fail with this. It seems as I get older in my faith, the more arguments about words, the more focus on control and a crushing need for certainty in small things.

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I would say that if you have a major doctrine that fails because of this, you’re doing it wrong.

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At that time, there was a widespread belief that all descendants were within the testicles as “tiny human seeds” that just needed a womb to grow to babies. Based on that belief, it was claimed that all humans were with Adam when he sinned (= in his testicles), and Levi was with Abraham even before he was born (= in his testicles). Hebrews shows that this belief was sometimes used as a rhetoric way to forward a message to an audience that believed in that idea.

Do we interpret this verse of the scriptures as inerrant words of God? Depends on how you define ‘inerrant’ and what you believe about the role of providence in the writing of the scriptures (did God prepare the writers so that the words they freely chose were also the words God wanted them to write)?

Sometimes I have been thinking about 1 Clements as an example of how the writers wrote. 1 Clements is not within the canon (holy scripture) but it has been valued writing. The writer(s) wanted to tell a message to Corinthians. The writer wrote a relatively long letter with basically a single message and used many ways to back up his message. One way was to use the myth about the Phoenix bird as an example. The writer apparently believed in the myth but the use of it was only a rhetoric way to strengthen the message. If the writers of the biblical scriptures used beliefs and myths in a similar way to strengthen their message, was that fine or not?

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My understanding of inspiration is guided heavily by my experience of having received an interpretation when someone spoke in tongues: when the pastor asked for an interpretation, two people provided theirs, and while the concepts involved were the same the vocabulary was significantly different from what I had gotten. Since the concepts were the same, when the pastor asked for confirmation of the interpretation(s), I raised my hand along with some others.

Given that, I hold that what is inspired is the concepts, the message, and not the vocabulary.

At the same time, this does not mean that analysis of grammar and vocabulary is not critical to grasping the concepts.

I think there should be a New Testament deutero-canon to which books like 1 Clement should belong.


I agree. Yet, I am still open to the possibility that all words are what God wanted to be in the biblical scriptures although humans chose the words. Writing of the scriptures was more influential than most of the cases where the Holy Spirit gives messages to believers. Therefore, it is possible that there was special guidance in the writing, possibly through both direct messages from the Holy Spirit and the providence.
Although much of my experience of the messages given by the Holy Spirit are comparable to yours, there are cases where a person has told the exact words that have been the needed answer even when the person speaking them did not realize these words were from the Holy Spirit ( in prayer for the person, etc.).

Anyhow, the message gets understood through the whole of the writing (structure etc.). Even if the words would be a personal contribution of the writer, we need them to get a proper understanding of the message. All words in the biblical scriptures are needed for this.

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A proper understanding of the words is required for a proper understanding of the message. But focusing on the words to the exclusion of the message (or making the message secondary) is a problem.


I don’t think this is true. In Genesis 3:15 women have “seed” (23 chromosomes). Even if it could be interpreted as allegorical, why would the author Genesis claim that women have seed if they only thought men did? And God specifically told Abraham that his chosen heir was to come out of Sarah’s womb (seed), not the other women he impregnated.

In context, the sense is “descendent”. It isn’t talking about where babies come from.

Pretty sure snakes don’t have 23 chromosomes. A quick Google search shows snakes have 36 chromosomes.

A woman’s womb was considered fertile or barren which refers to the grounds ability to grow or not grow seed.

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There seems to be a freeing spirit in just admitting that reasonable people can disagree about the inerrancy and/or authority of Scripture. To most conservative churchmen, this is anathema, and yet it was unquestionably the view of Calvin.

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The “snake” is irrelevant, the part about the woman having “seed” is the relevant part. The word is “zerah” which literally means “seed”. Christ came from the woman’s “seed” according most church doctrines too. It’s also referenced in Revelation 12.

If women were just “wombs” that doesn’t make sense since Abraham had other more fertile wives, but only Isaac through a certain woman (Sarah) was the chosen heir:

Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.

Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him (Isaiah 51:1-2)

No both matter. The verse is referring to enmity between the descendants of the snake and the descendants of Eve. Or are you saying the enmity is between the snake and Eve’s eggs?

zera: a sowing, seed, offspring

In looking at a variety of translations seed or offspring are both used with offspring used more often.

I never said women were just “wombs”. Any farmer knows some fields produce better crops than others.

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That assumes you believe that it was a literal snake when the word has several different meanings. My point was why a writer who only saw women as “wombs” would claim that a woman has “seed”

zera: a sowing, seed, offspring

In looking at a variety of translations seed or offspring are both used with offspring used more often

The root word, according to Gesenius, means “to scatter” or “yield seed”. Why would women" have “offspring” anyway according to primitive writers who only thought that men had “seed”?

I never said women were just “wombs”. Any farmer knows some fields produce better crops than others

You do know that Sarah was a 90 year-old barren woman who laughed at the prospect of having children, right? Hagar was way younger and more fertile and even bore Abraham a son before Sarah. Yet God, according to the writer of Genesis, was adamant that the chosen heir was to be born from Sarah’s seed (a prospect that seemed to be impossible).

Hence the quote from Isaiah referring to Sarah:

Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged (Isaiah 51:1)

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. (Rom 9:9)

When a farmer plants seed in a field you can say the seed produced a crop and also that the field produced a crop. So a woman who only provided a fertile place for the man’s seed to grow can also be considered to produce a son. So the sense of zera in Genesis 3:15 is offspring which makes sense as the verse also references the zera of the snake. Doesn’t matter what you think nachash actually means.

Ever hear of the etymological fallacy?

And getting back to what started this diversion from the OP, @knor knor was correct in his description of where babies come from as understood by the Hebrew Bible authors. For example I found this:

And if you would like to read the entire paper you can find it here.

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There’s some imagery going on that we modern folks miss because we’re not so closely tied to the earth. Specifically it’s the difference between the seed as it is taken from a bag and scattered on a field and the seed which has sprouted and thus “belongs” to the field. Man’s “seed” is the first sort, woman’s “seed” is the second; one is the seed that is sown, one is the seed that grows.

Thus the Hebrew זֶרַע (zerah) can be rendered as “offspring” for either a man or a woman.

Actually in the ancient near east understanding the womb was equivalent to a field, not to seed; seed was what was put into the field and what sprouted in the field.

To be really picky in terms of the Hebrew, this is not correct: Christ was the seed of the woman, but He came from Adam’s seed.

= - = - =
It should be kept in mind that ancient Hebrew had a much smaller vocabulary set than we do, with roughly only 8,000 different words (a quarter of which only appear once), and in fact word roots only number a bit over 2,000, so words commonly did double or triple duty – a fun example is that the word for “nose” is also the word for “anger”.


Functionally women were “just wombs”. The difference comes from rank. Generally the first wife was head of the household; other wives stood above concubines, and concubines stood above servants. In terms outside the household, only the first wife had any standing. Unless otherwise stated, the first son of the first wife was the heir, so even without the special status Isaac would have been heir; as it was, he was both the legal heir and the heir of promise.

A woman was regarded as being equivalent to a field. In agriculture, which field a basket of produce came from could be important. Interestingly children could be referred to as the "seed’ of the mother or as the “fruit” of the mother (“fruit of the womb”), a fact that points to how the concept worked. A woman’s “seed” was thus that which “sprouted” in her.