October 23, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

III. Doctrinal: Defense of Justification by Faith (3:1–4:31)

            A: Vindication of Justification by Faith (3.1-18)

                        3: The Permanence of the Promise (3.15-18)

Chapter III.A.3.a: The Promise Given to Abraham’s Seed, Christ    (3:15-16)


Galatians 3.15-16 (KJV) 

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be

confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.


15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

“Brethren” is a term of endearment which Paul uses to express his love for the Galatians—which they may have begun to question in light of his stern rebuke—“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3.1, 3). The immutability of God’s arrangements should be beyond debate, but Paul finds it necessary to discuss the matter to make it fully clear to his readers.

God called Abraham, and He made him a “promise.” The word “promise” refers to God’s promise made to Abraham (called the Abrahamic covenant) that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed—“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12.1-3). God made Abraham a blessing to the world through Jesus Christ, a descendent of Abraham. Christ is the one who brought salvation to the world. This promise involved being justified by faith and having all the blessings of salvation, which was confirmed by Paul—“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal 3.6-9). It is obvious that the promise made to Abraham (and through Christ, to us today), given about 2000 B.C., preceded by centuries the Law of Moses (about 1450 B.C.). The Judaizers argued that the giving of the Law changed that original covenant of promise. Paul argues that it did not. Even if Paul’s opponents admitted that Abraham was justified by faith, those Judaizers might have argued that the Law, since it came after the promise was given, entirely changed the basis for obtaining salvation. To refute this, Paul declared that just as a properly executed Roman covenant (or will) cannot arbitrarily be set aside or changed (probably a reference to ancient Greek law), so the promises of God are unchallengeable. Furthermore, the promises…spoken to Abraham and to his seed were not fulfilled before the giving of the Law. Rather, they found fulfillment in Christ, and are in effect forever. The blessing of justification by faith is therefore permanent and could not be changed by the Law

Let me give you an example of a “man’s covenant” that may illustrate the point Paul makes here. Suppose you make a contract with a man and agree to pay him one hundred dollars. Then about a month later you decide you will only pay him fifty dollars. You go to him and say, “Here is the fifty dollars I owe you.” The man says, “Wait a minute, you agreed to pay me one hundred dollars.” You say, “Well, I have changed my mind, and now I am going to pay you fifty dollars, and that is all.” He says, “Oh, no, you don’t! You can’t change your contract after it has been made.” Also, once two parties make an agreement, a third party can’t come along years later and change that agreement. The only persons who can change an original agreement are the persons who made it. It would be illegal to add anything to it or take anything from it.

If this is true of sinful men, how much more does it apply to the holy God? Note that Abraham did not make a covenant with God; God made a covenant with Abraham! God did not lay down any conditions for Abraham to meet. In fact, when the covenant was ratified Abraham was asleep (see Ge. 15). It was a covenant of grace: God made a covenant with Abraham; Abraham did not make any promises to God.

But Paul reveals another wonderful truth: God made this promise, not only to Abraham, but also to Christ—And to thy seed, which is Christ.”  The stress on “seed” (see Ge. 12.7; 13.15; 24.7), not “seeds” was made simply to remind the readers that the faithful in Israel had always recognized that blessing would ultimately come through a single individual, the Messiah—“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Gal. 3.19).  And Matthew declared Christ to be the Son of Abraham and the true Heir to the first covenant’s promises—“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1.1). Because the promises were made both to Abraham and to his seed Jesus Christ, they did not become void when Abraham died, or when the Law came. Actually, God made promises” (plural, because the same promise was repeated—Ge. 12.3, 7; 15.5, 18; 17.7; 22.18) to Abraham and his seed; and the promises involved many things; earthly blessings to the literal children of Abraham in Canaan, and spiritual and heavenly blessings to his spiritual children. However both were promised to Christ as the “seed” and representative Head of the spiritual and literal Israel alike. In the spiritual seed there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; but for the literal seed there are yet parts to be fulfilled—“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 (Rom. 11.26). But how much is embraced in the word “seed?” Not all the descendants of Abraham were intended (it is not seeds), nor are all lines of descent in view. We are instructed to think of seed as a collective term. It includes the patriarchs, because the same promises were spoken to them. But it also looks on to Christ and includes Him as is shown by Galatians 3.19, where he is called once more the “seed,” the One who brought to an end the age of law. This corporate sense of the term Christ is found again in 1 Corinthians 12.12—“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”                             

The biblical concept of “the seed” goes all the way back to Genesis 3.15, after the fall of Man. God states that there will be conflict in the world between Satan’s seed (children of the devil, see John 8.22-44) and the woman’s seed (God’s children, and ultimately, God’s Son). The Scriptures show this conflict: Cain verses Abel (see 1 John 3.10-12); Israel verses the nations; John the Baptist and Jesus verses the Pharisees (Matt. 3.7-9; 23.29-33); the true believer verses the counterfeit (see the Parable of the Tares, Matt 13.24-30, 36-43). Satan’s goal in the Old Testament was to keep “the seed” (Christ) from being born into the world, because Satan knew that God’s Son would one day crush his head.

In the final analysis, God made this covenant of promise with Abraham through Christ, so that the only two parties who can make any changes are God the Father and God the Son. Moses cannot alter this covenant. He can add nothing to it, he can take nothing from it. The Judaizers wanted to add to God’s grace (as though anything could be added to grace!) and take from God’s promises. They had no right to do this since they were not parties to the original covenant.

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