CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXXIII)

 

In George W. Clark’s (1831-1911) comments here on verse sixteen, when delineating between the use of the Hebrew noun zera` as a single seed or multiple seeds, in light of Paul’s definition of the Greek noun sperma (“seed”) as meaning “seed” not “seeds.” From what Rendall says, we might see this word used to denote the many “seeds” taken from an apple or orange, or we can envision it as referring to the one “seed” we take from a peach or prune. Yes, this promise of God to Abraham of inheriting the Land of Canaan was intended for all his “seeds” through Isaac, but among all those seeds there would be one “seed” to whom this promise would go to Him and from then on only those “seeds” found in Him would be considered the children of God, and that includes those seeds from Abraham.[1]

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) makes a good point when in one of his sermons he said: Knowing what we need, the next business is to find out if the Lord promised us this particular blessing, for then we can go to God with the utmost confidence, and look for the fulfillment of His word. For this very purpose, we should diligently search the Scriptures, looking for cases involving other believers who are like ourselves and endeavoring to find that particular gift by divine grace, which is suitable to ourselves in our present circumstances. The more exact the agreement of the promise to the need, the greater the assurance it will yield. In this school, the believer will learn the value of complete verbal inspiration; for in their own instance, they may have to dwell upon so slight a matter as a plural or singular noun, as Paul did when quoting the promise made to Abraham here in verse sixteen.[2]

Augustus H. Strong (1836-1921), touches on the Final Covenant writers in their use of the phrase, “It is written,” or, “the Scriptures says,” or, “does not say,” as Paul does here in verse sixteen. For Strong, the adoption of Jewish methods of reasoning would not indicate an error on the part of the Scripture writers, but rather an acceptance of the method as applied to that particular case. Here it is convincingly suggested that the very form of the expression found in Genesis 22:18, which denotes unity, was selected by the Holy Spirit as significant of one person, the Anointed One, who was the true seed of Abraham and in whom all nations were to be blessed. So, Paul basing his argument on the form of a single word, in this case, is correct, although the Rabbis often put more emphasis on singular nouns than the Holy Spirit ever intended.[3]

English clergyman Cyril W. Emmet (1875-1924), shares an interesting thought concerning Paul’s idea of God’s covenant, or last will and testament, with Abraham in verse fifteen. When the Apostle says in verse seventeen that the covenant was confirmed by God in the Anointed One, it is another way of saying that the death of the testator stands confirmed. But here’s the problem, God is the testator, and He does not die. The covenant stated that all God promised Abraham and his descendants would be given to them if that happened. However, Paul says the promise was not to everyone, but to just one, the Promised Seed. So, it was then that Promised Seed, the Messiah, who was the heir of the promise would die, then it would include all those who became the spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham through Him that would become heirs and joint-heirs of the promise. This could never happen if the Promised heir did not come to earth and died to make that possible.[4] However, keep in mind, the human part of the Anointed One died and was put into the tomb, but the divine part came out alive.

Grant Osborne makes an important point here in verse sixteen. The emphasis in this verse is the seed of Abraham. The phrase “Abraham and his seed” stems from Genesis 13:15; 15:18; and 17:8, where the Promise Land guarantees can be found. In Genesis, the “seed” is a collective singular noun referring to Abraham’s innumerable offspring, but Paul uses rabbinic logic to argue that “seed” is a singular noun. Such an argument was fairly common in Jewish interpretation. This prepares Paul’s readers for 3:29 (“If you belong to the Anointed One, then you are Abraham’s seed”). It was common in Judaism to refer to the Messiah as “the seed of David”[5], so Paul is using common Jewish forms of Scriptural interpretation to make his point that all of the Abrahamic promises are fulfilled in the Anointed One.

Osborne also points out that Paul, more than once, spoke of the promises God made in His covenant with Abraham. But here in 3:2–5, 14 it was the Spirit who was the promise of the Abrahamic covenant; his point here focuses on the primary commitment, namely the gift of the Anointed One. Multiple promises flowed from the Abrahamic covenant: innumerable descendants that would become a great nation, the inheritance of the land, and the blessing of the Gentiles. All the nations were intended to share in those blessings, but they were especially given to “Abraham’s seed.” When linked with verse fifteen above, the emphasis is on the irrevocable nature of these promises. The covenant God made is guaranteeing these blessings, and they will not be revoked. The one making and fulfilling the promise is the God who never changes, and so the promise is connected to faith in God rather than to human works.

To sum it up, Osborne says that the main point made in this verse is that all of these promises to Abraham were fulfilled in Jesus the Anointed One and channeled through Him to those who by faith are united “in the Anointed One” and thus became the new seed of Abraham. Several interpreters noted that this sums up the basic narrative of Scripture itself: The promises to Abraham resound throughout the history of Israel, from the patriarchs to Moses to David and the prophets, as the successive stages of the people of God remain an integral part of Abraham’s family and the divine promises for his seed. These all narrow down to the seed of David, as fulfilled in the son of David. Jesus is both the son of Abraham and the son of David, the “seed” in whom, as the Son of God, all the promises are realized in the spiritual family of God – the Church[6]

Andrew G. Roth also shares some insight on Paul’s wording here in verse sixteen. In a stunning bit of Aramaic cleverness, Paul here actually lines up two Aramaic (words in a row, aytmelekh, and molkana, (Combined in Greek as epaggelia – “promises” – KJV) that both mean “promise.” This double meaning lines up in a way that heightens the intensity, much in the way we might say in English, “he was a man’s man.” Here we see something more like, “and we have a promise on top of a promise.” There is also another wordplay in that both words also contain the root of the word “king” in them.[7]

3:17 Here is what I am trying to say: The contract God made with Abraham could not be arbitrarily canceled 430 years later when God gave Moses the Law. Had God done so, He would have broken His promise.

The covenant, pledge, agreement, and alliance Paul is talking about here is the one mentioned in the Torah.[8] And centuries later, when Zacharias, the father of John the Baptizer, rejoiced over the birth of his son, in his song of thanksgiving, he mentioned this same covenant as though it was signed only yesterday.[9] And later, Jesus confirmed this agreement with Abraham and said it was about Him.[10] We can see in the Hebrew noun bĕriyth that is translated as “covenant” (KJV) in Genesis 15:18 that it means something “between two people.” It is illustrated earlier in that same chapter by what God told Abraham to do before the covenant was made. After it got dark, a burning pot with smoke billowing up from it passed between these parts of animals. The Lord then made an agreement with Abram on that day.[11]

So just as the Lord’s presence that looked like a smoldering pot filled with smoke passed between the halves of the animals, God was saying that one side represented Abram’s sacrifice and the other side God’s sacrifice. Later we know, that this was reenacted when God told Abram to take his only son and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah, where the Temple would one day stand, to prove his obedience to God’s will, so it was that God sent His only Son to be sacrificed on Mount Calvary, where the cross would be planted, to show His obedience to God’s will. Why not let both be sacrificed on the same hill? Because Jesus’ sacrifice was not a replication of Isaac’s sacrifice. Rather, Isaac’s sacrifice was a prefigure of the future crucifixion of the Anointed One. Isaac did not die, but Jesus did. In Isaac’s case, the blood of a ram was substituted for Isaac’s blood, but it did not possess the power to forgive, only to make amends. But the blood of the Lamb of God was shed, and the power in that blood was strong enough to forgive all sins. The Law was the governing factor in the blood of the ram, but Grace is the governing factor in the blood of the Lamb.

Furthermore, a myriad of debates existed between Jews and other Jews, Jews and Christians, Christians, and other Christians about how to account for the 430 years mentioned here in verse sixteen. For instance, Rabbi Abraham Zacuto (1452-1514) compiled from numerous different sources their efforts to try and account for these 430 years mentioned by God to Abram.[12] Some try to reckon it from the birth of certain prestigious Israelite leaders, and others add up all the generations and then subtract some to arrive at the 430-year mark. Well-known Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, who lived in Israel during the time of the Anointed One, offered his equation: The Children of Israel left Egypt in the month Xanthippe,[13] on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after their forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but only two hundred and fifteen years after Jacob moved into Egypt. It was the eightieth year of the age of Moses, and of that of Aaron plus three more. They also carried out the bones of Joseph with them, as he charged his sons to do.[14]

Likewise, it is safe to say that from the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, generation after generation has vainly tried to predict His promised return. Just during my lifetime, Rudolf Steiner predicted our Lord’s return between 1930-1939; Herbert W. Armstrong said it would happen in 1935, then in 1943, then in 1972, and then in 1976; Benjamin Crème placed the Lord’s return on June 21, 1982; Edgar C. Whisenant in 1988; Harold Camping on September 6, 1994; Jerry Falwell said between 1999-2009; Ed Dobson and Timothy Dwight IV predicted it in the year 2000, and James Harmston said it would occur on June 6, 2000. Then, Harold Camping jumped in again with a prophecy of March 21, 2011, then changed it to October 21, 2011. Ronald Weinland put the date at September 29, 2011, then May 27, 2012, and then May 18, 2013. Jack Van Impe 2012; Mark Biltz September 28, 2015; and Ronald Weinland again June 9, 2019. As Jesus said, “only the Father knows,” because with Him time does not exist.

[1] George W. Clark: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 87

[2] Charles Spurgeon: According to Promise, Sermon “Searching out the Promise

[3] August H. Strong: Systematic Theology, Vol. 1,  Part 3, Ch. 3, Objections to the Doctrine of Inspiration, pp. 425-426

[4] Cyril W. Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 33

[5] 2 Samuel 7:12

[6] Osborne, G. R. On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 99–100

[7] Andrew G. Roth: Aramaic Translation, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] Genesis 15:18. See 17:7-8, 19

[9] Luke 1:72

[10] John 8:56-58

[11] Genesis 15:9-18

[12] Zacuto (1452-1514), Abraham b. Samuel. The Book of Lineage (pp. 33-35). Zacuto Foundation. Kindle Edition.

[13] Xanthicus is the name of the sixth month of the Macedonian calendar of the Seleucid Syrians. It corresponds with Nisan in the Jewish calendar or April in the Gregorian calendar. See 2 Maccabees 11:30, 33, 38

[14] Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus, Bk. 2, Ch. 15, sect. 2

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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