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 XXXIV)

As mentioned earlier in comments on verse fifteen, Martin Luther uses an illustration to make his point here on becoming a joint-heir with the Anointed One by faith, not by works. He tells of a very wealthy landowner who adopts a young lad he did not know as his son. Keep in mind, he does not owe this to the boy. After some time, he appoints the young fellow as heir to his entire fortune. Several years later, the old man asks the lad to do something for him. And the young man does it. Now, can that adopted son then go around and bragging that he deserved the inheritance by doing what the old man asked him to do? Absolutely not! Therefore, how can anybody say that righteousness is obtained by obedience to the Law when the Law was given four hundred and thirty years after God’s promise of the blessings to Abraham and to all the world through his descendants?[1] In other words, doing good things for our Heavenly Father who adopted us is done out of thankfulness and gratitude, not to pressure Him to share His wealth with us.

Adam Clarke reveals an interesting idea in order to gain insight from a different angle into what Paul is saying here. Instead of reading verse seventeen this way, “…the covenant that was confirmed before of God in the Anointed One” (KJV) could be read as, “…the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christians.” Clarke explains that the promise of justification was made to believers in union with the Anointed One Jesus, who are the spiritual seed of the Anointed One, just as they are children of Abraham by the similarities of their faith. Abraham believed in God, and it was credited to him for justification; the Gentiles believed in the Anointed One and received the same justification.

Therefore, by using the word “Christian” instead of the Anointed One seems natural because you can’t possess one without the other. The promise of salvation must necessarily be to them who believe in the Anointed One, for He is the promised seed,[2] through whom every blessing is received; and through His spiritual seed – true Christians, the victories won by the cross are daily spreading over the face of the earth. The present unparalleled distribution of the sacred scriptures, in all the known languages of the universe, is full proof that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through them, if nothing gets added or taken away from that received from the Holy Spirit through the Anointed One.[3]

John Brown (1784-1858) points out that the word “covenant” used here in verse fifteen, and in other places, must not always be understood based solely upon its English meaning. He points out that making a covenant in his day meant “coming to an agreement” or “the result of bargaining” for the moment. That’s how it is used here in verse fifteen. But that’s not how we should take it throughout the Scriptures, either in the First Covenant or Final Covenant. He suggests that we understand the Greek noun diathēkē that is translated as “covenant,” meaning to “agree to make a compact or settlement” that cannot be altered or changed either by the signers or their descendants. That is the way it is used here in verse seventeen.[4]

By Paul saying that the covenant that was made between God and Abraham, and confirmed as valid before God in the Anointed One, Walter Adeney (1849-1920) believes we should understand that this means the covenant of grace was meant to be eternal. It goes without saying that once a truth is proven to be true, it will remain true for eternity. For instance, the theory of gravity is a proven fact, and that will remain so forever. Gravity was even detected on the moon and planet Mars. In like manner, a declaration of God will be eternal. God is not always changing His mind like an unstable, unpredictable tyrant. He is changelessness itself. What He wills now He wills forever. Also, a pledge of God’s honor is eternal. It is an infinite condescension of love and mercy in recognition of our weakness that God makes such a promise. We ought to be able to rely on His love and goodness alone. But since He mercifully came down to earth in order to encourage us in our poor faith by promise and pledge. Once this is realized, we all can appreciate His blessed assurance to us of His changeless grace.[5]

3:18 Can following the Law give us the blessing God promised? If we could receive it by following the Law, then it would not be God’s promise that brings it to us. But God freely gave His blessings to Abraham through the promise He made.

The Complete Jewish Bible renders this verse as follows: “For if the inheritance could come from the legal part of the Torah, it no longer comes from a promise.” In other words, as a son, if your father promised you a car when you graduated from High School or College, why go out and try to buy one on credit? If your dad was known for keeping his promises, then buying a car with your own money would make his promise unnecessary. So, when graduation day came, your father might say to you, looks like I don’t need to give you a car, you already own one. As a consequence, he gives it to your sister. Now she’s driving a car even nicer than yours and does not owe a dime since it was a gift. Meanwhile, you are trying your best to keep your car payments up to date, and it seems to get harder and harder every month.

In the same way, everything God gave to Abraham came by way of a promise. Now, if God could predict to Abram how many years Jacob and his sons and daughters and their sons and daughters would end up in Egypt 190-200 years ahead of time, don’t you think that when the Israelites were told that this happened just the way God said it would, that they could trust Him to be accurate in every prediction? The same with the coming of the Messiah. That’s why Paul uses this promise to Abraham to tell the Romans that Abraham was given a promise because he trusted in God. In like manner, God’s promise is given to us because we put our trust in Him. We can be sure of it. It is because of His loving-favor to us. It is for all the family of Abraham. It is for those who put their trust in God, as Abraham did. In this way, Abraham is the father of all believers, Jews, and Gentiles.[6] Therefore, as God’s children, we will receive everything He promised. We will share with the Anointed One all the things God gave to Him. But we must share His suffering if we are to share His shining-greatness.[7] So why would the Galatians give all this up on the speculation that maybe they were fully qualified by obeying the Anointed One, and this could happen by adding obedience to the Law?

So, when the Psalmist said, O children of His servant Abraham, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones! He is the Lord our God. He decides what is for everyone on earth, that literally is a message to all of Israel, and spiritually to all who come to believe in the Anointed One.[8] And toward the end of the First Covenant period, the prophet Micah extolled God by asking, Who is a God like You, Who forgives sin and the wrong-doing of Your chosen people who are left? You will be true to Jacob and show loving-kindness to Abraham, as You promised our fathers in days long ago.[9] If God was willing to keep a promise to the children of Israel just because of Abraham’s obedience, wouldn’t He be just as likely to keep His promise to all believers because of Jesus’ obedience? So why should the Galatians go back to leaning on the promise God gave to Abraham when they already leaned on the promise God made to His Son. Was Abraham more important to God, or was Jesus? The point is, that everything God promised to Abraham was now available only through His Son.

To show how the Jews apparently understood all of this, Rabbi Avraham Saba comments on what he sees in Genesis 12:2-3. He notes the three promises of God to Abram: I will make you a great nation; I will bring blessings to you; and, I will make your name great, so you will be a blessing to others. For Rabbi Saba, all three of these promises depended upon three demands God required Abram to do in verse one: Leave your homeland; leave your father’s house and relatives and go to the land I will show you. That makes sense, for why would God promise Abram all these honorable things if Abram did nothing to show he deserved them? Rabbi Saba says these promises were an encouragement for Abram to move from where he was well-known as part of a prominent family, to a place where he would be treated as a stranger and be socially isolated from those already living there. But, not to fear, he would overcome all of that to be the founder of a great nation, with riches and an international reputation.[10]

While all of this seems logical, there is one thing that Paul knew that the Judaizers and misled Galatians were missing. All that God promised Abram appears to be a reward, something earned, and something Abram worked hard for, even suffered for. Paul is saying that what God planned to do for Abram was a gift. It wouldn’t be done only after Abram proved himself worthy. Abram took these promises as a gift when he willingly did what God asked him to do.

So again, how could these Judaizers ever convinced any Galatian that God would annul His last will and testament with Abraham, by requiring a new set of laws written that did not alter or change His promise to Abraham in the first place, nor have anything to do with it in the future? That’s ridiculous! Who would believe that? No wonder he calls the Galatians who believed such nonsense, bewitched fools.

Paul sees some light at the end of the tunnel, however, and summarizes what he was attempting to say all along.  His comparison of our inheritance coming by way of a promise instead of by way of the Mosaic Law reaches its conclusion.  How can you make someone a promise and then tell them they have to earn it?  After all, God’s plan of salvation through the Anointed One is received by grace, not by one’s own efforts; therefore, these two can never be made to reconcile and coexist together.  If by grace, God made a promise of eternal life, then those under Mosaic Law cannot demand it.

On the other hand, if it can be acquired by following Mosaic Law, then it is no longer a promise given by grace.  The bottom line here is either you trust God to keep His promise that He took out and paid for an eternal life insurance policy on you, or you don’t!  If you don’t, then try to buy it by making daily payments keeping all the rituals and regulations under Mosaic Law.  But Paul is the bearer of bad news for you, that eternal death insurance company called “God’s Law,” went out of business over 2,000 years ago. In its place, we now have the eternal life insurance company called “God’s Grace.”

[1] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc, cit., p. 79

[2] Genesis 3:15

[3] Adam Clarke: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] John Brown: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 140-141

[5] Walter Adeney: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Romans 4:16

[7] Ibid. 8:17

[8] Psalm 105:6

[9] Micah 7:18, 20

[10] Tzror Hamor: op. cit., Vol. 1, Genesis 12:2, p. 182

About drbob76

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