Brothers [and sisters] let me give you a human example [a common case we all know about]. No-one sets aside or makes additions to a will once it has been endorsed. Now [what I am calling] the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not refer to many as in "seeds", but it refers to one [namely] "And to your offspring", which is Christ. So this is what I contend: the law, which came 430 years later, does not replace the covenant which God had previously endorsed, let alone make the promise void. For if inheritance [from the will] is by the law, it no longer can be according to the promise. But God gave it to Abraham by a promise. - Galatians 3:15-18/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne.


PICTURE: Melinda Gimpel/Unsplash.



Paul discusses how promises function in human life in particular in the case of a will. The promise, as it were, stands behind the will.

The Galatians had fallen in with a view that assumed God's promise needed their validation. They presumed that Torah was God's way of ratifying the Promise given to Abraham. Another way of putting it would be this: they saw that the Law was given by God to further justify His promise to Abraham.

Thus the Galatian Christians - both Jews and Gentiles - had begun to assume that they, in their time, would retain their standing before God by their keeping of the Law given by God to Moses. That was how they presumed they could maintain themselves as the inheritors of the promise to Abraham. For them, the Law of Moses spelled out the necessary conditions by which Abraham's heirs according to the flesh could, by their own works, be justified as the spiritual heirs of the Promise.

And so for Gentiles to become joint-heirs they had to become united with the Jews, subjecting themselves to the Law by receiving that sign which validated their claim to being "under the law". And so they were prepared, in their daily lives, to bind themselves to the children of Israel. They would become the co-circumcised - and as we will see, that means living as those who justify their alliance with the Jewish Christians by an appeal to the historic precedent of Hagar and Ishmael living within Abraham's extended family.

So what is Paul's response? He unravels their confusion by effectively showing them that they simply didn't know what they were talking about. The promise to Abraham comes to the nations through the Messiah of Israel, by believing trust in Him and not by applying the Law of Moses to themselves.

The Galatians had adopted a view that made little sense. How was anyone to understand such an incoherent view? If they are to now make sense of themselves as the spiritual heirs of Abraham, then what was promised to Abraham needs to make sense in terms of the human task of making promises and leaving wills.

Consider, Paul says, God's promise to Abraham as a will. How does a will work? Well, wills need to be ratified before an inheritance is distributed. When was God's Promise to Abraham ratified? Paul does not have to go into details here. The answer is assumed. God Himself stands by His word and does not need to give another Promise to prove He is trustworthy. It is not the Law which ratifies the Promise because the Promise is as good as ratified by the faith of the one who receives it. God Himself stands with the recipient of His Promise to ensure that the Promise comes about in the believer's life: "Fear not Abram, I am your shield and great reward!...And Abram believed and it was counted as right standing..." (Genesis 15:1,6)

But the Galatians were assuming that the Promise stands un-ratified without the Law. Not so, says Paul. That would mean that it comes within the performance of the Law's requirements in order to nullify the Promise. But, says Paul, the Promise needed no subsequent ratification.

Paul's reference to Abraham (verse 16), rather than Abram, would seem to confirm the view that the "new man", as ancestor of faith, was called to look forward in hope to the fulfillment of God's promises and thus He was on the path of being re-made as "father of many (yet to be embraced) families, tribes, nations."

The "old man" had emphasised a faith by which descendents looked back to the "great ancestor". But the "new man", the one called by God to walk before Him and be perfect (Genesis 17:1), was the one disciplined, by a circumcision requirement when it was given. These then are the people who looked forward in hope to the coming of the One who would be the blessing to all nations - the One in whom the Galatian Christians now believed: Jesus Christ.