NT, Part 15. Part 8 in our discussion of Galatians.

In this segment of The Letter to the Galatians, Paul disables the power of the Law in the lives of the new Christians in Galatia. This requires a brief history lesson, for many of the recipients are Gentiles who did not grow up in families where the Biblical Law was memorized and recited daily. We are possibly from similar families, so this information helps us as well.

Paul reasons with the Galatians

“To give a human example, brothers [brothers and sisters] even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to One, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ (Galatians 3:15-16 ESV). 

The giving of the Old Testament Law to Moses and the promises received by Abraham set in place unbreakable covenants. The covenants made in the Bible were completed to set in order or to dispose in a certain order. Testaments and covenants were ways to dispose of property, like a will. They were the testamentary arrangements of a person. Scripturally, they were divine promises conditioned on obedience, a solemn disposition or appointment of man and God’s covenants with man. We see this here in Galatians 3:17.

“This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward [430 years after the promises were given to Abraham], does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise (Galatians 3:17-18 ESV).

God’s Promises

God’s promises to Abraham were first spoken. Then 430 years later, the Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, God descended surrounded by the presence of ten thousands of holy angels (Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2).

“The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary” (Psalm 68:17 ESV). Terrified by the shaking of the thunder, lightning, trumpet, and smoke, at the bottom of the mountain, the people waited, trembling in fear. (Exodus 20:18-21 ESV).

Mount Sinai

“Moses was ‘God’s intermediary’ in the gift of the law to Israel (Lev. 26:46). The Mosaic law was part of a temporary covenant never intended to last forever. Now that Jesus has come as the true offspring of Abraham, the Mosaic law is no longer.” 1.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17 NIV).

"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17 NIV). Click To Tweet

When coupled with God’s promise in the Garden of Eden to crush the head of the serpent, which Jesus accomplished, the promises made to Abram/Abraham are the most important in all of human history.

When coupled with God's promise in the Garden of Eden to crush the head of the serpent, which Jesus accomplished, the promises made to Abraham are the most important in all of human history. #Jesus #Messiah. Click To Tweet

God spoke these promises to Abraham on several occasions, but probably Genesis 13:15 and 17:8 were particularly in Paul’s mind as he wrote Galatians 3. Let’s look at these two passages.

In Genesis 13, we find the covenant previously ratified by God:

“Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted‘” (Genesis 13:14-16 ESV).

This promise in both passages contains a singular “offspring” and a plural “offspring” that overlap. Because of the faithful life of The Offspring, Jesus Christ, there are now many believers and more to come, as many as “the dust of the earth.” Simultaneously, God will bless the physical offspring of Abraham’s Hebrew lineage, the Jews.

A couple of decades later: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after youAnd I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God‘ (Genesis 17: 1-8 ESV).

The covenant between Abraham and God was initiated by God. In both Genesis 13:15 and Genesis 17:8, We find the specific words and promises that refer to Messiah Jesus.

The covenant between Abraham and God was initiated by God. Two particular places in the Old Testament, we find the specific words and promises that refer to #Messiah #Jesus — Genesis 13:15 and Genesis 17:8. Click To Tweet

Bringing it together:

“To give a human example, brothers [Or brothers and sisters]: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise(Galatians 3:15-18 ESV).

ESV Study Bible note on Galatians 3:16: “God spoke promises to Abraham on several occasions, but probably Genesis 13:15 and 17:8 are in view. And to your offspring. Paul knows that the singular (Hebrew zera’) can be used as a collective singular that has a plural sense (he interprets it in a plural sense in Romans 4:18, below). But it also can have a singular meaning, and here Paul, knowing that only in Christ would the promised blessings come to the Gentiles, sees that the most true and ultimate fulfillment of these OT promises were to one ‘offspring,’ namely, Christ. Paul’s willingness to make an argument using a singular noun in distinction from its plural form (which occurs in other OT verses) indicates a high level of confidence in the trustworthiness of the small details of the OT text.” 2

“In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be” (Romans 4:18 ESV). See Genesis 17:5 – 6 above.

The God-given brilliance of the Apostle Paul is that he has the Hebrew text memorized for at least the first five books of the Bible, if not the entire Old Testament. Throughout his writings, we see his quotes and paraphrases of texts from almost every book of Old Testament Scriptures. Here, Paul is aware of the singularity of one word referring to The Offspring, as opposed to what the typical Jewish scholar of that time might regard as plural.

To prove the permanence of the covenant, Paul then states “430 years” (Galatians 3:17). This was from the Septuagint translation of Exodus 12:40, “The dwelling of the children of Israel . . . in Egypt and in Canaan was 430 years,” which would mean 430 years from Abraham to the Exodus. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. It was translated by seventy translators working together. Paul could also have been counting, not from the original giving of the promise but from God’s last affirmation of the promise to Jacob before he went to Egypt. The terms of the covenant were repeated to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob individually.

One word makes all the difference in this promise. The promise is anchored in The One Offspring of Abraham. All of the “forever” components are here. The One Offspring is the Lord Jesus Christ, Messiah, God the Son. Those who put their faith in him become sons of Abraham, children of God with all of these promises attached for all eternity.

Those who put their faith in Jesus Messiah become sons of Abraham, children of God with all of these promises attached for all eternity. #Salvation #Faith #Jesus #Messiah Click To Tweet

Forever and ever lasts God’s covenant to those who are in Christ Jesus, The Offspring, and Jesus’ spiritual children, now sons and daughters of Abraham, Jesus’ “offspring” shall be like the dust of the earth, from every tribe and people and nation, all because of Jesus Messiah’s willingness to come to earth to suffer and to die for an often unappreciative people. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

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1. a portion of the study note on Galatians 3:19, ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.

2. Galatians 3:16, ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.