An Exploration of Galatians: God’s Covenant
Galatians 3:15-18 - A promise from God is guaranteed!
“Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.”
Galatians 3:15-18 NASB1995
Paul now talks about the covenant (promise) that He made to Abraham, which precedes the Mosaic law by over 400 years. The Judaizers are saying that the law supersedes the promise to Abraham. Paul counters this argument to say that nothing nullifies the promise that was made to Abraham and to his seed. He also notes that the seed is Christ (the one). Oh, and notice that he now addresses the churches at Galatia as brethren after calling them foolish at the beginning of Galatians 3.
I really liked an explanation of this that I found in Precept Austin quoting John MacArthur:
The heart of his answer is to show that the covenant with Abraham was an unconditional covenant of promise relying solely on God's faithfulness, whereas the covenant with Moses was a conditional covenant of law relying on man's faithfulness. To Abraham, God said, "I will." Through Moses He said, "Thou shalt." The promise set forth a religion dependent on God. The law set forth a religion dependent on man. The promise centers on God's plan, God's grace, God's initiative, God's sovereignty, God's blessings. The law centers on man's duty, man's work, man's responsibility, man's behavior, man's obedience. The promise, being grounded in grace, requires only sincere faith. The law being grounded in works, demands perfect obedience.
So what is a covenant? According to the Blue Letter Bible lexicon for this passage, covenant comes from the Greek word διαθήκη or diatheke, which has these meanings:
a disposition, arrangement, of any sort, which one wishes to be valid, the last disposition which one makes of his earthly possessions after his death, a testament or will
a compact, a covenant, a testament
God's covenant with Noah, etc.
Obviously, the usage here is from the second definition. God made several covenants with the people of Israel. If you believe God, then those covenants are guaranteed. In fact the covenant with Abraham has been ratified (κυρόω or kyroo), meaning made valid, affirmed or authoritative. Man-made covenants, where two or more parties agree to and ratify a pact, cannot be set aside easily or added to without all parties agreeing to the changes. How much more so, then, is a covenant from God! And this covenant is fulfilled by the sacrifice of the Son of God.
Paul hammers home the point that if the inheritance is based on the law, then it is no longer a promise. The law does not nullify or invalidate the previous covenant. Because God speaks of the Seed (Christ) in the covenant, it means that salvation by grace through faith was God’s promise from the beginning of time through to Judgment Day. I like this short explanation from Enduring Word:
For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise: If the inheritance offered to Abraham was on the basis of law, it might not be permanent – because it would depend, at least in part, on Abraham’s keeping of the law. But since the inheritance was offered on the basis of promise, God's promise, it stands sure.
God gave it to Abraham by promise: The word gave here is the ancient Greek word kecharistai, which is based on the Greek word charis – grace. God’s giving to Abraham was the free giving of grace. The word is also in the perfect tense, showing that the gift is permanent.
“Judaizers might quote Moses; Paul will quote Abraham. Let them quote law; he will quote promise. If they appeal to the centuries of tradition and the proud history of the law of Moses, he will appeal to the grander ‘covenant with Abraham’, older by centuries still.” (Alan Cole)
So what in the world was the purpose of the law? I’m glad you asked that! Paul answers that, more or less, in the next passage in Galatians that will be the subject of my next devotional (Galatians 3:19-22).
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Your covenants with us are perfect and are permanent! Thank You for loving us so much that Your promises are still evident and lasting from as long ago as the ages of Noah and Abraham. Your promise is fulfilled by Your Grace and our faith. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible was accessed on 11/26/2023 to review the lexicon words and definitions for Galatians 3:15-18.
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt, the creator of Precept Austin, can be found Here.