Galatians 3:15-20 KJV (NIV Link Below)
15Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
17And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
18For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
19Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
20Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
God the Promise Keeper
Paul wants to make things tangible to the Galatians. He knows they aren’t theologians and, if historical research is any indication, a large number of them (if not the majority) were illiterate. As such, they probably had some vague idea about what Paul was talking about, but they couldn’t thumb through their bibles to look up all these references to the Jewish Torah. The promise given to Abraham, though, that was something they would have all known. So Paul uses an analogy, one that works pretty well even now. Consider a contract. A contract is a binding legal agreement between two parties. One party in the contract cannot violate the terms of that contract and still be within the bounds of the law. Paul says that the promise God gave to Abraham, to bless the nations through “his seed” was a binding contract. God loved us so much that, even though he had no real benefit to it, he drew up these terms to the contract. And God fulfilled his obligation. Through the seed of Abraham, which Paul rightly identifies as Jesus Christ, God would bless all nations.
If that’s the case, then what was the point of the Jewish law? The law was given between the promise and fulfillment, but just like a legal contract, it didn’t negate those initial terms given to Abraham. Instead, argues Paul, the law was given not in the place of God’s grace, but because of God’s grace. Even though God would not fulfill that promise to Abraham by coming as a man for some 2,000 years, he was not going to abandon the children of Abraham in the mean time. They needed to be saved from their own destructive ways. The law gave guidance and restraint until the promise could be fulfilled in Jesus, and it was given by a mediator (which Paul subtly suggests is pointing to Jesus Christ and understanding God as Trinity). This all leads to a powerfully motivating question: so what?
While this may seem like an interesting tidbit of information that appears to have little impact on our day to day lives, Paul is trying to help the Galatians understand the proper relationship between the law and gospel. On a basic level it is this: the law does not supplant the promise of the God of salvation. God’s redemption, his rescue plan, is founded upon a promise given out of grace and love and is received, ultimately, through faith alone. Further, the law is not worthless, but is part of God’s intervention into the midst of human history to offer his grace: first by the law and then by the fulfillment of his promise, when he personally became a person. Before I get too carried away, Paul has much more to say on this subject that I’ll talk over the next several posts.
What about you? Add your thoughts below. If you need help getting started consider this: People are sometimes able to get out of contracts through clever legal maneuvering, but Paul makes a very subtle description here. If human contracts are so difficult (and sometimes impossible) to get out of, how much more so would this be true of a divine contract? What does it mean to know that God has freely decided to bind himself to this contract of rescue by faith? Sometimes I tend to get impatient or frustrated at how long I have to wait for things to happen. I often feel like I’m in a holding pattern, just waiting for the real action to get started. Yet God waited 430 years after Abraham to give the law, and that wasn’t even the fulfilled promise, which would come another 1500 years later. Do you ever feel impatient waiting on the next thing to happen? Yet those 1500 years didn’t mean that God was inactive. The majority of the Old Testament was written in that interim and God was clearly active and involved in amazing ways. Do you think that, even though you may be waiting, God is nevertheless active in amazing ways in your life? Have you sometimes failed to notice this until it’s been right in front of you? Do you take comfort knowing that God is going to finish the work he started in you?