Note: There will be no Saturday evening post this week. The second part of this will be posted on Sunday morning at 8:00 am Central Time
Promise Preceded Law
For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Galatians 3:18
Wouldn’t it be great if all Biblical passages were easy to understand? But, as we shall see in Galatians 3:15-20, they are not all easy to understand. For us to better understand, we will need to think as a Pharisee or Rabbi for the forms of argumentation used come from this line of reasoning, so to our 21st century logic, the arguments fails to make sense.
What will make some of this easier to understand is our remembering where the apostles has been in defending and presenting his argument. Basically Galatians 3:6-9 makes it very clear that Abraham was justified by faith and that the promise that came through Abraham to the Gentiles was based not upon works, but on “Faith”! So then, Paul concludes, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith (verse 9).
If what Paul has been saying is true, then what about the way of the law that the Judaizers have taught as a method of get right with God? Paul countered their argument with “the way of the law brought nothing but a curse (Galatians 10-14) and that is where the gospel of Christ enters. Christ took the curse of the law, the broken law on Calvary’s tree so that the promise of Abraham might come to the Gentiles through faith.
And since I grew up during the era of living by the letter of the law, this has me asking, “what is the place of the law?” Where does it fit into God’s plan? Paul dedicates verses 15-25 of Galatians chapter 3 to answering just this question.
Abraham and Moses
Let me ask two questions. They are tough questions in that both questions actually have the same answer. Who gave the promise to Abraham? And the second question: Who gave the law to Moses? The obvious answer is God. Yet Paul is arguing for the superiority of the way of Abraham (faith) over the way of Moses, (the law). Since God is the one that gave the promise to Abraham and the law to Moses we cannot accept one and totally reject the other. Since we cannot accept one and reject the other, God must have a purpose for them both! Then if there is a purpose for them both there must be a relationship between them!
Paul breaks his argument down to a negative and a positive. Verses 15-18 argue the negative while verses 19-25 will argue the positive aspects of this topic.
Paul’s aim in verses 15-18 is quite clear, even if the argument does not reflect modern reasoning. Paul’s purpose is to demonstrate the superiority of the way of faith and grace over the way of law as a means of getting right with God.
Paul’s first line of attack is to point out the fact that the way of faith is older than the way of the law. For Paul and even for us today, this not difficult to demonstrate because Abraham preceded Moses by some 430 years. Do not get hung up in the exact number being 430 years, but the point is crystal clear: that the promise through faith preceded the formal giving of the law at Sinai by a long period of time.
See, that was easy, almost too obvious. That is where Paul’s argument regarding human wills comes in. Paul recognizes that it is merely a human example (verse 15) and thus not an exact parallel with God’s act, yet he believes that it throws light on the topic. Paul builds his logic in the following three points.
- A human will cannot be annulled or added to once ratified. The only person who can add to it or change it is the testator, the one who drew up the stipulations of the will in the first place.
- The law, which arrived 430 years after the promise, did not alter the previous agreement or covenant in any way (verse 17). It couldn’t. That is not its purpose.
- Therefore, the inheritance is still by promise and not by law.