COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 27
Gal 3:15 "Brethren, 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." (Gal 3:15-16)
THE CONFIRMATION OF THE NEW COVENANT
The nature of the New Covenant is not generally known by professing believers. This is because there is not much being said about it. The Christian world has become absorbed with problematic personal, social, and political areas. As a result, the glorious effects of Christ's death, resurrection, and exaltation are scarcely known. This is one of the unavoidable results of an improper focus: the clouding and eventual total obscurity of the foundations of faith. This had taken place among the Galatians, who had "removed from," or "deserted," NASB the One who had called them "into the grace of Christ" Gal 1:6). Although this has been stated before, when a person leaves God, they leave everything that He promises those who love Him. They leave His blessings, His guidance, and His commendation. Both their lives and their prayers are in vain. Now Paul will powerfully declare that the promise of blessing that was vouchsafed to Abraham can only be realized in Jesus Christ. The very promise was made with that in mind. No aspect of the promise of blessing, to say nothing of it the whole of it, can possibly be experienced apart from Christ - an association that is obtained and maintained by faith. No person is capable of getting into a position that is apart from Christ, yet enjoying the benefits that are found in Him alone. We have been called into the fellowship of God's Son, not merely for a kind of friendship, but in order to the obtaining of the benefits and promises of God. A lot of professing Christians know this in their minds - like they know history, or mathematics. Yet, they live at a distance from Christ, confirming that this is really not known after the manner of the New Covenant. Much of this is owing to a message that is, in the very best light, skewed. It could also be a message that is totally false, such as the one to which the Galatians had been subjected - "another gospel, which is not another" (Gal 1:6-7). Although this is made quite clear in the epistle to the Galatians, it is relatively unknown in the modern church. The seriousness of this circumstance cannot possibly be overstated. It is not possible for a flawed message to produce the results attributed to the true Gospel.
THE POWER OF A CONFIRMED COVENANT
Gal 3:15 "Brethren, 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."
Because of the criticality of the Galatian's situation, Paul is extending himself in a fervent appeal to their understanding. This is refreshing, for much of the Christian appeals of our time is to the emotion rather than the mind. Part of the Divine imagery in man is the ability to reason - to see the various inter-relationships of truth. Paul does not tell a touching story, but appeals to the reasoning capacity of the people. It is one of the grand traits of truth that it holds up under thorough examination in the crucible of thought. Oh that the Christian community was more noted for sound thinking.
BRETHREN. Paul started this chapter by addressing the people as "foolish Galatians" who had been "bewitched," and consequently had not obeyed the truth (3:1). Now, however, he speaks more deeply to them, aiming at their inner man, and the lingering conscience that remained under the rubble of false doctrine. This is how an insightful person speaks to a bruised reed or a smoking flax. Although they were in a most dangerous position, the Galatians had not returned to the their former manner of life, nor had they yet descended into the quagmire of immorality and degradation. To be sure, that is the direction in which they were moving, but Paul now strives to reason with them, confirming tio them that they were on a wrong course.
I SPEAK AFTER THE MANNER OF MEN. Other versions read, "in terms of human relations," NASB "I take an example from everyday life," NIV "to give a human example," RSV "As men would say," BBE "to make an analogy from everyday life," CJB "using a human illustration," CSB "I speak according to man, " DARBY and "in human terms." NAB
This is by no means the loftiest manner of reasoning, and ought not to be treated as though it was preferred. Speaking "after the manner of men" is an inferior way of speaking, yet it is herec required because of the inferior position in which the Galatians now found themselves. Just as surely as Paul said this to the Corinthians, it could also be said to the Galatians: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able" (1 Cor 3:1-2). In our time, this condition is not generally considered to be serious. Churches are regularly addressed as though "speaking after the manner of men" was the established manner of teaching the household of faith. Nothing could be further from the truth! If such speaking is in order, it is because a defection has occurred among the people. Spiritual life is not intended to be maintained at such a low level.
What should have been glaringly obvious to the Galatians was now difficult to perceive, for they no longer could "see afar off" (2 Pet 1:9). That is one of the tragic results of giving heed to a false gospel. Things that must be kept in view in order to work out one's own salvation are put at a distance from the people, so they cannot be seen. Now Paul will confirm just how far they had fallen. What he is setting before them involves principles that are even recognized by the world. We might say the domain of what is called "common sense" acknowledged the principle that Paul is now confirming. That makes their defection all the more serious.
BUT A MAN'S COVENANT. Other versions read, "a human covenant," NIV "a person's will," NRSV and "[if] even a man makes a last will and testament (a merely human covenant)," AMPLIFIED A modern example of "a man's covenant" is depicteed as a last will and testament - how a person's goods are to be handled following their demise. Paul now appeals to a principle that is followed in such an arrangement.
IF IT BE CONFIRMED. Other versions read, "ratified," NASB "duly established," NIV and "once it has been drawn up and signed (ratified, confirmed)." AMPLIFIED The confirmation of the New Covenant, which is the basis of Divine acceptance, is declared in these words. "By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament" (Heb 7:22); "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old" (Heb 8:13); "the blood of the covenant" (Heb 10:29); and "Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant" (Heb 12:24). In other words, the New Covenant is currently in place. Nothing more is required to make it valid and effective.
NO MAN DISANNULS OR ADDS TO IT. The Amplified Bible reads, "no one sets it aside or makes it void or adds to it." Other versions read, "no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it," NASB and "sets aside, or adds other dispositions to." DARBY
Other gospels and additional requirements suggest the inadequacy of the New Covenant. Such are man's attempt to make additions to it. They cannot receive the New Covenant as it stands. In the case of the Galatians, "circumcision" was added, thereby attempting to change the covenant. This is like making an attempt to change the last will and testament of an individual who had expressed his will, and then died. The Word of God teaches, "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth" (Heb 9:16-17). Christ's death ratified, or confirmed the New Covenant. It is now fully operative, making it a most grievous transgression to speak to people as though the basis of identity with God was still the Old Covenant - a revealed system of doing.
THE PROMISES WEREMADE TO ABRAHAM AND HIS SEED
3:16a "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made . . ." Other versions read, "and his offspring," NIV "and to his descendant," GWN "his progeny," NJB "his child," NLT and "his Seed (his Offspring, his Heir)," AMPLIFIED
TO ABRAHAM AND HIS SEED. The word "seed" is in the singular, both in the Greek and in the English. All of the versions, even when using an alternative word, use it in the singular. "His seed" refers to a single person, not a generation. This is a pivotal point in sound doctrine, and must not be overlooked. It is not unusual these days to hear clerics say that individual believers "have a covenant with God." However, technically speaking, this is not true. The New Covenant, which is the subject under consideration is identified with Abraham and a single individual. In this respect, as well as others, it differs significantly from the Old Covenant, which was not made with Moses, the leader of the people, but with the people themselves.
This "seed" will be identified in the last clause of this verse. At this point, however, it is important to emphasis the singularity of the seed. Unless the covenant made with Abraham was intended to only last for one generation (i.e. if the "seed" was Isaac), Paul is inferring that the "seed" of reference is always alive - otherwise there is no reason for making this point.
In distinction from the New Covenant, participation in the benefits of the Old Covenant was dependent upon the people. Thus it is written, "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine" (Ex 19:5). And again, "And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant" (Lev 26:15). And again, "Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which He sware unto thy fathers" (Deut 7:12).
Now, in the fuller revelation that is vouchsafed to us in Christ, we know that in order to be in covenant with God on any basis, the people themselves have to be changed. Moses inferred this when he told the people, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked" (Deut 10:16). Ezekiel did the same when he said, "Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek 18:31).
The circumcision of the heart, and making a new heart and a new spirit, is addressed through the promised "Seed." However, it will be accomplished within the framework of a New Covenant, not within the Old Covenant, or any aspect of it - particularly circumcision.
THE PROMISES. Although Paul is speaking about the New Covenant, he now associates that concept with promises, as compared with the commandments that comprised the Old Covenant (Ex 34:28; 2 Chron 34:31).
Paul is not speaking of promises in general, for he refers to "THE promises" - a phrase that is frequently mentioned in New Covenant Scripture. It does not occur in Scripture from Genesis through Malachi. This is true of most standard versions of Scripture. The NIV uses the expression "the promises" in 1 Kings 8:25, 1 Chronicles 25:5, and 2 Chronicles 6:16. There it is applied to unique commitments to David and Heman, "the king's seer." The word to David applied to the Man sitting upon his throne forever, who was Christ. The promise to Heman was a word from God that spoke of his exaltation. In both cases the promise was singular. The RSV and NRSV versions use this expression once (Psa 12:6). In that text, however, the word that these versions translate "promises" is a Hebrew word meaning "commandment," not promises (Strong's). In our text, it is plural.
When it comes to the proper representation of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, it must be in perfect harmony with the promises made to Abraham. What were those "promises?" "Promise" is used in the singular nine times in the book of Galatians (3:14,17,18,10,22,29; 4:23,28). The word is used in the plural ("promises") two times.
First, there was the promise of a single "Seed' though whom all the world would be blessed (Gen 22:18). Second, there was the promise of multitudinous seed, or offspring (Gen 22:17). Let it be clear, the blessing of all nations did not come through Israel itself, but through the One who came through that nation (Rom 9:5). Jesus was referring to Himself when He told the woman at the well of Jacob, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Together, these comprise "the promises" - a Blesser, and the ones who would be blessed through Him. The word "promises" is also used to describe the multiple times the "promise" was made. The promised "seed" was promised to Abraham (Gen 22:18), Isaac (Gen 26:3-4), and Jacob (Gen 28:14).
Thus Paul relates the New Covenant with "promises," not "commandments." Further, he is presently confirming that the New Covenant is a permanent arrangement. That covenant cannot possibly be nullified, changed, or some addition made to it. This being true, there is no chance that the Jewish teachers spoke truth, who had influenced believers in Galatia.
THE ULTIMATE "SEED" OF ABRAHAM IS CHRIST
3:16b " . . . . He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ."
This is a most salient point which clearly puts the accent upon the Person of Christ. When it comes to the New Covenant, the emphasis is not on what men are commanded to do - even though there are things they are commanded to do. There are at least two circumstances that require speaking the commandments of God. First, they must be spoken when the people are not aware of them, or do not know what they are to do. Second, they are required when people have defected from Christ, either reverting to the world, or to vain religious tradition. In the first case, conveying the requirement is sufficient. In the second case, extensive reasoning is necessary, as is seen in this text. This is because backsliding purges from the mind things that ought to be recalled, blinds the eyes, and dulls one's sense of hearing. Those who are familiar with the text of scripture will recognize that all corrective teaching is on this wise.
WHAT HE DOES NOT SAY. "He does not say, And to seeds," NKJV "The Scripture does not say, and seeds," NIV "it does not say, And to offsprings," NRSV and "He [God] does not say, And to seeds (descendants, heirs), as if referring to many persons." AMPLIFIED
Among other things, this means that outward identity with a group is not the thing that makes a person acceptable with God. In teaching the necessity of circumcision, the Jewish teachers who had corrupted the Galatians were promoting external unity with the fleshly offspring of Abraham. In associating this with justification, or being "saved" (Acts 15:1), they had crossed a line that stands between Divine acceptance and rejection.
This erroneous approach is still in place, although the means of identity is presented in varied forms. It is not at all unusual for sectarian groups to claim an exclusive identity with God. They may call themselves "the true New Testament church," or the "true sons of God," thus drawing the attention to themselves rather than God's appointed "Seed." But they are as wrong, if not more so, than the Judaizing teachers with which Paul is contending. When the group is set forth as the primary means of a favorable association with the Living God, a wrong view is being perpetrated. What is more, such a circumstance, if true, would demand that they change the New Covenant, or at least alter the way it is perceived - which they have conveniently done.
BUT AS OF ONE. When it comes to, shall we call it, the "channel of blessing," it narrows down to a single Seed - a single Man. The promised blessing is conferred from Abraham to a single Individual, and it is identity with that Person that allows the benefit to pass to anyone else. As simplistic as that may seem, it is hardly known in this day. However, and make no mistake about it, the "blessing" of the Lord comes only through the appointed Seed of Abraham. Whatever does not proceed directly from that "One" cannot possibly be integral to salvation. Neither, indeed, can it be properly referred to as the blessing.
WHICH IS CHRIST. Other versions read, "and to one Person, who is Christ," NIV and "Who is [none other than] Christ (the Messiah)." AMPLIFIED
It is imperative that professing Christians be brought to perceive and acknowledge the truth of Christ's absolute centrality. In our time, amidst a maelstrom of skewed teaching, Jesus is being moved out of the consciousness of the people. Personal well being and satisfaction has clearly upstaged Jesus. It is where the Christian emphasis is being placed. It is what the popular preachers and teachers accent. These days, there is not a lot of thanksgiving for the Son of God Himself, to say nothing of a proper emphasis of what He taught while on earth, and what He is currently doing in heaven. Contemporary thanksgiving makes little mention of Christ Jesus.
The fact that is accentuated in this text is the reason God has called us "unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9). It is why we are "baptized into Christ" (Gal 3:27), and "joined unto the Lord" (1 Cor 6:17). It is in order that all of the benefits of the New Covenant - here seen as a promise - might be experienced. In summary those benefits are revealed to be the following. (1) God's laws would be put into men's minds. (2) God's laws would be written in their hearts. (3) Every person accepted into this covenant would know the Lord, having an experiential acquaintance with Him. (4) God would be merciful to their unrighteousness, and remember their sins and iniquities no more (Heb 8:10-12). Where these promises are not being fulfilled, the people are not in fellowship with Jesus, and have been removed from Him who called them into the grace of Christ - i.e. the grace that is being administered by Him.
That may appear to be too strong, but it is not. Paul has already equated the defection of the Galatians with being removed from the Lord (1:6). The Galatians are said to have embraced "another gospel" (1:6-7). Paul has declared that Jesus is not the minister of sin, and where it is found, identity with Christ cannot be claimed (2:17-20). He has affirmed they have been "bewitched" (3:1). Therefore, the gravity of seeking the blessing of the Lord apart from Jesus is clearly seen. Our relationship to Abraham, or being his children (Gal 3:7) can only be confirmed by receiving what God ministers to His people through Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son.