COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 28
Gal 3:17 "And 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. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise." (Gal 3:17-18)
THE COVENANT WAS CONFIRMED BEFORE
The nature and content of the New Covenant is scarcely known in the church of our time - either in the United States or abroad. Judging from the content of the burden of contemporary preaching and teaching, both verbal and written, it is clear that the subject of the New Covenant is not considered relevant. However, our text unveils the fallaciousness of such thinking. There is nothing in the text that suggests the Galatians had been involved in either hearing or discussing the nature of the New Covenant. Rather, they had been exposed to "another gospel," and, as a result, had removed themselves from Him who had called them into the grace of Christ. After establishing the validity of the Gospel he preached, Paul now begins to expound the New Covenant, showing it to be related to the salvation of God. The truth of the matter is that the Gospel of our salvation (Eph 1:13), and salvation itself, are associated with the New Covenant. Salvation is delineated in the description of the New Covenant. In summary it consists of the law of God being written on the heart and put into the mind, the deliberate choice of God as the One who is over all, the preference of God for the people, a personal knowledge of and familiarity with God, the remission of sins, and the refusal of God to remember them any more. This provides us with the scope of salvation as well as its foundations. Now Paul is establishing that this has been God's intention from the very first. The Old Covenant was not merely a failed project, but a proper preparation for the New Covenant. What is even more, a return to the Law as a means to justification involves the forfeiture of the promised benefits of the New Covenant. Paul will teach that such a return constitutes a fall from grace (Gal 5:4) and the voiding of the efficacy of Christ's death for the individual (Gal 2:21). It is difficult to conceive of anything being more critical! Yet, the Christian world is plagued by an ignorance of the New Covenant and an undeniable propensity to law as a basis of Divine acceptance and advancement in the faith. What is even more, this is an advancing phenomenon.
THE COVENANT WAS CONFIRMED BEFORE OF GOD IN CHRIST
Gal 3:17a "And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ . . ."
THIS I SAY. Other versions read, "What I am saying," NASB "what I mean is this," NIV "My point is this," NRSV "This is my argument," AMPLIFIED and "This is the way I interpret this." MESSAGE
The obtuseness of the Galatians required this word. Their theology had impacted their understanding, so they passed over key considerations. Therefore, Paul now makes a statement that summarizes what he has been saying. He has an overriding message that must be comprehended, else there will be no hope for the Galatians. He is in the process of snatching them out of the fire of delusion, and therefore he makes a strong appeal to their minds. A cursory perusal of the messages being declared to Christians of our day will confirm they are lacking a God-ordained theme. Summations are generally stated in terms of human practicality rather than the establishment of a strong faith in God.
THE COVENANT. Other versions read, "the agreement," BBE "the testament," DARBY "His promise," GWN "a will," IE and "the contract." WILLIAMS
Some of the versions completely miss the point of this text: i.e. "agreement" and "contract." That is a humanistic view of the word "covenant" that accents two sides. But the New Covenant is not a two-sided covenant! It is not an agreement between God and the people, like the Old Covenant. In the giving of that covenant, there was an agreement with the people. They had to consent to the terms of the covenant, which were "if a man do, he shall live in them" (Lev 18:5). The people consented to the covenant by saying, "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Ex 19:8). It was an agreement, or a contract. But that is not the manner of the New Covenant. It is a unilateral covenant, being one-sided. That is why it is called a "promise."
Something else to note here - only one covenant is in place at a time. It may be countered that the Law is still in place for the lawless, which is true (1 Tim 1:9-10). However, it is not in place as a covenant, having been ended as a means to righteousness (Rom 10:4). The book of Hebrews teaches that when the New Covenant was put in place, the Old was "ready to vanish away" (Heb 8:13).
CONFIRMED BEFORE OF GOD. Other versions read, "previously ratified," NASB "previously established," NIV "confirmed beforehand," ASV "put His promise to Abraham into effect," GWN and "previously established (ratified) by God." AMPLIFIED
The words "confirmed before" are translated from a single word that means, "to sanction, ratify, or establish beforehand," THAYER and "of a will or covenant, cause to be in force earlier, make valid in advance." FRIBERG
The confirmation of the covenant refers to the time of its establishment. In the book of Hebrews, this confirmation is referred to as the time when God swore with an oath: "Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath" (Heb 6:17). The covenant was not confirmed by the people. It was not the result of an agreement between Abraham and God. Rather, it was an affirmation of God. That means it flowed out from Divine purpose, not mere human need.
The Old Covenant was confirmed by striking an agreement with Israel. The covenant itself depended upon the strict obedience of the Israelites. The people agreed to the terms of the covenant (Ex 24:3). Only then was the covenant put in effect by the sprinkling of blood (Ex 24:8). Later, all of the blessings and cursings of the Law were read to the people, and they responded by saying "Amen," signifying the understanding of the stipulations, and agreement with them (Deut 27:14-26; 28:1-68).
However, this is not the manner in which the covenant with Abraham was established! The initial word delivered to Abraham was a promise of blessing (Gen 12:3). Later, God confirmed the covenant by means of an attending sacrifice (Gen 15:4-21). Again, some time later, God confirmed the promise again, restating what He was going to do (Gen 22:18). It also confirmed with Isaac (Gen 26:4), and with Jacob (Gen 28:14).
IN CHRIST. These words are omitted in later translations. However, this expression is necessary to the understanding of the argument, as Paul will confirm extensively. The reason God could deliver such a firm promise was because it would be realized in the coming Seed, which was Christ. The covenant did not depend upon the faithfulness of Abraham, although the patriarch was faithful, believing God and doubting not. However, that was not a firm basis for the Divine commitment to bless all families of the earth. Everything relating to salvation, which is the outworking of the New Covenant, from beginning to end, ultimately depends upon Jesus.
This is why it was so serious for the Galatians to have embraced another gospel. Jesus will not work through another gospel. No person can gain the advantage of Jesus to any degree by means of a message created by men. Neither, indeed, can the promised blessing be obtained by means of obeying a set of rules. This covenant is based on greater things.
THE LAW CANNOT DISANNUL THE COVENANT MADE BEFORE IT
3:17b " . . . the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect."
In order to stabilize the thoughts of the Galatians, Paul takes them back to what God did - not what Abraham did, or Moses, or the Israelites. He will declare "the wonderful works of God," for that is the kind of message that induces faith.
THE LAW WHICH WAS "AFTER." Here is a classic example that the latest is not necessarily the best. The Law came after the promise, but it was not superior to the promise, even though it was given hundreds of years later.
"The Law" is also referred to as a covenant. God called it "My covenant" (Ex 19:9). The book in which the laws and ceremonies were listed was called "the book of the covenant" (Ex 24:7). It was also called "the covenant of thy God" (Lev 2:13), "the covenant of the Lord" (Num 10:33), the "first covenant" (Heb 8:7), "the old testament" (2 Cor 3:14).
As significant as the giving of the Law is, it was "after" something that was more significant. That means that it served a temporary and inferior purpose. This also indicates that Law is not the superior means by which Divine purpose is accomplished. If this is true of the Law that is "holy, and just, and good" . . . and "spiritual" (Rom 7:12,14), how much more is it true of the inferior laws of men.
It is important that men learn to reason according to Divinely revealed epochs. In this text, the promise made to Abraham and the giving of the Law are two such epochs. Others include the creation, the flood, the scattering of the people at Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the Babylonian captivity, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Then there was the preaching of John the Baptist, the earthly ministry of Jesus, and the day of Pentecost. Future epochs include the resurrection of the dead, the passing of the present heavens and earth, and the day of judgment. Reasoning that ignores these epochs is fundamentally flawed. It is more than tragic that much of the religion of our time focuses on non-epochal things. Current human experience has been vaulted to the top of religious priorities, and that undiscerning act has created a plethora of problems that is staggering in number.
FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY YEARS. The Law is said to have been "four hundred and thirty years after." There is a considerable amount of confusion among commentators as to the meaning of this text. If the promise made to Abraham is what the Law is "after," then Israel was in Egypt for only 215 years - and there are several who take this view. If this is the same 430 years mentioned in Exodus 12:40, which specifies the duration of Israel in Egypt, then the entrance of Israel into Canaan is the point of reference.
I take it that the point of reckoning is the entrance of Israel into Canaan. This would have been the point of reference when God spoke to Abraham: "And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years" (Gen 15:13). The first thirty years were apparently during the reign of Joseph, when the people were in the favor of the Egyptians.
Because the covenant of reference was made with Israel, the point of reckoning was their beginning as a nation. This was the beginnings of the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham.
CANNOT DISANNUL. Other versions read, "cannot annul," NKJV "does not invalidate," NASB "does not set aside," NIV and "does not put to an end." BBE
The complicating factor here is that the New Covenant itself invalidates the Old Covenant - which really is not the oldest. By saying "new," we are apprised, "he hath made the first old" (Heb 8:13). A new priesthood of Jesus invalidated the previous one of Aaron and the Levites (Heb 7:11-24). The priesthood was "changed" (Heb 7:11-12), thereby invalidating the previous one. Now, however, we are introduced to a different scenario. In this case, the first was superior, and the next was inferior. The reason for this circumstances is that the first depended upon God, while the second relied upon men to be effective. Returning to Law, then, was going backwards, losing ground, and leaving the blessing.
MAKE THE PROMISE OF NONE EFFECT. Other versions read, "nullify the promise," NASB "do away with the promise," NIV "make the promise void," RSV "abolish the promise," CJB "cancel the promise," CSB and "abolish the promise and make it void." AMPLIFIED
The blessing of the whole world does not depend upon the keeping of the Law. That means discipline, rule-keeping, and following a prescribed routine have been overshadowed by something greater. The original promise of blessing has not been displaced by the giving of a Law. Yet, if the conduct of the Galatians was acceptable, that is not at all the case. Adopting a law-keeping mentality destroys faith, making the individual incapable of trusting in the Lord, for "the law is not of faith." At the causal level, the promise of God was independent of human involvement. It relied wholly upon the Lord, and was a unilateral covenant. The only involvement by man was found in "the Man Christ Jesus." It is His doing that guarantees the effectiveness of the promise.
GOD GAVE IT TO ABRAHAM BY PROMISE
3:18 "For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise."
Paul continues to contrast, the promise of God with commandments as the basis for a covenant. It is imperative that believers have a proper perspective of this matter. The salvation of God must be seen for what it really is - of God, through God, and to God.
THE INHERITANCE. Other versions read, "the heritage," BBE "the things which God promised," IE "receive God's blessing," CEV and "God's gift." GNB
Notice the scope of the references to the New Covenant. "The blessing of Abraham" (v 14a), "the promise of the Spirit" (v14b), "the promises" (v 16), "covenant" (v17a), and now "inheritance" (18). How can anyone be content to be ignorant of a covenant of this magnitude? Now, there is something common in all of these reference: they speak of things that issue forth from God. He is the One who blesses. He is the One who promised the Spirit. The promises originate and are fulfilled by God. The covenant is made by God. The inheritance is appointed and comes from God. That perfectly parallels the fact that the covenant is one-sided.
The aim of the New Covenant is an inheritance - what is ahead, not what is with us now. It is a profound consideration that anything that is possessed in this world can, under certain conditions, be lost. That includes faith, understanding, and even the blessing of God. Unbelief, which pertains only to this world, can take these things from you. Only faith can retain them. A religion that centers in this world contradicts both the nature and the contents of the New Covenant. Candidly we are told to seek the things that are above, and to set our affection upon them (Col 3:1-2). Presently they are unseen, and the firstfruits of them can only be experienced by faith. But that is not always the way it will be. There is the matter of the inheritance!
Jesus spoke of the meek inheriting the earth (Matt 5:5). He said that everyone that forsook the things of this world to follow Him "shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt 19:29). In one of His parables He spoke of inheriting the Kingdom prepared "from the foundation of the world" (Matt 25:34). Paul told the elders of Ephesus that God would give them "an inheritance among all them that are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). When Jesus commissioned Paul, He said the objective of his labors included receiving an "inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith" (Acts 22:18). In Christ we are said to "have obtained an inheritance" (Eph 1:11). The Holy Spirit, which is given to the saints, is declared to be "the earnest of our inheritance" (Eph 1:13-14). It is written that in Christ we have been "made meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1:12). Slaves were told they should live faithfully knowing that of the Lord they would "receive the reward of the inheritance" (Col 3:24). Believers are admonished, "be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb 6:12). Those who are called are reminded to ponder receiving "the promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb 9:15). Peter wrote that we have been "begotten . . . to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Pet 1:4). He also wrote that we have been called in order that we "should inherit a blessing" (1 Pet 3:9). One of the last promises in the Bible is, "he that overcometh shall inherit all things" (Rev 21:7).
How is it that so little is being said these days about the inheritance of reference. Much of the popular religion of our time is chronicling earthly benefits - but such things cannot be termed an inheritance!
IT IS NO MORE OF PROMISE. If the inheritance is obtained by Law - because of what men do - then it cannot be by promise, for "promise" refers to what God will do and give. Let it be clear that this is an impossible situation. If the inheritance is granted because a certain code has been kept, then it cannot be by promise, or Divine commitment. Remember, this is an "eternal inheritance," that is to come. It involves inheriting the earth, and the fulness of eternal life. How can promises of this magnitude be received by keeping laws that pertain to this world?
GOD GAVE IT TO ABRAHAM BY PROMISE. Paul now seals the reasoning with an affirmation of the case. Speaking of the New Covenant, which antedated the First Covenant, and is superior to it, he says it was given to Abraham by means of promise.
The New Covenant is described in terms of a promise: "I WILL bless them . . . all families of the earth SHALL be blessed" (Gen 12:3). "I WILL make My covenant with you" (Gen 17:2). "I WILL establish My covenant between Me and thee" (Gen 17:7). "I WILL . . . I WILL be . . . they SHALL be . . . they SHALL not . . . all SHALL know Me . . . I WILL be merciful . . . I WILL remember no more" (Heb 8:10-12).
Abraham did not work to receive this promise. It was given to him before his work commenced. That is the nature of the New Covenant. Through it, the people are empowered before they commence their work. They receive the promises which become an incentive to them, and through which they become partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). These promises are powerful, and yet those who are snared by a law-mentality are not able to see it.