NB: A covenant (binding legal agreement) on the Old Testament is “cut” (ratified) by taking sacrificial animals and dividing them in half and placing them into two piles of remains, with enough room to walk between them. One pile represents the blessings of the agreement that will be received at its completion if it is kept, and the other side represents the cursings that are incurred if there is a default and it is not kept. The parties to the covenant then pass between the piles of animal remains, signifying their agreement to abide by the terms of the covenant. After that, the covenant is thought of as being in force, and the animal remains are consumed in celebration of the contract and the intention of the covenanters to keep it. (The Abrahamic Covenant was only ever ratified by one party – God Himself. God alone passed between the piles of animal remains, incurring on Himself alone the blessings and the cursings of the covenant with Abraham. This was finally completed by God when Christ Jesus died and rose again, thus redeeming humans to Himself, but more importantly for most of us, enabling salvation to be extended to the Gentiles, the blessing of this very covenant.)
1: Paul begins with very little fanfare. He makes a very short greeting and gets right to the point – that the Galatians KNEW the Gospel (cf. v.4), but that “false brethren” that “entered secretly” and that no one knew about wanted to view the freedom of the Galatian disciples for the purposes of seeing how best to subvert their faith and bring them again into slavery to them and not Christ. Paul begins to drive home his point right at the beginning of the letter (2:16).
2: Paul asks the operative question that the Galatians should have been asking all along: Does salvation and the associated reconciliation and righteousness come from “works of the Law” or by “hearing with faith?” In modern language, we ask, are we saved works or are we saved by faith? Paul holds the assertion that we are saved by simple faith, and it can be seen even in his other writings (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).
3: Again, the “religion” (system of rules to govern behaviour) versus “reality” (learning to self-govern our behaviour apart from rules) is seen here. Paul is asking the Galatian believers if since they began in “reality” by learning that Christ is their life, does it make sense to now start making up religious rules or borrowing from the old rules to maintain that life? 4: Did you suffer all that former trial and hardship for nothing? Or WAS it all for NOTHING? 5: Does God, who provides us with this marvelous new reality (the Spirit of God, that is the Holy Spirit, which you receive when you believe Him for real), and who accomplishes what Paul calls “works of power” among the Galatians, do these by “works of the Law” (religion) or by “the hearing of faith” (reality)? Paul begins here to show that historically, righteousness has ALWAYS come by faith.
6: He goes all the way back to Abraham, the father of all those who have faith according to the writher of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 11). He had faith / believed God, and God counted that faith/belief as righteousness before Himself (Gen. 15:6). God made a covenant with Abraham unilaterally. One without curse, or that at least the curse would fall on God only if it were not kept. That covenant was for Abraham’s seed to bless the whole earth. God cut that covenant BY HIMSELF so that no curse would fall on humanity if it were broken (Gen. 5:17). 7: Paul tells us that those who are of FAITH are “sons” of Abraham. 8: He continues by telling us that at the time of the making of that covenant with Abraham, God knew (and was foretelling here) that He would justify the Gentiles (or in the OT, “nations”) by faith. He even preached it in the form of a Gospel message – that Abraham’s seed would produce a Saviour for all the nations – with the words, “all the nations will be blessed in you.”
***Theology Note for the Experts: The blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant is the salvation of the Gentiles through the seed of (a physical descendant of) Abraham, Yeshua-bar-Yousef, HaMashiach, or in our language, Jesus Christ. 9: Here, Paul tells us that those who are of faith (that is, those who confess Jesus by name publicly) are blessed ALONGSIDE Abraham, who also believed. From this point, Paul begins to break this down and explain it.
10: Followers of the Mosaic Law (who are under the Mosaic Covenant) are actually under a curse, because no one who has ever lived has been able to keep it in its entirety. The curse for breaking that covenant? Death. Even for breaking the smallest point of it. 11: No one can be saved by the law – it has no salvific power that it can communicate. It has no power to save. It can only tell a person what to do – it has NO power to make that person do it. Ever hear the phrase, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?” Same idea here. Why? The will of the horse is involved. Same with the Law – human will is involved…and brother are we ever rebels! Let me ask you – do you actually LIKE being told what to do and where to stand while you do it? I know I don’t appreciate that. I say it again: THE LAW HAS NO REDEMPTIVE POWER. Instead, it says that “the righteous one will live by His faith” (Hab. 2:4). The Law is not from a place of belief/faith. Quite the opposite is true. He who practices them shall live by them (Lev. 18:5).
13: It is Christ who redeemed us from the Law. Did you get that? CHRIST HAS THE REDEMPTIVE POWER. And how did He redeem us? Well, He became a curse for us. In our place. On our behalf. It even tells us what particular curse He took on Himself to become a violator in our place – “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree” (Deut. 21:23). Why?
14: So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of the covenant with Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that WE could ALSO receive the promise of the Spirit through faith – so that we could be saved, and so that we could become the children of Abraham. What a glorious thought! Now re-read the NB note at the beginning of these notes.
15: Paul uses an example about how covenants were ratified in human terms. Once any covenant, a legal contract is in force, no modifications can be made to it until it is complete. No one can add ifs, ands, buts, conditions, or quid-pro-quos to it after it is in force. That wouldn’t be fair to one party or the other, typically.
16: To whom were the promises made? Abraham and his SEED (singular). Not SEEDS (plural). That seed, this verse tells us, is Christ. What part of the Mosaic Law does any of this involve? Why NONE, of course.
17: The Law actually came 430 years later, and it does not invalidate this binding legal agreement that God made with Abraham, and therefore nullify the promise of God! Why not? Well, for one thing, the Law had a different purpose, which was to set Israel aside as God’s chosen nation through whom He would speak to the earth’s inhabitants.
18: Abraham was promised an heir that would inherit all of his possessions, and was promised an actual inheritance to give to that heir. The Law does not invalidate that covenant, which was initiated and ratified by God alone. It is a promise, not a list of rules for governing good behaviour. Think of the implications of a one-sided covenant – is this not one party making their most solemn promise to the other? Remember, the Law came 430 years later, and it came for other reasons, which Paul is about to explain.
19: The Law came to define transgressions, according to Paul.it was appointed by “angels” through the hands of a “mediator” (Who? Other angels? Moses? The Law itself? Our Conscience? God Himself? I think the last most likely.), until that seed, that is Jesus, would come.
20: The mediator is not just for one side of the covenant. Every covenant has an appointed mediator with the authority to enforce the blessings or cursings of the covenant on one or both parties. But who can mediate a one-sided covenant? Only the one who made it, I suppose, being the one making the promises.
21: The Law is not contrary to the promises made to Abraham, nor does it contradict them. If the Law had been able to impart life, then salvation could have come by the Law. But it did not.
22: Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. That means we are all violators of the Law. Additionally, it means that the promise can only be available to us through faith, and is only given to those who will have that faith (or believe).
23-26: Before faith came, we had the Law. The law could not communicate any salvation to us, but it was a tutor for us. The Greek word for “tutor” is paidegogos, a trainer of young children. That tutor was the one that would at the right time for us lead us to Christ by faith, and now the object of that faith (Jesus) has come, and we no longer need the tutor. We have instead become SONS of God.
NB: There are multiple words in Greek used to describe sons. The first of those is nepios, an infant or youth. The one that was used in verse 23 is huios, adult or mature offspring. This is not a function of age, gender, upbringing, scholastic achievement, nationality, or any other earthly thing – because that position of son comes by faith in Christ – the same one that lives in me, loves me, and gave Himself for me (2:20). How appropriate that it mentions baptism at this juncture.
27: Baptism should be a choice of all maturing believers in Christ. It is a symbolic clothing of yourself in Christ. You are symbolically and publicly agreeing that you will follow Christ as His own mature offspring. Only a real believer in Christ can (and should) choose this. Baptism without choice is just getting wet. If you have believed in Christ, how can you NOT follow Him through baptism?
28: You enter the body of believers, the real church through this act. You become part of the unity that is in Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek there, nor Slave or Free, Male or Female, all are one in Christ. Religion as we have been talking about it, becomes impossible. Racism becomes impossible. Sexism becomes impossible, as does social and economic class, or scholastic superiority – it is all left behind and outside the great unity which is the real body of Christ.
29: And if we belong to Christ by faith, the we are Abraham’s descendants in a very real sense, and are therefore heirs according to THAT promise!
We’ll pick this back up in Chapter 4. You’re invited to create a user account and leave questions as comments.