Galatians 3:1-18, pt.1

This Tuesday, we will be reading through Galatians 3:1-18. Within this section, Paul begins to lay out the proof for his argument of justification by faith.  He begins with an appeal to the personal experience of his audience and an appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). 

Paul first appeals to the personal experience of his audience. Paul asks the simple question of whether his audience received the Spirit by hearing the word preached or by doing the works of the law. v.2  One of the great themes in Acts, is that Spirit comes through the hearing and not the doing. Think of Pentecost (Acts 2) or Peter in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10).

Paul next appeals to the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul appeals to the story of Abraham (v.6, Gen. 15:6), the words of the prophet Habakkuk (v. 11, Hab. 2:4), and the words of the Law itself (v.10, Deut. 27:26; v.12, Lev. 18:5; and v.13, Deut. 21:23). Paul’s argument from Scripture, in this reading and in the readings over the next several weeks, go back to Abraham. The story of Abraham plays the pivotal role in Paul’s argument. Paul will draw from different places within that story as he constructs his argument in Galatians 3-4 (and which Paul also uses in his argument in Romans 4.).  If you have time, re-read the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-22. The key passages Paul draws from in this week’s readings are Genesis 15 (God’s covenant with Abraham), Genesis 12:1-3 (God’s call to Abram), and Genesis 18:1-21 (God’s visit to Abraham). These passages bring up the topics of faith and curses which cause Paul to bring in the other Scriptural references. 

Paul begins his argument in verse 6 by quoting Genesis 15:6 that “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Because Abraham pre-dates the law by 430+ years, Abraham was declared righteous by faith apart from the law.  Paul then quotes Genesis 18:18, that “all nations (Gentiles) will be blessed in Abraham.” Therefore, since Abraham is justified by faith, then also the Gentiles will likewise be justified by faith. (Whether their justification comes from their own faith, Abraham’s faith, and/or Jesus’ faithfulness is left ambiguous.) Paul cites Habakkuk as support for this conclusion.

Paul then takes a slight tangent in verse 8 and brings up Abraham’s call in Genesis 12:3, where God says that some would be cursed. Paul connects this curse with the curse in Deuteronomy 27:26 which pronounces a curse on those who do not keep the law. Paul says that Jesus redeems us from the curse of the law by himself becoming accursed under the law by hanging on a tree. Deut. 21:23.  Since the law only brings condemnation, and since Jesus suffered that condemnation for us, we are no longer accursed or condemned under the law. Therefore, Paul concludes, that not only is there justification by faith, but in the Cross, we have been freed from the curse/condemnation of the Law.

Within the study of Galatians, there is a debate as to whether Paul brings up Abraham simply as the great example of justification by faith or as something more. Paul’s Jewish audience would have held Abraham in the highest esteem (see, John 8:39), and therefore the resort to Abraham as an example would have been very persuasive. Alternatively, we can read this passage not as an appeal to Abraham as an example, but as a recognition that God’s promise made to Abraham in Genesis 15:6 (that all nations will be made one by faith) is fulfilled in Jesus and his church. A good discussion of this second view is contained in N.T. Wright’s book Justification, pp.122-36 The difference between the two views is that the former is an appeal to Abraham as a persuasive example, but in the latter view, Paul appeals to God’s promise to Abraham as controlling legal authority. This is similar to the difference between citing a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote or citing the U.S. Constitution in a debate over religion and government.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is potato-chicken casserole. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here. Please bring a friend.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.

Genesis 12:1-3

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