“If the plural of goose is geese, shouldn’t the plural of moose be meese?” goes the popular grammar joke. And I believe it is a very logical question. When I use the word moose you can’t know whether it is being used of just one or of a whole herd. This kind of thing doesn’t just occur in English: the Greek word sperma (sperma) and the Hebrew word urz (zerah) both mean “seed” and can be understood as just one seed or as a whole group of seeds. This becomes very important in the book of Galatians.
Galatians 3:15-18 says, “Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say ‘and to seeds,’ as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ. And I say this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God and cancel the promise. For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.”
So at this point, Paul is deep into his proofs for dropping the law and living solely by grace through faith. And in these verses today, he makes what I consider to be his most compelling argument, even though some commentators hold that it contains “a highly compressed ‘inset’ which somewhat complicates the argument, [and] may be temporarily omitted without weakening it.” I plan to write much more extensively on this passage in the next year, so this post will be shorter than some of the previous, but the main thing we need to know from this passage is that Paul sees Jesus as central to everything and we should too. In fact, he sees Jesus as so central to everything that he sees Jesus being promised as far back as Abraham.
And it’s the concept of promise that he begins with. He draws a parallel to contemporary Greek and/or Jewish life (even American life if you will). Verse 15 says, “Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified.” We believe that covenants/promises/contracts/vows are important to keep (though sadly marriage is a place in which our culture seriously fails in this respect) and that they shouldn’t be entered into lightly, because those in it will be held accountable. Paul leaves his human illustration there, and then starts verse 16—where he spiritualizes it.
He explains, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.” There are at least four different occasions at which these promises are spoken to Abraham and his seed:
· “Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘I will give this land to your offspring.’ So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him” (Genesis 12:7).
· “I will give you and your offspring forever all the land that you see” (Genesis 13:15).
· “And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).
· “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘I will give this land to your offspring’—He will send His angel before you, and you can take a wife for my son from there” (Genesis 24:7).
However, it’s Genesis 15:18 that fits Paul’s point here the best. “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘I give this land to your offspring, from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates River.’” And it is very important that this covenant that the LORD makes with Abraham here was a one-sided covenant. Abraham was asleep throughout it (Genesis 15:12), so God made this promise regardless of anything Abraham would do in the future. It was a sure to happen thing; Abraham and his descendants would not be able to stop it.
But then Paul continues, and points out something very important. Galatians 3:16 continues, “He does not say ‘and to seeds,’ as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed.” Even though it can be used in the singular in a collective sense, Paul here—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—says that this word was kept singular for a reason. The promise was not made to many people. The promise wasn’t made to the people who followed the law. The promise wasn’t made to the Jews. The promise wasn’t even made to the church. In its truest sense, the promise was made to Abraham and to his singular seed “who is Christ,” as verse 16 concludes.
There is a line of theological understanding that exists today that says that all of God’s promises to Israel still have to be fulfilled literally. There’s another line that says those promises are symbolically fulfilled by the church. Paul argues here, and states it clearly in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that “every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in [Jesus].” Jesus is the one who fulfills all of God’s promises. We don’t have to become Jewish to join this inheritance. We simply must be joined by faith to the One to whom the promises were made and in whom they were fulfilled.
It’s a mistake to say the Jews still have some special place in God’s plan—other than the fact that they, like us, are humans and deserve to hear the good news of the gospel just like everyone, so they can be eternally saved. But it’s also a mistake to say that the church is the greatest thing on the planet either. Jesus deserves the glory—not man, not even an eternally saved, righteous through the blood of Christ group of people. Jesus alone is my focus. Jesus alone was Paul’s focus. Is Jesus alone your focus? If you view anything else more highly than Him, you’re guilty of idolatry; even very good things—the church, the Bible, theology, relationships, marriage, etc.—can become idols if we are not careful. But I’ll step off my soapbox for now.
Paul then writes, “And I say this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God and cancel the promise.” This shows, to those who were deceiving the Galatians—and to the deceived Galatians themselves—that the law was not the answer. Something that God brought 430 years after He Himself made an unbreakable (remember verse 15?) covenant cannot undo the covenant. Paul will explain next time what the law actually is for.
Verse 18 concludes our passage for today. “For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.” God fails to keep His promise to Abraham and to his seed—Jesus—if the way to the inheritance is through keeping the law. God can’t fail to keep His promises, because He doesn’t lie (cf. Numbers 23:19). And then, as if saying, “I got you; what you gonna say to that?” Paul says, “But, God granted it to Abraham through the promise.” No law at all. Trust Jesus!
So that’s all I have for today. Jesus is where our focus should be. He’s the Seed that’s been promised since Genesis 3:15. He’s the one who was promised an inheritance as Abraham’s Seed. If we trust in Him, then we are in Him, and thus a recipient of the promises to Abraham and his Seed. But we must never move our focus off the original seed—Jesus. We don’t think about Him enough! Let’s think about Him more this week.
Til next time. And due to preaching on the 7th, it will probably be close to two weeks before my next Galatians post. Stay tuned for other things though.
Soli Deo Gloria
 R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 147.