by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 3 Study # 4 March 25, 2012 Dayton, Texas
16 Now 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.
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.
1901 ASV Translation:
16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
17 Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect.
18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise.
I. Paul's Identification of Abraham's "Seed".
A. It is interesting indeed that Paul decided to zero in on the "number" of the word "seed". In effect, he eliminated all of Abraham's offspring from the promises except Christ.
1. In terms of inspiration, what we have here is Paul's appeal to the "number" (as in "case, gender, number, etc.) of God's word to Abraham. This makes Jesus' "not one jot or one tittle" comment (Matthew 5:18) even larger: the inspiration of the words of Scripture is accurate down to issues like whether the words are "singular" or "plural".
2. Since the promises were made "to Abraham" (as well as his "singular" seed), the issue remains that God made certain promises to a certain human being. That God made "promises" to the man, Abraham, is the larger point in Paul's argument. That his point could be made on that basis raises the issue of why it is important that God also made promises "to his seed". Does it matter that the promises extend to anyone else? God's promises are valid, even if made to only one person. He will keep His word.
B. So why did Paul add, and qualify, the issue: what significance to his argument does limiting the promises to only one seed, Christ, have?
1. Since the qualification has nothing to do with the basic argument (verse 18 -- God gave the inheritance to Abraham by promise), the answer remains as to why he inserted the "seed" idea and why he made sure we understand that the promises were not made to "seeds".
2. Part of the answer is in the reality of what God intended for Christ to be. Mankind's problem is its essential bondage to Sin. No man escapes this essential bondage. Man is born with the problem and its dominance over man is so obvious that no one can deny it (men's sins are egregious), and it is so pervasive that no one can escape it ("no one is perfect" is man's shrugging admission that all sin). A "born in sin" reality is the only explanation for it. It's a kind of "why do all rattlesnakes bite?" thing. It's in the nature of the beast. Thus, if there is to be a solution, it must be, at the very least, as effective as the problem. Thus, there must be a provision not only for the past (sins already done), but also for the future (making sin as impossible as enabling a rattlesnake to become a vegan). The focus upon Christ is God's way of telling us that His acceptance of Christ as "the last Adam" means that Christ's actions will have the same effect as did those of the first Adam: His actions in life and death make "forgiveness" possible, and His resurrection of all who believe in Him will make "sin" impossible.
3. But another part of the answer is probably linked to Paul's background and the Galatian's tormentors. The Jewish legalism that is being foisted upon the Gentiles in Galatia is heavily rooted in the "plural" concept of "seed" wherein the physical descendants of Abraham think themselves to be "of the seed" (John 8:33). Interestingly, Jesus acknowledged this claim in John 8:37 (where "seed" is also "singular") but then turned around and denied its impact by addressing their desire to murder Him ("...this did not Abraham." -- John 8:40). But the legalists of Galatia, committed to the notion of the superiority of the "seed" of Abraham as a "host as the sands of the seashore", are insisting that the Galatians can only become "of the seed" by yielding to the demands of circumcision and the law. Interesting hypocrisy: the very ones who insist you must be "of the seed" admit by their doctrine that it is "behavior" that constitutes the reality of the "seed" in that they "allow" participation by circumcision and law keeping. And, if "behavior" is the bottom line, from whom you physically descend is a moot issue. At issue is the final reality of how one becomes "of the seed" and Paul's argument is going to be that one must be "in Christ" to be of the "seed" because Christ is that "seed".
C. At issue for both Abraham and the Galatians is this question: how and when do these "promises" come to pass?
1. Clearly, the only "land" that Abraham actually "owned" during his lifetime was the ground he bought for the burial of his wife.
2. Just as clearly, the only "great nation" Abraham actually experienced was in the "seed" form of one son who, in turn, only had two sons.
3. And finally, Abraham's "great name" was an extremely limited experience for him in his lifetime. He became the greatest "name" in Jewish history, but that was long after he died.
4. And, likewise for the Galatians, many of the implications of the "promises" for the Seed remained "implications" in their experience.
5. The New Testament clearly puts the final realization of the promises in the "last days" and beyond, with a goodly part reserved until after the resurrection of the just.
6. Paul's restriction of the "seed" to Christ indicates that the promises will find their ultimate fulfillment when Christ is on the earth as King of Kings. Beyond that era, the promises will be continally fulfilled daily for all eternity.