Online Bible Commentary
The Abrahamic Covenant
Galatians 3:15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing to believers in southern Galatia likely from his home city of Antioch, Syria in 49 A.D, prior to attending the Jerusalem Council meeting which occurred that same year. Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The churches in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel of salvation by grace and not a combination of grace and works.
In this passage Paul writes of the blessing, the Abrahamic Covenant, that God had confirmed to Jacob shortly before his people, the Israelites, journeyed to Egypt. The first thirty years the Israelites were treated well by the Egyptians. However, they were then enslaved by the Egyptians for four hundred years. Finally, they were released and about three months after the exodus Moses was given the law by God on Mount Sinai.
“In the manner of men”, Paul writes of a will (v. 15a). Once a will “is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it” (v. 15b). In other words once a last will and testament is executed it can not be altered.
The Abrahamic Covenant is stated in Genesis 12:1-3: “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’"
God then added in Genesis 22:18; “In your seed all the nations (families) of the earth shall be blessed.” This promise was made to “Abraham and his Seed”, not to Abraham and his seeds (v. 16a). The fact that the word “Seed” is singular and not plural rules out the Israelites. Also, the blessing is to “all the nations of the earth”, not just the Israelites. So the term “Seed” refers to Jesus Christ (v. 16b), a descendant, or seed, of Abraham (Mt. 1:1).
The promise of the Abrahamic Covenant was ratified by a death (Gen. 15:7-11). Jesus fulfilled this promise on the cross. So the blessing that God gave to all the nations of the earth was salvation by grace through faith.
Just as a last will and testament can not be altered after it is executed (v. 15), the Abrahamic Covenant could not be altered by the law given to Moses four hundred and thirty years after the Abrahamic covenant was confirmed (v. 17a). This means that the blessing of salvation by grace through faith can not be changed to salvation by grace through faith and works.
So “if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise” (v. 18a). In other words if salvation is by grace through faith and works (of the law), it is no longer the promise that God gave to Abraham. But this cannot be true because “God gave it to Abraham by promise” (v. 18b).
So the Abrahamic Covenant is that salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. This is the only way to Heaven, according to the only God, the God of the Bible. We can not work our way to Heaven. The only way is through faith in Jesus Christ.