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Galatians 3:10-18

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer (detail), 1885


The Early Epistles—

Galatians 3:10–18

The overriding promise,
An illustration from life,
A promise without legal stipulations

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 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.


Critical Notes


(3:10) follow law — literally, “of the work of the law.”  Those who rely on law as opposed to those who rely on faith (3:9).

Cursed is everyone — “It is impossible to fulfill the requirements of the law, and the non-fulfillment lays us under a curse” (Lightfoot).

(3:13) delivered— to redeem, ransom or deliver.  Emphasis here is on the cost paid (exagorazo) rather than the act itself (lutroo).

hung on wood— Under the law, those guilty of a heinous crime were stone; their dead bodies were then hung on a wooden gibbet until dusk.

that the blessing . . . that we through faith— coordinate final clauses expresssing purpose: blessing of Abraham (justified by faith, 3:6-9), and the promise of he Spirit (adopted as sons, 4:5,6).

(3:15) follow law — This verse is taken directly from the RSV which here strikingly reproduces the though of the original language.

will — or testament; a much better choice than contract or covenant since these can imply a mutual agreement reached by two parties.

 (3:16) promises — “The plual, for the promise was several times repeated to Abraham” (Lghtfoot).  Compare the following references: Gend. 12:2; 13:14-17; 15:1, 5, 18; 17:2-8.

He did not say — best understood as referring to God who made the promise.

to your seed  — not a contrast between plural and singular.  The noun is a collective singular and expresses plurality as well as unity.  Christ was the heir of the promise made to Abraham 9to whom the promise was made — 3:19), but others who are one in Christ share the status of being the seed of Abraham.  (Ye are all one in Christ; but if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed — 3:28, 29).  His point is that seed refers to Christ and to those who become like Christ.

(3:17) Now I mean this — literally, “But this I say.”  A common expression for continuing an argument introduced earlier.  Comapre: “What I am saying is this” (NASB).

430 years later— either as an accommodative period of time, or as understatement giving further strength to his argument.  The sojourn in Egypt alon lasted 430 years (Ex. 12:40).  Compare also: gen 15:13; Acts 7:6.

previously ratified (Perfect participle)— with emphasis on the resulting state.  It stood ratified and therefore, could not be rescinded.

(3:18) inheritance (kleronomia) — a word used especially of the spiritual blessing bestowed by God.  Compare Acts 20:32; E[ph. 1:14, 18; Col. 3:24.

conferred (Perfect tense)— to grant or bestow graciously; as inheritance granted for all time (so the tense implies).


Literary Summary

Faith in Christ, not ritual, makes all men heirs of the promise God had made to Abraham.  The promise of the gospel was made centuries before the law was given at Sinai.

(3:10-14) Law brings with it a curse that can only be avoided by perfect obedience to every legal precept.  But no man can keep every ritual and precept; righteous men, in fact, do not live by law at all, but by faith.  This is the meaning of the words, The just shall live by faith.  Law requires perfect obedience, but faith allows for forgiveness.  By his death on the cross, Christ removed the curse of the law and made possible the blessing of Abraham and the promises of the Spirit.  Law condemns; faith forgives.

(3:11-18) If men cannot rescind or change another man’s will after it has been ratified, then God most certainly will not cancel his own promise.  That promise was made both to Abraham and to his seed.

Seed is o the same as heirs or descendants.  These are plural and might include any physical offspring of Abraham’s.  Seed is a collective noun, and is used in a spiritual sense.  The seed is Christ 9and those who are one with him).

The law could not annual the promise since it came something like 430 years later.  The very inheritance of God is not by law anyway; it is by promise — a promise granted to Abraham by God.

Questions for Further Study

  1. Paul quotes the law to prove that law is inadequate.  Why do you think he does this?
  2. How are law and faith opposites?
  3. Were the Galatians beyond hope?
  4. To be justified means to be free of guilt.  How can a man be free on the basis of law?  How does the gospel (faith) free us from guilt?
  5. In your own words, explain Paul’s argument about the implied singularity of the word seed.

James Sanders