Galatians 3:15-18 “Christ, the Fruit-Bearing Seed”

Posted: September 5, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Covenant Theology, Galatians, Sermons

“Christ, the Fruit-Bearing Seed”

Galatians 3:15–18 (ESV) — 15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

15 To give a human example- Speaking in human terms, or by means of a human analogy.

, brothers – Paul is now using a more affectionate term. From when he started the section with “foolish Galtians”. He is appealing to them, trying to reason with them, wrapping his arms around them. The truth rebukes, but also must be spoken in love. This complexity is known to any of us who have parented. Times to be harsh and times to speak affectionately. Times to call them by their full name, times to call them “Sweetie”.

: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. – the word for “covenant” (diatheke), can be understood as covenant or will. In a bi-lateral understanding among men with each other, agreements are binding. If someone decides to change the terms or refuses to honor certain stipulations, they will be legally liable in a just society. If man-made covenants carry this significance, then how much more with God, who makes a covenant with man.

  • “Berith” – Testament has referred to the outworking on a uni-lateral promise
  • “diatheke” – God initiated, requiring stipulations which can’t be regarded as meritorious but only consistent with the nature of promise which far exceeds the demands of faith.
  • “syntheke” – horizontally stipulated, fair, pay for wages.

–          I am a covenant theologian, essentially I read they whole Bible in light of this framework of a gracious God who reaches down to fallen creation in grace to establish relationship. God administrates this covenant through different phases, but each is built upon the idea of promise!!!

–          argumentum a fortiori denotes “argument ‘from [the] stronger [reason]’.” Isn’t explicit with the “how much more”, but the “now” transition is Paul’s way of connecting the human analogy to the reality of God, which is that much more weightier and binding.

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

–          “promises” – Paul’s emphasis on promise seems to indicate that he also has the idea of inheritance with the usage of “diatheke” in v.15. Think of a fixed will where you receive something entirely out of the benevolence of a relative. While some might stipulate their will based on favorite children, etc., God makes His promise of inheritance to Christ, who them equally includes ALL who come to Him in faith!!!

  • What are these promises?
    • 1. Offspring, 2. Blessings for Abraham, 3. Great name, 4. Blessing or cursing on others based on how they treat Abraham, 5. Promised Land, 6. Blessings on Gentiles (World), 7. God being God to His people, 8. Kings descending from Abraham.

–          Challenging text here. Is Paul mistaken? Twisting the Scriptures? Looking at the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15 clearly reveals that God was promising Abraham a people as numerous as the starts and sand on the seashore. Why is Paul emphasizing the singular aspect and pointing to Christ.

  • Paul is NOT denying that the Abrahamic covenant contains a promise to constitute worldwide people, where all nations will be blessed.
  • Paul is using Rabbinc exegesis, which would sometimes take a clearly articulated teaching from certain passages and find a subtle way in which a particular text includes the promise. The people of God (plural) have longed for a deliverer (singular), who would take on corporate solidarity and deliver a people. A servant who serves the community.
  • The Hebrew word for offspring was generic in reference to number, and the Septuagint interpreted it as a singular in:
    • Genesis 17:7–9 (ESV) — 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.

–          I think Paul is contrasting the claims of the Jews who would lay claim to the Abrahamic covenant by being part of his seed (ethnically and in great number), to the fact that the aim of the Abrahamic covenant as culminated singularly in Christ, who is the source and mediator of covenant inclusion into the people of God.  Paul develops this later in the book:

  • Galatians 4:4–5 (ESV) — 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
    • Fullness of time speaks of the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes in sending Christ!!! Saves those under the law by means of adoption, not  an attained righteousness.
  • Galatians 4:28–29 (ESV) — 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.
    • Paul moves from the singular emphasis on Christ in our passage and works out that theme to show that included within Christ is a community (plural). He uses “brothers” and “children”. The true children are those of “promise”, those who receive the promise of salvation in Christ. Ironically those who put their confidence in the flesh (Judaizers) as children of Abraham are outside the promise. 
    • Paul is assuring these wavering, fearful, intimidated, fickle believers that it is THEY who are the children of promise and that the Judaizers who have been plaguing their consciences are not a group to join because they are OUTSIDE the covenant community.
    • JESUS. Christ is this fruit-bearing seed, who was crucified and buried, only to arise as the exalted head of the Church, a people He calls to Himself. His death and resurrection are the means whereby He has become a vine that nourishes and gives life to all who are grafted into Him by faith!!!

–          Romans 11:17–24 (ESV) — 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.

–          The law did not displace the Abrahamic covenant, but, as we shall see in future sermons, was subservient to the Abrahamic covenant.

–          The law was to show need for grace, restrain sin in the theocracy to protect from God’s all-consuming wrath, and to serve as a sanctifying guide for those who had come to faith…those who beheld the law from a disposition of faith.

–          Abraham was not saved by subsequent works. Jewish tradition viewed Abraham as fulfilling the Mosaic covenant before it was even given. In this sense, the Jews made the Abrahamic covenant somewhat subservient to the greater covenant of Sinai.

18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

–          Our covenantal status is not mediated by looking to the law, we will only find a curse if we look solely at the law. We must look at the promise given to Abraham, look to the seed that is Christ who comes as a child of promise, bringing many into this adoption of grace according to promise.


–          The law is not our mediator, Jesus alone is our mediator. Look to Him!!!

–          Are you looking to Jesus alone for your salvation? Or are you looking at yourself. If you look to yourself, you will become a hypocrite who hides sin because you have not truly received grace, or you will become delusional, or you will forever doubt your salvation. Christ is your righteousness, look to Him!!!

–          Do not be intimidated by those today who wish to distort the Gospel of grace and cast a spell upon you. Walk in the liberty and joy for which Christ purchased us. Lift up your head, you are an adopted child of promise whom Christ loves.  Believe the promise and walk by faith alone, in Christ alone, according to grace alone!!!

  1. RichB says:

    Thanks for this message. I think an additional point can be made that Abraham had two sons–two “offsprings,” so to speak–Ishmael and Isaac. (This came out more clearly in the sermon than in the notes, I think.) So you can be a child of Abraham and not be a child of the promise; that makes you a child of Ishmael and a Gentile.

    During the first century, there was a huge dispute over who is the true Israel. We at least know about Pharisees, Sadduccees, Christians, and the inhabitants of Qumran. Each group said they were children of Abraham and hence the “true” Israel. But Paul is the only one to include Gentiles as full children of Abraham. This is a paradox at the time. But I think Paul’s argument goes that there are two ways to be children of Abraham: by the flesh (Ishmael) or by promise (Isaac). Those children of Abraham who want salvation by fleshly means, i.e., quid pro quo earning of salvation via circumcision, are children of Ishmael. Those children of Abraham who want salvation by promise, i.e., entirely by unearned grace, bringing life from a “dead” body (Sarah), are children of Isaac.

    I think that it is a common problem to think of the distinction as geneological Jews versus Gentiles. I believe that Paul is claiming that those who call themselves Israel, but want salvation because of what they did, are children of Abraham via Ishmael, while those who call themselves Israel, but want salvation by grace, are children of Abraham via Isaac. And only Isaac’s descendents receive the promise and inheritance. (This is why, I believe, Matthew 1 starts with Abraham.)

    This point, I believe, fits well with what I understood you were saying, Pastor Rick, about baptism. You were reminding us of what God brings to baptism. (Actually, I had never heard of the counter-point, that is, what we bring to baptism.) Baptism makes us children of Abraham and Isaac, true Israel. It is only by the grace of God’s salvation that allows us to be children of the promise, true Israel, via the saving action of baptism.

  2. RichB says:

    Thanks, Pastor Rick, for the link. This book brought up covenantal theology, which is a little confusing to me. The successive four covenants appears in my mind to contradict Gal 3:15-16. Maybe each covenant is still in effect even when a new one comes up? However, Paul seems here to make the argument that the “new” conditions that he’s defining are not, in fact, new. He recalls Abraham as the father of Gentiles-beoming-Israel, whether in ancient or Paul’s contemoprary age.

    I was just reading Ezekiel 16, which offers an interesting view of the original covenant with Israel, in which Israel was originally a Gentile, whom God, by grace, made his wife. This seems to be the same covenant as the one Paul is talking about.

    Can you explain more?

    • I believe that there is a single covenant that takes on different administrations, but same substance. Your pointing out of Ezek 16 is great insight!!! Abraham was the quintessential Jew, but he was first a Gentile, and the same is said over Israel as a whole, which flows out of Abraham. God, through the current administration of the Covenant, continues to make Gentiles part of the “True” Israel. I prefer “true” over “Spiritual” because Paul views Israel as those who had the faith of Abraham. As for Isaac and Jacob, this was the line to Messiah, who is the seed of Abraham, it did NOT mean that just being descended from Isaac and Jacob automatically made you an heir of the Abrahamic covenant in its full substance of Christ and the blessings that come by faith alone. It also doesn’t mean that Esau’s descendants are automatically outside the “true” Israel. It only meant that they were not the line of promise leading to Christ. ALL gentiles can be made Israel by coming to Christ by faith.

      Paul essentially says that there are many advantages to being of “physical” Israel, but that there are no guarantees. That is the whole point to Romans. He is leveling the playing field in a way. For ALL have sinned. It’s just important that we read the Bible carefully in how the promises given to Abraham are fulfilled in a line of promise which only guarantees the future Messiah and how also the circumcised seed of Abraham are brought into greater accountability to God. Their circumcision doesn’t assure them of anything other than that they belong to the line of Messiah. Circumcision calls for heart circumcsion, which alone brings one into “true” Israel, or into the promised seed of Christ. Anyhow, I hope we can visit before you leave as I fear not being clear and nuanced enough to do justice to what I’m trying to explain on here :).

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