4. Arguments in support of the proposition, 3:1-4:7

iv] The promise is independent of the gift of the law


In this passage Paul argues that the promised blessings that are part of God's agreement ("covenant") with Abraham, blessings even now experienced by those who rest in the faithfulness of Christ (his death on our behalf), depend wholly on God's promise. The law of Moses, given some four hundred and thirty years later, does not detail supplementary requirements necessary for a believer's access to the promised blessings. The promise stands in its own right, apart from the law.


i] Context: See 3:1-14.


ii] Background: See 1:1-10.


iii] Structure: The fourth argument in support of the proposition present as follows:


The gospel, of itself, apart from the law, facilitates new life in Christ.

Supporting argument:

#4. The promise is independent of the gift of the law, 3:15-18;

The irrevocable nature of the covenant, v15-16;

The seniority of the covenant, v17-18.


iv] Interpretation:

d) The fourth argument: In this his fourth argument, Paul makes the point that the promise, a promise encapsulated in the covenant with Abraham and now realized in the gift of new life in Christ, is independent of the Mosaic covenant such that "the law does not have the power to specify and thus to alter the promise", Martyn. The giving of the law four hundred and thirty years after the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant, does not supplement, nor replace, God's agreement with Abraham.


Luther observes that Paul's argument "is based on the analogy of a man's will", an argument that references "common human practice", Betz. The analogy that a human legal agreement is irrevocable, serves to establish the point that a divine agreement cannot be anything less. Paul's argument here is sometimes treated as less than substantial, but it is actually quite weighty. God's covenant with Abraham entails a promise, the substance of the promised "blessing" is "life", a life lived in the fullness of a new relationship with God, the kingdom of God, "eternal life", "Christ in me". This promise is realized in "the seed", in Christ, through whose "faith/faithfulness" the promise is fully appropriated on our behalf. Just as a human testamentary agreement cannot be annulled, or added to, so God's agreement with Abraham cannot be annulled, or added to, and certainly not by the giving of the Mosaic law many years later. The promise is independent of the law, thus, the inheritance is ours in Christ apart from the law. Of course, Paul's argument serves to counter the argument of the judaizers who, although accepting the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises in the faithfulness of Christ, none-the-less saw the ongoing appropriation of covenant blessings in the Christian life as facilitated by a faithful application of God's law. For the judaizers, the Mosaic covenant seemingly supplemented the Abrahamic covenant. For Paul, the Abrahamic covenant stands in its own right such that the blessings of the Christian life are ours in Christ, independent of the law.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage can be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:15

Arguments in support of the proposition: iv] The promise, a promise encapsulated in the covenant with Abraham and now realized in the gift of new life in Christ, is independent of the gift of the law, 3:15-18.

a) The Irrevocable nature of the covenant, v15-16. Given that a human legal agreement is irrevocable, then obviously a divine agreement cannot be anything less, v15.

adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - Nominative used as a vocative. A term that appears in Paul's letters and not found elsewhere with his particular meaning. Obviously a technical terms, similar to the socialist "comrade".

kata + acc. "[let me take] an example from [everyday life]" - [I speak] as/according to [a man]. Expressing a standard; "in accordance with." Paul uses this phrase to indicate that what follows is an analogy; "I will use an everyday example to explain what I mean", CEV.

oJmwV "just as ....... so it is in this case" - nevertheless. Adversative. Here possibly the earlier, less common meaning of "also / likewise", establishing a comparison, cf. 1Cor.14:7-9, ie. as God's covenant with Abraham cannot be annulled, or added to likewise / in like manner / "in the same way", Zerwick, a human will cannot be annulled or added to. None-the-less the more common meaning expressing contrast, "nevertheless", is also possible, although it would seem that the word has been misplaced, "though it be a man's testament, nevertheless no one annuls it once it is proved", Bruce.

aqetei (aqetew) pres. "can set aside" - annul, invalidate, nullify. "Render ineffective", Bligh.

epidiatassetai (epidiatassomai) pres. "add to" - The present tense is probably gnomic, expressing a universal truth. "Remake a settlement", Bligh, but better, "add a codicil", Zerwick, cf. Betz.

anqrwpou (oV) gen. "[a] human [covenant]" - a covenant, agreement [of man]. The genitive "of men" is adjectival, attributive, limiting "covenant". Paul is possibly using the word in the more general sense of a legal will - "the last will and testament by which a man disposes of his property in favour of heirs", Bligh, so Fung. Yet, given that the word carries so much theological baggage, and here falls in a passage which concerns God's covenant with Abraham, it is hard to argue that Paul would be using the word in it's secular sense of a will or testament, so Burton. Still, a general sense is more likely and now accepted by most modern commentators, either of a legal contract, "a settlement made by a man", MM, "an agreement made for the disposal of property ... cannot be cancelled by anyone", Guthrie, so Ridderbos, or a will / testamentary disposition, "nobody annuls or adds a codicil to a testament of a man, once it has been ratified", Betz, so Bruce...

kekurwmenhn (kurow) perf. pas. part. "that has been duly established" - having been confirmed, legally ratified, verified, validated. The participle serves as an adjective, attributive, limiting "covenant", as NIV. "Ratified", NRSV.


As a human testamentary disposition cannot be altered or superseded, so it is with the testament made between God and Abraham. This verse is sometimes treated as "a parenthetical elaboration of verse 15", TH. It does seem though that the first half of the verse develops the second half of the comparison commenced in v15. Clearly, the second half of the verse is a parenthesis where Paul underlines the singularity of "seed". "(Note in passing that the scripture says not 'seeds' but uses the singular `seed', meaning Christ)", Phillips.

de "-" - but, and. Obviously here a connective noting the next step in the argument and presumably serving to relate the point made of a normal testamentary disposition to that made between God and Abraham. "That is how it is with the promises God made to Abraham", CEV.

ai epaggeliai (a) "the promises" - Nominative subject of the verb "to speak." The use of the plural here is interesting, given that Paul usually has "promise" singular. The promise was a package of promises, land, people and a blessing to the world = the kingdom = life. The plural may also reflect the fact that the promise is repeated on a number of occasions, so Bligh. To avoid confusion we are probably best served by using the singular. The "promise" is that part of the covenant agreement which is the focus of Paul's argument at the moment - the promised blessing/s, "life". "The promise of God was settled on Abraham", Bruce.

erreqhsan (eipon) aor. pas. "were spoken" - "The promise God gave to Abraham", as with "the covenant God made with Abraham."

tw/ spermati (a atoV) dat. "to [his] seed" - As with "Abraham", dative of indirect object. Although Paul makes an issue of the singular and plural he would have known that the singular of "seed" properly takes a collective meaning, but, advancing his argument within rabbinical rules of debate, he points out that it can rightly be taken as singular, and its singularity find's fulfillment in Christ. The singular is important and needs to be underlined in English, namely, that the promise was ultimately intended for "one of his [Abraham's] descendents", TH, namely, Christ.

autou gen. pro. "his" - The genitive is adjectival, relational.

ou legei (legw) pres. "The Scripture does not say" - it does not say. The subject is presumably "Scripture", but possibly "God" (Lightfoot, "either"), even the promise itself; "it does not say", Cassirer, "the promise does not address plural descendants but a singular descendent."

wJV + gen. "meaning [many people]" - as concerning [many]. Here expressing a characteristic quality; "the promise does not refer to 'seeds' as about many, but 'seed' as about one."

epi + gen. "to" - Reference / respect, "about / concerning", seems the intended sense, although this is an unusual sense for the preposition; "It does not say, 'And to offsprings', referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring', who is Christ", ESV. BDAG suggests perspective.

all (alla) "but" - Adversative, as NIV.

oJV masc. pro. "who [is Christ]" - Nominative subject of the verb to-be. The antecedent "seed" is neuter so it should be "the one seed which is Christ", but obviously the pronoun has been attracted to the gender of its complement, namely, "Christ".


b) The seniority of the covenant, v17-18. Paul now explains the point he is making, namely, that the Abrahamic covenant stands in its own right and has not been replaced, or supplemented, by the Mosaic covenant (the giving of the law), v17-18. Of course, this means that the judaizers have misunderstood the function of the law, as detailed in the Mosaic covenant. Paul will develop this issue in his next argument, 3:19-25.

touto de legw "what I mean is this:" - "Now what I am contending is this", Cassirer.

oJ .... nomoV (oV) "the law" - the law. The law of Moses, Torah.

gegonwV (ginomai) perf. part. "introduced" - having come into being. The participle, forming the rather long participial phrase, "having come into being after four hundred and thirty years", is adjectival, modifying "the law". The unwieldy nature of the phrase is possibly derogatory, a little poke in the eye for the law. "The law which has come into force", Zerwick.

ouk akuroi (akurow) pres. "does not set aside" - does not annul, cancel, make invalid. "The law does not invalidate the covenant", Martyn.

diaqhkhn (h) "the covenant" - a testament, legal agreement. Accusative direct object of the verb "to annul." Being anarthrous, without an article, possibly indicates that Paul is drawing a general truth about divine agreements - once made, they stick.

prokekurwmenhn (prokurow) perf. pas. part. "[the covenant] previously established" - [a covenant] having been previously confirmed, ratified [by/with God]. The perfect expressing the ongoing status of the covenant while the participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "covenant"; "a covenant which has already been made by God."

upo + gen. "by [God]" - by, from [the God]. Expressing agency, as NIV. Variant addition, an "interpretative gloss", Metzger, eiV Criston, "to / into Christ"; "the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ", AV.

eiV to katarghsai (katargew) aor. inf. "and thus do away with" - to abolish, make of no effect, nullify. This preposition with the articular infinitive often expresses purpose, "in order that", and sometimes even result, "with the result that / so that"; "so as to (in such a way as to) render the promise null and void", Cassirer, BDF.391.3. Bligh suggests it is neither, but serves to restate the main clause, ie., serving as an appositional substantive clause: "the law does not invalidate the covenant; it does not frustrate the promise". Usually tou + the articular infinitive is used to express purpose and it is possible that eiV + the articular infinitive is being used instead of a more general hina clause. "Frustrate" seems a little weak, but "nullify" is a bit too strong. Paul may well have something like "interfere" in mind; "it does not override the promise made to Abraham" (an absurd notion).


To conclude his argument, Paul reinforces the point he has made in v17, namely that the covenant blessings are independent of the law. He does this with a hypothetical argument demolished by a fact of history. "For you see" (gar), if the giving of the law necessarily adds something for the appropriation of the covenant promise, then the "inheritance", the acquisition of the promised blessings, does not truly rest on a divine promise ("an unconditional grant of God", Ridderbos). "Yet" (but de), as Paul's readers knew well "the inheritance was something that God gave to Abraham", Martyn, and this being the case, the latter-arriving law neither replaces, nor contributes to the acquisition of that inheritance.

gar "for" - More reason than cause; establishing a hypothetical argument. Possibly a general "and indeed", but better "the real reason for Paul's conclusion in v17", Longenecker; "you see, if ...... [then] ......, but .....", NJB.

ei "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 2nd class, contrary-to-fact, although an in the apodosis is missing, as it is in 25% of examples, and the verb is unstated, eg. "if the inheritance came by the law, then it would no longer be ......", Cassirer. See below for "came by".

hJ klhronomia (a) "inheritance" - The promised covenant blessings which, of course, for Paul and his opponents are, by now, spiritualized. "Life", which for Paul is "Christ in me", encapsulates the Abrahamic covenant promises of a people, a land and a blessing to the world. In the end it is "all the benefits of God's work of salvation", Betz.

ek "depends on [law]" - out of from [law]. As noted, there is no verb and so the preposition is left to express the action. This preposition, followed by a genitive, is likely to express source / origin, the idea that the inheritance comes out of law, is sourced from, finds its origin in law. Cassirer and others, as noted above, opts for an instrumental sense, "comes by the law", and this can easily move to express cause / basis, "the reason for", Ridderbos, "is based on the law", Bruce, Longenecker, "rests on the law", Goodspeed, "depends on observing the law", Knox. It is unlikely that the judaizers would argue that law replaces ("annuls") grace (they would likely view the law as a codicil to the covenant, a contribution to its proper realization, whereas Paul argues that grace is independent of law. Of course, it can be argued that they see the Sinai covenant as a renewal, and thus a replacement of the Abrahamic covenant), so our chosen verb needs to express the law's contributory function, eg. "if our inheritance is conditioned by law, then it is a meaningless promise", Junkins. So, something like: "if our inheritance comes, in part, from our obedience to the law ..."

ouketi "[then it] no longer" - Not temporal, but logical, so Lightfoot, but a temporal sense can be argued; "then it does not depend fully on a promise / grace"; "then it makes God's promise / grace as though it were nothing", TH.

ex (ek) + gen. "depends on [the promise]" - out of, from [promise]. See above.

de "but" - Adversative, as NIV. "But in point of fact ...", Barclay.

kecaristai (carizomai) perf. mid. "[God] in his grace gave" - has bestowed, granted as a favour. The word is a derivative of "grace" and has a technical usage in law, eg. "deed something by will", Ridderbos. The perfect may express the ongoing consequences of God's grace to Abraham, so Bruce, but as Turner notes, the perfect in a narrative is aoristic, so "was graciously given", Barclay.

"it" - "The inheritance".

tw/ Abraam "to Abraham" - Dative of indirect object. Emphatic position in the clause.

dia "through" - through, by means of. Taking an instrumental sense, expressing means.

epaggeliaV (a) "a promise" - The promise, God's promise to bless, his covenant mercy, his grace (realized in the faithfulness of Christ), is the means by which the inheritance is attained. This fact cannot be altered by the giving of the law since God's word, his promise, stands eternally.


Galatians Introduction.



[Pumpkin Cottage]