Sunday: Law and Faith
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Even if his opponents conceded that Abraham’s life was characterized primarily by faith, Paul knew that they still would have questions about why God gave the law to Israel about four centuries after Abraham. Did not the giving of the law nullify any previous arrangement?

What is the point of Paul’s analogy between a person’s final will and testament and God’s covenant with Abraham? Gal. 3:15–18.



A covenant and a will are generally different. A covenant is typically a mutual agreement between two or more people, often called a “contract” or “treaty”; in contrast, a will is the declaration of a single person. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, never translates God’s covenant with Abraham with the Greek word used for mutual agreements or contracts (syntheke). Instead, it uses the word for a testament or a will (diatheke). Why? Probably because the translators recognized that God’s covenant with Abraham was not a treaty between two individuals, where mutually binding promises are made. On the contrary, God’s covenant was based on nothing other than His own will. No string of “ifs, ands, or buts” was attached. Abraham was simply to take God at His word.

Paul picks up on this double meaning of “will” and “covenant” in order to highlight specific features of God’s covenant with Abraham. As with a human will, God’s promise concerns a specific beneficiary, Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 12:1–5, Gal. 3:16); it also involves an inheritance (Gen. 13:15, 17:8, Rom. 4:13, Gal. 3:29). Most important to Paul is the unchanging nature of God’s promise. In the same way that a person’s will cannot be changed once it has been put into force, so the giving of the law through Moses cannot simply nullify God’s previous covenant with Abraham. God’s covenant is a promise (Gal. 3:16), and by no means is God a promise-breaker (Isa. 46:11, Heb. 6:18).

Replace the word covenant with promise in the following passages. What is the nature of the “covenant” in each passage? How does understanding God’s covenant as a promise make the meaning of the passage clearer, and how does it help us understand better what a covenant is? (Gen. 9:11–17, 15:18, 17:1–21). What does this teach us, too, about the character of God, and how we can trust Him?

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Sunday: Law and Faith — 6 Comments

  1. I see Paul as a great lawyer and intellect. It speaks to the importance of training leaders who are educated to help explain complex concepts that maybe Peter was not able too. My thoughts! Not that either way matters to God.

    Paul attempts to explain "will" vs "covenant". Why did he need to do this anyways. I submit to you that we hold on to tradition or people who represents what is expected of us to the extent where we loose sight of what God said and is saying to us.

    Are we today still looking towards the Abraham's and the church founders for guidance. How transformed are we where we respect the legacy but primarily look towards God. Paul arguments went up against people who believe more in man and protocol as oppose to the very son of man and son of God who walked the earth only a few years back. How interesting.

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  2. Replacing the word covenant with promise in the text given makes no sense. You'll have to replace more than one word to change the meaning to be a one sided agreement.

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    • Eric, lol...plain talk, I like that.

      I appreciate that these lessons are only a guide and we may not agree with some of the specifics or suggestions. Mostly, I think these lessons are extremely valuable.

      Was it clear to you without doing the suggested replacement?

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  3. "Paul picks up on this double meaning of “will” and “covenant” in order to highlight specific features of God’s covenant with Abraham. As with a human will, God’s promise concerns a specific beneficiary, Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 12:1–5, Gal. 3:16); it also involves an inheritance (Gen. 13:15, 17:8, Rom. 4:13, Gal. 3:29). Most important to Paul is the unchanging nature of God’s promise. In the same way that a person’s will cannot be changed once it has been put into force, so the giving of the law through Moses cannot simply nullify God’s previous covenant with Abraham. God’s covenant is a promise (Gal. 3:16), and by no means is God a promise-breaker (Isa. 46:11, Heb. 6:18)." The Author

    The covenant God had with Abraham was literal to Abraham and Messianic as well. Literal, in that Abraham desired a literal human heir to his possessions; but Messianic as well, because through Abraham's literal heir, all of humanity would have access to eternal life and salvation.

    God on the other hand, made a covenant with His friend; who had an overriding desire for a son and an heir; and fullfilled
    Hiis agreement twenty-seven years later by indeed giving Abraham a son, Issac.

    The other side to the covenant with Abraham was Messianic. This side Abraham accepted in faith. This side therefore, was totally dictated by God and was one-sided. And so it had to be; not only for Abraham, but for all of humanity as well. We, like Abraham have no part to play in the salviation of our souls...but like Abraham, if we accept God's one-sided plan; and in faith as well; if we believe God as Abraham did; we too, like faithfull Abraham, will have our faith in Jesus counted to us for righteousness.

    Abraham's faith in Jesus was represented in the sacrifices he made to God, in atonement for his sins. And so sincere he was to ask forgiveness for his sins; that he would as well, sacrifice his only son and heir, for whom he had waited twenty-seven years. And this he would do, knowing that he would not have another son[he knew that it was impossible for him to father a son--Romans 4:19].

    Yet Abraham had so strong a belief in God re the requirement for the sacrifice for sin, that this man of faith did not hesitate to sacrifice his only son for his, Abraham's sins.

    The Lord, by using Abraham as an example for humanity to see the enormity of sin; and to see the extent that he Himself was willing to go to save humaity, should make humanity abhor sin.
    It is in this sense, and this sense alone that we as humans must "yeild our members instruments of righteousness".-which one can only do by faith in Christ- Rom.6:13..and I might add, just as Abraham did!...And like Abraham, it will also be "counted to us as righteousness".

    Courtney

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  4. @ Jason:
    Paul makes clear that the nature of God's covenant with Abraham was of the nature of a last will or testament -- that is, it was a wholly one-sided "covenant" based on the promises of God. For clarification of this please see the post, "What Is a Covenant?".

    This is not a trivial matter. It is foundational to the teaching of salvation by grace.

    Since the covenant was/is one-sided, there is nothing that man can add to it. As spiritual descendants of Abraham, all we can do is to accept it -- to trust that God will do what He has promised. The evidence of this trust is that we accept Him as Lord of all of our lives. If He is not Lord of all in our lives, He is not Lord at all.

    A two-sided covenant would imply that humanity has something to offer to God in exchange for salvation. Paul's argument in his epistles is that there is nothing we can offer God in exchange for salvation. Our righteousness (righteous act) is nothing more than "filthy rags" in the sight of a holy God. We are utterly and totally dependent on God for our salvation.

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    • Thanks, Inge. Certainly it is not trivial. That I agree.

      I spoke to this specific area which is still heavily debated even today. It defines many different christian denominations' philosophies and defining beliefs.

      I first spoke to the fact that many concepts we expect each other to "get" comes from studying yes, but through those who are educated in the ways of the lord and are spirit lead where they can simplify the most complicated or seemingly complicated concepts. Paul achieved this at every step of the way. Are we able to do this today?

      I also discussed that the reason that Paul or even many of us today still have to find more and more creative ways to clarify as you said and I paraphrase, a "non trivial matter" are two. 1, being that we wrestle not against flesh that the other guy seeks to deceive. But 2, that our carnal nature can not comprehend the simplicity of God's plan. It is hard for us to accept a plan that is faith base as one that is base on works. So most of us make excuses or try to complicate it as a sell-able plan of salvation.

      Blessings....

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