This blog continues my notes on translating Galatians
Galatians 3: 15
I’ll give you a human instance, brothers and sisters: nobody sets aside or makes additions even to a human will once it has been ratified. Now the promises were directed to “Abraham and his descendant.” It did not say, “and to descendants”, meaning many, but rather “to your descendant” meaning one person, who is Messiah.
This is again a slightly specious argument. The Hebrew word in question is “seed,” which can be both singular and plural. Paul uses what may have been a rabbinical interpretation to refer the promises made to Abraham to the Messiah, only Paul means Jesus Messiah. Paul sometimes makes use of legal comparisons to bolster his argument, displaying a good general understanding of Law rather than any specific expertise.
This is what I mean: a will and testament previously ratified by God cannot be invalidated by a Law which came four hundred and thirty years later, so as to do away with the promise. If the inheritance comes by Law, then it is in no way by a promise; but God bestowed it on Abraham by a promise. So why the Law? It was added to deal with crimes until the descendant to whom the promise had been made, should come, and it was commanded by angels through an intermediary. An intermediary indicates more than one, but God is One.
Paul’s bible study has shown him, by dint of working through generations, that there were 430 years between Abraham and Moses. God’s agreement with Abe cannot be altered by the subsequent gift of the Torah to Mo, he says. But surely it can be, because it’s the same God and a different human person. No, says Paul, because although scripture doesn’t mention them, tradition tells us that the Torah law was given to Mo by angels. Who cannot alter God’s prior agreement with Abe. A moment’s thought suggests the question: but whoever gave the Torah, surely it is nevertheless God’s Law? Paul doesn’t ask that question because he is actually arguing that the Torah Law was never fully God’s will, since it came through an intermediary, namely Moses. Now Moses + God =2; but God =1. So Paul has proven that the Torah Law is not fully divine, whereas the promise to Abe is and therefore stands forever, or at least until it is fulfilled in Abe’s descendant, Jesus.
Paul went over this ground again in his letter to Romans, but with better argumentation.(Romans 3, 7, 9). I often wonder with reference to some of Paul’s arguments, what his original readers thought of them. I imagine a good deal of puzzled head-scratching.
Paul is dealing with a vital issue: does following Jesus entail becoming, as Jesus was, a practising Jew? He knows that when a Gentile man has entrusted his life to Jesus, it’s ridiculous to say to him, “Now you have to get your tadger trimmed.” Paul’s work on this issue is liberating and down-to-earth, even when his arguments are dodgy.