Galatians 3, the Land, and the Abrahamic Covenant: What Was Paul Thinking? (Pt.4)

This post will summarize the main points I would wish to make about how best to understand the seeming tension between Paul’s teaching about the “Seed” in his discussion of faith in Galatians 3.  I believe if we are not going to turn much of the testimony of Scripture on its head we should not go down the road suggested by Grover Gunn in his explanation of the passage and his inferences based thereon.

In disagreeing with Gunn I am not saying that he is not justified in attending to the places in Genesis where the apostle appears to be getting his language about “and to your seed” from: that is, from Genesis 12 through 22.  The problem comes in when he extrapolates from the false notion that Paul is quoting from only two places in the Septuagint and claims the land promise of these “seed” passages must be transferred to the Church and turned magically into promises of heaven.  When Christians insist that this must be done they are going beyond the teaching of the NT, not to say the apostle Paul elsewhere (e.g. Romans 11).  They are also claiming the OT cannot be properly understood without the New – a claim which sounds pious enough, until it is analyzed in light of its logical outcome (more on this soon).

My response (which, remember, was just a part response) is that in order for the Abrahamic covenant to be tied to the Church (especially its Gentile contingent), that covenant must be connected to the New covenant in Christ.  If that is true then Paul is thinking along these lines when he cites the four words “and to your seed” from Genesis.  He most probably does not have an exact reference in mind, as he did with his earlier quotation of Genesis 15:6, but rather has in view the repeated use of the phrase through the Abrahamic narrative (if I had to make a guess which passage Paul may have been citing I would go for Gen. 22:18).

If one accepts this thesis then the corporate dimension of the AC – which Paul needs to complete his argument in Galatians 3:29 – remains intact, but is channeled through the “Mediator of the New covenant” – the one “Seed” of Galatians 3:16.  Thus, because the Church is a participant in the Abrahamic covenant via the promises in Genesis 12:3 and 22:18, it does so just because of its participation in the New covenant in Christ.

I realize that this view has not been widely accepted by many dispensationalists, but that is because they have gotten bogged down in Jeremiah 31:31 and have not recognized that the prophet is speaking there about the [future] participation of the Remnant Israelites in the eschaton.  Why would Jeremiah mention the Church?  No, if we are going to see whether the Church has any stake in the New covenant we must study the NT teaching about that issue.  Surely 1 Corinthians 11 settles it?  The Church also participates in the New covenant through Christ and therefore, can draw upon those promises in the AC which pertain to it.  As for Israel, they shall enter into their promises; promises which include the land promised to Abraham and his [plural] seed (Psa. 105:6-11).

I think this is all I want to say about this interesting subject right now.  The actual reasoning in the exposition of Galatians 3:1-16 is given in Part Two.  Lord willing, when I write my longer series of posts on “Teleology and Eschatology” I shall revisit this question.  Part Five

Part One

Part Two

Part Three



  1. After reading these posts I have a few questions

    1. What distinction do you make between replacement theology as a hermeneutic and progressive revelation?
    You state plainly that the New Testament doesn’t reinterpret the Old Testament (which I agree with) but the Old Testament isn’t comprehensive; there are types and shadows and prophecies that have unexpected fulfillment (Jeremiah 13:15 and Matthew 2:18). I’m not claiming that Matthew 2:18 reinterprets Jeremiah 13:15 or that Matthew 2:18 is outside of what Jeremiah 13:15 could predict. But did anyone in Jeremiah’s day predict the massacre of the innocents as the meaning of that prophecy?
    What I am saying is that the Old Testament is not exhaustive in and of its self and in the New Testament we have progressive revelation. How do you navigate the continuity of the testaments such that the New Testament isn’t read like an almost unnecessary appendix or just an explanation of how the Gentiles make it to heaven? In other words, how do you distinguish between replacement theology (reinterpretation of the Old) and progressive revelation (the straight forward explanation of the Old)? Or have I misunderstood the issue?

    2. In what sense do you believe that Gentile-Christians are sons of Abraham?
    This is why I ask: One of the reasons I’m not a Dispensationalist nor an adherent to replacement theology is because I understand both to teach unnecessary discontinuity. The replacement theologian appears to wrongly minimize or reinterpret Israel and the straight forward promises of the land (i.e. The Old Testament can’t mean what is plainly states). On the other hand, the Dispensationalist appears to wrongly minimize or reinterpret the Church and the straight forward promises of inheritance as sons of Abraham in Christ (i.e. The New Testament can’t mean what is plainly states). Replacement Theology makes Israel second class while Dispensationalism makes the church second class Both appear to wrongly minimize or reinterpret what it means for Israel and the Church to be sons of God through Christ.
    You wrote, “If Gunn had written ‘all the promises given to Abraham belong to all who are in Christ’ (which is what he really meant), he would have stepped over the line into territory out of bounds of Paul’s argument.” I disagree. Have I missed something in the nuance of each argument? As I read Romans 11, Galatians 3, and Ephesians 2 the straight forward reading is that all the promises given to Abraham belong to all who are in Christ. Help me here.

    Thanks for putting this together. My understanding of Christ and appreciation of Christ are deeper because of you.

    1. Hello Paul Duncan,

      Not to muddy the waters on the other subjects that you have raised, I thought it might be worth mentioning that one of your examples (“Matthew 2:18 reinterprets Jeremiah 13:15”) could perhaps be clarified by noting that there are various ways in which the NT authors use OT references. Confusion often arises when we take every mention of an OT passage by a NT author and assume the purpose of citing the passages is one of reinterpretation when, in many cases, that is not the author’s purpose. If we pay close attention to the two contexts (both in the OT and the NT) we can often come to a better understanding of why the NT author employs the OT citation. Such is the case with Matthew’s use of Jeremiah mentioned above.

      Here are some thoughts on this taken from Michael Rydelnik’s excellent book, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic. I offer them hoping they will help clarify Matthew’s citation of Jeremiah.

      Jeremiah 31:15 speaks of Ramah as the place of weeping because it was there the Babylonians gathered the captive young men of Judah before sending them into exile (Jer 40:1-2). There Rachel was said to weep for her children. Obviously, the matriarch Rachel had been long dead when Jeremiah wrote. So Jeremiah did not use her name literally (i.e., weeping from her grave) but rather symbolically, representing all of Jewish mothers. Thus Jeremiah states that Jewish mothers were weeping for their sons who had died in the war with Babylon and for the young men who were being taken to a distant land as captives. Jeremiah was referring to the deep pain of Jewish mothers at the loss of their young men to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. So the quesiton is, Since Jer 31:15 refers to the Babylonian exile, how could Matthew cite the Slaughter of the innocents as fulfilling this text? [p. 105]

      The reason for Matthew’s citation of Jer 31:15 was to show that Scripture had a continuing relevance. As David L. Cooper wrote, “Matthew simply applies the language of this prophecy to a similar situation of his day.” Just as Rachel represented Jewish mothers who wept at the death and exile of their sons, so Jewish mothers once again mourned when wicked Herod murdered their children. And Rachel has continued to lament and has refused to be consoled for her children as they have been murdered by Crusaders, nazis, and terrorists. Sadly, this is a Scripture that has had continued relevance for centuries. [p. 108]

      By quoting this text, Matthew understood a principle in a biblical passage and then applied it to [his] contemporary situation. Thus Matthew recognized that Jeremiah wrote of the suffering of Rachel, the personification of Jewish mothers, at the exile. He, in turn, applied the principle that the Jewish mothers of Bethlehem still wept because of the suffering of their children at the hands of wicked Herod. [p. 108]

      So two keys to correlating such OT passages with NT citation are: 1) what is the original context of the OT passage? and 2) what is the purpose for which the NT author employs the OT passage? Often it is for a different purpose than plain fulfillment and does the NT author reinterpret the OT passage in a way which circumvents the original meaning to the original audience.

      1. Correction: “and does the NT author reinterpret the OT passage” in the last paragraph should read instead “and [never] does the NT author reinterpret the OT passage”.

        (Paul Henebury – when you consider the ‘face lift’ you mentioned of your blog, I wonder if it would be possible to add or enable features which allow comments to be previewed — for HTML correctness — and edited by the submitter to make corrections? Something worth considering if possible.]

      2. Tony, I’m in complete agreement. My question lies with the distinction between replacement theology (or reinterpretation) and progressive revelation. I would think that Gunn could agree with the statement also and claim that what he is doing with the promises of the land is only pointing out the continued relevance of the covenant promises.

      3. Paul Duncan wrote: “I would think Gunn could agree with the statement also and claim that what he is doing with the promises of the land is only pointing out the continued relevance of the covenant promises.”

        Perhaps Gun could claim such an agreement, but that leaves it up to his readers to decide if that is really what he is saying. This citation from Gunn in earlier discussion makes it patently clear he is not avoiding reinterpretation:

        I believe the Jewish inhabitation of Palestine in the Old Testament was a temporary typological symbol and pledge of the ultimate eternal inheritance of the saints. I also believe that the land promise applies to the Christian today in the spiritual rest and heavenly position that is his in Christ Jesus.

        So it is plain that Gunn is reinterpreting the OT promises:

        1. They are mere temporary and meant as typological symbols, not with a real earthly fulfillment (which denies what the OT plainly states).

        2. They find their fulfillment in the “spiritual rest and heavenly position” of believers today. In other words, their original meaning to the original audience is completely denied and reinterpreted to mean something entirely different.

        This places Gunn on the horns of the dilemma which Paul Henebury has been on about: how can we trust in a God Who’s OT promises can come to fruition in supposed ways which completely side-step their original meaning. That isn’t how a promise words nor how a trustworthy user of language communicates.

        So the issue is pretty clear: Gunn denies the original meaning and reinterprets it to be something else. “Continued relevance” of the covenant promises includes the continuation of their original meaning, possibly augmented, but never controverted.

      4. Thanks Tony, that brings some clarity. Could we then say: “Progressive revelation labors to demonstrate the continuity between fulfillment and original meaning. There is a direct connection between beginning promise and ending fulfillment because that continuity was planned by God, confirmed by His nature, and steered by His providence”?

        So the good Dr. Reluctant is right in pointing out that reinterpretation is dangerous because it erodes the character of God (i.e. I know that’s what He said but its not what He meant; thus God is disingenuous).

      5. Update: Progressive revelation can’t labor.

        More accurately progressive revelation is a belief concerning the way God delivered, explained, and fulfills His word. As centuries progressed God continued to speak and act explaining and fulfilling what He originally set out to do always in agreement with His nature and always faithful to His word.

        Is this the historic understanding of progressive revelation or have I reinterpreted it?

  2. I think the following will help clear up the confusion if you read Gal 3:16 as it should (see the Original): “to Abraham the promise was made; and to his seed”. In other words two distinct occasions as in Gen 12 and in Gen 22.

    From Darby’s Synopsis on Galatians:
    The unconditional promises confirmed to Christ and given long before the law; the reason the law was given

    Having thus touched on this point, the apostle now treats, not the effect of the law upon the conscience, but the mutual relationship that existed between the law and the promise. Now the promise had been given first, and not only given, but it had been confirmed; and, had it been but a human covenant solemnly confirmed, it could neither be added to nor annulled. But God had engaged Himself to Abraham by promise 430 years before the law, having deposited, so to say, the blessing of the Gentiles in his person (Gen. 12). This promise was confirmed to his seed* (Isaac: Gen. 22), and to only one; he does not say to the seeds, but “to the Seed,” and it is Christ who is this Seed. A Jew would not deny this last point. Now the law, coming so long after, could not annul the promise that was made before and solemnly confirmed by God, so as to render it of no effect. For if the inheritance were on the principle of law, it was no more on that of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. “Wherefore then the law?” since the unchangeable promise was already given, and the inheritance must come to the object of that promise, the law having no power to change it in any way. It is because there is another question between the soul and God, or, if you will, between God and man, namely, that of righteousness. Grace, which chooses to bestow blessing, and which promises it beforehand, is not the only source of blessing for us. The question of righteousness must be settled with God, the question of sin and of the guilt of man.
    “{*We must read, “It is to Abraham that the promise was made, and to his seed”: not, “to Abraham and to his seed.” The promises relating to the temporal blessings of Israel were made to Abraham and to his seed, with the addition that this seed should be as the stars in multitude. But here Paul is not speaking of the promises made to the Jews, but of the blessing granted to the Gentiles. And the promise of blessing for the Gentiles was made to Abraham alone, without mentioning his seed (Gen. 12), and, as the apostle says here, it was confirmed to his seed — without naming Abraham (Gen. 22) — in the alone person of Isaac, the type of the Lord Jesus offered up in sacrifice and raised from the dead, as Isaac was in a figure. Thus the promise was confirmed, not in Christ, but to Christ the true seed of Abraham. It is on this fact, that the promises were confirmed to Christ, that the whole argument of the apostle depends. The importance of the typical fact, that it is after the figurative sacrifice and resurrection of Isaac that the promise was confirmed to the latter, is evident. Doubtless that which realised this figure secured thus the promise to David; but at the same time the middle wall of partition was broken down, the blessing can flow to the Gentiles — and, let us add, to the Jews also — by virtue of the expiation made by Christ; the believer, made the righteousness of God in Him, can be sealed with the Holy Ghost who had been promised. When once the import of Genesis 12 and 22 has been apprehended, in that which relates to the promises of blessing made to the Gentiles, one sees most clearly the foundation on which the apostle’s argument rests.}”

  3. I am not well versed and I easily miss nuances so please bear with me.

    My concern is not a law/promise matter but one of division in Christ. The above comment by Holden seems to teach that the Jews will inherit the land because they are in Christ and the promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ. So, the Jews ultimately inherit the land because of Jesus not because they are Jewish by race (I whole heartedly agree).

    However, it also appears that classic dispensationalism claims that Gentiles (though in Christ the same as Jews and righteous like the Jews) will not inherit the land promised to Abraham and to his seed. Thus Gentile believers are the seed but not really.

    So Gunn claims Israel doesn’t get the land. Dispensationalism claim Gentiles don’t get the land. As I read the passages it appears that all those who are in Christ get all the promises fulfilled in Christ.

    Help me on this one.

    1. Paul Duncan,

      My post was more about addressing the 4 part series by Paul Henebury. It appeared to me that if the passage (Gal 3:16) is read correctly (with the mention of two separate instances of the promises to the Gentiles: to Abraham alone (Gen 12) and to the “single” seed alone (Gen 22) much of the cloudiness dissipates.

      By the way the “in Christ” of the following verse (Gal 3:17) in some versions should firstly not be “in” but rather “to” Christ. And secondly, it is likely to be omitted altogether as a copyist error.
      This particular argument is about the promises to Christ, the resurrected One, conform Isaac in Gen 22 who the promises are confirmed to after the sacrifice and who is a type of Christ.

      1. I thought I was missing a nuance in here. Please explain (because I’ve read Darby’s quote 4 times) the exact difference between promises confirmed in Christ and promises confirmed to Christ.

  4. Promises confirmed in Christ and promises confirmed to Christ

    Of course all the promises are in Christ “yeah and Amen” (2 Cor 1:20) as Christ is the ultimate fulfiller of the promises including those to Abraham’s natural progeny.
    But the apostle’s argument is not about that in Gal. 3:16. There he argues that the promises were confirmed again to the Seed, which is Christ he said. Since these promises had been confirmed anew, they cannot be annulled or added to. And therefore “the blessing of all nations” (that’s the only part that would apply to the Galatians of course) must rest on those promises and not on keeping the law. The law was added later, but not to the promises and therefore cannot be mixed up with the promises. As the confirmation of the promises was to a resurrected One, no law could apply any longer, see Rom 7.
    The apostle will develop further down that we are also seed of Abraham since we are “of” Christ having been joined to Christ in His death and resurrection of which baptism speaks. Having thus put on Christ, the identities and dealings of the old life have ceased to exist: no Jew or Greek, etc.. We live in a new life, dead to the law. The blessings are not based on a performance by the flesh, but by the promise of the Spirit through faith.
    There is thus perfect continuity from Abraham down to us. But it’s the continuity of freedom, not the law, as is explained in Gal. 4. The continuity is via Isaac and not Ishmael.

      1. Pardon me for my impatience for people who insist on reconstituting the Law of Moses, whether they be Dispensationalists or Covenant theologians. If Christ isn’t enough why not just wear the badge of legalism proudly?

      2. I don’t even understand your question. Can you give one example of a Dispensationalist who “reconstitutes the Law of Moses”? If not, I don’t have time for this back and forth.

  5. Replacement Theology is quite simple. One New Man, from Jew and Gentile, becomes a stone in the New Covenant edifice. The Old Covenant edifice, the Temple, was destroyed in 70 AD and so that covenant.

  6. Methinks Mr Anderson is here to promote his blog. Hence, the link to it upon clicking his name. Interesting material 😉

    1. That is not my New Covenant blog. Methinks you are wrong. Attack the messenger. If you enjoy being a legalist you will one day see it is wrong. I won’t bother you and you can stay with the blind.

    2. But thank you for saying it is interesting. It is a business blog. I contribute to Talkmarkets and sometimes I post my Talkmarkets articles there and other examples of globalization. The globalists rule the world and the New Roman Empire, IE the Anglo/American/Israel Empire is the one God most hates. It had been dormant for 1000 years and came to life around 500 AD.

      1. Apologies that I gave the impression of attacking you. Didn’t intend it that way. Take it as friendly banter from a dispie with less than half a brain.

  7. Pardon me for my impatience for people who insist on reconstituting the Law of Moses, whether they be Dispensationalists or Covenant theologians.

    Your comment reveals a lack of familiarity with the Law of Moses and the passage regarding Ezekiel’s temple. If you examine the passages concerning Ezekiel’s temple in more detail. You’ll see that numerous aspects, from the priesthood to the sacrifices, do not follow the Law of Moses.

    So I don’t see how one can say it involves “reconstituting the Law of Moses.” Animal sacrifices: yes. Law of Moses: no.

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