An Addendum to the “Galatians 3” Posts

I have been asked some questions which I find are better fitted to another post than an interminable reply in the combox.  The questioner is my friend Paul Duncan, and I hope he will not be embarrassed if I address my comments directly to him, though with other readers in mind.

Hi Paul, I am back in town and will try to answer your questions as asked in the comments on the fourth post.  However, I shall have to point out several presuppositions in your argument, some of which may perhaps be hidden from you.  I’m glad Tony has saved me the time of explaining Matthew’s use of Jeremiah.  Btw, this is the standard interpretation across the board, dispensational or not.  I would only add the fact that NT writers employ the word “fulfillment” in a few different ways; sometimes they point to an application as here (thus cf. 1 Cor. 10:6 “example”).  Sometimes a partial fulfillment, as when Christ read from Isa. 61 but stopped short of the whole quotation.  Sometimes, of course, the fulfillment is a direct confirmation of a prediction, as when the scribes knew Christ would be born in Bethlehem from Micah 5:2.  There is more to say on “fulfillment”, but I hope I’ve made my point sufficiently.

Your first question asks: “1. What distinction do you make between replacement theology as a hermeneutic and progressive revelation?”

Your phrasing of the questions helps my answer.  Notice “replacement theology” comes to a passage with certain theological baggage: there is only one people of God; the Church, and the Church perforce must be the “New Israel.”  But “progressive revelation” is much as you’ve defined it.  It is God who reveals, and He does so gradually.  But He never circumvents a prior revelation with a later one, which, as you acknowledge, would make His earlier revelation disingenuous (i.e. a prevarication), and so would throw suspicion on any later revelations.

CT forces progressive revelation into its premeditated mold.  Everything must conform to the covenant of grace in particular.  Hence, all those saved by grace are under that covenant (which is found nowhere in Scripture), resulting in one people of God, whether that is what the Bible actually says or not.  Thus, the Bible must be made to “teach” this via the expedient of a forced typology, which the plain-sense must yield to if it threatens the theological mold.  I teach my students never to build any doctrine on a type!  Types may illustrate an already formulated doctrine, but they can never establish it!  I hope you follow.

Progressive revelation makes no sense to me if ones hermeneutics have to change in order to keep up with it.  How does revelation progress if it flits from the plain-sense to some typological sense with such unnerving abandon?   Dispensationalists operate from the assumption that progressive revelation is tied to the dictum that God means what He says to whom He says it.  My brand of Biblical Theology, which I call Biblical Covenantalism, relies on progressive revelation which grows out of hermeneutical continuity.  that being so, once God has covenanted the “Holy Land” to Israel He cannot give it to the Church.  They are two distinct entities (e.g. Israel exists as a geo-political ethnic nation long before the Church was even formed after the resurrection of Christ).

Your second question was: “2. In what sense do you believe that Gentile-Christians are sons of Abraham?”

The first thing to say is that they are not sons of Abraham (better Abraham’s seed – Gal. 3:29) in the physical sense.  Paul says we are sons through like faith (e.g. Gal. 3:7-9; Rom. 4:16).  This being true, I could write in the second post:

Galatians 3:6-9

Now Abraham is introduced, together with the quotation of Genesis 15:6 to prove that justification is by faith alone (3:6).  And just as Abraham’s faith was declared sufficient for justification, so we too must exercise faith in God’s Word to us [in the Gospel] (3:7).  The next verse quotes from the promise of blessing to all nations through Abraham by faith (3:8).  This connects salvation to the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Rom.4).  The verse says the Scripture foresaw this salvation of the Gentiles.  Paul shows this by simply bringing Gen.15:6 and Gen. 12:3 together.  Righteousness is what man most needs, and that is what God imputed to Abraham in Gen. 15:6 upon his faith.  The Gentile nations will be blessed – which starts with imputed righteousness – by their faith-connection with Abraham via the covenant (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:9).  Thus, there is a corporate identity via a provision (Gen. 12:3) of the Abrahamic covenant (hereafter AC).

Please note that Paul in Galatians is not teaching about the covenant promises to Israel (viz. land, king, priesthood, preeminence), but has as his subject the purity of the Gospel of justification by grace through faith which was in danger of being subverted.  If we keep that in mind we shall not be tempted to drift into the sort of symbolic implication which Gunn, uniquely as far as I know, has pursued.  Instead, we shall see that Paul links our “sonship” here to two things: following in the faith of Abraham, and being included in certain (not all) promises pertaining to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic covenant.  The inheritance of verse 18 is not the land, but the blessings within Genesis 12:3 (Gal. 3:8).  We must pay attention to the parts of the AC which Paul is dealing with and not jump to conclusions which the text does not spell out.  Remember, I cited F. F. Bruce, who is not a dispensationalist, to the effect that the land promises are not in view in Galatians 3.

But our specific concern here is with Paul’s use of “Seed” in verse 16.  How can he be so punctiliar when he knows the word is a collective noun (and uses it as such in v. 29)?  I went on to write:

But there is no clear provision in the AC itself to provide the salvation needed for our entering into its blessings upon Gentiles.  This would mean the AC (and also the Davidic and Priestly covenants too), would require supplementing with a specific salvific promise to bring about their fulfillments.   That “supplement” is, as we are told elsewhere and to be brought out next time, the New covenant (NC) in Christ.

Let me remind you of something I said in the second post:

“Option 3. Paul understood that “seed” could not be legitimately confined to a singular noun referring to Messiah, since the word is a collective noun and is used as such many times in the OT, and, indeed, by Paul himself (Gal. 3:29).  In which case the singular and the corporate must be closely related; the corporate fulfillment being predicated on the coming Messiah.

Only this view preserves the integrity of the OT contexts, not to mention the specificity of God’s covenant promises to Israel.  Promises which Paul elsewhere says are inviolable (Rom. 11:25-28).  Only on this view can we avoid the treacherous waters of hermeneutical and philosophical ambiguity upon which the first two views implicitly rely.  This third way would be our position.  To demonstrate it one must try to show that there is no need for an OT passage to be considered a “shadow” or “type” of a NT reality, but rather that the witness of both Testaments can be hermeneutically aligned to allow all the relevant verses to speak in their own words.”

All the covenant promises, whether to Israel or the Gentiles, run through the New covenant and hence through Christ.  This does not mean everyone is in the Church.  Christ is the One through whom God’s covenant promises, differentiated according to whom they were given and what was promised, come to final fulfillment.  In my first post I wrote, with tongue-in-cheek:

“Of course, we know that Gunn sees a deeper meaning to the “land.”  He sees Heaven!  And Heaven is for the Church.  And the Church is “Abraham’s seed.”  Therefore, the Church gets all the blessings entailed in the covenant with Abraham, including the (wink) “land.”  So the reasoning goes.” 

But this makes God talk out of both sides of His mouth.  Revelation becomes, not progressive, but mercurial and unpredictable.

Then, in the third post I said:

“This is what provides Paul with the means whereby he can take up OT passages that plainly refer to a plurality of persons and also the promised land, and route them all through the single Seed in Galatians 3:16.  In so doing he does not have to leave behind the plural meaning of “seed” (i.e. “descendents”).  But he also does not have to forge OT Israel into a “New Israel” which is the NT Church.  Furthermore, he has no need to set aside or transform the promised land either.  The original referents remain intact.  God’s covenants are at least as fixed and immutable as any covenant of men (Gal. 3:15, 17).”

My fourth post included this line: “because the Church is a participant in the AC via the promises in Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 it does so just because of its participation in the New covenant in Christ.”

Genesis 12:3, which is cited by the Apostle, refers not to the land but to blessing on the “nations” other than the physical descendents of Abraham through Isaac (and Jacob).

Finally then, the Church is not minimized and neither is Israel.  In Galatians 3 Paul is dealing with the former, in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28).  But it is a mistake to think that because that is true, that the church gets that which was promised to Israel by an everlasting covenant in the OT – the land (thus Psa. 105:6-11).

I hope this clears away the confusion.  🙂

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12 comments

  1. I think I’m starting gain a real appreciation for how profound some children’s songs are:

    Father Abraham had many sons,
    Many sons had Father Abraham,
    I am one of them, and so are you,
    So let’s just praise the Lord.

    🙂

    Seriously though, I haven’t waded all the way through the series of posts yet, but I look forward to seeing how the discussion all turns out.

  2. very good series! I’ve often contemplated Paul’s usage of the word “seed” in Gal 3, and these articles have been helpful. Also, i thought i’d point something out (something Dr. H is most likely aware of)
    Abraham himself was not an ethnic Jew, not completely — he was originally a Chaldean out of the land of Ur. This is obvious because not all of his descendants are Jewish. Jacob is the first fully ethnic Jew because all of his descendants were Jews (not even the case with Isaac, but Isaac moreso).
    This part is key: NEVER in the NT are gentile believers equated with “sons of Isaac” or “sons of Jacob” — that is a title reserved specifically for ethnic Israel!
    We gentiles are given the title “descendants of Abraham” on the basis that we too “believe and are accredited righteousness”. It is our faith that connects us with the faithful (and Chaldean) Abraham, whereas the Jew has the physical lineage to connect him to Abraham’s (Jewish) blood. And the faithful Jew is, of course, “true Israel” (an entity still distinct from the Church, an entity to whom God will fulfill his OT covenant promises to, through the mediation of the NT as Dr. H points out).
    So in Jeremiah 31,32,33, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Psalms — all throughout the OT — we read about what God has or will do for the “sons of Jacob” or the “house of Israel”, etc. , These references are specifically and entirely directed towards ethnic Israel, the descendants of Jacob — never a title given to gentiles, believing or otherwise!

  3. I’ve read carefully through this series. I’m sick this morning. I find faith is what ties together those before the Law, under the Law, and free from the Law. The shared benefits of the AC are accessed by faith, namely the Spirit and righteousness. Why the need to stress the NC as the gateway to some of the blessings of the AC?

    1. Jim,
      I hope you found the series of help. The reason I stress the New covenant as the gateway to the blessings of the AC is because salvation comes via the NC, and without that there is no access to the AC. Even the Jewish nation must come into the fulfillment of the AC through the NC.

  4. Btw, in Part 4, you wrote: “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).” This was a bit convicting to me. I think I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that the OT can stand alone and be understood, correct? What about this: “The NT cannot be properly understood without the Old”?

    1. Yes, I believe it is essential that Christians give the OT the integrity it had for the first Christians: it WAS the Scriptures. To develop a theology which makes the NT the hermeneutical lens of the OT is wrongheaded. For sure, it adds much information. But it does not alter any meanings.

      As for “The NT cannot be properly understood without the Old” I would agree. Just as with any book, to ignore the first two thirds will skew your understanding, so it is with the Word of God. Now this does not mean that the Gospel cannot be understood without the OT. The genius of the NT is that a NT (and even many parts thereof) communicate saving truth to sinners and give instruction on holiness etc. Still, if we’re talking about the Story of Scripture we must begin with the OT not the New.

      Further, the OT sets the boundaries of the right interpretation of the NT (or so I am persuaded). This is mainly through the covenant oaths which cannot suffer reinterpretation, transformation, or any other treatment which morphs their wording.

      One little project which I need to get round to is the argument that the kind of transformations of OT texts through the NT were simply not possible for any believers in the first generation of the Church, and impossible for the vast majority of the Body of Christ for many centuries. For example, did you know that Augustine probably did not possess a full NT?

      Well, I’m off track, but I hope this helps you a bit.

      God bless you and yours,

      Paul H

      1. Thanks for your replies. I think I’m beginning to grasp things a bit differently thanks to your posts. I’m listening to your series: Christ as the Center of Scripture. I really like your emphasis on the text. A lot of RT is indeed cramming Christ into texts. Thanks for putting your teaching out there. I’m learning 🙂

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