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“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made,
He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of
one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” – Galatians 3:16
“Also I give to you and your descendants (seeds) after
you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land
of Canaan as an everlasting possession; and I will be
their God.” – Genesis 17:8
Those who see no biblical significance in Israel’s modern day restoration believe that Israel, by virtue of her rejection of Jesus, has forfeited the promises pertaining to Canaan made to her by God in the Abrahamic Covenant. For them all these promises are now fulfilled in the person of Christ and, as proof of their position, they routinely quote Galatians 3:16 and then go on to build a whole theological system that violates the context of this passage and the wider body of scripture.
The truth is:
1. Galatians 3:16 is not in context dealing with God’s promise of the land of Canaan to the Jewish people. It is in fact dealing with the great question of Paul’s day, and indeed of ours, which is, are we saved by attempting to keep the Law or by exercising faith in Jesus’ once for all finished work on the cross? Paul is advocating for the latter.
2. Galatians 3:16 as quoted by Paul is only referring to one aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant and thereby it does not negate the others. So, in this regard it is referring to Genesis 22, where, after Abraham’s obedience to God is confirmed by his willingness to give up his only son Isaac, God promises him that the blessing of salvation will come to the world through one person, “a seed”, and consequently the Law that came 430 years later does not negate this promise (Galatians 3:17). This in no way means that the promises to Israel, “the seeds”, have been removed as some assert and Galatians 3:16 is definitely not advocating for this. Indeed Paul in this very same passage confirms that the Abrahamic Covenant, in all its aspects, cannot be annulled. The writer of the book of Hebrews, writing to Jews, states that it is impossible for God to ever annul the Abrahamic Covenant because God cannot lie and has confirmed it by His oath and character (Hebrews 6:13-18).
3. Galatians 3:16 is therefore no grounds whatsoever to assert that the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant giving Israel everlasting possession of Canaan have been removed. This is no where stated in the text and it is not the context under discussion. This means that Israel’s modern day restoration is evidence of God’s faithfulness to His covenant made with Abraham and has biblical credentials. It is therefore not an accident of history.
4. Galatians 3:16 is indeed a promise, given 4000 years ago, that a Redeemer will come and by His sacrificial work, mirrored in Isaac’s sacrifice or binding, will save those who trust in Him. Salvation is not brought to us by the Law, which came to the world by the “seeds” (people of Israel), but by exercising faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. This is Paul’s point.
5. Galatians 3:16 therefore constitutes a promise that was given in a body of promises that made up the Abrahamic Covenant. None of these promises have failed or will fail because in essence it is one Covenant. If one part fails then all the parts fail. James applies the same principle to the Mosaic Covenant (James 2:10). So, Israel journeyed to the promised land from Egypt, was exiled twice and has returned twice to the promised land because of God’s faithfulness to this Covenant. History is thus a testimony to its efficacy. God has been faithful to the “seeds.” The assertion then that part of the covenant has been annulled is just nonsense.
6. Galatians 3:16 is in every way a prophetic promise that “a seed” or Savior would come into the world to redeem it from sin. This coming Messiah is served by the “seeds” or people of Israel since He arises out of and from them. Jesus acknowledged this when He said that, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Was He by this statement negating His saving work? Definitely not! He was merely asserting the context and world out of which He arose and all because of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. This context or “world of His brethren” will shortly, by their present restoration to Jerusalem, provide Him with a platform to again return to the world so as to rule it with a “rod of iron.”
7. Galatians 3:16 does not contradict an amazing body of prophetic literature referring to Israel in the Bible that has yet to be fulfilled. These clearly foresee a time when Israel will be restored to the land of Canaan never to be uprooted or exiled again (Amos 9:13-15). The Jewish people were uprooted in 586 BC and 70 AD and now I believe that they have returned never to be removed from the land again. The Prophet Obadiah speaks of a restoration of the Jews to Canaan whereby, for the first time in history, they will possess al the land promised to them (Obadiah 17). Ezekiel also speaks of a day when Israel will return to the land in unbelief and thereafter be redeemed by the reception of a new heart of flesh and consequently she will live in the land forever (Ezekiel 36:24-28). The Prophet Jeremiah goes a step further by declaring that as long as the luminaries are in place just so long will Israel exist as a nation before God. Notice that the Prophet is not referring to a dispersed people in exile but to the people of Israel regathered in nationhood (Jeremiah 31:35-47). All of these prophetic statements pertaining to Israel’s future are the outflow of God’s promises to the Jewish people embodied in the Abrahamic Covenant. They will not fail and those who assert that Galatians 3:16 negates them are just plain wrong.
All of this brings into focus the following question, ” Was Paul a theological innovator or Bible expositor?” The well known Christological theologian, James Denney, says that the answer lies in the latter. Paul was no innovator but rather a faithful expounder of biblical truth. He did not change the clear and simple meaning of scripture and certainly did not give himself to innovation when dealing with the Abrahamic Covenant when he penned the words of Galatians 3:16. The Abrahamic Covenant has therefore not been adjusted or abolished in any way and those quoting Galatians 3:16 in order to claim this are not rightly dividing the word of God.