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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS -- GALATIANS 3 : 8
Patricia M. Pope
CAN AN INANIMATE OBJECT TAKE ON THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A PERSON?
The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith,
preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS
WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." (Galatians 3:8, NASB)
What a curiously beautiful passage! As one commentator put it, Paul is more of a poet than a dry-as-dust theologian1 which comes through in this passage in which he personifies Scripture. Yet how could an inanimate object take on the characteristics of a person? Could it be that the Scripture is more than just a book of ancient writings? What exactly does Paul mean when he says the Scripture foresaw and preached to Abraham?
LOYAL SONS NOT TO BE MISLED BY HERETIC TEACHING
In his letter addressed to the churches in Galatia, Paul's concern was
that they not be taken in by the false teaching of those who were trying
to make the traditions of Judaism binding for salvation. "As a loyal son
of the traditions of his race, Paul regarded it as right and proper for
himself and all other Jewish Christians to respect the religious and social
practices in which they had been brought up. But he was equally convinced
that none of this was necessary for salvation."2
Thus, Paul wanted to ensure that the Galatians were not misled by a heretical
teaching in which they would be labeled adherents-a term for Gentiles
"who were willing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord but unwilling to
enter his Church if it involved becoming Jews."3
DO NOT BECOME SECOND CLASS CITIZENS
In other words, they would be considered second-class Christians, but Paul would have none of it. He was convinced of the unity of the Church and this conviction, along with his dramatic conversion, fueled his argument. The Body of Christ must not be divided into a Jewish section and a Gentile section.4
"Is Christ divided?" asks Paul (I Corinthians 1:13, NIV). As God the Father,
God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are united as one, so all who would
follow them must be one. Unity is one of the recurring themes found throughout
WRITTEN TEXT AS A PERSON WHO SEES AND SPEAKS
With this in mind, we move back to Paul's personification of Scripture. Paul
treats the written text as a person who sees and speaks. For Paul, the
written text of Scripture expresses the voice of God and what Scripture
says, God says.5 As John so eloquently put it, the Word was
God and it became incarnate and lived among us (John 1:1, 14). The Word
that John refers to is God's holy written Word made manifest in Jesus
Christ. In effect, Christ embodied all that had been written to God's
people. Thus, God and His Word-His writings--are one. If one has heard
or read God's Word, they have heard from God Himself. Although we no longer
live in the day in which a person's word is considered their bond, God's
Word is more than His bond. His Words contain life and they are wholly
trustworthy just by virtue of who God is.
PROMISES OF ABRAHAM
Therefore, when Paul says the Scripture foresaw and preached to Abraham, he
is referencing the Old Testament Scriptures containing the promise to
Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3; 18:18).
This would not happen however based on one's race, ethnicity or religion,
but by believing in faith just as Abraham did. After all, it was by his
show of faith that Abraham was declared righteous (see Romans 4; Galatians
3:6; James 2). Ironically, the Old Testament texts were very familiar
to those who were trying to put the Gentiles under the yoke of legalism
and yet they missed the true message of these passages entirely. The message
was not one of law, but rather faith.
JUSTIFICATION OF THE GENTILES
What the Scripture (or God Himself) foresaw was that God would justify the Gentiles just as He justified Abraham and it would not be through rituals and traditions, but rather through faith. Thus, God knew at the time that He spoke the promise to Abraham just how He would bring it to fruition and He did not need the human instruments of law and tradition. What God promises, He is well capable of bringing to pass without any human intervention (see I Thessalonians 5:24).
Lest the Jews had forgotten, Paul reminds them that their father "Abraham was righteous in the sight of God simply by faith in God's promise"6 not adherence to the law which came several centuries after God's promise to Abraham.7 Therefore, prior to the law, there was a divine promise and Paul's message is that the Gentiles as well as their Jewish counterparts would do well to remember this. The law was simply a temporary guardian until the fulfillment of the promise came through Jesus, the One who unites all people.8
1. P.R. Ackroyd, A.R.C. Leaney, J.W. Packer, ed., The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible, The Letter of Paul to the Galatians, by William Neil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 92.
2. Ibid., 10.
3. Ibid, 9.
4. Ibid., 11.
5. Identifying the Children of Abraham (Muskegon: Gospel Communications International, 1995-2005) [database online]; available from BibleGateway.com .
6. David C. George, Laymen's Bible Book Commentary, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Vol. 21 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979), 69.
7. Neil, 18.
8. Ibid., 18.
© 2005 by Patricia M. Pope
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 By The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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