The covenants in Galatians 3:15-22 – Introduction

The argument of Galatians 3:15–22 is “generally reckoned among the most difficult in Paul”.[1] In Galatians, Paul is strenuously arguing against opponents who want the Gentile Christians to adopt circumcision and the law (i.e. become ethnic Jews) as a prerequisite for salvation in Christ (e.g. Gal 2:14, 4:21, 5:3, 11, 6:13). Wright, in the light of his assumption of a “covenantal” background to Galatians 3–4, concludes that these chapters are about the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Abrahamic covenant without the need for them to become ethnic Jews. According to Wright, Christ’s death and resurrection has reordered Israel’s covenant in favour of the Gentiles. Now that the “demarcating mark” of the “new covenant family” is faith rather than Torah, Gentiles may “get in” to the covenant.[2]

However, a close reading of Paul’s argument in the light of our inductive definition of the Old Testament term “covenant” (“elected relationship of obligation under oath”, see above) and the two-fold nature of the Abrahamic covenants (nationhood followed by international blessing) points to a very different, even opposite, conclusion. As we will see, Paul’s sustained argument is that the extension of blessing to the Gentiles is not brought about by their inclusion in the covenant. Rather, the extension of sonship to the Gentiles happens by the coming of Christ, the one seed of Abraham, who fulfils the covenants, pours out the Spirit, and enables all nations to be blessed in him through faith.

To be continued …

(This post is part of a series)

[1] N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant (London: T & T Clark, 1991), 157.

[2] Wright, Climax, 155–56.