Skip to content

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.

Published inCovenantGalatians

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • Ampelmann, BerlinTurn around and walk the other way (Ephesians 4:17–19)
    Darkness, futility, and desire: this is the way the world walks. Paul doesn’t write these things so that we can gloat or judge. He writes so we can repent, and live.
  • Photo by Kira auf der Heide on UnsplashPlaying your part (Ephesians 4:16)
    Paul’s vision for Christ’s body is unity in diversity. It’s not just flat uniformity, nor is it just diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s diversity for a common purpose.
  • Photo by Ben White on UnsplashThe truth in love: A key principle for church growth (Ephesians 4:14–15)
    Paul’s principle for the growth of Christ’s body isn’t about presentation or organisation. It’s more fundamental: “speaking the truth in love”.
  • Colosseum with cross-shaped cloudsChrist’s body: A brief history (Ephesians 4:11–13)
    Paul didn’t write Ephesians 4:11–13 to give us a detailed blueprint for how to organise our ministries. He wrote these verses to point us to God’s grace in Christ.
  • Cathedral CeilingChrist: Up there and down here (Ephesians 4:8–10)
    In these verses, Paul makes a big deal of Christ going up (to heaven) and down (to be with us by his Spirit). Why? to encourage believers as we face all the ups and downs of living for Christ.
  • Genesis 1:27 modified NIVMale and female: Equality and order in Genesis 1:27
    Genesis 1:27 is important in debates between egalitarians and complementarians. It clearly implies equality, yet also seems to suggest a certain order.
  • Gift among giftsGifted beyond measure (Ephesians 4:7)
    How should Christians think about our own individual ‘giftedness’? We need to see our own gifts in the light of God’s wonderful, superabundant grace.
  • Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, Roman ForumThe one and only God (Ephesians 4:4–6)
    In this part of Ephesians, the apostle Paul makes an unavoidably scandalous claim: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only God.
  • Finding praise in the right place (Romans 2:28–29)
    There is a very strong temptation to measure your ministry by looking at how much people are praising you. This passage teaches us where to look for praise.
  • This unity (Ephesians 4:2–3)
    In the classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the King of Swamp Castle issues an appeal for unity: “This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who!” It’s become a classic line used to poke fun at people who are trying to bring peace and unity without showing any understanding of the reality of the situation or the depth of hurt that’s been caused. While we might never end up being quite as absurd as Monty Python, Christians can sometimes talk about unity a little like this. That is, we can treat unity as some ideal state where everybody just gets on, no matter how deep our differences are and no matter what hurt has been caused. And yet—unity really matters. Christians are called to unity. Christian unity is anchored in the truth of the gospel.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor