The Galatians 3:16 Mystery Part 2
Answering Replacement Theology Part 10
In part 1 we made it extremely clear that the meaning of Galatians 3:16 could not be that God’s promises to Israel were never really intended for Israel. Now, we want to seek to understand what the apostle is saying in this somewhat confusing (to our 21st Century minds) passage.
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Messiah. (Gal. 3:16)
First, let us note that the challenge here is not in finding justification for the scores of promises to Israel (Jer. 31, Ez. 36:24-28, 37, Is. 35:1, I could go on and on…). The burden is on N. T. Wright, Stephen Sizer, Gary Burge and Replacement Theologians to prove, using more than one or two verses, that Paul was actually saying that God’s promises to Israel are null and void.
Even still, let’s us seek to understand Paul in Galatians 3:16.
The western mind views prophecy merely as prediction and fulfillment. The Jewish mind saw prophecy as a pattern being recapitulated, where a pattern of events illuminates a thematic replay in the future.[i]
With this understanding of prophecy the “abomination that causes desolation” from Daniel can be seen in the acts of Antiochus Epiphanes (Greek Syrian King who defiled the Temple during the time of the Maccabees), even though Yeshua Himself repeats the phrase (Matt. 24) over 100 years later. We can see its fulfillment in the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, but ultimately in the antichrist (1 Thess. 2), when he declares himself God and desecrates the third Temple.
Among the illuminating warnings are the attribution by Matthew of the return of Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus from Egypt to the quote from Hosea. There is no rational way to view the Hosea passage as Messianic in the traditional sense. The academic overemphasis on context seems to break down when viewed too narrowly. The answer is pattern, not just prediction. Matthew’s allusion to Jeremiah regarding Herod’s murder of the babies in Bethlehem is another example.[ii]
This type of hermeneutic (way of interpreting) is referred to as Midrashic. Dr. Michael Brown agrees: “So, Paul would have to be using this Midrashically, apparently with reference to a particular passage in Genesis, where the ‘seed’ promise appeared to be specially Messianic in focus.” And we see that in Gen. 22:18, “through your seed all the nations on earth will be blessed.”
Paul is assuming that his readers understand his Midrashic form of hermeneutic, and would not come away with a theology that suggests that this one verse excludes ethnic Israel from the Abrahamic covenant. If so, what do we do with this?
For I say that the Messiah became a servant of the Jewish people in order to show God’s truthfulness by making good his promises to the Patriarchs. (Rom 15:8)
They were pleased to [give an offering to the poor Jews in Jerusalem], but the fact is that they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared with the Jews in spiritual matters, then the Gentiles clearly have a duty to help the Jews in material matters. (Rom. 15:17)
Paul is not writing to Augustine or Calvin or N.T. Wright, but to folks in the first century. He is writing to those who understand Midrashic Hermanutics—yes, even in Galatia, as in every new congregation there were Jewish disciples—typically in leadership, as the Good News came through the mouths of Jewish evangelists.
Another way of looking at it is that Paul is saying that God strategically used a Hebrew word zerah, or seed, which is the same in its singular and plural forms. In so doing, he was able to refer both to a covenant people that would be a blessing to the nations and to His Messiah, who would singularly bring salvation to the nations. The Galatians passage is referring specifically to Yeshua’s work on the cross. He is not saying that it is the only fulfillment, but the ultimate fulfillment.
We can confidently conclude, that one aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is the calling on ethnic Israel—that based on Rom. 15:17, 11:29, Jer. 31:35-37, Ex. 36 and 37, and many more verses—continues to this day and includes the restoration—for God’s own purposes—of the Jews to the land of Israel. How could God say to Israel—“Your calling is irrevocable!” (as he does in Romans 11:29)—if indeed it has been fulfilled completely in the first coming of Yeshua?
Burge’s theology (That the Abrahamic Covenant was fulfilled only in Yeshua and not in ethnic Israel) crumbles like a house of cards when he himself says (in his lecture at Christ at the Checkpoint) that Paul, as an apostle, is fulfilling his calling through the Abrahamic Covenant as a Jew, by preaching to the Gentiles. He even quotes Isaiah saying Paul is being a light to the nations.
According Burge’s interpretation of Galatians 3:16, Paul has no calling as a Jew—it has all been fulfilled in Yeshua. Yet Paul declares in Acts:
“We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us (Jewish evangelists): “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 13:46-47)
So, once again, the New Testament affirms God’s continued call on Israel via the Abrahamic Covenant. But of course, we see Yeshua as the Ultimate Seed!
[i] Chuck Missler, Pattern, not just Prediction, Midrash Hermeneutics