A Commentary by John Stott
Paul’s allusion to Abraham was a master-stroke. His Judaizing opponents looked to Moses as their teacher. So Paul went centuries further back to Abraham himself. His quotation is from Genesis 15:6. Let me remind you of the circumstances. Abraham was an old man and childless, but God had promised him a son, and indeed a seed or posterity. One day he took Abraham out of his tent, told him to look up at the sky and count the stars and then said to him: ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Abraham believed God’s promise, ‘and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’.
Consider carefully what happened. First, God made Abraham a promise. Indeed, the promise of descendants was ‘placarded’ before Abraham’s eyes, much as the promise of forgiveness through Christ crucified was ‘placarded’ before the eyes of the Galatians. Secondly, Abraham believed God. Despite the inherent improbability of the promise, from the human point of view, Abraham cast himself on the faithfulness of God. Thirdly, Abraham’s faith was reckoned as righteousness. That is, he was himself accepted as righteous, by faith. He was not justified because he had done anything to deserve it, or because he had been circumcised, or because he had kept the law (for neither circumcision nor the law had yet been given), but simply because he believed God.
With this promise of God to Abraham Paul now links another and earlier promise. Verses 7-9: *So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith*. Here Paul is quoting from Genesis 12:3 (cf. Gn. 22:17, 18; Acts 3:25). We must examine what this blessing was, and how all nations would come to inherit it. The blessing is justification, the greatest of all blessings, for the verbs ‘to justify’ and ‘to bless’ are used as equivalents in verse 8. And the means by which the blessings would be inherited is faith (‘God would justify the Gentiles by faith’), which was the only way in which *Gentiles* could inherit Abraham’s blessings since Abraham was the father of the Jewish race. Perhaps the Judaizers were telling the Galatian converts that they should become the sons of Abraham by circumcision. So Paul counters by saying that the Galatians were *already* the sons of Abraham, not by circumcision but by faith.
Both verses 7 and 9 affirm that the true children of Abraham (who inherit the blessings promised to his seed) are not his posterity by *physical* descent, the Jews, but his *spiritual* progeny, men and women who share his faith, namely Christian believers.
All this, the apostle says, the Galatians should have known. They should never have been so foolish. They should never have fallen under the spell of these false teachers. Indeed, they would not have done so, if they had kept Christ crucified before their eyes. They should have realized at once that the Judaizers were contradicting the gospel of justification by faith alone. They should have known it, as we have seen, from their own experience and from the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
We too should learn to test every theory and teaching of men by the gospel of Christ crucified, especially as it is known to us from Scripture and from experience.