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Monday, September 11, 2017

How did we ever make it without...? (Luther's commentary on Galatians 3:15-18)

In the second half of Galatians 3, Paul makes three arguments in his case that observance of the Old Testament Law (or Mosaic Law) is not required for justification.  The first is the timing of the OT Law (vv. 15-18), the second is the purpose of the OT law (vv. 19-22), and the third is that the OT Law was temporary (vv. 23-25).  I was planning to cover all three in this post, to get farther through the book for some of you who are reading Luther's commentary along with me (you're going too fast for me!:), but the great Reformer had too many good quotes on the first argument, and I wanted to add a few of my own thoughts.  So I'll just cover the first one here.  (But I'll try to post about the others soon, so no one gets too far ahead of me in the reading.)

Galatians 3:15-18 says, "Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise."

Luther explains Paul's argument in a very clear and helpful way:

God did well in giving the promise so many years before the Law, that it may never be said that righteousness is granted through the Law and not through the promise. If God had meant for us to be justified by the Law, He would have given the Law four hundred and thirty years before the promise, at least He would have given the Law at the same time He gave the promise. But He never breathed a word about the Law until four hundred years after. The promise is therefore better than the Law. The Law does not cancel the promise, but faith in the promised Christ cancels the Law. 

The Apostle is careful to mention the exact number of four hundred and thirty years. The wide divergence in the time between the promise and the Law helps to clinch Paul's argument that righteousness is not obtained by the Law. Let me illustrate. A man of great wealth adopts a strange lad for his son. Remember, he does not owe the lad anything. In due time he appoints the lad heir to his entire fortune. Several years later the old man asks the lad to do something for him. And the young lad does it. Can the lad then go around and say that he deserved the inheritance by his obedience to the old man's request ? How can anybody say that righteousness is obtained by obedience to the Law when the Law was given four hundred hundred and thirty years after God's promise of the blessing? 

One thing is certain, Abraham was never justified by the Law, for the simple reason that the Law was not in his day. If the Law was non-existent how could Abraham obtain righteousness by the Law? Abraham had nothing else to go by but the promise. This promise he believed and that was counted unto him for righteousness. If the father obtained righteousness through faith, the children get it the same way. 

Then Luther applies Paul's words to the doctrinal issues of his own day, in his own inimitable style...

We use the argument of time also. We say our sins were taken away by the death of Christ fifteen hundred years ago, long before there were any religious orders, canons, or rules of penance, merits, etc. What did people do about their sins before these new inventions were hatched up?

Even though Luther's brilliant style is inimitable, I'm going to try and imitate it anyway, with some similar questions about issues in our day.  My intention is not to offend, or even to solve anything, but merely to provoke thought...

How did the church ever evangelize and edify people before we had worship accoutrements like sound design, lighting, and TV screens?

How did people get saved before the 19th century inventions of gospel invitations, altar calls, and "the sinner's prayer"?

How did people ever solve their problems prior to modern psychology and psychiatry?

What was the answer to depression before anti-depressants?

How was church leadership successful before they had business management books and seminars?

How did church planting and growth happen before demographic studies?

Was the Holy Spirit at work before the modern Charismatic movement?

How did Christians prosper before they had prosperity teaching?

How did the early church grow so furiously and "turn the world upside down" when they didn't even have any church buildings?

How did we ever get along without the Book of Church Order and other denominational trappings?

Were women ever blessed and happy before feminism?

Were men ever blessed and happy before football?

Could husbands and wives love each other when marriages were arranged?

How did our country function for several hundred years without a complete separation of church and state?

How were people baptized in God's eyes in the thousand years (at least) prior to the recovery (or beginning) of adult-only immersion in the 16th Century?

How did men become pastors before seminaries existed?

And finally... How did we ever even survive without blogs? :)

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