Galatians 3: Why Abraham?

That Abraham “believed in God and was declared righteous” is an important point for Paul. But it is critical to Paul’s point to know when Abraham believed. He trusted in God’s word before the sign of the Covenant was given, in Genesis 15 not 17. What is more, Abraham believed in God well before his great demonstration of faith in Genesis 22. The reader of Galatians needs to know the whole flow of the Abraham story in Genesis 12-24 in order to grasp the full impact of Paul’s point.

Paul also uses Abraham as an example in both Romans and Galatians. Why select Abraham as the model of faith? It is possible the agitators themselves have been using Abraham in their teaching, since Abraham was a Gentile who believed God and that belief was “credited to him as righteousness.” Paul’s opponents in Galatia may have argued the Gentiles now coming to Christ are in the same category as Abraham, and Abraham was circumcised as a sign of his covenant with God.

Gen 22God credited this belief to Abraham. The verb חשׁב refers to considering an internal thought which “reckons” or considers something. It is an evaluation or something-“to reckon” not in the sense of counting numerically but of evaluative assessment” (TLOT, 480).

Righteousness is a key theological term in both the Old and New Testament. Christians tend to hear “righteousness” as personal holiness. Although this is certainly part of what the term can mean, modern reductions to “sinlessness” miss the rich use of this word to cover all sorts of activities from honesty to justice.

But in the Old Testament, righteousness is usually associated with one’s actions with respect to a standard, such as the Law. If one keeps the Law, then one is “righteous,” which implies a moral standard. But “sin” in the Old Testament is far more than moral offenses against God, physical uncleanliness separates one from God, so a woman (for example) who has given birth is “unclean” and needs to make a sin offering. Giving birth is not a moral problem, but a change of physical status.

In Galatians 3:7-9, Paul is creating a biblical argument, focusing on the phrase “credited as righteousness” in Genesis 15. In this story, Abraham believed in the word of God as revealed to him and God considered him “right with God” as a result. At this point in history, Abraham should be considered a Gentile, at least by the rules imposed by the agitators in the Galatian churches. He was uncircumcised and the food and Sabbath laws have not yet been given. Since he believes in the God who called him out of his father’s land, he a “converted pagan,” just like the Galatian believers.

This is in contrast to other views of Abraham in Judaism of the Second Temple Period. For example, in the apocryphal book Sirach, Abraham is described as having kept the “law of the Most High,” so God entered into a covenant with him and “certified the covenant in his flesh” (Sirach 44:19-21). Paul does not rewrite Scripture like so much of the literature of the Second Temple Period did. He considers Abraham as a Gentile who was made right with God by faith in what God told him, not by works (either circumcision or the Law).

Abraham is therefore the perfect model for Paul to use since he was justified before the Law: he was justified by faith not by the act of circumcision.


18 thoughts on “Galatians 3: Why Abraham?

  1. I have read Galatians 3 so many times and never really payed attention to the part about Abraham. How the blessing given to Abraham affected those in the time of Paul. God gave us the new ‘law’ and delivered them from the old law. The law was based on works and not on faith, but God redeemed the Gentiles from the curse of the law. “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:14). This view of Abraham is really interesting; thinking of him as a Gentile who was made right by faith in God and not by works. Even today, people struggle with being made right with God through faith instead of works. Abraham is a great example for Paul to use, but I would have never thought of him as an example for that.

    • Allyssa, good job on your discussion post this week. You and I are alike in the sense that both of us never saw the true impact Paul had when giving the example of Abraham, explaining non-Jews did not have to follow the law. However, after learning about it more in this class I think we both can now see how important this was. It was important because it was a critical time. Meaning, this was during the era of the new Christian faith where individuals could either accept that we are saved by grace through Jesus or stay with the old way of following the law (Ephaisians 2:8-9). It was critical that Paul got the Judizaers, and anyone else who agreed with them, to see and accept this new idea because otherwise who knows if the new faith would have been fully accepted or not? If individuals didn’t change their minds on this matter, why would they on others such as no longer having to give animal sacrifices?
      I also liked the point you made about how people still struggle with this today. I too, get caught up in the idea that I have to do good in order to be loved and accepted by God. Maybe this stems from past rejection of friends and even family but either way it is not the way God wants or has called us to live. An important example to look at for this is Jesus. When he hung on the cross, Jesus liberated us from the law, making it so we no longer had to worry (Longenecker, pg. 100). Although we should not use this as a “grace credit card”, swiping whenever we need forgiveness, we never have to feel condemned or like we need to do more good because Jesus broke us from the law when he died on the cross. Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Amen, am I right?

  2. I wonder how well Paul’s argument works. After all, Abraham did eventually have to be circumcised, and those in his community who were not circumcised would be cut off from their people. Paul may have seen circumcision under the new covenant as spiritual, though.

  3. As you explained “He considers Abraham as a Gentile who was made right with God by faith in what God told him, not by works (either circumcision or the Law).” (Long). Paul is presenting this idea that the gospel that he received which he presents to the Galatians is something that he received from God rather than men (Galatians 1:11-12). The message the Abraham received was not something that he was taught by men. Paul is asking them to believe that God can work this way. Paul is proving not only that God is working differently now that he did during the dispensation of Law, but also that before the law was given, Abraham was considered righteous. Longenecker explains that this story of Abraham came 430 years before the law had been established (100). Paul has proven that it is unreasonable for those agitators to require something that God himself did not require for righteousness. Circumcision is the sign of the covenant not the covenant itself (Genesis 17:11). Abraham’s faith is what made him right with God and it is the Galatian christian’s faith in Jesus Christ that makes them right with God. No ceremonial action can accomplish this. Paul is trying to convince them of a stand-alone gospel and in that process explain what it is to serve Christ. Abraham is an example of faith for both the Jew and the Gentile.

  4. Trying to not sound cliche, but already being, the text was perfect put. Paul being know as the Apostle of the the Gentiles used the analogy of Abraham as an example that it was possible and true that it is not by works, but by faith that we seek salvation. Abraham’s circumcision wasn’t the main fact that God made a promise to him, but his faith in God that was the reason for that.

  5. Abraham’s significant demonstration of faith in Genesis 22 is one of the most popular Bible stories in the book. Typically, when people think of the Law and circumcision, they refer back to the Old Testament, hence Genesis. Obviously, Paul’s letters are found in the New Testament where the Law does not seem to be as prevalent and as debated/discussed. Despite the terrific demonstration of faith by Abraham occurring in Genesis, Paul litters the third chapter of his letter to the Galatians with Abraham and his faith. To answer the question: “why Abraham?,” Paul lays out the man’s faith. Paul was impressed, challenged, and encouraged by his demonstration of faith in Genesis 22 and his life. Because of this, Paul incorporates Abraham in his letter to the Galatians, to emphasize and reinforce his theological belief of grace by faith, not works and salvation by faith, not works. Despite Abraham’s connection to the time of the Law, Paul makes sure to focus on his faith. God offered a blessing to Abraham (Gal. 3:8). Paul emphasizes the idea that the Law does not contradict or violate God’s promises to His people, including Abraham. It seems as if Paul incorporates Abraham into this section of his letter in order to drive home the idea that grace and salvation comes from faith, not performance of the Law and more specifically, circumcision.

    Another thing that caught my attention from this post was the discussion about society’s modern reductions of the term “righteousness.” This caught my attention because I feel as if modern society has affected how we use and view specific terms more so recently than I can remember. For example, righteousness at Grace Christian is regularly referred to being right with God. This is not the same as sinlessness. From the outside, righteousness and sinlessness may seem to be direct opposites in terms of the meaning of the words. That being said, they are not, and when Biblical terms are referred to incorrectly, then people and Bible students are unable to understand and appreciate the true meaning of the text and that passage. This is an example of where it is extremely beneficial to be able to look up or know the Greek or Latin root of a specific term. These roots tend to highlight the true meaning and use of this word in Bible times. Vocabulary and words adapt and change over time, just like nearly everything else does. Therefore, understanding the meaning of the word and the vocabulary being used in Paul’s time is key. Paul uses righteousness to explain that Abraham is right with God, not that he is able to flee sin or act sinlessly. Paul emphasizes this point that righteousness is experienced through faith in God through his reference of Hab 2:4 (Longenecker & Still, 2014).

    All in all, Paul models Abraham to promote grace by faith because he understands that the faith that Abraham showed in God could be considered unprecedented. That being said, Abraham’s connection to the Law is evident, but Paul focuses on his faith and considers him a Gentile in Galatians 3. This helps Paul drive home is theology of justification and righteousness. Paul believes one is right with God through faith, not circumcision and following the Law.

    • Great post and it seems to be much clearer than mine , but we see the same point. God is amazing in the fact how there are so many different stories through out the Bible, but they were there on purpose for a reason that he would get to use. Paul gets to use the faith that Abraham had as a huge point that would encourage he gentiles of Galatia. They are being pressured to follow rules that don’t have anything to do with their walk they are on with God. All God is simply to do is apply the things that Jesus had died for and grow in their faith of the good news they had heard from Paul. Abraham pretty much had nothing to go off of because it was hundreds of years before the laws were given. God made a new covenant Abraham and as a result he is the father of many nations. The new covenant given to us through Christ allows us love God and love others. If we can have faith like Abraham then we can continue to grow in righteousness.

  6. The question is, “Why Abraham?” We have the A perfect example of someone who is not held to the standards of the Jews, but yet by the faith in God. Abraham is living his life completely on the faith he has in God and wants to glorify him. God ultimately new the desire of Abrahams heart and that he wanted a child of his own. This makes sense that he wanted someone to take on his name and receive his possessions. God brings Abraham outside and has him look up to all the stars and tells him the number of his offspring will match the number of the stars (Genesis 15:5). The agitators are so worried about the old traditions of circumcision that they really miss the whole point of being followers of God. “Scripture promises life to those who observe the law (Lev18:5, cited in Gal 3:12) and condemns all who do not observe the law (Deut. 27:26, cited in Gal 3:10).” (Longenecker 99).

    Abraham was alive 430 years prior to the giving of the law and that just shows even more grounds for his commitment. We also see that once he is given the son he is promised that God puts his faith to the ultimate test. God wants to see if he is able to have so much faith that he would sacrifice the one thing that is dearest to Abraham. This mirrors the sacrifice that God will one day give to his people and sacrifice his most precious thing to him and give us Jesus. This is why Abraham was such a good example because before anything was given to him he put all his trust in God. The Galatians have people that are trying to separate them from the truth Paul has given them because of something that doesn’t apply to them. There are things that are still to be followed, but not everything of old is required of them to show their commitment to God. The faith they show is what they need to start building a firm foundation with God.

  7. Abraham was a great example for Paul to use when writing to the Galatians because he proved that one does not have to obey the law to be right with God. However, I think it is important to keep in mind this would have been a hard concept to accept for the Judaizers because this is all they knew at the time. Before the new Christian faith, the Judaizers knowledge of Christianity was following the law so that they were right with Christ. Therefore, with Paul now coming in and saying this is no longer correct, Christ-followers are saved by grace not works, this would have been hard to accept. Think of it from this standpoint. It is if Benny Hinn started going around saying we are no longer saved by grace but through our parents, their faith determined our salvation. We would not want to believe it at first and probably never would start because Benny Hinn would not have the correct Bible proof for the claim. However, with Paul and the Judaizers this is where it gets interesting because although it would have been hard to believe at first, Paul had Biblical scripture to back up his claim. This is where the example of Abraham comes in. He points out in Galatians 3:6-9 the promise that righteousness is given to those who live by faith like when it was granted to Abraham, during his period of not following the law (Longenecker, pg. 100). Next, in Galatians 3:13 Paul gives an even more known reference to help his point: Jesus (Longenecker, pg. 100). He explains that since Jesus was “hung on a tree” he was cursed by the law but then liberated from it when he was raised from the dead by God (Longenecker, pg. 100). This then allows Jesus to liberate others “…that the law pronounces on those who do not observe the law- evidently liberating them from having to observe the law (Longenecker, pg. 100)…” I think God gave Paul the wisdom to use Abraham and Jesus as examples because they were both highly known, respected, and loved, allowing others to actually listen and consider the claims Paul was making about the new Christian faith involving the law.

  8. The Jews of the time were trying to make Abraham jive more with their own culture by picturing him as a great Jew who kept the Jewish Law. This is sort of similar to how we sometimes picture Jesus with white skin and blue eyes. However, if you look at the actual history of Abraham, this is not really the case. In fact, not only did he not follow the Jewish Law, but he really could not as Paul points out that Abraham lived 430 years before the Law was established (Gal. 3:17). Therefore, Abraham’s righteousness came through faith in the promise. Because of this, Abraham makes a good comparison with Gentile believers after Christ’s death as comparing those who are faithful to God before the Law was established and those after the Law.
    This makes me wonder how the “agitators” felt about Paul using Abraham’s faith as an argument for Gentile believers not needing to follow the Jewish Law. Abraham was sort of a hero of the Jewish faith. I can’t imagine many of them thinking of Abraham as one of those yucky gentiles. It seemed easier for them to picture him following the Law just like they did.

  9. Why would Paul use Abraham as an example of faith? Well after reading this blog post, it sounds like it goes much deeper than I initially thought. My initial thought was that “yeah, Abraham is a perfect example of faith because of how he was so obedient to God’s command of him.
    The main point that Paul was trying to get to Galatians was that Abraham was made righteous before he was circumcised according to (TTP pg.99). it’s not about keeping the law to become righteous. Paul uses this story could be taken both ways. In the example of his obedience.
    Paul using Abraham as an example of faith could be as simple as the fact the Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. This is significant because it’s already hard enough to sacrifice your son, but to add more weight to it all, Abraham was promised by God that his offspring would be as many as the stars, but now he has to kill his only chance of that. To make matters more significant. Abraham was around 100 years old, the chances were already slim tom have a kid, and now he is going to sacrifice because God told him. This kind of obedience is amazing.
    This is a perfect example of faith and I agree with Paul for using this in Galatians. Not only is this a great example of faith but also an allegory for what God would do sending his only son to die for our sins.

  10. There are many times when we consider faith based on a standard – for the Jews it was, and still is, the Law of Moses – and for us as believers it is the entirety of God’s Word as the standard for faith. Yet, for Abraham, there was no set standard for which to follow God, other than that of his forefathers such as Noah because there was no written rule for how to follow the Lord.
    It is very interesting to consider that Abraham, as well as Job, were not Jews. Yet, the way they lived was in a way that gave honor and glory to God. In many ways, Abraham shows that his obedience to God was neither perfect nor without need of later correction. His life was no less perfect than our own. However, like every Gentile, God has hand picked up each and every one of us.
    When recalling the faithfulness of Abraham, it is important to remember that his life was filled with many moments of doubting God. From God calling him out of Haran and bringing his nephew, to claiming his wife was his sister, he clearly had a problem trusting in God’s plan for him. However, over time he learned to be more and more faithful to God as the Lord tested and tried him to become more faithful. This is nearly always the path which God takes all believers on – he calls us to himself and then proceeds to test us to trust him and provide for us.

  11. This information sheds light on the pivotal role of Abraham’s faith and the timing of his belief in God’s word within the context of Paul’s theological arguments in Galatians and Romans. Understanding the sequence of events in Abraham’s life is indeed crucial to grasping the depth of Paul’s point.

    In Galatians 3:7-9, Paul emphasizes the phrase “credited as righteousness” from Genesis 15, where Abraham believed in the word of God, and God considered him righteous. This concept carries significant weight because, during that specific period in history, Abraham could be viewed as a Gentile by the standards imposed by the agitators in the Galatian churches. He had not undergone circumcision, and the Mosaic laws had not yet been given. Thus, he represents a unique case of a “converted pagan,” much akin to the Galatian believers.

    The importance of Abraham’s faith lies in the fact that he was justified before the Law. His righteousness was imputed to him through faith in God’s promise, not having of any dependence on works or circumcision. This understanding of Abraham’s faith directly challenges certain views within Second Temple Judaism that portrayed Abraham as a law-keeping figure who was justified by his circumcision.

    Romans 4:3 reinforces this perspective as Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, stating, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” This biblical reference serves as a powerful affirmation of Paul’s argument that righteousness is imputed through faith, not earned through human efforts or strict adherence to the Law. Abraham’s faith stands as a timeless model for all believers, underlining the profound importance of trusting in God’s promises and emphasizing that faith precedes the Law and circumcision.

  12. I think the opening statement by professor Long really sets up the main points here. Paul using Abraham was a valid example to the Galatians, because he was in fact “declared righteous”. Paul wants them to know that it is not following and carrying out the law that makes one person righteous, but by the new salvation through Christ by faith focuses on the faithful acceptance of Jesus’ promises. Salvation was by faith in the Old Testament, and by using Abraham I think was also intended because Abraham was pretty commonly known. Abraham’s story of having a blessing of a child at an old age, being told to sacrifice his son Isaac, and being made righteous before his circumcision were all more than likely things that the Galatians had heard before. I think this was also a smart move by Paul, as his example was very easily tracked because of this, which allowed him to get this message across to the Galatians further. If the Galatians want to live by faith instead of trying to earn it by doing the works of the law, they can imitate Abraham to made “right with God”.

  13. I believe that righteousness is a word that can have different meanings depending on who you talk to about it. Abraham was righteous because he trusted in God and trusting in God is something that I feel like a lot of people struggle with. When people trust in God they can move forward past things easier than most people because God has a reason for everything and if something were to happen then it happens for a reason. I feel that many people today turn to bad ways to cope with hard things that happen in life however, in my hardest moments it always helped me to turn to Him and put my trust in him. Trusting in God is not an easy thing to do for a lot of people but, I believe that if people found the benefits in this then it would help them in the long run. Abraham is such a key figure in the Bible because of how much he trusted in God and that is why he was called righteous by God.

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