Galatians Chapter 3: Faith-Based Justification of the Jewish Patriarch Abraham
“So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Gal. 3:5–6).
“Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:7–9).
“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.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal. 3:13–14).
Paul brilliantly references in Galatians 3:5–14 the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac to support his argument that the Jews of Galatia (who are following Jesus) are being deceived by those who say they must live by the law and are justified by good works. The truth is, they are justified by faith alone, and even their own Holy writings foretold this fact. [Note that the term “justification” comes from the Greek word for “righteous.” In effect, it means being declared righteous by God.]
In the most amazing biblical story of a faithful response to God, Abraham, who has been told by God Himself that his offspring will become God’s own chosen people, is prepared to make the most-gut-wrenching sacrifice imaginable as God commands him to make a burnt offering of his only son, Isaac (Gen. 22:1–12). When God calls, Abraham simply answers, “Here I am.” His radical faithfulness is rewarded when, at the last possible moment, after preparing the sacrifice, God intervenes to spare Isaac.
The Jews of Galatia would understand this argument because they considered Abraham the supreme example of a righteous man. Paul had made a strong case that work-based justification deviates from the faith-based righteousness of their own revered ancestor, Abraham.
A Moment to Reflect:
There are numerous theories and even books written on the meaning of the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Some argue that the story of Abraham and Isaac is purely symbolic and not factual. They ask whether anyone would truly prepare to sacrifice their only son because they believed God was commanding it. To me, it doesn’t matter whether it is factual or not because its power is in the revelation of perhaps the most important theological principle and reality — that we truly are saved and justified by faith, not by good works.
What do you think? Can you think of other biblical stories that are likely to be symbolical or metaphorical rather than factual but reveal important theological truths?