What It, What Gospel, in Galatians 3:5-8?
Galatians 3:5 Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him unto
Galatians 3:8 And the Scripture, for-seeing that God would justify the
gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, “in you shall all the nations be blessed.”
Of course I want to write about imputation, but first of all four comments about the Abrahamic covenant and verse 8. First, notice the word justify. Even though circumcision was important to keep ethnic Israel in the land, the ultimate blessing connected with Abraham is JUSTIFICATION. The covenantal promise is not that all who are circumcised will be justified. As verse 3:7 says, “those of faith” will be justified. The promise is that those who are circumcised are not excluded from the people (Gen 17:14).
Second, the Abrahamic covenant is not for GENTILES, even though it promises future blessing for the gentiles. For-seeing this blessing for-seeing that Abraham will have one future son who will bless the gentiles. But this blessing will not and cannot come until that Son arrives, and when that Son arrives, the Mosaic and Abrahamic legal economy will be changed. Circumcision included all the Jewish children, and excluded all the gentiles. (Is a circumcised slave of a Jew in the Abrahamic covenant?) When the one son of Abraham arrives, there is neither jew nor gentiles, neither slave nor free…so there is no future land for the jew, and no more slavery or circumcision for anybody, male or female.
Third, which promise to Abraham is the object of FAITH? Is the GOSPEL about the land promise of Genesis 12 or about not being excluded from the covenant people in Genesis 17? Since Ishmael was circumcised, he was not cut off from the people, but God promised to establish His covenant with Isaac, and therefore the GOSPEL promise which must be the object of our FAITH is that found in Genesis 12:3–“And in you all the families shall be blessed.”
Fourth, despite the threat of curse connected with the Abrahamic covenant, the curse of that law cutting off those not circumcised, the BLESSING promised is “in Christ Jesus”. Gal 3:14–“In Christ the blessing of Abraham comes to the Gentiles, so that we receive (passively, not by our believing) the promised Spirit through faith.”
Even though this blessing was promised in Genesis 12, Galatians 3:5 quotes Genesis 15:6. The verse tells us that Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness. Everybody from Martin Luther to John Murray reads this as saying that faith alone is imputed as the righteousness.
Of course there are different explanations. Luther reminds us that to have faith is to have Christ indwelling, and tells us that God really is pleased with the faith God has given us, and this faith is really righteous in God’s sight. But Luther does not explain how this righteous faith (produced by God in the water of regeneration) satisfies the law of God . And since Luther taught that, if you were a sinner, Christ had died for you, then Luther’s message cannot be that the elect were saved by Christ’s death alone.
But John Murray not only taught that Christ died in some sense only for the elect, but also taught nine reasons that faith could not be the
righteousness imputed. I like his reasons, and you can look them up in his commentary on Romans. But still, at the end of the day, Murray claimed that every honest reader would have to agree with him that Genesis 15 does teach that the faith is what God imputes.
To begin to understand Genesis 15:6, we need to know that “as
righteousness” should be translated “unto righteousness”. (See Robert
Haldane’s commentary, Banner of Truth). That’s important to see, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t explain the imputation. Faith is imputed unto…
Whether we see imputation as the transfer of something, or if we see
imputation as the declaration of something ( without a transfer, or after a transfer), what is the “it” which is being imputed?
No matter if we have gone to great lengths to say that it is not credited as righteousness but only unto righteousness, what is “it” and why is God imputing “it”? Those the “new perspective” like N.T. Wright tell us the imputation is without a transfer, and that it only means declaring that certain folks are in the covenant. In this way of thinking, “it is imputed” simply means that God declares people to be “in the covenant” without talking about how and why they got that way.
I think “it” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith. God
imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel to a person God justifies. In context, “faith” in Galatians 3:5-8 is defined in two ways: not by works of the law, and the gospel preached to Abraham.
There are certain conditions associated with the Abrahamic covenant. But a conditional covenant is not the gospel God preached to Abraham. God did not say to Abraham: if you believe, then I will bless you. God said, I will bless you without cause, not only so that you will believe but also so that in your offspring there will be one who will bring in the righteousness (required by the law) for the elect.
There is not a different gospel for us now than there was for Abraham.
There is not a different gospel for the gentiles than for the jews. The
“it” which is imputed by God to Abraham is the obedient bloody death of Christ Jesus for the elect alone. The righteousness of God obtained by Christ is imputed unto the elect alone.