Michael S. Heiser
Some of the most startling things in the Bible are hidden in plain sight.
Galatians 3:7 is a case in point. Amid the predictable focus on law, grace and the gospel, Paul blindsides us: “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’ ” (ESV). 1
But Abraham lived two millennia before Jesus. There’s nothing about a crucified Savior in the stories about Abraham. What is Paul thinking? To correctly process Gal 3:7 we need to think about the gospel in different terms.
We typically think of the gospel in terms of the crucified Savior, Jesus, dying for our sins. But the work of Christ was just the means to accomplish what God sought. God wanted a sinless, holy, human family. The sacrifice of Jesus—fully God and fully human—was the necessary mechanism to achieve that larger goal. The gospel is God’s plan to become a man so He could have that holy, human family. Could Abraham have grasped that?
God’s decision to produce His family through Abraham is described in Genesis 12:1–3: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Paul quoted part of that passage in Gal 3:7. Paul believed that as a result of that divine encounter, Abraham came away with the knowledge of the gospel: God would become a man to provide the means for a human family. And even more than that, Abraham discerned that he and his offspring—which didn’t yet exist, and which seemingly couldn’t exist—were a critical part of that plan. Was Paul reading a different Old Testament than us? No, Paul got his information about the good news where all the gospel writers did—Jesus (Gal 1:12; 1 Cor 15:8).
If John 8:56 is any indication, Jesus happened to be an authority on Abraham’s divine encounter with God: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Abraham saw Jesus’ day? The Jews listening to Jesus immediately understood him to mean that he had met Abraham. That’s why they said in the next verse, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” They were actually right—on both counts.
We know that John referred to Jesus as the Word (John 1:1). Less well known is that the “Word of the LORD” is at times an Old Testament description of the embodied God of Israel. For example, Jeremiah was visited by “the word of the LORD” (Jer 1:2, 4) whom he called Lord God (Jer 1:6). The Lord God, the “word,” is embodied in human form in Jer 1:7: “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth.” There are other such passages in the Old Testament. One of them is Gen 15, where the covenant promises between God and Abraham were sealed: “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” Notice that this was a vision. Genesis 12, the passage Paul quoted in Gal 3, has the same language: “Then the Lord appeared to Abram.”
Paul wasn’t out of his mind. Abraham had met the Word, and through that encounter, understood the salvation plan of God.
1. All biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).↩