We read an important and little understood statement by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 3 and verse 7: “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Ellicott’s Bible Commentary says, “The declaration of Gal. 3:7, is now at length substantiated and expanded by twenty-two verses of the deepest, most varied, and most comprehensive reasoning that exists in the whole compass of the great Apostle’s writings.”
Interpreting the exact meaning of Paul’s “comprehensive” words in the third chapter of Galatians is, however, a matter for great disagreement among leading Bible scholars. A review of nearly three dozen biblical commentaries reveals a mass of contradictory views, leaving this chapter in the realm of disputed doctrine today. Is the Apostle saying that “Israel” under the New Covenant is only a Spiritual body made up of all races, or that only believing Hebrews are true Israelites, or yet something else?
Are Abraham’s descendants spiritual only, not physical?
The McGarvey and Pendleton Commentary says, “…those who follow his spiritual example are his real or spiritual children, to the exclusion even of his fleshly children, made such by birth…” Similarly, the Catholic Commentary claims, “The Christian is the true seed of Abraham and true heir to the Promise; Christians are the true ‘Israel of God.’” Vincent’s Word Studies says, “This spiritual paternity does away with the current Jewish notion of physical paternity. Physical relationship with Abraham is of no significance in the economy of salvation.”
But what about the national—physical and literal—Abrahamic promises not relating to eternal salvation? Rev. F.B. Meyer answers this question in “Through the Bible,” saying of Christian believers, “Theirs are all the promises that were made to Abraham, and as his spiritual children they claim their fulfillment.” Similarly, the Bridgeway Bible Commentary says, “Those justified by faith are Abraham’s true descendants.”
There are quite a number of commentaries that teach the same doctrine, eliminating physical Israel from any share in biblical prophecies and promises, including the Pulpit Commentary, the Peoples New Testament, Baker’s New Testament Commentary, the Popular Commentary and several others.
Does Abraham’s offspring include both physical and spiritual descendants?
Are there two entirely different Israel’s: one physical and another spiritual, comprised of disparate peoples? Some biblical commentaries think so. Dr. Harry Ironside, in “Notes on the Scriptures” states, “There is both the spiritual and the natural seed of Abraham.” Wuest’s Word Studies says, “Since believers have entered into relationship with Christ, they must consequently have a share in the same state, and must likewise be Abraham’s seed.” Nineteenth century Lutheran scholar, John Peter Lang, says, “…it was to Abraham and his seed that the promise was given, therefore the promise goes then for you also into fulfilment.”
Eighteenth century expositor, John Gill, in his “Exposition of the Bible” tells us, “For if ye be Christ’s…then are ye Abraham’s seed; not his natural but his spiritual seed, the seed that should come, and to whom the promises were made and so were upon an equal foot even with the Jews that believed: and heirs according to the promise.” Similarly, sixteenth century Reformation martyr, Matthew Poole, held to a dual fulfillment according to “the flesh” and “the promise.”
Nearly a half-century ago, I wrote to the Church of God Seventh Day denomination, asking their views on this question. I received a short reply to the effect that some Israel promises are for the physical seed, the Jews, some are for the Spiritual seed the Gentiles, and it is up to their governing council to decide which are for who!
Abraham’s inheritors include only believing racial
The International Christian Commentary states, “…there is nothing in this to intimate that they are to receive this blessing apart from a racial relation to Abraham, and chapter 3, verse 17 seems to exclude such a thought. Indeed, it requires neither perversity nor rabbinic exegesis, but only a reasonable adherence to the obvious meaning of the passage, to find in these chapters the doctrine that God’s covenant of blessing was with Abraham and his seed, that none could be included in that covenant save those who being of the blood of Abraham were sealed as his seed by circumcision…”
The Bible Knowledge Commentary adds, “To suggest, as amillenarians do, that Gentile believers inherit the national promises given to the believing Jewish remnant — that the church thus supplants Israel or is the “new Israel” — is to read into these verses what is not there.”
Jews who reject Christ are not God’s Israel, nor spiritual children of Abraham?
Robertson’s Word Pictures says of Christian believers, “The same are sons of Abraham…This is Paul’s astounding doctrine to Jews that the real sons of Abraham are those who believe as he did, “they which be of faith.” John the Baptist denounced the Pharisees and Sadducees as vipers though descendants of Abraham (Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:7) and Jesus termed the Pharisees children of the devil and not spiritual children of Abraham (not children of God) in John 8:37-44.” Similarly, the Preachers Commentary states, “Implicit here is the denial that Abraham is the father of all circumcised Jews. He is truly father only of those who live by trust—circumcised or not.”
Who were the Galatians?
The crux of the matter is the question of the identity of the people of Galatia: Was Paul directing his remarks to Israelites or to non-Hebrew Gentiles? The Apostle wrote to them, “…how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements [of the Ceremonial Law -Wm. Tyndale 1534], whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage.” (Gal. 4:9) This proves that the Galatians, the subjects of Paul’s epistle, were dispersed Israelites dwelling in Greece. As Rev. A.K. Robinson, in his book, “Predestination,” aptly explains, “For a missionary to preach like that to a people who had never been under the Law, and who could not, therefore, be said “to turn to it again,” would be utter nonsense; but to uncircumcised Israelites, who knew and remembered the Old Covenant, every word would tell of their freedom, redemption, and liberty through the blood of Jesus.” (p.38) To assume, then, that the Epistle to the Galatians was written to non-Israelite Gentiles, and use it to create a doctrine of a non-racial “Spiritual Israel” is without foundation. The late British-Israel scholar, Henry Marchant, explained, “I maintain that the idea of a Spiritual Israel, made up of all nations outside of literal Israel, is a fiction, but maintain that the Spiritual Israel made up of believing New Covenant Israel, is a fact.” (BOI 36:252)
Evidence that proves the Galatians were of the exiled and dispersed House of Israel is also found in the opening verses of the First Epistle of Peter: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Dr. George G. Findlay, in “The Expositor’s Bible: Galatians,” says, “Galatia is equivalent to Gaul or Kelt. This people was a detached fragment of the great western European race which formed the basis of our Irish and West British population, as well as of the French nationality. They had conquered for themselves a home in the north of Asia Minor…” It is clear that the Galatians were a part of the dispersed “lost” House of Israel, whose descendants today are “the basis” of Western European peoples. The first century Jews knew this, for they said about Jesus, “Will He go unto the dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?” (John 7:35)
As Rev. Robinson summed it up, “If the reader will logically and carefully examine the Epistle to the Galatians, he will find it impossible to come to any other conclusion except that the major portion of the converts were of the House of Israel.” (ibid., p. 37)