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In explaining the Gospel of salvation from faith to the Galatians, Paul states the promise to Abraham was to "the Seed" not "seeds" and the Seed was Christ (cf. Galatians 3:15-18). Then he explains the purpose of the Law:

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made... (Galatians 3:19a NKJV)
τί οὖν ὁ νόμος τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν προσετέθη ἄχρις οὗ ἔλθῃ τὸ σπέρμα ᾧ ἐπήγγελται

As most translations show, Paul states the promise was made to the Seed. Since Abraham was not the Seed, Paul's explanation becomes a claim of Christ's existence before His coming of woman and under the Law (cf. Galatians 4:4). Therefore, Paul constructed an argument using the promise, the Seed, and the Law which demands the presence of Christ at the time the promise was made.

Some translations appear to have difficulty with this claim:

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come... (NIV)

This understanding converts Paul's statement of Christ's presence when the promise was made to one in which Christ was being referenced when Abraham received the promise.

Does Paul state Christ was present when Abraham received the promise?

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  • Paul does not state Christ was present when Abraham received the promise. There is no record of his presence in the Old Testament. Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 8:26

5 Answers 5

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Not so fast - all these English translations are adding prepositions that do not exist in the Greek. Let me translate Gal 3:19 literally:

Why then the Law? Because of transgressions - [it = law] was added until that should have come the Seed to/for/about whom promising has been made; having been ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

The two pertinent words here are:

ᾧ = whom in the neuter dative case; thus it must be translated by "to whom", "by whom", "about whom", "for whom", referencing the neuter "seed". Notice that the choice of preposition depends on context but it is not explicit in the Greek.

ἐπήγγελται = promising [has been made], is a perfect verb in the middle or passive voice. Thus, [has been made] is an English addition to make the verb perfect tense and passive voice. Further, if we accept that the voice is middle voice than we would have to translate, "promising had been made about himself".

Now, Gal 3:17 & 18 allude to the Abrahamic covenant established and recorded in Gen 13:14-17, 15:1-17, 17:1-27, 18:9-15, 22:15-18. In all cases, we find that "the LORD" is speaking directly to Abraham, Gen 13:14, 15:8, 9, 13, 18, 17:1, 18:1, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 26, etc.

So, we have two choices about the translation of Gal 3:19 -

  1. ... the Seed about whom promising has been made ... [adopting the passive voice] In this case, the LORD was talking about the coming Messiah
  2. ... the Seed by whom promising has been made about Himself ... [adopting the middle voice] In this case, the pre-incarnate Christ was talking about Himself

Since no one has ever seen God the Father (John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46, 1 John 4:12, 1 Tim 1:17, 6:16, Col 1:15, Ex 33:20, Isa 45:15), and the LORD appeared personally to Abraham, I prefer the latter translation.

Therefore, I would agree that Christ was not only present but was the one speaking with Abraham and making the promises of a son and Messiah.

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  • Abrahamic covenant or promose? Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:20
  • @RevelationLad - all covenants involved promises of benefits. They are meaningless without them as Gal 3:17, 18 confirms. The benefits of the Abrahamic covenant were essentially two-fold - Abraham would have a child and the promise of the land around him, the "promised land".
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:22
  • @RevelationLad - actually, if you examine the text, Gen 3:17-19 is using "promises" and "covenant" almost interchangeably. Eg, V17: does not revoke the covenant" is parallel with "nullify the promise".
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:24
  • I believe Paul used different words to convey different meanings. You may choose to dismiss the difference, but I believe the better approach is to preserve or at least acknowledge the writer understood and intended a distinction. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:28
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    @RevelationLad - I am not dismissing the difference. The covenant contained important promises. If the covenant is revoked, the promises are also revoked or nullified. The covenant was the promise of the Seed. God promised, by an oath (ie, a covenant) that Abraham would have a child from whom would come Messiah. Here Paul is focusing on the promised Messiah in the covenant with Abraham.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:31
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It says that promise of resurrection from dead was made to Christ. Does it necessarily - speaking purely grammatically - mean that Christ was there when the promise was made? Not necessarily, for it can be said proleptically, like in a sentence of my Pakistani friend, who yielded to urge of his parents and married a girl in an arranged marriage: “I promise to my kids, that arranged marriages will stop on me!” But there were no his kids yet when he uttered this embittered promise of his.

However, we can safely say that the Person/Hypostasis of the Logos of God, who was also called “Christ” after His incarnation, was present during the life and the promise of Abraham, just because Abraham himself was created by Him, and the very promise was given by Him to the human nature of Him that He promised to resurrect, for did not Father brought to life the dead body of Christ through His Logos, just as He created the world through the same Person of Logos? Yes, and moreover, as the Father, ontologically speaking, cannot create the world without His Logos co-creating, so also He cannot resurrect the dead without His Logos co-resurrecting.

That Paul believed in divinity and unbeginedness of Hypostasis of Christ is clear from many passages of his, and he refers to pre-incarnate Christ whom he identifies with God who led Israel in desert (1 Cor. 10:4).

Thus, to answer your question: Christ as the divine eternal Hypostasis of Logos was present during the mentioned Abrahamic promise; moreover, it was He who gave this promise proleptically to the seed of Abraham, that is to say, to His own human nature that He was poised to resurrect after three days from death that was to happen thousands years after the promise was pronounced to Abraham.

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I say most definitely! What do I base this on? Genesis 12;1-3, At vs1 the Lord says to Abram to leave the country and God will show Abram where to go. Vs2, "And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; Vs3, And I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Moving on to Genesis 17:1-2, "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. vs2, And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly."

At Genesis 17:6-7, God says, (again) Vs6, And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. vs7, And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you."

At Genesis 17:17-18 God explains how this will be done by telling Abram that Sarah will bear a son. This is also reiterated at Genesis 18 where at vs1, "Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day."

When we get to Genesis 22 the Lord ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son of promise. Genesis 22:10, "And Abrahm stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son, Vs11, "But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham! And he said, "Here I am." Vs12, "And he said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."

At verses 13-14 the Lord provides Abraham a ram to sacrifice. Vs15, "Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, vs16, "and said, "By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, vs17, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies."

Vs18, "And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." Now, this presentation raises a lot of questions and one of them is, "How do I know that Jesus Christ was present when Abraham received the promise?

At Genesis 17:1-2 clearly states the Lord God Almighty appeared (physically) to Abraham. It can't be God the Father because the Father cannot be physically seen and Genesis 17:22 states, "And when He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham." Also notice that at Genesis 18:1, Now the Lord appeared to him/Abraham again and an extensive dialogue ensues through the whole chapter of Genesis 18.

Then we come to Genesis 22. Why at vs11 and at vs15 is the angel of the Lord assigned to call out from heaven two times? At Exodus 20:22 God Himself calls from heaven to Moses. "Then the Lord said to Moses, Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven." And in the New Testament at Mark 1:11, "and a voice came out of the heavens; "Thou are My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased,"

Getting back to Genesis 22:15-16 you have the angel of the Lord calling out of heaven saying, "By Myself I have sworn declares the Lord, because you have done this thing, and not withheld your son, you only son." Why does God have to use the angel of the Lord to say, "By Myself I have sworn declares the Lord?" And yes, I know about the argument that God uses angels and men at times to be His spokesperson.

That argument won't work in this presentation. The writer of Hebrews explains it this way at Hebrews 6:13-18. "For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, HE SWORE BY HIMSELF, vs14, saying, "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you." Vs15, And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. Vs16 "For when men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath give as confirmation is an end of every dispute."

Vs17, "In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath." What all this means is the fact that the angel of the Lord is not an actual because angels cannot swear oaths on behalf of God Himself. The only logical answer as to the identity of the angel of the Lord who qualifies is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.

This is based on the fact that God the Father has no separate manifestation from the Son. The Son is the only manifestation and revelation of the Father. What is known of the Father is revealed through the Son. To see the Son is to see the essence of the Father, (John 1:1;18, 10:30; 12;45 Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3.)

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Gen 22:18 and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
[Gal 3:16-19 NHEB21] Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his offspring. He does not say, "And to offsprings," as of many, but as of one, "And to your offspring," which is Christ. Now I say this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to cancel the promise. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by promise. What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator.

Whether the God who appeared to Abraham was Jesus is a separate issue, but this question is asking whether the promise was made directly to the seed (Christ) present during the time, according to Paul in Galatians. This is wrong, because the argument states that the promise indicates a prophecy of a special seed (Christ). It can be translated concerning or about. Douglas Moo says, that "the NIV captures the sense", "whom the promise referred had come", NLT "the coming of the child who was promised"; CJB, ICB "about whom". The dative relative pronoun (to whom) can also mean 'through whom'.

Notice Gal 3:16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. τῷ δὲ Ἀβραὰμ ἐρρέθησαν αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ. Gen 22:18 καὶ ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου. English translations in thy seed, however, NIV NHEB are more clear "through your offspring". Paul's argument is not about to whom the promise was given, but concerning whom or through whom the promise will be ultimately achieved. You can just assume or supply in to the phrase as in Gen 22:18, that it is speaking about the instrument or goal of the promise, not the direct recipient which was Abraham alone at the time.

The promise was given to Abraham and his future seed (descendants), it does not mean his descendants were present during the time. The descendants are also equally the recipients or heir of the promises, cf Rom 9:4-5.

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The question presupposes that a promise cannot be made to someone who does not exist. This, however, is an unBiblical presumption. Consider, for example, that God made promises to Cyrus well before he was born, even naming him specifically in those promises.

Cyrus Received Promises Before Birth

1Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; 2I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: 3And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. 4For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. 5I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: (Isaiah 45:1-5, KJV)

Note that Isaiah lived and prophesied during the time of kings Hezekiah (of Judah) and Sennacherib (of Assyria) (see 2 Kings 19:5-6,20; 20:14). Cyrus did not become king of Babylon until after the seventy years' captivity, and the last king of Judah, Mattaniah (Zedekiah), was removed from the throne by Nebuchadnezzar 100 years after Hezekiah died. This is why God could rightly say "though thou hast not known me." Cyrus was not yet even a twinkle in his father's eyes!

Note also that Isaiah's prophecy includes what appear to be past tense verbs for parts of it. Strictly speaking, Hebrew does not have tenses as we think of them in English: but God is essentially saying that His words are as good as done--so assured we may be of their fulfillment.

Does Paul State that Christ was with Abraham?

If Paul teaches this concept, it cannot be proven from the passage in question in Galatians 3. As shown above, making a promise to someone does not presuppose the person to already exist. The promise could be for a yet-future personage.

But let's go to the crux of the question . . .

Was Christ with Abraham?

And here I would decidedly say YES!

How do we know?

Christ is the visible manifestation of the invisible God (see Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17) who was called "Michael" (see Daniel 10:21 and Jude 1:9) in Heaven and is the one who came to take possession of the human body prepared for him (see Hebrews 10:5).

The Bible teaches that "no man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12) and Jesus himself stated:

And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. (John 5:37, KJV)

Christ, the Word, the "angel of Yahweh", has revealed to us everything that we can know about God. All throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, Christ's mission has been to teach us about the Father, the only true God (see Jesus' prayer in John 17:1-3).

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6, KJV)

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