Galatians 3:17 NET

What I am saying is this: The law that came 430 years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise.

But its clear the law was already in existence in previous encounters with God where Abraham is seen practicing the sacrificial law

Genesis 15:9 NET

The Lord said to him, “Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 15:10 So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two and placed each half opposite the other, but he did not cut the birds in half.

Again in another instance he also seen practicing the law of circumcision

Genesis 17:23 NET

Abraham took his son Ishmael and every male in his household (whether born in his house or bought with money) and circumcised them on that very same day, just as God had told him to do. 17:24 Now Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised; 17:25 his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised. 17:26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised on the very same day. 17:27 All the men of his household, whether born in his household or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

It is also said Abraham kept the laws and commandments of God

26:5 NET

All this will come to pass because Abraham obeyed me and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” 26:6 So Isaac settled in Gerar.

Why then does Paul say the law was added 430 years after giving a promise to Abraham?


2 Answers 2


It is certainly true that all 10 commandments as enunciated in Ex 20, existed well before Sinai - see the appendix below. Some of the Ceremonial and sacrificial laws also existed as correctly evidenced by the OP.

However, and this is the point of Paul's statement about the "430 years later" -

  • before Sinai, the laws were implicit
  • after Sinai, the law was explicit and codified

Thus, Paul's statement in Gal 3:17 about the law being given (ie, explicitly) remains correct. before Sinai, the law was not explicit and no written text was available; after Sinai, there was!

APPENDIX - 10 Commandments before Sinai

Commandment #1 – Worship only YHWH:

  • Gen 22:5, 24:26, 48, 52 all describe worship of the true God of heaven, YHWH.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #2 – Idolatry prohibited

  • Gen 31:32-35 – Jacob clearly understood that idolatry was forbidden.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #3 –Cursing and taking the name of the LORD in vain prohibited

  • Job 1:5 – When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

Commandment #4 – Sabbath worship

  • Gen 2:1-3 – Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. And by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on that day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on that day He rested from all the work of creation that He had accomplished.
  • Ex 5:5 - And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest [שָׁבַת shabath] from their burdens!”
  • Ex 16 also records the incident with manna and that collecting manna on the seventh-day Sabbath was forbidden

Commandment #5 – Respect for parents, elders and authority

  • Gen 28:6, 7 tells of the story of Jacob following his mother’s advice. Respect for parents is built into the very fabric of the patriarchal stories in Genesis.

Commandment #6 – Sanctity of Human life

  • Gen 4:8-12, 15 records Cain’s punishment for the sin of murder
  • Gen 4:23, 24 – Lamech realizes that he has murdered someone and will suffer consequences
  • Gen 9:5, 6 records that murder was prohibited under the ancient Noahide covenant

Commandment #7 – Adultery prohibited

  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for almost tricking a pagan king into committing adultery
  • Gen 19 records the appalling events involving attempted pack-rape of the two angels
  • Gen 39:7-9 – Joseph calls Potiphar’s wife proposal “a great evil and sin against God”.
  • Gen 49:4 – Reuben is scalded for his sin of incest
  • Gen 34 – the story of Dinah records a heinous incident involving her defilement (plus murder and lying)

Commandment #8 – Stealing prohibited and respect for property

  • Gen 30:33 – Laban and Jacob discuss the problem of stealing of wages and property
  • Gen 31:32-35 – Laban is angry about the sin of stealing the household gods
  • Gen 44:9 – Joseph’s brother accused of stealing his divination cup.

Commandment #9 – Lying prohibited; insistence of honesty and integrity

  • Gen 4 – the story of Cain being punished, among other things for not being honest with Abel and God in his statements
  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for lying to a pagan king about their marital status
  • In the story of Jacob, he is pejoratively called Jacob = “deceiver”, Gen 27:36.
  • Gen 37:31-33 – Jacob rebuked for lying and deception

Commandment #10 – Coveting prohibited

  • Gen 3:6 – the woman is tricked by the serpent using the sin of covetousness
  • Job 31:9, 10 – Job says he is innocent of coveting his Neighbour’s wife.

The law was given to Moses and the Israelites at Sinai. It did not exist earlier. Abraham did not know the law. The covenant of pieces of Genesis 15, you are quoting, had nothing to do with the law of Moses. The only common denominator were the clean animals used to cut it, which as in the law were a shadow of Christ. The cutting of the covenant of Genesis 15 was based on common practice of the day. Both parties that went into the covenant would pass between the cut in half animals as a picture of what would happen to them if they broke the agreement. God promised to give Abraham the land ("Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God" Hebrews 11:10). The covenant followed to strengthen the promise. In Genesis 15 only God passed between the pieces, while Abraham was asleep. Which means that God promised to die if He breaks the deal (which is impossible) and to die if Abraham breaks it (the shadow of crucifixion). Paul says in Galatians 3 that the conditional covenant with Moses and the Israelites at Sinai can not nullify the earlier, unconditional covenant of Genesis 15 between God and Abraham (and his seed, whom is Jesus Christ).

"Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise." Galatians 3:15-17

Genesis 26:5 does not say that Abraham knew and kept the law of Moses. Relationship with God is based on obedience and above all walking with Him. Enoch walked with God. Noah walked. The apostles walked with Jesus, even though they did many stupid things for which He rebuked them. But they kept walking with Him and always believed in Him. After Adam and Eve had broken the commandment, God showed up to walk with them. But they hid from Him and instead of seeking His help they blamed each other for the committed sin. When God appeared to Abraham in Genesis 17 and said: "I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.", he listened and until his death did just that. That is why it is written: "Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws."

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