13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
1901 ASV Translation:
13 For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith.
I. Paul's Insistence on the Fundamental Nature of the Foundations of Promise.
A. Paul's meaning of "through law".
1. The phrase [dia plus the genitive/ablative] indicates that Paul is thinking of the actual agent of the accomplishment of the task.
2. He is dealing with the question of "exactly" what it is that enables the promise to be fulfilled.
3. Thus, if the promise is fulfilled through the agency of "law", the fulfillment is rooted in man's performance of divine requirements: the righteousness that is by the law. God is, by this thinking, permitted to give man blessing because man is deserving of it, having entered into a reciprocal behavior agreement with God.
B. The problem Paul faces.
1. The imposition of circumcision upon Abraham, with its requirement that any who was not circumcised was to be cut off from his people, is an indisputable reality. This looks like the imposition of "law". It looks like Abraham gets the land through circumcision.
2. Paul is not denying the facts of the case.
3. Paul is denying the "looks" of those facts when they are understood to be the foundation of the promise.
a. If "circumcision" qualifies a man to be an heir of the land promise, then he must be given the land because he is circumcised.
b. If a man must be given the land because he is circumcised, it does not matter what his attitude is, nor does it matter whether he "believes". All that matters is whether he is circumcised.
c. Paul's argument has been that Abraham was "justified" (put into a condition that would allow a just God to bless him) by faith, not performance. Thus, it makes all the difference in the world whether the land will be given to a man because he is "justified" or because he is "circumcised". Paul adamantly refuses to accept the idea that an "unjustified" man will be blessed by God on the basis of the man's behavior. Thus the issue is not whether a man has "obeyed" God's command, but whether he has "believed" God's promise.
d. Paul's argument, thus far, has been that "circumcision" was initially given to a man who was already justified. This means that the association of the "land promise" with circumcision is a post-faith association that rests upon the fact of an already accomplished justification. In other words, God can "impose" circumcision upon a "believer" because they are now in a reconciled relationship without reverting to "law" as the foundational principle. The issues of "imposition" upon "believers" are not the same issues of the imposition of law upon non-believers.
1) The fundamental issue of law is "do this in order to obtain My favor." The bottom line in "law" is two-fold: man's basic ability to "do this" (if man has "fallen short of the glory of God", how can he act out of that glory?); and, man's penchant for "doing" in order to obtain "praise" ("doing to obtain praise" is evil at the heart of it so that "doing" to "be worthy" of divine favor cannot possibly lead to reconciliation).
2) The fundamental issue of love is "do this so that our relationship can progress into a greater experience of life." The bottom line here is man's renewed abilities as a creature reconciled to God so that the glory of God is available for his efforts, and a restoration of love as the motivation for action. Reconciled man does not seek "praise", but "cooperative harmony with his Redeemer".
C. The problem Paul's opponents face.
1. They wish to have "fulfillment" on the basis of their "obedience" so that they may boast.
2. They cannot get around the problem: the law cuts two ways. If "blessing" is by law, "cursing" is by transgression of law. If "cursing" is by transgression of law, none can be "blessed" because all have transgressed. By this undeniable fact (that all have transgressed) "faith" is made void and the promise has been rendered totally ineffectual. To what end is a "promise" that has no fulfillment?
D. Paul's Solution.
1. For Paul, the fulfillment of any "promise" is up to the one making the promise.
a. In "law" the fulfillment of any desire for blessedness is up to the one desiring it.
b. In "promise" the blessedness comes not from the one desiring blessing, but from the One extending blessing.
2. For Paul, the requirement of "circumcision" is a "requirement" upon a "believer" who has been restored to harmony with God so that there is no "wrath" in the requirement. There is only a progression into blessedness.