ho proepangellomai dia ton propheton autou en graphais hagiais – “which he promised beforehand through the prophets of him in writings holy”
The word “which” is a relative pronoun that points back to the words “gospel of God” in verse 1. The “gospel of God” is what “He” promised “before.” Who is He? The context of verses 2 and 3 are clear that it is God the Father Who promised – “which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This is a powerful and amazing statement. God the Father promised His “gospel” at a prior time (beforehand) “through” His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Greek word proepangellomai is translated “promised beforehand.” It’s in the middle voice and carries the idea of the “subject” of the promising of old through proclamation participating in the results of the action. The subject of the action had a vested interest in the outcome of the action. Think about that for a minute. Who proclaimed the Gospel beforehand? God. Who participated in the Gospel during Paul’s preaching of it? God. Thus, “the gospel of God.” It’s all of God!
The only “Scriptures” Paul could have referenced at that time were those that had already been canonized in the Hebrew Bible. The last “prophet” of God in the Hebrew Scriptures was Malachi, who lived during the 5th century BC. The first prophet was Abraham, who lived during the 20th and 19th centuries BC. Can we really find the “the gospel of God” in the writings of the Hebrew prophets hundreds of years before Jesus came to Earth to “preach” the Gospel?
The Apostle Paul was an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures. He had spent most of his childhood, youth and young adult years studying them; first with his parents, then moving from Tarsus to Jerusalem at about the age of 10 to study at one of the leading rabbinical schools in Israel (Acts 22:3). In addition to that expertise, Paul also learned directly from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-18) and was also inspired by the Holy Spirit as he wrote his letters (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). When Paul speaks about the Scriptures, I listen.
The first Hebrew prophet to preach the Gospel was Abraham (Genesis 20:7), but first God preached the Gospel to Abraham.
“Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” Galatians 3:7-9
Remember that the Apostle Paul was an expert in Hebrew Scriptures, was a direct student of Jesus Christ, and wrote as the Holy Spirit moved in him to write. Paul wrote, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.” Where does the Hebrew Scripture say that?
“Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.” Genesis 22:15-19
The “Lord” called to Abraham “out of heaven” and told him that in Abraham’s “seed” all the nations of the earth would be blessed “because” Abraham had obeyed God’s Voice. Read the full context of Genesis 22 and you’ll see that what Abraham obeyed was God’s command to take his only son Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer the boy there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains God would show him. Abraham obeyed, God provided another offering in Isaac’s place, and God promised to make a great and mighty nation from Abraham and bless all the nations of the earth “in him.”
Was that the first time God mentioned blessing all the nations of the earth in Abraham? No. Look at what God said several years before Abraham took Isaac to the mountains of Moriah.
“And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” Genesis 18:17-19
This Gospel that would come about in Abraham’s “seed” was preached from the earliest times. In fact, it was proclaimed in the Garden of Eden centuries earlier by God Himself.
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:15
Who or what is this “seed” that is at the heart of the Gospel proclamation? We know that it is “seed” from the woman. We also know that it is Abraham’s “seed.” Let’s see if we can figure this out. The “seed” comes from Eve and Abraham. How can that be since Abraham lived hundreds of years after Eve died? We turn to our expert in the Hebrew Scriptures for the answer.
“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16
We have our answer: the promised Seed of Eve and Abraham is Jesus Christ. And, in case someone in Galatia or elsewhere might argue that the Law God gave Moses and Israel somehow annulled the Covenant God made with Abraham, Paul added this:
“And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” Galatians 3:17-18
Paul had the God-given ability to make things crystal-clear. Who is Abraham’s Seed? Christ. Did the Mosaic Law nullify the promise God made to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham’s Seed? No. Questions asked and answered. I don’t know how anything could be clearer than what Paul wrote for us to read.
Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Galatians 3:6) The key that unlocks the Gospel for everyone is “faith.”
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore … By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19
Faith in God’s “promise” is how the Gospel works. It does not work by works. It does not work by obedience to the Law. It does not work just because we want it to work. It works because of the promise God made to Abraham almost 4,000 years ago.
Abraham was the first prophet to preach the Gospel, but not the last. In the next part of our study we’ll look at other Hebrew prophets who were part of the great lineage of “the promise” made beforehand.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”