In the book of Galatians, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 to establish the fundamental soteriological doctrine of justification before God by faith alone. Genesis 15:6 is quoted in Galatians 3:6, while Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in Galatians 3:11. Galatians 3:1-4:11 provides arguments in favor of the propositions Paul stated in Galatians 2:15-21. Galatians 3:1-18 proves that righteousness is received apart from the law. Within 3:1-18, 3:6-14 provides arguments from the Old Testament establishing the truth of justification by faith apart from the law.[i] Paul points out, first of all, that the truth that one is justified in the sight of God apart from the law (2:16) is established because Abraham was accounted righteous, receiving the imputed righteousness of the Messiah, through the sole instrumentality of faith (3:6).[ii] Consequently, believers, “they which are of faith,” rather than law-keepers, “are the children of Abraham” spiritually (3:7). Those who believe as Abraham did become the recipients of the redemptive blessings associated with the patriarch. Indeed, the Old Testament had forseen that God would justify Gentiles, non-lawkeepers, through faith, for God had promised Abraham all nations, not lawkeeping Jews only, blessing through his Seed, the Messiah.[iii] Consequently, all those who are of faith receive the Abrahamic blessing (3:9). Indeed, none of the sons of Adam can receive salvation through obedience to the law, for the legal standard is continual, perfect, sinless obedience, but all have sinned and deserve God’s curse.[iv] Furthermore, the explicit testimony that “the just shall live by faith”[v] elminates the possibility that life comes from the law, for the just are all those who are justified by faith (3:11).[vi] The law sets a different and contrary standard—life for sinless obedience.[vii] Christ took the curse of the law upon Himself on the cross so that the Gentiles could be accepted by God and receive salvation in all its aspects, inclusive of both justification and the promise of the Spirit, through faith.[viii]
Paul’s use of Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 in Galatians 3 emphasize the receipt of justification through faith alone rather than the faithfulness and holiness that are the fruit of justifying faith. As the Apostle demonstrates, the Old Testament is clear—righteousness before God is the possession of all those who believe, rather than a possession of those who merit salvation by works. However, the faithfulness that is the fruit of the union with Christ entered into at the moment of justification is by no means excluded in Galatians. The promised Spirit, who sinners receive through faith alone at the moment of their justification (3:14), will produce His fruit (5:16-26; 4:6) in those who have received Him. Those justified by faith alone will be led by the Spirit (5:18) into a walk of holiness that is characterized by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and other holy Spirit-produced acts, rather than the fleshly works that characterize those who will not enter the kingdom but suffer damnation (5:19-23). Faith will work by love (5:6). Indeed, the entire Christian life is lived by faith in the Son of God (2:20; cf. 5:5). The Christian dispensation itself is the coming of faith (3:23, 25). Justification by faith alone (2:16, 21) does not lead to a life of sin, because the believer is legally dead to the law, crucified with Christ, and alive to God (2:17-20). As is clear in Genesis and Habakkuk, Galatians affirms the twin truths that justification in the sight of God is by grace through faith alone, based on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, and that faithfulness and holiness are the inevitable consequents springing from true faith. The just shall live by faith, as Abraham did.
[i] Compare the outline in Galatians, Richard N. Longenecker, vol. 41 in the Word Biblical Commentary.
[ii] Note the further discussion below in the analysis of the quotations of Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 as found in the book of Romans. In Galatians 3, the quotation from Genesis 15:6 is central to the entire passage.
[iii] Galatians 3:8; Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4 28:14. The proeuaggeli÷zomai of Galatians 3:8 specifies that the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham, not only in the proclamation of the Messiah, but also in the declaration of the doctrine of righteousness by faith.
[iv] Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26.
[v] A comparison of Galatians 3:11 and 12 indicates that Paul interpreted Habakkuk 2:4 in accordance with its meaning in its original context, that is, as “the righteous shall live by faith” rather than as “he who through faith is righteous shall live” (for a comparison of the writers who take the one or the other position, see, e. g., pgs. 33-35, “‘The Righteous Shall Live by Faith’—A Decisive Argument for the Traditional Interpretation,” H C. C. Cavallin. Studia Theologica 32 (1978) 33-43). The sense of live in both oJ di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai and in oJ poih/saß aujta» a‡nqrwpoß zh/setai e˙n aujtoi√ß is parallel. In Galatians 3:12 and Leviticus 18:5 (M¡RhD;b y∞AjÎw Mä∂dDaDh M¢DtOa h¶RcSoÅy) the prepositional phrase cannot be construed with the subject, but must be taken to modify the verb. Consequently, in both 3:11 and 3:1 the prepositional phrases (e˙k pi÷stewß/e˙n aujtoi√ß), not the subjects (oJ di÷kaioß/oJ poih/saß aujta» a‡nqrwpoß), modify the verb zh/setai in their respective clauses, even as in Galatians 3:11a the prepositional phrase e˙n no/mwˆ modifies the verb dikaiouvtai, paralleling the modification of zh/setai by e˙k pi÷stewß in 3:11b. Since both spiritual life on earth and eschatological eternal life are included in the quotation in Galatians from Leviticus 18:5 (parallel texts such as Deuteronomy 5:33 validate the fact that “life” with the smile and blessing of God now is included in Leviticus 18:5, but eschatological life is by no means excluded; see the interpretation of the Leviticus text as a reference to “eternal life” in the Targum Onkelos & Psuedo-Jonathan—note furthermore that Paul’s quotation of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5, where a contrast with the promise of Habakkuk 2:4 as found in Romans 1:16-17, likewise includes both justification, spiritual life on earth, and eschatological salvation—the same kinds of life are contrasted in Romans 1:16-17; 10:5, as they are in Galatians 3:11-12), both are included also in Paul’s view of the life promised in Habakkuk 2:4, rather than justification at the moment of conversion alone. Of course, Paul’s recognition that Habakkuk 2:4 promises both spiritual and eschatological life to faith includes as its good and necessary consequence that one is justified by faith as well as living the continuing Christian pilgrimage by faith. In Galatians 3:11, Romans 1:17, and Hebrews 10:38 Paul employs the quotation of Habakkuk 2:4 properly in its original context as a reference to the receipt of the blessing of spiritual life, including justification, sanctification, and glorification, through the instrumentality of faith, emphasizing one or the other facet of the life received in his various references to Habakkuk.
While a real offer of life to sinless perfection and perfect obedience to the law is made in Galatians 3:12; Romans 10:5; Leviticus 18:5 (cf. Deuteronomy 4:1ff., 30:16-20; Romans 7:10; contrast Romans 10:4-11; Habakkuk 2:4; Isaiah 55:1-3, etc.) the promise cannot be received by any of the fallen sons of Adam because of their sin (Galatians 3:10). The law itself is not imperfect, and it gives instructions for perfect righteousness, but only the virgin-born Messiah has ever perfectly fulfilled its holy requirements (cf. Galatians 3:21). Therefore, spiritual inheritance can actually be received by sinners only through the free promise of grace through faith—a way not anulled by the law, but which actually preceded the law—and, in any case, God knew that sinners could not perfectly keep His law, and did not give it to them for the purpose of them receiving salvation by obedience to it (3:15-22). These facts explain why the method of justification set forth by the law is one foreign to faith (3:12a).
[vi] That is, Galatians 3:11 identifies the “just” and the “justified”: o¢ti de« e˙n no/mwˆ oujdei«ß dikaiouvtai para» twˆ◊ Qewˆ◊, dhvlon: o¢ti ÔO di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai. All believers are the just who live by faith.
[vii] Galatians 3:12; Leviticus 18:5; Nehemiah 9:29; Ezekiel 20:11, 13. Paul sets Galatians 3:10 and 3:12 in sharp contrast to 3:11—law and curse are set against faith and righteousness. Indeed, 3:10-12 are Paul’s proofs from the propositional statements of the Old Testament that his affirmations in 2:16, 21 are true, and validations of his affirmations about the experience of the Galatians (3:1-5) and of Abraham (3:6-9).
[viii] Galatians 3:13-14; Deuteronomy 21:23. Note that the reference to the Spirit in v. 14 ties back to 3:2-5, where not only conversion, but also the continuation of the Christian life, is under discussion. The promise of the Spirit is a promise that includes the progressive sanctification of all believers.