Thursday, July 23, 2009

Galatians 3:19-25

V19-25 – 19What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is One. 21Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ [or until Christ came] that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Vincent Cheung begins his comments on this passage by saying, “
There is no entirely comfortable way of dividing Galatians 3:19-4:7 into manageable sections for study. This is because although a progression of thought is noticeable, one point blends into the next as each transition occurs, so that each section that is taken out from the larger passage still heavily depends on the context.” His summary continues:

“The previous passages have established three major points. First, Abraham was himself justified by faith and not works, the law, or circumcision (Galatians 3:6-9). Second, the law itself teaches the impossibility of justification by the works of law, but rather points to faith as the only way (Galatians 3:10-14). Third, the law, which came after God’s promise to Abraham, does not set aside or add to the promise, which amounts to a declaration of God’s intention to save multitudes of people from all over the world and in all periods of history through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:15-18). Now that these three points are established, two questions arise concerning the law. First, if the law cannot justify, and if it does not affect the promise, then what is its purpose? Second, if God’s blessing comes through faith, and if faith and works exclude each other as the means of justification, then does this mean that the law is in fact opposed to the promises of God, working against them? Whether these are anticipated or actual questions, Paul now proceeds to answer them.”
To answer the first question, Paul says in v19 that the law “was added because of transgressions until” Christ “had come.” We can understand Paul’s answer subjectively, as Paul later says, “Through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20), perceiving that, by measuring our motives and actions with the law, we fall short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23). But we can also see Paul’s answer more objectively. The law not only convicts individuals of sinfulness, but it demonstrates objectively the failure of mankind to obey God (Romans 5:20). Kim Riddlebarger notes, “The NIV misses the point in v19, that Paul is not giving us the cause as to why God gave the Law, ‘because of transgressions,’ but instead, Paul is revealing to us the effect of God’s giving to us the law, literally ‘to make wrongdoing a legal offense.’ This means that the law was not given to us to correct our sinfulness. Instead the law was given to us to demonstrate our sinfulness. This is a frequent theme throughout Paul’s writings.” And as we’ve seen before, Paul uses the word “Seed,” which is also “offspring,” referring to Christ (Romans 5:13,20).

Paul notes that Moses served as mediator (an ambassador) for the law between God and Israel, but the covenant promise between God and Abraham (and his offspring) had neither angelic supporters nor a merely human mediator and was therefore superior (Christ Himself was and is the Mediator). (Regarding his mention of angels, see Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2.) We see that when Paul adds, “God is One;” he’s basically saying that God was and is the Mediator between Himself and man, in the Person of Jesus Christ, between the Father and His people. Christ, God Incarnate, fills that role, making the covenant promise superior to the Mosaic Law.

To answer the second question, Paul announces boldly that the law is not “opposed to the promises of God” (v21). Riddlebarger reminds us, “In Paul’s argument here, as elsewhere in Galatians, law has both a positive and a negative function. Negatively, the law cannot impart life, because the law is contrary to faith and brings the full weight of God’s curse down upon every violator of any one of its stipulations. Thus the law is not contrary to the promise because the true purpose of the law is not to bring life but death. The problem in the Galatian church has arisen because the Judaizers were misrepresenting the law’s true purpose. The Judaizers saw law as consistent with faith and as a means of justification and the reception of the promise. In their view, the Covenant with Moses was superior to the covenant with Abraham, when, in fact, the opposite was true. When the Judaizers affirm the priority and superiority of the law, ironically, they not only end up denying the promise, but they end up denying the true purpose of the law. Hence the purpose of both law and gospel are misrepresented by the Judaizers. The positive purpose for the law is spelled out in v22. In this case, the law serves to ‘declare that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.’ God, who speaks through the Scriptures, ‘locks up all men under the condemnation of sin, providing them with no possibility of escape.’ The reason that God gave the law is to show that all men and women are the children of Adam, who constantly and consistently, whether in thought, word and deed, willfully, rebelliously and continuously, violate the revealed will of God, and in effect taking them captive to the bondage of sin. The law renders all of us ‘prisoners’ of sin, when there is no redemption from its curse.”

The law doesn’t compete with the gospel because it can’t save; the law cannot impart life. The law is good and reveals God’s character (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 7:10; 2 Corinthians 3:6) and leads us to Christ who saves (v24) in order to receive the promise as a free gift. The law accomplishes that by revealing the hopelessness of earning the promise; and it reveals that hopelessness by keeping the whole world prisoners to itself. We were prisoners of the law, “locked up until faith should be revealed” (v23). Paul compares the law to a prison warden (v23) and a guardian (v24), a slave whose purpose was to escort children to school and discipline them but not teach them, in order to show that the law points out sin and issues punishment (or discipline), as well as protects and separates Israel from pagan Gentiles while she grows to maturity in faith, at which point, claims v25, we no longer are under the law’s supervision. In other words, obedience to the works of the law was never meant to compete with God’s covenant promises – namely life in the Spirit – obtained through faith; but the law did and still does have a good purpose, that of bringing the chosen ones to the promises through faith in Christ, at which time the Spirit governs through the law of love. Calvin concludes, “Under the reign of Christ, there is no longer any childhood which needs to be placed under a schoolmaster, and consequently, the law has resigned its office.”

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