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12 September 2019

Why, then, the Law? - (Galatians 3:19-25)


Moses gives the Ten Commandments to Israel
(Galatians 3:18-19) – “For if by law is the inheritance, it is no longer by promise; but unto Abraham through promise, hath God favoured it. Why, then, the law?
In reaction to some Jewish Christians that arrived in the churches of Galatia and claimed that Gentile believers must be circumcised, the Apostle Paul declared that a man or woman is set right with God from the “faith of Jesus Christ,” not “from the works of the Law.” In fact, if justification is based on performing the deeds and rituals of the Law of Moses, then Jesus “died in vain” (Galatians 2:15-21. Cp. Galatians 2:3, 5:2-3, 6:12-13). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul presents scriptural arguments to validate his proposition.
But if keeping the “works of the Law” does not put one in right standing before God, logically, this raises the question:  Why, then, the Law or Torah? What was or is its purpose? This question the Apostle begins to answer in Galatians 3:18.
Paul’s opponents had a readymade argument from the Hebrew Bible:  circumcision was given by God to Abraham as the sign of His “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:7-14). Any male who was not circumcised, by definition, had “broken my covenant.” And circumcision was NOT optional under the Law.
Paul compiled a series of arguments demonstrating that it was a mistake for the Galatians to submit to circumcision. Anyone who underwent circumcision would find himself obligated to keep the whole thing; for example:
(Galatians 3:10) – “For as many as are from the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
(Galatians 5:2-3) – “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. Yea, I testify again to every man that receives circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.”
The real question was how Gentile believers become members of the covenant community; from the “faith of Jesus Christ” alone, or from faith AND the works of the Torah.” His opponents did not reject the need for faith but wished to add circumcision and other obligations to faith. And the question concerned a specific set of works, the “works of the law,” not good works or human effort in general.
The Purpose and Duration of the Law
(Galatians 3:19-22) - “Why, then, the Law? It was added because of the transgressions until the time when the seed came for whom the promise was given, and it was given in charge through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not mediator of one, yet God is one. Is then the law against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given which was able to make alive, then righteousness would be from the law. But the scripture confined all things under sin, in order that the promise from the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them who believe.”
Paul provides several explanations for the institution of the Law. First, it was “added” after the original covenant promise to Abraham. The Law is subsequent and, therefore, subsidiary to the original promise. Further, the promise is distinct from the Law.
The Law came after the promise and, thus, could not add or subtract anything from it. By “added,” he does not mean that the Torah added something to the original covenant. Paul identifies the Law as a covenant confirmed by God (“a covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law…does not void the promise”). In other words, he views the Mosaic legislation as a separate covenant that was “added” after the promise.
Second, the Law was given “until the seed should come.” This indicates the temporal status of the Law.  “Until” translates the Greek preposition achri.  When used with a place it connotes “as far as”; used with time the sense becomes “until” or “up to” a termination point. By arguing that the Law was “added” until the promised seed, Paul places the Law under a time constraint; a deadline.
Paul identifies the promised “seed” as Christ. The arrival of the “seed” was the Law’s termination point. Paul operates with an understanding of two distinct eras of Salvation History. The first ends when the second begins.
Third, the Law became necessary “because of transgressions(Galatians 3:19).  The Greek term, parabasis, means, “an overstepping, trespass, transgression.” It refers to deliberate or conscious acts of disobedience (cp. Romans 5:14). Sin has existed since Adam, but the law turns sin into “transgression” by making known that it violates God’s standard. The sense of the preposition “because of” (charin) can be understood one of two ways:  either the Law was given to identify transgressions, or to increase them.
The first option best fits the context and Paul’s theology (e.g., Romans 3:20). The notion of increasing sin makes little sense considering his next statement, “until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” The idea of identifying transgression fits the analogy of the Law’s role as a “custodian” in verses 24-25.
Fourth, the Law “was given in charge through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Deuteronomy 33:2 describes Yahweh coming from Sinai, “with myriads of holy ones; from his right hand went a fiery law for them.” The Greek Septuagint version renders the last clause, “on his right hand his angels were with him.” A later Jewish tradition claimed that angels delivered the Law into the “hand of” Moses (cp. Acts 7:38, 7:53, Hebrews 2:2). By “the hand of a mediator,” Paul most likely means Moses (the Septuagint - the Law was “by the hand of Moses” (e.g., Leviticus 26:46, Numbers 4:37, 4:41, 4:45, 4:49, 9:23, 10:13, 15:23, 17:5).
To claim that the Law was given by angels does not disparage it. But the Law was given by the angels into “the hand of a mediator”; that is, the Law was delivered into the hands of Moses who then mediated it to Israel.
Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, yet God is one.”  A mediator implies a plurality of persons involved in a transaction.  In contrast, God is one. In His promise to Abraham of future redemption, God acted unilaterally without an intermediary. The point is, the priority of the earlier promise that was made (directly) by God. In contrast, the Law was given later and through an intermediary, not directly.
Fifth, the Law is not contrary to the promise (“is the Law against the promises of God?”). Since there are discontinuities between the Law and the promise, and since the Law was added later and is subsidiary to the promise, it is necessary to demonstrate that the Law is not contrary to the promise.
If a law had been given that was able to make alive, then righteousness would have been on the basis of law.”  The Law is incapable of imparting life; therefore, righteousness cannot be based on the Law. The purpose of the Law was for something other than the impartation of life. Moreover, if the Law could make alive or acquit sinners, “then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21). The Law is not contrary to the promise, but it lacks the means to deliver it.
Sixth, the “Scripture confined all things under sin,” so that the promise, “from the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” All those “under the Law” are under its curse and this included Israel. More broadly speaking, all humans are confined under sin.
Paul does not say that the “Law” confined “all things” but, instead, “the scripture,” singular. Elsewhere, when Paul uses “scripture” in the singular with the definite article he refers to a specific passage (e.g., Galatians 3:8, 4:30, Romans 4:3, 9:17). Most likely, he means the key proof text already cited in the letter’s proposition (Galatians 2:16, Psalm 143:2 - “because from the works of the law shall no flesh be acquitted”). No flesh can be acquitted from the works of the law because all are confined under sin.
Confined” translates sungkleiō, meaning, “to shut together, confine, hem in, imprison.” It denotes something that is shut up on all sides, such as a school of fish caught in a net. A similar idea is expressed in Romans 11:32, “For God has confined them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” The same verb occurs in the next verse (Galatians 3:23, “But before the faith came, we were kept under the law, confined until the faith”).
What Paul means is not that Scripture is the agent that confined humanity, but that all flesh was under sin and, therefore, unable to be acquitted before God. This idea is confirmed by the next verse: “Before the coming of the faith we were kept under the law, being confined until the faith that should be revealed afterwards.”
From the faith of Jesus Christ.”  “From” translates the preposition ek or “from, out of, on the basis of.” The clause points either to the “faith” of Jesus himself or to his “faithfulness” (the Greek term can mean either sense). Probably, this is a cryptic reference to the faithful obedience of Jesus in his death (cp. Galatians 2:20-21).
The Law as Guardian (3:23-25)
(Galatians 3:23-25) - “Before the coming of the faith, however, we were being kept in ward under the Law, being confined until the faith, which was going to be revealed. So that the Law has proved our custodian training us for Christ, in order that from faith we might be declared righteous. But the faith having come, no longer are we under a custodian.”
Before the coming of the faith, however, we were being kept in ward under the Law, being confined until the faith”).  “The faith” refers to “the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” We were kept in custody until the faith of Christ was revealed.  Once again, the temporal termination point is stressed.
Paul now uses the analogy of a “custodian” or “guardian” assigned to safeguard the nation of Israel.  This translates the Greek noun paidagōgos, which does not refer to an educator but to someone with supervisory or custodial responsibilities.
A “pedagogue” in Greco-Roman society did not refer to a tutor but to a servant with custodial and disciplinary authority over an underage child, the authority he exercised until the child reached adulthood. His job was to protect the child, accompany him to school, provide moral instructions, and to discipline the child when needed. Though often a household slave, a custodian was authorized to administer correction to the future master of the household.
The metaphor stresses the minority status of the one under the custodian and the temporary nature of his role. That function ceased when the child reached adulthood. Likewise, the supervisory role of the Law was to last untilthe faith is revealed,” a faith defined as, “the promise from the faith of Jesus Christ given to those who believe.” 
With the coming of the promise, believers are no longer under the custodianship of the Law.  The analogy emphasizes the temporal purpose and function of the Law. Since the Law is compared to the custodian, to say that the heir is no longer under the authority of the custodian is to say that the Jew who believes in Jesus is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Law.
The purpose of the Law given at Mount Sinai was not to justify sinners before God but to guide and protect Israel until the promised “seed” of Abraham arrived. The original covenant that Yahweh made with Abraham retains its priority and finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Since the “seed” has arrived, the jurisdiction of the Law with its requirement of circumcision has reached its intended goal.

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