Neither Jew nor Greek

Returning to the custodianship of the Law means rebuilding the wall between Jew and Gentile, but “you are all one in Christ - heirs of Abraham.” 

In Galatians, Paul portrays the Mosaic Law as the “custodian” or “pedagogue” that supervised Israel “until the seed came,” and that “seed” was Jesus. In Greco-Roman society, the “pedagogue” was the slave with custodial and disciplinary authority over an underage child until he reached maturity, even though the custodian was a slave.

Paul’s metaphor stresses the minority status of the one who is under the custodian and the temporary nature of the latter’s authority. The custodial function ceased when the child attained adulthood.
  • (Galatians 3:23-25) – “Before the coming of the faith, however, we were kept in ward under the law, being shut up until the faith which should afterward 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.
In Jesus, the termination point has been reached for the “children of Abraham.” Previously, all things were confined under sin, just as the Jews were kept under the Law until the faith was revealed in Christ. The Torah guarded the people of God until the “faith came,” and the Law served to make them aware of transgressions.

Likewise, the supervisory role of the Law would only last until the “faith was revealed… the promise from the faith of Jesus Christ given to those who believe.” But with the coming of the promised “seed” – Jesus - believers are no longer under the custodianship of the Torah.

The analogy emphasizes the temporal aspect of the Mosaic Law. Since it is compared to the “custodian,” to say the heir is no longer under the custodian is to say the believer is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic legislation. If the Law is unable to acquit anyone before God, and if it was added after the original “promise,” which it could not modify, what was the purpose of the legislation given at Sinai?

Paul addresses that question (“Why, then, the law?”). The Torah was given through Moses to teach Israel that sin constitutes disobedience to the commandments of God. It was the “custodian” for the nation assigned to guard Israel until the promised "seed" arrived. But that function was always temporary and provisional.

Here in Paul’s larger argument, the temporal aspect of the Law becomes pronounced. It was given as an interim stage in God’s larger redemptive program. But with the arrival of the “seed,” it reached its termination point. Therefore, it no longer has jurisdiction over who is in the covenant community and who is not. Next, Paul draws out the social implications of this change:
  • (Galatians 3:26-29): “For you all are sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus; For you, as many as into Christ have been baptized, have put on Christ. There cannot be Jew or Greek, there cannot be slave or free, there cannot be male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus: Now, if you are of Christ, by consequence, you are Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs.
To return to the custodianship of the Law would mean regression to the previous stage in redemptive history that was characterized by the division between Jews and Gentiles, a barrier now eliminated on the Cross by the death of Jesus.

This paragraph is pivotal to the letter since it stresses the oneness of God's people. The old social distinctions are wholly inappropriate now that the “promised seed” has arrived. To pressure other believers to pursue a Torah-observant lifestyle would rebuild the old social barriers, especially those between Jewish and Gentile believers.

One function of the Law was to keep Israelites distinct from Gentiles. The distinctions between Jews and Gentiles were there by design. But the arrival of Jesus meant there was a new basis for defining and delimiting the people of God. Previously, and by default, uncircumcised Gentiles were outside the Abrahamic covenant, and therefore, NOT “sons of God.” They could only become members of the covenant community by undergoing circumcision, in the case of males, and otherwise adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle. Effectively, they ceased to be Gentiles.

But the Law also distinguished between slaves and freemen, male and female. Women could not fulfill certain requirements of the Law because of their periodic uncleanness from menstruation and thus could not participate fully in the Temple worship and rituals. They were restricted to the Court of Women, at a further distance from the presence of Yahweh than men. Religiously speaking, women were second-class citizens. To now embrace a Torah-observant lifestyle would reinstitute this inequity.

The clause “you are all” refers to Gentile and Jewish believers (“That the promise should be given to those who believe”). Before the coming of the “seed,” all things were under confinement, both Jew and Gentile. But now, both groups were no longer confined under either sin or the Law, and both have become sons of God “through the faith of Christ Jesus.” And if adoption into the covenant community is through faith, then the Gentile believers in Galatia did not enter it from the works of the Torah, including circumcision.

Several times Paul emphasizes the word “all.” Both believing Jews and Gentiles have been made “sons of God” through their oneness with Jesus. It is “in Christ” that believers become true “sons of God” and “Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.”

This does not mean that ethnicity or gender no matter in the daily lives of believers, but such distinctions are irrelevant to anyone’s right standing before God or membership in His covenant community. To now return to the custodianship of the Law is to regress to bondage and social division within the covenant community.



Silence in Heaven

Sorrow Not