Galatians 3:19-25 – God gave the Law of Moses to Israel to serve as their guardian.

Excerpt: God gave the Law to Israel to serve as their guardian to keep them on the right path. The Law was never able to impart eternal life: Eternal life is granted those who believe. This was true before Christ came and is still true today. When Christ came, He became our Tutor, and we no longer need the Law to keep us on the right path.

 

GALATIANS 3:19-25

WHY DID GOD GIVE THE LAW TO ISRAEL?

3:19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 3:20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.

IS THE LAW ABLE TO IMPART ETERNAL LIFE?

3:21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 3:22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

WHY DID GOD GIVE THE LAW TO ISRAEL? – CONTINUED

3:23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  3:24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ,

WHAT CHANGE DID CHRIST BRING?

so that we may be justified by faith. 3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

ADDED BECAUSE OF TRANSGRESSIONS

The Law “was added because of transgressions” (3:19). A few verses later, we read:

We (Jews) were kept in custody under the law” (3:23).
The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ” (3:24).

The Greek word that is translated “tutor” refers to a person who takes children to school. The NIV translates it as “guardian.” In other words, the Law was added to guide Israel on the right path, because, by that time, after hundreds of years in Egypt, they have strayed far from God.

The Law, which includes the Ten Commandments, therefore, must not be understood as prohibitions, but as mercy; as a wall of protection against sin. The real destroyer is sin.

THROUGH ANGELS

The Law was “ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator” (v19; cf. Acts 7:53). This probably means that angels received the Law from God and gave it to Moses.

THE SEED

The Seed … to whom the promise had been made” (3:19) is Christ (3:16).  People can also become “heirs according to promise”, but only if they “belong to Christ” (3:29).

IMPART LIFE – RIGHTEOUSNESS

To “impart life” (3:21) is a synonym of ‘to justify’ or ‘to redeem’. Verse 21 uses “righteousness” also as a synonym for “impart life.” The “life,” therefore, refers to eternal life” (Gal. 6:8), which is the opposite of “corruption” (Gal. 6:8; cf. Rom. 6:23). See Eternal Life and Eternal Torment for a discussion of these concepts according to Paul, Jesus and the book of Revelation.

THE PROMISE

Verses 19, 21 and 22 use the word “promise” as another synonym for ‘to justify’.  For example:

The promise” is given “by faith in Jesus Christ” (verse 22).
Believers are “justified by faith” (verse 24)

Another indication of this is that, in verse 21, where Paul contrasts the Law with the promises, he continues and says that the law cannot “impart life” (v21), which implies that the promises do “impart life.”

CONTRARY TO THE PROMISES

The Law is not “contrary to the promises of God” (3:21) because the Law and the Promises have different functions.  The purpose of the Law is to protect against sin; not to justify or to “impart life” (Gal. 3:21).  The purpose of the Promises, on the other hand, is to “impart (eternal) life.  

WE and OUR 

We” (3:23, 25) and “our” (v24) in Galatians refer to Jews because they were the people that were “kept in custody under the law” (3:23). In Galatians, the word “we” often refers to Jews. For example, “We are Jews by nature” (2:15)

SHUT EVERYBODY UNDER SIN

The Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (3:22).

This means, firstly, that the Scriptures teach that all people sin. Secondly and consequently, the law does not “impart (eternal) life.” Thirdly, therefore (note the words “so that), the promise (to impart life) is “given to those who believe” (3:22). 

This is the main theme of the letter to the Galatians:

        • Man is not justified by the works of the Law,
        • But through faith in Christ Jesus.

NO LONGER UNDER A TUTOR

In the current verses, Paul adds an argument which he did not mention before, namely that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses:

(A) The Law was “added” (3:18), but only “until the seed (Christ) would come” (3:19, 16).
(B) The law served as a “tutor … to Christ” (3:23-24).
(C)Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (3:25).

This idea, that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses, is already contained in certain statements in Galatians 2:

(1) Paul indicated that he “died to the Law” (2:19; cf. Romans 7:6).
(2) The reference to that which Paul has “once destroyed” (Gal. 2:18) is interpreted above as the “dividing wall,” which is “the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:15).

COUNTER ARGUMENTS

The conclusion that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses is disputed by many today. Some argue that we must adhere to the laws given by Moses, or at least to the moral aspects of that law. They might quote Romans 3:31 and other verses, such in Romans 7, where Paul, for instance, wrote that “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God” (Romans 7:25).  They, consequently, might interpret Galatians 3:19-25 as warning against wrong use of the Law.

However:

Galatians 3:19-25 is rather clear that the Law, as given to Moses, has expired.  This includes circumcision and even the Ten Commandments.

Also, consider the wider context of the letter  Paul is resisting the circumcision of the Gentiles and people that compel Gentiles to live like Jews. This also confirms that the Law of Moses has been set aside. 

Someone may argue that Paul set aside the ceremonial laws, but Paul himself does not make that distinction.  The entire Law was “addeduntil the seed (Christ) would come” (3:19).

LAW OF CHRIST

To Christians who want to retain the Law of Moses, I would like to say that Paul did teach that Christians are subject to the “law of God”, but not in the form given to Israel through Moses. Rather, Christians are subject to the “law of Christ:

Paul said of himself that he was
not being without the law of God
but under the law of Christ
” (1 Cor. 9:20-21).

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby
fulfill the law of Christ
” (Gal. 6:2).

SERMON ON THE MOUNT

A reading of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-) will show that Christ did not interpret the Law given to Moses; He actually replaced it with His own laws, for instance:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ …
But I say to you that … whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
” (Mat 5:21-22)

Here Christ replaces one of the Ten Commandments with His own version of that commandment. In this way, Christ replaced the entire Law of Moses with the fundamental principles that existed ever since creation, of which the laws given to Moses were adaptations suitable for the specific time and place and people.

SABBATH

Therefore, one cannot justify the Sabbath (either Sunday or Saturday) simply on the basis of the laws given to Moses.  One has to find the Sabbath in Christ’s teachings.  And He said more about the Sabbath than about any of the other nine commandments. He probably even said more about the Sabbath than about the other nine commandments put together. If we want to retain the Sabbath, we will have to retain it on the basis of Christ’s teachings, and, perhaps even more important, in the format presented by Christ.  See, Jesus taught a different Sabbath.

SUMMARY

Israel received the Law through Moses 430 years after God made the Covenant with Abraham.

God gave the Law to Israel to serve as Israel’s guardian to bring them back to and keep them on the right path after they have strayed far from God during the hundreds of years they were in Egypt.

The Covenant promises eternal life, but, because all people sin, the Law was never able to impart eternal life: Man is not justified by the works of the Law.

For that reason, the Covenant promise of eternal life is given to those who believe. This was true before Christ came and is still true today: Man is justified through faith in Christ Jesus.

When Christ came, He became our Tutor, and we no longer need the Law to keep us on the right path. Jesus is now our Tutor. Christians, therefore, do not have to comply with the Law of Moses.  Rather, Christians are subject to the “law of Christ.” This is God’s fundamental principles that existed ever since creation.

TO: Galatians Table of Contents
NEXT: Galatians 3:26-29

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