The first two chapters of the letter set forth the most relevant events of the course of Paul’s life, both as a “zealot” for the law of Moses and afterward as an apostle of Christ. Everything in Paul’s narrative of his life thus far hinges on the fact that his conversion to Christ entailed a break with the law of Moses and an acceptance and obedience to the Gospel which is God’s purposes for all nations. From this point onward, every former loyalty and allegiance to the law of Moses is set aside for the sake of serving Christ.
As Paul enters now into the main doctrinal phase of his epistle, he does so with a keen awareness of the crisis in Galatia. Paul has pronounced the condemnation of God on those who had brought in the false gospel and to a degree upon those who would succumb to it. Stronger words of condemnation are yet to come and by the end of this epistle, the Galatian Christians will be fully aware of the implications of falling back to the old law and the results that such actions will have on their faith.
The context of the letter thus far has been wholly about the Galatians return to Judaism. There has been no evidence set forth which could reasonably be said to haves any application beyond the law of Moses. Any attempt to broaden the scope of Paul’s teaching in regards to the law of Moses as it is opposed to the law of Christ is an abuse of the text of this letter. Under no circumstances can we use Paul’s condemnation of the law of Moses to justify a lack of obedience to God’s law under the new covenant.
“O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified?”
Paul is not mincing words. This speaks to the seriousness of the situation the Galatians had gotten themselves into. They had been deceived by the Judaizers into incorporating elements of the old law system of faith into the gospel system of faith. Paul accused them of being foolish. The original language literally means foolish, unintelligent or unwise.
The Galatian Christians had been bewitched which in the original language means to be fascinated by false representation. Paul is saying they been deceived or enticed into accepting a variant form of Judaism mixed in with their faith. It is important to keep in mind that this group of Judaizers were of a sect of Jews who believed in Christ but were insisting that the Gentiles be circumcised and to keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:5). This was a variant form of a belief system which was neither wholly Mosaic law or Gospel. It was a mixture of the two, wholly contrived in the minds of men with no authority for it from scripture.
This bewitchment of the Galatian churches is by no means the only time in the gospel age this has occurred. Christians were being beguiled and deceived into believing and practicing lies in the first century. That is still going on today on a world wide scale. Paul accused the Galatians of being foolish for allowing themselves to be deceived. The application for us today is that if we allow ourselves to be deceived, we are as foolish today as they were then. The remedy for being deceived is to be obedient to God’s will in all things. Beguilement and deception begins when we fail to respect God’s authority and allow ourselves to decide for ourselves what we will or will not obey.
“before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified?“
The Judaizers had successfully managed to distract the Galatians from the crucified Christ. The implication here is that the teaching of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion clearly teaches the fulfillment and end of the old law system of faith. To fully understand the crucifixion of Christ is to fully understand the result this event has on the law of Moses.
Paul’s language here demonstrates that his teaching of the crucified Christ among them had been so completely clear and so thorough that the event had been illustrated to them to the degree that it was the same as if they had been there at Christ’s death and witnessed it with their own eyes.
Depending on which translation one is using, there are different renderings of this verse. The KJV, NKJV and YLT include a phrase which is not found in several other translations.
The NKJV version reads, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?”
The reason for this is that the manuscripts used to translate the KJV, NKJV and the YLT contain this phrase in the Greek language. It is not within the scope of this study to delve deeply into a critical textual discussion over whether Paul’s original autograph bore this phrase or not. Whether or not the phrase was there bears no doctrinal implications whatsoever. Moreover, Galatians 5:7 contains this phrase in all of the manuscripts used to translate all of our modern day translations: “You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (NKJV). The implication on Paul’s reference here to obeying the truth cannot be overstated. God’s truth is to be obeyed, not just believed. Whether or not Paul wrote it in Galatians 3:1 makes no difference because he taught it, by inspiration in chapter 5, verse 7.
“This only would I learn from you. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
This reference to the Spirit is the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit as indicated in verse 5 of this context. In the absence of the holy scriptures in the first century, God worked signs and wonders among the churches in order to confirm the authenticity of the word being preached by His Apostles. Hebrews 2:4 reads, “God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” A list of these gifts is recorded in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 which reads, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (NKJV). All of these gifts were useful in edification of the body and for confirmation of the validity of the word being taught.
The gifts of wisdom, prophecy, faith, discerning spirits and knowledge were useful in that the Bible had not been written yet and Christians were in need of instruction in God’s will. The Holy Spirit provided a measure of that miraculously in order to assist in the proper edification of the body until the inspired writers finished recording God’s will permanently.
The gifts of miracle working, tongues, interpretation of tongues and healing were useful in that they demonstrated the validity of the gospel through signs of power and authority. They were never meant to be abused for profit or personal gain, but were intended to demonstrate the authenticity of God’s word and to bring glory to His name.
The miraculous gifts were temporary, meaning that there was a time coming when they would cease. Concerning miraculous gifts, Paul reaches in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (NKJV). That which is perfect means that which is complete or that which completely reveals the will of God to man. We understand this to be the holy scriptures in their entirety which are self authenticating and need no confirmation, and thoroughly equip us for our Christian walk (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The edification work of the miraculous gifts included prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. Concerning prophecy, it was foretold in old testament scripture that prophets would pass from the land in the time period associated with Christ on earth, Zechariah 13:1-3
“In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness. It shall be in that day,” says the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land. It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the Lord.’ And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies” (NKJV). The fountain opened is an apocalyptic reference to the shedding of Christ’s blood for the sins of mankind. “In that Day” does not literally mean the day Christ died, rather it means in that general time period.
concerning the cessations of prophecy, Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11-13, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (NKJV). Prophecy was given for the edification of the body until we come to the complete unity or revelation of the system of faith and of the knowledge we need of God in order to live a satisfactory life in the sight of God. Prophecy was to end when this was achieved because it was no longer necessary. We have the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God recorded for us in the scriptures. Contained within the pages of the written word of God, we have what Paul said would come and bring an end to prophecy. We have the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. The fact that everyone on earth does not practice it and live it according to what is written does not mean we don’t have it with us. The miraculous spiritual gifts were temporary, having a specific purpose for an intended period of time which has come to pass.
The miraculous spiritual gifts could only be imparted by an apostle to others in order to help with the work of the gospel (Acts 8:18). It was a customary practice during the infancy of the Lord’s church for an apostle to lay their hands on some of the Christians and pass the ability to perform these miraculous works on to various congregations of Christians (Acts 8:14-17, Acts 19:6, 2 Timothy 1:6). This is certainly what Paul was referring to in Galatians 3:2 as evidenced in verse 5.
What Paul wanted to know from his readership was if they received these miraculous gifts as a result of their obeying the law Moses, or by the hearing of faith. It is important to keep the chronology of the events in mind when considering this. Paul arrived and evangelized the Galatian churches with the Gospel of Christ which was devoid of the commandments of the law of Moses. The Galatian churches received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit at the hands of Paul at that time, long before the Judaizers ever showed up. Paul was asking them this question in order to make them think. Did the Holy Spirit come among them, working miracles as a result of what Paul taught them or as a result of what the Judaizers were teaching? This was evident proof of the validity of Paul’s gospel and he was calling this to the minds of his readership by asking them when they received it? Paul was appealing to their sense of logic and ability for logical thought process.
“works of the law“
Paul uses a number of expressions to represent the law of Moses. “works of the law” is a reference to the Law of Moses. Other similar expressions by Paul in Galatians regarding the law of Moses are “flesh” (Galatians 3:3); “the law” (Galatians 3:17-19); the “works of the law” (Galatians 3:5). All of these are expressions Paul uses in reference to the law of Moses.
“hearing of faith”
Paul also uses different expressions in his reference to our present day system of faith. In Galatians he refers to it as “the faith” (Galatians 1:23; 3:23); obeying the truth (Galatians 5:7); or just “the truth” (Galatians 2:14); “Spirit” (Galatians 5:17-18); “the gospel” (Galatians 1:7; 1:11); and the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Paul contrasts the the faith and the law of Moses throughout the letter of Galatians. These expressions that Paul uses are in reference to the same thing. There is much religious confusion over this among those who claim Christ as savior. It is important to recognize these expressions and to know what Paul is trying to communicate. This is achieved by a proper consideration of the immediate and remote context of the letter. The immediate context is vitally important, but where so much error exists is in a failure to take into account the overall context of this letter which is a contrast between the law of Moses and the system of faith under which Christians live in this present age. One cannot assign a meaning to an immediate context which contradicts the overall context of the letter.
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?
Paul follows his thought provoking question from the previous verse with a stinging rebuke. Are you so foolish as to think that after you got your beginnings in the Spirit who confirmed the authenticity of my gospel through signs and wonders, that now you want to follow after those who teach you that I was wrong and that you need to follow the law of Moses? Paul wants to know why they would think that the Holy Spirit would send them signs and wonders to confirm what he had preached if it were not the truth. In today’s speech, this is Paul’s way of saying ‘What are you thinking?”
“Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain.”
Paul is reminding his readership among the churches of Galatia of the persecutions they had endured at the hands of both the Jews and the Gentiles. Luke wrote of this persecution in Acts 14:1-7, “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. And they were preaching the gospel there” (NKJV).
Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and the cities of Lycaonia were part of the Roman province of Galatia. The Jews who did not believe in Christ set about to influence the Gentiles against the Christians. Notice that both the Gentiles and the Jews were trying to kill the apostles. When they became aware the attempt to kill them, they fled to other cities in the Roman province of Galatia and continued on with the spreading of the gospel. What they left behind them were Galatian congregations who were living amid both Gentile and Jewish persecution.
When Paul asked them if they suffered so many things in vain, he meant did they go through all the persecution they had endured for nothing. Did they come through all the persecution they had faced only to throw it all away by submitting to the Judaizers?
“if it be indeed in vain“
If the Galatian churches did not reject the doctrine of the Judaizers, all they suffered at the hands of the Jews and Gentiles would indeed be for nothing. This statement by Paul here affirms that it was not too late for them. All they had to do was to reject the doctrine of the Judaizers and return to the one gospel Paul had preached to them at the beginning and their former sufferings would not have been for nothing. They like anybody who has strayed from the one true path can return and seek forgiveness and be restored. This is one of the beautiful things about God’s mercy and grace. The prodigal son can return home, the wayward disciple and return to the fold, the apostate can reject the false gospel and return to Christ at any time if they are sincere and genuinely seek God’s restoration and forgiveness.
He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, (doeth he it) by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
The Judaizers were bringing the Galatian Christians under the law of Moses. Acts 14:3 demonstrates that they had received the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit at the beginning before the Judaizers ever showed up on the scene. Paul wants to know from his readership when they received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Did they receive them when they obeyed the gospel or did they receive them later on when they obeyed the Judaizers? Did the Holy Spirit work miracles in order to confirm the gospel or did He work miracles in order to confirm their obedience to the old law?
Paul is telling them they should be able to tell which gospel was authentic by the miraculous workings of the Holy Spirit. Only a fool would believe the Holy Spirit had any part or involvement in the spreading or practicing of a heretical doctrine. The Holy Spirit is not going to work any miracles in support of heresy. Concerning this Luke writes in Acts 5:32 which reads, “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (NKJV). The Galatian Christians were not obeying God, therefore the Holy Spirit was not confirming the Judaizing heresy. The Christians in Galatia should have noticed a conspicuous lack of support from the Holy Spirit. In fact the absence of His confirming work should have been so obvious that they realized something was amiss. Paul’s question to them regarding this was intended bring this to their attention and cause them to think about it. Paul wants his readership to use their abilities for rational thought, and apply a little common sense rather than to blindly follow after what the Judaizers were teaching them.
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
The Judaizers were teaching the Gentiles that they could not become a Christian unless they were first a son of Abraham. Concerning Abraham, Luke wrote in Acts 7:8, “Then He [God] gave him [Abraham] the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs” (NKJV). Abraham was given the covenant of circumcision long before Moses received the law on Mt Sinai and the Judaizers were appealing to this covenant in order to justify their teaching that the Gentiles had to be circumcised. Paul is aware of what the Judaizers were claiming and he is directly addressing one of the points of their justification for their heresy.
Abraham did not follow the old law, having lived several hundred years before the law of Moses was given. Abraham was found righteous when he “believed” God. This verse is one used by many people to support the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. It is contended from this verse that Abraham was declared righteous by God at the moment of his belief in what God commanded him to do. They claim that at the moment of Abraham’s mental belief, God declared him righteous without any act of obedience on his part. The conclusion that must be drawn therefore is that Abraham could have refused to leave his home at the command of God, essentially becoming a nomad for the rest of his life and finally when put to the ultimate test could have refused to offer his son Isaac on the alter and still be found righteous in the eyes of God.
Paul quoted from an old testament scripture in Genesis 15:6, “And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (NKJV). It is true that Abraham believed God, but if Abraham would have stopped there and made no effort to commit his actions to that belief, Abraham would not have been found righteous. True belief in God must be accompanied with obedience. If Abraham would have refused to obey God, then he would have been guilty of not believing God. James wrote concerning the faith of Abraham in James 2:21-23, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God” (NKJV). Notice carefully that the scripture in Genesis 15:6 which says Abraham “believed in the Lord” was fulfilled when Abraham obeyed. Abraham was declared righteous when his faith convicted him to action and he carried through with it. John wrote concerning the connection between one’s actions and righteousness in 1 John 3:7, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (NKJV). The opposite of that is found later in V10, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (NKJV). The correct conclusion is that true faith is not just a mental exercise but a practice. Faith saves when faith obeys and not a moment before.
“Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.”
The Apostates were teaching the Gentiles that they first had to become a Jew or in other words a son of Abraham before they could become a Christian. Jewish people were the sons of Abraham by birth. Paul is telling his Gentile brethren that through obedience to the faith they become the sons of Abraham and not through obedience to any of the law of Moses, in particular the covenant of circumcision.
Paul goes to great lengths in this epistle to establish the fact that Gentiles are the sons of God through the system of faith and not through the system of the old law. Concerning the sonship of a Christian with Abraham, Paul drives this point home later in this very context when he writes in Galatians 3:26-29, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (NKJV).
Paul’s point here is that through obedience to the faith, and not through the old law, Jews and Gentiles alike are the sons of Abraham and therefore the children of God. Paul continues to press this point as he progresses into his epistle.
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, (saying,) In thee shall all the nations be blessed.
Paul now goes to the most compelling evidence of all in scripture to prove that the Gentiles were under a completely new system of faith. He turns to a prophecy of it given to Abraham. Prophecy and fulfillment is the one thing in the inspired record that cannot be faked by mankind. Only a timeless eternal being who is utterly separated from our linear time based existence can see forward down the path of our timeline and know what is going to take place. There are so called prophets out there who have had some lucky guesses and try to pass themselves off as such, but with regard to God, the sheer magnitude of fulfilled prophecy in scripture and the unerring accuracy of it eliminate any doubt whatsoever as to the authenticity of it. The level of prophecy and pinpoint accuracy in fulfillment is evident proof of the divinity of God and the authenticity of His written record. The inspired writers of the New Testament knew this and drew upon it regularly as the proof of the gospel message.
Paul could have chosen from any number of old testament passages which foretold the admission of the Gentiles into the family of God, but he specifically referred to the one given to Abraham as recorded first in Genesis 12:1-3, which reads, “Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (NKJV). And then repeated in Genesis 18:18; 22:18; 26:4 and 28:14. Paul probably used this prophecy given to Abraham because the Judaizers were teaching them they could not be a child of God unless they were first a child of Abraham. By using the prophecy given to Abraham concerning them, he was showing that it was given to Abraham, who was recognized as the father of the Israelite nation, that the blessings to come through him were predestined to be available to all nations on the earth. By drawing upon this prophecy, Paul is teaching his readership by inference that the gospel system of faith which he had originally taught them was the avenue through which all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham.
Paul devotes the rest of this chapter to reinforce and summarize what he has introduced here. The Judaizers were teaching the Gentiles that only the Jews were the sons of Abraham and that in order for them to become heirs to the gospel, they had to first become a son of Abraham through the law of Moses. This of course included the rite of circumcision. Paul used the prophecy given to Abraham to demonstrate that there was a time coming when all of the nations of the earth would be directly blessed through Abraham apart from the law of Moses. Paul builds upon this for the rest of this chapter ending it with a summary statement which is a direct refutation of what the Judaizers were teaching. Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (NKJV).
“So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.”
The word “So” in this context intrudes a conclusion based on the preceding text. Paul concludes his prior thought to conclude that those who are of the faith of Christ are directly blessed with Abraham and therefore do not have to undergo any of the rites or rituals associated with first becoming a Jew in order to become a Christian. The Judaizers were trying to put themselves between the Gentiles and access to the kingdom of Christ. For centuries, if any Gentile wanted to become a child of God and live as a Jew they had to undergo a process in order become a proselytized Jew. Through the centuries, the Jews came to see themselves as the only avenue through which any Gentile could come to God. In the minds of the Judaizers it was necessary to first become a son of Abraham in order to become a child of God. They could not accept the fact that this wall of separation had been torn down. Paul expounded on this greatly in Ephesians 2:11-19 where he concluded with “For through Him we both [meaning Jews and Gentiles alike] have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (NKJV).
The Curse of the Law of Moses
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
Paul begins this thought with the word “for” which in this context is similar to saying “because”. Paul is using a negative comment here and the consequences are dependant upon the conditions set forth in the previous statement. Paul’s foundational argument here is that all who are of faith are the sons of Abraham whether they are Jews or Gentiles as he stated in verse 7. Paul then went on to add in verse 8-9 that Abraham was given a prophecy which foretold this event and because of that, all who are of the faith of Christ are blessed with Abraham. Now in this verse, Paul introduces it with a word which essentially means ‘because’. What Paul said in the prior few verses is an introduction to what Paul is about to say.
Within the context of what Paul is teaching here, all who are of the faith are the sons of Abraham, and then the negative which he now introduces is a consequence which is connected with the entire thought he is trying to convey. The consequence here is that any who try to live under the law of Moses are under a curse. Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 to make this point, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them” (KJV). Paul is teaching here that to try and follow the old law is to find oneself living under the curse pronounced in the old law that all of the old law must be kept and not just part of it. In short, those who live under the law must do all of the old law or be cursed. The same curse which prevailed over the Israelites who lived under the law of Moses before the coming of the Gospel likewise prevails over anyone trying to live in any way shape or form under the old law after the coming of the gospel. The Judaizers who were trying to bind various ordinances of the old law such as circumcision on the gentiles were in effect bringing upon themselves and any who followed after their heretical doctrine the curse of having to follow all of the old law. Paul restates this consequence in Galatians 5:3-4 in order to make sure his readership understands the ramifications, “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (NKJV).
“are under a curse”
In the law of Moses we read from Leviticus 18:4-5, “You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (NKJV). We have already seen from Deuteronomy 27:26 that a curse is upon those who do not do all of the law. Therefore those living under the old law of Moses had to keep the law perfectly in order to live. In other words, they could not sin. Once they transgressed the law of Moses, they had failed to do all of the old law. The old law of Moses was unable to justify or to make right someone after they had sinned. The moment one sinned and fell short of the glory of God, there were no provisions in the law of Moses which could justify them completely. The best the law of Moses could do at that point was to atone for that sin temporarily. It was not possible for the law of Moses to take away sin. Hebrews 10:4 teaches us that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (NKJV). From the moment of their first sin, anyone living under the law of Moses was cursed. The curse of the law of Moses was irreconcilable separation from God for sin. The only way one could live, meaning live with God in heaven, under the law of Moses is if they never sinned.
The law of Christ has something to offer which the law of Moses could never do. In Hebrews 10:1 we see this inability of the law illustrated, “For the law [of Moses], having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect” (NKJV). The law of Christ has the ability to make one perfect and to completely justify the faithful. This accomplished through the blood of Christ which is something nobody living under the old law had access to. Under the old law, a sinner was cursed. Under the law of faith, a sinner can be forgiven and reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 8:6-7, “But now He [Jesus Christ] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (NKJV).
Those who live under the old law are cursed when they sin for there is no permanent and total provision for it within the law. The old law being unable to accomplish this was faulty in that area. Paul is trying to make his readership understand that followers of Christ could not live by, return to or in any way embrace the old law as a system by which one could live. It makes no sense to appeal to an old abolished system under which one is cursed when there is a much better system available under which one can realize absolute and total forgiveness and reconciliation to God.
Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith;
The law in view here is exclusively the law of Moses. Paul is contrasting two systems of faith. He often refers to each of them as “law” and “faith”. This verse is often lifted entirely out of its proper context and used to support the idea that a Christian today does not have to live their life in obedience to the will of God. Under no circumstances is Paul to be understood to be teaching that law keeping under the new covenant is in any way unnecessary. Paul designates the present system of faith we live under to be the “law of faith” in Romans 3:27. Later in the book of Galatians, Paul refers to the system of faith under which Christians live as the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). It makes no sense for God to give us the “law of Christ: or the “law of faith” and then teach that we can circumvent that law in any way. Such a notion is nonsense and completely at odds with what Paul is really teaching in this context.
“Now that no man is justified by the law before God”
The law of Moses was incapable of justifying as stated in Acts 13:39, “and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (NKJV). No one, not even the Israelites living under the law of Moses before the coming of the gospel were justified [declared right], by the law of Moses. All the law of Moses was able to do was to atone for those sins until the blood of Christ was shed at the cross. Hebrews 9:15 teaches us that “He [Jesus Christ], is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant [law of Moses], that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (NKJV).
Paul means here that no man, no matter when they lived could be justified under the law Moses. And certainly not for those living after the cross. The law of Moses had a purpose, but that law has passed from the scene and has been replaced by a new law. The law we live under today is capable of justification. It also accomplished the complete justification for all who lived under the old law. The law we live under today is known as many things in the new testament. Each one of its designations are designed to illustrate a particular aspect of it.
This law of Christ is often referred to as “the faith” or sometimes just “faith”. This designation represents hope, confidence and conviction in God and His covenant with mankind which accomplishes the salvation of all who trust and obey Jesus Christ. Hebrews 5:9 states that Christ is the author of salvation for the obedient. “Faith” as a comprehensive Biblical term referring to the gospel is not just a mental conviction apart from action, rather, it is a system whereby the faithful can live and have a hope of eternal life in heaven.
The law of Christ is sometimes referred to as the “gospel“. The old law of Moses couldn’t justify us. But the new law can justify us through the blood of Christ. This is indeed good news and the term gospel is representative of that aspect of Christ’s law.
The law of Christ is sometimes referred to as the new covenant. Covenant represents the aspect of promise. God promises to save us in exchange for our faithfulness. This covenant has conditions which must be met in order for God to fulfill His promises.
The designation “law of Christ” is representative of that standard of living and pattern of behavior by which a Christian must live in order to be in accordance with God’s will. Christians cannot live just any old way they fit. There are expectations which if not met will result in condemnation. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21).
All of these terms are representative of one thing and are not mutually exclusive. We do not have a law which we do not have to obey, and a totally unrelated covenant with a totally unrelated system of faith. They are all components of the same thing and if we remove one of these components, then we get an incomplete representation. For example, if we take only the faith aspect of it and disregard covenant and law then we have not embraced the totality of what it really is.
“The righteous shall live by faith”
Paul is contrasting the law of Moses with the system of faith which replaced the old law. The righteous under the new system of faith must live by it and not by the law of Moses. We cannot mix them, we cannot pick and choose various of aspects of each and come up with our own variations which is what the Judaizers were doing. We must choose the one and reject the other completely. And Paul is identifying which one we must choose.
Paul’s use of the term “faith” represents the entire system of faith under which Christians live today. The entire theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians so far has been contrasting two systems of faith. There is no hint whatsoever in the overall view of the letter to suggest anything which is more or less than a contrast of the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ. To expand anything Paul has taught in this letter to include faith verses law keeping under the new covenant is to entirely ignore the basic theme of Paul’s letter and to interject the mind of man into the text.
“and the law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them.”
Paul is declaring emphatically that the old law of Moses and the new law of faith are two separate systems. The old law of Moses is not of the new system of faith. The two are mutually exclusive and they cannot be mixed. Anyone who follows after either of these systems must live in the one they choose. They cannot mix them nor can they alter either of them in any way. The believer must make a choice, and Paul leaves nothing to the imagination here as to which one is the correct choice. One can choose the law of Moses, and be cursed. Or one can choose the law of Christ and be saved. Paul’s readership is being given the facts. It will be up to them to choose.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”
The curse of the law Moses was irreconcilable separation from God for sin. When mankind sins under any covenant, their lives are forfeit and the penalty is spiritual death (Romans 6:23), which is understood to be eternal separation from God. Jesus Christ was able to redeem or buy back the souls of those who were living under the curse of the law of Moses. He accomplished that by paying the penalty they incurred with their sin by accepting the consequences for the curse Himself. In short, the curse of the law of Moses was death, so Christ died that death for them and thereby redeemed them. The word redeemed carries the meaning of purchasing something back which had been leveraged by debt. In the time of Christ this redeeming was usually in association with slavery.
Man sins and thereby has incurred a sin debt. The payment for that debt is death. By becoming that curse, Jesus paid that sin debt and redeemed or bought back the soul of the sinner who owed the sin debt. In short, Jesus Christ satisfied the debt man owed for sin with His own life so that man could have a chance of reconciliation to God.
Paul is explaining to his readership that Jesus became the curse for them in order to satisfy the curse of death for sin incurred by the law of Moses. This is something nobody living under the law of Moses had. Paul is trying to illustrate the vast importance of living according to the law of Christ as opposed to the law of Moses.
The application for us today is that we also live under the law of Christ. And it would be just as foolish for anyone living today to abandon the law of Christ and seek in any way to embrace and follow the law of Moses.
“having become a curse for us”
Christ became a curse in order to remove the curse of the law of Moses. The death of Jesus was that of the worst sort of criminal. He was rejected and denounced by the Jewish leaders who influenced the people to demand His death by crucifixion (Mark 15:13-14). The old law of Moses pronounced a curse on anyone that was hung, Deuteronomy 21:23, “for he who is hanged is accursed of God” (NKJV). The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus to die by crucifixion because they knew the people would view Jesus as being cursed by God because of it and thereby wipe out all the remaining hope, belief or allegiance the people had in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Not just any death would do what the Jewish leaders wanted. They specifically wanted Jesus hung on a tree, or on a cross so that that the people would think this man who claimed to be the Son of God was really cursed by God instead.
Jesus Christ was forsaken by the Father during his crucifixion on the cross, Matthew 27:46, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (NKJV). This rejection by God was prophesied in the old testament, Psalms 22:1, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?” (NKJV). In Isaiah we read another account of this prophecy and the resultant blessings given to mankind:
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9 And they made His grave with the wicked–
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.
In fulfillment of prophecy, Christ bore the reproach of mankind’s sin at his crucifixion: 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NKJV). See also 1 Peter 2:24, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed” (NKJV). We see here in Peter’s words a connection with the prophecy of Isaiah in 53:5. Peter is teaching here that Jesus Christ was the one predicted by Isaiah so many centuries earlier.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He was cursed by man and forsaken by God the Father. He rescued mankind from the curse of the law of Moses by willingly taking on the sins of all mankind and becoming cursed Himself. Paul is trying to communicate to his readership that those living under the old law were living under the curse of the old law. Jesus provided a better way by taking upon Himself the curse that should have been given to mankind. The obvious application here is that through Jesus Christ one can escape the curse of the old law. Since through the old law, one is cursed, then it is unwise at best to seek any part of that old system of faith. The old law of Moses is not going to get them where they need to be in regards to their salvation.
“that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Here is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham recorded in Gen 18:18, “Since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? (NKJV). After Abraham obeyed the Lord in the offering of His only son, Isaac, God said to him in Genesis 22:17-19, “blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (NKJV)
Paul went back to the promise given to Abraham in order to show his readership that as Gentiles, they were included in God’s plan long before the law of Moses ever came about. The blessings of Abraham were fulfilled in Christ and not through Moses.
The Promise of Abraham
“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men: Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no one maketh it void, or addeth thereto.”
Paul is going to explain this better as he goes on with it. A fuller reading of the context reveals that the covenant given to Abraham by God cannot be altered by man. This covenant, once confirmed can neither be discounted nor can it be added to in any way. God made this covenant with Abraham and nothing can change that. God confirmed His promise to Abraham as evidenced in: Hebrews 6:13 “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.”
There are a number of applications we can make from this which are relevant to both the situation in Galatia and to what we see around us today among those claiming Christ as savior. The covenant God made with Abraham was one of many covenants God has entered into throughout the history of mankind. The thought here is that no covenant that God enters into can be altered once it has been confirmed. The covenant between God and Abraham could not be altered, neither can the new covenant or new testament under which Paul’s readership lives. This includes the first readers as well as those today who live under the same gospel. No covenant of God can be dismissed or altered in any way and this includes the conditions set forth in the covenant.
God has entered into a covenant with mankind where a plan of redemption has been provided as a means of salvation. In this case, God is what we today refer to as the Suzerain or supreme leader and director of the covenant. God set the conditions and entered into this covenant at His own volition and under His supreme authority. Under this arrangement mankind has the obligation to abide by the conditions of the covenant with no exceptions. The conditions of the covenant are non-negotiable and unalterable in any way. This is not what we see in practice today. We have one new testament which is God’s covenant with mankind, with one set of conditions which must be met in order to enjoy the benefits of God’s covenant with mankind. But when we look out into the so called Christian community, we see a multitude of people claiming Christ as their savior with a multitude of different practices in regard to the conditions set forth in the one covenant. The problem is readily obvious. If a confirmed covenant cannot be altered by mankind, then the consequences of what we see in the denominational world today is that people have taken it upon themselves to alter the conditions and are therefore living outside the requirements of the covenant. By altering the conditions of God’s covenant and not adhering to them, they have placed themselves in a position where God is not obligated to fulfill His role in the covenant. In simple terms, if mankind alters the conditions of God’s covenant, then God is under no obligation to provide the blessings promised in the covenant.
“Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”
Paul identifies here what the promise was which was spoken to Abraham. The word “seed” is singular and Paul went out of his way to tell them he was not referring to the people of the nation of Israel. The Judaizers were telling the Galatian Christians that they had to be identified with Abraham through observation of certain ordinances of the old law given through Moses. They were claiming that the promise of Abraham was given to them only through Moses. Paul is telling them that the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. God did not say to Abraham that the promise was given to seeds (plural), which the Judaizers were claiming by saying that the promise came through Moses. He then goes on to identify who the seed of promise was which was given to Abraham, “but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ”. This promise was given to Abraham after he offered his son Isaac on the alter in Gen 22:18, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (NKJV). The conclusion Paul wants his readership to understand here is that the blessing of Abraham came through Jesus Christ directly and not through the Jews. Gentile Christians do not have to go through the old law of Moses to get to Jesus Christ. Gentile Christians are in reality identified with Abraham through Christ and Christ only. Paul states this more clearly in verse 18.
It is significant in the understanding of this verse that we realize that this promise was spoken only to two individuals. It was given to Abraham and it was given to his “seed” which is positively identified as Jesus Christ in this verse.
A paraphrase of this verse could rightly read: God spoke the promise directly to Abraham and to his descendant. God did not use the word “descendants” meaning more than one. Rather, He specifically used the phrase “And to thy descendant” which is Christ.
Galatians 3:17 “Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect.”
With the words Paul used, “Now this I say“, he is going to make a point based on what he had previously written. The law He gave to Moses does not override, alter, change, or nullify the covenant He made with Abraham in any way shape or form. This is a very important point everyone needs to keep in mind. God has given many promises to many people throughout history. God’s promises, or covenants, do not cancel each other out. They are not time sensitive in that a promise, law or covenant given 430 years later cancels or amends a promise given previously to someone else. God keeps all of His promises, fulfills all of His covenants and expects all of His laws to be followed in the times where they apply.
We today can take great comfort in knowing that God keeps all of His promises. We do not serve a God who changes his mind, amends His laws and makes situational promises. He is a God we can trust, count on and depend on to do what He said He would do.
“For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise.”
The Judaizers were teaching that Gentile Christians had to be identified with Abraham through Moses, or the law of Moses. The result of what the Judaizers were teaching is that the promised Messiah came from Abraham only by way of Moses. God promised Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him. The law of Moses could not change the promise God gave to Abraham.
What Paul is telling his readership here is that if the blessings promised to Abraham were dependant upon the law of Moses, then it was no longer the promise God made to Abraham. Paul is teaching here that the law of Moses does not stand between Abraham and Christianity. If it did, then Paul is saying that in essence, God would have broken His promise to Abraham which He confirmed by swearing to Himself as we saw in Hebrews 6:13.
“so as to make the promise of none effect.”
Concerning the promise given to Abraham, Paul wrote in Romans 4:13-14, “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law [of Moses] but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law [of Moses] are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect” (NKJV). Paul gives us another important piece of information here. He confirms that the promise given to Abraham did not go through the law of Moses and he teaches that those who live under the law of Moses are not heirs to the promises, moreover if they were heirs then both the gospel system of faith and the promises given to Abraham and his descendant are worthless.
The Purpose of the Law of Moses
“What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; (and it was) ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator.”
The Judaizers had been inserting the law of Moses into the gospel and Paul has been arguing against this and now Paul is going to explain the original purpose of the law of Moses. He begins by asking the question, “What then is the law?”
The answer was, “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made“. The law of Moses was given as a means of dealing with the sins of the Israelites on a temporary basis. It was added because of their sins until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. Earlier in verse 16 we saw the introduction of Jesus Christ as the seed of promise through which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. So we see here that the law was a temporary measure put into place for sin, only until the arrival of Jesus Christ. When the seed through which all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, the law of Moses would be fulfilled and brought to an end.
The term “added” in respect to the law of Moses did not mean something that was added to the original promise given to Abraham with the intent of completing or amending the law of Moses in any way. The original language means that the law of Moses was given in addition to the promise made to Abraham and not as a necessary component of it. In other words, the promise given to Abraham stood on its own without the intercession of the law of Moses.
Paul’s usage of the word “till” was meant to teach his readership that the law of Moses had a built in time limitation. It was never intended to be in effect as a law forever. Prophecies were given during the time of the law of Moses in order to show that it was going to be replaced by another system. Jeremiah 31:31-34, Isaiah 2:2-4, Micah 4:1-4. Paul’s readership needed to understand this because the Judaizers were forcing the old law of Moses between the Gentiles and Jesus Christ.
“(and it was) ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator.”
The giving of the law of Moses at the hands of angels is demonstrated in Acts 7:51-53 in particular verse 53 where it reads, “who have received the law [of Moses] by the direction of angels and have not kept it“; and again in Hebrews 2:1-3, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (NKJV).
The law of Moses was given to man through the angels under the guidance of a mediator. The difference between the law of Moses and the gospel is that there were no angels between the mediator and mankind. The law of Christ was first spoken directly to man by Christ Himself and later confirmed by those He taught directly, meaning the apostles and disciples who accompanied Him during his earthly ministry.
“Now a mediator is not (a mediator) of one; but God is one.”
There are literally hundreds of interpretations of this verse. To understand this verse, one needs to consider a more literal translation. Young’s literal translation is thus: “and the mediator is not of one, and God is one.” The key to understanding this verse is to identify what the mediator is. Logic demands that the mediator in this verse is the same one as the prior verse. Therefore the meaning of this verse must take this into consideration and still make sense. In any sentence, if the terms are correctly identified, one can substitute the term with its definition and the meaning of the sentence will not be changed.
For example, if one takes the sentence, “I’m going to wash my clothes” and substitutes the correct definition for the term “wash” then the sentence should mean the same thing and still make sense. “I’m going to apply water or some other liquid for the purpose of cleansing my clothes.”
Backing up to verse 19 and getting the whole context in a more literal translation, we read “Why, then, the law? On account of the transgressions it was added, till the seed might come to which the promise hath been made, having been set in order through messengers in the hand of a mediator. And the mediator is not of one, and God is one” (YLT).
The Greek word for mediator is ‘mesitou’ which means one who intervenes or goes between two. Thus it is evident that the mediator must be Moses since he was who received the old law at the direction of the heavenly messengers and delivered it to the Israelites. So let’s go back and substitute the term mediator with the term Moses.
“What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; (and it was) ordained through angels by the hand of Moses. Now Moses is not (a mediator) of one; but God is one.”
There is a contrast here as evidenced in the overall context. The contrast is between the giving of the law of Moses at the hand of a mediator and the promise given to Abraham and Christ directly by God. This fact is significant in the proper understanding of this verse. Now the task at hand is in understanding the meaning of this verse so that it harmonizes with the overall context of what Paul is trying to teach his readership. We need to keep in mind the base argument that Paul is making is the contrast between the law of Moses and the system of Faith under which all Christians now live. All of these things need to fit together and harmonize so that the meaning of this verse progresses smoothly and sensibly and the meaning must compliment Paul’s overall message.
Keep in mind, the Judaizers were trying to insert the law of Moses between Abraham and Jesus Christ. Paul had just told them in the previous verses that God had made a covenant directly with Abraham and his descendant who was Christ. The law of Moses had nothing whatsoever to add to it, moreover, God’s covenant with Abraham did not depend on anything from the law of Moses in order to fulfill its terms. God’s covenant with Abraham stood on its own merits without any intervention by any third party. God’s covenant with Abraham had no mediator because it was between God, Abraham and Christ directly.
So the conclusion here is that a mediator is not needed when God makes a covenant directly with someone. God’s covenant with Abraham did not need a mediator. The Judaizers were trying to insert a mediator between Christ and His people. Paul is telling them they do not require a mediator such as Moses in order to have access to Jesus Christ. He is teaching them that they have direct access to the supreme administrator of the new covenant. All the members of the Godhead are one so a covenant coming directly from Jesus Christ is the same as if it had come from God the Father. So a paraphrase of Galatians 3:16-20 reflecting all of this in harmony might read:
“God made promises both to Abraham and to his descendant. God did not say, “and to your descendants.” That would mean many people. But God said, “and to your descendant.” That means only one person and that person is Jesus Christ.
This is what I mean: God had an agreement with Abraham and promised to keep it. The law of Moses, which came four hundred thirty years later, cannot change or alter that covenant that it should destroy the promise God made directly with Abraham. If the promise given to Abraham and his descendant must come through the law of Moses, then it can no longer be a promise given only to Abraham and his descendant.
So what was the purpose of the law of Moses? It was given as a temporary measure for the sins of man until Abraham’s descendant came to whom the promise was made. The old law was given through messengers who used Moses as a mediator to give the law to the people. But a mediator such as Moses is not necessary when God makes a covenant directly with someone. All the Godhead is one so a covenant with Christ is the same as a covenant with God the Father.”
In addition to this, it must be noted that, similar to the promise given directly to Abraham and his descendant, the new testament is a covenant given directly to mankind by God, mediated by Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24), who is one with God (John 10:30), therefore He is God (John 1). The new covenant doesn’t need a human mediator any more than the promise to Abraham did. The Judaizers were trying to put a human mediator between God and His children. This would never work and this is the message Paul was trying to get across to his readership. The application for us today is that if we appeal to the law of Moses for our justification, we are inserting a law given to man through a mediator into a covenant given to man directly by God.
Through our study of this, we also come to realize a major advantage that the system of Faith we live under today has over the law of Moses. The law of Christ was given by Christ directly to man. The law of Moses was delivered to man via heavenly messengers, operating through Moses who was a human mediator. The mediator of the new covenant is Jesus Christ who is God. The system of faith we enjoy today is superior to the law of Moses in every way, having been delivered directly to man by God and mediated by God.
“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law.”
Does the law of Moses stand in opposition to or serve as a replacement to the promise given by God to Abraham? Absolutely not, because if the law of Moses had been able to serve in that capacity, then the righteousness would have been obtainable through and by the law of Moses. The law of Moses was incapable of making anyone right before God as we read in Acts 13:39, “and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Paul is telling his readership that if the law of Moses could make sinners righteous, then the keeping of the law of Moses is how it would be done.
It must be noted here that no reference to any law other than the law of Moses has been made in this context. Many today try and use this and the following verses to promote the doctrine of antinomianism which means ‘against law’. Proponents of this doctrine will use these verses as proof texts to back up their claims that there is no law under the gospel. Such is not the case at all. There is indeed law under the new covenant if you think of it as a rule of conduct which has to be done if one is to receive eternal life. It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to do the will of God in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven, (Matthew 7:21). This includes but is not limited to faith, confession, repentance and baptism all of which are necessary if one is to be saved. If there is any act or conduct which one must either engage in (Luke 13:3, Mark 16:16, Romans 10:10), or refrain from (1 Corinthians 6:9, Gal 5:19-21), then there is law in the new covenant. And the verses cited demonstrate beyond any question or doubt that law is indeed present in the new covenant.
“But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”
The Greek word for “shut up” is ‘sugkleio’ which means to conclude or to enclose in on all sides. This means the scriptures pronounced the bondage of sin on all men, both Jew and Gentile alike. The context of the letter is about the contrast between the law of Moses and the law of faith, however, the wages of sin is death under either system of faith (Romans 6:23). If this were not true, then sin would not be possible under the faith system.
Looking to Paul’s parallel treatment of the promises given to Abraham in Romans 4 we see in verse 15 that Paul writes, “Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.” Keeping in mind that Paul began explaining the purpose of the law of Moses in verse 21, now he is explaining an effect of the law. The law of Moses condemned everyone for sin from which there was no escape. Paul is constantly touching on the fact that the law of Moses could not justify anyone (Acts 13:39). All the law of Moses was able to do in the area of sin was to condemn because the atoning sacrifices were unable to completely take sin away (Hebrews 10:4).
“that the promise“
The promise here is the same promise Paul has been referring to throughout this context which is the promise given to Abraham and his descendant that all the nations of the earth, both Jew and Gentile, would be blessed.
“by faith in Jesus Christ “
Faith in Christ is how the promise given to Abraham and his descendant is obtained and not in any way through the law of Moses. The Greek word for “faith” in this passage is the word ‘pistis which is the noun form meaning faith as an object.
“might be given”
The promises given to Abraham and his descendant are likewise given to those living under the new testament. Man did nothing whatsoever to earn or deserve these promises in any way. On the contrary, the only thing man deserves for sin is the condemnation pronounced by the law of Moses. The blessings brought about in Christ as a result of the promises given to Abraham and his descendant are in every way a priceless gift. Without that gift all mankind would be doomed to eternal separation from God. There is nothing mankind has to offer for this gift that God does not already possess. Our lives were forfeit as a result of sin. Jesus Christ bought us back from death with His sacrifice and freed our souls from the bondage of sin. Purchased with the price of His blood, Christians are not their own (1 Corinthians 6:19), therefore we have nothing to offer God which is not already rightfully His. In that regard, the promises we inherit through the blessings of Christ are a gift no matter what it may cost us in time, effort or resources. Even if we die in service to God, we still have not contributed one iota towards payment for what is given because God already owns our lives. Jesus illustrates this in John 6:27, where He said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (NKJV).
“to them that believe.“
Faith in Jesus Christ is the condition upon which the promises are given. The promises are given to those who “pisteuo” in the Greek, which is the verb form of the word we use for believe. Every translation I am aware of translates this word as “believe”. Many words in the original Greek have more than one meaning. Sometimes these meanings are related and sometimes they are not related in any way. When this occurs, the translators use the context in order to determine the correct English word to use.
We have similar words like this in the English language as well. For example, the word ‘interest’ can either mean money earned on savings or an expression of curiosity for a given subject. The word is identical but the meanings are totally unrelated. There are Greek words like this as well, especially so because there are many fewer words in the original Greek than we have today in English. The Greek word for the verb “pisteuo” has three meanings.
2) Put trust with
The translators translated this word as “commit” only three times in the KJV.
“If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?“
“But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men“
1Thessalonians 2:4 “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.“
I am not a Greek scholar but I see no reason why this word could not be translated “commit” instead of “believe“. This is true for a great many other passages of scripture as well. The correct translation in this case and in all others is dependent upon the context. It is my personal conviction that translators lean toward the word “believe” instead of “commit” as a result of a predisposition favoring the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Whether or not the word is correctly translated as “believe” or “commit” makes little difference anyway because true Biblical belief is understood to be faith in action.
Now we need to examine the context to determine if such a translation fits. The text reads, “But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Or one may say that the promise by faith in Christ might be given to those who have faith. That really does not make a lot of sense and at least one commentator has speculated that the “faith in Christ” is not the faith once delivered, but the faith that Christ had in God the Father to fulfill the promises. And such an understanding does no violence to the overall understanding of scripture and does make more sense of the phrase Paul used. However, the term “commit” for “pisteuo” also makes more sense of the phrase Paul used and likewise causes no conflict with Biblical teaching as a whole.
A paraphrase of this verse might read thus: “But the scriptures pronounce all mankind to be in the condemnation of sin, that the promise given to Abraham’s descendant, through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to all those who commit to Him”. I will say, given the context and the way Paul structured this sentence, the information being presented by Paul is best illustrated in this way. Not only does it make sense of verse 22, it defines Paul’s meaning of the term “faith” for the rest of this chapter and beyond.
“But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.”
It should be noted here that the original language contains the definite article for ‘the’ within the sentence so that it should read “But before the faith came“. The only modern translations this Bible student knows of that translates this verse correctly is the Everlasting Gospel by Hugo McCord and Young’s literal translation. This very same thing occurs again in verse 25 and again in verse 26.
23 Now, before the faith came, we were held under custody by the law, imprisoned until the coming of the faith about to be revealed.
24 The law, therefore, became our guide to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith.
25 Now, that the faith has come, we are no longer under the guide.
26 All of you are children of God through the faith in Christ Jesus,
McCord, Hugo, The Everlasting Gospel (The New Testament, Genesis, Psalms, and Proverbs)
23 And before the coming of the faith, under law we were being kept, shut up to the faith about to be revealed,
24 so that the law became our child-conductor — to Christ, that by faith we may be declared righteous,
25 and the faith having come, no more under a child-conductor are we,
26 for ye are all sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus,
Young, Robert (Translator), Young’s Literal Translation
The figure of speech, “kept in ward” is of a jailor who keeps his prisoners locked up. The law could not save men, and the final deliverance from the sin would only be realized by the arrival of the faith of Christ.
Hebrews 7:19, “for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (NKJV).
Hebrews 10:9-10, “then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (NKJV).
The law of Moses was replaced with the law of Faith as it is called in Romans 3:27. Paul is teaching his readership here that “before the gospel system of faith arrived, we were kept under guard like prisoners by the law of Moses, in bondage of sin until the faith of Christ which would replace the law was at last revealed.
“So that the law is become our tutor (to bring us) unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
The term “tutor” used here has a special meaning to those living in the first century. the KJV uses the term schoolmaster. These terms come from the Greek word “paidagogos” and is where we get the English word Pedagogue. The original meaning of this word was a slave, or someone else who escorted children to and from their place of instruction. It was their duty to guide and protect the student or young child to and from school. Today it simply means a teacher or schoolteacher of children. The idea here is that the law of Moses served as a pedagogue to guide, guard and protect the Jews to their final place of instruction by Christ where they would be afterwards justified by the faith.
The protection of the law of Moses came in the atonement of sin. While the law of Moses was incapable of complete justification of man from sin, it was capable of the atonement of sin. The word atonement carries the meaning of appeasement which is a temporary pacification of God’s righteous judgment. In other words, God allowed the blood sacrifices of animals to appease His righteous requirement for justice. In this aspect, the law of Moses was able to afford those living under it a degree of protection until Christ died on the cross. When Christ died on the cross, His sacrifice then accomplished the complete redemption of the transgressions of those who lived under the law of Moses.
Hebrews 9:15, “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (NKJV).
After the coming of the gospel system of faith, the law of Moses as a means of atonement for sin was discontinued. But it is still useful as a teacher to Christians under the gospel system. The old law foretold the coming of Christ through prophecy which is useful in the confirmation of our faith in Christ. It also teaches us how God views and reacts to sin.
What Paul means in verse 24 is that The old law has become to us all a guide and protector to bring us to Jesus Christ, that afterwards we would be justified by the gospel system of faith.
“But now faith that is come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
But now that the faith of Christ has fully arrived, we do not need a guide and protector to bring us to the faith of Christ. The faith was our final destination all along. We do not need the guidance and protection of an escort any longer. We are at our final destination and the services of the pedagogue are no longer useful or required.
This thought goes along with the old law being given to use through a mediator as discussed in our study of verse 20. The difference between the law of Moses and the law of Christ is that Christians under the gospel system of faith get their teaching directly from Jesus Christ. The pedagogue in new testaments times was not the primary instructor of the child he was escorting. The primary responsibility of the pedagogue was to get the child safely to and from the place of instruction. Now that the law of Moses has guided the Jews to the master teacher, its services are no longer required. Christians under the law of Christ are getting their entire guidance, protection and instruction directly from God. We have no further need for the services of the pedagogue. The gospel as recorded in scripture is inspired by or given directly by God and throughly furnishes us (2 Timothy 3:16).
Paul is teaching in verse 25 that now that the faith of Christ has arrived, we no longer require the protection and guidance of the law of Moses.
All Christians are Sons of God and Heirs of the Promise through Baptism
“For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus.”
The Judaizers had been telling the Galatian Christians that they had to go through the law of Moses in order to be a son of God. This was a big hangup with them because for centuries they considered themselves to be the chosen ones and the children of God. They considered this to be their birthright because of their nationality. There were Gentile converts to the law of Moses and they had to be circumcised in order to be the recipient of the same covenant privileges as the native Israelites. The Judaizers were insisting that the Galatian Christians could not be identified as the sons of God unless they underwent circumcision. Under the law of Moses, a gentile convert had to submit to circumcision in order to be become as one of the Israelite children of God. Under the gospel system, anyone can become a child of God without circumcision.
Paul is telling his Galatian brethren that they do not have to be circumcised in order to be the sons of God. And he is telling them that the way to become the children of God is through the system of faith which came with Christ Jesus and not by the keeping of any part of the law of Moses whatsoever.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.”
To this point, Paul has spent a considerable amount of time in explaining the superiority of the gospel system of faith over the law of Moses and that one does not have to be circumcised in order to be identified as a child of God. Much has been said about their direct access to Jesus Christ through the gospel system of faith. He has explained to them that the law of Moses did indeed have a purpose, but it was not a necessary component in order to enjoy the blessings given to Abraham and his descendant.
Now we learn that one has direct access into Christ through baptism. Under the gospel system of faith, baptism in water has replaced circumcision as a necessary initiatory rite into the family of God. Notice carefully that this declarative statement is used in conjunction with Paul’s statement in the previous verse “through faith“. When you read both verses together it is obvious that baptism is an inseparable component of faith in Christ Jesus. Faith without baptism in water is therefore an incomplete faith. Paul uses similar language in Romans 6 where the purpose for baptism really comes alive for us.
Romans 6:3-4, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (NKJV).
Paul is telling his readership that the way into Christ, thus being in the family of God, is through baptism in water. The past tense indicates that his readership had already done this. They had already been baptized [immersed] into Christ and had therefore put Him on. The original language for “put on” carries the meaning of “sinking into a garment” or “to invest with clothing”. Clothing is worn on the outside of oneself and is for the purpose of adornment and protection. The idea here is that through baptism in water, they had been admitted into the family of God (in Christ) and that they were clothed by; enveloped by and protected by Him. When we put Christ on in baptism we are putting ourselves under His protective care. The sense of adornment in this phrase is that in Christ we now appear righteous. When one is adorned with Christ, the former dirty garments which are representative of sin are gone and replaced with the garments of righteousness.
The Galatian Christians had already done this. This was something the law of Moses was incapable of accomplishing therefore they had no need for it in any way.
“There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one (man) in Christ Jesus.”
Paul puts an end to the racial prejudice which was fueling the actions of the Judaizers. When one is in Christ, adorned by and protected by Him, there is no such thing as ethnic differences. Paul is telling them it does not matter who you are, if they are in Christ, they are united with Him. Paul explained this in great detail in his letter to the gentile Christians in Ephesus in Ephesians 2:12-18, “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (NKJV).
The application for us today from this is that all who are in Christ are equal. There is therefore no room in the heart of any Christian in the first century and today for racial, ethnic or gender specific prejudice. In God’s eyes, we are all His children.
“And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.”
Here is Paul’s summary statement regarding the claims the Judaizers had been making in that the promise to Abraham had to come through the law of Moses. Much of what Paul has said previously was leading up to this statement. Anyone who belongs to Christ is Abraham’s seed in keeping with the promise given to Abraham. Notice here that Paul used the singular form of “seed” like he did in verse 16 where he specifically identified Christ as the seed [singular] to whom the promise was made. The idea here is that those who belong to Christ are so much a part of Him that all are one. As a child of God through Christ, we are in a family relationship with Him to the extent that we are part of Christ. As a member of the family of Christ, we are Abraham’s seed. Collectively we become the descendant of Abraham to whom the promise was given.
Initially Paul specifically identified Abraham’s singular seed as Christ. Now in his summary statement regarding the promise given to Abraham, he includes all Christians as being Abraham’s seed. The significance of this statement cannot be overlooked. The unity and closeness we have with Jesus Christ is unlike anything anyone living under the law of Moses could hope for. The Galatian Christians of the first century and all Christians everywhere else and afterwards need to understand the vast advantages available under the gospel system of faith under which we live today. We have an incomparable blessing through Christ which no one living under the old law had access to. Let us always keep this in mind and ever strive to honor God and glorify God who made this possible. Let us never allow ourselves to become complacent and take the wonderful blessing we have through Christ for granted. We are the children of God, we are of the family of God, we are one with Christ. Nothing else can ever compare with that.
Galatians 3 Paraphrase
Why are you Christians in Galatia so foolish? You have allowed the Judaizers to deceive you even after I have preached Christ to you so clearly that it was like He had been crucified among you instead of in Jerusalem. So answer this one question for me. Did you receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit by following the law of Moses or by the hearing of the faith of Christ? Have you suffered so much for the gospel only to throw it all away for nothing? I ask you again, did the Holy Spirit work miracles among you when you started following the law of Moses or when you heard the faith of Christ?
Abraham committed his trust in God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Because of that, you must understand that only those who are of the faith of Christ are sons of Abraham. Long ago, before the gospel came, the scriptures foretold that God would justify the Gentiles by the faith of Christ. And we know from scripture that Abraham was included in the promise because it was written, “in you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”. So then, those who are of the faith of Christ are blessed with faithful Abraham.
Also, those who try and live by the law of Moses are bound under a curse which is written in Deuteronomy 27:26 which says “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing all of them”. Now, in this time, no man can be declared right before God by living under the law of Moses. It is apparent that the righteous must live by the system of faith in Christ.
The law of Moses has no part in the law of faith so he who would live by the ordinances of the old law would have to live by all of them. Christ released us from the curse of the old law by becoming the curse for it is written in Deuteronomy 21:23, “for he that is hanged is accursed of God”. By doing this, the blessings promised to Abraham through Jesus Christ was given to the Gentiles.
Now brethren, I’m going to explain something in terms easy to understand. When a formal contract between men has been signed and confirmed, no other man can add anything to it or take anything away from it. God made promises both to Abraham and to his descendant. God did not say, “and to your descendants.” That would mean many people. But God said, “and to your descendant.” That means only one person and that person is Jesus Christ.
This is what I mean: God had an agreement with Abraham and promised to keep it. The law of Moses, which came four hundred thirty years later, cannot change or alter that covenant that it should destroy the promise God made directly with Abraham. If the promise given to Abraham and his descendant must come through the law of Moses, then it can no longer be a promise given only to Abraham and his descendant.
So what was the purpose of the law of Moses? It was given as a temporary measure for the sins of man until Abraham’s descendant came to whom the promise was made. The old law was given through messengers who used Moses as a mediator to give the law to the people. But a mediator such as Moses is not necessary when God makes a covenant directly with someone. All the Godhead is one so a covenant with Christ is the same as a covenant with God the Father.
But the scriptures pronounce all mankind to be in the condemnation of sin, that the promise given to Abraham’s descendant, through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to all those who commit to Him. But before the gospel system of faith arrived, we were kept under guard like prisoners by the law of Moses, in bondage of sin until the faith of Christ which would replace the law was at last revealed. The old law has become to us all a guide and protector to help bring us to Jesus Christ, that afterwards we would be justified by the gospel system of faith.
Now that the faith of Christ has arrived, we no longer require the protection and guidance of the law of Moses because we are all sons of God through the system of faith in Christ Jesus. Because all of you who have been immersed into Christ have adorned and shielded yourselves with Him. There can be no division between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. In the family of Christ, we are all one in Him. And anyone who belongs to Christ is now therefore the descendant of Abraham and a recipient of the promise given to him by God.