Galatians

3:19-24

4. Arguments in support of the proposition, 3:1-4:7

v] The function of the Mosaic law is to promote death until everything is put right by Christ

Argument

In this passage Paul sets out to explain the divine purpose of the Old Testament law. In arguing for the priority of faith against those believers who saw law-obedience as a necessary requirement for the blessing of new life in Christ, Paul points out that the Mosaic law was given as a temporary measure to address Israel's rebellion against God; it was given "to condemn, enclose and punish", Timothy George.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 3:1-14.

 

ii] Background: See 1:1-10.

 

iii] Structure: The fifth argument in support of the proposition present as follows:

Proposition:

The gospel, of itself, apart from the law, facilitates new life in Christ.

Supporting argument:

#5. The function of the Mosaic law is to promote death until everything is put right by Christ, 3:19-24;

The law is inferior to grace, v19-20:

Given to expose the true nature of Israel's sin;

It was a temporary interim dispensation;

It was a secondary revelation;

The function of the law, v21-22:

It was set to fail, v21;

It condemns to save, v22;

Summary, v23-24.

 

iv] Interpretation:

The fifth argument: In 3:19-24 Paul outlines his fifth argument in support of his proposition that a person, who is in the right with God on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ, is freely able to appropriate the fullness of God's promised new life apart from law-obedience. Here Paul sets out to explain the role of the Mosaic law in relation to the Abrahamic covenant and in so doing counters the notion that the Mosaic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant, such that the promised blessings of the covenant ("life") rest on both grace and law. Paul's argument is that the Mosaic law does not facilitate the blessing of new life in Christ, rather it is nothing more than an interim measure devised to support the promise.

 

The Law: Again, Paul's use of "law" here specifically refers to the Torah, the law of Moses. There is debate as to whether this passage is a polemic against the law, or a positive explanation of the law, or better, is an explanation of the law's function in relation to the promise. Some commentators think this passage is a digression, so Betz, Martyn, but it is surely another argument in favor of the letter's proposition. Paul's argument in this passage is designed to further counter the argument of those nomist believers who have adopted the foolish notion that the function of the Torah is to facilitate the blessings of the covenant.

What then is the function of the law of Moses, and what function did the judaizers, the members of the circumcision party, think it played for the children of the new covenant?

Divine law has two main functions: i] The primary function of the Torah for Israel, as is the function of God's law today, was to expose / accentuate sin and thus drive faithful Israel to rest in faith on God's faithfulness for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, cf. Rom.3:20, 5:20. ii] The Torah also carried a secondary function, again a function found in God's law today, namely, to define covenant obligations, which obligations served to guide the life of faithful Israel and thus shape the fruit of faith. iii] It is often argued that the Torah had a third function, namely, to restrain sin, but scripture seems to argue that it serves to make sin more sinful.

The important point to note is that Mosaic law never intended to facilitate covenant blessings. The blessings of covenant membership, as with a person's covenant acceptance, has always rested on a divine promise (on grace) appropriated through faith, a faith like Abraham's. The law but serves to underline this fact.

When Paul tackles the function of the Mosaic law in our passage for study he states that it is a temporary dispensation ("the temporal framework for the law is a major theme of his argument for the superiority of the promise", Hansen). In what sense is the law temporary? It is likely that the law is temporary with regard to its prime function, ie. its function to expose / accentuate sin in order to promote promise / grace. Where a person has found grace in Christ, the law is no longer needed to expose sin, to hold them to their sin and bind them to its curse. Thus, the children of promise are no longer under law, they have no need to be held to their sin by the law. With this approach "temporary" is understood in logical terms, not temporal terms. None-the-less, a temporal sense is present in Paul's argument and this because he approaches the subject from salvation-history - sinful Israel bound by the law; redeemed Israel (in Christ) free from the law. See "until", v19.

 

The heresy of the Judaizers: With regard the heresy peddled by the members of the circumcision party, the reader will understand that the issue is open to intense debate, and this because Paul does not detail his opponents' argument. Traditionally it was held that the problem is legalism - the use of the law to gain God's approval. Certainly 5:4 supports this view, but it is countered by 2:15-16. The problem is that Paul's understanding of being set right before God (justified) is not just limited to forgiveness, as seems to be the case for the judaizers. So, when Paul says of his opponents that they are trying to be "justified by the law", he has in mind something more than a person's initial approval before God. For Paul, a person who is set right before God inherently possess, in full, God's promised blessings, and permanently so, whereas the judaizers see the law as a necessary partner with promise / grace in the business of accessing those blessings. So, it is likely that the problem Paul addresses is " nomism" - the use of the law to maintain standing before God, enabling ongoing access to the blessings of the covenant. It should be noted that although new perspective commentators hold that the judaizers were nomists, their nomism is usually understood in the sense of a continued reliance on Jewish particularism, circumcision etc., at the expense of Gentile inclusion.

 

v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage can be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 3:19

Arguments in support of the proposition: v] The function of the Mosaic law was not to promote new life in Christ, but rather, to promote death until everything is put right by Christ, v19-24.

a) The law is inferior to grace, v19-20. The following outline is but one possible way forward where "the number of interpretations of this passage are said to mount up to 250 or 300", Lightfoot; thank you J.B. for this observation, and that was back in 1865! So, here goes for # ...... Paul's answer to the question, v19-20, is that the law "was added for the sake of transgressions", ie., the law was added to the promise as an interim measure to hold Israel to its sin until dealt with in the coming of the promised messiah. This temporal salvation-history pattern has a logical equivalent in the life of an individual believer. The law, which once held the sinner to their sin, no longer constrains those who have appropriated the promise in Christ. In the end, the value of the law is limited, given that the promise to Abraham is permanent, whereas the law is temporary, and the promise is by direct divine revelation, whereas the law was mediated through angels (a popular view at the time, see "Pauline Midrash", Cullan) and a human mediator, namely, Moses.

ti "what" - The interrogative pronoun may mean either "what" or "why". "Why then the law?" = "what is the purpose of the law?" The sentence is elliptical with "was the purpose of" added by NIV, although "why" makes the point. Possibly "what is/signifies" = "what is the significance of the law?", Longenecker. "What then is the function of the law?", Barclay.

oun "then" - Inferential connective.

proseteqh (prostiqhmi) aor. pas. "it was added" - it was added, placed. Possibly a divine passive. Either "was added by God to the previous promise to Abraham", Dumbrell, although not added in the sense of a codicil to supplement, but added to reinforce the Abrahamic covenant without affecting its independence, ie. "the Sinai Covenant occupied a complementary role within that of the covenant with Abraham", Dumbrell, cf. v15. Possibly "was instituted", following the variant tiqhmi.

carin + gen. "because of" - Usually a marker of cause/reason, so best understood as "because of", as NIV, reflecting the idea that the law was added to the promise as a temporary measure to confront a situation where sin was out of control. Possibly either final with the idea of goal in mind, "in order to", or consecutive with the idea of result in mind, "with the result that / so that". So, i] purpose: the law is given "in order to produce, or provoke, transgressions", Martyn, or ii] result: the law is given to identify transgression: the law is given "to define what wrong-doing is", Barclay, "to make wrongdoing a legal offense", NEB, "to underline the existence and extent of sin", Moffatt. "In order to provide some sort of remedy for transgressions", Dumbrell.

twn parabasewn (iV ewV) "transgressions" - disobedience, wrongdoing. Of breaking, or deviating from a standard.

acriV ou| + subj. "until [the seed]" - until. This construction is used to form a temporal clause referring to the future. Usually formed by eJwV an + subj. The "seed", of course, is Christ, cf. v16. In support of his argument for the priority of promise, Paul notes that the law is temporary and therefore it cannot be compared with the eternal nature of the promise. Yet, in what sense is the Mosaic law temporary? See supplementary notes on the temporary nature of the law.

w/| dat. "to whom" - Dative of indirect object / interest, advantage. Referring to Christ.

ephggeltai (epaggellomai) perf. pas. "the promise referred" - it has been promised. The perfect tense possibly expresses the permanence of the promise (ie. applicable to all through all time), enacted and ongoing, as opposed to the temporary nature of the Mosaic law, cf. Longenecker. Yet, it is more likely that The "promise" is fulfilled in "the seed", Christ, enacted and ongoing until it was realized in him, ie. the perfect has pluperfect force; "to whom the promise was come", Ridderbos.

elqh/ (ercomai) aor. subj. "had come" - should come. The subjunctive used for an indefinite temporal clause.

diatageiV (diatassw) aor. pas. part. "the law was put into effect" - having been ordained, arranged, enacted (as of enacting a law). An attendant circumstance participle identifying action accompanying the main verb "was added (instituted)", but adverbial, expressing manner or means, is also possible.

di (dia) + gen. "through" - through, by means of. Expressing agency.

aggelwn (oV) gen. "angels" - angels, messengers. Paul is drawing on common teaching at the time, teaching which we know little about. Stephen makes a similar point about the mediatorial role of angels in the giving of the law. Paul's point is that the promise came directly from God and is therefore superior to the law.

en + dat. "by / entrusted to" - in, by, to. The instrumental sense seems best, "by" = "through the agency of".

mesitou (hV ou) gen. "a mediator" - [hand] of a mediator. The genitive is adjectival, possessive. As with the mediatorial role of angels, the fact that the law was given through Moses gives the promise a greater authority.

 
v20

oJ mesithV (hV ou) "a mediator" - the mediator [of one is not]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. Not with the sense of "one who reconciles", but of "one who helps parties come together in an agreement".

enoV ouk estin "does not represent just one party / implies more than one party" - is not of one. Silva classifies the genitive enoV, "one", as a genitive of association, "a mediator is not a representative only of one." Expressing the idea of plurality in the giving of the law, as opposed to singularity in the giving of the promise. Numerous complex interpretations have been suggested, but Paul is probably just making the point that, unlike the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, with its "added" law, was not directly given by God to Israel, but was given through an intermediary and is therefore inferior.

de "but [God is one]" - Probably indicating the next step in the argument so serving to introduce the question of v21: "God is one. Does this mean therefore ......?" "Given the unity of God, can we therefore assume that there is some alignment / coexistence between law and promise?"

 
v21

b) The function of the law, v21-22. Paul addresses a simple question: given that God is one (v20b), does the law function alongside of / is supplementary to the promise of God? No way! Unlike the promise/grace, the law can't achieve the blessings promised to Abraham. If the law had the power to facilitate the promised blessings of the covenant, then it would obviously have the power to set a person right with God, but we all know it doesn't have the power to do that and this because God makes it clear through the scriptures that sin is master everywhere; this being case, God's promised blessings depend wholly on Christ's faithfulness (faith of Christ) for those who believe. The function of the law is quite separate from the promise, separate from grace. The Mosaic law was not given to "impart life", it was not given to facilitate the promised blessings to Abraham, now realized in Christ, rather, it was given to condemn, to expose sin, and thus the need for salvation in Christ.

kata + gen. "opposed to" - down upon, drawn from / against. The meaning of this preposition is unclear here, particularly as Paul has not favored us with a verb. Usually understood in this verse with its hostile sense: in opposition to, in conflict with - "is the law contrary to the promises?", Cassirer. Yet, in answering the question Paul explains that the promised blessing of life is not facilitated by works of the law, but rather by reliance on the work of Christ. So, the question is not asking whether the law is oppose to the promise, rather whether the law supplements the promise, plays a part in facilitating life, to which question Paul answers "absolutely not". Figuratively the preposition with the genitive can refer to "the ground of / basis of / standard of", even express the idea of "in accord with" (+ acc.). Although less than satisfactory the sense "in accord with / stand alongside with / supplementary to" is offered.

twn epaggeliwn (a) "the promises" - As noted in previous studies, "promise" singular is often used by Paul, but sometimes he uses the plural. The "promise" (the Abrahamic promise consists of three parts) is ultimately "life", but of course, "life" can be unpacked to reveal many blessings. This approach seems better than suggesting that the plural serves to remind the reader that the promise was given on numerous occasions.

tou qeou gen. "of God" - The genitive is possibly adjectival, possessive, they are God's promises, or ablative, source, the promised blessings of the covenant which derive from God, or verbal, subjective, "the promises God has made. A variant reading, bracketed by Metzger.

mh genoito "Absolutely not!" - may it never be so. Emphatic rejection of the idea.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause serving to explain why the law is not opposed to the promises.

ei + ind. a]n + imperf. "if [........ then ....]" - Introducing a conditional clause 2nd. class, contrary to fact, where the condition is assumed not to be true, "if, as is not the case, ... then ....."

nomoV (oV) "a law" - Anarthrous (without an article), implying "any divine regulation, let alone the law of Moses".

oJ dunamenoV (dunamai) pres. pas. part. "that could" - being able. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "law"; "a law which is able".

zwopoihsai (zwopoiew) aor. inf. "impart life" - to give life, make alive. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the participle "being able." For "life", the substance of the Abrahamic promise, see 3:11 and below. Some suggest that "life" here means "eternal life". It is eternal life, but not just an eschatological eternal life, a life in the hereafter, but life in all its fullness in the here and now and always. Also, some (eg. Bultmann) argue that this life is a product of the Spirit's ministry, enlivening, eg. releasing the believer from the power of sin. New life in Christ means all this and much much more. "Unlike promises, the law cannot impart life", Dumbrell; "the law is not a quickening power as is the promise", Ridderbos.

hJ dikaiosunh "then righteousness" - Nominative subject of the verb to-be. The person who is right, judged/set right with God, is a person who will experience God's promised new life - right with God = life with God. It is this link that the judaizers have broken. If the fullness of new life in Christ comes from keeping the law, then, on the basis of the link between being right with God and possessing life in God, Habakkuk 2:4, cf. 3:11, being judged/set right with God (justified) would also rest on law-obedience. The next verse explains how such a proposition is not tenable. The judaizers themselves know only too well that a person is not justified by works of the law, cf. 2:15-16.

hn (eimi) imperf. "would [certainly] have come" - would have been.

ontwV adv. "certainly" - really, actually, in fact. Adverb of manner.

ek "by [law]" - out of, from. Variant en "in". Rather than an instrumental sense, "through / by means of", the ablative origin/source / "on the basis of", seems best; "righteousness would have come from keeping the law", Fung.

 
v22

We are here confronted with problem as to whether Paul relates law and promise temporally, or logically, cf., 3:19, 24, 4:1-4. With regard to promise, law has a temporary function superseded at the fulfillment of the promise in the coming of Christ. From this temporal (salvation-history) framework Paul seems to draw a logical principle such that "the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that ......", NRSV. See "until", v19.

alla "but" - Strong adversative. "But on the contrary", Bligh.

hJ grafh (h) "the scripture" - writing. Nominative subject of the verb "to consign." Scripture = God's word to us, probably here expressing the idea, "as the scripture says, no one has ever kept any such law, therefore ..", Barclay.

"declares that / has locked up" - The verb is added for meaning. See above. "Scripture makes no exception when it says that sin is master everywhere", Barclay.

ta panta "the whole world / everything" - all things. Accusative object of the verb "to consign." Neuter, rather than masculine suggests the "universality of the proposition", Bligh. Obviously the world so "everyone", CEV.

sunekleisen (sunkleiw) aor. "is a prisoner / under the control" - consigned, made a prisoner, shut up. Here the imagery is of the law as a gaoler, holding us to our sinful state.

uJpo + acc. "of [sin]" - under [sin]. Subordination; "under the rule of." In the sense of "into the power of / into subjection to", Bligh. "Under the power of sin", Martyn.

iJna + subj. "so that" - that. Here most likely forming a consecutive/result clause, "with the result that", so NIV, but many argue for a final/purpose clause, "in order that", Martyn, Bruce, .....

hJ epaggelia (a) "what was promised" - the promise [might be given]. Nominative subject of the verb "to give." "Life" and all that ......

doqh/ (didwmi) aor. pas. subj. "being given [through faith in Jesus Christ] might be given [to those who believe]" - Even just a glancing look at this "appositional" translation prompts suspicion. Literally it is "might be given from faith of Jesus Christ to the ones believing". Paul is saying that the promised blessing is sourced, as a gift, out of the faith/faithfulness of Christ (his atonement on our behalf), which gift is freely available to those who trust Christ.

ek + gen. "through" - from [faith]. An ablative source/origin sense is best, see Galatians 2:16, "drawn from / on the basis of".

Ihsou Cristou gen. "[faith] in Jesus Christ" - [faith] of Jesus Christ. Paul is not speaking of our faith in Christ but rather the faith of Christ, that is, "Christ's trustful obedience to God in the giving up of his own life for us", Martyn. "The faithfulness of Christ". For the function of the genitive here see Galatians 2:16.

toiV pisteuousin (pisteuw) dat. pres. part. "[given] to those who believe" - [might be given] to the ones believing. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object. "To those who have faith (like Abraham)", Williams.

 
v23

c) Summary: The law is like as a jailer, binding Israel to the law's curse, binding Israel to judgment for the nation's neglect of its covenant obligations; it is like a slave-custodian who is set in charge of the master's children, holding Israel under the subjugation of the law's curse, but this only until the fulfilling of the Abrahamic promise in the coming of Jesus Christ (see possible meanings for eiV below: either temporal, "until Christ came", or purpose, "to lead us to Christ", or both, "with a view to Christ's coming"). So, the subjugation of the law has now ended with the coming of the seed of Abraham, Christ (ended / terminated in a salvation-history sense, and therefore in a logical sense, such that the law is no longer required to hold a believer / child of faith to their sin. Obviously not terminated as a guide to the Christian life).

de "-" - but, and. Probably prompting the next step in the argument, "now before faith came", ESV, but possibly adversative, "but before faith came", NJB.

pro tou elqein (ercomai) aor. inf. "before this faith came" - This construction, pro with the genitive articular infinitive, forms a temporal clause, antecedent time; "up till the time when we could find salvation on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ Jesus (Christ's atoning obedience on our behalf / the cross)." "Faith" here is most likely Christ's faithfulness, "faith of Christ", and our faith in his faithfulness on our behalf. Such is the age of faith, as opposed to the age of the law. See Galatians 2:16 for "faith of Christ".

efrouroumeqa (frourew) imperf. pas. "we were held prisoners / we were held in custody" - we were being kept. The imperfect is durative. The word may mean "enforced restraint", but also may mean "benevolent protection." A sense of oppression seems best. The verb is first person plural, "we". "We" usually means "we believing Jews" or even "we apostles", rather than "we believers" ("you" = "you believing Gentiles"). Given that Paul often frames his words within a salvation-history perspective, "we believing Jews" is the dominant sense of "we", but at the same time a more inclusive "we believers" is not far from his mind. "In the custody of the law", NEB.

uJpo "under" - Subordination; "under the rule of."

nomon (oV) "the law" - law. The noun without the article may imply law in general, "God's law", rather than "the law", meaning "the Torah". Paul is probably still referring to the law of Moses.

sugkleiomenoi (sugkleiw) pres. mid./pas. part. "locked up" - were being confined, made a prisoner. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing manner.

eiV "until" - into. This preposition introduces a prepositional clause which may either be temporal, or final (purpose). A temporal sense seems best, but possibly with a touch of intended purpose; "in preparation for the faith which was to be unveiled", Williams.

mellousan (mellw) pres. part. "should be" - being about. The participle, with its attached infinitive, forms an adjectival participial phrase, attributive, limiting "faith", "[the] faith which is about to be revealed."

apokalufqhnai (apokaluptw) aor. pas. inf. "revealed" - [being about] to be revealed. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the participle "being about." In classical Greek the tense would be future when used with mellw. A future sense is implied; "pending the revelation of faith", REB.

 
v24

wJste "so" - so that, and so, accordingly, thus..... Possibly here functioning as a connective, or inferential, "accordingly, therefore", but better expressing result / purpose "so that / in order that", as NIV, NRSV....

paidagwgoV "[the law was] put in charge / [our] guardian" - [the law has been our] custodian. Predicate nominative. The "custodian", paidagogos, was a person who controlled the behavior of a young boy up to about 16 years of age. He is a custodian and/or supervisor, but the nuance of the word will depend on how we read the following preposition "to". The custodian may be like a teacher, tutor, guardian, mentor...... or more like a jailer, a restrainer, an enforcer, a disciplinarian. The sense of holding the sinner to the "curse" and condemnation of the law is best; the law serves "to condemn, enclose and punish", George. Certainly "condemn and punish", but what about "enclose"? Does Paul have in mind the idea that the law restrains sin like a "schoolmaster", AV, "strict governess", Phillips? Of course, the law can't make sin more sinful and at the same time restrain sin, and in any case, such a function would not be temporary. As already noted, we are on safer ground if we view Paul's argument in salvation-history terms (of the law as a temporary measure, holding Israel to the consequences of sin, but set aside at the coming of the messiah; a paidagogos until Israel comes of age), which frame is then applied in logical terms to the life of the believer (the law oppresses a person, establishing their condition of loss, but this only until they are set right in Christ through faith). As the law was a temporary dispensation for Israel, so it is for a believer.

eiV "to lead us to [Christ] / until [Christ] came" - into [Christ]. We may read this preposition, which forms a prepositional phrase, either temporally, or logically: As a temporal clause, "until the coming of / up to the time of" Christ, cf. NEB, "until Christ came", NRSV, so Bruce, Longenecker, Betz, Guthrie, ...; As a final (purpose) clause, the law was our paidagogos "in order to lead us to" Christ for forgiveness, "bringing us to Christ", Knox; "to conduct us to Christ", NEB mg. cf. NIV, Williams, Ridderbos, Cole, ... A final (purpose) sense, with temporal overtones, is also possible; "with a view to Christ's coming", Causer.

iJna "that" - that. Here introducing an adverbial clause, either final expressing purpose, or consecutive expressing result. If purpose, then the purpose of the custodianship of the law. Yet, result seems more likely, "with the result that". Christ, having come, justification is the consequent result. "The law was thus put in charge of us until Christ should come, when we should be justified through faith", REB.

dikaiwqwmen (dikaiow) aor. pas. subj. "we might be justified" - set right. "Set/judged right before God. See Galatians 2:16 for "justified".

ek pistin "by faith" - on the basis, out of faith. As above, "faith" here is most likely Christ's faith / faithfulness appropriated by our faith, ie., cause / basis.

 

Galatians Introduction.

Exposition

 

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