#172 “THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW” (GALATIANS 3:19-25)

  1. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Paul takes a hard pause (in v. 19) and poses the question, why then the law? as a way to clarify to the Galatians that he is not denying the Law altogether. Paul will lay out an extensive argument about the purposes of the Law and its relation to the promises of God 3:19-4:11. Transgressions—Paul sets up the question, “why the law” to answer it. He says the Law was given to make known our sin. The term transgressions, “to rebel; to break the law; to act contrary to established custom or law.” Paul writes in 1 Tim. 1:8-11, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” Until the seed—The Law was only necessary until the Messiah, Jesus Christ, came to atone for the sins of the world. Therefore, the Law was temporary. Put in place through angels—Charles Ryrie, “The law was mediated through angels and Moses, whereas the covenant with Abraham was given directly by God (Gen. 15:18). The presence of an intermediary assumes two parties, and the need of a mediator shows the inferiority of the law.” There are several passages in the Bible that show God using angels to participate in his divine work with man:
    • Deut. 33:2, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand.”
    • Ps. 68:17, “The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.”
    • Ac. 7:53, “you who have received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
    • Heb. 2:2, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable…”
  2. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Because of transgressions— Paul presents another limitation to the Law because it is bilateral. The fact that a mediator (whether it be a man or an angel) was involved speaks to the limits of the Law. Paul writes in Rom. 3:19-21, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” God is one—God, and God alone, ratified the covenant with Abraham.
  3. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. In v. 21, Paul addresses the false notion that the Law is contrary to the promises of God, and therefore, evil. Paul strongly condemns that rationale. How can the Law be evil if God (who is the Perfect Law Giver) instituted the Law in the first place? The Law and the promises of God are not in competition. They are designed by God with different purposes and functions. God gave the Law to expose the sin of mankind, not to save people by it. The Law didn’t introduce sin. Adam and Eve did. Ever since the Mosaic Law was installed, sin has increased due to people transgressing against the commands of God. Paul said earlier “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (2:21). He will later go on to explain this very thing about the Law to the Romans, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:20). In vs. 22-24, Paul will provide three descriptive reasons why the Law cannot save or impart life to a person.
    1. 22 But (strong adversative conjunction) the Scripture imprisoned (sunkleio, confined; to enclose on all sides) everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. The phrase Scripture imprisoned everything is referenced in 3:10 and quoted from Deut. 27:26, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of the law by doing them.” The first reason the Law cannot save a person is that it confines or condemns people as a result of their sin. Promise by faith in Jesus Christ—Paul connects the role of the Law to the Promises. Jesus, the promised Savior) saves us from the curse of the Law. Paul bears out this message in greater detail in Rom. 1:18-3:20.
    2. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. The second reason the Law cannot save us is that it acts like a jailer. The Law holds us as prisoners.
    3. 24 So then, the law was our guardian (paidagōgos, tutor; schoolmaster; custodian) until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. The third reason the Law cannot save us is that it acts as a temporary disciplinarian. Law was our tutor—The Gk. term used by Paul denotes a slave or tutor who watched over the child as a strict disciplinarian who was responsible for the child until they came of age. Similarly, Paul equates the Law as a guardian/tutor that teaches us our need to be saved from condemnation. Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Paul spoke of the law as a “custodian.” Its purpose in the economy of God was to prepare a people, and thereby perfect His plan, for the coming of Christ. It was necessary to place upon them severe restrictions in order to develop their racial and cultural identity and to lay them under the moral discipline of the law. In addition, they needed to be instructed in the “promises” which pointed to Christ. The intent of the law went no farther than this.”
  4. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian—After providing reasons why the Law cannot save mankind (whether Jew or Greek), Paul declares faith has come in Christ and has set us free. But now—In the Mediterranean culture, a boy became of age at 13 or 14—and no longer needed a tutor/guardian/custodian. For Paul, when Christ came, we no longer were under the curse of the Law. He wrote earlier, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (2:20). In Christ, Jews and Gentiles are no longer under the supervision of the Law because of the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. Charles Spurgeon, “We have outgrown him. God has given us power now to go to Christ’s school ourselves, willingly, joyfully, and cheerfully. I remember—and I daresay you also do—when that pedagogue whipped us very sorely. I am glad that I am no longer under his power. The pedagogue’s work is done so far as we are concerned.”