COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 29
Gal 3:19 "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one." (Gal 3:19-20)
WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW?
The subject of salvation demands the consideration of several things. Thusfar in this epistle Paul has set forth several things for thoughtful perusal. (1) Why Jesus gave Himself (1:4). (2) Removing oneself from God. (3) Another Gospel. (4) The source of the Gospel (1:11-12). (5) The preaching of the Gospel (1:15-16). (6) The assessment of the apostles and James (1:18-19; 2:7-10). (7) Those who seek to spy out the liberty that is in Christ (2:4-5). (8) The rebuke of those who conduct themselves contrary to the Gospel (2:11-14). (9) Justification by Law versus justification by faith (2:16). (10) The fact that Christ does not promote sin (2:17-18). (11) The reason for being dead to the Law is that we might live unto God (2:19). (12) Living by faith (2:20). (13) The voiding of the value of Christ's death by returning to Law (2:21). (14) What causes people to defect from Christ (3:1). (15) Righteous accounted to people upon the basis of faith (3:6). (16) The kind of faith that saves was first seen in Abraham, and believers are his children (3:7-9). (17) The curse of the Law, and the impossibility of being justified by it (3:10-12). (18) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law (3:13). (19) What we receive in Christ was what was promised to Abraham (3:14-15). (20) Jesus is the Seed of Abraham (3:16). (21) The New Covenant is the oldest one, being given to Abraham by promise (3:18-19).
All of this reveals the glorious complexity of salvation - complexity, I say, not like an undetectable jumble of things not understood, but like an immense system with varying parts that work harmoniously for good. The universe is an example of such a system. In salvation and the imputation of righteousness through faith, everything that is essential to Divine acceptance, and holy living, is supplied. However, none of those essentials can be obtained other than by grace through faith. They cannot be obtained from any source other than Jesus. As simplistic as that may appear, it is not generally known in our time. If men profess to know it, it is often only a theoretical knowledge. However, for the trusting ones, this can and must be known.
WHEREFORE THEN SERVETH THE LAW?
Gal 3:19a "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made . . . "
In his teaching, Paul is always careful not to leave a wrong impression about God Himself, what He has done, or what He has given. This is a godly practice, yet it is rarely seen in this day of loose speech and the voicing of human opinion. Paul has stated that we are not justified by Law. Yet, God gave the Law. Those facts lead to the following reasoning.
WHEREFORE THEN SERVETH THE LAW? Other versions read, "What purpose then does the Law serve?" NKJV "Why the Law then?" NASB and "What then was the purpose of the Law?" AMPLIFIED
That is a worthy question, indeed. I do not doubt that if Paul had not asked it, few would have been discerning enough to diligent to bring it up. There remain to this day many professing Christians who have erroneous views of the Law. A good teacher will not allow those views to go unchallenged.. The God who does nothing "without a cause" (Ezek 14:23) had a reason for giving the Law. In this case, the "cause" blends perfectly with the redemption in Christ.
IT WAS ADDED. Other versions read, "it was an addition," BBE "it was set," DOUAY "it was given alongside the promise," NLT and "it was imposed later." WEYMOUTH
The Law was added to the promise, which was a summation of the New Covenant. Both of them were in place at the same time, with one (the Promise) being superior to the other (the Law). The Law did not replace the promise, it was "added" to it. The two did not blend into one homogeneous whole. They were separate, though simultaneous. This is significantly different than the Old Covenant and New Covenant. The New was not added to the old, but supplanted it. When the "New" was put into effect, the covenant of Law was rendered "old," and was "ready to vanish away" (Heb 8:13). This refers to the Law as a covenant, not as the means of defining sin (Rom 3:20). The proper view is this: in order to ready men for salvation through Jesus Christ, it was necessary to add the Law. This would be used to confirm the situation in which men found themselves.
BECAUSE OF TRANSGRESSIONS. Other versions read, "because of sin," BBE "in order to create transgressions," CJB "for the sake of transgressions," DARBY "to identify what wrongdoing is," GWN "for transgression," NAB "to deal with crimes," NJB "to show people their sin," NLT and "because of transgressions and [to make men more conscious of the sinfulness] of sin," AMPLIFIED
The words "because of" are translated from a single word which means, "on account of, for the sake of," THAYER and "for the [purpose of." LOUW-NIDA This involved "the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). However, the meaning is more broad than at first appears. It is written, "where no law is, there is no transgression" (Rom 4:15), for sin is "the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). From "Adam to Moses" death reigned, but it was because of Adam's transgression (Rom 5:14). The Law was given "that sin, by the commandment, might become exceeding sinful" (Rom 7:13). The very concept of "transgression" was brought home to the conscience by the Law. This means that before the promised Seed could come, men had to have a sound view of sin, and be under the weight of a defiled conscience - a concept that has all but disappeared in our time.
TILL THE SEED SHOULD COME. Other versions read, "until the Offspring," NRSV "until the Seed came," DARBY "until the Descendant," GWN "until the arrival of the Descendant," NET "until the progeny," NJB "until the coming of the child," NLT and "until the Seed (the Descendant, the Heir) should come." AMPLIFIED
The Law as intended to be a covenant only until "the Seed should come." That is, the Law could never accomplish what was promised to Abraham - the blessing. The Law was not given to bless, or to give certain benefits before God. That was a prerogative reserved for the Seed. Paul has already made clear that "the Seed" was singular, and referred exclusively to Jesus Christ. Contrary to the interpretations of the Jewish teachers, the real advantage was not being related to the Jews themselves, but to the primary Offspring of Abraham - Jesus Christ.
Prior to Christ, the epoch for which all insightful men longed was the coming of the Messiah. This was the Seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent's head (Gen 3:15). It was the Prophet to whom the people would hearken (Deut 18:15). Every other person and event were incidental to this promise.
TO WHOM THE PROMISES WERE MADE. Other versions read, "to whom the promise referred," NIV "to whom the promise had been made," NASB "to whom the undertaking had been given," BBE and "to whom He made the promise." DOUAY
This is a most arresting consideration. "The promises" are said to have been made to the coming Seed, "which is Christ" (Gal 3:16). That means that all of the promises "in Him are Yea, and in Him Amen" (2 Cor 1:20). The commitment to bless was ultimately given to Jesus Christ - blessed with all power in heaven and earth ()Matt 28:18), being the repository for the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3), and the exclusive means of access to God.
THE LAW WAS ORDAINED BY ANGELS IN THE HANDS OF A MEDIATOR
3:19b " . . . and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. . . ."
The giving of the Law is one of the great epochs of human history. The origin and declaration of the Law is recorded in Exodus 19-20 Deuteronomy 4:10-13; 33:2; Judges 5:4-5; Psalm 68:7-8; Isaiah 64:3; Hab 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:7, Hebrews 12:18-21, etc. The Law is one of the things that made Israel unique. As Moses reminded the people, "And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?" (Deut 4:8). Thus, by drawing a comparison with the Law, Paul is comparing the Gospel to something of great significance, not something mediocre.
ORDAINED BY ANGELS. Other versions read, "appointed through angels," NKJV "ordained through angels," NIV "ordered through angels," BBE "handed down through angels," CJB "put in place through angels," ESV "put in effect through angels," GWN "promulgated by angels," NAB "administered through angels," NET and "was arranged and ordained and appointed through the instrumentality of angels." AMPLIFIED
The word "ordained" means "instituted, appointed, commanded, and given." STRONG'S
The book of Deuteronomy reveals that when God came down at Sinai, He did so "with ten thousands of saints," or "myriads of holy ones" NIV (Deut 33:2). The Psalmist said, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place" (Psa 68:17). Stephen said the Jews received the Law "by the disposition of angels," or "by the direction of angels" NKJV (Acts 7:53). Hebrews refers to the Law as having been "spoken by angels" (Heb 2:2).
Israel could barely stand up under the words spoken by angels. One can only imagine what would have happened if God spoke directly to them. The record of the giving of the Ten Commandments commences with these words: "And the Lord spake all these words" (Ex 20:1). Yet, technically speaking, we are told the word was "spoken by angels" (Heb 2:2).
There is no contradiction here. The word spoken by God was delivered by angels. This was done in consideration of the people, who could not have endured the direct voice of the Lord. In Scripture, when angels spoke, the event was described as the Lord speaking. When the Lord spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, it is later revealed that it was an angel who actually spoke (Ex 3:2,4-6; Acts 7:30,35).
The fact of the matter is that when a special messenger delivers the word of God to the people, the word is credited to the Lord, not to the angel. This is the manner of the Kingdom. When, for example, Paul preached to the Thessalonians, they received it "not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thess 2:13). Later in this epistle, Paul reflects this kind of thing in the words, "And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus" (Gal 4:14). When the word of God is delivered through a messenger, the acceptance or rejection of that word is considered to be the acceptance or rejection of the word of God Himself. As Jesus said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me" (John 13:20). This is why it is wrong to seek a sign after a person has been subjected to the word of God's messenger.
IN THE HAND OF A MEDIATOR. Other versions read, "by the hand of a mediator," NKJV "by the agency of a mediator," NASB "through an intermediary," RSV and "by the hand (in the person) of a go-between [Moses, an intermediary person between God and man]." AMPLIFIED
This circumstance highlights the effects of sin - it puts men at a distance from God so that an additional party is required for God to even speak with men. In this case, it was God speaking through angels, and then through Moses. The mediator delivers the word directly to the people - in the case of Moses, who was the mediator of reference. Therefore, when the Law had been fully given, Moses "took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Ex 24:7). Thus both sides of that covenant were established: the commandments of the Lord to the people, and the assent of the people to the covenant of "do and live."
As a mediator, Moses delivered the words of God to the people, and the words of the people to God. Of the latter it is written, "And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD" (Ex 19:8). There you have the role of a Mediator in regards to the Old Covenant. Through Moses the people were informed of what God required of them. Then, again through Moses, the response of the people was given to God.
Once again, the effects of sin are confirmed, requiring that someone stand between God and man. Before Moses, Job desired such a person: "Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both" (Job 9:33). Of old time, Moses was the "daysman," or "mediator." NKJV Under the Old Covenant that person was an "umpire," NASB or "arbitrator." NIV
BUT GOD IS ONE
3:20 "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one."
Paul now makes the transition from the Old Covenant to the New - from an arrangement that depended upon men to one that relied upon the Lord. The immediate reference is to the covenant God made with Abraham. The extended objective is to focus on that covenant as it is administered by the promised Seed Himself - the Lord Jesus Christ.
NOT THE MEDIATOR OF ONE. Other versions read, "does not mediate for one only," NKJV "is not for one party only," NASB "does not just represent one party," NIV "involves more than one party," NRSV "is not a go-between of one," BBE and "has to do with and implies more than one party [there can be no mediator with just one person]." AMPLIFIED The Old Covenant was that kind of covenant. It required the agreement of the people before it was put into place. That is the ordinary manner.
This text is further compounded by a statement Paul; addressed to Timothy. "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). However, this is speaking the administration of the New Covenant, and not to the making of the covenant itself. What Paul is here saying, is that a mediator is ordinarily required for the making of a covenant. Further, this particularly has to do with God's promise to Abraham. He will associate us with this covenant later. Here, however, the recipients are not the consideration.
BUT GOD IS ONE. Other versions read, "whereas God is only one," NASB "but God has acted on His own," GWN "But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when He gave His promise to Abraham," NLT "But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when He gave His promise to Abraham," LIVING and "Yet God is [only] one Person [and He was the sole party in giving that promise to Abraham." AMPLIFIED
When God made the promise of blessing to Abraham, it was not a proposal to which Abraham had to add his consent. It was an announcement - a revelation of the purpose of God. The blessing of the whole world, or all families of the earth, was not conditioned on Abraham's response to the covenant, or even to His consent to it.
In the fuller light of the Gospel, more specific language is employed to make this point. It spells out the difference between Law and grace - between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. This is something that had been hidden from the Galatians since they had embraced "another gospel." They had removed themselves from God, and thus lost their apprehension of His nature. That still happens when people embrace s system of works instead of God's grace.
THE PURPOSE IS OF GOD. When addressing the matter of salvation, much is made of the purpose of God. The death of Christ, which was required for the New Covenant to be effective, was according to God's "counsel . . . determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28) - "God is One!" The calling of God's people is said to be "according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28) - "God is One!" The mystery that has now been "made known unto us," is "according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself" (Eph 1:9) - "God is One!" Although some find it difficult to receive, "we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph 1:11) - "God is One!" The role of angels being tutored in God's wisdom as seen in redemption is said to be "according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph 3:11) - "God is One!" Believers are told that they have been saved "not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim 1:9) - "God is One!"
The salvation of God is all about what God is doing, not what man ought to be doing. It is a preparation for eternity, after the passing of this world and the day of judgment - not a system in which the world is made a better place to live. God's great salvation was not motivated by the miserable state of the domestic and social fabric of the world. It was not stimulated by the awareness of men being frustrated in their dreams. If those were the incentives that drove salvation, a two-sided covenant would be required, just like Old Covenant - a redundant act.
However, the Old Covenant was "weak through the flesh" (Rom 8:3). Instead of improving the people through that covenant, the Lord "found fault" with its constituents. This was in spite of the fact that the "words of the covenant" were "holy," "just," "good," and "spiritual" (Rom 7:12,14). A holy covenant cannot be made between a holy God and an unholy people! If men are going to be saved, it will have to be through a covenant that depends solely upon God. That covenant will require a new creation, Divine "workmanship," and the changing of man's nature. Those are all things that can only be done by God. Further, that is a fact that has been fully confirmed by four thousand years of human history - some without a law from God, and some with such a law.
By calling the covenant administered by Jesus Christ alone a promise, God has confirmed it is a one-sided covenant that depends on the One who saves, not upon the ones who need to be saved. That is something of the involvements of God being One.