Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarianGalatians 3:19-25
After having read Paul’s arguments for the law, I started singing the lyrics to the old Temptations song, “War.” Only I modified the lyrics, “Law! What is it good for, absolutely nothing!” Of course, that just means that I was following along with Paul’s train of thought, and going right where he wanted his readers/listeners to go. After all of this arguments, we are left wondering exactly the same question that Paul starts this passage with: “Why then the law?” If the promise God made to Abraham supersedes the law, then why was there ever a compendium of rules and regulations? Why were they necessary, if the way to God could be found through faith alone?
Well, it seems that not everyone had the pleasure of interacting with God in the manner than Abraham did, and so for those, the law was given as a means of moving people toward the mindset exemplified by a living faith by giving people the guidance they need to move forward. Kind of like training wheels on a child’s bike. They are pedaling, keeping themselves mostly upright and balanced, until something throws them slightly off kilter and they fall a bit to the left or right. But then the training wheels catch them, bringing them back to a level of equilibrium.
Another example, perhaps more in line with Paul’s thinking, is this word “adulting.” A lot of memes these days talk about “adulting,” and how taking on the responsibilities of being an adult are difficult. Everyone wishes they could still be a child, have their parents or guardians – or anyone else, really – doing the difficult, heavy lifting of life for them, while they are allowed to focus on the fun and enjoyable bits of life. This calls back the idea found in earlier chapters, in which we understand the irony of living a life according to rules and regulations set down by others. It is easier to live according to a set of rules than to move forward completely free to live as we choose – and still choosing to live that life for God. Paul’s thoughts here tell us that the Law was that guide, that tutor, that chaperone that helped to teach us and prepare us to take on the challenges of life in that day when the training wheels are removed, or when those that have raised us are no longer around.
The law was intended to guide people until the messiah came, until the path of faith provided the means to God. But, now that Paul declares the age of the messiah, he is by no means saying that the law should be completely thrown out either. Just because faith in the messiah now provides access to God to all people, including the gentiles, does not mean that Paul intends to throw out the Law altogether. In fact, in Romans 3, Paul talks about the law, and asks whether the whole codex should be nullified, and answers his own question with “It should never be so.” Paul does seem to think that the Law is still beneficial to believers, even though believers have been set free from the condemnation of the Law when failing to live up to it. The Law still provides guidance toward living in freedom, once one has started along the path of faith.
Important Words and Phrases
παράβασις – parabasis, eos, on – “Striding to and fro,” overstepping, transgression, violation. In the NT it denotes sin in relation to the Law. Between Adam and Moses there is sin, but no parabasis because the law is not yet given. In Galatians 3:19 the law is given to show that evil deeds are transgressions of God’s will. 1 Those that know God’s will might have a chance of avoiding transgressions, while those who seek only to follow the rules and regulations of the law will be destined to fail to achieve to uphold it.
ἐπαγγελία – Promise.2 Paul links the word promise to the gospel, and looks at “promise” from the standpoint of επανγέλεσθαι (middle voice for “I announce myself”) with the implication being that one announces oneself with the intention of providing one’s services to others. It seems that the idea of a promise to Paul includes the idea of service. The gospel includes the service of Christ to the people of the world, through his death. How does viewing a promise as service to others affect the definition of the word?
προστίθημι – Prostithemi – To add to, increase, or do again. In the context of Galatians 3:19, it suggests that the law was simply an interlude [on the way to the final fulfillment of the promise of Christ].3
παιδαγωγος – Paidagogos – attendant, custodian, guide (possibly a tutor). For Paul, the law has only limited validity (Gal. 3:24). Its time end with Christ. It is a paedagogos while we are minors. During our minority, we are under it and virtually in the position of slaves. With faith, however, we achieve adult sonship and a new immediacy to the Father which is far better than dependence on even the best “pedagogue.” Although Paul here associates the law with the “elemental spirits,” he is not against the law. It is a taskmaster with an educational role. He thus continues to appeal to it when decisions must be made in congregational life, interpreting the OT in the light of Christ. 4 Consider also the concept of the Greek idea of home education, which had the intention of training children – and heirs – to be cultured and upright so that they could assume the responsibilities of the household after the death of a parent.
- Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1 volume (TDNT), pp. 772-773
- TDNT, pp. 76
- TDNT, pp. 1181
- TDNT, pp. 757
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.