Summary: Paul now shows the inferiority of the covenant of law-in regard to 1) Its Purpose, 2) Its Mediator, and 3)ITS ACCOMPLISHMENTS
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. For most people it just means that the Christmas buying season is in full swing. A common practice for advertisers to encourage people to buy before a particular time is to offer something with the phrase “for a limited time only”. I mentioned how it seems that I get a credit card offer from Capital One every week. Well their latest limited time only offer caused me to take notice. From “today in Eternity, the Daily Burn: Your news from all things hell” the headline reads “Hell still frozen. Continued cold nap caused by Capital one.”
Their “limited time offer” certainly fit into my mindset this week about time and the use of the law. In Galatians 3:19-22, the Apostle Paul talks about the law added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.
In Galatia, Judaizing teachers; who wished to combine the Law with the Gospel as a permanent institution. In order to rectify their views, (Paul shows), that, if they would make their works, whether ceremonial or moral, in any degree the ground of their hopes, they must stand altogether on the footing of the law, which prescribed perfect obedience as the way to life; and must renounce all interest in the covenant which was made with their father Abraham, and which promised life to men by believing in the Promised Seed. Upon this, they naturally ask, “(what did the law do?)” that is, ‘If we are not to be saved by the law, for what end did Moses give us the law? What end can it answer?’(Simeon, C. (1832-63). Horae Homileticae Vol. 17: Galatians-Ephesians (77). London.)
Paul has shown the Law could not give the Holy Spirit (vv. 1-5); could not bring justification (vv. 6-9); could not alter the permanence of faith (vv. 15-18); but does bring a curse (vv. 10-12).
For us therefore, how are we to regard the law of God? Does it have any bearing for us today? What can we say God expects? The answers to these questions help us to know upon which basis we are saved and how then we should live.
After showing the superiority of the covenant of promise, Paul now shows the inferiority of the covenant of law-first in regard to 1) Its Purpose, then in regard to 2) Its Mediator, and finally in regard to 3) Its Accomplishment.
1) ITS PURPOSE: GALATIANS 3:19A
Galatians 3:19a 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.) (ESV)
In light of Paul’s convincing argument up to this point, the obvious question would be, Why then the Law? Since salvation has always been by faith and never by works, and since the covenant of promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, what purpose did or does the Law have?
In recognition to the sequence of events we see that it was added. It was added to the promises previously given to Abraham. It was added is intended to show the position of the law in relation to the covenant: it is both supplementary and subordinate to it (Arichea, D. C., & Nida, E. A. (1993). A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Originally published under title: A translator’s handbook on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. c1976. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (74). New York: United Bible Societies.)
Please turn to Romans 3
Paul’s answer is direct and sobering: It was added because of transgressions (papabasis, stepping over the boundary). The concept of the law being added because of transgressions is an interesting one, rendered in various ways (some examples: JB “to specify crimes”; Knox “to make room for transgression”; NAB “in view of transgressions”; NEB “to make wrongdoing a legal offence”; Phps “to underline the existence and extent of sin”; Mft “for the purpose of producing transgressions”) (Arichea, D. C., & Nida, E. A. (1993). A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Originally published under title: A translator’s handbook on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. c1976. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (74). New York: United Bible Societies.)
There are various functions of the law that can be seen in the description of what it did and the various ways the phrase “because of” can be translated. If we take cause as primary (because people were sinning), then the clause may mean that the Law’s function was to check, correct, or restrain transgressions. This meaning may be expressed in some languages as “to keep people from sinning (further),” or “to stop people from doing what was bad.” If “purpose” is primary, it could mean that the Law’s immediate function is to define transgression, to show its real nature, or even to produce and multiply it, by specifying the reality of guilt. This interpretation of purpose (which is far more common) may be expressed as “in order to show people what sin really is,” “in order to tell people that they were really doing wrong by doing certain things,” or “in order to show that the bad things people were doing were really sin.”( (Arichea, D. C., & Nida, E. A. (1993). A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Originally published under title: A translator’s handbook on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. c1976. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (74). New York: United Bible Societies.)