Commentary on Galatians, 3:19-29

Galatians 3:19-29

“19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions (established through angels by the hand of a mediator), until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.”

If salvation is not by works of the law, then why was it instituted? What purpose does it serve? Paul answers that:

“because of transgressions”

The law reveals, makes us aware of, our sinfulness, our total inability to walk in total obedience to God…. as Paul wrote about elsewhere:
 “19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: 20 because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Ro 3:19,20)
“7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? By no means! However, I would not have known sin, except through the law. For I would not known coveting, except the law had said, You shall not covet.8 But sin, finding occasion, produced in me through the commandment all manner of coveting: for apart from the law sin is dead”  (Ro 7:7,8)  “established through angels by the hand of a mediator”  In some manner, the law was apparently written under the direction and supervision of angels (Acts 7:53; He 2:2)  “by the hand of a mediator”  Considering this is the law of Moses that Paul is talking about, it’s likely that he is referring to Moses.  “until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made”  The seed refers to Christ, which Paul already referred to in verse 16 (Gal 3:16)  20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of only one, but God is one.”

Quite obviously, where there is a mediator, there is more than one party involved. The purpose of a mediator is to bring two or more parties together in some form or fashion. Moses served as a mediator between the people and God….to bring the two together. However, Paul says that “God is one.” I believe the point Paul is making is that the law required a mediator between man and God, whereas under grace and faith, God deals with us directly, through Christ His Son, who Himself as God, is our “Mediator” (1 tim 2:5; He 8:6; He 9:15; He 12:24).

“21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Of course not! For if there had been given a law that could produce life, then righteousness would have been by way of the law.”

Paul is saying that there is no conflict between the law and the promises of God to Abraham (blessing, salvation through faith). God does not have two different plans of salvation that contradicts, or voids out, the other. The law was never for the purpose of “producing life.” If that were possible, then salvation (righteousness) would have been by way of the law. But such is not the case.

“22 But the Scriptures confined all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

“confined”  (Gr. sugkleio – 4788)

Shut up on all sides, enclosed, confined within an enclosure, imprisoned.

We’re all imprisoned by sin and its consequences. The Old Testament Scriptures that reveal our sinfulness, cannot, at the same time, provide a way of forgiveness and life. On the contrary, forgiveness needs to come from outside the law. That outside source is Jesus, through faith in Him. Justification has always been by way of faith. Conducting one’s life according to the law merely revealed the genuineness of a person’s faith in God.

“23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, confined until the faith that was to come be revealed.”

“custody”  (Gr. phroureo – 5432)

To guard, to protect by guarding, kept in ward.

“confined”  (Gr. sugkleio – 4788)

Shut up on all sides, enclosed, confined within an enclosure, imprisoned.

The system of the law condemns and imprisons, while the system of grace and faith sets us free. If Christ had never come, we would have remained prisoners to the consequences of sin, condemned for all eternity. However, the law always had Christ in view, so our imprisonment was never meant to be of a permanent nature. For Israel, whose lives were regulated by the law, they were kept in custody in the sense that there was protection in the law of God that leads to freedom. It kept a person from straying from the plan and purpose of God.

’24 Therefore, the law was our guardian until Christ, that we might be justifed by faith.”
25 So now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
26 for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

“guardian”  (Gr. paidagogos – 3807)

Child-leader, child-custodian, child-attendant.

The idea of a schoolmaster or instructor is absent. Guardianship relates to the supervision and welfare of minors until they reach adulthood, and thus, full sonship.

The law served as a guardian. It kept Israel from straying from the plan and purpose of God that leads to salvation. The law always pointed to Christ. While it provided supervision for the Jew, it had the eternal welfare of all of us in mind, both Jew and Gentile. Like a child in need, the law was a guardian for Israel until individuals could enjoy the benefits of full “sonship” through faith in Christ. 

The period of “guardianship” is over, for both Jew and Gentile. At the moment we place our faith in Christ, we begin our walk as true sons of God, with all the benefits that that relationship entails.

Throughout this lengthy discussion, Paul makes it clear that what sets us free from the law and sin and its penalty, is faith. It’s faith that provides for our salvation. It’s faith that sets us free to become sons of God. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s faith that causes regeneration. Calvinism teaches that regeneration is needed in order to have faith. But most certainly, Paul explains that the process is first faith, then regeneration, which is what becoming a “son of God” is:
 “12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12,13) The terms born again, born of God, children of God, sons of God, are all terms that describe regeneration. And it’s all the result of faith. All the passages that deal with this subject, most naturally puts faith ahead of regeneration. Calvinists have to force a very unnatural reading of Scripture to turn that around to make regeneration the cause of faith. Again, Paul’s whole discussion makes it really, really clear that it’s faith that leads the way in the whole process of salvation.

One of Calvinists favorite passages to support their position on regeneration, is John 3:1-8. I address this passage of Scripture in another article. To read, please click on the link below:

John 3:3,5 

“27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

Since water baptism doesn’t have power to regenerate, I believe Paul is referring to spiritual baptism. The context is regeneration, so there is no sensible reason to see this as a reference to water baptism. Water baptism is merely the outward profession of faith, and the outward picture of what occurs spiritually within.

“have put on Christ”

We have “put on Christ” in the sense that when we place our faith in Christ, we are completely clothed with Christ, and in the white garments of Christ (Matt 17:2; Mark 9:3; Rev 3:4,5,18; Rev 7:9,14). We are no longer in view. When God looks at us, He sees His Son. He no longer sees us in the filth of our sins, but in the white garments of salvation. 

“28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.”

In Christ there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Greek (Gentile). There isn’t even any distinction between male and female. In Christ, we are all “one in Christ Jesus.” True Israel is the company of all believers in Christ, which is the Church. The true seed of Abraham is Christ (Gal 3:16), and those who are in Christ. All believers in Christ are “sons of God,” and “heirs” of everything that is involved in “sonship” and as members of true Israel.

The “promise” of blessing and salvation is according to the faith of Abraham, that had Gentiles in view (Gal 3:8).