Galatians 3:19

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Friday, 1 April 2016

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Galatians 3:19

Throughout his writings, Paul states several reasons why the law was given by God. One of them is included in this verse now. Here he first asks, “What purpose does the law serve?” The reason for explaining this now is because he has just shown that the law has no bearing on the promise. It cannot change or annul what has already been confirmed. Therefore, unless there is a reason for the giving of the law, it seems like a long and pointless part of the redemptive story. However, it is a logical part of it, fulfilling great purposes until it had served those purposes. After that, it was set aside.

To explain one exact reason for the giving of it, he begins with, “It was added because of transgressions.” This statement can mean one of two things: 1) It was added in order to keep people from committing transgressions, or 2) it was given to cause transgression to increase in number (as is stated in Romans 5:20). As he says there, “…the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”

Paul was probably thinking of both possibilities concerning the law. It was to keep people in check, but it was also intended to multiply transgressions. Thus it would show how utterly sinful sin really is (see Romans 7:13). The promise would stand, but man was being shown the extremely gracious nature of the promise through the giving of the law. This aspect of redemptive history, however, had a set point of termination. It was only in effect until “the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.”

As was noted in the commentary on 3:16, the seed there was speaking of the body of believers in Christ. Now it is speaking of the One who would bring in the fulfillment of those promises for that body, Christ. Christ is the fulfillment of all of the messianic promises. Therefore, when He came, fulfilled the law, and died in fulfillment of that law, the promises would then be made available to all who would call on Him. Thus, during in interim time, from promise until the coming of Christ, the law was introduced for instruction and learning. Paul will continue to clarify this as he progresses through the chapter and through the rest of the epistle.

To complete his thought, he says that the law “was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” There is abundant speculation concerning this statement. Nothing in the Old Testament confirms that angelic beings gave the law. In fact, it is clear that the law was given by the Lord directly to Moses. The Greek translation of the OT in Deuteronomy 33:2 seems to refer to this though. Also, some Jewish traditions, such as that of Flavius Josephus (see Antiquities of the Jews. xv. 5. 3), claim the presence of angels during the giving of the law. Even a few NT passages in Acts and Hebrews seem to say this as well.

However, there is a reasonable explanation for this without adding to what Scripture says. In three New Testament passages which refer to this, it speaks of the law being given through “angels,” plural. There are two things to consider on this.

First, in Acts 7:38, Stephen says that the Angel spoke to them on Mount Sinai and the word is singular. Thus it refers to the Lord alone (the second member of the Godhead). Secondly, the word for “angel,” which is aggelos, does not necessarily mean a heavenly being. It simply means “messenger” or a “delegate.” In Acts 7:53, here in Galatians, and later in Hebrews where this is noted, the word is plural and is therefore speaking of both Moses and Aaron who are considered messengers of God for the giving of the law to Israel, even if Aaron wasn’t with Moses at all times. And finally, Moses is the mediator of the same law as is noted in Exodus 24:3-8. Hence, the term “mediator” is in the singular.

Life application: The law had a purpose and it is not to save us from sin. Instead, it was to show us the great grace of God in Christ by highlighting our sin. Let us thank God that the curse of the law is removed through the shed blood of Christ!

How marvelous it is to know that Christ has come! Thank You, O God, for the marvel of Jesus and the life that He lived for us. We have strayed away from You like little lost sheep, but You have gathered us together again through this great Shepherd who cares for even the most wayward of us. Help us to listen carefully to the words He speaks and to follow closely to Him all our days. In this, we know that You will certainly be pleased. Amen.

 

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