Galatians Chapter 3: Paul Answers the Most Pressing Question
Key Verses: (Gal. 3:15–29)
15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.
21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Paul knew the question among the Galatians would be: “If justification were entirely by faith and not through adherence to the Mosaic Law, then why was the law given at all?” He makes a few salient points.
The first is that the law was added until the Seed to whom the promise to Abraham referred would come. In the text, “Seed” is singular and refers to Christ.
Paul then emphasizes that the purpose of the law was to reveal to men and women their sinfulness. Without the law, there would be no clarity around what constituted sin. He personalizes this in verses 22 and 23 when he says, “Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin…we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.”
Finally, the use of the word “guardian needs” to be understood in its historical context. Household slaves at the time were considered guardians. They watched after free-born children and exercised discipline over them. This expression by Paul would have been clearly understood as the personification of the Law as something that disciplined the sinners until Christ came, when they were no longer under guardianship.
This letter to the Galatians answers questions many of us have today about the Old versus the New Covenants. It started with the promise to Abraham and his demonstrated faith and obedience. The law was introduced subsequently to identify sinfulness. Christ ushered in the New Covenant of salvation and justification through the grace of God by faith in Christ, not through adherence to prior law.
A Moment to Reflect:
So many centuries ago, during the early emergence of Christianity, Paul was answering questions we have today. His epistles spoke not only to the young believers of the time, but also across the centuries to all of us.
What portions of the Old Testament remain relevant to you? In your Christian formation, what role did the Ten Commandments play? Do Paul’s teachings help you reconcile the Old versus the New Covenants?