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Reflections on Galatians

Saint Paul

Galatians 3

(Galatians 3 KJV) "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? {2} This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? {3} Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Are we so foolish to think that by our own efforts we can perfect ourselves. The law canít do that, because all the law can do is describe the minimum acceptable behavior before God.

Bear in mind that these men did not merely think in terms of the written law, the Old Testament law, when they thought of achieving righteous standing before God. Since the written law provided the minimum standard, they assumed they needed more laws to define the area above the line. So if I do extra washings, and keep the traditions, I achieve a higher standard, or so men thought.

Somehow, when the Jews returned from Babylon, a strong thread of legalism entered Jewish tradition and permeated it from one extreme to the other. One of the extreme cults was at Qumran, where one had to pursue cleansing and perfection in order to qualify for baptism. Only the righteous could be baptized. There was no concept of baptism washing away your sins as there was in the baptism of Jesus. Note the difference between the baptism of John the Baptist and Christian baptism.

{4} Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. {5} He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? {6} Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. {7} Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. {8} And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. {9} So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. {10} For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Hold it. Isnít this a contradiction? Read it carefully. The first sentence seems to say that to be "of the works of the law" is to be under a curse. Some jump the gun here and conclude that if you attempt to keep the law, you are under a curse. But then the very next sentence is an Old Testament quote: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."

The second sentence plainly says that failure to keep the law puts you under a curse. Peter said that Paul was hard to understand, so I guess it was that way from the start. But what Paul is saying here is not so hard if you understand the law correctly. Visualize again our horizontal line that represents keeping the law perfectly. Everything below the line is sin. Everything above the line is righteousness. Everything on the line is merely your duty.

Paul is saying that if you are relying on the law to get you above the line, you are under a curse, because you havenít kept the law perfectly. Keeping the law is like swimming. If you swim, you can keep your head above the water, but you canít swim out of the water and into the air. That takes a miracle.

{11} But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. {12} And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

Now here is an important word: Justified. To be justified is to be made righteous, to be placed above the line. The law cannot do that. It cannot get you above the line anymore than the water can get a swimmer into the air. And notice the way verse eleven is worded. When Paul says, "no man," he is including Jew and Gentile, Old and New testament man. I simply is not possible, and never has been, for the law to justify a man.

{13} Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: {14} That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Extending my metaphor, Jesus had to come under the water to find us and bring us out. Now, Paul shifts his focus.

{15} Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. {16} Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. {17} And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Paul has a bad habit of dropping little ideas into his letters with no explanation. You can miss them if you are not careful. This deal with with Abraham was confirmed by God in Christ. It would not be wrong to call Abrahamís covenant a "Christian covenant."

There are two new ideas here: covenant, and the later law. Religionists make a lot out of the covenants, but the concept is simple. Probably the best English word to translate the idea is "deal." The deal is the arrangement. It may be a contract, a promise, or a handshake. Itís a deal.

Abraham had a deal with God. And once you have cut the deal, you canít change it. Now the deal with Abraham had to do with promises God made to Abraham, and having made the deal, God could not go back on it. It would be a mistake to assume that there were no laws involved in Abrahamís deal. Click here to read one description of the deal.

Not only were there laws in the deal, there was an entire structure of the law. Where is that structure of law described? Certainly not in Genesis. But what is strange about this is that Genesis makes it clear that it was a sin to break any one of the ten commandments during all the years from Adam to Moses.

Bear in mind that the book of Genesis was not written contemporaneously with the events of Genesis. It was written after the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. Tradition tells us that Moses wrote both Genesis and Exodus. He didnít write the law in Genesis because it is recited in Exodus. The law that Abraham kept was basically the same law God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

But what, then, is the law that comes 430 years later? Some have assumed it was the ceremonial or sacrificial law, but I think that is an oversimplification. What came 430 years later was a system of administration of the law. The administration involved a priesthood, a judicial system, and the creation of lots of judgments, some written, some oral, that governed the nation of Israel. Judgments become a part of law, but they donít have the permanence of the underlying law.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but in the list of things Abraham is said to have obeyed, the word "judgments" is conspicuous by its absence. The law that came 430 years later was the Mosaic administration. Often called "the old covenant" it was Godís deal with Israel which was based on the same laws as his deal with Abraham. But the later deal included an administration, necessary for a nation, but perhaps not necessary for an individual.

Abraham did not have to account to anyone but God for his obedience. But when you have a gaggle of people living together, they are accountable to God and to one another. Israel as a people needed a system of enforcement because some of the people living among them would break the law in ways that adversely affected their nation and their society. The Christian society to come would need no such system of enforcement.

{18} For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

The Inheritance is the deal God made with Abraham. This deal canít be earned. It is a promise God gave to Abraham and his kids. So then why the Law?

{19} Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

The law Paul is speaking of here is the "430 years later" law. And he says it was "added," presumably to an existing law. The misunderstood clause here is "because of transgressions." The most natural way to understand this passage is that because of transgressions to existing law, some laws had to be added. A good example of such a law is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

What is significant about this law is that it is a judgment. We all know that sex outside of marriage is sin. But when sin has entered the picture, what do we do then? This law prescribes an orderly way to handle it in a civil society.

When Jesus was challenged on this issue (Matthew 19:3), he made it clear that the law was given "because of the hardness of your hearts." I.e. because of sin. The added laws were, in the main, administrative judgments. And in the end, Jesus acknowledged that Moses judgment was correct.

{20} Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. {21} Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

Another way of saying what Paul has said before. The law was never intended to "give life," or to make a man righteous. It was given to describe the minimum standard of acceptable conduct. This was true in the Old Testament as well as the new.

{22} But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. {23} But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

What does Paul mean by the expression, "under the law?" There is a point of view that takes "under the law" to mean "under the obligation to keep the law." But if you just parse these two sentences, you will see that Paul equates "under sin" and "under the law." It would be nice if Paul were absolutely consistent in his use of words and phrases, but he is no different from us. We arenít consistent either. And we create a lot of confusion for ourselves when we expect Paul to be. Now look at the problem created by the idea that "under the law means "under the obligation to keep the law."

{24} Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. {25} But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

Now among the laws that made up the schoolmaster, we would find "Thou shalt not commit adultery." To not be under the law, then, would mean that we are not under any obligation to abstain from adulterous relationships. I donít know any serious minded religious people who believe that.

What then does Paul mean by this? First, keep in mind that Paul has been talking about two laws. One of these is the permanent, basic law of God. The other is the "430 years later" law. The later law was the law that was added because of sins. If we understand the later law as the schoolmaster, we are getting closer to understanding this. The later law included the Mosaic administration and the deal that God made with Israel. It was rather more than a revelation of right and wrong, but included specific lines of discipline for the people. When they sinned, they came under the law, and the law served as a pedagogue.

"Schoolmaster" is the Greek Pedagogue which literally mans a guide to boys. He was the man who watched and disciplined a boy in a wealthy family. He saw to it that the kid got to school. The purpose of the law is to get us to Christ, who is our teacher, our master. The law placed us under discipline. If one sinned, there were things he have to do. Certain offerings had to be made. Certain ceremonies observed. Certain washings we had to done.

Faith in Christ means we are no longer under sin, and therefore no longer under the discipline imposed by the law. It does not mean we have no obligation to obey the law of God, because it is the law that tells us the difference between right and wrong. It tells us how to love our fellow man and how to love and worship God.

 {26} For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. {27} For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. {28} There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. {29} And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."



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