October 30, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

III. Doctrinal: Defense of Justification by Faith (3:1–4:31)

            B: Purpose of the Law (3.19-4.7)

Chapter III.B.1: Its Temporary Nature (3:19-25)


Galatians 3.19-25 (KJV)

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.

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.

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.

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.





It seems that every passage we come to is more wonderful than the one before, and this one is no exception. I never fail to be blessed and enlightened by each and every one. I hope I can do justice to this section and that with the aid of the Holy Spirit, I will rightly divide His Word. I fear that I might get very wordy with my explanations, since I am very excited about this section.





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.

20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.


The question asked in this verse is a natural one after the statements made by the Apostle Paul in the preceding verses. Paul anticipates in writing to the churches in Galatia that the question concerning the purpose of the Law might be brought up, so he answers the question before it could be asked. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul had proven in the first three chapters of Galatians that the Law of Moses was not given to make man better, or to save him, much less to justify him. The Law was given to condemn the sinner in order that he might realize his need for the grace of God. Paul had shown that the death of Christ is the final, conclusive argument that salvation cannot be attained by keeping the Law, because he says, “If righteousness come by the Law then Christ is dead in vain.” To teach salvation by the Law would be the same as denying both the necessity and effectiveness of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Law can neither sanctify a man nor make him better. All it could do was to show him how bad he was, and the hopelessness of his condition without the grace of God.

And so Paul having demonstrated that the Law cannot JUSTIFY or SANCTIFY or SATISFY the sinner or the saint, anticipates the question he knew men would ask, Wherefore then serveth the law?” (i.e., Then what is the Law for; what good is it, if it cannot save a man, or make him better, or keep him safe?). Paul answers his own question with this: It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come.” Now, there are three definite things stated in his brief answer:

1.       The Law did have a beginning. Paul says, It was added”added to something else that must have already existed before the Law came into being.

2.      The Law had a definite purpose, which Paul says, “Because of transgression” or as we shall see, to reveal the true nature of sin, which results from transgression.

3.      The Law also came to an end. It had an end, just as it had a beginning—“It was added . . . till the seed should come.”

You won’t find any place in Scripture where the purpose of the Law is more clearly stated than it is in this verse, and don’t tell me that this only applies to the ceremonial  or the dietary or sanitary laws or the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Paul is speaking of THE LAW—the whole Law, and the Law of the Ten Commandments in particular. He is speaking of the Law which cursed the sinner, that is, God’s holy Law. Note: Some attempt to make a clever distinction between the so-called laws of Moses and the Law of God; however, there is not a single verse in the Bible that supports the idea. It is only an invention of Man himself, who would rather be condemned by the Law than to be saved by the grace of God.

Now let’s take a closer look at those three things which Paul states concerning the Law in this verse:

1.       The beginning of the Law.

2.      The purpose of the Law

3.      The end of the Law.



The Beginning of the Law.


When was the Law added, and to what was it added? John the Baptist, the forerunner and herald of Christ said this about the coming of the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1.17). Nothing can be clearer than this verse; evidentially, the apostle is referring to this verse in Galatians 3.19. The Law—the whole body of Law was given to Israel—was delivered by Moses exactly as he received it from Almighty God.

Who is the mediator in this verse? It is, of course, Moses, the law-giver. We can turn to the record in Exodus to get all the details, given under inspiration. But until God gave Moses those laws written on two tablets of stone, Israel knew nothing about these laws. For over two thousand years, from Adam to Moses, God gave no Ten Commandments to man. This is evident from Romans 5.13: “(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Notice the phrase “until the law sin was in the world.” From this we know there was a time when Law came, and therefore, before it came it did not exist in the form of written commandments. Next, please notice that something else did exist, to which Paul says the Law was added. Now when we add something, we of course imply and pre-suppose that there was something to which to add. What was it then, that the Law was added to? What did men live under until God gave the Law to Moses? We all know the answer—it was the grace of God. Adam was under grace, Noah was under grace, and Abraham was under grace. Before the Law, God dealt with man by grace, and he did the same under the Law, and since the Law. He still deals in grace. In Galatians 3.8 we are told, “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.” The “good news” was preached to Abraham. Now the gospel is “good news” for the sinner; that by grace through faith he may be saved, apart from the works of the Law. But the Law is not good news for the sinner. On the contrary, the Law is very bad news for the transgressor and the sinner, because the Law tells this sinner and shows him how wicked he is; and he is accused and condemned by this Law, and therefore must be executed by this Law, for his sins. Now this bad news of the Law was added to the good news of grace. Notice that Paul says definitely, “it was added.” It did not take the place of grace, it was not mixed with grace, and it did not supplant the grace of God. It was added. Now the word “added” is “prostithemi” in the original Greek, and means “to place alongside of.” We mat say therefore that the Law came in and was placed alongside of grace. It is important to notice this distinction. Grace was not removed when the Law came in; it remained there for all who would see how unworthy they were in the eyes of Law, and fleeing from the curse of the Law would throw themselves on the mercy and the grace of God alone. The Israelite under the Law was saved by grace just as Abraham before the Law, and just as we must be saved after the Law.

Any man who is honest will look at himself in the light of the law and see himself guilty. The law is not given (as many liberals are saying today) as a standard by which man becomes holy. Oh my friend, you would never become holy this way, because, first of all, you can’t keep the Law in your own strength. Many folks think that a man becomes a sinner when he commits a sinful act, that he is alright until he slips and commits sin. This is not true. It is because he is already a sinner that a man commits a sinful act. A man steals because he is a thief, and he lies because he is a liar. Why do we do it? We have a fallen nature.

Now the law was temporary. It was added “till the seed should come.” Now it is obvious that a temporary law cannot be greater than a permanent covenant. When you read God’s covenant with Abraham you find no “ifs” in His words. Nothing was conditional; all was of grace. But the blessings of the law were dependent on certain conditions. Furthermore the law had a terminus point: “until the seed (Christ) should come.” With the death and resurrection of Christ, the law was done away with and now its righteous demands are fulfilled in us through the Spirit: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8.1-4).

Israel, says Paul, “received the law by the disposition of angels.” This means that the nation received the law third hand: from God to angels to Moses. But when God made His covenant with Abraham, He did it personally, without a mediator. God was revealing to Abraham all that He was going to do for him and his descendants. A mediator stands between two parties and helps them agree; but there was no need for a mediator in Abraham’s case since God was entering into a covenant with him, not Abraham with God. “God is one,” therefore there was no need for a go-between.

The Judaizers were impressed by the incidentals of the law—glory, thunder, lightning, angels, and other externals. But Paul looked beyond the externals to the essentials. The law was temporary, and required a mediator. The covenant of promise was permanent, and no mediator was required. There could be only one conclusion: the covenant was greater than the law.



The Purpose of the Law


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.

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.


The law, therefore, was added to the gospel of grace to show and to reveal the awfulness and true character of sin, and the great need for the grace of God. No one has ever been saved by keeping the law, nor can they be. This is made clear by another question Paul raises in anticipation of the Galatians response: “Is the law then against the promises of God?”

“But the scripture hath concluded all under sin.” The Scripture began to be written after the promise was given, at the time when the Law was given. The written Word was needed in order to permanently convict men of sin—disobedience to God’s command. Therefore, he says “the Scripture,” not the “Law” “concluded all under sin.”

“Before faith came” means before the beginning of faith in Jesus Christ. Justifying faith was operative in the Old Testament, but faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ did not come until he was revealed. Before that Israel was under the protective custody of the Law, God thus shielding his people from the heathen rites surrounding them.

If the law could have “given life,” (spiritual life) Paul says, then it would not have been necessary for Christ to die. If a man can save himself, then why does he need a Savior to die in his place? If a man can keep himself saved, then why does he need a High Priest to intercede daily for him from His place at the right hand of God? The law and the gospel, says Paul, are not against each other, but they do have entirely different purposes. The law slays and kills the sinner, so that he turns from the law and his own works to Jesus Christ who alone can give him life.

The Law’s essential weakness was that it confronted man with a debt he could not pay, it threatened him with a penalty he could not bear, and assigned him a task he could not perform. The Law demanded perfection and offered little or no help in responding to such a demand. The law knows nothing of extenuating circumstances. It knows nothing about mercy. It has no elasticity. It is inflexible, and immutable. God’s Word says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die . . .” (Eze. 18.20). You may not have committed as great a sin as Stalin did, but you and I have the same kind of nature that he had. In fact, it was Goethe, the great German writer that said: “I have never seen a crime committed but what I too might have committed that crime.  He recognized that he had that kind of nature.

Now, the question this brings to mind is this: How was a man justified to God before the law was given by Moses? Since the law was given by Moses, then there was a time when the Law of Moses did not exist. If sin is a transgression of the law, then there could have been no sin in the world before the law was given. But there was sin because the Bible tells of Adam’s sin, Cain’s sin, and the sin of many others; and there was death because of sin. Before the law there could be no transgression of the law, but sin is more than a transgression of the law. Paul also spoke of this in his letter to the Romans: “because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4.15). Notice these inspired words through the apostle, “And where there is no law there is no transgression.” He clearly says that before the law came there could be NO transgression of the law. This is pure common sense. But from this you might immediately ask, “Was there sin then before the law went into effect?” I assure you, my friend, there was sin, and sin was just as wicked, and just as terrible, and just as horrible before the law as it is since the law was given. There was sin before the law, but NO transgression. But man did not realize the gravity and the awfulness of his sin, and for that very purpose God gave the law in order that He might reveal to man the awfulness of the sin he was committing, and which he might not have been conscious of committing. And so God gave that law, and now that sin which had always been morally wrong, has now become legally wrong; and in addition, the nature of transgression is given to sin. Transgression, after all, is only one aspect of sin. The word “transgression” comes from two other words, “trans” and “gresso,” and means “to go beyond.” The law then was given to prove to man that sis is sin in all its awfulness. In Romans 3.30 Paul says this: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

Now the law did not produce sin, neither did it make the sin worse, neither was the law itself sin; it entered because of transgressions, to make “sin exceedingly awful,” which means to show the exceeding sinfulness of the sin they had been committing. This is what Paul says in Romans 5.20: “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.

The law then revealed the true nature of sin, so that we might flee to Almighty God for His grace. In addition to sin always having been morally wrong, the law now made it morally wrong. John tells us: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3.4). No verse in the Bible has been more abused and misunderstood than this one. It is constantly quoted by legalist as though sin was always a transgression, and the only sin is transgression, but there is one word which repudiates this interpretation. It is the word ALSO. “Whoever commits sin ALSO commits lawlessness.”

But sin is more than transgression. That is the legal definition. Transgression is the legal aspect of sin. But we have seen that before the law, there already was sin, but it was not reckoned as a transgression of the law, which had not yet been given. A thing may be morally wrong, and yet be legally right.

The problem with the law is this: The Law Could Not Save. It was not designed by God to save men or to make them better. Prohibition could forbid men drinking alcoholic beverages, but it could not stop them from thirsting, and it led to an age of bootlegging and wide-spread violations. What then, I’ll ask again, was the purpose of the law? The answer is, to reveal to man his utter corruption, his terrible sinfulness, and when Christ would come to save by grace, man would turn forever from the works of the law, and plead only for the grace of God. The law was given to make sin appear exceedingly sinful. The law increases your condemnation.  The law is a mirror to help us see our “dirty faces” (James 1.22-25)—but you do not wash your face with the mirror!  It is grace that provides the cleansing through Jesus Christ—and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 7b). Sinner, will you turn to Christ, abandon all hope of keeping the law for your salvation, and come to Him who said: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11.28).

Israel was God’s great experiment. Israel thought that they could keep the law. There was no way they could be convinced of the greatness of their sin. So God gave them a law; a perfect law, a holy law, a just law. Then He planted them in a sheltered land and drove out their enemies for them. He sent them godly priests and prophets, and kings. He gave them a ritual and the oracles, and a perfect law and said, “Now see what you do.” Under the most promising circumstances and blessings which no other nations ever enjoyed, He left them for fifteen hundred years under the law, but—NO SALE. God has now proved that no one can be saved by the law, since the experiment of Israel under the most blessed and beneficial conditions failed utterly and completely. Does God have to test it on the rest of the world? Certainly not! He has proven that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” The law cannot provide salvation from sin, but it does bring the knowledge of sin. Now I am sure you will better understand the words of Paul: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3.20).

And then, when Israel showed itself to be helpless, and by their failure had established the perfection and justice of God’s law, Jesus came to show us the way of redemption. He paid the penalty of the broken law and suffered its condemnation and death and now offers to impute to everyone who believes on Him, His own perfect righteousness by faith.

The law, therefore, was demonstrational. It demonstrated by the experiment of Israel “that no flesh could be justified by the deeds of the law in the sight of God.” Paul says in Romans 7 that the law was added to make sin “exceedingly sinful” by showing its true nature of rebellion against God. Note, it was “worship of the law” that led Israel into a self-righteous religion of works, the result of which was the rejection of Christ (Rom. 9.30-10.13).

Then this was the ministry of the law, but this ministry ended at Calvary. Today the awfulness of sin can be seen best at Calvary instead of at Sinai. At Calvary we see the awfulness of sin, but also God’s remedy for sin. The law could show us our danger, but it could not show us the way out. One glimpse of Calvary will do more to convict the sinner of his sin than all the thunderings of the law.



The End of 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.


The law was given for a period of time to provide rigid training to prepare us for the grace of God. And so Paul says “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3.24).

The word “schoolmaster” may be translated as “pedagogue” (educator, teacher, schoolteacher, instructor, tutor, lecturer). Among the Greeks and Romans certain persons, often specially trained servants, were given custody over the children in a home, and were responsible for their training and preparation for taking their places of responsibility as mature sons in the home. This training was often rigid and severe, so that when the child reached maturity as an adult he would be ready to take his place, and honorably meet the claims and responsibilities of sonship. When the child became an adult, he was released from his “taskmaster,” his training period ended, he takes his place as a son, and now serves the father—not by restraints or threats of punishment and discipline, but voluntarily and willingly. The period of the law reaching from Moses to Christ, was a time of education and training to prove that we could not earn our salvation, but must receive it by grace. And so Paul says that the “law was up to” or “until” Christ, that we might be justified by faith. “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3.25). No language could be plainer than this. The law was our schoolmaster “up to” Christ, but when He came, we were no longer under the schoolmaster. We now have another teacher, even the Spirit of Truth. Jesus said of Him: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16.12, 13). The Holy Spirit came to reveal truth which the apostles were not ready to receive before Pentecost. This was reserved for the special revelation given to the apostles, Paul in particular. Before Christ came, revelation was in type and shadow. The Old Testament saints could not see what we see. The Old Testament saints since Moses were under the bondage of the law—the New Testament saint is in the liberty of the grace of God. In the Old Testament, the believer though an heir was an infant, while today we have received the standing as adult sons. This is something Paul asserts in Galatians 4: “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world” (Gal. 4.1-3).

The Old Testament saint was a babe, immature, not realizing the glory and fullness of his future inheritance. He was like a little child who, although heir to millions by virtue of relation to his father, is totally ignorant of the great wealth he is heir to, and would be made happier with a nickel than the promise of millions. A child cannot comprehend the meaning of a “million.” It means nothing to him, but a nickel or a dime—he is perfectly satisfied with that. So the Old Testament saint lived in the shadows, saw things indistinctly and dimly. But today under grace the shadows are gone and we have the full revelation of our sonship.

The law has performed its purpose; the Savior has come and the “schoolmaster” is no longer needed. It is tragic that the nation of Israel did not recognize its Messiah when He appeared. God eventually had to destroy the temple and scatter the nation, so that today it is impossible for a devoted Jew to practice the faith of his fathers. He has no alter, no priesthood, no sacrifice, no temple, and no king—“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim” (Hosea 3.4). All of these have been fulfilled in Christ, so that any man—Jew or Gentile—who trusts Christ becomes a child of God.

The law cannot change the promise, and the Law is not greater than the promise. But the Law is not contrary to the promise; they work together to bring sinners to the Savior.

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