Monday, May 16, 2011

Galatians Part 7: Paul defends the gospel (b)—2:15-6:16

IV. Paul defends the gospel—2:15-6:16 continued...

4. Curse of the Law is broken by Christ—3:10-14

3:10—For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM—Paul’s quote in this verse is from Dt 27:26. “[1] BRETHREN, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. [2] For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. [3] For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. [4] For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:1-4) Israel attempted to be justified by the law—establishing their own righteousness—but in their attempt actually acquired the curse of the broken law. It is impossible for human beings to follow the law without breaking it at least once in a lifetime.

We are told that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (Js 2:10 NIV) If we live to be 70 years old and break the law once a day—no matter how tiny the sin—we have broken the law 25,550 times in our lifetimes! Even if we only commit one sin a week, we would have broken the law 3,640 times in our lifetimes! Does it seem at all possible to be righteous by the standards of the law? One sin in a lifetime is enough to have broken the law! This means that God’s curse is on the person who has sinned once.

3:11—Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident—After quoting Dt 27:26 in verse 10, Paul states that the impossibility of justification by the law is evident. We have seen in the commentary of verse 10 that it certainly is evident that no one can be justified by the law for we are all lawbreakers. (Rom 3:10-18)

for, THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH—The Judaizers have been setting up an alternative righteousness to that proclaimed in the gospel of grace; a righteousness based on the law. When Paul quotes Hab 2:4 he argues against a righteousness by law. To Paul, and to the gospel, there is only one way of being reckoned as righteous—by faith. Hab 2:4 is also quoted in Rom 1:17 and Heb 10:38.

The sentence we are looking at here can be seen in two ways, which bring out two important points. First, with the translation here as it is, Paul says that those that are righteous (remember, Paul already only acknowledges one way of being declared righteous), will live by faith. The unrighteous, those living by the law and who are cursed as a result, do not live by faith. Second, this verse may rightly also be translated as “the righteous by faith shall live.” In the context where this verse is found as we are following Paul’s argument, this may be a better translation. “When Paul takes up Habakkuk’s words and sees in them the central truth of the gospel, he appears to give them the sense, ‘it is he who is righteous (justified) by faith that will live’”1 This sense of the verse will be more in accord with Paul’s argument against the Judaizers. They argued for a righteousness by law and Paul is arguing for a righteousness by faith. Hence, Paul is saying that if your righteousness is by faith, then you will live.

3:12—However, the Law is not of faith—To Paul, the law and faith were two antithetical principles. The Judaizers were teaching a synthesis gospel of faith and law. To them justification came by faith and the law. Paul argues against this. The salvation that Christ offers is free and adding the law to that free grace is to renounce it!

on the contrary, HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM—Since the law is opposed to faith, the opposite of faith would be to practice what you preach concerning the law. If you believe that the law brings justification, then you will have to live by that. Unfortunately, practicing the law cannot guarantee final salvation because the one who practices the law will not know until his dying day whether he has upheld the whole law or not. Living by faith gives us the guarantee that the demands of the law have been upheld by the perfect life and work of Christ, and that his perfection has been credited to our account.

3:13—Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE—“Redeem” comes from exagoradzo (εξαγοραζω), which means to buy back. This word conveys the idea of a ransom.

The curse of the law was instituted by God, since it is His law. The penalty for a broken law leads to death. The curse of the law is death. Without the righteousness that God demands the penalty of that curse will be enacted in death. The wrath of God remains on those who do not believe in the Son. (Jn 3:36; see also Rom 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; Col 3:6; 1 Thes 4:9)

Jesus alone bore the guilt of our sins, and as a result, God the Father poured out the fury of His wrath on Jesus. Jesus literally carried God’s curse on Him as a result of the curse in Dt 21:22-23.

Rom 3:25 says that Jesus was put forward as a propitiation by his blood (ESV). The word propitiation means “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing  changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”2 We see this so clearly in the following: “[18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  [19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18-19 ESV)

3:14—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith—When we think of the blessing of Abraham we usually think of the promises God made to Abraham. To read more about how Abraham’s promises relate to the church, read “The promises of Abraham: Who do they belong to today?” An excellent book to read on this very subject called “Abraham’s Four Seeds” by John Reisinger, may be read or downloaded from In-Depth Studies. The point is that the Gentiles in Christ now have received the blessing of Abraham.

What is the promise of the Spirit that Paul writes of here? Certainly, if we look at the context which we have studied already, it points us to Paul’s argument that he made in verses 1-5 which Paul then connected to the verse following with verse 6. What was Paul’s argument in verses 1-5? That salvation—receiving the Spirit (v2); having begun by the Spirit (v3); being provided with the Spirit (v5)—comes by faith. Verse 6 starts with the Greek conjunction kathos (καθως), which means even as. It connects and points back to verses 1-5 to show that what Abraham had in justification by faith we now experience in receiving the Spirit at salvation. It is the Spirit that baptizes us into the body of Christ. In other words Christ died (v13) that we might receive the blessing of Abraham, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit. This is a twofold statement of the purpose for which we are redeemed. “These two purposes are coordinate; i.e., they express the same reality from two perspectives. Both return to the point from which Paul’s argument started—namely, that the blessing of Abraham, seen today in the reception of the Holy Spirit, is received through faith and through faith only.”3

5. Abraham’s promise realised in his ‘seed’-Christ—3:15-18

3:15—Brothers, 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—Until now Paul has been very hard on the Galatians by calling them foolish for leaning towards the teaching of the Judaizers. Here he starts with “brothers” which signifies a change in tone by Paul. That Paul is calling them “brothers” is a clear indication that he did not believe that they had apostatized.

In any human covenant or contract, the covenant cannot be changed unless by consent of all parties concerned. Paul uses this argument to show that the covenant that God made with Abraham was still in force.

We cannot take Paul to mean that a covenant between two human parties could be the same as between God and man. When looking at covenant in the Bible we find that the concept varies according to the situation at hand. It all depends on the parties involved in the covenant.

The Old Testament word for “covenant” is b’rith (ברית) - a mutually binding agreement, which could be used in three ways:

  1. When all parties concerned with the covenant are willing to allow to each other equal standing, it can be called a dipleuric covenant. The covenant ends in a partnership accepted by both parties. We see such a covenant between individuals such as David and Jonathan in 1 Sam 18:3-4 or between nations. The marriage is also seen as a b’rith  in Mal 2:14. In a dipleuric covenant men may invoke God as a witness to their agreement (1 Sam 20:8) or they may make a covenant between them to remain in God’s service or standards (2 Chron 23:1; Jer 34:8, 10).
  2. When the participants are not equal the b’rith is a disposition enforced by the superior participant (Ezek 17:13-14). When covenant is used in this way it becomes a statute. “Scripture often employs b’rith in this sense to describe the legal relationships that exist between God the Lord and man the servant.”4 In this sense the covenant can be called a monopleuric covenant. It is a sovereignly imposed covenant and is not subject to review by man. We see this type of covenant as a statute at Mt. Sinai and also in Dan 4:35 where God does according to His will among the people of the earth.
  3. “When the parties concerned are God in His grace and man in his sin, on whose behalf God acts, the  b’rith becomes God’s self-imposed obligation for the deliverance of sinners. It becomes an instrument of inheritance for effectuating God’s elective love (Deut. 7:6-8; Ps. 89:3, 4).”5 In such a b’rith men had to qualify according to God’s standards of holiness. This holiness of God demanded a removal of sin from man which could only be accomplished by atonement—in the Old Testament a covering of sin’s guilt. Such an atonement demanded a substitutionary surrender of life in a blood sacrifice (Lev 17:11) which could only be made by God or His representative (Ex 15:13).

In the New Testament b’rith is represented by diatheke (διαθηκη), which essentially means “settling an inheritance, as common in the Greek and Roman world last will and testament.”6 The Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—employs diatheke throughout the Old Testament to translate b’rith. Instead of the usual Greek word—suntheke, the ordinary term for a compact or mutual agreement—for representing b’rith, the Greek translators seem to have avoided it deliberately in favour of diatheke. How then, should we look upon diatheke in the New Testament? Is it to be seen as a covenant or a testament? For this we need to look at the Biblical context.

Crucial to this discussion is Heb 9:15-22. “[15] For this reason He is the mediator of a new diatheke, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first diatheke, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. [16] For where a diatheke is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. [17] For a diatheke is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. [18] Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. [19] For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, [20] saying, THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE diatheke WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU. [21] And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. [22] And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”

Verse 16 makes a strong case for the meaning of testament or last will. Verse 17 is therefore very decisive when it explains that a diatheke is only in force when the testator is dead, for it means very little while the testator is alive. If we are consistent in the explanation of diatheke in this passage then we will admit that everywhere it is used here, it means testament. Therefore, looking at verse 15 we will understand that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are in fact testaments.

When we look at the three uses of b’rith in the Old Testament, we can safely conclude that the second and third uses can safely be seen as testaments. In both these cases God is the initiator of the testament and also the one who ratifies it. It could only be a true covenant if both parties could review the stipulations of the covenant to either change or deny them. It is rather a testament since God alone set out the stipulations and then ratified it by the death of the testator, Christ.

There are 5 objective features to the testament:

  1. Monergism. The testament was accomplished by one worker. Christ is the testator. He is the One Who set up the testament according to the will of the Father. Man, the heir, did not make the testament. We are saved by grace, not by any of our own works (Eph 2:8-9; Rom 3:24; 5:6-11; Tit 3:5). 
  2. Death of the Testator. Christ offered Himself up once for all (Heb 7:27). The death of Christ, being the Testator, satisfied the righteous demands of God (Rom 3:25-26). Christ came to stand in our place of righteous condemnation so that we stand in His perfect righteousness (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24). 
  3. The promise. The promise is salvation (Jn 3:16) which is being reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:18). 
  4. Eternal inheritance. Our inheritance, salvation, is an eternal inheritance (Heb 9:15; Jn 3:16). 
  5. Sign of confirmation. How is this promise of our inheritance confirmed? It is by His resurrection that Christ confirms the validity of the promise. Christ demonstrated His deity when He rose from the dead (Rom 1:4). If Christ did not rise from the dead the promise of an inheritance would have been invalid, since the nature of the promise demanded someone worthy enough to validate it. No-one less than divine could have made such a promise and then validated it. We also know that Paul wrote that without the resurrection of Christ our faith would have been in vain (1 Cor 15:13-14).

Since the Testator, Christ, has no natural children, He elects children for adoption (Rom 8:15, 23; Gal 4:5). “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (Eph 1:5) Since the testament is monergistic, it can only be the Testator who has the right to adopt His children. It is not the children who choose to be adopted and so choose their parents; but God, and God alone, who chooses who He adopts. In this spiritual new birth, the child does not give birth to itself as if it has the power to make that decision, but it is God who gives birth to the child.

3:16—Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, And to seeds, as referring to many, but rather to one, And to your seed, that is, Christ—Paul makes a very important point here. Contrary to popular belief, even in Paul’s day, the seed to whom the true promises were made cannot be seen as plural. That means, if we use seed to involve the Jews and their physical children or even Christian parents and their children then we are disagreeing with Paul in this statement. The promises of Abraham were made to him and to one specific seed, Christ. The seed to whom the promises were made, has nothing to do with physical descent, whether Jewish or Christian. When these promises were made, they were made to Abraham as the ancestor of Christ and NOT the ancestor of the Jews or any other physical nation. The point of the whole passage is that the real children of Abraham are those who are of faith. This verse is a continuation of that idea. The only difference is that here Paul asserts that the promises were made to Christ, and we know that we, the Christians, are the children of promise (Gal 4:28).

“The gospel promise of Christ Himself is the heart of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The Advent and work of Christ is the fulfillment of that gospel promise, and the personal advent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and His subsequent indwelling of every New Covenant believer are the absolute proofs that the Gospel promise has been fulfilled.  Understanding that the gospel of salvation by grace is what is being promised in all of Scripture, and further, that Christ Himself is the "Seed" Who fulfills that gospel promise, is the only Biblical way to see and consistently maintain the unity of God's purpose in Redemption.”7

3:17—What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise—The four hundred and thirty years mentioned here by Paul is from the time the promise was made to Abraham to the time of the release of the Israelites from Egypt. “The Samaritan Pentateuch reads, "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, and of their fathers in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt, was 430 years."  The Alexandrine copy of the LXX. has the same reading; and the same statement is made by the apostle Paul, in Ga 3:17, who reckons from the promise made to Abraham to the giving of the law.  That these three witnesses have the truth, the chronology itself proves; for it is evident that the descendants of Israel did not dwell 430 years in Egypt; while it is equally evident, that the period from Abraham’s entry into Canaan to the Exodus, is exactly that number.  Thus, from Abraham’s entrance into the promised land to the birth of Isaac, was 25 years; Isaac was 60 at the birth of Jacob; Jacob was 130 at his going into Egypt; where he and his children continued 215 years more; making it the whole 430 years.”8

The NASB, and most modern translations, render Ex 12:40: “Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.” The Septuagint (LXX)—Greek translation of the Old Testament about 200BC—renders it as “And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Chanaan, was four hundred and thirty years.” Could it be that Paul’s understanding of the 430 years is based on the LXX rather than on the Hebrew text? “The difference is of no consequence for Paul’s argument, however, because his point depends only on the historical sequence. If God had been blessing Abraham and his posterity through the way of promise for 430 years and if he was to do the same for all humanity through Christ, how could the giving of the law annul this promise?”9

3:18—For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise—The law cannot be added to the promise without destroying it. Paul’s whole argument in Galatians is that if you add the law to the gospel, foreseen in the promise, then you have a false gospel. A gospel no longer true to the promise. This is why he has so much to say concerning the promise made to Abraham. It is a promise that came long before the law. That same promise was therefore in effect even when the law had come.

6. Law could not fulfil the promise meant for Christ—3:19-22

3:19—Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made—So, if the promise had already been made by a covenant to Abraham, then why did God give the Law? Without the law there was no objective knowledge of sin. When the law was given, sin was brought to light and Israel could then know when they transgressed the laws of God.

The New Testament testifies three times that the law, or Old Covenant, was ordained by angels. “The role of angels in the giving of the law is suggested in Dt 33:2 and Ps 68:17 and is referred to explicitly in Ac 7:53 and Heb 2:2."10

The law was added only until the one to whom the promise had been made had come. This means that the law was in effect only until Christ had come to fulfill that promise.

3:20—Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one—Paul’s point is that the law was given to Israel via a mediator from God. However, the promise to Abraham was directly given by God. In the ordination of the law there was a mediator, Moses; but, in respect to the promise of grace, God acted alone without the need of a mediator in the class of Moses.

3:21—Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law—The law is not in conflict to the promise. The law has a ministry of condemnation (2 Cor 3:9), whereas the promise has a ministry of grace to salvation. If the law, which could only judge between right and wrong, could impart life, then righteousness could come by that same law. Yet, we have seen that the law does not change a man’s life, it merely constrains him not to break the law.

3:22—But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe—Everyone who does not abide by all the laws in the legislation given by Moses is under sin (Dt 27:26; Ps 143:2). Therefore, no-one is exempt from the bondage of sin. Paul so eloquently put it when he quoted Ps 14:1-3 and Ps 53:1-3 in Rom 3:10-12: “[10] as it is written, THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; [11] THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; [12] ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

The law has condemned all men under sin. There is no outcome from the law that brings man to salvation. However, the promise of salvation belongs to those believe in Jesus Christ. The law and the ministry of Christ stand antithetical to each other.

End Notes

[1] Bruce, F. F., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted, November 1983, p80.
Grudem, Wayne, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p575.
Barker, Kenneth L. & Kohlenberger III, John R., Consulting Editors, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament, Premier Reference Series, An Abridgment of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p723.
[4] Payne, J. Barton, The Theology of the Older Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, Thirteenth printing, 1980, p81.
[5] Payne, p81.
Friberg, Timothy & Friberg, Barbara & Miller, Neva F., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000, p109.
[7] Reisinger, John, Abraham’s Four Seeds, Crowne Publications, Southbridge, Mass., p21.
[8] Treasury  of Scripture Knowledge, Online Bible Millennium Edition 1.13,
[9] Barker, p724.
[10] Barker, p725.

For more on this series, simply visit the Galatians label.
The next part in the Galatians series will be available next Monday!

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