CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXXIX)

I like the way one translation renders verse twenty: “When the promise was given to Abraham, God gave it without anyone standing between them.”[1] However, when God gave the Law, a mediator was needed because Abraham accepted his by faith while the Israelites accepted it as an obligation. In another place, I found this enlightening suggestion that the real force of the clause being examined here may be dealing with two revelations. So this rendition is offered: “The God of Sinai and of the Law is the same one as the God of Abraham’s promise – He is one and the same.”[2] From this, then we might conclude that the Final Covenant that Jesus made on the night of the Last Supper, needed no Mediator because the One who made it was the Son of God. When we add the influence and work of the Holy Spirit, there is no need for a middle person to get them to agree. They already agree because they are one God.[3] The reader must decide on their own what interpretation they find best suits their measure of faith.

Johann Bengel puts it concisely: There was not one God before and a different God after the giving of the Law, it was one and the same God. Before the Law, His transactions were done without a mediator; therefore, the mediator at Mount Sinai does not belong to God, but to the Law, whereas the promise belongs to God.[4] Thus Paul infers from the very manner of giving the Law, that the Law was given on account of sin; and thus the new objection in verse twenty-one is in harmony with where Paul asks: is the Law against the Promise of God? No! Never! Were it possible to be saved from the punishment of sin by obeying the Law, then being right with God would come through obeying the Law![5]

Philip Schaff (1819-1893), the well-known writer of the History of the Christian Church, mentions that Martin Luther’s time pursuing monastic and ascetic life was, in fact, in a preparatory school for his evangelical faith. It served the office of the Mosaic law, which, by bringing the knowledge of sin and guilt, leads as a tutor to Christ as Paul says here in verses twenty and twenty-four. The Law convicted, condemned, and crucified him; the Gospel comforted, confirmed, and made him come alive. The Law enslaved him; the Gospel emancipated him. Before he cowed like a slave; now, he celebrated like a son in his father’s house. Through the discipline of the Law, he died to the Law that he might live for God.[6] [7]

Frederic Rendall’s (1840-1906) treatment of what Paul says here in verses nineteen and twenty gives us the reasons for so much misunderstanding of Paul’s intention when teaching about the role of a mediator. A mediator is mostly needed to arbitrate the differences between two parties. It is not a one-on-one intercession. But in this case, the Law was given to a mediator, Moses, to help reconcile the many Israelites with their One True God. So, we ask, was a mediator even needed? In this case, Yes! Because Moses’ mediated reconciliation through the Law. But instead of the Law soothing the differences through love, grace, and mercy, it attempted to do so by using threats of judgment and punishment. Just as the death sentence is meant to deter people from committing serious crimes, it has proven ineffective in many cases because it’s a threat, a dare, a challenge for those who think they can get around it. And the Law produced just such an effect. That’s why it was so needful for a new Mediator to come and woo the sinner to the cross to find grace, mercy, and forgiveness.[8]

3:21:  So, I ask you, does that mean that religious rituals and regulations can replace God’s promise?  Absolutely not! If these religious rituals and regulations could give us new life, we could have gotten right with God’s simply by obeying them. 

We can clearly see that Paul is not arguing against the Law. After all, it was from God for His people. What he’s saying is that the Jews invested in powers the Law did not own nor which God intended for them to possess. Jesus was met with this same kind of skepticism about His intentions related to the Law. But Jesus told them, don’t think I’ve come to get rid of the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. What I came for is to make them complete. Let me tell you, as long as heaven and earth exist, not one small punctuation mark or syllable of a word will be removed from the Law of Moses until all is completed.[9] That’s why Paul could tell the Romans that the Gospel he preached did not do away with the Law when we put our trust in the Anointed One. That was not his intention at all. It simply meant that the Law was very important.[10]

But there was another thing. While the Law was no longer the center of one’s faith as they searched for ways to be right with God, it did remain part of one’s faith after they were made right with God by grace as a way of living right.[11] The Law was intended to show what sin was. And those who lived under the authority of the Law as far as their faith is concerned, cannot, therefore, say that they do not know what sin is. And even those who weren’t given a Torah will all stand before God. However, no person will be made right with God by doing what the Law says. The Law shows us how sinful we are and what we need is a Savior.

Now, since they cannot find a Savior in the Law, where do they look? That’s why God sent His Son to tell all mankind where a Savior can be found. That Savior came directly from God. It was not the Law that compelled God to send a Savior, but His love, mercy, and grace. So, salvation from sin is not something God demands because of the Law. It’s something He freely offers in spite of the Law. This is why Paul told the Romans, God devised another way to make people right with Himself. It is not by the Law. People become right with God by putting their trust in Jesus the Anointed One. God will accept anyone as long as they come to Jesus first.

This is important to know because God treats all people the same way. All of them sinned and missed the mark of becoming what God intended them to be. But any of them can be made right with God by the free gift of His loving grace. It is Jesus the Anointed One who bought them with His blood and made them free from their sins. God gave Jesus the Anointed One to the world. People’s sins can be forgiven through the blood of the Anointed One when they put their trust in Him. God gave His Son Jesus the Anointed One to show how right He is. Before this, God did not look at the sins that were done. But now God proves that He is right in saving people from sin. He shows that He is the One without sin. God makes anyone right with Himself, who puts their trust in Jesus.[12]

Paul was not the kind of person who talked the talk but did not walk the walk. He told the Philippians that he went through the religious rite of circumcision to become a Jew when he was eight days old. He was born in a Jewish family of the tribe of Benjamin. He was the Jewish son of Jewish parents. He was a proud member of the Pharisees. He followed his religious teachings with all his heart. No one could say anything against the way he obeyed the Law.

But he gave up all those things that were so important to him to pledge his never-dying allegiance to the Anointed One. All those so-called great achievements in following the Law he now considered worthless. He was far better off by knowing the Anointed One as his Lord and Savior. He threw away everything to follow Him. And he still considers all those things as useless so that he can have the Anointed One. Paul said, “I want to be as one with Him. I could not be right with God by what the Law said I must do. I was made right with God by faith in the Anointed One.”[13]

With all of Paul’s Jewish training, there is no doubt he heard what some Rabbis taught that the Torah is great for it gives life to its observers in this world, and in the World-to-Come. As is stated in Proverbs: Listen to my words. Turn your ear to my sayings. Do not let them leave your eyes. Keep them in the center of your heart. For they are life to those, who find them and healing to their whole body.[14] And again in Proverbs, we find these words about the Torah’s Wisdom: “Don’t be conceited about your own wisdom, but fear Adonai and turn from evil. This will bring health to your body and give strength to your bones.[15] And we read a little further down: “She [Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who grasp her; whoever holds fast to her will be made happy.[16] [17]

Based on this, perhaps the Galatians thought Paul was too dismissive of Mosaic Law and its proper place in the believer’s life. So, he wants to clarify the relationship between what the believer is and what the believer does.  They want to know if being a Christian put someone above Mosaic Law. Is it proper for believers to think they don’t need any guidance? We might even ask if Mosaic Law was only for First Covenant saints, and Final Covenant saints are allowed to be free to live as they wish, as long as they worship God. No! No! No!

In fact, when it comes to accepting God as our heavenly Father and Jesus, the Anointed One as our Lord and Savior Mosaic Law plays no role nor exerts any influence. That’s not what God promised and ordained. Nonetheless, while salvation is a gift, becoming an effective and faithful servant is earned. Remember the parable Jesus told of the servants, one who received ten talents of silver, another who was given five talents of silver, and the one who was entrusted with one talent of silver. The first two earned the right to be called good and faithful servants because of their work on their master’s behalf while the last was admonished and dismissed because he did nothing to increase the talent given to him. Jesus was so right when He said, I am the way, the truth, and the life – when it comes to spiritual life.  He was also right when He said, I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit – when it comes to spiritual living.

[1] New Life Version

[2] The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Vol. III, Galatians, Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll, Published by George H. Doran Company, New York, 1897, p. 172

[3] Matthew Poole: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] Compare the unity of God, in reference to the same subject, in Romans 3:30; also 1 Timothy 2:5: and the oneness of God before and after the law both of which agree beautifully with the oneness of the seed before and after the law.

[5] Johann Bengel: On Galatians, op. cit, loc. cit., p. 592

[6] See verse 19

[7] Philip Schaff, History of Christian Church, Vol. 8, Bk. 1, Ch. 2, The Victory of Justifying Faith, p. 104

[8] Frederic Rendall: Expositor’s Greek Testament, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 171-172

[9] Matthew 5:17-18

[10] Romans 3:31

[11] See Ibid. 7:7-11

[12] Romans 3:21-26. Cf. 9:31; 10:3-6

[13] Philippians 3:7-9

[14] Proverbs 4:20-22

[15] Ibid. 3:7-8

[16] Ibid. 3:18: Cf.  4:9; 9:11; 3:16

[17] Pirkei Avot: (Ethics of the Fathers), Ch. 6, para. 7

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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