By Dr. Robert R Seyda



Flavel expresses the plea of a person who is facing certain death and punishment as a sinner and their eternal alienation from God. This is their confession: “Good works cannot save me, reformation cannot save me, nor angels nor humans can save me; I must have the Anointed One, or be condemned forever. I thought once, that a little repentance, reformation, restitution, and a restricted lifestyle might be a way to escape the wrath to come; but I found it was like trying to find peace and rest on a bed that is too short and the sheets and blankets are too narrow: everything will be lost, as worthless as manure, as wasted as trash in comparison with the Lord Jesus the Anointed One. Anything another person may offer me will not work. Certainly, it may injure me and leave me worse off than before. I see no hope on the horizon that makes any sense.”[1]

John Brown (1784-1858) notes that Paul says here in verses twenty-two and twenty-three that all people outside of God’s family are subject to the Law and its dictates and punishments. In fact, they are held by the Law as a prisoner. Sadly, the dictates of the Law were unachievable and, therefore, they were condemned to death for their failure to live up to them all. The Law uses a tyrant named “guilt” to make sinners bow their heads in obedience to the Law’s condemnation.[2] Such imprisonment is for death-sentenced criminals. They are not on death-row by accident; they were part of the fallen race of Adam from birth. To do wrong was already in them, in their human nature. Only one single act could save them, there was only one way out of imprisonment, and that was for a Savior to voluntarily come and take their place, suffer their penalty of death so they could be free. And it can only be done by the love, grace, and mercy of Almighty God. Now, for some reason, the Galatians want to go back into prison and try to earn their freedom through rites, rituals, and good works.

What better news could be brought to such individuals than the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One?  Our Lord said that when a person feels desperate, come to me, give me your burden, and I will give you rest. Let us walk side-by-side so that you can learn from Me, I am a gentle person and humble enough to assist anyone who needs help. This will take away your fear, despair, discouragement, depression, desperateness, and wanting to give up. I just want to let you know that you can exercise power over all these things through Jesus, who loves you so much. For there is nothing that can keep you from the love of God. Death cannot! Life cannot! Angels cannot! Government cannot! Foreign powers cannot! Neither heartaches and hardships now or those in the future cannot! Angelic powers cannot, and demonic powers cannot! No living thing can keep us away from the love of God, which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua, our Lord and Savior![3]

Kenneth Wuest reminds us that the correct understanding of the expression, “Before faith came,” is found in the fact that the definite article “the” is used before the word faith, namely, “before the faith came.” The article here identifies the faith mentioned in this verse with the faith spoken of in verse twenty-two, personal faith in Jesus the Anointed One as Savior, exercised in this Age of Grace. That faith is fundamentally alike to the faith Abraham exercised, so far as its character goes, but different in that it looks back to accomplished salvation at the Cross, whereas the faith of Abraham looked forward to the accomplishment of that salvation at Calvary. The former is faith in a historic Anointed One, whereas the latter was faith in a prophetic Anointed One. Faith has been the appointed means of obtaining the salvation of God since Adam’s time. Faith itself did not begin to be exercised on the occasion of the Cross. Faith, as such, did not come then. But the particular faith in Jesus the Anointed One, as applied in this Age of Grace, arrived at the beginning of the Anointed One’s resurrection.[4]

Thomas Lancaster believes that verse twenty-three here in Galatians received an unfortunate translation in many English versions of the Bible. For instance, in the KJV, it reads: “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed.” The NIV renders it, “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.” And the Complete Jewish Bible reads: “Now before the time for this trusting faithfulness came, we were imprisoned in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism, kept under guard until this yet-to-come trusting faithfulness would be revealed.”

The reason Lancaster feels this way is because, in the very next verse, Paul says the Law was our guardian until the Anointed One came. You don’t find guardians in prison. The key is the Greek noun paidagōgos that Paul uses to describe the person in charge. So instead of the Torah being a cruel prison guard, it sounds like the Torah was keeping people away from finding faith and freedom; it was a caretaker or tutor. In Strong’s Concordance, we find this definition: Among the Greeks and the Romans, the name paidagōgos was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the elite class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without their accompaniment before arriving at the age of manhood.[5]

To make it even more confusing, this same Greek word was anglicized to mean a pedagogy, which refers to the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. The German and British school systems back in the 1600s were often run by schoolmasters who treated the students as though they were in reform school. Lashes with whips and spanking with paddles were not unusual. In fact, when I attended grade school in Germany in the late 1940s, our teacher carried a long stick that he used to lead us in songs, point to the chalkboard, or crack over our knuckles when we were not behaving or studying as we should. Even a wrong answer could get a pop on the head.

But if we leave this word in its Greek context, it should be understood as a caretaker or guardian, entrusted with supervising and directing a child’s conduct and moral behavior. They were responsible for overseeing the child’s activities, particularly as the child became a teen and then a young adult. So, when we see the Torah in this light, it was not only teaching the children of Israel social skills and manners but also their responsibility to God and each other. They were not the teachers of the subject, but they served in the role of a principal who was in charge of the operation. And as Paul indicated here, it was all designed to make them ready when the Messiah came, and they could become men and women in His service.[6]

3:24 As a result, Mosaic Law served as our custodian until our Messiah came to set us free.  That’s why we are now right with God because of our faith in Him.

At this point, Paul summarizes his lesson on the role of Mosaic Law by providing instructions and offering illustrations on how the Messiah would complete salvation’s plan. Jewish literature uses the term paidagōgos in reference to Moses. Paul thereby indicates that those under such a custodian were there only for a specific period during childhood, until they reached a proper age and took on the greater responsibilities of adulthood. So, Paul was not introducing some new expression unfamiliar to his readers. What he attempted to do was show the Judaizers and Gentile believers that the Mosaic Law’s existence was not its end purpose. Its greater mission was to get everyone ready for graduation, or as used earlier of prisoners, to prepare those in confinement for their day of freedom.

When Paul first arrived in the city of Antioch in the country of Pisidia (in SW Turkey today), he told the Jews who came to hear him that they could be forgiven of their sins by the one he was telling them about because everyone who puts their trust in the Anointed One will be made right with God. This will set them free from those things the Law of Moses could not make them free from.[7] He shared with the Romans the same truth.[8]

I don’t know how many of you reading this lesson served in the military service of your country.  I was given that privilege and am proud of it to this day. But when I enlisted, I was sent to “boot camp.” There, we spent thirteen weeks learning to fire a rifle, throw a grenade, discipline, and most crucial: learning to react to any danger on a moment’s notice; to be obedient to command, often a one-word command like, “Drop!” or “Fire!” It was only temporary in preparing us for combat. Once we faced enemy fire and the whistle of incoming mortar shells or wanting to cheat a bullet from taking our lives, there would be no time to ask for explanations.

If Moses never existed, including no Law, or no commandments on how to live right before God until the Messiah came, anything done by humans in the future would have all been in vain. God knew what He was doing. Obedience to Mosaic Law in order to earn temporary forgiveness was just a forerunner of justification by the Anointed One in order to receive salvation and everlasting life. Theodoret puts it this way: Now, it was necessary that the law is given, as it fulfilled our need for a custodian. And it freed us from our previous unrighteousness, taught us knowledge of God, and then brought us to the Anointed One the Lord as our wise teacher so that we might be instructed by Him in perfect learning and acquire righteousness in Him that is through faith.[9]

Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, answered the question concerning “The Old Law” of Moses. Was the Old Law good? Was the Old Law from God? Whether the Old Law should have been given to the Jews alone? Whether all men were bound to observe the Old Law? Whether there was any need for a Divine Law? Whether there is a Human Law? Whether there is in us a Natural Law? Whether there is a Divine Law? Whether there is an Eternal Law? And whether there is but one Divine Law? Aquinas’ answer to this last question was that things may be distinguished in two ways. First, as those things that are altogether specifically different, such as, a horse and an ox. Secondly, as perfect and imperfect in the same species, namely, a colt or an adult stallion, a calf, or an adult bull. In this way, the Divine law is divided into First and Final. That’s why the Apostle Paul says here in verse twenty-four that the Law was used to lead us to the Anointed One. It was our teacher, and so we were made right with God by putting our trust in the Anointed One. From this, we can see that the person under the First Covenant was like a child who needed a teacher. But the person under the Final Covenant is a full-grown adult, who now becomes a teacher.[10]

[1] John Flavel: The Methods of Grace, Sermon on Saving Faith-Continued, Text, John 1:12, Ch. 7, p. 129

[2] John Brown: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 165-166

[3] Matthew 11:28, 29; Romans 8:35-39

[4] Kenneth Wuest: Word Studies on Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit.

[5] D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., p.160

[6] See Galatians 3:25-29

[7] The Acts of the Apostles 13:38-39

[8] Romans 3:20-22; 7:7-9,24,25; 10:4

[9] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.): Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 50)

[10] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Part (2a), Question (91), Answer (5), p. 1015

About drbob76

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