Click here to get started today!
The address of Paul to Peter, as I suppose, was closed at the last verse of Galatians 2:0. The apostle in this chapter, in a direct address to the Galatians, pursues the argument on the subject of justification by faith. In the previous chapters he had shown them fully that he had received his views of the gospel directly from the Lord Jesus, and that he had the concurrence of the most eminent among the apostles themselves. He proceeds to state more fully what his views were; to confirm them by the authority of the Old Testament; and to show the necessary effect of an observance of the laws of Moses on the great doctrine of justification by faith. This subject is pursued through this chapter and the following. This chapter comprises the following subjects:
(1) A severe reproof of the Galatians for having been so easily seduced by the arts of cunning men from the simplicity of the gospel, Galatians 3:1. He says that Christ had been plainly set forth crucified among them, and it was strange that they had so soon been led astray from the glorious doctrine of salvation by faith.
(2) He appeals to them to show that the great benefits which they had received had not been in consequence of the observance of the Mosaic rites, but had come solely by the hearing of the gospel. Galatians 3:2-5. Particularly, the Holy Spirit, with all his miraculous and converting and sanctifying influences, had been imparted only in connection with the gospel. This was the most rich and most valuable endowment which they had ever received; and this was solely by the preaching of Christ and him crucified.
(3) In illustration of the doctrine of justification by faith, and in proof of the truth of it, he refers to the case of Abraham, and shows that he was justified in this manner, and that the Scripture had promised that others would be justified in the same way, Galatians 3:6-9.
(4) He shows that the Law pronounced a curse upon all those who were under it, and that, consequently, it was impossible to be justified by it. But Christ had redeemed us from that curse, having taken the curse on himself, so that now we might be justified in the sight of God. In this way, says he, the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles, and they all might be saved in the same manner that he was, Galatians 3:10-14.
(5) This view he confirms by showing that the promise made to Abraham was made before the giving of the Law. It was a mode of justification in existence before the Law of Moses was given. It was of the nature of a solemn compact or covenant on the part of God. It referred particularly to the Messiah, and to the mode of justification in him. And, since it was of the nature of a covenant, it was impossible that the Law given many years after could disannul it or render it void, Galatians 3:15-18.
(6) It might then be asked, what was the use of the Law? Why was it given? It was added, Paul says, on account of transgressions, and was designed to restrain people from sin, and to show them their guilt. It was, further, not superior to the promise of a Mediator, or to the Mediator, for it was appointed by the instrumentality of angels, and it was in the hand of the Mediator himself, under him, and subject to him. It could not therefore be superior to him, and to the plan of justification through him, Galatians 3:19-20.
(7) Yet Paul answers an important objection here, and a very obvious and material inquiry. It is, whether he means to teach that the Law of God is contradictory to his promises? Whether the Law and the gospel are rival systems? Whether it is necessary, in order to hold to the excellency of the one to hold that the other is contradictory, evil, and worthless? To all this he answers; and says, by no means. He says the fault was not in the Law. The view which he had taken, and which was revealed in the Bible, arose from the nature of the case. The Law was as good a law as could be made, and it answered all the purposes of law. It was so excellent, that, if it had been possible that people could be justified by law at all, that was the Law by which it would have been done. But it was not possible. The effect of the Law, therefore, was to show that all people were sinners, and to shut them up to the plan of justification by the work of a Redeemer. It was appointed, therefore, not to justify people, but to lead them to the Saviour, Galatians 3:21-24.
(8) The effect of the plan of justification by faith in the Lord Jesus was to make the mind free. It was no longer under a schoolmaster. They who are justified in this way become the children of God. They all become one in the Redeemer. There is neither Jew nor Greek, but they constitute one great family, and are the children of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise, Galatians 3:25-29.
O foolish Galatians - That is, foolish for having yielded to the influence of the false teachers, and for having embraced doctrines that tended to subvert the gospel of the Redeemer. The original word used here (ἀνόητοι anoētoi) denotes void of understanding; and they had shown it in a remarkable manner in rejecting the doctrine of the apostles, and in embracing the errors into which they had fallen. It will be remembered that this is an expression similar to what was applied to them by others; see the introduction, Section I. Thus, Callimachus in his hymns calls them “a foolish people,” and Hillary, himself a Gaul, calls them Gallos indociles, expressions remarkably in accordance with that used here by Paul. It is implied that they were without stability of character. The particular thing to which Paul refers here is that they were so easily led astray by the arguments of the false teachers.
Who hath bewitched you - The word used here (ἐβάσκανεν ebaskanen) properly means, to prate about anyone; and then to mislead by pretences, as if by magic arts; to fascinate; to influence by a charm. The idea here is, that they had not been led by reason and by sober judgment, but that there must have been some charm or fascination to have taken them away in this manner from what they had embraced as true, and what they had the fullest evidence was true. Paul had sufficient confidence in them to believe that they had not embraced their present views under the unbiassed influence of judgment and reason, but that there must have been some fascination or charm by which it was done. It was in fact accomplished by the arts and the plausible pretences of those who came from among the Jews.
That ye should not obey the truth - The truth of the gospel. That you should yield your minds to falsehood and error. It should be observed, however, that this phrase is lacking in many manuscripts. It is omitted in the Syriac version; and many of the most important Greek and Latin Fathers omit it. Mill thinks it should be omitted; and Griesbach has omitted it. It is not essential to the passage in order to the sense; and it conveys no truth which is not elsewhere taught fully. It is apparently added to show what was the effect of their being bewitched or enchanted.
Before whose eyes - In whose very presence. That is, it has been done so clearly that you may be said to have seen it.
Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth - By the preaching of the gospel. He has been so fully and plainly preached that you may be said to have seen him. The effect of his being preached in the manner in which it has been done, ought to have been as great as if you had seen him crucified before your eyes. The word rendered “hath been evidently set forth” (προεγράφῃ proegraphē), means properly to write before; and then to announce beforehand in writing; or to announce by posting up on a tablet. The meaning here is, probably, that Christ has been announced among them crucified, as if the doctrine was set forth in a public written tablet - Robinson’s Lexicon. There was the utmost clearness and distinctness of view, so that they need not make any mistake in regard to him. The Syriac renders it, “Christ has been crucified before your eyes as if he had been represented by painting.” According to this, the idea is, that it was as plain as if there had been a representation of him by a picture. This has been done chiefly by preaching. I see no reason, however, to doubt that Paul means also to include the celebration of the Lord’s supper, in which the Lord Jesus is so clearly exhibited as a crucified Saviour.
Crucified among you - That is, represented among you as crucified. The words “among you,” however, are lacking in many manuscripts and obscure the sense. If they are to be retained, the meaning is, that the representations of the Lord Jesus as crucified had been as clear and impressive among them as if they had seen him with their own eyes, The argument is, that they had so clear a representation of the Lord Jesus, and of the design of his death, that it was strange that they had so soon been perverted from the belief of it. Had they seen the Saviour crucified; had they stood by the cross and witnessed his agony in death on account of sin, how could they doubt what was the design of his dying, and how could they be seduced from faith in his death, or be led to embrace any other method of justification? How could they now do it, when, although they had not seen him die, they had the fullest knowledge of the object for which he gave his precious life? The doctrine taught in this verse is that a faithful exhibition of the sufferings and death of the Saviour ought to exert an influence over our minds and hearts as if we had seen him die; and that they to whom such an exhibition has been made should avoid being led astray by the blandishments of false doctrines and by the arts of man. If we had seen the Saviour expire, we could never have forgotten the scene! Let us endeavor to cherish a remembrance of his sufferings and death as if we had seen him die.
This only would I learn of you - I would ask this of you; retaining still the language of severe reproof. The design here, and in the following verses, is, to prove to them that the views which they had at first embraced were correct, and that the views which they now cherished were false To show them this, he asks them the simple question, by what means they had obtained the exalted privileges which they enjoyed? Whether they had obtained them by the simple gospel, or whether by the observance of the Law? The word “only” here (μόνον monon) implies that this was enough to settle the question. The argument to which he was about to appeal was enough for his purpose. He did not need to go any further. They had been converted. They had received the Holy Spirit. They had had abundant evidence of their acceptance with God, and the simple matter of inquiry now was, whether this had occurred as the regular effect of the gospel, or whether it had been by obeying the Law of Moses?
Received ye the Spirit - The Holy Spirit. He refers here, doubtless, to all the manifestations of the Spirit which had been made to them, in renewing the heart, in sanctifying the soul, in comforting them in affliction, and in his miraculous agency among them. The Holy Spirit had been conferred on them at their conversion (compare Acts 10:44; Acts 11:17) and this was to them proof of the favor of God, and of their being accepted by him.
By the works of the law - By obeying the Law of Moses or of any law. It was in no way connected with their obeying the Law. This must have been so clear to them that no one could have any doubt or the subject. The inestimably rich and precious gift of the Holy Spirit had not been conferred on them in consequence of their obeying the Law.
Or by the hearing of faith - In connection with hearing the gospel requiring faith as a condition of salvation. The Holy Spirit was sent down only in connection with the preaching of the gospel. It was a matter of truth, and which could not be denied, that those influences had not been imparted under the Law, but had been connected with the gospel of the Redeemer; compare Acts 2:0. The doctrine taught in this verse is, that the benefits resulting to Christians from the gift of the Holy Spirit are enough to prove that the gospel is from God, and therefore true. This was the case with regard to the miraculous endowments communicated in the early ages of the church by the Holy Spirit; for the miracles which were performed, the knowledge of languages imparted, and the conversion of thousands from the error of their ways, proved that the system was from heaven; and it is true now. Every Christian has had ample proof, from the influences of the Spirit on his heart and around him, that the system which is attended with such benefits is from heaven.
His own renewed heart; his elevated and sanctified affections; his exalted hopes; his consolations in trial; his peace in the prospect of death, and the happy influences of the system around him in the conversion of others, and in the intelligence, order, and purity of the community, are ample proof that the religion is true. Such effects do not come from any attempt to keep the Law; they result from no other system. No system of infidelity produces them; no mere system of infidelity can produce them. It is only by that pure system which proclaims salvation by the grace of God; which announces salvation by the merits of the Lord Jesus, that such effects are produced. The Saviour promised the Holy Spirit to descend after his ascension to heaven to apply his work; and everywhere, under the faithful preaching of the simple gospel, that Spirit keeps up the evidence of the truth of the system by his influences on the hearts and lives of people.
Are ye so foolish? - Can it be that you are so unwise? The idea is, that Paul hardly thought it credible that they could have pursued such a course. They had so cordially embraced the gospel when he preached to them, they had given such evidences that they were under its influence, that he regarded it as hardly possible that they should have so far abandoned it as to embrace such a system as they had done.
Having begun in the Spirit - That is, when the gospel was first preached to them. They had commenced their professedly Christian life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and with the pure and spiritual worship of God. They had known the power and spirituality of the glorious gospel. They had been renewed by the Spirit; sanctified in some measure by him; and had submitted themselves to the spiritual influences of the gospel.
Are ye now made perfect - Tyndale renders this, “ye would now end.” The word used here (ἐπιτελέω epiteleō) means properly, to bring through to an end, to finish; and the sense here has probably been expressed by Tyndale. The idea of perfecting, in the sense in which we now use that word, is not implied in the original. It is that of finishing, ending, completing; and the sense is: “You began your Christian career under the elevated and spiritual influences of Christianity, a system so pure and so exalted above the carnal ordinances of the Jews. Having begun thus, can it be that you are finishing your Christian course, or carrying it on to completion by the observance of those ordinances, as if they were more pure and elevating than Christianity? Can it be that you regard them as an advance on the system of the gospel?”
By the flesh - By the observance of the carnal rites of the Jews, for so the word here evidently means. This has not ever been an uncommon thing. Many have been professedly converted by the Spirit, and have soon fallen into the observance of mere rites and ceremonies, and depended mainly on them for salvation. Many churches have commenced their career in an elevated and spiritual manner, and have ended in the observance of mere forms. So many Christians begin their course in a spiritual manner, and end it “in the flesh” in another sense. They soon conform to the world. They are brought under the influence of worldly appetites and propensities. They forget the spiritual nature of their religion; and they live for the indulgence of ease, and for the gratification of the senses. They build them houses, and they “plant vineyards,” and they collect around them the instruments of music, and the bowl and the wine is in their feasts, and they surrender themselves to the luxury of living: and it seems as if they intended to perfect their Christianity by drawing around them as much of the world as possible. The beautiful simplicity of their early piety is gone. The blessedness of those moments when they lived by simple faith has fled. The times when they sought all their consolation in God are no more; and they now seem to differ from the world only in form. I dread to see a Christian inherit much wealth, or even to be thrown into very prosperous business. I see in it a temptation to build himself a splendid mansion, and to collect around him all that constitutes luxury among the people of the world. How natural for him to feel that if he has wealth like others, he should show it in a similar manner! And how easy for the most humble and spiritually-minded Christian, in the beginning of his Christian life, to become conformed to the world (such is the weakness of human nature in its best forms); and having begun in the spirit, to end in the flesh!
Have ye suffered so many things in vain? - Paul reminds them of what they had endured on account of their attachment to Christianity. He assures them, that if the opinions on account of which they had suffered were false, then their sufferings had been in vain. They were of no use to them - for what advantage was it to suffer for a false opinion? The opinions for which they had suffered had not been these which they now embraced. They were not those connected with the observance of the Jewish rites. They had suffered on account of their having embraced the gospel, the system of justification by a crucified Redeemer; and now, if those sentiments were wrong, why, their sufferings had been wholly in vain; see this argument pursued at much greater length in 1Co 15:18-19, 1 Corinthians 15:29-32. If it be yet in vain. That is, I trust it is not in vain. I hope you have not so far abandoned the gospel, that all your sufferings in its behalf have been of no avail. I believe the system is true; and if true, and you are sincere Christians, it will not he in vain that you have suffered in its behalf, though you have gone astray. I trust, that although your principles have been shaken, yet they have not been wholly overthrown, and that you will not reap the reward of your having suffered so much on account of the gospel.
He therefore that ministereth ... - This verse contains substantially a repetition of the argument in Galatians 3:2. The argument is, that the gift of the Holy Spirit to them was not imparted in consequence of the observance of the Law of Moses, but in connection with the preaching of the gospel. By the word “he” in this place, Clarke, Doddridge, Bloomfield, Chandler, Locke and many others, suppose that the apostle means himself Bloomfield says, that it is the common opinion of “all the ancient commentators.” But this seems to me a strange opinion. The obvious reference, it seems to me, is to God, who had furnished or imparted to them the remarkable influences of the Holy Spirit, and this had been done in connection with the preaching of the gospel, and not by the observance of the Law. If, however, it refers to Paul, it means that he had been made the agent or instrument in imparting to them those remarkable endowments, and that this had been done by one who had not enforced the necessity of obeying the Law of Moses, but who had preached to them the simple gospel.
Even as Abraham believed God ... - see this passage fully explained in the notes at Romans 4:3. The passage is introduced here by the apostle to show that the most eminent of the patriarchs was not saved by the deeds of the Law. He was saved by faith, and this fact showed that it was possible to be saved in that way, and that it was the design of God to save people in this manner. Abraham believed God, and was justified, before the Law of Moses was given. It could not, therefore, be pretended that the Law was necessary to justification; for if it had been, Abraham could not have been saved. But if not necessary in his case, it was in no other; and this instance demonstrated that the false teachers among the Galatians were wrong even according to the Old Testament.
Know ye therefore ... - Learn from this case. It is an inference which follows, that all they who believe are the children of Abraham.
They which are of faith - Who believe, and who are justified in this manner.
Are the children of Abraham - Abraham was the “father of the faithful.” The most remarkable trait in his character was his unwavering confidence in God. They who evinced the same trait, therefore were worthy to be called his children. They would be justified in the same way, and in the same manner meet the approbation of God. It is implied here, that it was sufficient for salvation to have a character which would render it proper to say that we are the children of Abraham. If we are like him, if we evince the same spirit and character, we may be sure of salvation.
And the Scripture - The word Scripture refers to the Old Testament; see the note at John 5:39. It is here personified, or spoken of as foreseeing. The idea is, that he by whom the scriptures were inspired, foresaw that. It is agreeable, the meaning is, to the account on the subject in the Old Testament. The Syriac renders this, “Since God foreknew that the Gentiles would be justified by faith, he before announced to Abraham, as the scripture saith, In thee shall all nations be blessed.”
Foreseeing - That is, this doctrine is contained in the Old Testament. It was foreseen and predicted that the pagan would be justified by faith, and not by the works of the Law.
That God would justify the heathen - Greek: “The nations” - τὰ ἔθνη ta ethnē - the Gentiles. The fact that the pagan, or the Gentiles would be admitted to the privileges of the true religion, and be interested in the benefits of the coming of the Messiah, is a fact which is everywhere abundantly predicted in the Old Testament. As an instance, see Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 49:22-23; Isaiah 60:0. I do not know that it is anywhere distinctly foretold that the pagan would be justified by faith, nor does the argument of the apostle require us to believe this. He says that the Scriptures, that is, he who inspired the Scriptures, foresaw that fact, and that the Scriptures were written as if with the knowledge of that fact; but it is not directly affirmed. The whole structure and frame of the Old Testament, however, proceeds on the supposition that it would be so; and this is all that the declaration of the apostle requires us to understand,
Preached before the gospel - This translation does not convey quite the idea to us, which the language of Paul, in the original, would to the people to whom he addressed it. We have affixed a technical sense to the phrase “to preach the gospel.” It is applied to the formal and public annunciation of the truths of religion, especially the “good news” of a Saviour’s birth, and of redemption by his blood. But we are not required by the language used here to suppose that this was done to Abraham, or that “the gospel” was preached to him in the sense in which we all now use that phrase. The expression, in Greek προευηγγελίσατο proeuēngelisato, means merely, “the joyful news was announced beforehand to Abraham;” scil. that in him should all the nations of the earth be blessed. It was implied, indeed, that it would be by the Messiah; but the distinct point of the “good news” was not the “gospel” as we understand it, but it was that somehow through him all the nations of the earth would be made happy. Tyndale has well translated it,” Showed beforehand glad tidings unto Abraham.” This translation should have been adopted in our common version.
In thee shall all nations be blessed - See the Acts 3:25 note; Romans 4:13 note. All nations should be made happy in him, or through him. The sense is, that the Messiah was to be descended from him, and the religion of the Messiah, producing peace and salvation, was to be extended to all the nations of the earth: see Genesis 12:3; compare the note at Galatians 3:16.
Εὐαγγελίζω Euangelizō doubtless here, as elsewhere, signifies to announce glad tidings. And in all the passages where this word occurs, even in those where the author might be disposed to allow that the “gospel technically” was meant, the translation which he proposes here would be very suitable and exact. It was certainly the same gospel that was preached to Abraham, that is now preached to us, though not with, the same fulness of revelation, in his case. The apostle here affirms that the gospel, that is, the way of justification through Christ, in opposition to the legal system he had been condemning - was, in few words, preached to Abraham, being contained in that promise, “in thee shall all nations be blessed;” see Genesis 22:17. The full meaning of the promise, indeed, could not be gathered from the words themselves, but Abraham must have understood their application in a far more extensive sense than that “somehow through him all the nations of the earth would be made happy.” Whether the true import were made known to him directly by the Spirit of God, or discerned by him in typical representation, it is certain that Abraham’s faith terminated on the promised Seed, that is, Christ whose day he desired to see, and seeing it afar, was glad, John 8:56. “Hereof it followeth,” says Luther on the place, “that the blessing and faith of Abraham is the same that ours is, that Abraham’s Christ is our Christ, that Christ died as well for the sins of Abraham as for us.”)
So then they which be of faith - They whose leading characteristic it is that they believe. This was the leading trait in the character of Abraham, and this is the leading thing required of those who embrace the gospel, and in the character of a true Christian.
Are blessed with faithful Abraham - In the same manner they are interested in the promises made to him, and they will be treated as he was. They are justified in the same manner, and admitted to the same privileges on earth and in heaven.
For as many as are of the works of the law - As many as are seeking to be justified by yielding obedience to the Law - whether the moral law, or the ceremonial law. The proposition is general; and it is designed to show that, from the nature of the case, it is impossible to be justified by the works of the Law, since, under all circumstances of obedience which we can render, we are still left with its heavy curse resting on us.
Are under the curse - The curse which the Law of God denounces. Having failed by all their efforts to yield perfect obedience, they must, of course, be exposed to the curse which the Law denounces on the guilty. The word rendered “curse” (κατάρα katara) means, as with us, properly, “imprecation,” or “cursing.” It is used in the Scriptures particularly in the sense of the Hebrew אלה 'alah, malediction, or execration Job 31:30; Jeremiah 29:18; Daniel 9:11; of the word מארה me'ēraah Malachi 2:2; Revelation 22:3; and especially of the common Hebrew word קללה qelaalaah, a curse; Genesis 27:12-13; Deuteronomy 11:26, Deuteronomy 11:28-29; Deuteronomy 23:5; Deuteronomy 27:13, et scope al. It is here used evidently in the sense of devoting to punishment or destruction; and the idea is, that all who attempt to secure salvation by the works of the Law, must be exposed to its penalty. It denounces a curse on all who do not yield entire obedience; and no partial compliance with its demands can save from the penalty.
For it is written - The substance of these words is found in Deuteronomy 28:26; “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” It is the solemn close of a series of maledictions, which Moses denounces in that chapter on the violators of the Law. In this quotation, Paul has given the sense of the passage, but he has quoted literally neither from the Hebrew nor from the Septuagint. The sense, however, is retained, The word “cursed” here means, that the violator of the Law shall be devoted to punishment or destruction. The phrase “that continueth not,” in the Hebrew is “that confirmeth not” - that does not establish or confirm by his life. He would confirm it by continuing to obey it; and thus the sense in Paul and in Moses is substantially the same. The word “all” is not expressed in the Hebrew in Deuteronomy, but it is evidently implied, and has been insorted by the English translators. It is found, however, in six manuscripts of Kennicott and DeRossi; in the Samaritan text; in the Septuagint; and in several of the Targums - Clarke.
The book of the law - That is, in the Law. This phrase is not found in the passage in Deuteronomy. The expression there is, “the words of this law.” Paul gives it; a somewhat larger sense, and applies it to the whole of the Law of God. The meaning is, that the whole law must be obeyed, or man cannot be justified by it, or will be exposed to its penalty and its curse. This idea is expressed more fully by James James 2:10; “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all;” that is, he is guilty of breaking the Law as a whole, and must be held responsible for such violation. The sentiment here is one that is common to all law, and must be, from the nature of the ease. The idea is, that a man who does not yield compliance to a whole law, is subject to its penalty, or to a curse. All law is sustained on this principle. A man who has been honest, and temperate, and industrious, and patriotic, if he commits a single act of murder, is subject to the curse of the Law, and must meet the penalty. A man who has been honest and honorable in all his dealings, yet if he commits a single act of forgery, he must meet the curse denounced by the laws of his country, and bear the penalty. So, in all matters pertaining to law: no matter what the integrity of the man; no matter how upright he has been, yet, for the one offence the law denounces a penalty, and he must bear it. It is out of the question for him to be justified by it. He cannot plead as a reason why he should not be condemned for the act of murder or forgery, that he has in all other respects obeyed the law, or even that he has been guilty of no such offences before. Such is the idea of Paul in the passage before us. It was clear to his view that man had not in all respects yielded obedience to the Law of God. If he had not done this, it was impossible that he should be justified by the Law, and he must bear its penalty.
But that no man is justified ... - The argument which Paul has been pursuing he proceeds to confirm by an express declaration of the Bible. The argument is this: “It is impossible that a man should be justified by the Law, because God has appointed another way of justification.” But there cannot be two ways of obtaining life, and as he has appointed faith as the condition on which people shall live, he has precluded from them the possibility of obtaining salvation in any other mode.
For, The just shall live by faith - This is quoted from Habakkuk 2:4. This passage is also quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17; see it explained in the note on that verse. The sense here is, that life is promised to man only in connection with faith. It is not by the works of the Law that it is done. The condition of life is faith: and he lives who believes. The meaning is not, I apprehend, that the man who is justified by faith shall live, but that life is promised and exists only in connection with faith, and that the just or righteous man obtains it only in this way. Of course it cannot be obtained by the observance of the Law, but must be by some other scheme.
And the law is not of faith - The Law is not a matter of faith; it does not relate to faith; it does not require faith; it deals in other matters, and it pertains to another system than to faith.
But, The man ... - This is the language of the Law, and this is what the Law teaches. It does not make provision for faith, but it requires unwavering and perpetual obedience, if man would obtain life by it; see this passage explained in the notes at Romans 10:5.
Christ hath redeemed us - The word used here ἐξηγόρασεν exēgorasen is not that which is usually employed in the New Testament to denote redemption. That word is λυτρόω lutroō. The difference between them mainly is, that the word used here more usually relates to a purchase of any kind; the other is used strictly with reference to a ransom. The word used here is more general in its meaning; the other is strictly appropriated to a ransom. This distinction is not observable here, however, and the word used here is employed in the proper sense of redeem. It occurs in the New Testament only in this place, and in Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5. It properly means, to purchase, to buy up; and then to purchase anyone, to redeem, to set free. Here it means, that Christ had purchased, or set us free from the curse of the Law, by his being made a curse for us. On the meaning of the words redeem and ransom, see my notes at Romans 3:25; Isaiah 43:3, note; compare 2 Corinthians 5:21.
From the curse of the law - The curse which the Law threatens, and which the execution of the Law would inflict; the punishment due to sin. This must mean, that he has rescued us from the consequences of transgression in the world of woe; he has saved us from the punishment which our sins have deserved. The word, “us” here, must refer to all who are redeemed; that is, to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The curse of the Law is a curse which is due to sin, and cannot be regarded as applied particularly to any one class of people. All who violate the Law of God, however that law may be made known, are exposed to its penalty. The word “law” here, relates to the Law of God in general, to all the laws of God made known to man. The Law of God denounced death as the wages of sin. It threatened punishment in the future world forever. That would certainly have been inflicted, but for the coming and death of Christ. The world is lying by nature under this curse, and it is sweeping the race on to ruin.
Being made a curse for us - This is an exceedingly important expression. Tyndale renders it, “And was made a curse for us.” The Greek word is κατάρα katara, the same word which is used in Galatians 3:10; see the note at that verse. There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament on which it is more important to have correct views than this; and scarcely anyone on which more erroneous opinions have been entertained. In regard to it, we may observe that it does not mean:
(1) That by being made a curse, the Lord Jesus’ character or work were in any sense displeasing to God. He approved always of what the Lord Jesus did, and he regarded his whole character with love and approbation. The passage should never be so interpreted as to leave the impression that he was in any conceivable sense the object of the divine displeasure.
(2) Jesus was not ill-deserving. He was not blame-worthy. He had done no wrong. He was holy, harmless, undefiled. No crime charged upon him was proved; and there is no clearer doctrine in the Bible than that, in all his character and work, the Lord Jesus was perfectly holy and pure.
(3) Jesus was not guilty in any proper sense of the word. The word guilty means, properly, to be bound to punishment for crime. It does not mean properly, to be exposed to suffering, but it always, when properly used, implies the notion of personal crime. I know that theologians have used the word in a somewhat different sense, but it is contrary to the common and just apprehensions of people. When we say that a man is guilty, we instinctively think of his having committed a crime, or having done something wrong. When a jury finds a man guilty, it implies that the man has committed a crime, and ought to be punished. But in this sense, and in no conceivable sense where the word is properly used was the Lord Jesus “guilty.”
(4) It cannot be mean that the Lord Jesus properly bore the penalty of the Law. His sufferings were in the place of the penalty, not the penalty itself. They were a substitution for the penalty, and were, therefore, strictly and properly vicarious, and were not the identical sufferings which the sinner would himself have endured. There are some things in the penalty of the Law, which the Lord Jesus did not endure, and which a substitute or a vicarious victim could not endure. Remorse of conscience is a part of the inflicted penalty of the Law, and will be a vital part of the sufferings of the sinner in hell - but the Lord Jesus did not endure that. Eternity of sufferings is an essential part of the penalty of the Law - but the Lord Jesus did not suffer forever. Thus, there are numerous sorrows connected with the consciousness of personal guilt, which the Lord Jesus did not and cannot endure.
(5) Jesus was not sinful, or a sinner, in any sense. He did not so take human guilt upon him, that the words sinful and sinner could with any propriety be applied to him. They are not applied to him any way in the Bible; but there the language is undeviating. It is that in all senses he was holy and undefiled. And yet language is often used on this subject which is horrible and only a little short of blasphemy, as if he was guilty, and as if he was even the greatest sinner in the universe. I have heard language used which sent a chill of horror to my heart; and language may be found in the writings of those who hold the doctrine of imputation in the strictest sense, which is only a little short of blasphemy. I have hesitated whether I should copy expressions here on this subject from one of the greatest and best of men (I mean Luther) to show the nature of the views which people sometimes entertain on the subject of the imputation of sin to Christ. But as Luther deliberately published them to the world in his favorite book, which he used to call his “Catharine de Bora,” after the name of his wife; and since similar views are sometimes entertained now; and as it is important that such views should be held up to universal abhorrence, no matter how respectable the source from which they emanate, I will copy a few of his expressions on this subject. “And this, no doubt, all the prophets did foresee in spirit, than Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, and blasphemer, that ever was OR could be in the world. For he being made a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world is not now an innocent person and without sins; is not now the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary; but a sinner which hath and carrieth the sin of Paul, who was a blasphemer, an oppressor, and a persecutor; of Peter, which denied Christ; of David, which was an adulterer, a murderer, and caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord; and, briefly, which hath and beareth all the sins of all people in his body: not that he himself committed them, but for that he received them, being committed or done of us, and laid them upon his own body, that he might make satisfaction for them with his own blood.
Therefore, this general sentence of Moses comprehendeth him also (albeit in his own person he was innocent), because it found him among sinners and transgressors; like as the magistrate taketh him for a thief, and punisheth him whom he findeth among other thieves and transgressors, though he never committed anything worthy of death. When the Law, therefore, found him among thieves it condemned and killed him as a thief.” “If thou wilt deny him to be a sinner and accursed, deny, also, that he was crucified and dead.” “But if it is not absurd to confess and believe that Christ was crucified between two thieves, then it is not absurd to say that he was accursed, and of all sinnerS, the greatesT.” “God, our most merciful Father, sent His only Son into the world, and laid upon him all the sins of all people, saying, be thou Peter, that denier; Paul, that persecutor, blasphemer, and cruel oppressor; David, that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the fruit in Paradise; that thief who hung upon the cross; and, briefly, be thou the person who has committed the sins of all people; see, therefore, that thou pay and satisfy for them” - Luther on the Galatians, Galatians 3:13. (pp. 213-215. London edition, 1838).
Luther was a great and holy man. He held, as firmly as anyone can, to the personal holiness of the Redeemer. But this language shows how imperfect and erroneous views may warp the language of holy people; and how those sentiments led him to use language which is little less than blasphemy. Indeed, we cannot doubt that in Luther had heard this very language used by one of the numerous enemies of the gospel in his time, as applicable to the Saviour, he would have poured out the full torrent of his burning wrath, and all the stern denunciations of his most impassioned eloquence, on the head of the scoffer and the blasphemer. It is singular, it is one of the remarkable facts in the history of mind, that a man with the New Testament before him, and accustomed to contemplate daily its language, could ever have allowed himself to use expressions like these of the holy and unspotted Saviour. But what is the meaning of the language of Paul, it will be asked, when he says that he was “made a curse for us?”
In reply, I answer, that the meaning must be ascertained from the passage which Paul quotes in support of his assertion, that Christ was “made a curse for us.” That passage is, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” This passage is found in Deuteronomy 21:23. It occurs in a law respecting one who was hanged for a “sin worthy of death,” Deuteronomy 21:22. The Law was, that he should be buried the same day, and that the body should not remain suspended over the night, and it is added, as a reason for this, that “he that is hanged is accursed of God;” or, as it is in the margin, “the curse of God.” The meaning is, that when one was executed for crime in this manner, he was the object of the divine displeasure and malediction. Regarded thus as an object accursed of God, there was a propriety that the man who was executed for crime should be buried as soon as possible, that the offensive object should be hidden from the view In quoting this passage, Paul leaves out the words “of God,” and simply says, that the one who was hanged on a tree was held accursed.
The sense of the passage before us is, therefore, that Jesus was subjected to what was regarded as an accursed death. He was treated in his death As If he had been a criminal. He was put to death in the same manner as he would have been if he had himself been guilty of the violation of the Law. If he had been a thief or a murderer; if he had committed the grossest and the blackest crimes, this would have been the punishment to which he would have been subjected. This was the mode of punishment adapted to those crimes, and he was treated as if all these had been committed by him. Or, in other words, if he had been guilty of all these, or any of these, he could not have been treated in a more shameful and ignominious manner than he was; nor could he have been subjected to a more cruel death. Since it has already been intimated, it does not mean that Jesus was guilty, nor that he was not the object of the approbation and love of God, but that Jesus’ death was the same that it would have been if he had been the vilest of malefactors, and that that death was regarded by the Law as accursed.
It was by such substituted sorrows that we are saved; and he consented to die the most shameful and painful death, as if he were the vilest criminal, in order that the most guilty and vile of the human race might be saved. With regard to the way in which Jesus’ death is connected with our justification, see the note at Galatians 2:16. It may be observed, also, that the punishment of the cross was unknown to the Hebrews in the time of Moses, and that the passage in Deuteronomy 21:23 did not refer originally to that. Nor is it known that hanging criminals alive was practiced among the Hebrews. Those who were guilty of great crimes were first stoned or otherwise put to death, and then their bodies were suspended for a few hours on a gibbet. In many cases, however, merely the head was suspended after it had been severed from the body. Genesis 40:17-19; Numbers 25:4-5. Crucifixion was not known in the time of the giving of the Law, but the Jews gave such an extent to the Law in Deuteronomy 21:23 as to include this mode of punishment (see John 19:31 ff).
The force of the argument here, as used by the apostle Paul, is, that if to be suspended on a gibbet after having been put to death was regarded as a curse, it should not be regarded as a curse in a less degree to be suspended Alive on a cross, and to be put to death in this manner. If this interpretation of the passage is correct, then it follows that this should never be used as implying, in any sense, that Christ was guilty, or that he was ill-deserving, or that he was an object of the divine displeasure, or that he poured out on him all his wrath. He was, throughout, an object of the divine love and approbation. God never loved Jesus more, or approved what he did more, than when he gave himself to death on the cross. God had no hatred toward him; He had no displeasure to express toward him. And it is this which makes the atonement so wonderful and so glorious. If God had been displeased with Jesus; if the Redeemer had been properly an object of God’s wrath; if Jesus, in any sense, deserved those sorrows, there would have been no merit in Jesus’ sufferings; there would have been no atonement. What merit can there be when one suffers only what he deserves? But what made the atonement so wonderful, so glorious, so benevolent; what made it an atonement at all, was that innocence was treated as if it were guilt; that the most pure, and holy, and benevolent, and lovely being on earth should consent to be treated, and should be treated by God and man, as If Jesus were the most vile and ill-deserving. This is the mystery of the atonement; this shows the wonders of the divine benevolence; this is the nature of substituted sorrow; and this lays the foundation for the offer of pardon, and for the hope of eternal salvation.
That the blessing of Abraham - The blessing which Abraham enjoyed, to wit, that of being justified by faith. “Might come on the Gentiles.” As well as on the Jews. Abraham was blessed in this manner before he was circumcised Romans 4:11, and the same blessing might be imparted to others also who were not circumcised; see this argument illustrated in the notes at Romans 4:10-12.
Through Jesus Christ - Since he has been made a curse for all, and since he had no exclusive reference to the Jews or to any other class of people, all may come and partake alike of the benefits of his salvation.
That we might receive the promise of the Spirit - That all we who are Christian converts. The promise of the Spirit, or the promised Spirit, is here put for all the blessings connected with the Christian religion. It includes evidently the miraculous agency of the Holy Spirit; and all his influences in renewing the heart, in sanctifying the soul, and in comforting the people of God. These influences had been obtained in virtue of the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus in the place of sinners, and these influences were the sum of all the blessings promised by the prophets.
Brethren, I speak after the manner of men - I draw an illustration from what actually occurs among people. The illustration is, that when a contract or agreement is made by people involving obligations and promises, no one can add to it or take from it. It will remain as it was originally made. So with God. He made a solemn promise to Abraham. That promise pertained to his posterity. The blessing was connected with that promise, and it was of the nature of a compact with Abraham. But if so, then this could not be effected by the Law which was four hundred years after, and the Law must have been given to secure some different object from that designed by the promise made to Abraham, Galatians 3:19. But the promise made to Abraham was designed to secure the “inheritance,” or the favor of God; and if so, then the same thing could not be secured by the observance of the Law, since there could not be two ways so unlike each other of obtaining the same thing.
God cannot have two ways of justifying and saving people; and if he revealed a mode to Abraham, and that mode was by faith, then it could not be by the observance of the Law which was given so long after. The main design of the argument and the illustration here (Galatians 3:15 ff) is to show that the promise made to Abraham was by no means made void by the giving of the Law. The Law had another design, which did not interfere with the promise made to Abraham. That stood on its own merits, irrespective of the demands and the design of the Law. It is possible, as Rosenmuller suggests, that Paul may have had his eye on an objection to his view. The objection may have been that there were important acts of legislation which succeeded the promise made to Abraham, and that that promise must have been superseded by the giving of the Law. To this he replies that the Mosaic law given at a late period could not take away or nullify a solemn promise made to Abraham, but that it was intended for a different purpose.
Though it be but a man’s covenant - A compact or agreement between man and man. Even in such a case no one can add to it or take from it. The argument here is, that such a covenant or agreement must be much less important than a promise made by God. But even that could not be annulled. How much less, therefore, could a covenant made by God be treated as if it were vain. The word “covenant” here (διαθήκη diathēkē) is in the margin rendered “Testament;” that is, will. So Tyndale renders it. Its proper Classical signification is will or testament, though in the Septuagint and in the New Testament it is the word which is used to denote a covenant or compact; see the note at Acts 3:25. Here it is used in the proper sense of the word covenant, or compact; a mutual agreement between man and man. The idea is, that where such a covenant exists; where the faith of a man is solemnly pledged in this manner, no change can be made in the agreement. It is ratified, and firm, and final. “If it be confirmed.” By a seal or otherwise.
No man disannulleth ... - It must stand. No one can change it. No new conditions can be annexed; nor can there be any drawing back from its terms. It binds the parties to a faithful fulfillment of all the conditions. This is well understood among people; and the apostle says that the same thing must take place in regard to God.
Now to Abraham and his seed - To him and his posterity.
Were the promises made - The promise here referred to was that which is recorded in Genesis 22:17-18. “In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one ... - He does not use the plural term, as if the promise extended to many persons, but he speaks in the singular number, as if only one was intended; and that one must be the Messiah. Such is Paul’s interpretation; such is evidently the sentiment which he intends to convey, and the argument which he intends to urge. He designs evidently to be understood as affirming that in the use of the singular number σπέρμα sperma (seed), instead of the plural σπέρματα spermata (seeds), there is a fair ground of argument to demonstrate that the promise related to Christ or the Messiah, and to him primarily if not exclusively. Now no one probably ever read this passage without feeling a difficulty, and without asking himself whether this argument is sound, and is worthy a man of candor, and especially of an inspired man. Some of the difficulties in the passage are these:
(1) The promise referred to in Genesis seems to have related to the posterity of Abraham at large, without any particular reference to an individual. It is to his seed; his descendants; to all his seed or posterity. Such would be the fair and natural interpretation should it be read by hundreds or thousands of persons who had never heard of the interpretation here put upon it by Paul.
(2) The argument of the apostle seems to proceed on the supposition that the word “seed” σπέρμα sperma, that is, posterity, here cannot refer to more than one person. If it had, says he, it would be in the plural number. But the fact is, that the word is often used to denote posterity at large; to refer to descendants without limitation, just as the word posterity is with us; and it is a fact, moreover, that the word is not used in the plural at all to denote a posterity, the singular form being constantly employed for that purpose.
Anyone who will open Tromm’s Concordance to the Septuagint, or Schmids’ Concordance on the New Testament will see the most ample confirmation of this remark. Indeed the plural form of the word is never used except in this place in Galatians. The difficulty, therefore, is, that the remark here of Paul appears to be a trick of argument, or a quibble more worthy of a trifling Jewish Rabbi, than of a serious reasoner or an inspired man. I have stated this difficulty freely, just as I suppose it has struck hundreds of minds, because I do not wish to shrink from any real difficulty in examining the Bible, but to see whether it can be fairly met. In meeting it, expositors have resorted to various explanations, most of them, as it seems to me, unsatisfactory, and it is not necessary to detail them. Dr. Burner, Doddridge, and some others suppose that the apostle means to say that the promises made to Abraham were not only appropriated to one class of his descendants, that is, to those by Isaac, but that they centered in one illustrious person, through whom all the rest are made partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.
This Doddridge admits the apostle says in “bad Greek,” but still he supposes that this is the true exposition. Noessett and Rosenmuller suppose that by the word σπέρμα sperma (seed) here is not meant the Messiah, but Christians in general; the body of believers. But this is evidently in contradiction of the apostle, who expressly affirms that Christ was intended. It is also liable to another objection that is fatal to the opinion. The very point of the argument of the apostle is, that the singular and not the plural form of the word is used, and that therefore an individual, and not a collective body or a number of individuals, is intended. But according to this interpretation the reference is, in fact, to a numerous body of individuals, to the whole body of Christians. Jerome affirms that the apostle made use of a false argument, which, although it might appear well enough to the stupid Galatians, would not be approved by wise or learned men - Chandler. Borger endeavors to show that this was in accordance with the mode of speaking and writing among the Hebrews, and especially that the Jewish Rabbis were accustomed to draw an argument like this from “the singular number,” and that the Hebrew word זרע zera‛ “seed” is often used by them in this manner; see his remarks as quoted by Bloomfield in loc.
But the objection to this is, that though this might be common, yet it is not the less a quibble on the word, for certainly the very puerile reasoning of the Jewish Rabbis is no good authority on which to vindicate the authority of an apostle. Locke and Clarke suppose that this refers to Christ as the spiritual head of the mystical body, and to all believers in him. LeClerc supposes that it is an allegorical kind of argument, that was suited to convince the Jews only, who were accustomed to this kind of reasoning. I do not know but this solution may be satisfactory to many minds, and that it is capable of vindication, since it is not easy to say how far it is proper to make use of methods of argument used by an adversary in order to convince them. The argumentum a.d. hominem is certainly allowable to a certain extent, when designed to show the legitimate tendency of the principles advanced by an opponent.
But here there is no evidence that Paul was reasoning with an adversary. He was showing the Galatians, not the Jews, what was the truth, and justice to the character of the apostle requires us to suppose that he would make use of only such arguments as are in accordance with the eternal principles of truth, and such as may be seen to he true in all countries and at all times. The question then is, whether the argument of the apostle here drawn from the use of the singular word σπέρματα spermata (seed), is one that can be seen to be sound? or is it a mere quibble, as Jerome and LeClerc suppose? or is it to be left to be presumed to have had a force which we cannot now trace? for this is possible. Socrates and Plato may have used arguments of a subtile nature, based on some nice distinctions of words which were perfectly sound, but which we, from our necessary ignorance of the delicate shades of meaning in the language, cannot now understand. Perhaps the following remarks may show that there is real force and propriety in the position which the apostle takes here. If not, then I confess my inability to explain the passage.
(1) There can be no reasonable objection to the opinion that the promise originally made to Abraham included the Messiah; and the promised blessings were to descend through him. This is so often affirmed in the New Testament, that to deny it would be to deny the repeated declarations of the sacred writers, and to make war on the whole structure of the Bible; see particularly Romans 4:0; compare John 8:56. If this general principle be admitted, it will remove much perplexity from the controversy.
(2) The promise made to Abraham Genesis 22:18, “and in thy seed זרץ zera‛, Septuagint ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου en tō spermati sou), where the words both in Hebrew and in Greek are in the singular number) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” cannot refer to all the seed or the posterity of Abraham taken collectively. He had two sons, Isaac by Rebecca, and Ishmael by Hagar, besides numerous descendants by Keturah; Genesis 25:1 ff. Through a large part of these no particular blessings descended on the human family, and there is no sense in which all the families of the earth are particularly blessed in them. On any supposition, therefore, there must have been some limitation of the promise; or the word “seed” was intended to include only some portion of his descendants, whether a particular branch or an individual, does not yet appear. It must have referred to a part only of the posterity of Abraham, but to what part is to be learned only by subsequent revelations.
(3) It was the intention of God to confine the blessing to one branch of the family, to Isaac and his descendants. The special promised blessing was to be through him, and not through the family of Ishmael. This intention is often expressed, Genesis 17:19-21; Genesis 21:12; Genesis 25:11; compare Romans 9:7; Hebrews 11:18. Thus, the original promise of a blessing through the posterity of Abraham became somewhat narrowed down, so as to show that there was to be a limitation of the promise to a particular portion of his posterity.
(4) If the promise had referred to the two branches of the family; if it had been intended to include Ishmael as well as Isaac, then some term would have been used that would have expressed this. So unlike were Isaac and Ishmael; so different in the circumstances of their birth and their future life; so dissimilar were the prophecies respecting them, that it might be said that their descendants were two races of people; and in Scripture the race of Ishmael ceased to be spoken of as the descendants or the posterity of Abraham. There was a sense in which the posterity of Isaac was regarded as the seed or posterity of Abraham in which the descendants of Ishmael were not; and the term σπέρμα sperma or “seed” therefore properly designated the posterity of Isaac. It might be said, then, that the promise “to thy seed” did not refer to the two races, as if he had said σπέρματα spermata, “seeds,” but to one σπέρμα sperma, “the seed” of Abraham, by way of eminence.
(5) This promise was subsequently narrowed down still more, so as to include only one portion of the descendants of Isaac. Thus it was limited to the posterity of Jacob, Esau being excluded; subsequently the special blessing was promised to the family of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob Genesis 49:10; in subsequent times it was still further narrowed down or limited to the family of Jesse; then to that of David; then to that of Solomon, until it terminated in the Messiah. The original intention of the promise was that there should be a limitation, and that limitation was made from age to age, until it terminated in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. By being thus narrowed down from age to age, and limited by successive revelations, it was shown that the Messiah was eminently intended, which is what Paul says here. The promise was indeed at first general, and the term used was of the most general nature; but it was shown from time to time that God intended that it should be applied only to one branch or portion of the family of Abraham; and that limitation was finally so made as to terminate in the Messiah. This I take to be the meaning of this very difficult passage of scripture; and though it may not be thought that all the perplexities are removed by these remarks, yet I trust they will be seen to be so far removed as that it will appear that there is real force in the argument of the apostle, and that it is not a mere trick of argument, or a quibble unworthy of him as an apostle and a man.
(Whatever may be thought of this solution of thee difficulty, the author has certainly given more than due prominence to the objections that are supposed to lie against the apostle’s argument. Whatever license a writer in the American Biblical Repository, or such like work, might take, it certainly is not wise in a commentary intended for Sunday Schools to affirm, that the great difficulty of the passage is “that the remark here of Paul appears to be a trick of argument, or a quibble more worthy of a trifling Jewish Rabbi than of a serious reasoner and an inspired man,” and then to exhibit such a formidable array of objection, and behind it a defense comparatively feeble, accompanied with the acknowledgment that if that be not sufficient the author can do no more! These objections, moreover, are not only stated “fairly” but strongly, and something more than strongly; so that while in the end the authority of the apostle is apparently vindicated, the effect is such, that the reader, unaccustomed to such treatment of inspired men, is tempted to exclaim, “non tali auxillo, nec defensoribus istis, tempus eget” Indeed we are surprised that, with Bloomfield and Burger before him, the author should ever have made some of the assertions which are set down under this text.
As to objection first, it does not matter what interpretation hundreds and thousands of persons would naturally put on the passage in Genesis, since the authority of an inspired apostle must be allowed to settle its meaning against them all. The second objection affirms, that “the word σπέρμα sperma is not used in the plural at all to denote a posterity,” on which Bloomfield thus remarks, “it has been denied that the word זרץ zera‛ is ever used in the plural, except to denote the seeds of vegetables. And the same assertion has been made respecting σπέρμα sperma. But the former position merely extends to the Old Testament, which only contains a fragment and small part of the Hebrew language. So that it cannot be proved that זרץ zera‛ was never used in the plural to denote sons, races. As to the latter assertion it is unfounded; for though σπέρμα sperma is used in the singular as a noun of multitude, to denote several children, yet it is sometimes used in the plural to signify several sons of the same family; as in Soph. OEd. Col. 599, γῆς εμῆς ἀπηλάθην Προς τῶν ἐμαυτοῦ σπερμάτων gēs emēs apēlathēn Pros emautou spermatōn.”
The elaborate Latin Note of Borger, part of which is quoted in Bloomfield, will give complete satisfaction to the student who may wish thoroughly to examine this place. He maintains:
1. That though the argument of the apostle may not be founded exactly on the use of the singular number, yet the absurdity at his application of the passage in Genesis to the Messiah, would have been obvious if, instead of the singular the plural had been used, “si non σπέρματος spermatos sed σπέρματων spermatōn mentio fuisset facta;” from which he justly concludes, that at all events “numerum cum hac explicatione non pugnare.”
2. The word זרץ zera‛ is in certain places understood of one man only (de uno homine) and therefore may be so here.
3. The apostle, arguing with Jews, employs an argument to which they were accustomed to attach importance; for they laid great stress on the respective use of the singular and plural number; which argument. indeed, would be liable to the objections stated against it by Mr. Barnes, if the thing to be proven rested entirely on this ground, and had not, besides, its foundation in the actual truth of the case. If the singular number in this place really had that force attached to it which the apostle declares, and if the Jews were influenced in other matters by arguments of this kind, it was certainly both lawful and wise to reason with them after their own fashion.
4. What is still more to the point, the Jewish writers themselves frequently use the word זרץ zera‛, not only of one man, but especially of the Messiah, “non tantum de uno homine, sed imprimis etiam de Messia exponere solent.”
On the whole, the objections against the reasoning on this passage are raised in defiance of apostolical interpretation. But, as has been well observed, “the apostle, to say nothing of his inspiration, might be supposed to be better qualified to decide on a point of this kind, than any modern philologist” - Bloomfield in loco.
The covenant which was confirmed before of God - By God, in his promise to Abraham. It was confirmed before the giving of the Law. The confirmation was the solemn promise which God made to him.
In Christ - With respect to the Messiah; a covenant relating to him, and which promised that he should descend from Abraham. The word “in,” in the phrase “in Christ,” does not quite express the meaning of the Greek εἰς Χριστὸν eis Christon. That means rather “unto Christ;” or unto the Messiah; that is, the covenant had respect to him. This is a common signification of the preposition εἰς eis “The law.” The Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Which was four hundred and thirty years after - In regard to the difficulties which have been felt respecting the chronology referred to here; see the note at Acts 7:6. The exact time here referred to was probably when Abraham was called, and when the promise was first made to him. Assuming that as the time referred to, it is not difficult to make out the period of four hundred and thirty years. That promise was made when Abraham was seventy-five years old; Genesis 12:3-4. From that time to the birth of Isaac, when Abraham was a hundred years old, was twenty-five years; Genesis 21:5. Isaac was sixty when Jacob was born; Genesis 25:26. Jacob went into Egypt when he was one hundred and thirty years old; Genesis 47:9. And the Israelites sojourned there, according to the Septuagint Exodus 12:40, two hundred and fifteen years, which completes the number: see Doddridge, Whitby, and Bloomfield. This was doubtless the common computation in the time of Paul; and as his argument did not depend at all on the exactness of the reckoning, he took the estimate which was in common use, without pausing or embarrassing himself by an inquiry whether it was strictly accurate or not.
His argument was the same, whether the Law was given four hundred and thirty years after the promise, or only two hundred years. The argument is, that a law given after the solemn promise which had been made and confirmed, could not make that promise void. It would still be binding according to the original intention; and the Law must have been given for some purpose entirely different from that of the promise. No one can doubt the soundness of this argument. The promise to Abraham was of the nature of a compact. But no law given by one of the parties to a treaty or compact can disannul it, Two nations make a treaty of peace, involving solemn promises, pledges, and obligations. No law made afterward by one of the nations can disannul or change that treaty. Two men make a contract with solemn pledges and promises. No act of one of the parties can change that, or alter the conditions. So it was with the covenant between God and Abraham. God made to him solemn promists which could not be affected by a future giving of a law. God would feel himself to be under the most solemn obligation to fulfil all the promises which he had made to him.
For if the inheritance - The inheritance promised to Abraham. The sum of the promise was, that “he should be the heir of the world;” see Romans 4:13, and the note at that verse. To that heirship or inheritance Paul refers here, and says that it was an essential part of it that it was to be in virtue of the promise made to him, and not by fulfilling the Law.
Be of the law - If it is by observing the Law of Moses; or if it come in any way by the fulfilling of law. This is plain. Yet the Jews contended that the blessings of justification and salvation were to be in virtue of the observance of the Law of Moses. But if so, says Paul, then it could not be by the promise made to Abraham, since there could not be two ways of obtaining the same blessing.
But God gave it to Abraham by promise - That, says Paul, is a settled point. It is perfectly clear; and that is to be held as an indisputable fact, that the blessing was given to Abraham by a promise. That promise was confirmed and ratified hundreds of years before the Law was given, and the giving of the Law could not affect it. But that promise was, that he would be the ancestor of the Messiah, and that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Of course, if they were to be blessed in this way, then it was not to be by the observance of the Law, and the Law must have been given for a different purpose. What that was, he states in the following verses.
Wherefore then serveth the law? - This is obviously an objection which might be urged to the reasoning which the apostle had pursued. It was very obvious to ask, if the principles which he had laid down were correct, of what use was the Law? Why was it given at all? Why were there so many wonderful exhibitions of the divine power at its promulgation? Why were there so many commendations of it in the Scriptures? And why were there so many injunctions to obey it? Are all these to be regarded as nothing; and is the Law to be esteemed as worthless? To all this, the apostle replies that the Law was not useless, but that it was given by God for great and important purposes, and especially for purposes closely connected with the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham and the work of the Mediator.
It was added - (προσετέθη prosetethē). It was appended to all the previous institutions and promises. It was an additional arrangement on the part of God for great and important purposes. It was an arrangement subsequent to the giving of the promise, and was intended to secure important advantages until the superior arrangement under the Messiah should be introduced, and was with reference to that.
Because of transgressions - On account of transgressions, or with reference to them. The meaning is, that the Law was given to show the true nature of transgressions, or to show what was sin. It was not to reveal a way of justification, but it was to disclose the true nature of sin; to deter people from committing it; to declare its penalty; to convince people of it, and thus to be “ancillary” to, and preparatory to the work of redemption through the Redeemer. This is the true account of the Law of God as given to apostate man, and this use of the Law still exists. This effect of the Law is accomplished:
- By showing us what God requires, and what is duty. It is the straight rule of what is right; and to depart from that is the measure of wrong.
(2)It shows us the nature and extent of transgression by showing us how far we have departed from it.
(3)It shows what is the just penalty of transgression, and is thus suited to reveal its true nature.
(4)It is suited to produce conviction for sin, and thus shows how evil and bitter a thing transgression is; see the notes at Romans 4:15; Romans 7:7-11.
(5)It thus shows its own inability to justify and save people, and is a preparatory arrangement to lead people to the cross of the Redeemer; see the note at Galatians 3:24. At the same time,
- The Law was given with reference to transgressions in order to keep men from transgression. It was designed to restrain and control them by its denunciations, and by the fear of its threatened penalties.
When Paul says that the Law was given on account of transgressions, we are not to suppose that this was the sole use of the Law; but that this was a main or leading purpose. It may accomplish many other important purposes (Calvin), but this is one leading design. And this design it still accomplishes. It shows people their duty. It reminds them of their guilt. It teaches them how far they have wandered from God. It reveals to them the penalty of disobedience. It shows them that justification by the Law is impossible, and that there must be some other way by which people must be saved. And since these advantages are derived from it, it is of importance that that Law should be still proclaimed, and that its high demands and its penalties should be constantly held up to the view of people.
Till the seed should come ... - The Messiah, to whom the promise particularly applied; see Galatians 3:16. It is not implied here that the Law would be of no use after that; but that it would accomplish important purposes before that. A large portion of the laws of Moses would then indeed cease to be binding. They were given to accomplish important purposes among the Jews until the Messiah should come, and then they would give way to the more important institutions of the gospel. But the moral law would continue to accomplish valuable objects after his advent, in showing people the nature of transgression and leading them to the cross of Christ. The essential idea of Paul here is, that the whole arrangement of the Mosaic economy, including all his laws, was with reference to the Messiah. It was a part of a great and glorious whole. It was not an independent thing. It did not stand by itself. It was incomplete and in many respects unintelligible until he came - as one part of a tally is unmeaning and useless until the other is found. In itself it did not justify or save people, but it served to introduce a system by which they could be saved. It contained no provisions for justifying people, but it was in the design of God an essential part of a system by which they could be saved. It was not a whole in itself, but it was a part of a glorious whole, and led to the completion and fulfillment of the entire scheme by which the race could be justified and brought to heaven.
And it was ordained by angels - That is, the Law was ordained by angels. The word ordained here διαταγεὶς diatageis usually means to arrange; to dispose in order; and is commonly used with reference to the marshalling of an army. In regard to the sentiment here that the Law was ordained by angels, see the note at Acts 7:53. The Old Testament makes no mention of the presence of angels at the giving of the Law, but it was a common opinion among the Jews that the Law was given by the instrumentality of angels, and arranged by them; and Paul speaks in accordance with this opinion; compare Hebrews 2:2. The sentiment here is that the Law was prescribed, ordered, or arranged by the instrumentality of the angels; an opinion, certainly, which none can prove not to be true. In itself considered, there is no more absurdity in the opinion that the Law of God should be given by the agency of angels, than there is that it should be done by the instrumentality of man.
In the Septuagint Deuteronomy 33:2 there is an allusion of the same kind. The Hebrew is: “From his right hand went a fiery law for them.” The Septuagint renders this, “His angels with him on his right hand;” compare Josephus, Ant. xv. 5, 3. That angels were present at the giving of the Law is more than implied, it is believed, in two passages of the Old Testament. The one is that which is referred to above, and a part of which the translators of the Septuagint expressly apply to angels; Deuteronomy 33:2. The Hebrew is, “Yahweh came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paron, and he came (literally) with ten thousands of holiness;” that is, with his holy ten thousands, or with his holy myriads מרבבת קדשׁ mēribbot qodesh. By the holy myriads mentioned here what can be meant but “the angels”? The word “holy” in the Scriptures is not given to storms and winds and tempests; and the natural interpretation is, that he was attended with vast hosts of intelligent beings.
The same sentiment is found in Psalms 68:17 - “The chariots of God are myriads, thousands repeated; the Lord is in the midst of them, as in Sinai, as in his sanctuary.” Does not this evidently imply that when he gave the Law on Mount Sinai he was surrounded by a multitude of angels? see Stuart on the Hebrews, Excursus viii. pp. 565-567. It may be added, that in the fact itself there is no improbability. What is more natural than to suppose that when the Law of God was promulgated in such a solemn manner on Mount Sinai to a world, that the angels should be present? If any occasion on earth has ever occurred where their presence was allowable and proper, assuredly that was one. And yet the Scriptures abound with assurances that the angels are interested in human affairs, and that they have had an important agency in the concerns of man.
In the hand - That is, under the direction, or control of. To be in the hand of one is to be under his control; and the idea is, that while this was done by the ordering of the angels or by their disposition, it was under the control of a Mediator Rosenmuller, however, and others suppose that this means simply by (per); that is, that it was done by the instrumentality of a Mediator. But it seems to me to imply more than this; that the Mediator here referred to had some jurisdiction or control over the Law thus given; or that it was subject to him, or with reference to him. The interpretation however will be affected by the view which is taken of the meaning of the word Mediator.
Of a Mediator - The word “Mediator” Μεσίτης Mesitēs means properly one who intervenes between two parties, either as an interpreter or internuncius, or as an intercessor or reconciler. In the New Testament, in all the places where it occurs, unless the passage before us be an exception, it is applied to the Lord Jesus, the great Mediator between God and man; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24. There has been some difference of opinion as to the reference of the word here. Rosenmuller, Grotius, Doddridge, Bloomfield, Robinson (Lexicon), Chandler, and many others suppose that it refers to Moses. Calvin and many others suppose that the reference is to Christ. The common sentiment among expositors undoubtedly is, that the reference is to Moses; and it is by no means easy to show that that is not the correct opinion. But to me it seems that there are reasons why it should he regarded as having reference to the great Mediator between God and man. Some of the reasons which incline me to this opinion are:
(1) That the name Mediator is not, so far as I know, applied to Moses elsewhere in the Scriptures.
(2) The name is appropriated to the Lord Jesus. This is certainly the case in the New Testament, unless the passage before us be an exception; and the name is not found in the Old Testament.
(3) It is difficult to see the pertinency of the remark here, or the bearing on the argument, on the supposition that it refers to Moses. How would it affect the drift and purport of the apostle’s reasoning? How would it bear on the case? But on the supposition that it refers to the Lord Jesus, that would be a material fact in the argument. It would show that the Law was subordinate to the Messiah, and was with reference to him. It was not only subservient by being ordained by angels, but as being under the Mediator, and with reference to him until he, the “promised seed,” should come.
(4) It is only by such an interpretation that the following “vexed” verse can be understood. If that be applied to Moses, I see not that any sense can be affixed to it that shall be pertinent or intelligible.
These reasons may not appear satisfactory to others; and I admit they are not as clear as would be desirable that reasons should be in the exposition of the Bible, but they may be allowed perhaps to have some weight. If they are of weight, then the sentiment of the passage is, that the Law was wholly subordinate, and could not make the promise of no effect. For:
(1) It was given hundreds of years after the promise.
(2) It was under the direction of angels, who must themselves be inferior to, and subordinate to the Messiah, the Mediator between God and man. If given by their agency and instrumentality, however important it might be, it could not interfere with a direct promise made by God himself, but must be subordinate to that promise.
(3) It was under the Mediator, the promised Messiah. It was in his hand, and subject to him. It was a part of the great plan which was contemplated in the promise, and was tributary to that, and must be so regarded. It was not an independent scheme; not a thing that stood by itself; but a scheme subordinate and tributary, and wholly under the control of the Mediator, and a part of the plan of redemption, and of course to be modified or abrogated just as that plan should require, and to be regarded as wholly tributary to it. This view will accord certainly with the argument of Paul, and with his design in showing that the Law could by no means, and in no way, interfere with the promise made to Abraham, but must be regarded as wholly subordinate to the plan of redemption.
Now a mediator is not a mediator of one ... - This verse has given great perplexity to commentators. “There is, unquestionably,” says Bloomfield, “no passage in the New Testament that has so much, and to so little purpose, exercised the learning and ingenuity of commentators as the present, which seems to defy all attempts to elicit any satisfactory sense, except by methods so violent as to be almost the same thing as writing the passage afresh.” In regard, however, to the truth of the declarations here - that “a mediator is not a mediator of one,” and that “God is one” - there can be no doubt, and no difficulty. The very idea of a mediator supposes that there are two parties or persons between whom the mediator comes either to reconcile them or to bear some message from the one to the other; and it is abundantly affirmed also in the Old Testament that there is but one God; see Deuteronomy 6:4.
But the difficulty is, to see the pertinency or the bearing of the remark on the argument of the apostle. What does he intend to illustrate by the declaration? and how do the truths which he states, illustrate the point before him? It is not consistent with the design of these notes to detail the numerous opinions which have been entertained of the passage. They may be found in the larger commentaries, and particularly may be seen in Koppe, Excursus vii. on the Galatians. After referring to a number of works on the passage, Rosenmuller adopts the following interpretation, proposed by Noessett, as expressing the true sense. But he (that is, Moses) is not a mediator of one race (to wit, the Abrahamic), but God is the same God of them and of the Gentiles. The sense according to this is, that Moses had not reference in his office as mediator or as internuncius to the descendants of Abraham, or to that one seed or race, referred to in the promise.
He added the hard conditions of the Law; required its stern and severe observances; his institutions pertained to the Jews mainly. They indeed might obtain the favor of God, but by compliance with the severe laws which he had ordained. But to the one seed, the whole posterity of Abraham, they concerning whom the promise was made, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, he had no reference in his institutions: all their favors, therefore, must depend on the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. But God is one and the same in reference to all. His promise pertains to all. He is the common God to the Jews and the Gentiles. There is great difficulty in embracing this view of the passage, but it is not necessary for me to state the difficulty or to attempt to show that the view here proposed cannot be defended. Whitby has expressed substantially the same interpretation of this passage. “But this mediator (namely, Moses) was only the mediator of the Jews, and so was only the mediator of one party, to whom belonged the blessing of Abraham, Galatians 3:8, Galatians 3:14. But God, who made the promise, ‘That in one should all the families of the earth be blessed,’ is one; the God of the other party, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and so as ready to justify the one as the other.”
According to this interpretation, the sense is, that Moses was mediator of one part of Abraham’s seed, the Israelites; but was not the mediator of the other part of that seed, the Gentiles; yet there was the same God to both parties, who was equally ready to justify both. Locke has expressed a view of the passage which differs somewhat from this, but which has quite as much plausibility. According to his exposition it means, that God was but one of the parties to the promise. The Jews and the Gentiles made up the other. But at the giving of the Law Moses was a mediator only between God and the Israelites, and, therefore, could not transact anything which would tend to the disannulling of the promise which was between God and the Jews and Gentiles together, the other party to the promise. Or in other words, at the covenant made on Mount Sinai, there was really present but one of the parties, and consequently nothing could be done that would affect the other.
Moses did not appear in behalf of the Gentiles. They had no representative there. He was engaged only for the Jews, for a part only of the one party, and that part could not transact anything for the whole. The giving of the Law, therefore, could not affect the promise which was made to Abraham, and which related to the Jews and the Gentiles as together constituting one party. This view is plausible. It has been adopted by Doddridge, and perhaps may be the true interpretation. No one can deny, however, that it is forced, and that it is far from being obvious. It seems to be making a meaning for the apostle, or furnishing him with an argument, rather than explaining the one which he has chosen to use; and it may be doubted whether Paul would have used an argument that required so much explanation as this before it could be understood. All these expositions proceed on the supposition that the word “mediator” here refers to Moses, and that the transaction here referred to was that on Mount Sinai. I would suggest a sense of the passage which I have found in none of the commentaries which I have consulted, and which I would, therefore, propose with diffidence.
All that I can claim for it is, that it may possibly be the meaning. According to the view which I shall submit, the words here are to be regarded as used in their usual signification; and the simplest interpretation possible is to be given to the propositions in the verse. One proposition is, that a mediator is not appointed with reference to one party, but to two. This proposition is universal. Wherever there is a mediator there are always two parties. The other proposition is, that God is one; that is, that he is the same one God, in whatever form his will may be made known to people, whether by a promise as to Abraham, or by the Law as to Moses. The interpretation which I would propose embraces the following particulars:
(1) The design of the apostle is, to show that the giving of the Law could not abrogate or affect the promise made to Abraham; and to show at the same time what is its true object. It could not annul the promises, says Paul. It was given long after, and could not affect them, Galatians 3:17. It was an addition, an appendage, a subsequent enactment for a specific purpose, yet a part of the same general plan, and subordinate to the Mediator, Galatians 3:19. It was to be shown also that the Law was not against the promises of God. It was a good law Galatians 3:21; and was not designed to be an opposing system, or intended to counteract the promise, or the scheme of salvation by promise, but was a part of the same great plan.
(2) A mediator always supposes two parties. In all the transactions, therefore, where a mediator is employed, there is supposed to be two parties. When, therefore, the promise was made to Abraham with reference to the Messiah, the great Mediator; and when the Law was given in the hand of the Mediator, and under his control, there is always supposed to be two parties.
(3) The whole arrangement here referred to is under the Mediator, and with reference to him. The promise made to Abraham had reference to him and to those who should believe on him; and the Law given by Moses was also under him, and with reference to him. He was the grand object and agent of all. He was the Mediator with reference to both. Each transaction had reference to him, though in different ways the transaction with Abraham relating to him in connection with a promise; the transaction at the giving of the Law being under his control as Mediator, and being a part of the one great plan. There was an identity of plan; and the plan had reference to the Messiah, the great Mediator.
(4) God is one and the same. He is throughout one of the parties; and he does not change. However the arrangements may vary, whether in giving the Law or imparting a promise, He is the same. There is only one God in all the transaction; and He, throughout, constitutes one of the parties. The other party is man, at first receiving the promise from this one God with reference to the Mediator through Abraham, and then receiving the Law through the same Mediator on Mount Sinai. He is still the one party unchanged; and there is the same Mediator; implying all along that there are two parties.
(5) It follows, therefore, agreeably to the argument of the apostle, that the Law given so long after the promise, could not abrogate it, because they pertained to the same plan, were under the same one God, who was one unchanging party in all this transaction, and had reference to the same Mediator and were alike under his control. It followed, also, that the Law was temporary Galatians 3:19; interposed for important purposes until the “seed should come,” because it was a part of the same general arrangement, and was under the control of the same Mediator, and directed by the same one God, the unchanging one party in all these transactions. It followed, further, that the one could not be against the other Galatians 3:21, because they were a part of the same plan, under the control of the same Mediator, and where the same God remained unchanged as the one party. All that is assumed in this interpretation is:
- That there was but one plan or arrangement; or that the transaction with Abraham and with Moses were parts of one great scheme; and,
- That the Mediator here referred to was not Moses, but the Messiah, the Son of God.
The following paraphrase will express the sense which I have endeavored to convey. “The giving of the Law could not annul or abrogate the promise made to Abraham. It was long after that, and it was itself subservient to that. It was given by the instrumentality of angels, and it was entirely under the control of the Mediator, the Messiah. The plan was one; and all the parts of it, in the promise made to Abraham and in the giving of the Law, were subordinate to him. A mediator always supposes two parties, and the reference to the Mediator, alike in the promise to Abraham and in the giving of the Law, supposes that there were two parties. God is one party, the same unchanging God in all the forms of the promise and of the Law. In this state of things, it is impossible that the Law should clash with the promise, or that it should supersede or modify it. It was a part of the one great plan; appointed with reference to the work which the Mediator came to do; and in accordance with the promise made to Abraham; and therefore they could not be contradictory and inconsistent.” It is assumed in all this that the Messiah was contemplated in the whole arrangement, and that it was entered into with reference to him. That this may be assumed no one can deny who believes the scriptures. The whole arrangement in the Old Testament, it is supposed, was designed to be ancillary to redemption; and the interpretation which has been submitted above is based on that supposition.
Is the law then against the promises of God? - Is the Law of Moses to be regarded as opposed to the promises made to Abraham? Does this follow from any view which can be taken of the subject? The object of the apostle in asking this question is, evidently, to take an opportunity to deny in the most positive manner that there can be any such clashing or contradiction. He shows, therefore, what was the design of the Law, and declares that the object was to further the plan contemplated in the promise made to Abraham. It was an auxiliary to that. It was as good as a law could be; and it was designed to prepare the way for the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham.
God forbid - It cannot be. It is impossible. I do not hold such an opinion. Such a sentiment by no means follows from what has been advanced; compare the note at Romans 3:4.
For if there had been a law given which could have given life - The Law of Moses is as good as a law can be. It is pure, and truly, and good. It is not the design to insinuate anything against the Law in itself, or to say that as a law it is defective. But law could not give life. It is not its nature; and man cannot be justified by obedience to it. No man has ever yielded perfect compliance with it and no man, therefore, can be justified by it, compare the notes at Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:10, note.
Verily righteousness should have been by the law - Or justification would have been secured by the Law. The Law of Moses was as well adapted to this as a law could be. No better law could have been originated for this purpose, and if people were to attempt to justify themselves before God by their own works, the Law of Moses would be as favorable for such an undertaking as any law which could be revealed. It is as reasonable, and equal, and pure. Its demands are as just, and its terms as favorable as could be any of the terms of mere law. And such a law has been given in part in order to show that justification by the Law is out of the question. If people could not be justified by a law so pure, and equal, and just; so reasonable in all its requirements and so perfect, how could they expect to be justified by conformity to any inferior or less perfect rule of life? The fact, therefore, that no one can be justified by the pure law revealed on Mount Sinai, forever settles the question about the possibility of being justified by law.
But the Scripture - The Old Testament (see the note at John 5:39), containing the Law of Moses.
Hath concluded all under sin - Has “shut up” (συνέκλεισεν sunekleisen) all under the condemnation of sin; that is, has declared all people, no matter what their rank and external character, to be sinners. Of course, they cannot be justified by that law which declares them to be guilty, and which condemns them, any more than the Law of the land will acquit a murderer, and pronounce him innocent, at the same time that it holds him to be guilty. In regard to the meaning of the expression used here; see the note at Romans 11:32; compare Romans 3:9, Romans 3:19. “That the promise by faith of Jesus Christ, etc.” That the promise referred to in the transaction with Abraham, the promise of justification and life by faith in the Messiah. Here we see one design of the Law. It was to show that they could not be justified by their own works, to hedge up their way in regard to justification by their own righteousness, and to show them their need of a better righteousness. The Law accomplishes the same end now. It shows people that they are guilty; and it does it in order that they may be brought under the influence of the pure system of the gospel, and become interested in the promises which are connected with eternal salvation.
But before faith came - That is, the system of salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus. Faith here denotes the Christian religion, because faith is its distinguishing characteristic.
We were kept under the law - We, who were sinners; we, who have violated the Law. It is a general truth, that before the gospel was introduced, people were under the condemning sentence of the Law.
Shut up unto the faith - Enclosed by the Law with reference to the full and glorious revelation of a system of salvation by faith. The design and tendency of the Law was to shut us up to that as the only method of salvation. All other means failed. The Law condemned every other mode, and the Law condemned all who attempted to be justified in any other way. Man, therefore, was shut up to that as his last hope; and could look only to that for any possible prospect of salvation. The word which in this verse is rendered “were kept” ἐφρουρούμεθα ephrouroumetha, usually means to guard or watch, as in a castle, or as prisoners are guarded; and though the word should not be pressed too far in the interpretation, yet it implies that there wasa rigid scrutiny observed; that the Law guarded them; that there was no way of escape; and that they were shut up. as prisoners under sentence of death, to the only hope, which was that of pardons.
Unto the faith ... - That was the only hope. The Law condemned them, and offered no hope of escape. Their only hope was in that system which was to be revealed through the Messiah, the system which extended forgiveness on the ground of faith in his atoning blood.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster - The word rendered schoolmaster (παιδαγωγὸς paidagōgos, whence the word “pedagogue”), referred originally to a slave or freedman, to whose care boys were committed, and who accompanied them to the public schools. The idea here is not that of instructor, but there is reference to the office and duty of the “paedagogus” among the ancients. The office was usually intrusted to slaves or freedmen. It is true, that when the “paedagogus” was properly qualified, he assisted the children committed to his care in preparing their lessons. But still his main duty was not instruction, but it was to watch over the boys; to restrain them from evil and temptation; and to conduct them to the schools, where they might receive instruction. See, for illustrations of this, Wetstein, Bloomfield, etc. In the passage before us, the proper notion of pedagogue is retained. In our sense of the word schoolmaster, Christ is the schoolmaster, and not the Law. The Law performs the office of the ancient pedagogue, to lead us to the teacher or the instructor. That teacher or instructor is Christ. The ways in which the Law does this may be the following:
(1) It restrains us and rebukes us, and keeps us as the ancient pedagogue did his boys.
(2) The whole law was designed to be introductory to Christ. The sacrifices and offerings were designed to shadow forth the Messiah, and to introduce him to the world.
(3) The moral law - the Law of God - shows people their sin and danger, and thus leads them to the Saviour. It condemns them, and thus prepares them to welcome the offer of pardon through a Redeemer.
(4) It still does this. The whole economy of the Jews was designed to do this and under the preaching of the gospel it is still done. People see that they are condemned; they are convinced by the Law that they cannot save themselves, and thus they are led to the Redeemer. The effect of the preached gospel is to show people their sins, and thus to be preparatory to the embracing of the offer of pardon. Hence, the importance of preaching the Law still; and hence, it is needful that people should be made to feel that they are sinners, in order that they may be prepared to embrace the offers of mercy; compare the note at Romans 10:4.
But after that faith is come - The scheme of salvation by faith. After that is revealed; see the note at Galatians 3:23.
We are no longer under a schoolmaster - Under the poedagogus, or pedagogue. We are not kept in restraint, and under bondage, and led along to another to receive instruction. We are directly under the great Teacher, the Instructor himself; and have a kind of freedom which we were not allowed before. The bondage and servitude have passed away; and we are free from the burdensome ceremonies and expensive rites (compare the note at Acts 15:10) of the Jewish law, and from the sense of condemnation which it imposes. This was true of the converts from Judaism to Christianity - that they became free from the burdensome rites of the Law and it is true of all converts to the faith of Christ, that, having been made to see their sin by the Law, and having been conducted by it to the cross of the Redeemer, they are now made free.
For ye are all the children of God ... - All who bear the Christian name - the converts from among the Jews and Gentiles alike; see the note at John 1:12. The idea here is, that they are no longer under tutors and governors; they are no longer subject to the direction and will of the “paedagogus”; they are arrived at age, and are admitted to the privileges of sons; see the note at Galatians 4:1. The language here is derived from the fact, that until the son arrived at age, he was in many respects not different from a servant. He was under laws and restraints; and subject to the will of another. When of age, he entered on the privileges of heirship, and was free to act for himself. Thus, under the Law, people were under restraints, and subject to heavy exactions. Under the gospel, they are free, and admitted to the privileges of the sons of God.
For as many of you - Whether by nature Jews or Gentiles.
As have been baptized into Christ - Or “unto” (εἰς eis) - the same preposition which in Galatians 3:24 is rendered unto) Christ. That is, they were baptized with reference to him, or receiving him as the Saviour; see this explained in the note at Romans 6:3.
Have put on Christ - That is, they have put on his sentiments, opinions, characteristic traits, etc., as a man clothes himself. This language was common among the ancient writers; see it explained in the note at Romans 13:14.
There is neither Jew nor Greek - All are on a level; all are saved in the same way; all are entitled to the same privileges. There is no favoritism on account of birth, beauty, or blood. All confess that they are sinners; all are saved by the merits of the same Saviour; all are admitted to the same privileges as children of God. The word “Greek” here is used to denote the Gentiles generally; since the whole world was divided by the Jews into “Jews and Greeks” - the Greeks being the foreign nation best known to them. The Syriac renders it here “Aramean,” using the word to denote the Gentiles generally. The meaning is, that whatever was the birth, or rank, or nation, or color, or complexion, all under the gospel were on a level. They were admitted to the same privileges, and endowed with the same hopes of eternal life. This does not mean that all the civil distinctions among people are to be disregarded.
It does not mean that no respect is to be shown to those in office, or to people in elevated rank. It does not mean that all are on a level in regard to talents, comforts, or wealth; but it means only that all people are on a level “in regard to religion.” This is the sole point under discussion; and the interpretation should be limited to this. It is not a fact that people are on a level in all things, nor is it a fact that the gospel designs to break down all the distinctions of society. Paul means to teach that no man has any preference or advantage in the kingdom of God because he is a rich man, or because he is of elevated rank; no one is under any disadvantage because he is poor, or because he is ignorant, or a slave. All at the foot of the cross are sinners; all at the communion table are saved by the same grace; all who enter into heaven, will enter clothed in the same robes of salvation, and arranged, not as princes and nobles, and rich men and poor men, in separate orders and ranks, but mingling together as redeemed by the same blood, and arranged in ranks according to their eminence in holiness; compare my notes at Isaiah 56:8.
There is neither bond nor free - The condition of a free man does not give him any special claims or advantages in regard to religion; and the condition of a slave does not exclude him from the hope of heaven, or from being regarded as a child of God, on the same terms, and entitled to the same privileges as his master. In regard to religion, they are on the same level. They are alike sinners, and are alike saved by grace. They sit down at the same communion table; and they look forward to the same heaven. Christianity does not admit the one to favor because he is free, or exclude the other because he is a slave. Nor, when they are admitted to favor, does it give the one a right to lord it over the other, or to feel that he is of any more value in the eye of the Redeemer, or any nearer to his heart. The essential idea is, that they are on a level, and that they are admitted to the favor of God without respect to their external condition in society. I do not see any evidence in this passage that the Christian religion designed to abolish slavery, any more than I do in the following phrase, “there is neither male nor female,” that it was intended to abolish the distinction of the sexes; nor do I see in this passage any evidence that there should not be proper respect shown by the servant to his master, though both of them are Christians, any more than there is in the following phrase, that suitable respect should not be shown in the contact with the sexes; compare 1 Timothy 6:1-5. But the proof is explicit, that masters and slaves may alike become Christians on the same terms, and are, in regard to their religious privileges and hopes, on a level. No special favor is shown to the one, in the matter of salvation, because he is free, nor is the other excluded because he is a slave. And from this it follows:
(1) That they should sit down to the same communion table. There should be no invidious and odious distinctions there.
(2) They should be regarded alike as Christian brethren in the house of God, and should be addressed and treated accordingly.
(3) The slave should excite the interest, and receive the watchful care of the pastor, as well as his master. Indeed, he may need it more; and from his ignorance, and the fewness of his opportunities, it may be proper that special attention should be bestowed on him.
In regard to this doctrine of Christianity, that there is neither “bond nor free” among those who are saved, or that all are on a level in regard to salvation, we may remark further:
(1) That it is unique to Christianity. All other systems of religion and philosophy make different ranks, and endeavor to promote the distinctions of caste among people. They teach that certain people are the favorites of heaven, in virtue of their birth or their rank in life, or that they have special facilities for salvation. Thus, in India the Brahmin is regarded as, by his birth, the favorite of heaven, and all others are supposed to be of a degraded rank. The great effort of people, in their systems of religion and philosophy, has been to show that there are favored ranks and classes, and to make permanent distinctions on account of birth and blood. Christianity regards all people as made of one blood to dwell on all the face of the earth (see the note at Acts 17:26), and esteems them all to be equal in the matter of salvation; and whatever notions of equality prevail in the world are to be traced to the influence of the Christian religion.
(2) If people are regarded as equal before God, and as entitled to the same privileges of salvation; if there is in the great work of redemption “neither bond nor free,” and those who are in the Church are on a level, then such a view will induce a master to treat his slave with kindness, when that relation exists. The master who has any right feelings, will regard his servant as a Christian brother, redeemed by the same blood as himself, and destined to the same heaven. He will esteem him not as “a chattel” or “a thing,” or as a piece “of property,” but he will regard him as an immortal being, destined with himself to the same heaven, and about to sit down with him in the realms of glory. How can he treat such a brother with unkindness or severity? How can he rise from the same communion table with him, and give way to violent feelings against him, and regard him and treat him as if he were a brute? And Christianity, by the same principle that “the slave is a brother in the Lord,” will do more to mitigate the horrors of slavery, than all the enactments that people can make, and all the other views and doctrines which can be made to prevail in society; see Philemon 1:16.
(3) This doctrine would lead to universal emancipation. All are on a level before God. In the kingdom of Jesus there is neither bond nor free. One is as much an object of favor as another. With this feeling, how can a Christian hold his fellow Christian in bondage? How can he regard as “a chattel” or “a thing,” one who, like himself, is an heir of glory? How can he sell him on whom the blood of Jesus has been sprinkled? Let him feel that his slave is his equal in the sight of God; that with himself he is an heir of glory; that together they are soon to stand on Mount Zion above; that the slave is an immortal being, and has been redeemed by the blood of Calvary, and how can he hold such a being in bondage, and how can he transfer him from place to place and from hand to hand for gold? If all masters and all slaves were to become Christians, slavery would at once cease; and the prevalence of the single principle before us would put an end to all the ways in which man oppresses his fellow-man. Accordingly, it is well known that in about three centuries the influence of Christianity banished slavery from the Roman empire.
There is neither male nor female - Neither the male nor the female have any special advantages for salvation. There are no favors shown on account of sex. Both sexes are, in this respect, on a level. This does not mean, of course, that the sexes are to be regarded as in all respects equal; nor can it mean that the two sexes may not have special duties and privileges in other respects. It does not prove that one of the sexes may not perform important offices in the church, which would not be proper for the other. It does not prove that the duties of the ministry are to be performed by the female sex, nor that the various duties of domestic life, nor the various offices of society, should be performed without any reference to the distinction of sex. The interpretation should be confined to the matter under consideration; and the passage proves only that in regard to salvation they are on a level.
One sex is not to be regarded as the special favorite of heaven, and the other to be excluded. Christianity thus elevates the female sex to an equality with the male, on the most important of all interests; and it has in this way made most important changes in the world wherever it has prevailed. Everywhere but in connection with the Christian religion, woman has been degraded. She has been kept in ignorance. She has been treated as an inferior in all respects. She has been doomed to unpitied drudgery, and ignorance, and toil. So she was among the ancient Greeks and Romans; so she is among the savages of America; so she is in China, and India, and in the islands of the sea; so she is regarded in the Koran, and in all Muslim countries. It is Christianity alone which has elevated her; and nowhere on earth does man regard the mother of his children as an intelligent companion and friend, except where the influence of the Christian religion has been felt. At the communion table, at the foot of the cross, and in the hopes of heaven, she is on a level with man; and this fact diffuses a mild, and purifying, and elevating influence over all the relations of life. Woman has been raised from deep degradation by the influence of Christianity; and, let me add, she has everywhere acknowledged the debt of gratitude, and devoted herself, as under a deep sense of obligation, to lessening the burdens of humanity, and to the work of elevating the degraded, instructing the ignorant, and comforting the afflicted, all over the world. Never has a debt been better repaid, or the advantages of elevating one portion of the race been more apparent.
For ye are all one in Christ Jesus - You are all equally accepted through the Lord Jesus Christ; or you are all on the same level, and entitled to the same privileges in your Christian profession. Bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, are admitted to equal privileges, and are equally acceptable before God. And the church of God, no matter what may be the complexion, the country, the habits, or the rank of its members, is one. Every man, on whom is the image and the blood of Christ, is a brother to every other one who bears that image, and should be treated accordingly. What an influence would be excited in the breaking up of the distinctions of rank and caste among people; what an effect in abolishing the prejudice on account of color and country, if this were universally believed and felt!
And if ye be Christ’s - If you belong to the Messiah, and are interested in his work.
Then are ye Abraham’s seed - The promise made to Abraham related to the Messiah. It was a promise that in him all should be blessed. Abraham believed in that Messiah, and was distinguished for his faith in him who was to come. If they believed in Christ, therefore, they showed that they were the spiritual descendants of Abraham. No matter whether they were Jews or Gentiles; whether they had been circumcised or not, they had the same spirit which he evinced, and were interested in the promises made to him.
And heirs according to the promise - See Romans 8:17. Are heirs of God. You inherit the blessings promised to Abraham, and partake of the felicity to which he looked forward. You have become truly heirs of God, and this is in accordance with the promise made to Abraham. It is not by the obedience of the Law; it is by faith - in the same way that Abraham possessed the blessing; an arrangement before the giving of the Law, and therefore one that may include all, whether Jews or Gentiles. All are on a level; and all are alike the children of God, and in the same manner, and on the same terms that Abraham was.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Galatians 3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12