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Chapters 3, 4. (Second Division of the Epistle.)
The Doctrine of Justification by Faith discussed and illustrated
Ch. 3: 1 9 . Justification by Faith, the dispensation of the Spirit
1 . In the concluding verses of the preceding chapter the Apostle has not been directly addressing the Galatians. He has rather been following up his rebuke to Peter by an argument a soliloquy ending in a reductio ad absurdum . A doctrine which practically makes the death of Christ superfluous is impious and revolting. ‘And is this the doctrine which you were lightly disposed to accept? O foolish Galatians, to what spell of sorcery have you succumbed? Christ Crucified was lifted up before you as the object of faith. Instead of looking away (Hebrews 12:2 ) from all else to Jesus Christ alone, you allowed your eyes to wander to the Law and your own works, and so yielded to the deadly fascination of these Judaizing teachers.’
O foolish Galatians ] The epithet ‘foolish’ does not refer to a national characteristic. The Galatians, like other Keltic races, were quick-witted. Their folly consisted in not seeing the inconsistency of the new teaching with their own experience ( v . 2) and the impious conclusion to which it inevitably led, c. 2:21. Our Lord addressed the two disciples at Emmaus in the same terms “O fools, &c.” Luke 24:25 .
hath bewitched ] Rather, ‘bewitched’, cast a spell over you, the allusion being to the time when they ‘so readily’ (c. 1:6) transferred their allegiance to the Judaizing teachers. The change so sudden, and so senseless, seems like the effect supposed to be produced by magical arts. This verb does not occur elsewhere in N. T., though not uncommon in Classical Greek. It is used of the spell which was supposed to be cast over persons, especially children, by the influence of the evil eye a superstition prevalent in ancient times, and still existing in the East, in Italy and among the Kelts in Brittany. The word sometimes expresses, as here, the baneful effect on the victim, sometimes the feeling of envy or jealousy on the part of the agent. There may be a combination of these two ideas here; for St Paul alludes (c. 4:17, 6:12) to the intense spirit of partisanship by which the Judaizers were actuated.
that ye should not obey the truth ] Rightly omitted in the R.V. The clause is not found in the best MSS., and has probably been inserted from ch. 5:7.
before whose eyes ] ‘to whom, confronting you, Christ was set forth’.
hath been evidently set forth crucified ] This of course does not imply that they had actually witnessed His Crucifixion indeed the tense of the participle ‘crucified’ (better, ‘as having been crucified’) excludes such an explanation. One verb in the original stands for ‘hath been evidently set forth’. Render, ‘ was set forth ’. The same word occurs Romans 15:4 , where it is rightly translated “were written before”. It is not probable that this can be the sense in this passage, first, because there is no specific mention of our Lord’s death by Crucifixion in the Messianic prophecies of the O.T.; and secondly, because in such prophecies Christ could not be said to have been described as crucified ‘ before their eyes ’. Two other explanations (both in a figurative sense) have been adopted, (1) ‘was described as in a picture, was pourtrayed, or delineated’. This finds favour with Theod. Mops., Luther, Calvin, and others; and (2) ‘was publicly announced, proclaimed’. The latter sense is preferred by Bp. Lightfoot, on the ground of its being “the common word to describe all public notices or proclamations”. In Jude 1:4 we have a similar thought ‘whose names have been posted up as of men doomed to this condemnation’.
among you ] Omitted in many MSS. and in R.V. If it is retained, it may refer to the fact that the doctrine of the Cross, ‘embracing the whole mystery of redemption by grace and freedom from legal obligation’ (Alford), had been proclaimed without reserve among them, not as a passing announcement, but in the systematic teaching of the Church.
2 . Here the Apostle makes a personal appeal to their own experience. He might have adduced other arguments to shew the excellence of faith. But he confines himself to one question, which they alone could answer, and the answer to which is decisive. ‘Was it from (as the fruit of) the works of the Law that ye received the Spirit, or from the preaching of faith’? Luther shews at large, by reference to the Acts of the Apostles, that ‘the Holy Ghost is not given by the Law, but by the hearing of the Gospel’. ‘Hereby’, he says, ‘we may see what is the difference between the Law and the Gospel. The Law never bringeth the Holy Ghost, but only teacheth what we ought to do: therefore it justifieth not. But the Gospel bringeth the Holy Ghost, because it teacheth what we ought to receive. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are two contrary doctrines. To put righteousness therefore in the Law, is nothing else but to fight against the Gospel. For Moses with his Law is a severe exactor, requireth of us that we should work, and that we should give; briefly, it requireth and exacteth. Contrariwise the Gospel giveth freely and requireth of us nothing else, but to hold out our hands, and to take that which is offered. Now to exact and to give, to take and to offer, are clean contrary, and cannot stand together’.
Received ye the Spirit ] Once only (in the Apostolic commission, John 20:22 ) does the expression, Receive the Holy Ghost occur in the Gospels. The reason for this is given, John 7:39 . But when our Lord had ascended into Heaven, He sent the promised Gift from the Father to them which believed. Bp. Middleton classifies the uses of the words, Spirit, or Holy Spirit, in N. T. (Doctrine of the Greek Article, note on Matthew 5:18 ). The word ‘spirit’ is not employed here in its personal sense, but refers to the gracious gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. These gifts were twofold, ( a ) extraordinary, miraculous and temporary; and ( b ) ordinary and abiding, that ‘fruit of the spirit’ of which an enumeration is given, c. 5:22, 23. The former were the credentials of the early Church, attesting to the world her Divine mission; the latter are a witness in the heart of the believer both to the truth of the Gospel and to his own share in its unspeakable blessings. But this distinction must not be regarded as exclusive . Miracles serve to confirm the faith of believers, and the holy lives of Christians are an evidence to the world of the power of the Gospel, and so of its truth. Both kinds of gifts are probably included here in the expression, ‘the spirit’. Comp. Acts 2:4 , Acts 2:17 , Acts 2:18 , Acts 2:33 , Acts 2:8 :17, 10:Acts 2:44-46 , 19:Acts 2:2-6 ; Romans 8:9-11 , Romans 8:13-16 , Romans 8:23 , Romans 8:26 ; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13 , 1 Corinthians 12:14 .
the hearing of faith ] The word rendered literally ‘hearing’ has two senses, ‘the reception, or act of receiving by the ears’, as in Luke 7:1 ; 1 Corinthians 12:17 ; 2 Peter 2:8 ; and, the thing heard, or report or message, as in Matthew 14:1 ; Romans 10:16 , Romans 10:17 in which latter passage it is = preaching. On the whole it seems better to take it in the latter sense here. Thus we have in strongest contrast the works of the Law and the preaching of faith. The Law said, This do, and thou shalt live; the Gospel, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
3 . The contrast is still maintained in other terms. Here the ‘flesh’ is used for that which is external and material, compliance with outward observances, as opposed to the spiritual principle of faith. These two “are contrary the one to the other”. It is folly, having begun your Christian life spiritually ( v . 2), to finish it carnally to descend from the higher to the lower, from the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus to the law of sin and death. The same collocation of the verbs ‘begin’ and ‘finish’ is found, Philippians 1:6 ; comp. 2 Corinthians 8:6 .
4 . Have ye suffered so many things in vain? ] The reference is, as in verse 2, to persecutions experienced by them at the time of their conversion. Though we have no record of these, yet, as Bp. Lightfoot remarks, the history “is equally silent on all that relates to the condition of the Galatian Churches; and while the converts to the faith in Pisidia and Lycaonia on the one side (Acts 14:2 , Acts 14:5 , Acts 14:19 , Acts 14:22 ), and in proconsular Asia on the other (2 Corinthians 1:8 ; Acts 19:23 , sqq.), were exposed to suffering, it is improbable that the Galatians alone should have escaped”. He adds, “If …, as is most likely, the Jews were the chief instigators in these persecutions St. Paul’s appeal becomes doubly significant”. Some would render, ‘Have ye experienced so many things?’ i.e. (1) so many spiritual blessings (which would make the question nearly a repetition of v . 2) or (2) such trials and such mercies.
if it be yet in vain ] ‘if it be indeed in vain’. This is added in the exercise of that charity which ‘hopeth all things’.
5 . He therefore ] St Paul, after a digression in which he rebukes their folly in reversing the true order of the soul’s progress ( v . 3) and in relinquishing the truth which they had embraced at the cost even of persecution ( v . 4) resumes the appeal of v . 2 in another form. ‘He then, as I was saying, &c.’
The reference has hitherto been to the time when they first embraced the Gospel. It is now directed to that continued supply of the spirit which God graciously bestowed upon His Church, as combined with, and manifested by the exercise of miraculous powers.
He … ministereth ] ‘He then (i.e. God) who graciously bestoweth on you, &c.’ The force of the word ‘ministereth’ (R.V. ‘supplieth’) may be understood by reference to the use of it elsewhere, e.g. 2 Corinthians 9:10 ; Philippians 1:19 .
worketh miracles ] For the different terms employed in N. T. to designate the supernatural operations of the Holy Ghost through human agency, see Trench On the Miracles , chap. 1; esp. p. 6 for the term ‘powers’ used here.
among you ] Perhaps, ‘in you’, both as more personal , and as agreeing with 1 Corinthians 12:6 ; Philippians 2:13 . See also Matthew 14:2 , R.V.
by the works … or by ] Rather, ‘from the works … or from’ &c. The preposition denotes rather the consequence or result, than the means.
6 9 . Exemplified by the case of Abraham
6 . We must supply the obvious answers to the question of v . 5. Assuredly those miraculous powers followed the preaching of faith ; (comp. Mark 16:20 ) and so it was with Abraham; he believed and was justified.
The quotation is from the LXX. version of Genesis 15:6 . [The Hebrew reads, ‘and He counted it to him for righteousness’.] It occurs also Romans 4:3 ; James 2:23 . From the appeal thus made by St Paul and St James to the case of Abraham, it would seem that they regarded the passage in Genesis as affording common ground to themselves and all (whether Jews or converts) who acknowledged the authority of the O.T. Scriptures.
On the faith of Abraham, see Appendix IV. p. 88.
7 . Know ye ] Better indic. ‘Ye know then’. So in Philippians 4:15 , where the punctuation in some copies of A.V. perverts the sense.
they which are of faith ] This form of expression is common in Classical Greek. It means, ‘they who come from, and so belong to’; especially of persons who range themselves as members of a party or adherents of a cause. The antithesis to ‘those who are of faith’ is ‘those who are of the Law’, Romans 2:8 , or ‘of the works of the Law’, v . 10.
the same ] Rather, these , and none others.
the children of Abraham ] This was the boast of the Jews, “We have Abraham to our father”, John 8:39 : comp. Matthew 3:9 . St Paul here adopts the same argument which our Lord used, “If ye were the children of Abraham, ye would do the works of Abraham’. He exercised faith in the word and promise of God. They alone ‘who have obtained like precious faith’ are the true sons of Abraham.
8 . St Paul’s appeal here and elsewhere to the authority of the O.T. as the unerring, irreversible decision is very instructive. This authority depends on an inspiration which is verbal , though not mechanical . The quotation combines a reference to two distinct promises, that in Genesis 12:3 , “And in thee shall the tribes of the earth be blessed”; and in Genesis 18:18 , “And all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”. The true seed (children) of Abraham are ‘they which are of faith’ not his natural descendants, as such, but all who, whether Jews or Gentiles, “walk in the footsteps of the faith which Abraham had in uncircumcision”.
the scripture, foreseeing ] The Scripture is here personified, as in v . 22. It of course means the Holy Ghost, by Whose inspiration the passage was written. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the usual formula is, ‘As the Holy Ghost saith’. Such forms of expression as ‘the Scripture said’, were common in the Rabbinic writers.
The connexion of this verse with what precedes is this: Abraham was justified by faith, and they who are of faith are his children. But on the authority of the same Scripture we know that this filial relationship is not limited to his natural descendants, for it was promised that in him all nations should be blessed.
would justify ] Pres. tense, ‘ justifieth ’, by an eternal law of His moral government.
the heathen ] Better, ‘ the Gentiles ’.
preached before the gospel ] Proclaimed the good tidings of justification by faith for all who believe. This announcement was made before , ‘a Gospel before Gospel times’, Bengel. Others explain it a Gospel antecedent not only to the Law, but to the institution of circumcision, Romans 4:11 .
in thee ] This is supposed by some to mean “as their spiritual progenitor”. Of course there is no reference to a transmitted and inherited faith. Dr Jowett’s explanation is undoubtedly right, “in thee, by anticipation”, that is, “as the progenitor of the Messiah” (Bengel). The blessing (justification) comes to man only from the atoning death and imputed merit of Christ. It was apprehended by faith in the case of Abraham; it is so apprehended by each one of his spiritual descendants. Thus, v . 9, they that are of faith (note v . 7) are blessed with faithful Abraham.
9 . faithful ] The original word, like its English equivalent, may mean either trustworthy or trusting, deserving confidence or exercising it. In the former sense it occurs 1 Corinthians 1:9 , 1 Corinthians 4:2 . In the latter (which is the sense here), John 20:27 , where it is rendered ‘believing’. The context will determine which meaning is to be assigned to it. A similar ambiguity attaches to such English words as pitiful, mournful, hopeful .
10 14. The Curse of the Law. No deliverance except by Faith
10 . The mention of the blessing which comes by faith suggests the terrible alternative the curse which the Law pronounces and from which it provides no way of escape a curse from which, because of imperfect obedience, no man can possibly free himself.
as many as ] Note the universality of the expression, ‘All to a man are here condemned’. Calvin.
of the works of the law ] See note on v . 7.
are under the curse ] i.e. condemnation, the opposite of the blessing, which is justification. There is no middle state.
it is written ] Deuteronomy 27:26 . A quotation from the LXX. The words are the conclusion of the curse uttered on Mount Ebal. Applying primarily to the Jews, they apply to all who seek to be justified by their obedience to the moral law, and not in God’s own appointed way, through faith. Bengel observes that the obedience which the Law demands must be perfect (‘in all things’), and unfailing (‘continueth not’).
11, 12 . St Paul by reference to two other familiar passages of the O.T. confirms his assertion that justification cannot be by the Law. He has proved from Scripture that no man can be justified by a Law which pronounces a curse on all who fail to render a perfect obedience to its commands. He now from another Scripture shews that there is a way, opened by God Himself, in which sinners have found, and may find pardon and acceptance, yea, a perfect righteousness and the true life. The prophet Habakkuk declares, “The just shall live by faith”. This cannot apply to those who seek life in the Law; for its condition is, ‘Do this, and thou shalt live’. Entirely contrary and antagonistic is the condition of the Gospel, ‘Believe and live’. It is not a difference on which St Paul insists. It is opposition between faith and works, grace and merit, the Gospel and the Law. When God justifies a sinner through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no place left for human merit. If Christ’s merit, appropriated by faith, is not sufficient to justify us, we are lost. If it is sufficient, our imperfect, faltering, sin-stained obedience can add nothing to that sufficiency.
11 . in the sight of God ] Better, before God , i.e. at His bar. This forensic use of the preposition is common in Classical Greek. Comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:6 ; James 1:27 ; 1 Peter 2:20 .
The just shall live by faith ] The quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 , is also found, Romans 1:17 ; Hebrews 10:27 . The literal rendering of the Hebrew, as given by Bp. Lightfoot, is, ‘Behold the proud man, his soul is not upright; but the just man shall live by his faith’. In the LXX. the verse runs, ‘If one draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him; but the just shall live by faith in me (or, my faith)’. There is also a reading, ‘My just one shall live by faith’. Although the Hebrew word, which is rendered ‘faith’, elsewhere means ‘steadfastness’, there is really no violence done to the original by St Paul’s manner of quotation. The Greek versions support his rendering. And the expression ‘faith in me’, is equivalent to ‘steadfast confidence in me’: or if we adopt the other rendering ‘my faith = steadfastness’, we have that attribute of God ‘who cannot lie’, which is at once the correlative and ground of man’s trust in God. Comp. Isaiah 7:9 , ‘If ye hold not fast, verily ye shall not stand fast’. Dr Cheyne.
12 . is not of faith ] ‘does not spring out of, or start from faith’, but its principle is performance. This is clearly laid down in Revelation 18:5 , ‘He that doeth them &c.’. We observe that ‘justification’ and ‘life’ are almost convertible terms. He who by faith is made one with the Son of God, hath life eternal life. Thus in Romans 5:18 St Paul argues that as by Adam’s transgression all his descendants were involved in condemnation, so by the one righteous act, the obedience unto death, of the second Adam, the blessing came to all men unto justification of life a justification resulting in and constituting life.
13, 14 . Reverting to what he said, v . 10, the Apostle shews how complete this justification is. The curse has been borne, and the Law is silent. The curse has been removed, and the blessing remains; descending in all its fulness on the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, through faith.
13 . ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us’. In v . 10 the Apostle has shewn that by the very terms of the Law, all who are under the Law (i.e. all who seek to be justified by their own obedience) are under the curse. To rescue us from that terrible malediction, Christ submitted to an accursed death. He, though sinless, bore, nay became the curse, that on us might come the blessing.
hath redeemed us ] ‘ransomed us’, from the thraldom of the curse at the cost of a death of shame and anguish unutterable.
a curse for us ] ‘Who’, asks Bengel, ‘would dare to use such an expression without fear of uttering blasphemy, if we had not the example of the Apostle?’ Here, as in 2 Corinthians 5:21 , we have the abstract noun put for the concrete, to give force and comprehensiveness to the statement. Our Divine Lord in human nature was made sin for us not a sinner, not even a sin-bearer, or sin-offering. He was identified with that which is the cause of ruin and death to the whole human race, ‘that we might become in Him the righteousness of God.’ So, here, He is said to have become, not accursed, but ‘a curse’. The curse incurred by all, in consequence of sin, was borne by the sinless One in His own Person. He, like the typical scape-goat (Leviticus 16:5 , &c.) was the representative at once of the sin and the curse which it entailed.
for us ] ‘on our behalf’. The preposition does not necessarily mean ‘in our stead’. The great doctrine of our Blessed Lord’s vicarious sufferings and death does not rest on the narrow foundation of the exact force of a particle. It is the doctrine of the types and prophecies of the O.T. and of the teaching of our Lord Himself and His Apostles in the N. T. To the passages already referred to may be added Isaiah 53:5 , Isaiah 53:6 ; Matthew 20:28 ; 1 Timothy 2:6 ; Titus 2:14 .
Light is thrown by this passage on the narrative of the Brazen Serpent (Numbers 21:7-9 ), which our Lord declares to be a type of His Crucifixion (John 3:14 ). Why was the serpent chosen by God to be the emblem and means of recovery to the Israelites? One reason may be that it was accursed of God (Genesis 3:14 ), and so a fitting type of Him Who on the Cross became a curse for us.
it is written ] The Apostle makes good every step of his argument by an appeal to Scripture. By the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 21:23 ), it was ordained that the body of a criminal, who, after being put to death, was exposed on a tree, should not be suffered to remain all night; and the reason is assigned, “for he that is hanged is accursed of God”. The words, ‘of God’, are omitted by St Paul, not as inconsistent with, but as unnecessary for his purpose. Those who account for the omission of the words by supposing them inconsistent with the acceptance of our Lord’s self-sacrifice by His Father ‘as an odour of a sweet smell’ (Ephesians 5:2 ; comp. Genesis 8:21 ), seem to overlook the fact that if in any true sense Christ became a curse for us, it was the curse of God.
It may be objected, that the curse to which our Blessed Lord submitted was not the same curse as that to which all men became subject by their failure to render perfect obedience to the moral law that it was, so to speak, technical, rather than moral. But a careful consideration of the passage in Deuteronomy will shew that the curse there spoken of applied not to the mere impalement of the malefactor, but to the violation of the Law, for which he had previously been put to death. The body of one who had “committed sin worthy of death” was not to hang upon the gibbet after sunset, lest the land should be defiled, for the curse of God rests upon it. “In the Scripture doctrine of the atonement, the believer is one with Christ, until at length Christ takes the believer’s place, and all that the Christian is, and all that he was, or might have been, are transferred to Christ”. Jowett.
14 . The twofold result of our Lord’s obedience unto death, the justification of the Gentiles, and the gift of the Spirit, through faith.
Christ having satisfied the Law in its most minute demands, has abolished it as a condition of salvation, and has thus removed the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. “They which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham”, v . 9.
the blessing of Abraham ] Justification by faith, v . 9.
the promise of the Spirit ] This takes us back to the question of v . 2. The ‘promise’ is of course not the promise spoken, but the promise fulfilled. So in Acts 1:4 , where to wait for the promise is to await its fulfilment.
15 29 . The Gospel a Covenant of Promise (15 18); to which the Law was at once subordinate and preparatory (19 29)
15 18 . The Gospel a covenant of Promise
The Apostle proceeds to shew the certainty of the blessing, i.e. of justification, to all who believe. It is secured by the promise of God a promise which is an unconditional covenant, and which is not affected by the conditional covenant (the Law), given long subsequently. Both were from God. But while the latter was of the nature of a contract between God and the people of Israel, and required a mediator and attesting witnesses, the latter is a transaction between God and Christ, who are One, announced to Abraham long before the Law was given, as a promise to him and to his seed.
15 . Brethren ] Commentators note the softened tone of this address, as compared with the previous severity of rebuke. It is due to the influence on the Apostle’s mind of the thought expressed in v . 14. Realising the share which the Gentiles enjoyed in Abraham’s blessing and in the promise of the Spirit, his heart is enlarged with tender compassion, and with that love which is the first-fruit of the Spirit (c. 5:22).
after the manner of men ] Lit. ‘according to man’, a familiar mode of expression with St Paul. Romans 3:5 (6:19); 1 Corinthians 3:3 , 1 Corinthians 3:9 :8, 1 Corinthians 3:15 :32; Galatians 1:11 . The plur. ‘after the manner of men’, occurs 1 Peter 4:6 . In all these passages the sense is “according to an ordinary human standard, as men commonly judge, or speak, or act”.
though it be but a man’s covenant ] The word here rendered ‘covenant’ is used in the Sept. and N. T. of any settlement, agreement, or contract between two parties; or of an engagement by which one party makes over certain privileges or property to another for his benefit. This may take effect during the lifetime of the party so covenanting, or after his death. In the latter case it has the sense of a will, or testament. [From the fact that the Vulgate translates it by testamentum , the word testament is used wrongly as its equivalent in A. V., Matthew 25:28 and other passages, and also as the familiar title of the two portions of Holy Scripture.] In every passage of the N. T. (probably not excepting Hebrews 9:15-17 , on which see Scholefield’s Hints , pp. 100 104) the word should be rendered ‘covenant’. The mention of ‘inheritance’ ( v . 18) does not affect this statement, for the heirs of this covenant do not succeed on the death of its Author.
if it be confirmed ] In the general case, the confirmation of the agreement would be attended by certain formalities, such as the slaying of animals (see Scholefield’s Hints , referred to above), or, as in the particular instance, by an oath. Comp. Hebrews 6:16 , Hebrews 6:17 ; Luke 1:73 .
no man disannulleth … thereto ] When once it has been formally ratified, no man cancels it, or supersedes it by making a new one.
addeth thereto ] Of course fresh clauses may be added for the advantage of the beneficiary. But no new conditions may be introduced. The force of these words is more apparent as applied to the particular case, than as a general proposition. The condition of obedience as a ground of justification, introduced by the Law, is fatal to the covenant of free promise made to Abraham. We cannot believe that God would have acted in a manner from which men would shrink as inconsistent with rectitude
In this verse St Paul lays down a broad principle of justice, recognised by honourable men in their transactions with one another, and from it he deduces the special inference.
16 . ‘Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed’.
and his seed ] These words are emphatic. Had the promise been made to Abraham only, it would have determined with his own life. But it was the precious heritage of his descendants, not disannulled or superseded by the law given on Mount Sinai.
the promises ] Used, as in Romans 9:4 , of that group of promises made to the patriarchs, which were regarded by their descendants as their title deeds to the land of Israel and all the privileges of the chosen race. But here with special reference to Genesis 13:15 , Genesis 13:17 :7, Genesis 13:8 . At first sight these two promises seem to refer only to the land. But they include far more. The chief blessing promised is contained in the words, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee … and I will be their God.” Comp. Hebrews 11:16 . It is interesting to notice how this promise was appropriated by the seed. On the Cross He cried, ‘My God, My God.’ After His resurrection He said, ‘I ascend … to My God, and your God’.
made ] Lit. ‘ spoken ’, as in R.V. They were made orally, not, like the law, written on tables of stone.
He saith not ] Rather, ‘it (the promise) saith not’. It does not run, ‘And to thy seeds’, &c. This clause is parenthetical, illustrative of, but not necessary to the argument.
Exception has been taken to the emphasis which St Paul attaches to the use of the singular ‘seed’, on the ground that in the Hebrew the plural ‘seeds’ would not bear the sense which he seems to attribute to it, viz. several lines of descent. The same may be said of our own language, in which ‘seeds’ can only mean grains, or kinds of grain not lines of human descent. But, without insisting on the fact that in Hellenistic Greek (which St Paul was writing), the plural, no less than the singular, is employed in the sense here required, we may observe that the import of the passage is not dependent on rigid conformity to linguistic usage. The Apostle pauses to point out, that, though the promise was given to Abraham’s seed, yet it was restricted to one line. The descendants of Hagar and Keturah and the posterity of Esau were not included in the covenant. Similarly in Romans 9:7 , Romans 9:8 , we read, “Neither because they are a seed (i.e. one of the lines of descendants) of Abraham, are they all children, but (so ran the promise), In Isaac shall thy seed be called”, i.e. the title of ‘seed’ par excellence to thee shall be in the line of Isaac.
but as of one ] One line of descent, the spiritual seed, who are gathered up into and blessed in their One Head and Representative.
which is Christ ] Which is Messiah. The seed to Whom the promise was made is the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15 ), the second Adam, Who is at once the Saviour and the Head of the body. It is only as we are in Him, united to Him by living faith, that we are in the bond of the covenant, the true seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise, partakers of the blessing justification, life, glory.
17 . And this I say ] This is what I mean. St Paul here reverts to, and continues the argument of v . 15, which had been interrupted by the explanatory words, ‘He saith not … is Christ’.
confirmed before of God ] Confirmed by oath (see Hebrews 6:17 , Hebrews 6:18 ). This does not refer to the repetition of the promise to Isaac and Jacob, although by such repetition the promise may be regarded as extending over the patriarchal period down to the going down into Egypt. This makes the four hundred and thirty years agree with the duration of the sojourn in Egypt, as recorded Exodus 12:40 . Into the difficulty of reconciling this with the period arrived at by a calculation of the genealogies, it is not necessary to enter. (See Alford’s and Lightfoot’s notes.) For St Paul’s argument it is only necessary that the giving of the law should have been long after the announcement of the covenant promise.
in Christ ] These words are probably a gloss; and are properly omitted in R.V. If retained, they should be rendered, “unto (i.e. with a view to) Christ”.
The covenant, ratified before by God, the law, having come into existence after the lapse of 430 years, cannot cancel so as to invalidate the promise.
18 . The concluding words of the previous verse suggest the thought ‘Yes, the promise would be at once invalidated, if the inheritance were dependent on the law’. Law and promises, works and faith , are opposing principles, of which the antagonism is most clearly seen in their issues condemnation and justification . We have a parallel passage in Romans 4:13 ; comp. also Romans 11:6 .
God gave it ] Has bestowed as a free gift. ‘The perfect tense marks the permanence of its effects.’ Bp. Lightfoot. All who enjoy it or shall enjoy it, do so as the gift of God’s sovereign mercy, unsolicited, unmerited, unconditional. To see the force of the verb here rendered ‘gave’, we may compare Luke 7:42 , ‘he frankly (freely) forgave them’, ‘made them a present of the amount owed’, Romans 8:32 ; 1 Corinthians 2:12 .
19 29 . The Purpose and Use of the Law in relation to the Justification of the Sinner
19 . If then the promise is not affected by the law, so that no new condition of justification is imposed by it, the question naturally arises, ‘Why was the law given?’ To this the Apostle has an answer ready. It was not given to limit, much less to supersede the promise. The promise and the law are like two circles, which touch, but do not intersect each other: each perfect of its kind, because both alike Divine in their origin. But in answering the question which he has anticipated, St Paul shews the inferiority of the law in several particulars to the earlier and ‘better covenant’ (Hebrews 8:6 ). (1) The law condemns: it cannot give life, because no man can fulfil its conditions. It provokes transgression, convinces of sin, and denounces punishment. (2) It was superadded as a parenthetical and temporary dispensation, commencing with the national life of the Jewish people, and terminating with the Advent of the Seed to whom the promise was given. (3) It was not delivered immediately, like the promises to Abraham, but mediately by Moses in the presence of Angels as attesting witnesses. (4) It was a contract between God and man, life depending on the fulfilment of its terms, and was therefore conditional, and not absolute like the promise.
it was added ] Yet not so as to interfere with the promise. If any one man had succeeded in rendering perfect obedience to the law, he would have been justified, no less than they to whom the righteousness of Another was imputed by faith.
because of transgressions ] Dismissing the explanations, ‘to check’ or ‘to punish’ transgressions, we may make St Paul his own interpreter. In Romans 5:20 he says that the law ‘intervened that the offence might abound’; in Romans 7:13 , that the commandment was given in order that sin ‘might be shewn to be sin … that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.’ Nay, he testifies that himself had not known sin ‘except through the law’ (Romans 7:7 ), for ‘through the law is the knowledge of sin’. And yet further, ‘the strength of sin is the law’ (1 Corinthians 15:56 ). From a comparison of these and other passages we infer that the purpose for which the law was given was not on the one hand the restraint or punishment of sin, nor on the other the increase of evil in the world. The evil existed already and was active. But its real nature, as an offence against God , rebellion against His authority, was not felt until that authority was expressed in the form of command and prohibition, that is, of law . The barrier which obstructs the force of the stream does not add to its force; it reveals the force by the resistance which it offers.
till the seed should come ] This marks the limits of its operation.
the seed ] That is, Christ. Surely it was by no accident that the term employed in the Abrahamic covenant is the same which is used in the yet earlier gospel (Genesis 3:15 ). The seed of Abraham is the seed of the woman.
to whom the promise was made ] Lit. has been made . The promise was not annulled by the law. It continued in force, awaiting its fulfilment. This seems to be expressed by the perfect tense.
and was ordained by angels ] ‘having been enjoined, or enacted, by means of angels’. In Deuteronomy 33:2 we read, R.V. ‘The Lord came from Sinai, And rose from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, And He came from the ten thousands of holy ones: At His right hand was a fiery law unto them.’ The expression, ‘with ten thousands of His saints’ is, literally, ‘from (amidst) myriads of holiness’, or ‘holy myriads.’ The R.V. ‘the ten thousands of holy ones’ is not a literal rendering, but a paraphrase denoting the angels; and though the LXX. render the clause, ‘with myriads of Kades’, they add (apparently from a different Hebrew text), ‘on His right angels (were) with Him’. The older versions and ‘expositors generally agree in the common rendering’. Lightfoot. That angels were present as attesting witnesses at the giving of the law was a common opinion among the Rabbinic teachers, and allusion is made to it not only by St Paul in this passage, but by St Stephen (Acts 7:53 ), by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (ch. 2:2), and by Josephus ( Antt . xv. 5. 3). Regarded as the retinue of the Supreme Lawgiver, the angels by their presence added solemnity to the occasion. But that very presence emphasized the fact that the law was of the nature of a contract, conditional, not absolute, a transaction between two parties, not the spontaneous revelation of mercy by Him who ‘is One’.
by the hand of ] A Hebraism nearly equivalent to, ‘by means of’ or simply ‘by’. It is so used frequently in the O.T., e.g. Numbers 4:37 , when Moses and Aaron are said to have numbered the people ‘according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses 1 1 The LXX. translates, ‘by the voice of the Lord in the hand of Moses.’ ’. See Acts 7:35 .
a mediator ] The noun thus rendered occurs in four other passages of the N. T. (1 Timothy 2:5 ; Hebrews 8:6 , Hebrews 9:15 , Hebrews 12:24 ), and in all of them refers to our Lord Jesus Christ. In the three latter He is expressly termed the Mediator of the new or better covenant. Here the mediator is associated with the first covenant. In the epistle to Timothy our Lord is a mediator ‘between God and man ’. Here the mediator is between God and the people of Israel, i.e. of course, Moses. These considerations, together with a due regard to the general scope of the passage, lead to the rejection of the view that in this passage the Mediator is our Lord indeed such a view may astonish us, though supported by such eminent names as Origen, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom. Neither the noun nor the corresponding verb (see Hebrews 6:17 ) is found in the LXX., though its reference to Moses in the passage before us is confirmed by his own declaration, ‘The Lord our God made a covenant with you in Horeb.… I stood between the Lord and you at that time to shew you the word of the Lord’, Deuteronomy 5:2 , Deuteronomy 5:5 . The ‘covenant’ was the law of the Ten Commandments.
20 . Probably no verse of Scripture has more exercised the ingenuity of commentators. Certainly of none other can it be said that it ‘has received 430 interpretations’ (Jowett), if by that expression contrariant or different interpretations are meant. Some notice of these is reserved for an Appendix (Appendix v. p. 89). The verse may be paraphrased as follows: Now the very fact that at the giving of the Law a Mediator was needed, marks the nature of the transaction as a compact entered into between two parties. The very term Mediator implies two parties between whom he intervenes. But the God of the promise is One and One only. He reveals Himself as the bestower of a free gift to the world. ‘The Giver is everything, the recipient nothing’ (Lightfoot). Hence there was no place in the Gospel revelation for a mediator in the sense in which Moses was mediator between God and the people of Israel. It may be observed that this view of the scope of the passage (which is all that is necessary to its connexion with the preceding and following context) does not militate against, nor is it inconsistent with, the declaration that there is ‘One Mediator between God and man’, (1 Timothy 2:5 ). The young student of theology needs to be cautioned against the too common mistake of treating a verse of Scripture as if it were an isolated proposition, instead of regarding it in its relation to the train of thought to the expression of which it contributes.
21 . Having thus sharply contrasted the two covenants, the Apostle anticipates an objection ‘You say that God is One. He is the Author both of the law and of the promises. How then can there be the opposition between them which your argument would imply?’ To this the answer is decisive. The difference is such as to display a marked contrast, not such as to involve antagonism. Otherwise God might seem in giving the law to have retracted the promises. Away with such a supposition.
for if there had been a law given … by the law ] Life had been forfeited by sin; life must be recovered by righteousness. The promise assured life to the believer through righteousness imputed; the law offered life as the reward of a perfect obedience. Had the conditions of the law been less strict, or had man been able to fulfil them, then righteousness (and life) had come to men from the law. Hence there is no antagonism between the two covenants. ‘To give life’ was the end of both. The law failed to do this; the promise succeeded. Man could not obey perfectly: he could believe, and so obtain life.
22 . But the Scripture , &c.] The impossibility (Theod. Mops.) of obtaining righteousness by legal obedience is proved by the plain testimony of Scripture. It is noteworthy that in this momentous argument St Paul appeals not to conscience or experience, but to God’s Word written.
the Scripture hath concluded ] Not the O. T. generally, but the particular passage referred to in ch. 2:16, viz. Psalms 143:2 . This view is confirmed by the tense employed ‘concluded’, rather than the perfect ‘hath concluded’. This personification of Scripture is remarkable, investing it with the dignity and authority of a Divine utterance.
concluded ] i.e. ‘shut up’, leaving no means of escape. The same word occurs Romans 11:32 , ‘God shut up all men into disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all’.
all ] Lit. ‘all things’, neuter. In the passage just quoted from Romans we have ‘all men’. This is more comprehensive, not because ‘no exception is made, not even in favour of the Virgin Mary, as the Vatican decree would require’ (Dr Schaff) though this is true, but because men’s purest aims, and noblest efforts, and holiest achievements are tainted with sin.
that the promise … believe ] The promise is here put for the thing promised, justification, life. Bp. Lightfoot observes that the words, ‘by faith in Jesus Christ’ are not redundant. St Paul’s opponents did not deny that only believers could obtain the promise. They held that it was obtained by works, and not by faith.
This verse reveals the end for which the law was given not to condemn, but to shew that by it was no escape, from it no escape, except by faith in the promise in the Person promising and the Person promised. How beautifully Bunyan illustrates this great truth when he makes the Pilgrims who were shut up in the Doubting Castle of Giant Despair effect their escape by the Key of Promise, which Christian found in his bosom!
23 . But before faith came ] Better, ‘before this faith’, i.e. in Jesus Christ, ‘came’; and so nearly = before Christ came.
we were kept ] kept in ward . The same word occurs 1 Peter 1:5 .
shut up ] The passive of the same verb which is rendered ‘hath concluded’ in v . 22.
the faith which should afterwards be revealed ] Here the word faith seems to pass from the subjective to the objective sense. It means the full Gospel revelation of salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
24 . Translate, so that the law has proved to us a tutor unto Christ .
our schoolmaster ] The Greek word, ‘paidagogos’ (from which Engl. pedagogue) does not mean a teacher , but a confidential slave, who had the general charge of boys, watching over their conduct and exercising discipline sometimes, though not always, attending them to school. The sense is, that the legal dispensation, with its requirements and restrictions, was a preparation for the liberty of the Gospel. But while rejecting the narrow interpretation which would limit the office of the law to the functions of a schoolmaster or teacher, we must not (with some commentators) regard Christ as the Schoolmaster to Whose school the law conducted us. The contrast is not between the ‘tutor’ and the teacher, but between the state of tutelage and that of freedom see v . 25.
25 . But after that faith is come ] See note on v . 23.
26 29 . The selection of the metaphor of vv . 24, 25 is by no means accidental. It suggests and leads up to the grand revelation of Gospel blessedness contained in the peroration to this chapter. The very fact that we were under tutelage proves that our true relation to God is that of sons, a relationship into which we all, both Jews and Gentiles, entered by believing in Jesus Christ. Of this relationship our Baptism was the sign and pledge and instrument. We therein became clothed with Christ. Our nakedness was covered with the robe of His perfect righteousness. He became the circumambient, enveloping element in which our new life is lived and sustained. And here the external distinctions, of Jew and Gentile, bond and free, nay, even that which has so long separated the sexes, disappears. In Christ all are united who by faith are united to Him. And if we belong to Christ, if we are part of Him, who is the promised Seed, then we are the seed of Abraham, we are heirs according to the promise.
26 . Ye are ] The change from the first person ‘we are’ v . 25 to the second ‘ye are’ marks a transition from an argument to an appeal. The converse is found 2 Corinthians 6:14 , 2 Corinthians 6:16 , 2 Corinthians 6:7 :1; 1 Thessalonians 5:6 .
all ] Both Jews and Gentiles an indirect confirmation of the statement that the law is not against the promises of God.
the children ] Better, sons . Comp. John 1:12 ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them which believe on His name.’
27 . The connexion seems to be, ‘ I say , it is by faith in Christ , that you are sons of God a faith professed in your Baptism, by which you put on Christ. In Him all the old distinctions of race, condition and sex disappear, so far as the inheritance of the promise is concerned’.
The doctrine of Holy Baptism, as taught in this verse, has been the subject of discussion among expositors, some affirming that every person does in Baptism put on Christ, others denying that the Apostle is referring to the rite of Baptism. But surely neither of these inferences is warranted by the context. He is addressing those who by faith in Christ are sons of God. The ‘ all ’ of v . 26, and the ‘as many of you’ of this verse, have reference to those distinctions which were done away in Christ.
have put on Christ ] This and the preceding verb are aorists , and should be rendered, were baptized, put on Christ . The two acts were definite and contemporaneous.
The metaphor may be taken from the white robe in which persons were clothed after submitting to the rite of Baptism. But St Paul uses the expression to denote a change of character, by which the person appears under a new aspect. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold, they have become new,’ 2 Corinthians 6:17 . The verb is of frequent occurrence in his writings, and its full force can be best understood from a comparison of those passages. Thus the things assumed or put on are, ‘the armour (or weapons) of light,’ Romans 13:12 . ‘The Lord Jesus Christ,’ Romans 13:14 . ‘Immortality,’ 1 Corinthians 15:53 , 1 Corinthians 15:54 . ‘The new man,’ Ephesians 4:24 ; Colossians 3:10 . ‘The whole armour of God,’ Ephesians 6:11 (cf. v . 14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8 ). ‘Bowels of compassion, goodness, humility, gentleness, long-suffering)’ Colossians 3:12 . In Luke 24:49 it is rendered ‘endued’. It is to be noted that in each of the offices for Holy Baptism there is a prayer that ‘those dedicated’ to God by the office and ministry of His Church ‘may be endued with heavenly virtues’.
28 . The unity here predicated results from the putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ. Comp. Colossians 3:10 , Colossians 3:11 , where the train of thought is the same and the language very similar.
male nor female ] Lit. ‘male and female’, possibly with reference to Genesis 1:27 . The rite of circumcision was limited to male children; the Sacrament of Baptism is administered to both male and female. There are here no injunctions as to slavery and the treatment of women. But the principle laid down has by its application abolished the one and ameliorated the other. The Talmud everywhere assumes and often states the recognised inferiority of women to men.
ye are all one ] ‘ ye ’ is emphatic, pointing to those who are ‘sons of God’, v . 26. ‘One person’, or ‘one man’. Comp. Ephesians 2:15 ; Romans 12:5 ; 1 Corinthians 12:12 , 1 Corinthians 12:13 .
29 . If ye be Christ’s ] If ye are by faith incorporated into Christ, the promised Seed, then by virtue of that living union ye are yourselves Abraham’s seed. The paraphrase of Theod. Mops. is remarkable: ‘If ye are Christ’s by reason of regeneration in Baptism, typifying your future likeness to Him, and if Christ is Abraham’s seed, it follows of necessity that you also, being His body, are the seed of the same ancestor as He is, and consequently heirs too of the promise’.
Christ’s ] Our Lord Himself used this expression (Mark 9:41 ) to describe His disciples. The blessed privilege may be abused, and vaunted in a spirit of sectarian rivalry (1 Corinthians 1:12 ); but to ‘belong to Christ’ is the high dignity and the eternal security of every believer (1 Corinthians 3:23 ). The Apostle has established the assertion of v . 7 that believers are the true children of Abraham and heirs of the promise. ‘Union with Christ constitutes the true spiritual descent from Abraham, and secures the inheritance of all the Messianic blessings by promise, as against inheritance by law’. Dr Schaff.
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the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24