The Contribution of the Mosaic Covenant (Galatians 3:19-29)
I have always been tempted to try to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” especially when I work on cars. In particular, I laboriously attempted to transform a 1966 Rambler station wagon into a car beyond its original design. Some of you will remember the Rambler—the turquoise car with two black doors on the driver’s side (necessitated by an accident). My hopes for this car were actually stimulated when I went to the wrecking yard to replace the damaged doors. There I discovered a beautiful Rambler with many luxuries my car lacked. This car provided the raw materials for some minor modifications—electric windshield wipers, power steering, power disc brakes and an AM-FM radio. To install these added luxuries many modifications were necessary.
However, the greatest challenge was yet to come. After deciding that an automatic transmission was inefficient, I determined to replace it with a standard transmission. I was told that this was an impossible task on an American Motors car, but this only intensified my desire. The modifications to install the manual transmission demanded numerous parts which I located from various sources. My brother sent two boxes of clutch parts from the Northwest. I found an abandoned “T 86” transmission at the junk yard. Numerous other parts were obtained, from various places and automobiles.
Some parts simply were not available and had to be fabricated from something else. At this point I cut up a bed frame to use for a bracket. Believe it or not, the project was a success. Eventually I sold the car. Some months later the buyer of the car called, asking what car the clutch mechanism had come from so that he could tell the mechanic the model. (Actually it was a minor problem, easily fixed, and having no reflection on my design.) I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the Simmons Beauty Rest bed rail, nor was my memory sufficient to recall all cars I had obtained parts from, perhaps fifteen or so.
You might wonder what application this has to the Book of Galatians. The Judaizers had sought to make something out of the Law of Moses which it was never designed to accomplish—to establish men as righteous before God.64 In our passage Paul seeks to expose the error of the Judaizers by reviewing God’s purpose in giving the Law. Neither the Judaizers, the Galatians, nor we should try to make the Law into what it was not designed by God to be. If you will, the Law is like the “sow’s ear” and not a “silk purse”—a means of salvation by self-effort.
Let us briefly review the context of our passage in relation to the third chapter of Galatians. In the first half of chapter 3 Paul has already shown that the Law could not pronounce a blessing upon men, but only a curse. In verses 1-5, he reminds the Galatian saints that it was by the principle of faith that the Holy Spirit was initially given to them at the time of their salvation, and that He continued to work mightily in their lives. In verses 6-9 Paul reminds his readers that Abraham, the “father of their faith,” was justified (declared righteous) on the basis of his belief, rather than on the basis of works. In verses 10-12 Paul concludes that the Law was only able to curse men, not bless them, for absolute, total obedience is required of the Law on every particular. The Law was not based upon belief, but upon perfect behavior, something man is incapable of doing.
While the Law could not bring blessing to men, but only a curse, neither was the Law able to prevent the fulfillment of the blessings God had promised all men through Abraham. There are several reasons for this, which Paul spells out in verses 13-18.
First, the curse which the Law pronounces on all men was borne by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. God’s promise of blessing through Abraham is still possible, but only through faith (vv. 13-14).
Second, the Abrahamic Covenant preceded the Mosaic Covenant by 430 years, and thereby has preeminence (vv. 15, 17-18). Since God Himself ratified the Abrahamic Covenant, it cannot be modified or set aside by the later covenant which was made with Israel through the mediation of Moses. In this case, newer is not better.
Third, the promise made to Abraham demands fulfillment because it was also made to his seed, Jesus Christ (v. 16). While the blessings promised to Abraham and to his seed are corporate, Paul shows that the Abrahamic Covenant also had a singular promise, one made to the Son through whom all the promises will be fulfilled. Since God is both the promisor and the beneficiary, in Christ, the promise and its blessings are assured to all, unhindered by the Mosaic Covenant with its curse.
Having learned the limitations of the Law from the preceding verses, let us turn our attention to the proper function of the Law, as it was intended by the God who gave it to men through the mediation of angels and Moses.
The Purpose of the Law
19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.
Although it produced a curse on all men, the Mosaic Law was given by God. We may ask then, what purpose did God have in giving the Law? Contrary to what the Judaizers sought to practice and promote, Paul summarizes two purposes of the Law in verses 19 and 20. I will cite the more accurate renderings of the NIV and the Berkeley Version:65
What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The Law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one (Gal. 3:19-20, NIV).
Where, then, does the Law come in? It was superimposed to show up sins in their true light, until the Offspring should come concerning whom the promise was made. It was ordained through angels by means of a go-between. But there is no call for an intermediary in case of one, and God is One (Gal. 3:19-20, Berkeley).
The first purpose of the Law was to dramatically display the depth of man’s sin. It is not enough that something is free—it must also be necessary. At garage sales I have often seen an item for sale at a bargain price, but for which I had no need. Admittedly, for me this is very unusual, but even I occasionally find good buys which I pass up because of no real usefulness. The fact that the gift of salvation in Christ is free is not enough to compel men to accept it. Men must first be convinced of their need of salvation before grace is recognized as a desirable solution. The Law was given to bring men to the point of recognizing their need for grace.
At first reading, it might appear from verse 19 that the Law was given in response to man’s great sin. Paul’s words are translated, “It was added because of transgressions.” While it is grammatically possible to interpret Paul’s words to convey the thought that the Law was given as a result of man’s sin, here it is better to understand the Law as the means which God has employed to make sin evident.66 We know that the Law was given to define sin:
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Rom 7:7).
Occasionally I work on air conditioning systems, and at times the problem is the result of a leak. A refrigerant leak is difficult to find because freon is virtually invisible as a gas. In order to spot a freon leak a red liquid is pumped into the system leaving a very visible indication of the leak. The Law is like that red die—it does not cause sin, but it does reveal it.
The Law not only defines sin; it stimulates sin so that its presence and power cannot be denied or ignored:
But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me (Rom. 7:8-11).
We see, then, that the Law defines sin and intensifies it so that it may be recognized as a problem for which only grace is the solution. Sin is something like an injury. The darkness or discoloration of a wound reveals its presence, but the swelling of the injured portion of the body makes the injury even more obvious. The Law magnifies the problem of sin just as swelling draws attention to an injury. As sin increases, the grace of God is enabled to abound.
And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20).
The Law, by defining and magnifying the problem of sin, promotes the grace of God, which is the only remedy for sin. The curse produced by the Law does not exclude God’s blessings when it drives men to grace through faith.
We should observe that the Law’s divine purpose is precisely opposite of that maintained by the Judaizers. They sincerely believed that the Law was the remedy for sin, rather than the revealer of sin. When we understand Paul’s words here we see that sin is like the weeds in my lawn. During the winter, when the lawn is dead, the weeds are indistinguishable from the grass. When spring comes, both the weeds and the grass begin to grow. When I put fertilizer on my lawn, it seems that the weeds grow faster than the grass. The end result is that the weeds are much more visible, but have certainly not been eliminated.
To the Judaizers, the Law of Moses was like a weed killer. Apply a little, kill a few weeds; apply a lot, kill them all. Paul’s words here and elsewhere reveal that the Law was really more like a fertilizer. The Law made sin evident; it even caused sin to multiply. This, Paul tells us, is precisely what God designed the Law to do, for it brings men to the place of recognizing the depth of their sinfulness, and their dire need for salvation.
The second purpose of the Law was to provide a temporary provision for man’s sin until the permanent cure came in the person of Christ. The purpose which God gave the Law was provisional and preliminary. Paul writes that the Law was given “until the seed to whom the promise referred had come” (v. 19). The word “until” implies that the Law was not permanent, but provisional.
Further evidence of the provisional function of the Law is found in Paul’s reference to the participation of angels and a mediator in verses 19 and 20. These very things were emphasized by the Judaizers as proof of the superiority of the Law,67 but Paul interpreted them differently. While there was a certain splendor associated with the role of the angels in the giving of the Law (cf. Acts 7:53 and Heb. 2:2), the function of the angels and Moses was mediatorial. As Paul points out in verse 20, a mediator suggests more than one party, since there is no need to mediate between one person. Since God is One (which was the touchstone of orthodoxy to the Jew), His promise required no mediator, as the keeping of it was dependent only upon His faithfulness and power. The Law, on the other hand, required a mediator, for this covenant was made between God and men; since men are sinners, it was destined to fail as a final solution to sin. Thus, its role could only be temporary.
The Law was given as a temporary provision until that which was permanent came. The Law was like scaffolding which is used only during the period of construction and then is removed: The Law was like the temporary walkways and walls in a building being remodeled. We can use the building, though under considerably inferior conditions to those which will prevail when construction is complete.
Those of you who drive a late model General Motors car have an excellent example of a temporary provision in your trunk. A small tire there, provided as a spare, can be used only in emergencies and only for a short time. That tire does not have the traction, the ride, nor the longevity of a “real” tire. It is to be used only when a tire fails, and then only long enough to reach a service station. When the Law revealed the “flat tire” of man’s sin, it also provided men with a temporary solution. The Book of Hebrews describes at length the superiority of Christ to the provisions of the Law, proving both the inferiority and the interim nature of the Law.
The Law of Moses is just like the GM spare tire. It was never intended to replace the promises of God made to all men through Abraham. It was temporary until the promises were fulfilled in Christ. Once Christ had come, the Law was no longer required. To return to the Law, now superseded by the grace of God in Christ, is as foolish as going to a tire dealer and asking him to replace your tires with GM spares on each wheel.
Analysis of an Apparent Contradiction
21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
The Galatian saints could not have failed to recognize that Paul was strongly stating that the Law of Moses was inferior to the promises God had made to Abraham. The Law could only pronounce a curse, while the promises alone could produce blessing (3:1-12). The Law was inferior to the promises because it could not modify or nullify them, since the promises came first and were ratified by God Himself (3:13-18). The Law was inferior to the promises because the Law was provisional and preparatory, while the promises were permanent (3:19-20). Perhaps the Judaizers might protest that Paul was going too far in what he was saying for it appeared that the Law, as Paul interpreted it, was contrary to God’s promises.
In verse 21 Paul raises this issue to avoid any misunderstanding of what he was saying. His response, “May it never be!” quickly dispels any doubt as to Paul’s position. What a terrible thing to suggest, Paul protests. How could God make one covenant with Abraham, only to oppose it with another, later covenant, made through Moses?
As I understand Paul’s reasoning in verses 21 and 22, he is insisting that the two covenants could only be contrary to each other if they were competitive. If it were possible for law, any law, to produce life, then that law would be competitive with God’s promise, which can and does produce life. Since no law can impart life, there is no competition. Indeed, the Law is complimentary to the promise, for it revealed that nothing but grace can produce life.
Suppose, for example, that two portions of a freeway have been completed, but there is a middle section still under construction. In order to assure that cars travel along a prescribed route of completed roadway, a detour is set up. Along this route are intersections where a driver might become confused. The highway crew eliminates this possibility by setting up barricades with arrows indicating the correct way to go. While these barricades are restrictive, they prevent the driver from going astray. In a like manner the Law serves to direct men to their only hope, not that of self-obtained righteousness through law-works, but through faith in God’s promises to Abraham and his seed.
The Law is no more opposed to grace than an x-ray is opposed to healing. While the x-ray cannot repair a ruptured artery, it can expose it and show that surgery is necessary for recovery. While the Law pronounces a curse on all men, it also points to the cure of which the promises speak.
23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
In the preceding verses, Paul has focused the reader’s attention on some crucial distinctions: flesh versus Spirit, law versus grace, faith versus works, and the Mosaic Covenant versus the Abrahamic Covenant. These distinctions were not adequately understood or applied by the Judaizers. In verses 23-29 Paul turns to the distinctions which the Jews must make, as well as those which, in the light of the cross of Christ, must no longer be made.
Verses 23-25 deal with the Jewish people, including the Apostle Paul. The pronoun “we” draws our attention to the Jewish application of Paul’s words. The critical terms are “before” (v. 23) and “now” (v. 25). While the Jews were once kept in custody under the Law (v. 23), they are no longer under the Law as a tutor (v. 25). The Law which the Judaizers sought to exalt, Paul said was abolished. It had performed its function prior to the coming of Christ. The Law’s task of restraining men until Christ and leading them to Christ has been accomplished. Therefore, the observance of the Law, as previously required of Old Testament saints, is now only an anachronism, no longer binding on the New Testament believer. Strongly implied in these verses is the foolishness of trying to “turn back the clock” to once again live under the restrictions of the Law.
Verses 26-29 focus on a different group of people, the Gentiles. This is signaled by the change in pronouns from “we” in verses 23-25 to “you” in a verses 26-29. I believe that the Jewish Christians are included in the “you” of the last verses, and they are not at all to be seen separately from the group of all true believers.
Faith in Christ constitutes all believers, Jewish or Gentile, as sons of God (vv. 26, 29). Union with the Son of God makes any man a son of God. This is symbolically proclaimed by the rite of baptism. While circumcision was once the initiatory rite, binding one to the Mosaic Covenant, baptism is the initiatory rite of the Christian. Spirit baptism unites us with Christ, and water baptism symbolizes this union. After the coming of Christ, circumcision is no longer viewed as a significant spiritual act, being superseded by baptism. Paul’s emphasis on baptism was a thorn in the side of the Judaizers, but it accurately reflects the change from living under one covenant to another.
On the basis of Paul’s words in verses 23-25, the Jewish Christians not only have no need to return to the Law; they must not do so. Let me attempt to illustrate Paul’s point with a modern miracle of medicine—the kidney machine. A few years ago, one of the members in our body was diagnosed as having lost virtually all kidney function. How grateful she is to be able to use a kidney machine, which prolonged her life when death would otherwise have been inevitable. The machine was very restricting, and instructions for using it must be followed meticulously, or she will die. Her normal activities are now governed by the hours which she must spend on the machine; nevertheless, her life is marvelously prolonged.
Let’s suppose that the doctor called this lady, told her that a kidney doner had been located, and a transplant was scheduled for the next morning. Several weeks after successful surgery the doctors informed her that her body had accepted the kidney and that she would never again need to use the machine. She has been cured. How ludicrous it would be for her to return, once more, to the kidney machine. Now if she returned to the machine her kidney would stop functioning, for it would be competing with the machine. What was once necessary, but confining and restrictive, would no longer be required (or allowed), due to the reception of a kidney.
Israel’s experience is similar. Because of sin, the Law was given, temporarily putting off the penalty of death. With the Law (and previously in the promise made to Abraham) came the promise of a full and permanent solution to sin—the Messiah. After Christ’s coming, the Law’s purpose as a short-term remedy has been realized, and a return to the Law would be foolish and fatal.
Paul’s words in verses 23-25 deal a decisive blow to the teaching of the Judaizers in the Galatian churches. The Law which once distinguished the Jews from the Gentiles is no longer binding, even on the Jews. It is antiquated. The Gentile Galatians had been persuaded by the Judaizers that to be truly spiritual they must place themselves under the Law. Paul counters this by showing that if living under the Law is no longer necessary for the Jews, surely it is not required of the Gentiles either. Just as it would have been needless for Charlotte to return to her kidney machine, it would have been tragic for her to urge all of her friends to use the machine.
Suppose, for example, that there was a law in America in the 18th century requiring every farmer to keep a six month’s supply of hay for his horse. Now, years later, most of us do not own horses, nor do we need a reserve of hay. How foolish it would be for us to require all immigrants to buy and keep a horse, along with a six month’s supply of hay. What is no longer necessary for us, should also be no longer required of others. The principle underlying Paul’s words might be summarized by “One man’s trash should not become another man’s treasure.” The Judaizers didn’t understand this principle, so Paul had to point out the change that had occurred for the Jews, and then the implications for Gentiles.
Verse 28 is the climax of this section. It demands that the very distinctions which the Judaizers and others emphasized must be set aside as inconsistent with the equality which all men have in their standing before God in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Verse 28 spells out the implications of being in Christ. The distinctions which men make, based upon ethnic origin, gender, and cultural, social or economic status, do not in any way determine one’s standing in Christ. Since this is true, then there is no reason to compel Gentiles to become Jews. Jewishness is not superior. There is no basis for a woman to feel inferior as a person, in Christ. There is no great tragedy involved if one must remain a slave. This is why Paul is able to encourage the Corinthian saints not to become preoccupied with changing their status:
Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches. Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each man remain with God in that condition in which he was called (1 Cor. 7:17-24).
So far as our standing before God is concerned, all human distinctions are done away with in Christ. This frees the Christian from seeking a superior spiritual status by striving to change his social, economic, ethnic, or sexual status. Why do women strive and demand to be like men? I would suggest that it is because they feel that having man-like status makes them a more significant person. Paul taught just the opposite. In Christ, human distinctions of man’s worth are abolished, thus giving all Christians equality before God.
There is nothing wrong with improving one’s status in life as long as the Christian understands that this has nothing to do with his worth in God’s eyes. The effort to improve one’s spiritual status is senseless, since all are equal in Christ. While a woman should take advantage of liberties and privileges, just as a slave should take advantage of the opportunity to be free, they should not be compelled. There is not the compulsion that characterizes unbelievers, for the one who is in Christ is secure. Human distinctions pale in light of the fact that God does not distinguish the value of persons in Christ.
There are still distinctions on the basis of factors such as sex and status in life, both in society at large and in the church. Women are prohibited from public speaking and leadership in the church (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:11-15). Wives are to be subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24), slaves to their masters (Eph. 6:5-8), and children to their parents (Eph. 6:1-3). The important thing to realize is that these distinctions have nothing to do with one’s worth to God or his spiritual significance.
In their desperate attempt to prove that the Bible teaches women ought to have equal standing in society with men, a subject which Paul does not address in this passage, the women’s liberation movement has entirely missed the point of Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28. Those who so quickly condemn Paul for his sexist statements elsewhere praise his wisdom and insight here. They see this passage in light of social implications, when Paul is actually speaking of its spiritual implications. Those women who see themselves as accepted in Christ, with equal standing with every other Christian in the blood of Christ, do not have the compulsive urgency to earn their equality in a man’s world by doing what men do. This is not to say that society (and even Christianity) hasn’t been wrong in the treatment of women. Rather this text is not the place to prove a point on women’s rights.
The subject Paul addresses in this text is the issue of distinctions. The Judaizers were failing to make the crucial distinctions between the Mosaic Covenant and the Abrahamic, between works and promise, law and grace. They were also making distinctions which no longer were legitimate, in particular, those between Jews and Gentiles. Let us consider this matter of distinctions, for it is also a relevant issue for Christians today.
First, let us consider those distinctions which Christians must make. The Galatians had fallen into error because they had followed teaching which did not make the proper distinction between the covenants of the Old Testament. Paul saw a world of difference between the promise which God unconditionally gave to Abraham, and the provision of the Law which was conditioned by Israel’s obedience. The Judaizers failed to understand the temporary and secondary role of the Law, in contrast to the permanent and primary role of the promise. They also failed to perceive that the promises were to be fulfilled through one “seed” of Abraham, rather than through the nation as a whole. It was their failure to observe these fundamental distinctions which led to the legalism and law-works orientation of Judaism.
Quite frankly, 20th century Christians are unaware of proper distinctions, as well. We have failed to distinguish between truth and error, true spirituality from that which appears pious, enduring principles and precepts from those which are passing. Let me take a few moments to deal with some critical distinctions which we must understand today.
(1) Christians must learn the difference between what is good and what is best. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul argues for the priority of love over knowledge. Things which are partial are inferior to those which are perfect, and things which are provisional are inferior to those which are permanent. Such distinctions are always crucial to Christianity.
(2) Christians must learn to distinguish between what is part of a bygone era and that which is binding on saints today. There is a dire need for Christians to recognize that everything that is “biblical” is not always applicable to our day. To be specific, the Law of Moses is biblical, in that it is found in the Bible. This was, no doubt, one of the principle arguments of the Judaizers when seeking to convince the Gentiles of their need to be under the Law. Paul corrected this error by showing the preferability of grace over Law (3:1-12), the priority of the Abrahamic Covenant over the Mosaic (3:15-18), and the permanence of grace over the provisional nature of law (3:19ff.).
Dispensationalism rightly seeks to distinguish between the unconditional covenant of God with Abraham and the conditional covenant of God with Israel, mediated through Moses. Yet some evangelical Christians who are dispensationalists have failed to apply the same principles to other areas of their lives. For example, some charismatic Christians argue for the necessity of the spectacular spiritual gifts. They reason that since the gifts of tongues, miracles, and healings are found in the Book of Acts, they must also be present today. Since we have the same God, who has the same power, and who does not change, why shouldn’t these same miracles occur as they did then?
I must be perfectly honest with you and begin by saying that most of the anti-charismatic arguments are weak and do not do justice to the Scriptures. I am willing to go so far as to say that since God is sovereign in the giving of gifts, He is free to give any gift He chooses, at any time. However, this is a far cry from the charismatic command that God must do so, based solely on the fact that He has done so in the past. In the first place, we dare not overlook at least the possibility that the miraculous phenomenon of the Book of Acts was provisional and preparatory, just as the Law was. Having once existed and having once served God’s purposes does not guarantee that what was in the past must also be so in the present.
Unfortunately, those who strongly hold to an anti-charismatic theology often wrongly apply their own principles. While some things may be provisional and temporary, they begin to include anything in this category which does not fit their preferences. Thus, the silence of women in the church meeting is relegated to a mere cultural command, which was applicable to the churches of the New Testament but not for us. Here is a good principle (of distinguishing what is biblical and binding from what is biblical and not binding) taken to the extreme. Let us be very careful to discern the permanent from the provisional on the basis of biblical evidence, and not on preference. Paul found the distinctions between law and grace which he underscored in Galatians 3 and 4 in the Old Testament itself. Let us seek to be as biblical.
(3) Christians must learn to distinguish between those things which are fundamental from those which are fine points. In Matthew 23, our Lord accused the scribes and Pharisees of “straining gnats and swallowing camels” (23:24). They failed to discriminate what was fundamental from what was incidental. The same kind of error is commonly made by Christians. To Peter, ceasing to eat with the Gentiles and eating with the Jews, was a small thing—incidental. To Paul, it was fundamental, for it was a departure, indeed a denial, of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The “fundamentalist controversy” of recent history was the result of certain men drawing (rightly, I believe) a line between what differences could be tolerated within Christianity and those which must be regarded as un-Christian. We need to determine, accurately, that for which we will be willing to “go to the wall.”
(4) Christians must learn to distinguish between principles and particulars. Closely related, but not identical with the previous point is the need to distinguish between particulars and principles. The need for such distinctions is demonstrated in the Sermon on the Mount, where our Lord contrasts the emphasis on particulars of the scribes and Pharisees with the biblical emphasis on principle. For example, the scribes and Pharisees had certain particulars which were the basis for granting a divorce, but Jesus sought to emphasize the principle of permanence. He thought in terms of the rule, while they thought in terms of the exceptions. He thought in terms of truth; they in terms of technicality. We reveal our failure in this area when we emphasize formulas for successful Christian living instead of principles. Let us be people who discern particulars from principles and who act on principle.
Second, having dealt with necessary distinctions, let us consider differences which should be dead issues. Galatians 3:28 summarizes what Paul is trying to say about erroneous distinctions. In Christ, one’s spiritual standing should not be estimated on the basis of distinctions in race, socio-economic status, or sex. Let us consider what factors made these distinctions wrong and how we should view differences today.
Differences are the raw materials from which prejudices are fabricated. Differences provide men with a basis for estimating the superiority of one thing over another. In some instances, judgments about the superiority of one thing over another are good and proper, but in others they are illicit. In Galatians 3:28, Paul is saying that differences in race, socio-economic status, and sex are not valid indicators of one’s spiritual standing before God. There is only one way in which men can be saved—by the blood of Christ— thus, all who are in Christ are equal before God. All are not identical, obviously, but all are equal.
The Judaizers were motivated by pride and self-seeking, as we shall see later in this epistle. One can understand how they sought to establish themselves by promoting their Jewishness as somehow superior to Gentileness. It is no wonder that the Gentile Galatians sought to put themselves under the Law, once it was granted that being under the Law was a superior spiritual status. The fundamental problem with the Judaizers was that there are no spiritual distinctions between Jew and Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor, male or female. Such distinctions are fabricated.
Let us pause to ponder this matter of differences and put them in proper perspective. Differences are by divine design, a reflection of God’s creativity and freedom. One visit to the zoo will impress one with the creativity of God which was reflected in His creation of our world. The Ephesian and 1 Corinthian epistles focus our attention on the diversity which God has demonstrated in His body, the church. There is diversity in the racial composition of the church (Eph. 2:11-22), just as there is diversity in the spiritual gifts, ministries, and manifestations (success or effects) of these enablements (1 Cor. 12:4-6). The purpose of these differences is to manifest unity in diversity and to create inter-dependence among believers. Differences are by divine design, not to make distinctions which elevate some, but to cause all to value and to depend upon others (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-31).
In spite of what the Scriptures teach us about dealing with differences in the body of Christ, we are more like the Judaizers than we would like to believe. We emphasize the differences between men. We readily distinguish between the well-to-do executive (after all, who else would we put on the church board?) and the blue collar worker. We highly esteem the leader, but disdain a mere follower. We praise and take pride in those who eloquently speak in public (e.g. the gift of teaching), but we think little of the service which is done in private (e.g. the gift of helps).
Do you really wonder why we, like the carnal Corinthians, clamor for certain gifts, certain ministries, certain positions? It is because we have wrongly distinguished some as spiritually superior to others. When we make such distinctions, we create an overabundance of some functions, and a deficit of others. Worst of all, we deny the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us learn to discern what to distinguish, and what distinctions need to be eliminated for the sake of the gospel.
64 The error of the Judaizers would be better illustrated by my analogy if I had tried to make my Rambler into an airplane. Just as my Rambler was never intended to be a flying machine, so the Law was never designed to be a means for salvation, but a tool for condemnation.
65 For some unwarranted and unexplained reason, the translators of the NASB have chosen to ignore the word order of the original text, placing the phrase which speaks of the angels and a mediator before that which speaks of the coming of the seed, to whom the promise had been made. For this reason, I have cited in the text of my message the better renderings of the NIV and the Berkeley Version.
66 Ridderbos writes, “What now does the because of mean in this statement? In the Greek these words can point to cause as well as purpose. If it were the former, we should have to exegete: because the transgressions were many, the law was given — that is, to restrain them. From Rom. 4:15 and 5:20 it becomes apparent, however, that Paul means something else: the law was given, so to speak, to call forth the transgressions, and make them manifest. This is to say more than that by means of the law sin should be acknowledged as transgression in its proper and terrible character: it is to say also that by means of the law sin should come out into the open and multiply itself. The law makes guilt and evil greater (Rom. 5:20).” Herman N. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953), pp. 137-138.
67 The Judaizers seem to have made much of the presence of angels at the giving of the Law. The Scriptures imply that too much significance was placed on the angels, which even caused some to worship them (cf. Col. 2:18). This is apparently the background for Hebrews 1 and 2 in which the superiority of Christ to the angels is stressed.
Related Topics: Law