Lecture 7: Galatians 3 Part 2
Lecture: Galatians 3 Part 2
I. Galatians 3:10-13
We will continue with the text for now and then come back to the larger theological theme of justification. We talked about how 3:7-9 introduces this theme of Abraham and faith that is so important in Paul’s argument and positively he comes back to that in 26-29. The Inclusio is Abraham, faith, and descendants with the same at end; this frames the section that is about the law and why Paul is setting up this dichotomy: Christ, faith and Abraham versus the law. This is not something that would have been a natural way to read Scripture as such. Certainly the agitators weren’t reading Scripture this way. But for Paul, addressing the situation in Galatia was a vital point. His purpose throughout the letter is to persuade the Galatians from thinking that they need to come under the law in order to maintain their status in Christ. It is not only the positive statement about faith in Christ is important, it is also the negative, why not the law. That is what Paul is focusing on now. There is a sort of smaller Inclusio; we note that in verse 9, Paul ends by talking about the blessing of Abraham. Those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. If you go down to verse 14, we have this reference to blessings given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles. There is a bit of a framing mechanism here, blessings in verse 9 and then in verse 14. But the language of blessing in verse 9 at the same time leads Paul to think about the opposite and that is curse in verses 10 and following. And here there is another little Inclusio. So in verses 7-9 and 26-29, there is a larger Inclusio and then a smaller Inclusio in verses 9 and 14 with the blessing of Abraham. Verse 10, we have a yet smaller Inclusio with curse and then verse 13, redeemed from the curse. So in verse 10, the language of the curse which Paul picks up in verse 13 again and in between, he talks about why it is faith and not the law inverses 11-12. You have an A in verse 10 with curse, verse 13, you also have curse. In between you have two verses about faith. This might be argued to be a Chiasm in that it is an A, B, B, A arrangement.
These passages are soaked in the Old Testament with four Old Testament quotations, one in each of the verses 10, 11, 12 and 13. Paul is significantly arguing from Scripture, granted that the agitators appealed to the Old Testament themselves. In one sense, you can say that the whole Galatian controversy is about who has got the right reading of the Old Testament. Everyone agrees that the Old Testament speaks authoritative, it’s Scripture and whatever you are going to conclude must be rooted in the Old Testament and who is reading it the right way. Paul is arguing that his reading is the right reading.
So, verse 10 is in the language of curse from Deuteronomy 27:26 which says, ‘cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out. Then all the people shall say, Amen!’ Luther noted long ago that verse 10 is odd as it seems to quote a Scripture that proves the opposite of what Paul is trying to say. Paul says all who rely on works of the law is under a curse. All who are focused on and involved in the works of the law are under a curse because everyone is cursed who do not do everything that is written in the Book of the Law. Deuteronomy 27:26 seems to say that a curse comes on those who fail to do the law. Paul seems to be arguing that a curse comes on those who do the law. There is an initial problem, a disassociation going on. There is something in the logic that doesn’t seem to be working in terms of the point that Paul seems to be making and the Scripture he is quoting to make that point. This is one text among five or six other texts at the end of Deuteronomy that makes a very similar point. In other words, if you look at you concordance here and search for similar language, you will see about five or six different verses that say much the same thing that Deuteronomy 27:26 says. When you find a quotation like this, you should look back at the context to find out what it is about. This is one of the key themes here. As Moses was ending his sermon, he said to the people that they had the opportunity of blessing or cursing. You have the opportunity of life or death. I have reminded you of the law that God has given to you; if you do that law, then God is going to confirm you in your land. You will have peace and prosperity and long life. But if you fail to do the law, then God will expel you from the land; you will have to be wondering around in foreign nations without a home and without the peace and prosperity that God wants to give you. He is quoting that text from this part of Scripture in regards to the warnings of Deuteronomy are being told to the people by Moses.
If you compare what Paul is saying with Deuteronomy 27:26, what is the difference? The language of all is not found in this verse. This is an emphasis that Paul is responsible for here; and to confirm that this is the case, look at 5:3 where it says, again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. The emphasis is on totality, everything. I think this helps to begin to explain the logic that Paul is involved in here. He is quoting Deuteronomy 27:26 to say that God’s curse comes on those who don’t do all the law. And those who rely on the works of the law are under a curse because they are not able to do all the law. That seems to be the logic here. Paul doesn’t spell out every one of those steps, but I would argue that it is a fairly natural way to read what Paul is doing here. The fact that no one can do all the law is not an unlikely idea or step to insert to make Paul’s logic work here. Those who rely on the law must do all of it to avoid the curse and therefore assume that no one can do all the law. Therefore if you are relying on the law and depending on the works of the law for your standing before God, you were going to fall under a curse. This is the traditional reading which you get is Christendom and Luther and Calvin. Sometimes you hear in their more extreme rhetorical moments, some new perspective advocates that kind of set themselves up against the reformation; particular Luther and Lutherans can receive a lot criticism here. But if you look back through the history of the church, you find a lot of these kinds of ideas, way back in the early centuries of the church. An alternative view that you might have read in Dunn which is somewhat similar but not quite the same as what Tom Wright argues that this is a simply historical statement about the exile. The curse of God did come on the people of Israel in the form of the exile. Paul is warning the Gentile Christians that they shouldn’t join with the Jews by taking on circumcision and the law because you will be joined with a people who are already sent into exile; who have already had the curse fall on them.
The point I’m making here relates to a couple of issues I’m talking about in broad way. We mentioned earlier that Paul never contrasts faith and works in Galatians. That is true. He does contrast faith with doing and when he brings in the law sometimes, you see these passages where it does this and verse 12 is making a similar point; doing is a significant part of that. So it is not just the matter of being people who belong to the Torah covenant, there is an idea of performance or doing is also involved. A Finnish Scholar known at Timo Loto, he has usefully made this distinction; the issue is not just procession of the law, it is also performing the law. And Paul is reminding the Galatians that human beings by virtue of sin cannot adequately perform the law and thus the way of the law is in terms of justification is a way that ends in curse.
Verse 11 quotes Habakkuk 2:4 which said, ‘see, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. Different versions of the Old Testament have a different form of the text which complicates things even further. The Hebrew has the idea of being righteous by his faith or faithfulness will live, but there are two alternate Greek renderings where one is the righteous by my faithfulness will live, God’s faithfulness. Another version has my righteous one by faith will live. This is the version that Hebrews quotes. Paul abbreviates it by dropping the pronoun and simply makes the statement: the one who is righteous by faith or faithfulness will live. You could also translate it as the one who is righteous will live by faith or faithfulness. We don’t know for sure what the prepositional phrase modifies in Paul’s version. Leaving aside some of the technical detail, what Paul is doing is now reminding us in the words of Habakkuk, righteousness again has to do with faith. It is a verse that is kind of the twin of Genesis 15:6, which is a key text that brings faith and righteousness together. Paul is contrasting the reliance on the law bringing a curse and the way in which faith can bring righteousness.
Verse 12 goes on to say that I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. The law is not a part of the faith matter because the law is something to be done. Here, Leviticus 18:5, it says to keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. This verse is quoted twice in Ezekiel 20 and also it is found in a number of Jewish sources as a kind of slogan about the law and its nature. The law by its nature requires doing and Paul picks this up and makes it very important in his theology. Remember that he is talking about the legislation that God gave to Moses for the people of Israel. We sometimes use Law to refer to the five books of the Pentateuch and of course the Pentateuch teaches faith. In these kinds of contexts and much throughout Galatians, Paul is using law in a more specific sense, in terms of commandments, in terms of legislation that Moses gave the people of Israel which calls on people to do things. That is what law is for Paul and that is the point he is making from Leviticus 18:5. We see that Habakkuk 2:4 makes it clear that faith is the key point and faith isn’t something that has to do with the law. They are running on different tracks; law, works and obedience on one track with faith, righteousness and promise on another track.
Verse 13 climaxes the series of quotations with a reference to Deuteronomy 21:23 which says that you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. If someone is guilty of a capital offense, they are put to death and their body is exposed on a pole. So you must not leave the body exposed on a pole overnight. They must bury it the same day. If anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. This is a foreshadowing of Jesus. In this you execute a criminal and then you display their body on a pole. You hang them up on a pole which is not the means of execution but rather it is the exposing of the body after the execution. A man by the name of Watson makes a case that Habakkuk 2:4 is the center of the entire book of the twelve as it is sometimes called. As you know in Jewish reckoning, the twelve Minor Prophets as we call them were often read together as a single volume. So you can make a case that Paul is very familiar with what’s going on in broader context of the Book of Habakkuk. So Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted as a critical statement of how people are confronted with the complexity of what God is doing. Remember the context; Habakkuk is complaining to God of why God wasn’t saying anything, but then God decides to judge Israel and he uses the Chadians to do it. But Habakkuk says that was even worst; now you are using the pagan idolatries to punish you people Israel. How can you be doing that? And Habakkuk 2 and following turns to that matter. Those who are arrogant are lifted up and don’t want to submit to what God is doing but my righteous people will live by faith. They will exercise faith as their fundamental disposition for God, even in the midst of difficult times.
So, here we have Paul preaching the Gospel that doing something very unusual and even offensive to Jews, bringing Gentiles into the community of God’s holy people, Israel. Just as in Habakkuk’s day, God is doing something unusual, perplexing with some even saying wrong. Now God is doing the same thing again; he is doing some perplexing, hard to understand with some saying wrong with bringing the Gentiles into the family of Israel. But as in Habakkuk’s day, so now Paul says that the fundamental attitude of faith is critical. Paul is reading in context and developing some implicit theology here. This matter of being hung on a pole is interesting; remember when Paul is reading Scripture in the way that Scripture was being applied in his day. We know for instance that the Dead Sea Scrolls also pick up this language that talk about crucifixion. This would not have been unheard of or even unusual in Paul’s day. It was difficult to conclude what English word to use here for pole as such. Galatians 3:13 refers to it as a tree instead of a pole. There is a different word used by Paul from that of Deuteronomy 21:23. The idea of a pole usually suggests something smooth such as a flag pole, etc. Could we use the word post as such but a post is normally fairly short? It is clearly not a tree in Deuteronomy. So Paul uses this text out of Deuteronomy to make his point, that Christ became a curse for us. He redeemed us from the curse of the law. One of the problem’s here is Paul’s pronoun us. Who is the ‘us’ here? It could refer to Jews and if it does we read verse 13 and 14 that Christ redeemed us Jews from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us Jews. He redeemed us so that the blessing might come to the Gentiles. There would be a two movement scenario that Paul would be presenting here. Christ died on behalf of the Jewish people and redeemed them from the curse that has come upon them because of their failure to do the law. And now that has happened, the blessing can be extended and include the Gentiles. However, this scenario becomes problematic at the end of verse 14. That by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. It is hard not to think that ‘we’ doesn’t include the Galatia Gentiles. Paul has talked already about having the Spirit earlier in chapter 3.
Paul really doesn’t use these pronouns in a very neat way. The first plural always has a significance and the 2nd plural always has this significance and while it is a very tough call to figure out which way to go, I finally thought that the ‘us’ in verse 13 is a universal ‘us’ also, applying to everyone. All human beings are to some extend under the curse of the law, being condemned for our failure to live up to God. And Christ’s work of redemption of paying a price for our release applies to all humanity. The point then broadly is that the curse that comes upon people for disobedience has been cared for by Christ in his death on the Cross. He has paid the price that we might be released from it and that opportunity then is available to the Gentiles as well as to the traditional people of God, the Jews. So verses 10-14 indicates that God has opened the way for the blessing of Abraham to flow to all the world by taking away the cruse that stands over humanity. This was done through Christ’s death and this happens by faith, not in terms of the law.
II. Galatians 3:15-29
So Paul has been saying some implicitly negative things about the law. But now he pauses and tries to explain the situation from a more historical standpoint beginning in verse 15. So, verses 15-18 are about Salvation history. It is about sequence and reading the Old Testament as Paul reads it in a certain order which is important for us to understand and appreciate. Verses 15-18: ‘Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established; no one can change this about the law. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to his seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise, but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.’
Paul’s argument is interesting from a point or two and I think the translations are fairly similar. He is appealing to the legal practice of his day and we are not quite sure what that was. You have the promise that God gave to Abraham with the appropriate response of faith. Only later, the law was given to Israel and because it was later, it can’t alter the terms of the original agreement. That is where things get a bit difficult to understand in terms of the legal practices Paul may be referring to. He is probably referring to the fact that you just can’t add things to it. That is the way the promise and law work; the promise was first and then the law. God establishes the fundamental promise with Abraham involves faith and then the law comes in at a later time which can’t change the terms of that original agreement. For Paul, the law is a secondary matter. One point that is controversial in regards to Paul’s argument is the claim that the language of seed in Genesis has an idea of a single individual. Clearly, most people reading Genesis would not draw that conclusion. Seed is a singular word but refers to a plurality. It refers to a number of people which has many collective nouns in English which again has proven very controversial. How can Paul make this argument?
Several Old Testament scholars have argued that some of the verses about the seed in Genesis are intended to refer to Isaac specifically. When the promise talks about a seed of Abraham, it is not being used in a collective sense, but instead in a particular singular sense to single out Isaac as the seed. The man of promise who comes after Abraham, in which again would make sense of what Paul was doing. A second observation is also relevant. We will see in verses 26-29 Paul also refers to Abraham’s seed, exactly the same Greek word and clearly takes it as a collective noun there. He talks about all people who belong to Abraham, Jew and Gentile alike, being Abraham’s seed. Obviously Paul knows that use of the word and is emphasizing that word in the context. So it might be that his argument in Galatians 3:16 go something like this: Ultimately the seed that was promised to Abraham involved a multitude of descendants who were like him and had faith as he did. But all of this funnels through one particular seed, one key representative, one descendant who through whom the promise has now come as a fulfilment for everyone else. This is a common New Testament pattern. As Jesus in his own ministry embodies Israel as the servant, the elect one, the Son of Man; all of these terms of the Old Testament will sometimes be used broadly, will all come to rest on Jesus and then through him there is the provision for that blessing to flow out to all of those who belong to him. I think Paul is something like that here in his logic. Faith is important for Paul in direct relationship to the importance of Christ. We will see Paul making this point strongly in verses 26 and following.
Paul raises an interesting question in verse 19, one of the things we see him doing in Galatians, Romans and most of his other letters. He does what a good preacher need to do; he anticipates the problem that people are going to have with an argument and to communicate effectively which is one of the things that a good communicator has to do and to anticipate where the problems are going to be. When you are in a monological situation, when you are preaching in a context where you take questions from the audience. In the course of that sermon then to convince people on something you are trying to convince them of, you need to anticipate the problem they are going to have with what you are saying. It is just good communication skills. That is what we see Paul doing here. He is emphasizing the promise and saying that the law can’t fundamentally change, that is the arrangement that God made with Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? If everything is about Abraham and faith and that is what we are talking about, where does the law come into play at all? Why did God give the law to the People of Israel at all? So, Paul turns to this question. First, it was added because of transgressions. The point he is making is debated in regards to the law and sin in Paul. Paul makes a number of statements in his writings that come from Romans. But, be aware of the danger of reading Romans into Galatians, this problem must be understood with care. The law helps us to become conscious of sin (Romans 3:20). The law brings wrath because where there is no law, there is no transgression. The law was brought in so that the trust past might increase. So, one of the reasons God gave the law to Israel was to make sin something that was really clear with people. It was to establish an objective clear standard that people could judge themselves against. Obviously, ever since Adam’s sin was rampant in the world, people were displeasing God and they would have some ability to understand that. But among other things, the law of God is given to a sinful people, Israel and in their sin in which they aren’t able to obey it as they are supposed to. However, they can now look at their conduct and put it up against that really clear standard that God provided for his people in the law. In that sense, the law turns sin into transgression. This is the key to understanding Galatians 3:19.
Paul uses a very specific word here; it was because of transgressions until the seed to whom the promise referred to had come. Transgression is a word that Paul always uses for a violation of a law. If you are new in a country or state that has some of its own laws, you may get in trouble for breaking that law. But you might do it in ignorance; you might not know that there is a law about something. And so you sin but you have not transgressed. You haven’t broken a law that you knew that you were responsible for. I think what Paul is saying in 3:19, the law was given in order to create transgressions. In order to make the plight of humans being under the law abundantly clear. Paul talks about all human beings having some kind of built in God given sense of right and wrong, yet not the sort of thing that can be neatly written into an account book as such. Note the chronological focus here as well; we saw that the law came in 430 years after Abraham. Now Paul says that the law was given until the seed the promise referred to had come. There was a point of beginning for the law and a point of ending of the law. Of course this raises questions about the continuing use of the law by Christians. But in a general way, you see the kind of Chronology he has established. There is salvation history; God enters into a relationship with Abraham by the promise that ultimately had reference to Christ, the seed to whom all that referred to. In between in the law, coming after the promise until the seed, Jesus Christ had come.
Verses 19b-20 is almost impossible to understand. There is no sense trying to figure it out. There are dozens and dozens of interpretations of this kind of idiomatic reference. One point is clear which goes against a few scholars that argue the point by claiming that the law was given through angels, Paul is not denying that it came from God. J. Lewis Martin thinks this is what Paul is doing here. Paul is not saying that the law was from the angels instead of God. There was a tradition that angels were involved in the giving of the law, based on a text in Deuteronomy 33 and also referred to in Acts 7 by Steven and then in Hebrews 1. This seems to have been a fairly common Jewish tradition. But it is hard to understand why Paul brings in the subject of angels here. My simply summary is that the law was given by angels through a meditator to Israel, Moses was the meditator of the covenant, the one who represented the people. Moses meditated this whole matter between God and the people whereas in the case of the promise, perhaps Paul’s point is, there is a direct relationship where God speaks to Abraham and reveals himself to Abraham and that suggests to some degree the superiority of that promise. That is what I think of it.
Here Paul raises the same kind of question again in 3:21-22; does the law go against the promise? No they are working together; a law can’t impart life. Scripture has locked everything up under the control of sin; so what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. So, again, the law had its purpose. It was almost like a jailer, keeping Israel captive under sin so that the need for a redeemer would be made explicitly clear to the people. The law had to make things worst so that God could ultimately make things better. It was used by God in this preparatory period to pave the way for the kind of redemption that ultimately God intended to provide through Christ. 3:23-25 reads, before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. The King James gives a positive spin on the idea; the law was our school master and other versions have used tutor, to bring us to Christ. The law had its positive role in bringing us to Christ. The NIV says that the law was our guardian until Christ came. Both of these are legitimate rendering of the Greek here. I prefer the NIV rendering. Paul uses the Greek word pedagogues to describe the way the law was used to guide the people of Israel. It was their guardian. This word pedagogues isn’t a teacher, it was usually a slave who had the job of keeping a young child out of trouble. Paul uses this word as it suggests a minority, a child of a young age being watched over by someone until they come into their full maturity. He is using this in reference to Israel as God gave the law to watch over the people of Israel to be their guardian for a time until they came into their maturity and the Messiah arrived. Paul is reaching out for different arguments to convince the Galatians in trying to make his point. Paul obviously has this strong sense of responsibility for his people; he has a love for them as you see the compassion in the way he argues with them in trying to keep them on the path he knows it is good for them to be on.
Paul is kind of coming back to a positive statement that he began with. Some of the same themes are going to be found here. ‘So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jews nor Gentiles, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ This is inclusive language through the use of all, everyone alike are children of God through faith. Here, we perhaps a legitimate Chiasm. You have an A and an A with in Christ and children of God. Then B and B with heirs to the promise and Abraham’s seed and on the next level in, the emphasis on with or in Christ and the oneness we have in that relationship as being the C part of the Chiasm. The C part is called the pivot, the central focus of the Chiasm which everything points to. When Paul writes what he does in verse 28, I suspect he is kind of quoting a well-known early Christian statement. That is why we have reference to slave and free, male and female. There is nothing in Galatians about the question of being a slave or being free or male and female. It seems to be an early standard of practice and approach. There is a oneness in Christ that Paul wants to emphasize, but it is not a unity that is a uniformity. Paul is not saying that males cease to be males and females cease to be females much in contrast to what is going on in the western culture now. That difference continues even though they are one in Christ. It is the same with Jews and Gentiles. This is a fundamental statement of how our churches should operate and what they should be like. If this is true then, some argue that we cannot differ between the roles of male and females within the church.
Okay to summarize here, we have the one God that promised Israel. We see that God is consistent and he is the same from beginning to end. He has made a promise to Abraham that focuses on a particular seed which comes to fulfilment in Christ and all who are in Christ by faith and also those who belong to Christ by faith. In the course of salvation history, the law then came in and added 430 years after God entered into a relationship with Abraham. Doing the works of the law was vital during that period of time. That was how the people of God were to respond to God. They were not saved by doing that law; God saved them by his own grace by establishing a covenant with them. But the people of God were required to respond to God’s grace and covenant by their obedience, by following the law during that period of time. The law came in until the seed of Abraham arrived and thus the law has this kind of parenthetical place in the overall plan of God. All of this is put forward to the Galatian Christians telling them not to put themselves under the law because they would be denying that Christ had come. The seed had come, the promises had been fulfilled which meant that the era of the law was at an end. And if you are trying to put yourself under the law, it is as if you are putting yourself back to an earlier period of salvation history, before the Messiah had come and promises had been fulfilled.