The Purpose of the Law (Part 2)
To serve as a guardian until Christ arrives
Gal 3:15-25 (NIV)15 Brothers, 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, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 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. 18
19 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. 20
21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22
23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
Galatians 3 speaks a foundational truth concerning covenants agreed upon by two parties. Namely, a third party is unable to come along and change the rules. Verse 15 notes no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established. To that end, verse 17 states, The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.
At this point, no rocket science has transpired, but merely the establishment that the covenant God made with Abraham, that through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed (Gen. 22:18), has not been annulled by the advent of the law, 430 years later. The term “offspring” is the equivalent of the “seed” referred to in Galatians 3. It is a preliminary promise, and remains intact in spite of the advent of the law. The covenant with Abraham, then, precedes the law historically and supersedes the law in its weight. The law itself would for no reason change the terms of God’s promise to Abraham. Verse 18 affirms this:
18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
The promise of the coming of Christ, Abraham’s promised seed which would bless the entire world, is independent of the advent of the law. This raises the logical question in verse 19, “What, then was the purpose of the law?”
The answer to that question comes in two parts. The first part identifies the reason, or the grounds for the purpose, while the second part states the actual purpose. While these two ideas are closely tied, the text seems to make such a distinction. The purpose of a police officer is to maintain law and order. The reason a police officer is needed is because there is a lack of law and order when one is not present.
Verse 19 states the reason; the “because” of the coming of the law. “It was added because of transgressions until the seed to whom the promise referred had come.” The law was needed, “because” it would serve as an answer to the problem of transgression. The reason is separate from the purpose, yet closely linked. This statement doesn’t exactly tell us what the purpose of the law was, but comes close, as it reveals the reason the law was needed. The actual purpose – or “how the law will fulfill the reason it was given” – is revealed beginning in verse 23. But, before the purpose of the law is fully revealed, Paul inserts a parenthetical argument, once again asserting the law as being incapable of imparting life, as the promise of Christ would do. In short, he defines what the purpose of the law is not.
Verse 21 states that if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law, affirming that the law has no part of salvation. It has another purpose, which unfolds next in the text.
Verse 22-23 inform the reader that Scripture declares…the whole world is a prisoner of sin, and that we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. The reason the law was given is do deal with the transgressions, yet it caused all to be held prisoner until the promise of faith (the seed – Christ) came! The law revealed the sin of sinful man, causing sinful man to be held prisoner by the very law which he served.
So, if the reason the law was given was to deal with transgression, yet the law itself caused people to be held prisoners because of said transgression, what on earth is the true purpose of the law? The next sentence reveals the final piece of the puzzle.
The Essence of a Tutor
Verses 24-25 are the closing statement on the matter, which sums up the portrait Paul had been painting:
Galatians 3:24-25 (NIV)
24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
As affirmed in the last section, one cannot accept the gift of salvation in Christ without a firm understanding of his fundamental sinfulness. People cannot be saved from sin which they refuse to acknowledge. “I am a sinner” is a requisite confession for anyone to be eligible for the substitutionary atonement of Christ.
The law, then, because of transgression, served its purpose to lead us to Christ, by demonstrating the utter need of everyone for redemption from the sin which the law itself was unable to quench. Suddenly, the first purpose of the law (noted earlier) revealed in Romans 7:7, is illuminated; I would not have known what sin was except through the law.
The law being “put in charge” is rendered from the Greek term paidagogos; an “instructor,” or a “tutor.” The KJV renders this phrase “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” The NASB translates “the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ.” Paul was one who chose his words carefully. This phrase, sounding akin to a nun with a big stick in a parochial school, is used precisely within the context of that sentiment.
A tutor, schoolmaster or guardian is one who is temporary by definition. Children learn from a guardian or tutor so that the day will come when they can make their own decisions; built upon the teachings they have been instructed in, yet without the necessity of assistance from the tutor. Guardianship has as its purpose the practical preparation of its student for self-governance. An examination of verses 24-25 indicate that this idea is in particular what Paul is teaching concerning the purpose of the law: it was to prepare us for the time of the coming of the promised blessing of Christ, when we would no longer live under the guardian’s rule of law, but instead, under the careful guidance of maturity.
Verse 25 sums it up: Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
Combined, then, the two purposes of the law demonstrated so far were for the reason of man’s sinfulness. Sin must be understood to prepare oneself for the coming of the promise of Christ. The purposes themselves were to demonstrate what sin is, thus being a tutor to teach man the principles of right living.
This leads one to the third biblically defined purpose of the law: to condemn sinful man that he may understand fully the necessity of salvation.
This will be the substance of the next post in this series.