July 17: Galatians 3:23-25

Today’s note is the last of three dealing with Galatians 3:19-25; the first discussed vv. 19-20, and the second, vv. 21-22. The third and concluding note today will examine vv. 23-25. Here again is the outline for this section:

    • Vv. 19-20: Statement of two-fold purpose [of the Law]:
      (1) for “transgressions”, and
      (2) to serve as a “mediator”
    • Vv. 21-25: More detailed explanation:
      (1) to enclose all things “under sin” (vv. 21-22)
      (2) to function as a paidagogos (vv. 23-25)

In verses 23-25 Paul builds upon the second purpose of the Law: to serve as a mediator. This is defined specifically by use of the image/metaphor of a paidagwgo/$ (paidagœgós), which will be discussed below.

Verse 23—This is effectively a restatement of verse 22:

V. 22: “The Writing [i.e. Written Law] enclosed all things under sin [u(po\ a(marti/an]…”
V. 23:  “…we were watched [i.e. kept/guarded] under the Law [u(po\ no/mon], being enclosed…”

The parallel between Law and sin (“under Law / under sin”) is as clear as it is striking. Many commentators (and, indeed, many Christians) are uncomfortable with this equation, and will often seek to qualify or ameliorate Paul’s actual language. Bear in mind the (rhetorical) question Paul asks in verse 21 (cf. also Rom 7:7; Gal 2:17)—he was well aware of the difficulty (and potential scandal) involved in his line of argument, and treats the matter carefully; even so, he must have realized it would be offensive to Jews (and Jewish Christians). It is the relation of the Law to sin that is perhaps the most extraordinary (and original) aspect of Paul’s teaching; I have addressed it, to some extent, in the earlier notes, but a more complete treatment must wait until discussion of the relevant passages in Romans.

There can be no softening of the expression in verse 23—the combination of the verbs froure/w (“watch, guard”) and sugklei/w (“close together, enclose”) very much indicates imprisonment. As mentioned in the prior note, this is the opposite, negative sense of the Torah as a fence around Israel. This also ties together the expressions “under Law” and “under sin” with the concept of slavery, to which Paul will turn in 4:1-11. Note how carefully he centers and qualifies this period of imprisonment:

    • “But before trust/faith’s coming”
      (pro\ tou= de\ e)lqei=n th\n pi/stin)
      • “we were watched/guarded under Law”
        (u(po\ no/mon e)frourou/meqa)
      • “being closed together [i.e. enclosed]”
        (sugkleiome/noi)
    • “unto [i.e. until] (the) impending trust/faith being uncovered”
      (ei)$ th\n me/llousan pi/stin a)pokalufqh=nai)

The use of the prepositions pro/ (“before”) and ei)$ (“unto”) in a temporal sense, means that Paul is establishing a definite time-frame—that is, the period before (prior to) the Gospel and trust/faith in Christ. Specifically, he refers to the situation of believers in Christ, prior to their coming to faith. This period is described much more extensively in Romans; here, Paul touches on it only briefly, but clearly.

Verse 24—The idea of being watched/guarded here is expressed by the figure of a paidagwgo/$ (paidagogos), literally, “child-leader”, one who leads a child (from which comes the English “pedagogue, pedagogy”). It is sometimes rendered as “teacher” or “tutor”, but, though the word could carry this basic sense, it is rather inaccurate and misleading here. The translation “guardian” is better, but still somewhat misleading in context; “guide” is more accurate, though it requires an understanding of the ancient (social) context underlying the word. The paidagogos, in well-to-do families, was a household slave or servant who would accompany the child to and from school, protecting the child, carrying the books, etc., giving instruction in proper manners, and so forth. For a standard classical description, see Plato Lysis 208 C-D. As a character-type or metaphor, the paidagogos had both negative and positive aspects; but, on the whole, in Greco-Roman literature (and theater), it served as a negative stereotype—a rough and uncouth figure, marked by the disciplinary rod he carried. A more positive association can be found in Greek philosophy (e.g. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.12.8 [1119b 13]); for a specific connection with the law, cf. Plato, Laws 5.730 B, 7.808E-810C. More commonly, paidei/a (“training of a child”), in the general sense of education/instruction, is related to cultivation of virtue in Greco-Roman (and Hellenistic-Jewish) philosophy; for references in Philo, and other related citations above, cf. Betz, Galatians, pp. 177-8.

Paul presents two connected statements utilizing the paidagogos image, the first being here in v. 24:

“So then [w%ste] the Law has come to be our ‘childhood guide’ [paidagwgo/$] unto [i.e. until] (the) Anointed {Christ}, (so) that [i%na] we should be made/declared just out of trust [e)k pi/stew$]…”

The prepositional phrase (using ei)$ in a temporal sense), is parallel to that in v. 23:

    • “unto/until [ei)$] (the) impending trust/faith being uncovered” (v. 23)
    • “unto/until [ei)$] (the) Anointed (One)…”

This clearly (and precisely) sets the term of imprisonment/guardianship until the coming of Christ, at which point it ends. What is so striking in Paul’s explanation, as noted above and previously, is how the negative purpose of the Law—to imprison/enslave under sin—ultimately has the positive effect of making righteousness (and, we would say, salvation) depend entirely upon trust/faith in Christ. For similar instances of a i%na/purpose-clause in Galatians, cf. Gal 2:16, 19; 3:14, 22; 4:5; for the use of the particle w%ste to begin a sentence or clause, cf. Gal 2:13; 3:9; 4:7, 16, and frequently in 1-2 Corinthians.

Verse 25—This is the second statement/clause:

“…but the trust having come, we are not yet [i.e. no longer] under a ‘childhood guide’ [paidagwgo/$]”

Being “under a paidagogos” [u(po\ paidagwgo/n] has to be understood as synonymous with “under the Law” [u(po\ no/mon, cf. above]. Thus, we have here one of several clear (and decisive) statements by Paul in Galatians to the effect that believers are no longer under the Law (i.e. bound to observe the Torah). It may be useful to list other occurrences of the negative particle ou)ke/ti (“not yet, not any more, no longer”) in the Pauline letters: Romans 6:9 (twice); 7:17, 20; 11:6 (twice); 14:15; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 5:16; Gal 2:20; 3:18; 4:7; Philemon 16; Ephesians 2:19. I would argue that in many of these instances, Paul uses the particle as a way to define a specific (religious) identity and the circumstances that surround it (“if this, then no longer that…”); this is certainly the case in Galatians, Gal 2:20; 3:18; 4:7 and here in 3:25.

The paidagogos image also has the advantage of connecting the term (or period) of imprisonment/guardianship with that of a child. The whole idea underlying this example in vv. 24-25 is that a “child guide” (paidagogos) is only required as long as the child was under age; upon the child reaching adulthood (puberty), this guide is no longer needed. Also, while it is by no means so obvious to us today, in the ancient Greco-Roman context of Paul’s audience, it would have been understood that the paidagogos was a household servant or slave. It is these two specific associations—(1) the child reaching maturity, and (2) the period of childhood as a kind of slavery—which Paul will draw upon in the next argument of Galatians, ch. 4:1-11.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).