Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (3:21-5:21, Part 1)

Romans 3:21-5:21

This is the second of the four main sections of the probatio in Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39, cf. the Introduction). The first, on Rom 1:18-3:20 (cf. the previous article), I have summarized as the Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment on humankind, according to the Law (of God). The second, on Rom 3:21-5:21, I describe (and outline) as:

  • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    3:21-31: A description of God’s justice and on being made/declared just
    4:1-25: Argument from Scripture: The blessing/promise to Abraham (by trust/faith)
    5:1-11: The effect/result of being made/declared just: salvation from the coming judgment
    5:12-21: Argument/Illustration from Scripture: Sin and Salvation (Adam/Christ)

Two discussions on the twin theme of Justice/Justification (3:21-31; 5:1-11) alternate with expository arguments (or illustrations) from Scripture (4:1-25; 5:12-21). I will be dividing this article into two parts, according to these section-pairs, the first being on Rom 3:21-31 and the argument from Scripture in chapter 4.

Romans 3:21-31

This section can be further divided into two sections, vv. 21-26 and 27-30, followed by a concluding declaration in v. 31.

Verses 21-26 form one long, complex sentence, beginning with an announcement similar to that in Rom 1:18 (cf. also the propositio in 1:17):

“But now, separate from (the) Law, (the) justice/righteousness of God has been made manifest [lit. made to shine forth], being witnessed under [i.e. by] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]…”

In Rom 1:18, the verb used was a)pokalu/ptw (“uncover”, lit. “remove the cover from”); here, it is fanero/w, “(make) shine forth” (note the use of the related adjective fanero/$, “shining” in 1:19). These two verbs represent twin aspects of revelation—(a) uncovering that which was hidden, and (b) making it known, apparent, as of light “shining forth”. Note the ironic wordplay here: that the righteousness which is separate/apart (xw/ri$) from the Law, is witnessed by the Law—the first use of no/mo$ (“Law”) should be understood specifically of the Torah commands, the second, of Scripture (the Pentateuch, which embodies the Torah). The preposition xw/ri$ implies a separation, in terms of space between two objects (i.e., they are not connected); note the use of the related verb xwri/zw, in an opposite sense, in Rom 8:35ff. The remainder of vv. 22-26 is a tapestry of Pauline phrases and concepts which build upon the opening declaration (italicized words and phrases glossed with the Greek):

V. 22: “and (the) justice/righteousness of God [dikaiosu/nh qeou=] (is) through (the) trust [dia\ pi/stew$] of (the) Anointed Yeshua unto all [pa/nta$] the (one)s trusting [pisteu/onta$]—for there is no setting through [diastolh/ i.e. setting apart, distinction]—”

V. 23: “for all [pa/nte$] (have) sinned and are last of [i.e. behind, lacking] the esteem [i.e. glory] of God”

V. 24:being made right [dikaiou/menoi or, declared just] freely [dwrea\n, without charge] by His favor [xa/riti], through the loosing from (bondage) [a)polutrw/sew$] th(at takes place) in (the) Anointed [e)n Xristw=|] Yeshua”

V. 25: “whom God set before (Himself as) a conciliatory gift [i(lasth/rion], through [the] trust in his blood, unto the showing forth of [i.e. to show forth] His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] through the sending along [i.e. passing over, remission] of the sins th(at) had come to be before, in God’s holding up [i.e. that God put up with]”

V. 26: “toward the showing forth of His justice/righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] in th(is) time now, unto His being just/right [di/kaio$, i.e. that He might be just] and (the One) making just/right [dikaiou=nta] the (one who is) out of trust [e)k pi/stew$] of Yeshua [i.e. the one who trusts in Jesus]”

The density and complexity of the sentence should be abundantly clear from the extremely literal (glossed) rendering above; in conventional English, and to be readable, vv. 21-26 would be broken up into a number of shorter sentences. Even in Greek, however, the syntax is quite convoluted. Yet, this is one of those classic long sentences in Paul’s letters which deserves to be read and studied carefully, with close attention to the flow of ideas and phrases; they are not strung together randomly, but do form an inspired concatenation, a network of relationships expressing the truth of the Gospel in powerful and unmistakable terms. I offer a possible outline diagram of vv. 21-26 in a separate note, along with a brief discussion of the key phrase in this passage—”the justice/righteousness of God” (dikaiosu/nh qeou=).

Verses 27-30—If verses 21-26 represent the principal declaration regarding the justice/righteousness of God apart from the Law, in verses 27-30 there is a reaffirmation of two basic points Paul has made previously: (1) that human beings are made (or declared) just/right, i.e. “justified” by trust (pi/sti$) in Christ, and not by performing/observing the commands of the Law, and (2) that this applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. These verses can be divided into four shorter statements, according to the following pattern:

    • V. 27—No boasting (for the Jew)—it is the Law of faith/trust, not the written Law
      • V. 28—Statement of “justification by faith”, without works of Law
    • V. 29—Equality of Jew and Gentile before God
      • V. 29—Declaration that Jews and Gentiles are “justified” through faith

Verse 27—All human “boasting” (kau/xhsi$) is excluded (“closed/shut out”); this relates to all natural, “fleshly” aspects of one’s religious-cultural identity—status, attitude (pride, etc), knowledge, pious practice, devotion in ritual or ethical matters, etc.—all of which are bound “under the Law” and the “elements of the world”. The contrast is familiar from Galatians—”works” (e&rga) of the Law vs. faith/trust (pi/sti$); however, here Paul frames the matter differently, referring to the “law of works” (no/mo$ tw=n e&rgwn) as opposed to the “law of faith/trust” (no/mo$ tou= pi/stew$). The “Law” (no/mo$) has been generalized, and the contrast is specifically between “works” (i.e. deeds) and “trust” (in God and Christ). It is the fact that “justification” comes through trust (dia\ pi/stew$) that “boasting” is excluded—i.e., it is not the result of doing anything. There is an attractive vibrancy and buoyancy to the rhetorical question Paul uses to express this point.

Verse 28—”for we count a man to be made right [or, declared just] by trust, separate/apart from works of (the) Law“. Here we have one of Paul’s clearest statement of “justification by faith”. Note each of the underlined expressions above:

    • logizo/meqa (“we count”, i.e. reckon, say/claim)—this is the same verb used in the citation from Gen 15:6 (cf. below): “…it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to him [i.e. Abraham] unto justice/righteousness”.
    • dikaiou=sqai (“to be made right”, “to be declared just/right”)—i.e., a person is made/declared just/right (by God)
    • pi/stei (“by trust”)—i.e., in (God and) Christ; there is no preposition in the Greek, it has to be filled in.
    • xwri/$ (“separate/apart [from]”)—implying a clear separation (i.e., space between)
    • e&rgwn no/mou (“works of [the] Law”)—i.e., deeds, performance/observance of the commands and regulations in the Law (Torah, but also including the wider “Law of God”)

Verse 29—”or is (He) the God of Yehudeans {Jews} only? is (He) not also (God) of (the) nations? yes, also of (the) nations!” The equality of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) before God is an important, and fundamental, principle for Paul (cf. Gal 3:28; Rom 2:9-11, 12ff; 3:9ff, etc). Here it is stated by way of a rhetorical (and real) question, parallel to that in verse 27.

Verse 30—”if indeed (there) is one God [or, God is one], who will make right [or, declare just] circumcision out of trust, and (having) a foreskin through the (same) trust“. As in verse 28, we have here a clear and decisive statement regarding “justification by faith“—that it applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. Paul defines the distinction between Jew and Gentile, again, according to circumcision (cf. 2:25-29), using the terms “circumcision” (peritomh/, lit. “cut around”) and “foreskin” (a)krobusti/a, “closing [over] the extremity”) as a shorthand (and stereotypical) description. Note the underlined words and expressions:

    • ei&per (“if so, if indeed”)—though this is a conditional particle, by implication, it indicates that a proposition or supposition is assumed to be true; in English, this may be expressed according to result (“because, since…”), and, certainly Paul accepts as true both the declaration in v. 29b and that “God is one”.
    • ei!$ o( qeo/$ (“one [is] the God”, or “God is one”)—a fundamental tenet of Israelite/Jewish (and Christian) monotheism (Deut 6:4, etc); however, for Paul, it also is a declaration of unity, i.e. the same God for both Jew and Gentile. Paul frequently emphasized that there is only one—one Gospel, one faith, one Spirit, one body, et al; of many references, see Gal 1:6-9; 3:16, 20, 28; 5:14; Rom 5:12-21; 12:4ff; 1 Cor 1:10-13; 3:8ff; 6:16-17; 8:6; 10:17ff; 12:11, 12ff; 2 Cor 11:2-6; Phil 1:27; 2:2; Col 3:15; Eph 2:11-22; 4:1-7.
    • dikaiw/sei (“he will make right” or, “will declare just”)—Paul typically uses the verb dikaio/w in the passive, as a “divine passive”, with God as the implied agent; here, it is used actively of God (“He will…”).
    • e)k pi/stew$ (“out of trust”)—Paul frequently uses this expression (with e)k, “out of”, i.e. “of, from”) to indicate either: (a) faith/trust as the means by which people are saved/justified, or (b) as the source by which one comes to believe, and to which the believer belongs. The first sense is generally synonymous with the expression dia\ pi/stew$ (“through trust”).
    • dia\ th=$ pi/stew$ (“through the [same] trust”)—almost certainly, there is no real difference of meaning between the use of the prepositions e)k and dia/, as indicated above; the definite article likely implies “the same” faith/trust (in Christ), again emphasizing the unity (and equality) of Jews and Gentiles before God.

Verse 31—In this concluding verse, Paul asks a pointed (and most interesting) rhetorical question:

“Do we then make the Law useless/inactive through th(is) trust? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make the Law stand!”

All through chapters 2 and 3 of Romans, Paul has been arguing that faith in Christ and acceptance by God is completely separate and apart from the Law (esp. the Old Testament/Jewish Law [Torah]). Jews, including many Jewish Christians, doubtless would object to this line of reasoning, and might well claim that Paul was undermining and destroying the Law by his teaching. Paul anticipates such an objection, much as he does in Gal 3:21 (cf. also Gal 2:17, and earlier in Rom 3:3-5). His response says a good deal about his view and understanding of the Law; because of its importance in this regard, this verse will be discussed in a little more detail in a separate daily note.

Romans 4:1-25—Argument from Scripture (Abraham)

This passage is an expansion of the argument in Galatians 3:6-18, centered on the example of Abraham. Here it will be most important to examine the significant differences and points of development, compared with Gal 3:6ff (for a discussion of the verses in Galatians, see my earlier article in this series). The basic outline is:

Rom 4:1-3—The example of Abraham [Gal 3:6]

Paul begins with a (rhetorical) question regarding Abraham: “what then shall we declare Abraham to have found…?”—whom he qualifies with the phrase “…our forefather according to (the) flesh?” Here he uses the expression kata\ sa/rka (“according to [the] flesh”) in the normal physical/material sense; kata\ sa/rka presumably is to be taken with “our forefather” (to\n propa/tora au)tw=n), rather than with the verb eu(rhke/nai, i.e. “to have found according to the flesh”, though possibly there is a bit of wordplay involved. In verse 2, Paul emphasizes the point that Abraham was not considered by God to be right/just (e)dikaiw/qh, “made right/just”) by his works (e)c e&rgwn)—in contrast to the discussion in James 2:21ff. In verse 3, just as in Gal 3:6, there is a citation from Genesis 15:6 [LXX]:

“Abraham trusted [e)pis/teusen] God and it was counted [e)logi/sqh] to/for him unto justice/righteousness [ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn]”
The construction e)logi/sqhei)$ in typical English has to be rendered something like “counted…as“, with the preposition ei)$ (“into, unto”) indicating the intended or effective result.

This clearly was a seminal verse in Paul’s thought, through which he was able to grapple with the relationship between Jewish and Christian religious identity.

Rom 4:4-12—The blessing to (and through) Abraham [Gal 3:7-14]

In Galatians, Paul emphasizes the blessing that comes, through Abraham, to the nations (Gentiles), that it is through trust in God (the same trust demonstrated by Abraham); this is contrasted with the Law (and its curse), which Christ fulfills. In Romans, the emphasis is rather on the nature of the blessing (or blessedness), which is described through a series of explanatory and illustrative statements:

  • Vv. 4-5—it is not a wage [misqo/$] earned by (or, properly, owed to) the one who works [o( e)rgazo/meno$]; instead it is a favor [xa/ri$], or “gift” (i.e. “grace”).
  • Vv. 6-8—it is understood in terms of forgiveness of sins, i.e. of sinful acts [ai( a(marti/ai] and acts of “lawlessness” [ai( a)nomi/ai] or violations of the law, in the general sense of wickedness. This is stated by way of citation of Psalm 31:1-2 in vv. 7-8, and brings out three different aspects of “forgiveness”—sins are:
    • “released” (a)fe/qhsan)—the related noun a&fesi$ is the word usually translated “forgiveness” in English
    • “covered up/over” (e)pekalu/fqhsan)—i.e., a covering is laid over/upon them
    • “not counted” (mh\ logi/shtai)—the double negative ou) mh\ adds emphasis, “not at all, certainly not, by no means,” etc
  • Vv. 9-11a—it was pronounced prior to circumcision (and the Law/Torah); Paul makes the same point in Gal 3:15-18. Even more important in the context of Romans is the equality of Jew and Gentile—this blessedness (justification) comes upon those with “circumcision” (peritomh/) and “a foreskin” (a)krobusti/a) equally (v. 10).
  • Vv. 11b-12—it is for all who trust, apart from circumcision and the Law. The upshot of Paul’s argument is that Abraham trusted God, and was counted as just/righteous, while he was still uncircumcised; by way of application, Gentiles who walk in line (stoixou=sin), following in the tracks (toi=$ i&xnesin) of Abraham (v. 12), i.e. in the same faith and trust, will, like him, be “counted as just/righteous” by God (11b).
Rom 4:13-25—The promise to Abraham (his seed–descendants) [Gal 3:15-18]

As indicated above, the argument in Gal 3:15-18 is effectively repeated by Paul in vv. 9-11; here in vv. 13ff he takes a different approach, which deals more directly with the Abraham narrative in Genesis. The principal statement is in verses 13-15:

  • V. 13—this is the main declaration, which is framed, in familiar fashion, by Paul: “not through (the) Law… but through (the) justice/righteousness of trust”, contrasting the Law with trust (in Christ). In between these contrasting terms, he sets the elements of the Abraham narrative:
    • h( e)paggeli/a (“the message upon”), esp. a declaration or announcement upon (someone or something), which can be taken in the sense of a promise to do something, etc., and so is often applied, as here, in relation to God—His declaration or promise that he will do such-and-such.
    • tw=|  )Abraa\m (“to Abraham”)—of a son (and heir) to Abraham, including the promise of many future descendants; cf. Gen 12:2-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-11; 22:16-19; 24:7.
    • h* tw=| spe/rmati au)tou= (“or [rather] to his seed”)—for Paul’s special emphasis on the “seed” [sg.] of Abraham, cf. Gal 3:16.
    • au)to\n ei@nai (“his being”, i.e. “that he would be”)—that Abraham’s child—ultimately, his descendants—would truly be (or become)… .
    • to\ klhrono/monkosmou= (“the [one] receiving the lot [i.e. heir]… of [the] world”)—this touches back on the idea of the blessing which would come to the nations (Gen 12:3), as well as the inheritance of the (promised) land in Canaan (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:7, 18; 26:4; 28:13; 35:11-12; 48:16; Exod 32:13; Num 26:52-56, etc). This land (as “earth”) came to expanded, in subsequent Israelite/Jewish tradition, as “the (whole) world” (cf. Jub 19:21; 2 Baruch 14:13; 51:3, etc). The concept would be spiritualized in early Christianity, or related more properly to the idea of believers “inheriting the kingdom of God”.
  • Vv. 14-15—Paul expounds the statement regarding inheritance according to his familiar contrast between the Law and faith/trust (v. 14). Note the wordplay which characterizes his argument in these verses:
    • V. 14: if inheritance comes by way of the Law (e)k no/mou), then the promise is made inactive (kath/rghtai, kat¢¡rg¢tai)
    • V. 15: when, in fact, the Law actually works out (katerga/zetai, katergázetai), i.e. produces, accomplishes, the passion/anger (o)rgh/, “wrath”, associated with the judgment) of God against sin and wickedness.
      This is followed by the statement that “where there is not (any) Law, there is also no stepping over [i.e. violation/transgression]” (cf. Rom 3:20; Gal 3:19).

Verses 16-17a are transitional, with a point that is two-fold:

    1. That the promise is according to the favor of God (kata\ xa/rin), which qualifies the expression of faith/trust (e)k pi/stew$)
    2. That it is to all the offspring of Abraham (panti\ tw=| spe/rmati), by faith/trust (and not by the Law)

As a result, Abraham is the father of all who believe in Christ, Jews and Gentiles both (“who is the father of all of us“). In vv. 17b-25, Paul returns to the Genesis narrative, and to the specific example of Abraham—that is, of his trust in God. The summary exposition is in vv. 17b-21, culminating with the declaration that Abraham carried fully (plhroforhqei\$) the belief that God was powerful enough to do (poih=sai) that which He had promised (o^ e)ph/ggeltai). The narrative is further interpreted and applied in the concluding verses 22-25. In particular, Gen 15:16 (v. 22) is applied to believers (vv. 23-24a)—those who trust in what God has done in Christ, especially the resurrection (v. 24b, 25b, cf. Rom 10:9), but also his sacrificial death which took place through (dia/, or for/because of) our transgressions (paraptw/mata, “[moment]s of falling along [the way]”).

July 16: Galatians 3:21-22

Today’s note is the second of three dealing with Galatians 3:19-25; the first discussed vv. 19-20, and today I will be looking at vv. 21-22. A reminder of the outline for this section is useful:

    • 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 19-20, Paul provides a two-fold answer to the question in v. 19a: “(for) what (purpose) then (is) the Law?” Verses 21-22 give a more detailed explanation of the first purpose—it was given/added “on behalf of transgressions” (v. 19b). The Greek word para/basi$ (“a step [or stepping] beyond”) can be understood either in the specific sense of stepping beyond (i.e. transgressing) the Law, or simply in terms of sin/sinfulness. Defining the “Law” more broadly (as the “Law of God”, i.e. His will/command) would allow us to include both aspects, and it is likely that Paul does have both in mind. A comparison with his treatment of the subject in Romans suggests that the Law serves to make manifest and increase (or add to) the already existing sinfulness of humankind. That God would fundamentally intend the Torah to increase sinfulness is a troubling idea for Christians, and Paul recognized the difficulty of it, and that it could be easily misunderstood. This, almost certainly, is why he begins in verse 21 with a second rhetorical question (somewhat parallel to that in v. 19a):

“Then (is) the Law against [kata\] the promises [tw=n e)paggeliw=n] [of God]?”

Throughout Galatians, Paul has effectively contrasted the Law with the promise (cf. especially vv. 15-18), so this might very well be a natural question. He asks a similar (and even more pointed) question in Romans 7:7: “What then…(is) the Law sin?” (note also Gal 2:17). To each of these, Paul responds emphatically, “may it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!” The forcefulness may be rendered in English as “(God/Heaven) forbid that it should be so!”—in other words, “certainly not!” Such a definite, pious response is understandable; but, if the Law itself is not sinful or against God, then what exactly is Paul trying to say? The explanation in v. 21b flows into v. 22, and must be taken together as a single sentence. The clauses form two distinct (and contrasting) statements:

    • V. 21b: “For if (a) Law, having the power to make (things) live, was given,
      • (then) justice/righteousness would really be out of [i.e. from] (the) Law”
    • V. 22: “but (instead) the Writing closed together all (thing)s under sin,
      • (so) that the promise [e)paggeli/a] should be given out of trust of Yeshua (the) Anointed
        to the ones trusting.”

Note that the promise (e)paggeli/a) is parallel with justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh); there are actually two important, but different, sorts of parallelism at work here—

    • Synonymous: promise || justice/righteousness
    • Antithetical: the Law || trust/faith (in Jesus)

and both being familiar to anyone who has read Galatians up to this point. Paul’s use of “the Writing” (h( grafh/) as an active subject in v. 22 is interesting. Traditional-conservative (Protestant) commentators often cite it as evidence of Scripture being regarded as the very Word of God (i.e. acting like God himself); however, while Paul certainly believed something akin to this, it is hardly the point he is emphasizing here. Rather, I would say that he is using the expression to refer to the Law in the more specific, concrete sense of the Law as written (i.e. the “letter” of the Law); and it is especially the written Law which comes to be associated more directly with sin and death—see especially Paul’s discussion in 2 Corinthians 3:6ff.

The statement in v. 21b is, like many Paul makes in Galatians, largely contrary to the view of Jewish religious tradition, where the Torah is often considered as a way to life—cf. Deut 30:15-20; 32:47; Prov 3:1ff; Sirach 17:11; Baruch 3:9; 4:1; m. Aboth 2:8; 6:1ff. Paul’s statement assumes the very opposite: that the Torah which was given does not have the power to make one live (cf. Gal 2:15-21). Rather, for Paul, life-giving guidance (and power) comes (to believers) through the Spirit (identified with the promise in 3:14). This is the very contrast that is made in 2 Cor 3:6ff (cited above); and note also the interesting reference in Romans 8:2. That righteousness does not come from (observing) the Law is a basic principle for Paul, and one expressed repeatedly in Galatians.

It is in verse 22a that we find the general phrase in v. 19b defined more properly:

“given/added on behalf of transgressions” => “closed together all under sin”

The expression “under sin” (u(po\ a(marti/an) is used by Paul elsewhere (cf. Rom 3:9; 7:14; 11:32); for the idea of human beings effectively under the power of sin, see also Rom 3:12, 19f; 5:12; 8:3, etc. For Paul, this expression is clearly parallel with “under (the) Law” (u(po\ no/mon)—Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18; cf. also Gal 3:10; Rom 2:12; 3:19; 6:14-15; 7:6, 14, etc. The closest statement to 3:22a is in Romans 11:32:

Gal 3:22a: “the Writing closed together [sune/kleisen] all (thing)s under sin”
Rom 11:32: “God closed together [sune/kleisen] all (people) unto/into unbelief [prop. unwillingness to be persuaded]”

There is a similar, parallel i%na-purpose clause for each passage as well:

Gal 3:22a: “(so) that the promise [e)paggeli/a] should be given… to the ones trusting”
Rom 11:32: “(so) that He might show mercy to all (people)”

 In conclusion, it may also be worth noting the way that the temporal clause (“until”, a&xri$) in v. 19a-b, becomes a purpose clause (“so that”, i%na)  in v. 22—both of these need to be understood together. Paul will return to the idea of a temporal limit to the Torah in vv. 23-25 (and again in 4:1ff).

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 3)

Section 3: Galatians 3:15-29

In Gal 3:7-14, Paul presented an initial argument from Scripture, based on the blessing of Abraham (to the nations); in this section, he offers a more extensive Scriptural argument from the wider context of the promise to Abraham. In so doing, Paul draws upon a range of passages in Genesis—principally Gen 12:2-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-11; 22:16-19; 24:7—summarizing them by a single concept: of God’s promise to Abraham regarding his offspring (“seed”, spe/rma in Greek), the blessing to the nations being just one benefit of the overall promise. The argument Paul develops in this section is framed by two main parts:

    • 3:15-18: An illustrative analogy based on the nature of a covenant/testament, by which the promise to Abraham is contrasted with the Law
    • 3:26-29: A declaration that the promise comes (to believers) through Christ

In between, there is a relatively extensive sub-section (3:19-25) which deals with the purpose of the Law. Since this represents one of Paul’s clearest statements regarding the Law (Torah), it will be discussed separately below. I will begin with the two framing portions, vv. 15-18 and 26-29.

Galatians 3:15-18—Each verse provides a distinct argument or point in the analogy:

Verse 15—Here Paul establishes the illustration based on the nature of a diaqh/kh, stating that he is relating this kata\ a&nqrwpon (“according to man”, i.e. a human way of speaking), that is, as an analogy from ordinary daily life. The word diaqh/kh in Greek literally means something “set through (in order)”, often in the technical sense of a will/testament; even in English idiom, someone planning for death might “set his/her affairs in order”, by preparing a last will, etc. It is in this sense that Paul uses the word here, along with three technical verbs: (1) kuro/w, “establish the authority (of something)”, i.e. “confirm, validate, ratify”; (2) a)qete/w, “unset, set aside”, i.e. “invalidate, (dis)annul”; and (3) e)pidiata/ssomai, “arrange/set in order upon (something)”, i.e. “appoint or establish in addition, as a supplement”. A testament which has been validated, cannot simply be set aside or have additions made to it without proper authority. In other words, a valid agreement or contract remains intact and binding. The word diaqh/kh can also mean an “agreement” in the more basic sense, and, as such is typically used to translate tyr!B= (“binding [agreement]”, i.e. “covenant”) in Hebrew.

Verse 16—Paul engages in a bit of clever (and seemingly superficial) wordplay, as the word indicating Abraham’s offspring/descendants (plural) is, in both Hebrew and Greek, singular (“seed”, Grk spe/rma). The argument appears to be facetious, for clearly “seed” is a collective, referring to Abraham’s future descendants together, and yet Paul takes it hyper-literally, in order to make a particular point:

“…he does not say ‘and to (your) seeds‘, as upon many, but (rather) as upon one, ‘and to your seed‘, which is (the) Anointed {Christ}”

This is Paul’s way of demonstrating that the promise comes to all people (believers) through Christ. At the spiritual level, it is certainly true as well, in the sense that, as believers, we are a single people—Abraham’s (spiritual) descendants together—in union with Christ (cf. the declaration in 3:26-29, below).

Verse 17—Here he returns to the illustration of the testament (diaqh/kh) from v. 15, applying it to God’s promise to Abraham, as contrasted with the Law; it may be paraphrased thus:

The Law (Torah) cannot invalidate the Promise, which God made 430 years prior, so as to make it cease working or be of no effect.

This argument, while historically correct, generally contradicts the understanding of Jewish tradition, whereby Abraham and his descendants were already observing the the Torah commands (i.e. they were already in force) before the Torah was revealed to Moses and recorded by him—as variously explained in Jubilees 21:10; Philo On Abraham §275; Mekilta on Exod 20:18; Genesis Rabbah 44 (27d), 61 (38f); cf. Strack-Billerbeck 3.204-26 and Betz, Galatians, p. 158-9. Paul, of course, emphasizes that Abraham’s righteousness was not the result of observing the Law, but was due to his faith in God (concerning the promise). There are three strands to Paul’s argument:

    • The promise of God (and Abraham’s trust/faith in it) occurred prior to the Law
    • The Law cannot invalidate the promise
    • The Law does not add anything to the promise

In other words, the promise is entirely separate from the Law.

Verse 18—Paul introduces here the idea of inheritance (klhronomi/a, spec. a “lot” which is partitioned out), tying it to the promise:

“For if the lot (one receives) is out of [i.e. from] (the) Law, it is no longer out of [i.e. from] a promise; but God granted (it) to Abraham as a favor through a promise.”

The separation between promise and Law extends to the very nature and character of a promise—it is given as a favor. The verb xari/zomai, used here, refers to giving/granting something as a favor, and is related to the noun xa/ri$ (“favor” or “gift, grace”). The theme of the grace of God is not as prominent in Galatians as in Romans (cf. Gal 1:6, 15; 2:9, 21; and esp. 5:4), but it is more or less implied in the idea of the blessing and promise given by God to Abraham. Inheritance is closely connected with sonship, and will be an important part of the arguments in chapter 4.

Galatians 3:26-29—This is Paul’s concluding declaration (to the Galatians) that the promise comes through Jesus Christ, and, in particular, through faith/trust in him. It can be divided as follows:

    • V. 26: Sonship through faith—”For you all are sons of God through trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua”
      • V. 27-28: Religious identity in Christ (oneness/unity of believers)—Baptismal formula
    • V. 29: Inheritance through promise—”And if you (are) of (the) Anointed, then you are Abraham’s seed, (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs] according to (the) promise”

In typical Pauline fashion, a Christological statement is central, embedded within the theological/doctrinal declaration, verses 27-28 referring to baptism, and probably reflecting an early baptismal formula (to be discussed in detail in a separate note; cf. 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11). The twin statements in vv. 26, 29 provide the conceptual framework:

Sonship–Faith–Jesus Christ (v. 26)
Inheritance–Promise–Seed of Abraham (v. 27)

In just a few short verses, Paul brings together all of the main strands of the arguments of chapter 3.

Galatians 3:19-25: The Purpose of the Law

In between the sections of 3:15-18 and 26-29, Paul includes a direct (and powerful) statement as to the purpose of the Law (“[For] what [purpose] then [is] the Law?…”, v. 19). Because these verses are among the clearest expressions of his view of the Law (the subject of these articles), and yet, at the same time, abound with interpretive difficulties, they will be treated more extensively in a series of separate (daily) notes. Here it will suffice to give a brief outline, along with some basic observations; this section can be divided into two (or three) components:

    • Vv. 19-20: Statement of two-fold purpose:
      (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)

The second of these purposes is closer to the role of the Torah in Jewish tradition—i.e., as a mediator and guide—though the ultimate declaration in vv. 24-25 represents a decisive break with Judaism, as will be discussed. It is the first purpose Paul ascribes to the Law in vv. 19a, 21-22 which is, by far, his most original (and difficult) contribution—namely, that the primary purpose of the Law was to bring about transgression and enclose/enslave all people under sin (ideas he also expounds in Romans). This, indeed, is a most remarkable teaching! I am not aware of anything quite like it in Judaism, and many Jews (and Jewish Christians) doubtless would have found the notion shocking. Even today, many Jewish (and non-Jewish) believers are troubled by the language Paul uses, and would like to interpret it in less offensive or striking terms.

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