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).