Understanding the Purpose of the Law Through the Promises of Christ

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.  Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.  22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. –Galatians 3:19-22


In this passage Paul guards against a possible misrepresentation of his words…

…which might be dangerous. Why? Because it might be said that Paul was representing the law as to being in opposition to the Promises –made to Abraham and his seed. He must therefore define clearly what he conceives to be the function of the law. The same person, the one God, gave both the Promises and the Law. The Promises were to be fulfilled, –not immediately, but after a long interval, and not to each individual of the human “Seed of Abraham,” but to and through “the Seed,” which is saying, “through Christ.”

For it is necessary for Paul’s argument to show that all nations, and not the Jews alone, have the right to share in the blessings promised to Abraham. He finds the proof in the fact that the various promises made to Abraham were made equally to his seed. (See Gen. 13:15, 15:8) Now, as Lightfoot says, “with a true spiritual instinct, even the Rabbinical writers saw that ‘the Christ’ was the true seed of Abraham: in Him the race was summed up, as it were; without Him its separate existence as a peculiar people had no meaning.”

In “the seed of Abraham” all nations were to be blessed (Gen. 26:8). It cannot be doubted by those who regard the evolution of Hebraic religion and the coming of Christ as a series of steps in the gradual working out of the will of God, that this interpretation of the “seed of Abraham” is justified.

Therefore, the Law is the preparation for the fulfillment of the Promises. There must be a clear and peremptory forbidding of sin, before the sin is made emphatic and beyond palliation or excuse. “The times of ignorance God might overlook,” as Paul said to the Athenians; but none who sinned against the clear Law could try to shelter themselves behind such a plea. Moreover, the Law was necessary in order that the overwhelming consciousness of sin, which is a necessary preliminary to true faith in Christ, might be produced in the minds of men.

The Law would have been contrary to the Promises if it had been intended to produce the same result as they by a new way, and therefore had rendered them unnecessary. The Promises are promises of life and salvation; and if a Law such as could produce life and salvation had been given from Mount Sinai, then this Law would really have interfered with and nullified the Promises.

But, on the contrary, the Scripture declares that the effect of the Law is to “shut up everything under the dominion of sin without means of escape,” in order that men might be forced to look forward to “the Christ” as the only means of escape, the only hope of life and salvation.

It is noteworthy that Paul makes only the vague reference to “the Scripture,” and does not quote a special passage. His words are intelligible only on the supposition that they are a brief summary of a more elaborate exposition of the combined effect of several passages, which he had delivered in his earlier preaching to the Galatians.

The expression “by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe,” –Verse 22 ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν, is rendered very strong by the repetition. As should be pointed this repetition of ἐκ πίστεως, must be understood as grammatically, and emphatically denying that opposing doctrine which both Paul and the Galatians were both facing from the Judaising Christians, and thus the emphatic stress that the source of the Christian’s salvation is,  and has been, ἐκ πίστεως, –or, “out of faith,” and NOT ἐκ νὸμον, –or, “out of law.”


Taken and adapted from, “Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians”
Written by, William M. Ramsay