Help with Galatians 3:23-4:7

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JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
Guys,

Needing some help with especially Galatians 3:23-29. Know that overall the context of Galatians 3 is that believers have been set free from the Law *as a covenant of works*. It seems though, that in Galatians 4:1-7, Paul is speaking more of the fact that NT believers are also set free from the obligation to obey the OT ceremonial laws. My question is, in short: where does Galatians 3:23-29 fall into that? In Gal. 3:23-24, is Paul referring to the fact that 1) the Law was our tutor in that it confronted us with its impossible demands, thus driving us to Christ; AND that 2) the Law was our tutor in that it prefigured Christ, as revealed in the OT ceremonial laws? Is Gal. 3:23-29 speaking of BOTH aspects, or just the first? And then, in the next verse, when Paul says that we are no longer now under a tutor (Gal. 3:25), is he speaking about BOTH aspects? IE, that we're no longer under the Law as a covenant of works (because of what Christ has done), AS WELL AS the fact that we're no longer required to adhere to the OT ceremonial laws? Or is he talking about ONLY THE FIRST aspect? Thoughts?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
In Gal. 3:23, 25, the "coming of faith" means the day or era of promulgation of faith-unto-salvation through the finished work of Christ. Until that time, everyone Jew and Gentile, directly or indirectly, had been confined (as in a prison) until such a time as the magistrate was ready to exhibit the disposition of sentence. Those in the prison are mostly in the dark about what may be happening "out there," what the plans are, what awaits them, etc.

But, there is a "tutor," Gal. 3:24-25; and here Paul switches analogy--or switches back--to the familial image of the son (cf. Gal. 3:7). Confinement is legal both for anyone who cannot be trusted with safety, primarily for others (prison) or for self, for minors. And of course, we will mean different things by that term "confined." But the point here is that the law is the tutor for the confined, so that they will have some knowledge, they will learn and progress while they are waiting the full revelation of the divine plan. And in this sense, I don't think you have to choose between (one or the other) the paths the law takes to reveal Christ. The law is over and over telling the guilty they have been justly condemned; and it is showing them the promises of redemption for God's beloved children.

Gal.3:26-29 puts the focus on the unity of the whole body of Christ. Note the phrases Paul uses: “You are all…,” “As many of you as were (meaning all of you were),” “Neither this division nor that one,” “You are all one.” Why does Paul feel the need to preach this unity? Because the Judaizers are tying to persuade the Galatians that they are only part-way complete in their Christian identity, not having become “recognizably” Abrahamic (or actually Mosaic) through conformity to the Siniatic law.

Back in Gal. 3:7, Paul had said that faith made a son of Abraham, who is the father of all the faithful, Rom.4:11. Here, he elevates the Christian’s connection to a brotherhood before God himself. Faith in Christ has taken us beyond the tutelage of the law, which were the days of minority, and of confinement. By adoption, God has reconciled completely with us all.

We were, in fact, estranged; but he, through Christ (the one perfectly faithful Son), has embraced us all; he has killed the fatted calf, put a robe on us, and a ring on our finger. He has put his Name upon us all, in baptism. There is no class-citizenship in heaven. There is one table at which we all from the north, south, east, and west are sat down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul’s point is that every single believer has the same status of a son in God’s house. Christ is the only-begotten Son, and the heir of the whole estate. That puts all the rest of us on an equal, but equally elevated position.

And the sum is, Gal. 3:29, if you are his (that is the one Seed’s), then you are recognized as the seed of Abraham (no matter what those Judaizers say), and heirs according to those rich promises that we first encountered in the beginning of the whole Scripture. God gave the richest covenant to Abraham, not by law, but by promise. That is the inheritance that is ours, and nothing lesser (thought to be gained through the law) is worth being enticed away from Christ.

As Gal. 3 ends, Paul has passed from a strict theological or exegetical demonstration that the gospel of free grace by faith alone which he preached was both biblical, and plainly superior to the Judaizing pseudo-gospel; he aims now to show just how false the false-gospel was. The truth was not simply a “better” way of reading the Old Testament. It was the right way, and Jesus’ way, which made the alternatives untrue.

With nothing more dramatic or glorious than a ceremonial washing, even Greeks could testify that the Spirit’s baptism was a simple believer’s ineffable inheritance. The baptized who had put on Christ was more dazzlingly decked out than Aaron in his priestly garments. The church, as a new kingdom, no longer perpetuated various distinctions that had once given some religious participants an advantage over others. Everyone in Christ, the ultimate Son and heir to the throne, was also an heir in his kingdom according to the promise. The Judaizers claim to a distinctive and superior spirituality was an illusion. And it got worse.

***********************************

As Gal. 4 begins, Gal. 4:1, Paul takes the heir-analogy, and runs over the Judaizers just a bit. He previously pointed to the law, and the law-era, as a time of minority, of guardianship and childish babysitting (Gal. 3:23-25). Now he points to the condition of one who, though he is an heir by birth, nevertheless in his childhood “differs not at all from a slave.” He may be “master of all,” so far as what he rightfully expects to be invested with in the future. But during the age of his minority, he is “master” in-name-only.

Not only that, but as Gal. 4:2 indicates, there are slaves that dominate the heir, and are his masters in-fact. Such is the will of the Father. “Guardians” and “stewards” are descriptions of watchers and caregivers that fit with the language used earlier of “tutor.” The tutor was a guide and assigned companion, even more than he was an educator. These later terms indicate strongly the domineering power that thoroughly controls the child’s life. Compared to these figures, that son and heir has no power whatsoever; he is not free until his Father’s determination.

In Gal. 4:3, Paul makes the comparison to the law-age (and thus to the Judaizers) explicit. There was a time when all those who followed God in truth, according to the revealed religion of Moses and the people of Israel, come down to the Jews of that age—in all those days we were children, says Paul. That is, we were slaves in this manner: we were in “bondage under the elements of the world.” Paul isn’t saying those were terrible days. He’s not even saying that the law was as hard a yoke as the apostles stated in Acts 15:10, “which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.”

He’s describing the previous era of law-control—of ceremonies and habits that governed not only morals, but all areas of living—as days of minority and plain subordination and subjection; and that to lesser things! The language, “elements of the world” are the ABCs and 123s, "basic-principles" theory. These “elements” were not strictly speaking Moses law itself, “but the earthly things with which the law had to do.” In other words, elements even more basic, material, earthly, than the law which organized and arranged those things in Jewish life. “In dealing with these perishable elements the law descended to the plane of human precepts,” which made Israelite religious manners comparable to the pagans round about them.

How contrary then to the evident purpose of God, that the Judaizers should seek to maintain the “bondage” which belonged to the age of childhood. They wished Christians to continue to remain underneath “tutors” “guardians” and “stewards” after they had entered into their inheritance. But these sorts of things were manifestly not intended to continue always over the heirs, but to come under them. The roles were to be reversed. Believers in the time of the Spirit were meant to be above those things.

Paul seems at this point to be speaking a word directly to any Judaizers who might be listening. The Gentiles (also being under the covenant of works) were under law, were redeemed from sin and shame, and have received the adoption as sons. But, if them, how much more the Jews! They have been redeemed, yes? And therefore are sons, right? Paul’s “we” here especially testifies to his fellow Jews. "We Jews are sons, now. So then, we are no longer in that bondage, so why do some of you wish so hard to keep under it, and more to impose it on others? Because you are sons, (all of you, Gentiles and Jews) God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts."
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Bruce,

I don't know whom you can thank for your use of the English language but let me thank them as well. Your writing is exquisite.

The only thing I would add to what Bruce writes here is that you need to also see the theme of flesh/spirit, death life, bondage/freedom running underneath it as well.

The "another gospel" condemnation is on the idea (earlier in the letter) that the Galatians think they can be perfected in the flesh. Paul doesn't unpack bondage to sin in Adam and forgiveness/freedom in Christ in Christ as he does in other letters but the theology is present.

Bruce has properly explaied Paul's point in illustrating the nature of a Covenant of Grace administered under the Old Covenant economy. It is essentially gracious (and not a Covenant of Works) in that it both convicts of sin and points to the Promise.

Yet, it is also (as Bruce notes) an administration of rules and regulations as a father would train a child. The substance of the Covenant is not the rules and regulations themselves. They cannot be shirked but they are not intended to be ends in and of themselves. They bound up the Jews to an economy that was to prepare them not for another Covenant of Grace but a fulfillment of the CoG they were participants within but in a minority status.

What's gone off the rails, however, is that the Judaizers were like many Jews who missed the substance (Christ as Mediator) and started to think that their participation in the observance of the Law-code was the means by which they could cooperate with the favor God showed them.

What have they missed in this? Well, ask Nicodemus: "What do you mean I must be born again?"

The idea that they could be physically descended from Abraham and yet be children of the devil was abhorrent to their very mode of thinking.

The Judaizing heresy was, at its root, a denial of the death in Adam/life in Christ paradigm. Had they truly understood the latter they would have understood the OT economy as a shadow of the things to come. They would have understood its place in redemption and that it had been fulfilled by something far greater. They would have understood that, as the author of Hebrews notes, they no long worship afar off where only the High Priest may enter but, through the veil of Christ's flesh, be able to worship in the heavenly sanctuary.

I know I'm bringing in a broader theological context to this question but the end of Galatians 4 is going to make the very point that trusting the the flesh (essentially denying that we are in bondage to sin and death in Adam) is something that even the children of Abraham do. Out of the same loins of Abraham came Ishmael and Isaac. What he'll point out is that those who think in the pattern of the flesh, even if they are Jews, as they pursue righteousness by the requirements of Sinai (by the power of the flesh) are actually children of the slavewoman (dead, flesh, bondage).
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Regarding the question of the law as a covenant of works, it is only in the final part of chapter 4 that the law in its covenantal form is addressed. The law was made a covenant of works by those who identified themselves as Jerusalem below, those who persecuted the children belonging to Jerusalem above. We can extract from this antithesis that there is a legitimate covenant of works and that the law served an important function in that covenant; but we should not read it back into the apostle's line of reasoning. His concern was to show the function of the law in the purpose of grace. It was added because of transgressions. This fact alone shows that the law was subservient to the covenant of grace. It could not be a proper covenant of works because the proper covenant of works was intended for man in a state of innocence; it was not given because of transgressions.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
In Gal. 3:23 & 25, the "coming of faith" means the day or era of promulgation of faith-unto-salvation through the finished work of Christ. Until that time, everyone Jew and Gentile, directly or indirectly, had been confined (as in a prison) until such a time as the magistrate was ready to exhibit the disposition of sentence. Those in the prison are mostly in the dark about what may be happening "out there," what the plans are, what awaits them, etc.

But, there is a "tutor," Gal 3:24-25; and here Paul switches analogy--or switches back--to the familial image of the son (cf. v7). Confinement is legal both for anyone who cannot be trusted with safety, primarily for others (prison) or for self, for minors. And of course, we will mean different things by that term "confined." But the point here is that the law is the tutor for the confined, so that they will have some knowledge, they will learn and progress while they are waiting the full revelation of the divine plan. And in this sense, I don't think you have to choose between (one or the other) the paths the law takes to reveal Christ. The law is over and over telling the guilty they have been justly condemned; and it is showing them the promises of redemption for God's beloved children.

Bruce,

Thank you so much for your well-thought and thorough reply. I've really struggled with this passage, especially Gal. 3:23-25. I've looked at a lot of authors who have a lot of different options. Even Calvin seems to disagree with himself, as in his commentary he takes a slightly different spin than in his sermon on the same passage. Let me just as clarification on what you're saying about Gal. 3:23-25:

Are you saying, of Gal. 3:23: the "we" means not unbelievers (Luther) nor OT Christians (most), but everyone--both believers and unbelievers before the advent of the new covenant with the coming of Christ?

Are you saying the "custody" of Gal. 3:23 is neither the condemnation unbelievers experience as under the Law (Luther) nor the OT ceremonies that were imposed on OT believers (most), but a more general simply being under the Law's jurisdiction--whether that was unto condemnation (if you were an unbeliever) or unto salvation seen from a further distance (if you were an OT believer)?

Here's my main struggle here: it seems that whatever you affirm for Gal. 3:23 you have to continue affirming for Gal. 3:24-25. And it seems that one can't affirm that when v23 says we are under the custody of the Law, that it's referring BOTH to unbelievers under the Law's condemnation as well as OT believers under the OT ceremonial shadows. Does that make sense? Seems it must be one or the other.

You seem though to be taking a position that's different from the main two I've seen, is that right?

Please help me understand. Really struggling with this. Thanks.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Gal. 3:19 tells us that the question of the law's purpose is being answered by Paul with reference to redemptive history: "What does the Bible/Torah itself say?"

Gal. 3:21-22 teach that the law from the time it was given lacked the power to convey life or restore righteousness. The "confinement" spoken of in Gal. 3:22 is properly referred to the promise-fulfillment historical context driving Paul's explanation. It is historic in nature, with existential import.

What Paul says there is that even in terms of the OT, the promise was given to believers in the Christ because ALL were confined on account of sin. Now he just said they believed, and received--received salvation of the promise. But he has more to explain, Gal. 3:23, "Yet before the coming of the faith...," wherein the next 3vv he explains fully the law's purpose as given to the covenant people of old.

Wait, he just said individual OT saints had (personal) faith, right? Salvation has always been by faith. Did he just leap-back further, to speak of the same folk prior to them believing? No, he's treating the solidarity of covenanted Israel (wherein Paul shares, both as a Jew, and as a Christian). "The law [already revealed, and] ... the faith afterward revealed," are not speaking of individual enlightenment.

"Before the coming of the faith," and "the faith having come" (Gal. 3:25), as one combination refers primarily to a contrast in the eras of history under consideration. You can have a historical statement with existential import. Believers in the former age remained under the tutor; they couldn't help it because their faith was in something still future. And ours today is in the meaning and efficacy of that which has already taken place--according to the good news we've been told--though there is more to come.

I don't mean that OT believers were in no different condition from unbelievers, whether Jew or Gentile. Imagine being in jail, but knowing what the judge will say in mercy to you when you stand before him. Meanwhile, you wait... for events.

The passage of the former era (law) and the establishment of the new (faith) means the Judaizers are utterly wrong--because you cannot lose track anywhere in this letter of Paul's polemic. It is this dawning of a new age that changes everything, which cosmic shift the Judaizers are missing while trying to maintain the old order, and their mistaken ideas about what all this enforced conformity is supposed to be accomplishing. "We've been really, really good prisoners, Lord."

Because I'm seldom in perfect agreement with any writer, it wouldn't matter if there were none who saw it my way (who am I kidding? of course it would matter). But Calvin, loc cit:

We must again remind the reader that Paul does not treat exclusively of ceremonies, or of the moral law, but embraces the whole economy by which the Lord governed his people under the Old Testament. It became a subject of dispute whether the form of government instituted by Moses had any influence in obtaining righteousness. Paul compares this law first to a prison, and next to a schoolmaster. Such was the nature of the law, as both comparisons plainly show, that it could not have been in force beyond a certain time. Faith denotes the full revelation of those things which, during the darkness of the shadows of the law, were dimly seen; for he does not intend to say that the fathers, who lived under the law, did not possess faith.... The law, in short, was nothing else than an immense variety of exercises, in which the worshippers were led by the hand to Christ
As for variety between his commentary and pulpit exposition, remember the latter has more specific application to the immediate audience. The existential import has greater precedence. And the former (usually the later production) is both more textually constrained and carefully edited for a broader readership.
John Brown's commentary, https://archive.org/details/anexpositionepi03browgoog (available in print by Banner of Truth). I don't know if a better commentary on Galatians has ever been written, though perhaps some modern treatments are more accessible to modern readers.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
Gal. 3:19 tells us that the question of the law's purpose is being answered by Paul with reference to redemptive history: "What does the Bible/Torah itself say?"

John Brown's commentary, https://archive.org/details/anexpositionepi03browgoog (available in print by Banner of Truth). I don't know if a better commentary on Galatians has ever been written, though perhaps some modern treatments are more accessible to modern readers.

Good stuff Bruce, thank you--really helpful.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
Gal. 3:19 tells us that the question of the law's purpose is being answered by Paul with reference to redemptive history: "What does the Bible/Torah itself say?"
John Brown's commentary, https://archive.org/details/anexpositionepi03browgoog (available in print by Banner of Truth). I don't know if a better commentary on Galatians has ever been written, though perhaps some modern treatments are more accessible to modern readers.

I do love John Brown on Galatians and used his stuff as well; especially him and Calvin.

Here's where I came down, which is I think what you are saying as well: Verse 23 describes OT believers who lived "in the custody" of the ceremonial law. When Paul says "we", he's not talking about him and Galatians as unbelievers before coming to Christ, but rather as the OT people of God before the coming of the object of faith--Christ--and the fullness of clarity of the new covenant (Calvin says the fathers didn't lack gospel light, but it was as dawn to them). Roberts notes that they were not shut up FROM but shut up TO the Law. Calvin notes: "The Law did not restrain them from faith; but, that they might not wander from the fold of faith, it kept possession of themselves. . .They were besieged on every hand by the curse, but this siege was counteracted by an imprisonment which protected them from the curse; so that the imprisonment by the law is here proved to have been highly generous in its character." So the threatening of the Law (cf. v22) sent them to the custody "prison house" of the Ceremonial Laws, which, in one sense was restricting and burdensome, but in another sense it was this imprisonment/custody which actually served to protect them from the curse. How? Because the Ceremonial Laws pictured and pointed to Christ, which was their gospel.

One illustration here might be the Jewish families who hid in houses in Nazi Germany. In that state, they were in many ways living in an imprisonment--it was incredibly restrictive living in one room behind a bookcase--and yet that very imprisonment was the very thing that served to protect them from danger.

Another illustration might be Noah's ark. It was restrictive living on it for a year--but then again--it was the very thing that preserved them alive and brought them to the new world.

I ended up taking verse 24 and the "So then" or "Therefore" as referring back not only to verse 23, but also to the whole passage of vv19-23. So how did the Law thus become our tutor (IE, the tutor of the OT people of God and with us as secondarily application)? In two ways primarily: 1) It condemned us for our sin (what Paul said in vv19-22); and 2) it bound us to the ceremonies (what we just saw from v23). Put simply, the condemnation of the Moral Law as outlined in v22 (IE, the Law STRICTLY speaking as they say--Do this and live, do it not and die) served to drive them to the Ceremonial Law as outlined in v23 (IE, the Law LARGELY speaking--including the promises and pictures of the gospel), which was their gospel as it fore-pictured Christ. As Edward Fisher said: "the moral law did teach and show them what they should do, and so what they did not; and this made them go to the ceremonial law; and by that they were taught that Christ had done it for them; the which they believing, were made righteous by faith in him."

Then for v25: it is in these two ways that we are no longer under the Law. We are still under the authority of the Moral Law as believers. But we are no longer under the Law 1) as it condemns us for our sin--cf. v22 (this aspect was also true for OT believers); nor are we under under the Law 2) as it binds us to its OT ceremonies--cf. v23 (this aspect is true only for us as believers now in the new covenant age).

After Germany liberation, those Jewish families didn't have to continue to hide behind the bookcase. Of course, they could if they wanted to--but that would have been silly and foolish. That was a temporary arrangement for a particular purpose. But now they were free. Same with Noah's ark. After the flood, there was no need to return to the ark and continue to live in it. The judgment had passed over. The ark served a particular purpose for a particular time--but it was now past. The old is gone, the new has come.

Anyways, thanks again Bruce and everyone else. This is where I landed.

Blessings
 
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