The Purpose of the Law

It is assumed that human endeavor is a virtue. A virtue that, when harnessed by men, becomes a means to attain something out of their reach. Perhaps an endeavoring to be justified and righteous before God is, in conception, the highest virtue of all. By what means shall mankind employ in this endeavoring? The Law of God given at Mt Sinai? Was the Law[1] given as a means by which mankind could endeavor to be justified and righteous before God?
Interpretations of the Law shape our theology.[2] For Paul, the Law was not efficacious in zōopoiāsai (making life) but did serve to condemn all, without distinction, under sin; thus, the Law was not able to justify and make righteous; moreover, it was a paidagōgos (custodian), or “supervisory guardian”[3] that served a temporal function for those under the Law (the Jews) until the promise of faith to Abraham was realized in the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Law served in a negative function to condemn all things under sin, and in a positive function as a Supervisory Guardian to the Jews.

The Nature of the Argument

An endeavoring to be justified and righteous before God is a “truism”[4] of human conception and is precisely what was promulgated by the Judaizers; and subsequently pondered, perhaps even accepted, by the Galatian churches. Paul, seeking to promulgate the gospel of faith, sets up a dichotomy in Galatians 3:1-18.[5] The first being the gospel of legalism. The second being the gospel of faith.  The purpose of Galatians was to treat the relationship between Mosaic Law and God’s saving purposes to a predominantly Gentile audience.[6]
For the Judaizers, the Abrahamic and Sinaitic Covenants were linear in dispensation. Thus, the latter built upon the former. For the Judaizers, salvation was available to Gentiles, but it was meted out in the linear dispensation of the Abrahamic and Sinaitic Covenants. This required an adherence to the latter to receive the blessing of the former. Their position, according to Silva, was that Paul was “supplanting Mosaic Law;”[7] therefore, Paul was in error. But Longenecker views the Judaizers as not being opposed to Paul but rather desiring to bring the Gentiles into “perfection”[8] and thus fully integrated into the chosen people of Israel so warranting the full blessing of the Abrahamic Promise. Longenecker’s view is preferred as it seems to provide more clarity as the Judaizers viewed the Abrahamic and Sinaitic Covenants as linear in dispensation.
Paul viewed the Abrahamic Covenant as “gracious”[9] while the Mosaic Law was a “temporary provision”[10] until the fullness of the Abrahamic Covenant was realized in Christ (Gal 3:18). By not accepting its gracious nature, the Judaizers were the ones nullifying the promise of God. By adding human endeavors, a posteriori, they were culpable of abating the promise of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to include a human endeavor. Silva succinctly encapsulates the issue, “By failing to grant to believing Gentiles the Abrahamic inheritance, it is the Judaizers who treat the Sinaitic covenant as an unlawful addition to the previous covenant.”[11] Paul states his argument and defends it by quoting the prophet Habbakuk, who prophesied that the inheritance would come from a promise (Hab 2:4). For Paul, the Law was not wrong in its essence but it was not able to zōopoiāsai (make life). This life-giving quality came through the promise to Abraham’s seed and was realized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Syntactical Interpretation of Galatians 3:18-19a

Paul uses an ad hominin argument to address the opposition. Moreover, he uses a specific conditional sentence to state his argument. Conditional sentences reflect contingent thinking and in one sense they define a relationship to reality.[12] Paul uses a conditional sentence in Gal 3:18a. A conditional sentence is formed by a main clause called the apodosis and a subordinate clause called the protasis.[13] The protasis is defined as the “if-clause,” the assumption or proposition. The apodosis is defined as the “then-clause,” the results, conclusions, or consequences of the protasis.
The conditional conjunction ā (if) is used by Paul to announce the protasis of the conditional sentence. “For if the inheritance comes from the Law, then it is no longer from a promise.”[14] In the realm of contingent thinking, the results stated in the apodosis are unequivocal; the inheritance is now obtained from the Law. But is the reality of this contingency correct? There are some who suggest this is a real or first-class conditional sentence and thus Paul accepted the results. Silva suggests that the use of a real or first-class conditional statement indicates that a person believes the “condition is fulfilled”[15] when it is not followed by an antithesis.[16] While this is true most of the time, it is not always the case. It is important to recognize that Paul uses the same syntactical construction of a first-class conditional sentence in 2:21 without an antithesis. In that example we should not read Paul as being accepting of the apodosis. It is more likely that he is “paraphrasing”[17] his opponents’ theology and he says the same in 2:16. In terms of v. 18a, a proper interpretation of Paul’s conditional statement is that the inheritance has not come from the Law. In this example he provides an antithesis in v. 18b.
In v. 18b, the conjunction de (but) is adversative in force.[18] It announces an antithesis to the conditional sentence in v. 18a. In translation, the conjunction could be rendered as, “BUT!” The truth is…the inheritance is obtained from a promise. “… but God has given it to Abraham through a promise” (3:18b). The full force of the antithesis to v. 18a is felt in the formation of the verb charizomai (has been given) in v. 18b, which is in the perfect tense, meaning that the promise has occurred and its consequence is still being felt today. Bruce agrees with the force of the verb in v. 18b by saying, “… God not only granted the inheritance to Abraham in the past but continues to make it good to his descendants.”[19] Longenecker sees the importance of the perfect tense in v.18b as stressing that the inheritance is still “in force”[20] and is an expression of God’s grace toward mankind.
Paul states the argument for inheritance from a promise by beginning with a contingent reality. He states his argument in the form of modus tollens; if A, then B; not B, therefore not A, and shows the results of this contingency to be supplanting the promise of God.[21] If the inheritance comes from the Law (A), then it is no longer from a promise (B). But God has given it to Abraham through a promise (not B). Therefore, inheritance is not from the Law (not A). By using the perfect tense in v. 18b, Paul emphasizes the perpetual blessing (consequence) of the promise to Abraham. The reality is God did not supplant his promise of inheritance to Abraham’s descendants by the Law. Then why was the law added?
“It was added for the sake of transgressions, until the descendant should come to whom the promise has been made.” The preposition charin (for the sake of) expresses a relationship between the Law and transgressions. Scholars see the preposition charin as functioning in a cognitive sense or in a causative sense.[22] In a cognitive sense, the Law came to evidence sin (Rom 3:20). In a causative sense, the Law came to multiply sin (Rom 5:20). According to Paul’s argument in Galatians, the Law came to evidence transgressions for an allotted time and this is expressed in the temporal preposition elthā (until). This temporal essence favors a cognitive function to the Law and Longencker agrees.[23] The aorist passive verb prostithāmi (it was added) also bears witness to the temporal aspect of the Law and bears witness to it coming into effect “subsequent”[24] to the Abrahamic covenant. One of the primary tasks of language is to define time. When do things happen in relation to one another and how do their outcomes bare upon the other? [25] Paul’s use of language to convey meaning is exemplary because he specifies when one event takes place within the context of another event. The temporal preposition elthā and the aorist passive verb prostithāmi indicates a temporal function of the Law. It was added to function until the descendant comes to whom the promise has been made. Then what was the purpose of the Law?

All Things Enclosed Under Sin

Subsequent his argument in v.18, Paul makes it clear in v. 22 that a specific purpose of the law was to sunekleiō (enclose) “confine, hem in, or imprison”[26] all things under sin. The importance of ta panta (all things) cannot be understated. Why is it important? By choosing this specific word, Paul states that a primary purpose of the Law was to enclose all people, without distinction, under sin. “The neuter ta panta used of people has the effect of obliterating every distinction.”[27] The ones who believed that the Law was a source of life would find no comfort in Paul’s words. Jews and Gentiles alike were under the curse of the Law. But how can this curse be in harmony with the saving purposes of God?
The Law provided an impetus to sin (Rom 7:7-11) but this impetus is not inherent to the essence of the law, on the contrary, it is the wickedness of sin which uses the Law to “employ its nefarious purpose.”[28] But even if the Law is not sinful in its essence, it still provides an impetus to sin, therefore the Law cannot make life. This fact alone proves that the Law was never intended to make life. Bruce correctly states, “…it demonstrates its inability to lead to justification and life.”[29] Surely if the Law produces sin, then it must be sin? But for Paul, the Law did not manifest an essence of sin in mankind. Rather, the Law brought in a sensus plenior to the depraved state of mankind and pointed to the hope of redemption in the promise of faith. Bruce notes,
What the law does is to bring to light the universal human plight: all are ‘under sin’. If, realizing this, men and women look round for a way of deliverance from their plight, they find it in the promise. Believing the promise, and the one who has made it, they are justified – justified by faith in Jesus Christ, in whom the promise and its fulfillment are embodied. Far from being against the promises, then, the law drives men and women to flee from its condemnation and seek refuge in the promises.[30]
The Law was for the glory of God who gave all to disobedience and chose this specific instrument to fulfill his purposes. Anyone who chose to find justification in the Law, according to Paul, was misusing it and thus nullifying the promises of God (Gal 3:17). The Law served the finite purpose of hedging the faithful of God until the coming of Christ (Gal 3:24). It was a watchman that pointed to the fullness of God’s earlier promise to Abraham. [31] Paul’s chief concern seems to be man’s approach to God. Why? Because the Judaizers approach to God was steeped in orthopraxy.[32] In Paul’s earlier life his conceptions of the Law were a means to establish his own righteousness.[33] But if the Law only provided him with an impetus to sin (Rom 7:7-11) what righteousness could be reaped? Paul realized that this is precisely what prevented him from accepting the righteousness that comes from God (Rom 10:3) and he hoped that his brothers would come to know the same thing. According to Schreiner, “Israel was ignorant”[34] and chose not to put their trust in Christ but to “establish their own righteousness.”[35] Knowing this was the case in his former life, Paul adamantly defended the reality of the truth he received from the Lord.
For Paul, the concept of the Law, after his conversion, was a hedge of protection until Christ came.[36] The protection afforded by the Law was misunderstood in Pharisaical traditions. For they saw the Law as something that needed a hedge of protection from human transgression. Protect the Law and a man can protect himself. Paul argued against this by expressing the universal depravity of mankind and that all need salvation (Rm 1:16-17). No one had a rightful claim to be inside of the kingdom of God, it was only through justification by faith in Christ.[37] How did the Law serve as a hedge of protection and who was protected by it?

The Law as a Supervisory Guardian

According to Paul, in v.24 the positive function of the Law was to serve as a paidagōgos (supervisory guardian). A straightforward reading of the text encourages an inclusive reading of the supervisory guardianship of the Law. But how could the Law given at Mt Sinai be a supervisory guardian to those who did not receive it? Did the Law serve as a supervisory guardian to all peoples? The answers to these questions can be found in the syntactical construction of vv. 22-23.
 It is important to note that in both verses the Law played a temporal function until the “culmination”[38] of the ek pisteōs Iēsou Christou (faithfulness of Jesus Christ) in v. 22, and pistin (faith) in v. 23. The key to interpreting these verses is in the different way Paul uses the verb sunkleiō (to confine, imprison, lock-up). Above, we saw that Paul stated a purpose of the Law, in v. 22, was to “enclose all things under sin.” But in v. 23 he uses the verb sunkleiō as a passive participle in the nominative plural masculine and the verb of v.23 is phroureō (to guard). A possible translation of v. 23 is, “Before this faith came we were being guarded under the Law, while being enclosed, until this impending faith should be revealed.” The syntactical construction of v. 23 can be missed in English translations. By using sunkleiō as a present passive participle in the nominative masculine plural, as Paul does in v. 23, he is speaking directly to those of Jewish heritage. Thus, in this verse Paul indicates the positive function of the Law as a means by which the Jews, and not the Gentiles, were being guarded while being enclosed until the impending faith was revealed.[39]
The term paidagōgos is quite foreign in our contemporary culture. Phonetically, it connotes the idea of a pedagogue, one who teaches. In antiquity it carried with it the idea of a “personal slave-attendant.”[40] This is distinct from one who teaches and instead connoted “custodial and disciplinary functions.”[41] It was common in antiquity for a young male to be placed under the direct supervision of the paidagōgos. According to Longenecker, such practice was common in “ancient patrician households.”[42] Though the paidagōgos was a slave-attendant to a free-born male, he was charged with administering the will and directives of the father (who was the master of the paidagōgos) as it related to the life of the free-born male, the master’s son. The free-born male was under the authority of the paidagōgos until he reached the appropriate age when he would be considered capable of making his own choices. Bruce suggests that the paidagōgos “… imposed a necessary restraint on his liberty until, with his coming of age, he could be trusted to use his liberty responsibly.”[43] Longenecker agrees, “… the focus here is on the supervisory function of the law, the inferior status of one under such supervision …”[44]
It is important to read vv. 22-23 vis-à-vis v. 24. The Law was efficacious in condemning all under sin. The Law also served as a supervisory guardian to the Jews. In this latter way the Law functioned in a positive manner. The temporal prepositional phrase eis Christon (until Christ) is evidence to the fact that the Law no longer serves the role of the paidagōgos. Thus, in these three verses there is enough emphasis to understand Paul’s theology as seeking to disintegrate the long-held divisions between Jews and Gentiles, finding a corollary in Romans 10:12. Bruce seems to believe so, “The justifying act of God in Christ obliterates the partition which the law erected between the two communities.”[45] Is the Law then terminated?

The End of the Law

The syntactical construction of Romans 10:4 has perplexed theologians. The verse is seen to contain an assertion about reality, telos gar nomou Christos (For Christ is the fulfillment of the Law) and a prepositional phrase eis dikaiosunān panti tō pisteuonti (so that there might be righteousness for everyone who is believing).[46] The question of how are we to connect the prepositional phrase is asked by Moo.[47] If the prepositional phrase is connected directly to nomou, then perhaps Paul is claiming Christ is an end to “the false understanding of the law as a means of securing righteousness with God.”[48] The danger of this reading is that it suggests Christ has only ended any endeavor by mankind to achieve righteousness.
Moo views the syntactical functioning of eis as rendering the prepositional phrase to be a “purpose or results clause.”[49] Perhaps Moo would say that the prepositional phrase is functioning as an apodosis of an earlier stated protasis. He seems to say so when he concludes that Christ is the end of the Law, “with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.”[50] The possibility of seeing an apodosis and protasis in 10:4 is at least plausible as we have seen Paul use a similar construction in arguments (Gal 3:18; Rom 3:23).
Paul believed that Jesus Christ was the end of the Law (Rom 10:4). This emphasis is buttressed by Paul’s specific placement of the predicate nominative telos at the beginning of the verse.[51] An additional association to the word telos is “full performance, perfect discharge.”[52] Full performance carries with it a connotation of a terminus and ceasing to exist, no longer in operation as the performance has been completed. If it was in performance, then it was bound to end. If it was bound to end, then it served a finite purpose. But if the Law served a finite purpose, should it be set aside entirely? According to Paul, salvation has always been by faith (Rom 4:1-8; Gal 3:6-9). The folly of the Judaizers was in trying to establish their own righteousness through the Law. It seems obvious to say that the Law provides some benefit, even today. But that benefit is reaped from the Law when it guides and directs the lives of men, not in an establishment of righteousness.

Conclusion

The Abrahamic and Sinaitic Covenants were not linear in dispensation. Thus, the Law could never make a person righteous. Righteousness comes from faith and Paul uses a conditional sentence in Gal 3:18, in the form of modus tollens, to prove this reality. However, the Law was efficacious in two things: condemning all under sin, and acting as a supervisory guardian to the Jews. But have we fully answered the question of what it means when Paul says that Christ is the end of the Law? A further study into the possibility of a “salvation-historical shift”[53] is warranted.

 

[1] For the purposes of this research, “the Law” is restricted in qualification to mean Mosaic Law.
[2] Richard N. Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, Vol. 41 (Word Incorporated, 1990), xlvi.
[3] Richard N. Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, Vol. 41 (Word Incorporated, 1990), 146.
[4] D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 473.
[5] Moises Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 187-195.
[6] Ibid., 188.
[7] Ibid., 191.
[8] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, xcv.
[9] Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 191.
[10] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans, 2000), 134.
[11] Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 191.
[12] Robert Mondi and Peter L. Corrigan, A Student Handbook of Greek and English Grammar (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2013), 104.
[13] Ibid.
[14] My emphasis added.
[15] Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 189.
[16] Interested readers are directed to the first-class conditional sentence in Mt 4:3. According to Silva, “Satan may well have known that Jesus is the Son of God, but that fact cannot be inferred (contrary to a common argument) from the use of a first-class condition.” in Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 189.
[17] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 95.
[18] Mondi and Corrigan, A Student Handbook of Greek and English Grammar, 143.
[19] F.F. Bruce, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1982), 174.
[20] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 134.
[21] For a full explanation of a Destructive Hypothetical Syllogism, see W. Stanley Jevons, Elementary Lesson in Logic: Deductive and Inductive, Lesson XIX, “Of Conditional Arguments” (London: MacMillian, 1870), 160.
[22] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 138.
[23] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 138.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Mondi and Corrigan, A Student Handbook of Greek and English Grammar, 128.
[26] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 144.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 358.
[29] Bruce, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians, 180.
[30] Ibid.
[31] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 190.
[32] J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995), 123.
[33] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 191.
[34] Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, 543.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman), 355.
[37] D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 385.
[38] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 144.
[39] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 145.
[40] Bruce, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians, 182.
[41] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 146.
[42] Ibid., 148.
[43] Bruce, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians, 182.
[44] Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, 148.
[45] Bruce, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians, 183.
[46] Douglas Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), 636.
[47] Ibid., 637.
[48] Ibid.
[49] Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans, 637.
[50] Ibid., 638.
[51] Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, 544.
[52] Bill Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1290.
[53] Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, 547.

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