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Galatians Chapter Three


3:2, 3 - Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?


Comments:  No other chapter of the Bible has caused more theological misunderstandings than Chapter Three of Galatians!  We would do well to tread cautiously as we seek to unlock its meanings…


Again, Sha'ul returns to his irony with a rhetorical question about the origins of the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh among the Galatian believers.  Sha'ul surely knows first hand from whence the Spirit flows from God to an individual.  However, in this portion of his letter he is attempting to shock the readers back into some semblance of “biblical reality.”  Having begun with the truth of Yeshua’s atoning death, how could they possibly be considering going back on such a revelation?  To the apostle, such a notion was ludicrously untenable!  Again, knowing that among the Judaisms of Paul's day, that the Greek word for law (νόμος nomos) could include a reference to the Oral Traditions and more specifically to halakhah that governed proselyte conversion, helps us to understand Paul to be challenging the validity of these ethnically restricted views of Torah among genuine covenant members.  Surely lasting covenant membership is not acquired by human effort (viz, works of the Law), but rather by placing one’s trust in the Ultimate Son of the Covenant, Yeshua himself.  Our opening question might be better phrased as so:  “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by becoming proselytes, or by believing what you heard?”  Paul immediately provides his answer, a resounding “Are you so foolish?”  To suppose that human achievement could in some way trump the grace of God as afforded by his Only Son was an exercise in futility!  The second question then is merely a clarification of his previous inquisition stated this time using the explicit language of the Influencers, viz, “human effort,” referring back to the proselyte ceremony.  The historic position held to by the later emerging Christian church that the apostle is pitting true faith in Yeshua against any supposed generic Torah observance in general finds no basis from the context of Paul’s argument here.  Indeed, we must allow the historical and socio-religious Jewish context of the letter to determine what is driving his consternation as a Messianic Jew who supports Gentile equality among non-Messianic Jews who do not support Gentile equality.  Read without the clarity of context, we will forever misconstrue Paul to be teaching Gentile believers that HaShem’s Laws hold no valuable place in the practical application of the very Promise inherited through Yeshua the Savior.  Read without the clarity of context, we will misunderstand Paul to be denigrating the Torah in favor of being led by the Spirit.


3:5 - Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?


Comments:  This verse is a restating of the previous round of rhetorical questioning.  Obviously by now we know that Paul is not in favor of ethnic-driven righteousness, a position maintained by his detractors.  The evidence that the Galatians are already in possession of genuine and lasting covenant status is the fact that the Ruach HaKodesh is indeed working among them!  Recall Peter’s surprise when the Ruach HaKodesh fell freely on Cornelius and company in Acts 10: 44-48.  Why was Peter surprised?  Because the long-standing belief among the Judaisms of the 1st century sincerely assumed that God only chose Jews as covenant partners!  Paul here is acknowledging the genuine working of the Spirit among his fellow Gentiles as proof positive that they were existing covenant members and not merely “Gentile-to-Jewish converts” in the process of becoming covenant members.  The question is meant to raise the issue in the minds of the Galatians as to what exactly attracts the attention of God himself: flesh or faith?  The answer is given below using Avraham as the paradigm.


3:6 - Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."


Comments: Throughout his letters, the Apostle Paul (Sha'ul) seems to take great interest in Avraham, referring to him no less than 29 times![1]  Ya’akov (James) also makes use of Father Avraham in chapter 2 and verses 21-23 of his letter, going so far as to bring the binding of Isaac into the equation for us.  For Ya’akov, Avraham’s faith was perfected by his corresponding actions. Germane to our study, however, is the phrase “credited to him as righteousness,” penned by Moshe in B’resheet (Genesis) 15:6 and referenced by Sha'ul in Romans 4:3


For what does the Tanakh say? "Avraham put his trust in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.


Given its location within Paul’s arguments, both from Romans and Galatians, it is clear that the phrase is referring to imputed righteousness, that is, positional (forensic) right standing with HaShem.  For Paul, it is axiomatic that Moshe describes this quality chronologically before Avraham receives the covenant of circumcision in B'resheet chapter 17.  This bespeaks of the correct order in which to appropriate the covenant responsibilities of God.  On the micro, saving faith in God, symbolized by God accrediting his account as righteous (Hebrew h'q'd.c tz’dakah), precedes the patriarch’s obedience to the sign of circumcision (read here as “Jewish identity” by Paul's detractors).  On the macro, the covenant of Avraham precedes the covenant with Moshe.


Thus, we can infer that Sha'ul brings Avraham into the argument to show that forensic righteousness is conferred to those who are not circumcised as well as to those who are—read Gentile and Jew respectively.


Or is God the God of the Jews only? Isn't he also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, he is indeed the God of the Gentiles (Romans 3:29).




Now is this blessing for the circumcised only? Or is it also for the uncircumcised? For we say that Avraham's trust was credited to his account as righteousness; but what state was he in when it was so credited - circumcision or uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision! In fact, he received circumcision as a sign, as a seal of the righteousness he had been credited with on the ground of the trust he had while he was still uncircumcised. This happened so that he could be the father of every uncircumcised person who trusts and thus has righteousness credited to him, and at the same time be the father of every circumcised person who not only has had a b'rit-milah, but also follows in the footsteps of the trust which Avraham avinu had when he was still uncircumcised (Romans 4:9-12).


But what is it about the narrative in Genesis that leads Moshe to finally declare Avram/Avraham as righteous at this juncture?  Is there something within the story that would cause any reader to make the same assumption?  What was going on in the mind of the Holy One?  Perhaps we can draw some conclusions by looking at the passage from a telescopic overview.  Allow me elaborate?


The flow of the Genesis narrative has been an interactive look at Avraham and his contending with God ever since God called him away from his native land in chapter 12:1-3.  There, in what amounts to a unilateral agreement, we find that HaShem promises to increase his offspring beyond numbering. The corresponding covenant ceremony will later be enacted in p’sukim (verses) 7-20 of chapter 15.  But leading up to this point, and trailing afterwards, is a grammatical clue as to what—or whom—Avraham actually placed his trust in!


In B'resheet 12:1 Moshe recalls that ADONAI spoke to Avram.[2]  If we trace every occurrence where God and Avram interact we will discover something quite interesting.  Continuing with our investigation, HaShem appears to Avram in 12:7,[3] and in chapter 13 verse 14 ADONAI again speaks to Avram.[4]  But when we arrive at chapter 15 the narrative appears quite odd.  Instead of God appearing or speaking to Avram, the first clause of the first verse records:


~'r.b;a-l,a h'wh.y -r;b.d h'y'h h,Lea'h ~yir'b.D;h r;x;a


After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram…


Likewise verse 4 confesses,


r{mael wy'lea h'wh.y -r;b.d heNih.w


And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying...


Verse 6 of chapter 15 reveals Avram’s reaction to the Word of the LORD by stating that it was at this moment that he believed the unbelievable and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Remember, up until this point, Avram had remained childless, and was beginning to suppose that maybe the heir of his household was to be the recipient of God’s promise from Genesis 12:1-3.[5]  The narrative of chapter 15 trails off with statements amounting to “ADONAI said to him, “I am ADONAI,”” (verse 7)[6] and “That day ADONAI made a covenant with Avram.” (verse 18)[7]


Who or what was this mysterious “Word of the LORD” that suddenly[8] appeared in the parenthesis of the narrative with Avram?


I will let the Chazal (the Sages of Blessed Memory) add their input to this Hebraic feature of the story:


In Scripture "the word of the Lord" commonly denotes the speech addressed to patriarch or prophet (Gen. xv. 1; Num. xii. 6, xxiii. 5; I Sam. iii. 21; Amos v. 1-8); but frequently it denotes also the creative word: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (Ps. xxxiii. 6; comp. "For He spake, and it was done"; "He sendeth his word, and melteth them [the ice]"; "Fire and hail; snow, and vapors; stormy wind fulfilling his word"; Ps. xxxiii. 9, cxlvii. 18, cxlviii. 8). In this sense it is said, "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Ps. cxix. 89). "The Word," heard and announced by the prophet, often became, in the conception of the seer, an efficacious power apart from God, as was the angel or messenger of God: "The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Isra’el" (Isa. ix. 7 [A. V. 8], lv. 11); "He sent his word, and healed them" (Ps. cvii. 20); and comp. "his word runneth very swiftly" (Ps. cxlvii. 15).[9]


The Word of the LORD is in fact the LORD, ADONAI himself!  This much is made clear by the objective text and the subsequent notations that we observed in Hebrew via the footnotes.  But let us take it one step further to complete the mystery. In Aramaic, the sister language to Hebrew, the translation of “word” becomes rmam mah’amar, from which we get “memra.”  Since the Hebrew “Word” was already identified as possessing personality, the corresponding memra likewise took on identity!  Early Jewish theologians defined the Memra, or Word of God, with six different characteristics. In the first portion of his Gospel, Yochanan (John) associates each of these   qualifications with their Messianic fulfillment in Yeshua. These six claims were:


  1. Memra is defined as distinct, yet the same as God. This struggle as to the nature of HaShem persists to this day. Messianic Jews point to the use of the term echad as a composite unity to assist in the explanation of this issue. Yochanan in Yochanan 1:1 stated: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (Complete Jewish Bible).  Yeshua Himself spoke of the fulfillment of this attribute when He stated, "I and the Father are one." Yochanan 10:30, CJB
  2. The second attribute of the Memra, Word of God, was that it was the agent of creation. Yochanan states that Yeshua fulfills this in Yochanan 1:3: "All things came to be through Him and without Him nothing made had being."  Sha'ul succinctly stated this in Colossians 1:15b-16, referring to Yeshua: "He is supreme over all creation, because in connection with Him were created all things — in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, lordships, rulers or authorities — they have all been created through Him and for Him."
  3. The third attribute stated that the Memra was the agent of salvation. This is claimed in Yochanan 1:12: "But to as many as did receive Him, to those who put their trust in His person and power, He gave the right to become children of God." Yeshua stated His role as agent of salvation several times, most forcefully in Yochanan (John) 14:6b: "I AM the Way — and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me."
  4. The fourth Jewish attribute of the Memra was that Memra was the agent of Theophany (the visible presence of God). In Yochanan 1:14 one reads: "The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw His Sh'khinah, The Sh'khinah of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." Indeed, one might consider the incarnation reality of God in Messiah Yeshua to be a prolonged Theophany. As Sha'ul forthrightly stated in Colossians 1:15a concerning Yeshua: "He is the visible image of the invisible God."
  5. The fifth attribute of Memra was that of being the agent of covenant signing. In Yochanan 1:17 the author writes: "For the Torah was given through Moshe, grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah." This was the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah), written in the thirty-first chapter of his self-titled book in verses 30 (31) and 32 (33):  "Here, the days are coming," says Adonai, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Isra'el and with the house of Y'hudah … For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra'el after those days," says Adonai: "I will put my Torah within them and write it on their heart; I will be their God, and they will be my people."
  6. The final attribute of Memra was that of being the agent of revelation. Yochanan writes of this in verse 18 of the first chapter of his Gospel: "No one has ever seen God; but the only and unique Son, who is identical with God and is at the Father's side — He has made Him known." When Philip asked Yeshua to reveal the Father, Yeshua's reply was "Have I been with you so long without your knowing me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ’Show us the Father'?" Yochanan 14:9.


Indeed as scholars have summarized: "The writings of John confirm that his understanding of Memra was 100 percent Hebraic. He affirms that Yeshua fulfills all six attributes and all Jewish expectations of Memra."


What have we learned thus far?  Avram placed his trust in ADONAI.  The raw data gathered from the narrative tells us that it was the Word of ADONAI who received the object of such faith.  To be sure, Avram’s response is unique, employing the moniker “Adonai, God,”[10] instead of merely YHVH like in 14:22.[11]  Sarna notes this shift in titles in his commentary to Genesis,


This Hebrew divine title, rarely used in the Torah, appears here for the first time.  It is used in a context of complaint, prayer, and request.  Here, the word for “Lord” is ‘adonai, “my Lord,” not the divine name of YHVH, and its use suggests a master-servant relationship.  Abram does not permit his vexation to compromise his attitude of respect and reverence before God.[12]


However, in comparison to Sarna above, we must carefully note that the Hebrew text of ADONAI (y'n{d]a) itself is a peculiar rendering.  How so?  According to ‘The Scriptures’ translation by the Institute for Scripture Research (ISR) the original Hebrew name of YHVH has been emended by the Scribes in 134 passages![13]  This means that in 134 places in our existing Masoretic text, the Hebrew may read ADONAI (y'n{d]a) but the original word was in fact YHVH h'wh.y!  Richard Spurlock of Bereans Online, a well-balanced messianic web site with a nice collection of podcasts for downloading, makes a similar observation in his notes to the course ‘Messiah Unveiled’:


A most interesting feature of Genesis 15 is evident only in the Hebrew.  In the English of Genesis 15:2, the two words ‘Lord God’ are used.  The English translation is that the English translators have up until this point used the scribal tradition of kere ketiv [say/write] with regard to the Tetragrammaton [sic].  If you remember, the ancient scribes used a system of circumlocution to encourage the reader to not say the Holy Name out loud.  What was written was the four letters of a yod, a hay, a vav, and a hay.  Under those consonants, the scribes placed the permanent kere ketiv in the form of vowel points.  The vowel points were for the word ‘Adonai’ [Lord].  Thus the reader, when they came to the Holy Name, would say, ‘Adonai’.  The English translators took this tradition to another level.  Instead of writing the four letters, they substituted ‘LORD’ in all capital letters.  This informed the reader that the Hebrew behind the word was in fact the Holy Name.


When we get to Genesis 15:2, the translators have a problem—the actual word ‘Adonai’ is used next to the Holy Name.  The problem is that if they followed their translation consistently, it would say, “Lord LORD,” which is difficult rendering.  Following the scribal tradition of circumlocution (word substitution), they simply write ‘Lord GOD.’  The ‘GOD’ is in fact a substitution for the Holy Name in this case…


What is the significance of this word arrangement?  This is the first time this word combination is used in Scripture.  This word combination is used in other places in Scriptures, but not very often.  We need to investigate to see if there is some connection between these passages, and if it is a Messianic connection.[14]


What are we to make of this exchange of names and how does it relate to Yeshua and the Memra?  May I suggest (under the guidance of the Apostolic Scriptures) that the Memra of YHVH appeared to Avram in such a way as to allow Avram to address him as a servant would address his visible, flesh and blood master in face-to-face reverence and respect?  Did Avram see a man?  Did he see the invisible YHVH?  I can't be dogmatic either way since biblical theophanies are often shrouded in mystery, but my gut feeling is that Avram saw the pre-incarnate LORD Yeshua with his natural eyes and yet called him YHVH!  One thing is sure: Avram believed the unbelievable, and it was to the Word of the LORD—the Memra—that he addressed his objective faith!  Surely HaShem saw into the heart of the patriarch and recognized the appropriation of the choices that lay before him.  What is more, only the LORD himself can supernaturally open the eyes of a man to allow him to make a choice between choosing his Messiah or rejecting him.  Tim Hegg provides a summary thought to our study,


            The response of God is said, once again, to come via His "word"--" the word of the LORD came to him saying...." God assures Abram that he will indeed have a son, and then He takes Abram outside to give him a sign of the promise He has just made. But the sign itself requires faith. For God shows Abram the stars and declares: "So shall your descendants (literally "seed") be." Not only would Abram have a son, but the descendants of Abram would endure from generation to generation, so that in the end, the offspring of Abram would be beyond counting.

            But would God's word—His promise of a son—be enough for Abram? After all, it had been some time (perhaps as much as 20 years by the Sages reckoning) since the initial promise had been given, and there was still no son.  Sarai was still barren. In fact, God's word was enough for Abram, as the next verse (v. 6) indicates. "And he believed in the LORD." Moses has reserved this clear statement of Abram's faith for the moment when the promised son is specifically the focus of attention. Surely Abram believed from the time that God first revealed Himself to him. His actions prove his faith: he left Ur, traveled to the place that God had indicated, forsook the idolatry of his fathers, and worshipped the One true God. But Moses intends us to see that Abram's faith was cast upon God in a particular fashion-in connection with the promise of a son. And thus we have the all important verse: "And he believed in the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."[15]


In conclusion to this section, we see clearly that Avraham chose to lay hold of the Promise given in Genesis 12:1-3 by seeing at the heart of such a promise a glimpse of the Messiah who would bring it to pass! 


3:10 - For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."


Comments:  I did not include Gal 3:9 in my selection of tough passages, however, Gal 3:9, in my opinion, begins what is likely a six-part chiastic structure of verses, with 9 and 14 forming the outer two points (the bookends), verses 10 and 13 forming the next inner layer, and verses 11 and 12 forming the innermost two points.  Gal 3:9 and Gal 3:14 are linked by the topic of Abraham.  Gal 3:10 and Gal 3:13 are linked by the topic of the curse of the Law, and Gal 3:11 and Gal 3:12 are linked by the presence of the word “live” (Greek=ζήσεται, zesetai).  The introduction and conclusion to the theology developed in the chiasmus of Gal 3:9-14 is presented in Gal 3:14, and is indicated by the Greek conjunction ἵνα, hina, usually translated as “in order that,” “that,” “so that,” etc.  The arrow indicates where Gal 3:10 falls in the six-part chiasmus.  The basic six-part chiasmus looks like this:


A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:9)

B.CURSE (Gal 3:10)<

C. LIVE (Gal 3:11)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:12)

B. CURSE (Gal 3:13)

A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:14)


Essentially, when misunderstood from its larger context, this opening Gal 3:10 verse will invariably lead the reader to the incorrect conclusion that Paul is advocating complete and mitzvah-by-mitzvah (commandment-by-commandment) Torah submission for everyone wishing to attain right-standing with the Almighty.  That the 1st century Judaisms did not advocate a view that required complete Torah obedience before one could be counted as a covenant member is attested to in the later rabbinic compilations that survived the destruction of the Temple.  Put simply, no one in Paul’s day thought that a person must practically walk out each and every single commandment in order to receive covenant membership into Isra'el (viz, salvation).  Nor did anyone in Paul’s day believe that God expected this type of obedience from covenant Isra'el.  This popular Christian viewpoint is unfortunately incompatible with a careful reading of the Torah itself. 


Our verse is a contrast to the previous statement made in verse 6 where Avraham is said to have been considered righteous on the basis of his faith.  By comparison, those who do not imitate “faith-filled” and “faithful” Avraham, but instead seek to circumvent God’s true method of declaring a person righteous actually fall into the trap of being cursed by the very Torah they exalted in the first place!  When Sha'ul uses a statement the likes of “all who rely on observing the law,” (‘works of the law’ in other versions) he is referring to two positions:  primarily and historically, he is speaking to those (Influencers, Judaizers, Agitators, Circumcision Faction, etc.) who believed that covenant status was extended by God due to ethnic status, whether native-born or convert (for more on this nationalistic view see the quote by James D.G. Dunn in my comments to verse 13-14 below).  Such individuals, instead of living within the blessing of HaShem, were in reality found to be the object of God’s curse, because instead of submitting to God’s way of making a person righteous through objective faith in Yeshua, they were said to be setting up their own way of righteousness through ethnic status/Isra'elite membership, a charge leveled against unbelieving Isra'el by Sha'ul himself in Romans 9:31, 32; 10:3.  Secondly, in a more general sense like the Church is fond of pointing out, he is also likely teaching against any superstitious notions that God extends covenant status to the individual (Jew or Gentile) who simply avails himself of Torah obedience outside of genuine faith in the giver of the Torah.  This is proven by the conditional clause, “All who rely on…” To what would the individual be relying upon for righteousness?  It must be either his supposed legal status as a Jew or his Torah observance/maintenance (or a combination of both, viz, covenantal nomism).  Paul would have argued against either view.


The phrase “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" is lifted from Deuteronomy 27:26, indicated by the familiar “for it is written.”  One of the keys to correctly understanding the verse from Deuteronomy, and thus Paul’s use of it here in Galatians, is in understanding that “everything written in the Book” also—indeed, primarily!—includes faith in Yeshua as the Promised Messiah.  For indeed, Yeshua is the very conclusion, the very goal that “everything written in the Book” is pointing to (cf. Romans 10:4)! God is not asking his followers to try to keep every commandment in the Law as some sort of simplistic grocery list of do’s and don’ts in order to avoid being cursed for lack of perfection.  Paul sees another “gospel” being presented by his detractors, namely, the gospel of Jewish identity and proselyte conversion for Gentiles, a “gospel” that bypasses Yeshua as the exclusive object of faith spelled out by the Torah, and instead substitutes it for the false object of faith called ethnicity and Torah obedience for Jews only.  Paul is out to set the record straight in this section of his letter by highlighting Avraham as the prime example of an uncircumcised man whom God “counted as righteous” based on faith.  Moreover, Paul is going to prove his argument—that genuine and lasting covenant membership is granted exclusively to those exercising objective faith in the Promised Messiah of the Torah—by directly quoting from the Torah itself.


Another key to correctly understanding this verse is to make the connection with historical context and remind ourselves that an ideology that strips God, his Torah, and his promises—indeed the very gospel itself—from the inclusion of the Gentiles in scope, is an ideology worthy of God's curse.  Put another way, the ostensible covenant member practicing the works of the Law (the Torah for Jews only) is not, by God's very standard of righteousness, doing all that the Law asks of covenant members, because to live one’s life according to the works of the Law is to discount those Gentiles who live by faith as genuine covenant members in Isra'el!  We can be sure that Paul rejects this line of reasoning because he states quite emphatically in Romans 3:29, 30, “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (ESV).


The reference to Deuteronomy by Sha'ul however is neither a direct quote from the Masoretic Hebrew text, nor a direct quote from the Greek Septuagint (LXX).  He may be paraphrasing the general meaning of the verse for his readers.  The Greek of “abide” (ESV) is ἐμμένω, emmeno, which does not need to mean or even imply perfect obedience to Torah like the popular opinion suggests.  Indeed, the original verse from the Torah reads, “’Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen” (ESV).  To insert “all” before the phrase “the words” is a translators’ prerogative, but is not absolutely needed.  The Hebrew for “confirm” in Deuteronomy is kum קוּם, which literally means to stand or rise up.  When we combine the Masoretic text version of this clause “confirm the words of this law” in this verse with the second clause “by doing them,” we get the sense of “taking a stand for the Torah by obedience to its precepts, statutes and commandments.” We know as believers that, per its God-given design, the Torah leads to Christ (see Rom. 9:31 where “Isra'el pursued a Law that would lead to righteousness,” and Rom. 10:4,  “Christ is the goal of the Law”; also see Gal. 3:24, “the Law is the tutor safeguarding our journey to Christ”).  The deeper meaning of this quote from Deuteronomy is then masterfully explained by Sha'ul:  the genuine and lasting covenant member initiate, as well as the existing covenant member, must follow after all that God has spoken to do, which includes recognizing that the Torah ultimately portrays covenant National Isra'el as a bouquet of Jews and Gentiles who confess allegiance to HaShem and his laws.  And to the extent that those in National Isra'el go on to matriculate to faith in Yeshua, their loyalty must include Law as upheld by the Messiah[16] of Isra'el!  Their “righteousness” and genuine covenant membership is demonstrated by genuine faith, which is rooted in “listening to all the words of the Prophet that God raised up among them” (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15)—namely Yeshua![17] 


Picking and choosing which commandments are for Jews and which ones are for Gentiles, which ones are relevant and which ones aren’t, is not left to the covenant member, because the Deuteronomy verse commands that we “confirm” (take a stand for) the words of this Law by actually doing them.”  At the very least, God is expecting unquestioning obedience.  Indeed, only God is allowed to determine which commandments might if ever fall into disuse for any given length of time (viz, the sacrificial and ritual laws, etc.) and which ones will not.  But even more to the point of Sha'ul’s argument here is the historical reality that each and every covenant member bound himself to pursue the “Righteous One” promised by the Torah, as already mentioned above![18]  The very thing that a covenant member was expected to do was to exercise faith in God and in his Messiah to come, who by Sha'ul’s writing had already arrived!  The individual who failed to recognize both Jews and Gentiles as covenant members, as well as—and more importantly—failed to matriculate to the “Messianic conclusion,” ultimately found himself a candidate for being “cut off” (Hebrew=trk, karat) by God himself due to his lack of faith and obedience to all that the Torah enjoins upon covenant members.[19]  In stating that the one who denies genuine faith lives under a curse, Paul opts for the Greek word katavra, katara, which conveys the notion of a spoken curse,[20] a clear reference to God’s words as pronounced in our Torah passage of Deuteronomy, i.e., the Book of the Law that Moshe spoke into writing.


3:11 - Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”


Comments:  This verse is made up of two clauses: a thesis and a proof text joined by a conjunction that introduces the proof text. This verse also begins the first of the innermost two points of the six-part chiasmus began in Gal 3:9.  Gal 3:11 and Gal 3:12 are linked by the presence of the word “live” (Greek=ζήσεται, zesetai).  The arrow indicates where this verse falls in the six-part chiasmus:


A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:9)

B.CURSE (Gal 3:10)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:11)<

C. LIVE (Gal 3:12)

B. CURSE (Gal 3:13)

A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:14)


First Clause:  This first clause, coming on the immediate heels of Galatians 3:10, now has Sha'ul stating emphatically that “no one is justified before God by the law,” a statement that by historical context must very likely mean, “no one is justified before God by works of the Law, viz, by Jewish identity and maintenance of Torah, or by submission to a man-made ceremony as postulated by the prevailing halakhah of the 1st century Judaisms.”  Dunn’s comments on this verse are appropriate at this time:


That ἐν νόμῳ [by the Law] (v. 11) is equivalent to ἐξ ἔργων νόμου [works of the Law] (v. 10) is plain (Bruce, Galatians 161), as also the parallel between 3.11 and 2.16 confirms.  In Jewish self-understanding, to be ἐν νόμῳ [by the Law] is to live ἐκ πίστεως (by faithfulness)—in both cases the man who is righteous before God being in view, his righteousness  being defined and documented  precisely by the two phrases (ἐν νόμῳ, ἐκ πίστεως).  To do what the Law specifies for the covenant people is to live ἐν αὐτοῖς [by them], to live ἐκ πίστεως [by faithfulness] (bracketed […] translation of Greek phrases, mine).[21]


Second Clause:  Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 in the second clause to prove that works of the Law will not justify (save) a person.  Interestingly, many Bible translations use “faith” for the Greek of Gal 3:11 here, when translating Paul's quote from Hab 2:4.  However, many of those same translations use “faithfulness” for their translation from the original Hebrew![22]  Speaking of Habakkuk 2:4, Dunn goes on to say,


The usual understanding of Hab. 2:4 MT – ‘…will live by his faithfulness’.  It is not necessary to the discussion here to resolve the question of whether Paul intended the ἐκ πίστεως [by faith] to go with Ὁ δίκαιος [the righteous] or ζήσεται [will live].[23]


We will discuss “faith” and “faithfulness” a bit more closely when we examine the second clause of Gal 3:12 below.  For now, I want you to notice how Paul sets at odds what the Influencers were taking for granted, namely, that righteousness is grounded in ethnicity and Torah maintenance (works of the Law), and he does this by reminding his readers of what the book of Habakkuk teaches on how the genuinely righteous will “live.” Paul uses the scriptures to counter their limited nationalistic line of reasoning.  This tells us that works of the Law is NOT “abiding by all things written in the book of the Law” (Gal 3:10), that works of the Law attracts the curse of the Law (Gal 3:10), and that works of the Law do not count as true faith (Gal 3:12), but instead actually count as “self effort” (Gal 3:3).  Because the verb “justified” (δικαιοῦται) is parallel to the adjective “righteous” (δίκαιος), basically, we could paraphrase the verse along these lines: “Clearly no one is declared as righteous before God by a Jewish-only Law commitment, because the scriptures have already demonstrated in Abraham, and continue to teach with Habakkuk, that the person who is declared as righteous by God himself will be justified by that person’s genuine faith and will live his life according to such faith.”


Alternately, Sha'ul’s statement is a theological teaching against any mistaken notions that Torah obedience in and of itself automatically granted covenant status to the individual participant, whether Jewish or Gentile.  In other words, the viewpoint held by historic Christianity and Reformation Paul proponents is not completely off base. Between his statement and his proof text, Paul used the conjunction “because,” Greek o&ti, hotee, to signal the immediate supporting proof text that would-be covenant members (read here as Gentiles) do not walk into Torah submission to gain covenant status.


3:12 - But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them."


Comments:  Buckle in because it is going to take me a bit longer than usual to explain this particular verse within the context of this chapter…  Are you ready?  Here we go…


This verse forms the second of the innermost two points of the six-part chiasmus by linking together the word “live” found in Gal 3:11 and Gal 3:12.  The arrow indicates where this verse falls in the six-part chiasmus: 


A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:9)

B.CURSE (Gal 3:10)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:11)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:12)<

B. CURSE (Gal 3:13)

A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:14)


Like, the previous verse before it, this verse is also made up of two clauses which are separated by a Greek conjunction, but this time it is ἀλλ’, all, usually translated as “rather,” “on the contrary,” but,” “instead,” etc.  Even though the conjunctions of these two verses are different in the Greek, I believe they are both essentially functioning in the same manner.  That is, like Gal 3:11, the conjunction here likely introduces the supporting clause since the two clauses function as thesis and proof text.  Like Gal 3:11, we shall look at each clause one at a time.  Verse 12 starts with the small Greek word ‘de,’ that, when translated into English, often signals the beginning of a contrasting clause.  Owing to the fact that the verse breaks were not in Paul's original writing, and to the fact that the same Greek phrase of 11 and 12 (‘ek pisteos’=by faith) is used by Paul in back to back fashion, I believe that the first clause of verse 12 is most naturally read as an immediate contrast to the last clause of verse 11.  This would make it read as “…the righteous shall live by faith“ (Hab 2:4)…but (Greek contrast ‘de’) the Law is not of faith…” 


First Clause“The Law is not based on faith…”  At first blush, a surface reading of this first clause seems to have Paul simply and tersely stating that the Torah has nothing to do with faith (“the law is not of faith,” or “the law is not based on faith…”).  Indeed, this is essentially how the first clause is interpreted and translated in a few well-known Bible versions.[24]  However, does Paul truly believe that God’s written Torah is unrelated to genuine faith?  Are Law and faith mutually exclusive concepts?  Do Law and faith—as many Christian commentators regularly teach—belong to two distinctly different historical realms (dispensations)?  We already know that Paul believes a primary function of the Law is to point men to Christ—for indeed he is going to explicitly tell us so in Gal 3:24 below.  What is more, Romans 3:31 explicitly states that faith does not “overthrow” (ESV) Law.  It seems anachronistic to me then for Paul to be setting up a Christian-like dichotomy between Law and faith since, as both he and the Judaisms of his day would affirm, clearly the TaNaKH demonstrates that God expects genuine faith to be a vital component of the fabric of the social communities of his Law-keeping children.  To be sure, faithlessness (the lack of genuine faith), which always leads to law-breaking, is what got Isra'el in hot water time and time again, prompting God to punish and eventually exile them from their Land.  “The Torah is not based on faith…,” with implications that Law (as properly understood as God's revelation to humanity) and faith (properly understood as humanity’s response to God's revelation) are mutually exclusive concepts, simply cannot be what the apostle is conveying here.  We must look beyond a surface reading and let context dictate the proper interpretations of Law (Greek= νόμος, nomos) and faith (Greek= πίστεως ,pisteos) in this verse.  We will examine Leviticus 18:5 and this supposed “dichotomy” between Law and faith below when we look at the Second Clause with the comments from Garlington. 


Essentially, in my estimation, in order to correctly understand the first clause, we must simultaneously link it to the verse from Habakkuk while at the same time connect it to the quote from Leviticus as Paul wants us to.  Most importantly, however, we must allow for the context of the letter and the socio-religious “emergency” occasioning the letter to guide our interpretation of the word Law here.  Because this is a carefully reasoned argument, I believe there are two strong nuances for the way he is using “Law” and its relation to “faith” in this first clause.


Nuance One:  As with Dunn’s point made about Gal 3:11 above, Paul may simply be using nomos once again as shorthand to describe the position of the Influencers, i.e., “works of the law,” viz, “legally-recognized Jewish identity that leads to Law-keeping and covenant maintenance.” This would make it similar to how he just used nomos in the previous verse, making it read something like, “But works of the Law do not count as faith...”  What is more, even if we did not choose to translate nomos as shorthand, opting instead for the Law proper, we would still have to agree that Paul opposes the position that genuine covenant membership (read here as faith) follows from ethnically motivated law-keeping (the way his opponents believed).  Rather, in Paul’s mind, law-keeping is the inevitable fruit of being a genuine covenant member as secured by faith in Isra'el’s Messiah Yeshua.  This he is going to prove by bringing in the quote from Leviticus, which conveniently includes the tem “live” just like the Habakkuk verse he just quoted above.  As contextually sound as making Law into works of the Law seems to stand by itself, I do not think this is the exclusive nuance of the word “Law” here.  Additionally, I think he also includes Nuance Two below.


Nuance Two:  We know that works of the Law is likely the best way to translate “Law” in Gal 3:11, and we know that verse 11 and verse 12 here are closely related.  So if the nuance were to focus on “Law” and leave out the “works of the” part, what exactly would “the Law is not based on faith” (“the Law is not of faith,” ESV) mean?  How is Paul using “Law” here, and precisely why cannot the Law pave a way for faith to follow afterwards?  To put it another way, why can't faith (viz, covenant membership) be a product of (ek=have its source in) Law-keeping (read here as Jewish identity) the way the influencers were suggesting?  The Greek has δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως, ho de nomos ouk estin ek pisteos, literally, “The moreover Law not is out of faith.”  The Greek preposition ἐκ, ek, according to the HelpsBible.com, is defined as having “a two-layered meaning ("out from and to") which makes it out-come oriented (out of the depths of the source and extending to its impact on the object).”[25] We already know from Gal 2:16, 21 and Gal 3:11 that justification (viz, forensic salvation) does not flow out of a subset of the Law known as works of the Law (read here as Jewish identity).  Now Paul must want us to also make sure we know that “[the] Law [in general] does not even progress towards (ek=out of) faith.”  Why wouldn't Law-keeping help move an individual in the direction of being recognized by HaShem as a “faithful” covenant member (read here as faith)?  How did Paul's opponents get this vital scriptural sequence turned around?


Firstly, let us see if we can better understand the way Paul's readers and opponents may have interacted with the twin Torah concepts of faith and faithfulness as they followed Paul's argument from Habakkuk to Leviticus.  In Hebrew, the noun concept of ‘faith’ and the verb concept of ‘believe/believing’ are rooted in the same word.  What is more, often when the NT uses the noun ‘faith,’ Greek language allows for the additional, grammatical nuance of the same or similar nouns to be translated into English as ‘faithfulness,’  One Christian pastor described it this way,


“In English there is a difference between "faith" and "faithfulness", and there is a difference in the meaning of these words because in reality and experience these are two different things altogether. Who doesn't know the difference? Faithfulness is a word that focuses inside the self, but faith is a word that focuses outside the self, upon an object that is being believed or trusted in. Faithfulness has to do with how reliable or trustworthy I am. Faith has to do with how reliable and trustworthy the object is that I am believing in.”[26]


This concept is similar to the English word ‘trust’ being translated as a noun sometimes and as a verb at other times.  To be sure, the Greek noun pistis/pisteos (i.e., faith, belief) closely relates to the Greek verb pisteuo (usually translated in English versions as believe).  Thus, in Hebrew thought, to verbally affirm that one has belief in a set body of truth, must eventually lead to and include actions done in faithfulness to that very body of truth as well.  As such, the Habakkuk 2:4 passage could just as easily have been understood by the Judaisms of Paul's day as, “the righteous shall live by his faithfulness (the emphasis being on outward actions rather than inward truths).”  If this were the case, then in my opinion verse twelve here in Galatians should also imply faithfulness (Greek noun πίστεως) when modern translators choose the related English noun faith: “But the Law is not out of faith/faithfulness.” 


Secondly, in order to appreciate the popular 1st century misunderstandings of Habakkuk 2:4 with Leviticus 18:5 we must reminding ourselves that according to the biblical sequence of the two most significant covenants demonstrated by Avraham and Moshe (Genesis to Deuteronomy), Abraham represents “faith,” whereas Moses represents “Law.”  If this narrow example represents the influencers’ theology, then “Law” does in fact come sequentially after “faith,” (the Law IS of faith, taking the word “of” to imply “continues after”).  In addition, perhaps Paul's detractors were relying on this very example by teaching that all those who belong to circumcised Abraham (Jews and proselytes) are obligated to keep both the Written Law as well as the Oral Law that is attached to it.  In their minds, the Law IS of (continues sequentially after) faith and therefore Gentiles who wish to be counted as righteous must be circumcised as well as keep the Law (recall the words of the believing Pharisees of Acts 15:5, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses”).  Paul's theology in this section may be visualized thusly:


Step One: Faith (Abraham=beginning of covenant membership based on faith, viz, circumcision of the heart)

Step Two: Torah (Moses=Law given to all existing covenant members)

Step Three: Faithfulness (Covenant membership is for all who have faith in Messiah; Spirit-led faithfulness to Torah vindicates Spirit-produced faith)


Conversely, the influencers’ theology of this section may be visualized thusly:


Step One: Ethnicity (Abraham=beginning of Jewish identity and covenant membership as indicated by physical circumcision)

Step Two: Torah (Moses=Law given to keep Jewish Isra'el separate from idolatrous Gentile peoples)

Step Three: Faithfulness (covenant membership and Torah are for Jews only; Law-keeping is vital for maintaining one’s place in the covenant)


Paul will eventually spell out some of the furthering damning implications of following the influencers’ dangerous theological view in Gal 5:3 by warning the Galatian Gentile Christians, “every man who accepts circumcision… is obligated to keep the whole Law,” a statement that must by context refer to a Gentile convert’s commitment to a Jewish-only written and Oral Torah.  Such a commitment would demonstrate that the new Jewish proselyte is separated from his fellow believing Gentile counterparts who had decided not to undergo conversion.  This type of Jewish-only commitment to the Torah runs counter to the Abrahamic promise itself!


Therefore, since the phrase “the Law is not of faith” is specifically Paul's rebuttal of the influencers’ theology, our anticipation of Paul's use of Leviticus 18:5 in the second clause of Gal 3:12 is going to show us that it is “faithfulness” that is, in point of fact, sequentially after (“out of”) genuine “faith,” (i.e., “the one [of faith] who does them shall live by them [in faithfulness]”).  The Influencers’ already knew that Abraham came before Moses.  Like the believing Pharisees of Acts 15:5, the Galatians influencers were likely using this sequence to prove that Gentile proselytes must be circumcised (the works of the Law) and then move towards Torah obedience for ongoing and final justification.  Paul also affirms that Abraham came before Moses.  For Paul, however, his opponents’ ecclesiological interpretation of the historical Abraham to Moses narrative nevertheless represents faulty theological reasoning, and he centers his rebuttal on the scriptural proofs he has offered from the message of his larger context begun in Gal 2:15 and continuing up to Gal 3:11 thus far.  Paul's reasoning is rooted in the biblical truth that the blessing of Abraham (cf. Gal 3:14) extends to the Gentiles as Gentiles, and not as Jewish converts, precisely because God told Abraham, “in you all the families (Hebrew=Gentiles) of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).  Paul’s warnings in this section of his letter clearly demonstrate that the Torah itself, as rightly understood, rejects any and all restrictive misuses of its teachings (the ethnic driven form of Torah obedience called works of the Law), reasoning which supposedly promised to accomplish a right-standing in the sight of HaShem based on national election.


In conclusion to our exegesis of this first clause, according to Paul, obedience to the Law, whether acceptance of it as a whole (Nuance Two), or by highlighting some of the so-called boundary-marking commandments like circumcision, food laws, etc. (Nuance One), does not produce genuine and lasting covenant membership.  I am going to opt for launching from Nuance One in our background exegesis because of what I understand Paul to be warning us about by using ‘works of the Law’ alongside ‘Law’ in Gal 3:10, 11.  I am then going to suggest we include Nuance Two when interpreting and practically applying the first clause of this verse in its most broadly understood perspective.  Nuance Two is important because of the fact that when historically penned by Moshe in Lev 18:5 (as quoted in the second clause of Gal 3:12), Isra'el's understanding of basic covenant faithfulness and Torah obedience in general were both originally less bound by ethnicity than the more narrow concept known by Paul's day as ‘works of the Law.’  In other words, I do not think Paul uses Leviticus only as a proof text for his immediate and historical argument against the exclusion of Gentiles into the covenant with Isra'el.  I think he also uses it to wrest Torah as a whole from its 1st century “Jewish-only” distortion.  He seeks to return to a historically and scripturally sound interpretation of circumcision and of Torah obedience.


Second Clause"The man who does these things will live by them."  This is essentially a quote from Leviticus 18:5.  Don Garlington in A Shorter Commentary on Galatians starts us off by reminding us of the popular Christian interpretation of Paul's use of Leviticus in Galatians here:


Virtually every commentator recognizes that Paul, in some way or the other, plays off believing and doing in v. 12. But in what sense are the two set in opposition? The majority of scholars assume that they are mutually exclusive by the nature of the case: “faith” by definition excludes “works,” and vice versa. However, in historical perspective, any dichotomy between believing and doing in the Jewish schema is simply off base: Judaism was and is as much a “faith system” as Christianity. The inseparability of faith and obedience in the Hebrew Bible is still intact, but in Paul both have been refocused on Jesus, the crucified Messiah. It is true that v. 12 poses a problem for this reading. Its proposition, “the law is not of faith,” is buttressed by the words of Leviticus 18:5: “the one who does them will live in them.” On the usual interpretation, Paul is taken to mean that “the law has nothing to do with faith” in this sense: whereas the law required performance, the gospel enjoins only faith. As the argument goes, anyone who would be justified “on the basis of works” must reckon seriously with what the Torah itself says: “the one who does them will live in them.” However, this more or less traditional interpretation falters for two reasons. (1) “Doing the law,” according to the context of Leviticus 18:5, is not “performance” but the exercise of faith within the parameters of the covenant. (2) Neither the OT nor later Jewish theology recognizes a distinction between doing and believing: they are the two sides of the same coin...[27]


We also learn from Garlington that perhaps a significant number of Jewish teachers of Paul's day likely interpreted the “live” of Lev 18:5 not merely as life in the here and now, but also as life in the age to come:


Indeed, “live” does mean primarily “to go on living” in the land, especially in view of Ezekiel 20, the first “commentary” on Leviticus 18:5. Even so, we must reckon with the fact that in certain strands of Jewish interpretation the eschatological dimension is very much present. For example, the Qumran Manual of Discipline (1QS 4:6-8) makes “everlasting blessing and eternal joy in life without end” the extension of “long life” and “fruitfulness” here and now (cf. Dan 12:2; Wis 2:23 [passim]; 2 Macc 7:9; 4 Macc 15:3; 17:12). Conversely, reserved for those who follow “the spirit of falsehood” (the apostates) are a multitude of plagues now and “everlasting damnation,” “eternal torment” and “endless disgrace” hereafter (1QS 4:12- 14). Likewise, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Targum Onqelos to Leviticus 18:5 both posit everlasting life as the reward of doing the Torah (cf. Luke 10:25). Indeed, such an eschatological slant on the life of Leviticus 18:5 would have played readily into Paul’s hands, as he transposes the life of the Torah into eternal life in Christ.[28]


So which one is it?  Does Leviticus promise life in the Land of Isra'el, or does it speak of life in the Age to Come?  With these data to get us started, let us attempt to uncover Moshe’s intended meaning of Leviticus 18:5 and its relevance for Galatians 3:12 by allowing Paul to explain it for us. Sha'ul will eventually go on to use Lev 18:5 again at Romans 10:5 in a similar discussion about covenant membership.  The meaning of Lev 18:5 is formed by the context of the passage as a whole, and obviously warrants careful study, but first let’s have some fun with the Hebrew and the Greek manuscripts:


1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,


2. “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God.


3. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.  You shall not walk in their statutes.


4. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God.


5. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD” (Lev 18:1-5, ESV, emphasis, mine)




וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹֽר׃

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶֽרֶץ־כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵֽכוּ׃

אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָֽה׃


Interestingly enough, in the LXX (Septuagint) the Greek of the verb “does” (ποιήσας) in the phrase “person does them” of Lev 18:5 is an aorist active participle verb, often used to denote a general ongoing past[29] (thus, most translations rightly show “having” [participle] “done” [past]).  However, in the original Hebrew, this same verb h,f][;y ya’aseh is an imperfect (i.e. future) tense.


Likewise, since we referenced the LXX and the Hebrew, let us also take a quick peek at the Greek manuscripts of our Galatians verse.  In the Greek text of the Byzantine Majority and the Greek Orthodox Church text, as well as in the two Textus Receptus manuscripts (Scrivener’s and Stephanus), Gal 3:12 reads, “ δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως ἀλλ᾽ ποιήσας αὐτὰ ἄνθρωπος ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς.”  A wooden word for word reading of the matching Greek from these four manuscripts would look something like this, “The moreover Law not is out of faith rather the having done these things person will live by them.”  By comparison, the Nestle and the Wescott and Hort manuscripts leave out “ἄνθρωπος” (man, person, human, etc.) and show “ὁ δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως, ἀλλ’ Ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὰ ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς.”  And the Tischendorf manuscript differs from all of these in that it alone has the conjunction “αλλα” (otherwise, but, rather, etc.) instead of “ἀλλ’,” nevertheless, the meaning is essentially identical with all the others.


The research into the Hebrew and the Greek may in fact be theologically pointless.  I don't believe it significantly changes the meaning of the verse, whether the verb tense describing Torah obedience is in the past or in the future.  However, the central message of the verse is significant enough for Sha'ul to have it form the support behind his theology of the first “Law is not of faith” clause: “life” in this verse speaks of living safely in the Land of Promise, namely, Isra'el.  But germane to his point is the fact that it is not the doing of (or having done) the commandments that results in covenant membership, rather, the existing covenant member will, in fact, govern his life in accordance with God's laws.  To Paul, the sequence of events spelled out in Leviticus undermines the theology of the Influencers, which Paul rejects with his counter statement “the Law is not based on faith.”


Conclusion to Galatians 3:12 as a whole: In reality, with all of the biblical data to work from, Paul likely had at least these three sequentially important concepts to work with in choosing the closely reasoned theology of this verse (permit me to play with the biblical concepts of faith and faithfulness by displaying this as “faith[fulness]” for a moment): Consider this sequence: FAITH>Law>FAITH[FULNESS].  If we focus on the sequence of the first two, then the LAW is out of FAITH; LAW comes after FAITH (Moses comes after Abraham).  Yet, if we focus on the sequence of the last two, then LAW is not of FAITH[FULNESS]; LAW comes before FAITH[FULNESS].  Finally, if we focus on the sequence of the first and the last one, then FAITH[FULNESS] indeed does proceed from genuine FAITH—the very point Paul is highlighting by quoting Leviticus 18:5.


Within this smaller “live” context argument forming the two innermost points of our six-part chiastic structure, we can easily imagine that this may well be the heart of Paul's pericope, because in Leviticus the writer, Moshe, describes the lifestyle (the living) of an existing covenant member as characterized by obeying the laws spelled out by the Torah.  This is similar to the righteous man living by his faith/faithfulness in Hab. 2:4, used by Paul just a verse earlier in Gal 3:11.  In both verses, faithfulness (right living) flows from genuine faith.  Paul refers to the Leviticus position as “clearly” described in the previous verse (“now it is evident” in the ESV).  The Influencers must have believed that “the Law is of faith,” with the word Law carrying Nuance One, which included a focus on ethnicity for both Jews and Gentiles.  Likewise, the word “faith” to the Influencers must have conveyed both the concept of covenant membership, as well as faithfulness (obedience/maintenance) in relation to Torah commandments.  “The Law is of faith” for the Influencers must have meant, “Jewish identity (physical circumcision) vindicates covenant membership (justification), which then warrants continued obedience to Torah in order to maintain covenant membership earned either at birth or by conversion.”


For Paul, however, even though his opponents’ theology included most of the right verses with most of the right players, sadly they had reached most of the wrong conclusions.  In its broadest application as understood by Paul, “the Law is not of faith” conveys the idea that “the Law is not a salvific document,” “the doing of the Law was not designed to subsequently produce salvific faith in God.”  However, within the immediate context of his argument against sectarianism, this phrase likely means, “physical circumcision (works of the Law) does not count towards forensic justification (read here as genuine covenant membership by the Influencers).”  Alternately, we could understand this phase to be Paul's challenge that, after reading both Hab. 2:4, as well as Lev. 18:5 in context, Paul expects his readers and opponents alike to come to the same conclusions as he: both circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles as faith-centered covenant members follow in faithfulness to Torah.  This alternate reading may in fact be only a subtext at this point.  However, we have already addressed the primary indictment of Paul’s argument, in our exegesis above: the version of physical circumcision that the Influencers were teaching was a ‘Law of the flesh’ and as such, God did not recognize it as faith-centric; in Paul's mind, their distortion of “Law” was “not of faith.”


3:13, 14 - Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.


Comments:  Since we are nearing end of the chiasmus, allow me to repeat what I stated in the comments to Gal 3:10.  Gal 3:9, in my opinion, begins what is likely a six-part chiastic structure of verses, with 9 and 14 forming the outer two points (the bookends), verses 10 and 13 forming the next inner layer, and verses 11 and 12 forming the innermost two points.  Gal 3:9 and Gal 3:14 are linked by the topic of Abraham.  Gal 3:10 and Gal 3:13 are linked by the topic of the curse of the Law, and Gal 3:11 and Gal 3:12 are linked by the presence of the word “live” (Greek=ζήσεται, zesetai).  The introduction and conclusion to the theology developed in the chiasmus of Gal 3:9-14 is presented in Gal 3:14, and is indicated by the Greek conjunction ἵνα, hina, usually translated as “in order that,” “that,” “so that,” etc.  The arrow indicates where Gal 3:13 falls in the six-part chiasmus.  The basic six-part chiasmus looks like this:


A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:9)

B.CURSE (Gal 3:10)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:11)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:12)

B. CURSE (Gal 3:13)<

A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:14)


There are golden moments when the best interpretation of Scripture is Scripture.  Gal 3:13 seems to find a parallel in Chapter 4.  Allow me to quote Gal 4:4-6 from that location:


“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under Law, to redeem those under Law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."”


The impact of Christ redeeming those who name his name for salvation from the curse of the law in 3:13 bears a striking similarity to 4:4 and the first part of 4:5 “…to redeem those under the Law.”  We shall explore the furthering parallels to 4:4-6 when that passage arrives below.  For now, let us focus on 3:13.  That we have previously defined the term “under the Law” in some contexts as a position reserved for those whose hearts have not received messianic regeneration is key to understanding Paul’s phrase “the curse of the law.”  I understand them to be tandem phrases at times.  That is, the person who lives “under the curse of the law” surely lives “under the Law” as well.  Both phrases describe a position of ill favor and eventual punishment by God.  Under the Law in some passages used by Paul speaks of existing under the condemnation that Torah pronounces against persistent sinners.  Thus, in the economy of the Torah community of ancient Isra’el, to live under the curses instead of under the blessings was to be recognized by God as living in sin and disobedience to his mitzvot (commandments).  In other places of Paul’s letters, under the Law seems to simply refer to Jewish identity (cf. Gal. 4:21).  Surely Moshe instructed the Jewish people that obedience invited God’s blessings, while continual and unremorseful disobedience invited God’s curses.[30]  But Messiah did not merely redeem our physical lives from diminishment of blessing if we failed to perform the Words of Torah; Yeshua actually redeemed both body and soul from the ultimate curse pronounced upon the individual who failed to graduate to genuine lasting faith in the Giver of the Torah, a redemption spoken of in legal terms throughout the Apostolic Scriptures.  The plain sense of the verse is not confusing: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Torah.  He did not redeem us from the Torah itself.


But in what way did Messiah “become a curse” for us?  Quite simply, Yeshua was put forth as the propitiation for our sins when he died on the cross.  As the sinless sacrifice, the Father deemed it necessary to place the corporate sin of the world upon his Son so that his Righteousness might be vindicated in the biblical truth that “the wages of sin is death.”[31]  The word “cursed” in the quote from Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” only stands to reinforce the Levitical notion that the sacrifice truly bears the weight of the sin imparted to it.  To be sure, if there was found no substitute for the party guilty of a capital offence, then he was to be hanged as a sign that God had deemed him cursed.  In the mystery of the Godhead, Yeshua, the sinless Lamb of God, became the object of such punishment on behalf of those who name his name for salvation.  He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf.[32] 


As pertinent a fact as this is for every sinner, there is likely, however, a more contextual and specific 1st century use of the phrase “curse of the law” found in 3:13, as explained by James D.G. Dunn, which I will quote at length for my commentary here:


Verses 13-14 ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse on our behalf – as it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Deut. 21.23 with 27.26) – in order that the blessing of Abraham might come in Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, in order that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’.


The thought clearly refers back to verse 10, as the formulation of the scriptural passage to align it with the Scripture quoted in verse 10 confirms. Paul must intend the ‘curse of the law’ to be understood in the light of verse 10. That is to say, the curse of the law is not simply the condemnation which falls on any transgression and on all who fall short of the law’s requirements. Paul has it in mind that the specific short-fall of his typical Jewish contemporary, the curse which falls on all who restrict the grace and promise of God in nationalistic terms, who treat the law as a boundary to mark the people of God off from the Gentiles, who give a false priority to ritual markers. The curse of the law here has to do primarily with that attitude which confines the covenant promise to Jews as Jews: it falls on those who live within the law in such a way as to exclude the Gentile as Gentile from the promise. This is confirmed by the second half of Paul's formulation in verses 13-14: the purpose of Christ's redemption from the curse of the law is precisely what we would (now) expect – viz. the extension of the covenant blessing to the Gentiles. The curse which was removed by Christ death therefore was the curse which had previously prevented that blessing from reaching the Gentiles, the curse of the wrong understanding of the law. It was a curse which fell primarily on the Jew (3.10; 4.5), but Gentiles were affected by it so long as that misunderstanding of the covenant and the law remained dominant. It was that curse which Jesus had brought deliverance from by his death.[33]


In summary then, we can now easily see that Galatians 3:14 forms the conclusion reached by the logical flow and theology of the first six points of the chiasmus, indicated by the Greek conjunction ἵνα, hina, usually translated as “in order that,” “that,” “so that,” etc.  The arrow indicates where this verse falls in the six-part chiasmus:


A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:9)

B.CURSE (Gal 3:10)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:11)

C. LIVE (Gal 3:12)

B. CURSE (Gal 3:13)

A. ABRAHAM (Gal 3:14)<


Yeshua brought both Jew and Gentile out from under the curse of misusing the Law for nationalistic purposes, by suffering “outside the gate,”[34] basically as a Gentile sinner, as a cursed man who hung on a tree for his crimes, thus destroying that bad ideology that had the effect of creating hostility between Jews and Gentiles, and of limiting the divinely intended multinational scope of God, his Torah, his covenants, and his blessings.  Paul masterfully describes this redemption for us in Ephesians 2:14-16:


“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (ESV).


Put plainly, the Gentiles should not have been treated as second-class citizens in God's economy.  The blessing of Abraham must extend to the Gentiles expressing faith in Yeshua, as equal covenant members in Isra'el, or else Isra'el is not Isra'el and the gospel is not the gospel.  Therefore, Dunn’s explanation seems to fit more contextually with the situation facing the 1st century Judaisms and with Paul’s reasons for writing the letter to the Galatian congregations.


3:17, 18 - This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.


Comments:  The first part of this passage, the mention of the promise, becomes a key element of later Pauline literature.  That God would make an unbreakable Promise to Avraham and his offspring and then bring it to pass vindicates both the Father’s competence as well as his trustworthiness.  For Paul, it is imperative that the existing covenant member understands the proper relationship of the Avrahamic Covenant to the Moshaic Covenant.  Allow me to quote Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz,


For those who trust HaShem for the promises, the proper order for faith and obedience is set by the sequence in which the covenants were given. In other words, faith must precede obedience. But the kind of faith accepted by HaShem is one that naturally flows into obedience. True obedience never comes before faith, nor is it an addition to faith. It is always the result of true biblical faith. To rephrase this in terms of the covenants: the covenant of promise (Avraham) must come before the covenant of obedience (Moshe). If we were to put Moshe first, attempting to secure those promises by obedience, we would be going against HaShem’s order. (This, by the way, is the key to unlocking the difficult midrash used by Sha’ul in Galatians 4:21-31.) All we could hope for would be a measure of physical protection and a knowledge of spiritual things.  But we could not receive justification or a personal relationship with the Holy One through obedience to the Torah; it all had to start with faith. Avraham came before Moshe, but Moshe did not cancel out Avraham!  The two complemented each other—as long as they came in the proper order.[35]


Put plainly, far from diminishing or annulling the Abrahamic Promise, the Torah actually comes along 430 years later to support and compliment it!  Even if Christian commentators disagree with my conclusion that the Torah compliments the Abrahamic Covenant, surely they must agree with the plain sense of Paul’s words, which speak of the impossibility of the Torah doing away with the Promise to Abraham!  God did not somehow start with “salvation by faith,” move to “salvation by works,” and then switch back to salvation by faith!”  Sha’ul’s disagreement with his detractors then is seen as a difference over which order these two covenants should be placed in.  As we have learned, the order in which they appear both in Scripture as well as historically demonstrates the proper order in which their respective lessons should be actualized: Avrahamic precedes Moshaic; genuine and lasting faith in God will always precede genuine and lasting obedience to God.


Quite surely, the Influencers had the sequence out of priority, placing too much emphasis on ethnicity and a restrictive, nationalistic definition of Torah obedience.  In such a situation, the covenant member-to-be mistakenly believed that the Promise—referred to as the “inheritance” in verse 18—sprang forth from ethnicity gained by obedience to a ritual implied by the Torah, the ritual of the proselyte.  In this order, faith results from works and human achievement (ethnicity=works).  In this order, genuine faith in God’s Messiah for forgiveness of sins—i.e., the Promise—is rendered non-effectual and unnecessary because supposedly ethnicity and maintenance of commandments guaranteed righteousness and forgiveness of sins.  Paul would not have his talmidim (students) falling for such blatant errant theology.  Using Abraham as the exemplar of faith and justification, Paul shows that the inheritance must arrive to both Jews and Gentiles by other than human means in order for HaShem to receive his proper acknowledgment.  The son of promise (Yitz’chak) was to be born, not of human effort, not by striving to produce offspring with Hagar, but instead by divine fiat (viz, after Abraham and Sarah were past child-bearing age).  Likewise, the Messiah—the Ultimate Son of Promise—would be born of miraculous circumstances, proving his connection to the antecedent theology that God alone can secure the Promise for his children.


3:19 - Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.


Comments:  Here is Galatians 3:19 in six random, yet well-known, Bible versions:


Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. (King James Version, KJV)


What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; and it was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator. (Authorized Standard Version, ASV)


Why, then, the law? on account of the transgressions it was added, till the seed might come to which the promise hath been made, having been set in order through messengers in the hand of a mediator. (Young’s Literal Translation, YLT)


Why then was the Law given? It was imposed later on for the sake of defining sin, until the seed should come to whom God had made the promise; and its details were laid down by a mediator with the help of angels. (Weymouth New Testament, WEY)


Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. (English Standard Version, ESV)


So then, why the legal part of the Torah? It was added in order to create transgressions, until the coming of the seed about whom the promise had been made. Moreover, it was handed down through angels and a mediator. (Complete Jewish Bible, CJB)


Let us turn to a few different Bible commentaries to examine this verse.  The first commentary I would like to present and quote represents the historic Christian interpretation and application of this chair passage.  The comments have been lifted from a well-known and well-respected online Bible-reading website:


1. According to Paul, the law has a negative purpose: It was added because of transgressions (v. 19). Paul has already demonstrated what the law does not do: it does not make anyone righteous before God (v. 11); it is not based on faith (v. 12); it is not the basis of inheritance (v. 18). So if the law is divorced from righteousness, faith and inheritance of the blessing, to what is law related? Paul says that the law is related to transgressions. A transgression is the violation of a standard. The law provides the objective standard by which the violations are measured. In order for sinners to know how sinful they really are, how far they deviate from God's standards, God gave the law. Before the law was given, there was sin (see Rom 5:13). But after the law was given, sin could be clearly specified and measured (see Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7). Each act or attitude could then be labeled as a transgression of this or that commandment of the law.


Imagine a state in which there are many traffic accidents but no traffic laws. Although people are driving in dangerous, harmful ways, it is difficult to designate which acts are harmful until the legislature issues a book of traffic laws. Then it is possible for the police to cite drivers for transgressions of the traffic laws. The laws define harmful ways of driving as violations of standards set by the legislature. The function of traffic laws is to allow bad drivers to be identified and prosecuted.


2. The temporal framework for the law is clearly established by the words added . . . until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come (v. 19). Paul has already emphasized that the Mosaic law was given 430 years after the Abrahamic promise (v. 17). The word added implies that the law was not a central theme in God's redemptive plan; it was supplementary and secondary to the enduring covenant made with Abraham. As the word added marks the beginning point for the Mosaic law, the word until marks its end point. The Mosaic law came into effect at a certain point in history and was in effect only until the promised Seed, Christ, appeared. There is a contrast here between the permanent validity of the promise and the temporary nature of the law. On the one hand, the promise was made long before the law and will be in effect long after the period of the law; on the other hand, the law was in effect for a relatively short period of time limited in both directions by the words added and until.


As we shall see in our study of the next few sections of the letter (see 3:23-25; 4:1-4), Paul's presentation of the temporal framework for the law is a major theme of his argument for the superiority of the promise fulfilled in Christ over the law. This theme differs radically from the common Jewish perspective of his day, which emphasized the eternal, immutable nature of the law. But Paul's Christocentric perspective led him to see that Christ (the promised Seed), not the law, was the eternal one.[36]


The comments on the verse are so straightforward and easy to understand that I didn't need to add additional thoughts to them at all.  Instead, lets compare this Christian view with a well-known Messianic Jewish author for now before providing my own contrasting views.


Concerning this verse (3:19) Complete Jewish Bible author David H. Stern seems, in some ways, to take the popular Christian view as noted above just a step further.  While not casting the Torah in a negative light, he nonetheless seems to not fully capture the intended meaning of Paul’s point there in verse 19.  Because of his widespread acceptance among many messianic believers, his view is worth critiquing.  Moreover, his popularity in the Messianic Community has far-reaching influence in the way the Movement forms their view of the Torah.  Writing in his Jewish New Testament Commentary we read (all emphases, his):


So then, why the legal part of the Torah (see v. 17N)?  Why was it needed at all, if the promise (v. 18) is independent of it?  It was added to the promise—and to the environment of Jewish history in particularly and human history in general—in order to create transgressions, literally, “because of transgressions.”  The latter could mean, “in order to contain and limit transgressions,” in order to keep the Jewish people from becoming so intolerably sinful that they would become irredeemable.  But instead of this, I think it means, as Sha'ul explains in Romans 7, that a key purpose of the commandments was to make Jewish people ever aware of their sin—not that Jews were more sinful than Gentiles, but that, like Gentiles, Jews too “fall short of earning God’s praise” (Ro 3:23).  The Torah “creates” transgressions by containing commandments which people break, indeed, which rebellious human nature perversely wants to break (Ro 7:7-12&NN).  But at least in some cases the guilt they feel causes them to despair of ever earning God’s praise by their own works, so that they come to God in all humility to repent, seek his forgiveness, and trust in him (see Ro 3:19-20&NN, 4:13-15&NN, 5:12-21&N, 7:5-25&NN).

            Until the coming of the “seed,” Yeshua (verse 16), about whom the promise had been made.  From the time of Moshe until the coming of Yeshua, the Torah had a “conscious-raising” role towards sin.  The Torah still exists, is still in this force (see Gal. 6:2), and for those who have not yet come to trust in Yeshua it still has this function.  But for those who do trust in Yeshua and are faithful to him, the Torah need no longer serve in this capacity.  Sha'ul explains why in verses 21-25.

            It, the Torah, was handed down to Moshe on Mount Sinai through angels, a point made three times in the New Testament (see Acts 7:53) and through a human mediator, Moshe.  An often-heard Jewish objection to the New Testament’s teaching is that Jews don’t need Yeshua because they don’t need a mediator between themselves and God.  This verse refutes the claim with its reminder that Moshe himself served as such a mediator—as, for that matter, did the cohanim and the prophets.  See Hebrews 8:6, 10:19-21; 1 Tim. 2:5; Exodus 20:19; Deut. 5:2, 5; and this citation form a Pseudepigraphic work dating from the first or second century B.C.E:


“Draw near to God and to the angel that intercedes for you, for he is a mediator between God and man…” (Testament of Dan 6:2)[37]


I believe that as important a contribution as Stern has made to the Messianic Movement (I currently endorse his Bible translation), with regards to his commentary on this particular verse, this “neutral” view—as opposed to the blatant “negative” one that Christianity holds—that the Torah was given to Isra'el to make her ever aware of her transgressions misses the point of Paul’s argument at this point in his letter.


In a sort of combination of both BibleGateway and Stern, David Guzik, Christian commentator, adds his contribution to the Galatian dilemma:


What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions: Part of the reason the law was given was to restrain the transgression of men through clearly revealing God’s holy standard. God had to give us His standard so we would not destroy ourselves before the Messiah came. But the law is also added because of transgressions in another way; the law also excites man’s innate rebellion through revealing a standard, showing us more clearly our need for salvation in Jesus (Romans 7:5-8).[38]


Many Christians are likely to refer to John Calvin’s popular “three uses of the Law” in an effort to provide an answer to the question I have posed about how to best interpret Galatians 3:19.  And exactly which of Calvin’s three uses of the Law should apply to Christians?  I firmly believe all three apply!  Indeed, most well-meaning Christians also agree with my position on these three uses.  I believe Pastor R.C. Sproul, speaking on Calvin’s commentary to these designations, is representative of the views of mainstream Christianity:


Every Christian wrestles with the question, how does the Old Testament law relate to my life? Is the Old Testament law irrelevant to Christians or is there some sense in which we are still bound by portions of it? As the heresy of antinomianism becomes ever more pervasive in our culture, the need to answer these questions grows increasingly urgent.


The Reformation was founded on grace and not upon law. Yet the law of God was not repudiated by the Reformers. John Calvin, for example, wrote what has become known as the “Threefold Use of the Law” in order to show the importance of the law for the Christian life.


The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.


A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.” The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized.


The third purpose of the law is to reveal what is pleasing to God. As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory.


By studying or meditating on the law of God, we attend the school of righteousness. We learn what pleases God and what offends Him. The moral law that God reveals in Scripture is always binding upon us. Our redemption is from the curse of God’s law, not from our duty to obey it. We are justified, not because of our obedience to the law, but in order that we may become obedient to God’s law. To love Christ is to keep His commandments. To love God is to obey His law.[39]


Praise God that stalwart men of God such as John Calvin point us in the right direction in regards to the Law of God.  Indeed, our opinions of Paul and of his letters should first and foremost be influenced by the raw data found within the totality of Scriptures themselves, since it only stands to reason that historically when his letters were penned, the TaNaKH was the only inspired corpus of literature available to him.  Thus, it is reasonable to presume that Paul would also expect his readers, particularly his Jewish ones, to hold similar views of the TaNaKH as he held to.


Returning to our original examination of Galatians 3:19 we can now begin to draw some concluding thoughts about this verse.  I believe it is very true that the Torah functions in all three of Calvin’s assigned roles, and that every mature Christian—both Jewish and Gentile—should affirm the ongoing relevance of the important functions described by Calvin and those like him.  However, given the immediate context of the following complimentary verses[40], it seems more likely that reminding the readers of what history now designates as Calvin’s three uses of the Law, even though such designations would likely come later, is not the Apostle’s intended meaning here.  Instead, Tim Hegg seems to demonstrate Paul's true, “positive” intentions with his well-written explanation from his Galatians study, quoted at length here.  His comments will draw this section to a close:


            The language of our present verse would indicate that we should read it positively, not negatively. "Why the Torah? It was given (added to the revelation already given in the Abrahamic covenant) to reveal the divine method of dealing with transgressions,” i.e., “for the sake of transgressions.”  Already prejudiced against the Torah, the typical Christian exegesis misses the fact that a great deal of the Torah centers upon the Tabernacle/Temple, priesthood, and sacrifices.  How were the covenant members to deal with the inevitable presence of sin in their personal and corporate lives? The Torah gives the answer: by repentance and acceptance of God’s gracious gift of forgiveness through the payment of a just penalty exemplified in the sacrifice.  It was the Torah that revealed in clear detail the method which God had provided for transgression, and it was this method—the sacrificial system and priesthood that pointed to Messiah, the ultimate sacrifice and means of eternal forgiveness.

            Thus Paul adds: "until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.”  In the Greek, this clause follows second, immediately after "it was added because of transgressions.”  The ESV has the order correct: "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”  The Torah was given in order to reveal God’s gracious manner of dealing with transgressions, i.e., through the death of an innocent substitute.  Paul therefore immediately makes this point by adding, "until the seed would come…." Here, as often, the word “until” (a[cri, achri; Hebrew d;a, ’ad) has the primary meaning of "marker of continuous extent of time up to a point, until.”[41]  The point is that the revelation of the Torah regarding how God provides redemption in the face of transgressions has its focal point in Yeshua.  Once Yeshua had come and offered Himself as God's eternal sacrifice, the ultimate revelation to which the sacrifices pointed had been given.  This is Paul's consistent perspective: the Torah leads to Yeshua (cf. Ro 10:4 and the continuing context of Gal 3).[42]


3:21 - Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.


Comments:  Again, the plain sense of the first part of this verse is cause to understand that the Avrahamic and Moshaic covenants work hand-in-hand with one another.  Torah is not in opposition to Abraham!  As for the second part of this verse, Paul simply restates what he previously challenged the Influencers to consider:  God’s Promise of covenant membership and ultimately blessings in the World to Come are secured by faith, as opposed to being procured through conformity to a man-made ritual supposedly hinted at in the Torah.  The “righteousness” mentioned in this verse is surely equated with positional righteousness.  The verse is not meant to sound as if Sha'ul is denigrating the Torah of God; the Torah is not a salvific document.  Rhetorically, the Apostle challenges all of Judaism to properly understand the role that the Law of HaShem plays in the life of both an unbeliever and a believer.  Torah leads to Mashiach.  But once found, Torah continued to instruct the new covenant member in matters of practical righteousness.


3:23 - Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.


Comments:  In Gal 3:22 the Scripture is personified as “imprison[ing]” all under sin.”  Here the term “faith” is playing a similar role.  Literally the Greek reads “before of-the yet to-be-coming the faith.” Pro; tou' de; ejlqei'n th;n pivstin  How are we to understand Paul’s statement? Who or what is “the faith?”  Is he suggesting that before the coming of Yeshua that there was no one of faith?  Is he advocating a works-based righteousness as ostensibly taught in the Torah before the coming of Yeshua?  In order to understand this verse we must weigh it in light of the previous verse where the phrase “the promise by faith of Jesus Christ” is found.  Paul is teaching the valuable principle that before an individual comes to faith in Yeshua, he is held prisoner by sin and by the Torah that defines such sinful behavior.  To be sure, a person not yet freed from his sinful passions is a prisoner of unrighteousness, a veritable slave of himself if you will.  Paul is describing a state of existence walked by every single human since the fall of Adam.  He is not speaking of a period on planet earth when no faith was extant, and mankind pined away in darkness and “supposed” slavery to the Law awaiting the coming of the Messiah.


More to the point of Sha'ul’s context, however, is the understanding that when he says “held prisoners by the law,” he really means “in subjection to the condemnation brought on by sin, condemnation rightfully administered by Torah,” the Greek phrase hupo nomon uJpo; novmon being rendered as “under the Law” in the KJV.


3:24 - So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.


Comments:  The KJV renders our verse thusly, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”  The Greek word for schoolmaster is paidagogos paidagwgovß.  We gain our English word pedagogue from this Greek word.  Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary (TSBD) defines the word as, “a tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.”[43]  The point of Paul’s argument here is that the Torah is a tool in the “hands” of the Ruach HaKodesh, designed by the Father to lead us to the Teacher of Righteousness.  The Torah is not the Teacher in and of itself.  The Torah is not the goal; Messiah is the goal.  The Torah functions to lead the unregenerate man to faith in the central object of the Torah: Yeshua of Natzeret.  Remember that starting in chapter 3 and verse 19 Paul has been giving us a digression on the purposes and function of the Torah.  His audience, no doubt made up of Jews and Gentiles alike were equally in need of such tutelage until arriving at the moment of personal salvation.  His final statement, “that we might be justified by faith” sends a chilling challenge to his detractors who were opting for justification by ethnic status.  I might add, that a similar challenge awaits the conventional Christian who supposes that once he reaches the Goal (Messiah) that the Torah has ceased to function, a position championed by ostensible support from the very next verse in this chapter!  However, Paul would not agree to dismissing the Torah so easily once one affirms personal faith in Yeshua.  Like a master tool in the hands of the Master Craftsman, the Torah employs many functions, and guiding the boy to the Teacher is only one of them.


3:25 - But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.


Comments:  This verse must be understood within the argument that Sha'ul is making, as well as within the overall context of the Bible itself: faith in Yeshua does not nullify the Torah of HaShem, a truth stated explicitly by Paul in Rom. 3:31.  What then is the verse trying to teach us?  Simply that once an unregenerate man (the boy in the example given above) reaches the desired goal (the Teacher of Righteousness) he no longer needs to be led by a paidagogos, for he has reached his destination!  The paidagogos, having served its intended function now takes on a new role for the boy, one of instructing the lad in matters of life-long sanctification and servitude to the Teacher of Righteousness.  Alternately, the verse may be another way for Paul to be teaching his talmidim that once we have arrived at faith in Yeshua that we are no longer under (a pejorative position in this usage) the schoolmaster, another term for the Law [of condemnation], i.e., “under the Law”=”under a schoolmaster”=shorthand for “under the condemnation of the function of the Law that is reserved for unregenerate sinners.”


3:28, 29 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.


Comments:  In verse 26 of this chapter Paul states that the Galatians are all the children of God, a preview of his continuing argument for genuine adoption and covenant membership by those placing their unreserved trusting faithfulness in the Goal of the Torah, Yeshua the Messiah.  In our present verse he uses universal language equal to the inclusion of every known ethnic, social, and gender-specific set common to the ancient near east: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.  The doublets were a common way of identifying the dualistic breakdown of all men in the eyes of a Jewish person, compare Rom. 1:16; 2:9-11; 3:29, 1 Cor. 7:19.  The term “Greek” (actual Greek word Hellen áEllhn) refers to a non-Jew and is to be understood as synonymous with Gentile.  His point is obvious: the Good News is not subject to ethnocentric Jewish exclusivism, much to the consternation of the Judaisms of his day.  Rather, the old Christian hymnal says it all: “Whosoever will may come.”  In its present syntax the verse is somewhat formulaic: Faith in Messiah=Abraham’s seed=heirs according to the promise found in the very Torah of Moses!  Compare this to the Influencer’s formula: Ethnic status=Abraham’s seed=heirs according to the flesh.


[1] If we were to assume that Paul wrote Hebrews, the count would be as follows: Romans 4:1, 2, 3, 9, 12, 13, 16; 9:7; 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Galatians 3:6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 16, 18, 29; 4:22; Hebrews 2:16; 6:13; 7:1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9; 11:8, 17.

[2] ~'r.b;a-l,a h'wh.y r,ma{Y;w

[3] ~'r.b;a-l,a h'wh.y a'reY;w

[4] ~'r.b;a-l,a r;m'a h'why;w

[5] B'resheet 15:2, 3.

[6] h'wh.y yin]a wy'lea r,ma{Y;w

[7] tyir.B ~'r.b;a-t,a h'wh.y t;r'K a.Wh;h ~w{Y;B

[8] The Hebrew word hnnh “hineh” is explained by Jewish authorities as “…untranslatable. It is often rendered as 'here' or 'behold,' but this is an approximation of an expression that has no equivalent in the Indo-European languages. For this reason, it is often left untranslated. In general, it serves to intensify a statement and to provide emphasis. Here, the intensity denotes that it was a sudden or intense experience.” (Navigating the Bible, online commentary to Genesis 15:4)

[9] Jewish Encyclopedia, pp. 464-465.

[10] hiwh/y y'n{d]a ~'r.b;a r,ma{Y;w

[11] “…unto the LORD, the most High God.” !w{y.l,[ lea h'wh.y-l,a

[12] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary to Genesis (The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 113.

[13] The Scriptures, Explanatory Notes: Emendations by the Sopherim, (Institute for Scripture Research), p. 1214.

[14] Richard Spurlock, Messiah Unveiled (available at

 http://www.bereansonline.org/default.htm, 2005), p. 34-35.

[15] Tim Hegg, Parashah Twelve (torahresource.com, 2003), p. 2.

[16] Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (ESV).

[17] A condition agreed upon by corporate Isra'el herself at the inauguration of the Covenant on Mount Sinai, as recorded by Moshe in Exodus 19:7, 8.

[18] See Deuteronomy 18:15-19, which was understood in Yeshua’s day to be referring to “The Prophet,” namely, Prophet Messiah, as evidenced by the people’s reaction in John 7:40-42.  The 1st century Judaisms also inferred and anticipated the coming of a Righteous One from numerous passages lifted from the Major and Minor Prophets.

[19] Romans 11:19-22.

[20] TSBD, katavra.

[21] James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), pp. 228, with footnote from 235.

[22] NIV, NLT, NET, and GWT use faithfulness for the Hebrew of Hab 2:4, yet not a single one of them uses faithfulness in the Greek of Gal 2:11.

[23] Ibid., p. 233.


[25] http://biblehub.com/greek/1537.htm

[26] http://www.timothyministry.com/2014/07/faith-or-faithfulness.html

[27] http://www.thepaulpage.com/files/Shorter_Galatians.pdf.

[28] Ibid.

[29] The aorist is said to be "simple occurrence" or "summary occurrence", without regard for the amount of time taken to accomplish the action. This tense is also often referred to as the 'punctiliar' tense. 'Punctiliar' in this sense means 'viewed as a single, collective whole,' a "one-point-in-time" action, although it may actually take place over a period of time. In the indicative mood the aorist tense denotes action that occurred in the past time, often translated like the English simple past tense (http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/verbs1.htm#AORIST).

[30] Deuteronomy Chapters 27, 28.

[31] Romans 6:23.

[32] 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[33] James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), pp. 228-229.

[34] Hebrews 13:12.

[35] Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, Torah Rediscovered (FFOZ, 1996), p. 33.


[37] David H. Stern, The Jewish New Testament Commentary-Galatians (Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992), p. 550.

[38] David Guzik, Galatians 3-The Christian, Law, and Living by Faith (David Guzik, 2001) http://enduringword.com/commentaries/4803.htm

[39] https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/threefold_law.html

[40] The presence of angels and a mediator are not pejorative marks against the Torah, as many Christian teachers presume.  Rather, in the 1st century Jewish worldview, theses elements are signs that God regarded his Torah as high and lofty enough to warrant accompaniment by angels, and to be safeguarded by the great Moshe, the one who delivered our people from Egypt.

[41] BDAG, a[cri.

[42] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (torahresource.com, 2002), p. 121.

[43] Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary (TSBD), paidagwgovß.