Ver. 19. Τί οὖν ὁ νόμος; etc. ‘Wherefore, then, the law? It was added because of the transgressions, until the seed shall have come to whom the promise has been made, being appointed through angels in the hand of a mediator. 20. Now a mediator is not of one; but God is one. 21. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid! For if a law were given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been of the law. 22. But, on the contrary, the Scripture shut up all under sin, in order that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23. But before the faith came we were kept in ward, shut up under the law for the faith which was going to be revealed. 24. So that the law has become our pedagogue in respect to Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25. But now that the faith has come, we are no longer under a pedagogue. 26. For ye are all sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus.’
This section respecting the law comes in as a natural sequel to the line of argumentation which had been pursued by the apostle from the beginning of the chapter. In that his object was to prove that salvation or blessing was now, and had always been, of promise—of promise as unfolding the free grace of God to sinful men, and by them apprehended and rested on in faith; it had been so in the case of Abraham hundreds of years before the law was given at Sinai—nor for Abraham as an individual merely, but as the head of a family, of Gentile as well as of Jewish origin, who were all destined along with himself, and in the same manner, to receive the blessing; and the law, which came so long after, could not by possibility disannul the provisions thus secured by promise to the believing; least of all could they be secured by the law, which carries with it a curse to as many as are under its dominion, because they have all violated its precepts (Gal_3:10-11). But if the promise did so much, it might seem as if the law were disparaged; hence the question that follows.
Ver. 19. ‘Wherefore then the law?’ Literally, ‘What then the law?’ viz., What does it do? What is its place and object? The τί, therefore, may be taken in its usual sense, and the passage regarded as elliptical; but, as to the import, it is all one as if it were put for διὰ τί, wherefore. The answer is, ‘It was added because of the transgressions’—τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν. Does this mean in their interest, for their sake? So Hilgenfeld, Meyer, Jowett, Alford, Lightfoot (Meyer, ‘It was added in favour, zu Gunsten, of transgressions’; Lightfoot, still more strongly, ‘to create transgressions’). But to this view, Ellicott justly objects, that ‘it ascribes a purpose [viz., in respect to the existence of transgressions] directly to God;’ it would imply not the fact merely, that by means of the law, and, as Paul elsewhere states, by reason of the weakness or perversity of the flesh, (Rom_7:5; Rom_7:8; Rom_8:3.) transgressions were multiplied, but that the production of these was one of the purposes for which it was given—which seems to come very near making God the intentional author of sin. Alford explains, that St Paul is here treating of the law in its propaedeutic office, as tending to prepare the way for Christ, and says that this office consisted ‘in making sin into transgression, so that what was before not a transgression might now become one’—surely a somewhat arbitrary distinction, as if sin and transgression (παράβασις) differed materially from each other, and what were the one might not also be the other. Neither Paul’s writings generally, nor the statements in this particular section, afford any ground for such a distinction; for what is here called transgression, and as such is associated with the law, is presently called sin (ver. 22), as it is also elsewhere. (Rom_5:13; Rom_5:20; Rom_7:7, etc.) And the apostle John expressly identifies sin and transgression: ‘He that committeth sin, transgresseth also the law (τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ, does lawlessness, violation of law=transgression); for sin is transgression’ (violation of law). (1Jn_3:-4.) To speak of the law as creating either sin or transgression, is to present moral evil as something arbitrary or factitious; consequently something that might, and, but for the creative power of formal law, should, not have come into existence. The earliest extant interpretation, the one adopted by the Greek commentators, and by the Fathers generally, takes the expression of the apostle in a quite opposite sense, that the law was added for the purpose of preventing or restraining the spirit of transgression. Thus Chrysostom, ‘The law was given because of transgressions; that is, that the Jews might not be allowed to live without check, and glide into the extreme of wickedness, but that the law might be laid on them like a bridle, disciplining, moulding them, restraining them from transgression, if not in regard to all, yet certainly in regard to some of the commandments; so that no small profit accrues from the law.’ To the same effect Jerome, ‘Lex transgressiones prohibitura successit,’ referring to 1Ti_1:9; also Occum. Theoph., with a great multitude of modern commentators—Erasmus, Grotius, Morus, Rosenmüller, Olshausen, De Wette, etc. This view, however, is rejected by recent scholars, as attributing to χάριν a sense which is without support—a kind of practically reversed meaning of the natural one—importing, not in favour, but in contravention of, opposed to. It is further alleged, that the sense thus yielded, if it were grammatically tenable, would not suit the connection; as the apostle’s object in the whole of this part of the epistle is to shew, not what benefit might be derived from the law in the conflict with sin, but rather what power sin derives from the law. There is, undoubtedly, force in both of these objections—though, in Regard to the former, the readiness and unanimity with which the Greek expositors ascribed such an import to χάριν, may fairly be taken to indicate, that the sense was not altogether strange to them, and, if rarely found in written compositions, may have been not unknown in colloquial usage. But it appears better, with Ellicott and others, to take χάριν in the somewhat general sense of propter, causa, on account of—a sense it un questionably bears. (See Liddell and Scott, Host and Palm, on the word.) The sense of the passage will then be, the law was given on account of the proneness of the people to transgress; pointing merely to the fact, but with a certain implication in the very manner of expression, that the evil would not thereby be cured, that transgressions would become but the more conspicuous. For the law of itself could not repress the tendency, or diminish the number of transgressions; on the contrary, its tendency was to render them both more palpable and more aggravated—while still, if contemplated and used according to the design of God, as an handmaid to the covenant of promise, it would have helped most effectually to promote the cause of holiness, and consequently to repress and limit the manifestation of sin. But the apostle is here viewing it, as the Jews of his day generally viewed it, and as the Judaizing teachers in Galatia were evidently doing, in its separate character and working—as a great institute commanding one class of things to be done, and the opposite class not to be done—an institute, therefore, taking to do with transgressions, on account of which it actually came into being, but which it served rather to expose and bring to light, than to put down. Thus the law was given on account of transgressions.
And the apostle subjoins a definition of the period up to which the law in this objective and covenant form was to continue: ‘until the seed shall have come to whom the promise has been made’—the form of the sentence to be explained from the circumstance, that the apostle puts himself in the position of one at the giving of the law, and from that as his starting-point looks forward to the moment in the future, when the seed shall have appeared in whom the promise was to reach its fulfilment. The meaning is, that while the covenant of promise was in a provisional state, travelling on to its accomplishment, the law was needed and was given as an outstanding revelation; but when the more perfect state of things pointed to in the promise entered, the other would cease to occupy the place which had previously belonged to it. A clause of some difficulty is added as to the spiritual agencies entrusted with its introduction, ‘being ordained through angels (ordered or enjoined through the medium of angels), in the hand of a mediator.’ Very much the same thought is expressed by Stephen on his trial, when he says the Israelites received the law εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων, at the ordination (according to the arrangements) of angels; and again in Heb_2:2, where the law is characterized as ‘the word spoken by angels.’ It is rather singular that in these passages such prominence should have been given to the ministration of angels at the giving of the law, while in the history no notice is taken of them, nor any allusion even to the presence of angels in connection with the law, except the passing one in the blessing of Moses on the tribes: ‘The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints (literally, from amid myriads of holiness); from His right hand went a fiery law for them.’ (Deu_33:2.) The presence of myriads at the giving of the law is referred to also in Psa_68:17; and their mediating agency is more distinctly expressed by Josephus (ἡμῶν δὲ τὰ κάλλιστα τῶν δογμάτων καὶ ὀσιώτατα τῶν τοῖς νόμος δἰ ἀγγέλων παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ μαθόντωμ, Ant. 5:5, sec. 3), and by Philo (‘De Somn.,’ p. 642, M.). But how this change in the mode of representation came about, or what might be its precise object, we are unable to say. The passages in Old Testament Scripture referred to, speak merely of the presence of angelic hosts as attendants on the Lord at Sinai, but say nothing of their active service in communicating the law to Moses; throughout Old Testament Scripture it is simply from the Lord that Moses is said to have received the law; and the introduction of an angelic ministry as mediating between the two, could scarcely have been thought of for the purpose of enhancing the glory of the law, since it appeared to remove this a step farther from its Divine source. Accordingly, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the ministration through angels is regarded as a mark of relative inferiority, when compared with the direct teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ; but when not so compared, as in the speech of Stephen, or in the passages of Philo and Josephus, it is fitly enough associated with the ideas of peculiar majesty and sacredness. Here, I am inclined to think with Meyer and Alford, that the mention of angels cannot justly be under stood in a depreciatory sense; for the covenant of promise itself, as established with Abraham, which is the more immediate object of comparison with the law, was also connected with angelic administration more expressly so connected than the giving of the law. (Gen_22:11.) The fact alone of an angelic medium is stated by the apostle, as a matter generally known and believed—though how it should have been worked into the beliefs of the people, while Old Testament Scripture is so silent upon the subject, we have no specific information; all we can say is, that it had come somehow to be understood. As to the mediator, in whose hands the law was established at Sinai, there can be no reason able doubt that Moses was meant; he literally bore in his hand to the people, from the mount, the tables that contained its fundamental principles. (Exo_31:18; Exo_32:15.) Philo and the Rabbinical Jews so regarded Moses; (See Schöttgen and Wetstein here.) the Fathers (Basil and Theodoret excepted) mistook the meaning of the apostle when, under mediator, they understood him to point to Christ; and they are followed by several modern interpreters of note—Calvin, Pareus, Calov, etc. But the other view is so much the more natural one, and is now so generally acquiesced in, that there is no need for enlarging on it. In the mention of a mediator, however, I see no ground for discovering (with Ellicott) an intentional note of inferiority in the law as compared with the covenant of promise. A mark of difference it certainly formed, but we have no reason to think of any thing more.
Ver. 20. This point of difference is here more distinctly exhibited: ‘Now a mediator is not of one; but God is one. The passage is somewhat famous for the variety of interpretations to which it has given rise. (This circumstance, however, has been very loosely stated, and in a way fitted to produce erroneous impressions. Ellicott notes that it is said to have received interpretations ‘which positively exceed 400.’ Jowett is more explicit, and affirms, ‘It has received 430 interpretations;’ but in what sense or on what authority nothing is indicated. Lightfoot, however, is more moderate, and speaks of only 250 or 300; but he, equally with the others, conveys the impression that the interpretations all differ from each other, which is by no means the case. It is apparently a remark of Winer, in his Excursus on the passage, which has occasioned this manner of speech. He says that some had set forth, in separate publications, varias et antiquorum et recentioram theologorum explicationes (ducentae fere sunt et quinquaginta); and he refers in a note particularly to a person of the name of Keil who had done so, and Weigaud, who had brought together 243 interpretations. But these various expositions were not all different; there were so many interpreters, but nothing like so many interpretations. Winer himself coincides with Keil; and among English interpreters, a great many are substantially agreed. If the same mode were adopted with other passages, there is scarcely a text of any difficulty in the New Testament, on which hundreds of interpretations might not be produced.) A very considerable number, however, are manifestly fanciful and arbitrary; and among recent commentators of note there has been a substantial agreement in regard to the leading thoughts presented in the words, a difference chiefly discovering itself in the application. ‘A mediator is not of one’—a general proposition; the office from its very nature bespeaks more than one party, between whom it is the part of the mediator to negotiate—hence (though this is left to be inferred, suggested rather than indicated), involving a certain contingency as to the fulfilment of the contract, since this depends upon the fidelity of both parties engaging in it. ‘But God is one,’—the God, namely, who gave to Abraham the promise; lie gave it of His own free and sovereign goodness, therefore it depends for its fulfilment solely on Him, and as such is sure to the seed, since the oneness which belongs to His being, equally belongs to His character and purposes. That sort of distance, or diversity of state and mind, implied in the work of mediation, is totally awanting here; every thing hangs on the will and efficient power of the God of the promise. But then the thought naturally arises, that to bring in, subsequent to the promise, a covenant requiring mediation, and consequently involving dependence on other wills than one, is fraught with danger to the promise, and renders its fulfilment after all uncertain. This is the thought which the apostle raises in the form of a question in the next verse, and answers negatively by pointing to the different purposes for which law and promise were respectively given.
Ver. 21. ‘Is the law then against the promises of God? (promises in the plural, with reference, not only to the frequent repetitions of the word of promise, Gen_12:7, Gen_15:5, Gen_15:18, Genesis 17, 22, etc., but also to the different blessings exhibited in it). God forbid! for if a law were given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been of the law.’ The expression, νόμος ὁ δυνάμενος (the article with a participle following the noun serving to define and limit the sense in which the idea in the noun is to be understood, Winer, Gr., sec. 20, 4), means precisely a law which could, or, a law such as could, possess the power of giving life. The apostle had already said that the covenant of grace or promise bestowed life (Gal_3:11), and in the previous chapter had enlarged upon it with special reference to his own experience; and he now adds, that if this inestimable boon for a perishing world could have been obtained by a legal medium, this would certainly have been chosen; for in that case man would only have been enjoined to do what lay within the reach of his capacities and powers, and the humiliation, and shame, and agony of the cross had been unnecessary. But the thing was impossible; to give life to a sinful, perishing world is essentially Divine work; if it comes at all it must come as the fruit of God’s free grace and quickening energy. Whatever ends, therefore, the law might be intended to serve, this could not possibly be one of them; and to look to it for such a purpose was entirely to mistake its design, and seek from it what it was powerless to yield. Not, however, after the fashion of Jowett, who represents the meaning thus: ‘The powerlessness of the law was the actual fact; in modern language it had become effete; it belonged to a different state of the world; nothing spiritual or human remained in it.’ What the apostle means is, that, for the object here in view, it never was otherwise: as regards life-giving, the law in its very nature was powerless.
Ver. 22. ‘But on the contrary (ἀλλὰ, a strong adversative, and requiring more than a simple but to bring out its force) the Scripture shut up all under sin’—συνέκλεισεν, not shut together, as remarked by Meyer, Ellicott, Alford, against Bengel, as if the συν had respect to the numbers embraced in the action, and whom it coerced into one and the same doomed condition. It merely strengthens the meaning of the verb, so as to indicate the completeness of the action—the closing in, or shutting up under sin was, so to speak, on every side. And this is further strengthened by the τὰ πάντα, in the neuter, as if he would say, men and all about them. (Elsewhere, however, he uses the masculine, in a very similar declaration.) (Rom_11:32.) The act is justly represented as done by the Scripture, not by the law—for the law by itself merely required holiness, and forbade or condemned sin; but the Scriptures of the Old Testament, or God in these, had (as already indicated, Gal_2:16, Gal_3:10-11) pronounced all to be guilty of sin, and so had, in a manner, shut them up without exception under this, as their proper state or condition—marked them off as violators of law. Not, however, for the purpose of leaving them there, but ‘that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.’ The word promise is here evidently used concretely for all that the word of promise contained—the blessing of life and salvation; which is again said to be ‘of faith,’ ἐκ πίστεως, out of this as the source whence it is derived, but of faith as related to Jesus Christ, and finding all its sufficiency in Him. And to render the matter still more explicit, to shut out the possibility of the good being supposed to come through any other channel than faith, it is added, ‘to them that have faith,’ or believe—faith’s promised blessing is realized simply through the exercise of faith.
Ver. 22. ‘But before the faith came’—faith, that is, in the specific sense just mentioned, but with reference more particularly to its objective reality in Christ, with which it is in a manner identified—‘we were kept in ward (such is the exact and proper meaning of ἐφρουρούμεθα, Vulg. custodiebamur; kept ὥστε ἐν τειχίω τινί, Chrysostom), shut up under the law for the faith which was going to be revealed.’ The apostle here associates himself with believers in legal times, personifies the entire body and succession of such, and represents them as in the hands of a sort of jailer, who by reason of their transgressions had them at his mercy, or rather in strict and jealous surveillance, waiting the time of their deliverance, when it should be given them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. So far from being able to set them free from their guilt and liability to punishment, the law was their perpetual monitor in respect to these—bound these upon them, but only that they might the more earnestly and believingly look for the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, as the only way of escape. The εἰς, for—for the faith which was going to be revealed—is to be taken ethically, denoting the aim or destination which the law, in this respect, was intended to serve: ‘to the intent, that we should pass over into the state of faith.’ (Meyer.) And the μέλλουσαν, as Meyer also notes, stands before the πίστιν, an inversion of the usual order, because the subsequent manifestation of faith in the future was set over against the existing state, in which it was still wanting.
Ver. 24. The apostle now draws the proper conclusion from this wardship under law, ‘so that the law has become (γέγονεν) our pedagogue for (in respect to) Christ, in order that we might be justified by faith.’ The rendering in the authorized version, ‘our schoolmaster,’ does certainly not give the exact idea of παιδαγωγὸς; for it suggests simply teaching or instruction, which was not properly the part of the ancient pedagogue, but that rather of the slave, who had to take charge of the boy on his way to and from the school, and to watch over his behaviour when at play. The pedagogue was the guardian and moral trainer of the boy till he arrived at puberty. And this corresponds to the office of the law, which, in the respect now under consideration, was not so much to teach as to discipline, to restrain, and direct to the one grand aim—namely, Christ, ‘the end of the law for righteousness.’ (Rom_10:4.) The old Latin translation, however, gave the same sense as our English Testament; and Ambrose refers to it with approbation: Paidagogus enim, sicut etiam interpretatio Latina habet, doctor est pueri; qui utique imperfectae aetati non potest perfecta adhibere praecepta, quae sustinere non queat. (Ep. Classis, II. lxxi. 2.) Such a rendering, and the comment founded on it, may fairly be regarded as evidence, that a certain amount of instruction was not unusually communicated by the pedagogue to the boy under his charge—for Ambrose could scarcely be ignorant whether such was the case or not; but this was certainly not the predominant idea; and, as applied by Ambrose, it serves to give a wrong turn to the allusion here. Instruction, of course, respecting moral truth and duty, was inseparable from the law; but it is the strict, binding, and imperative form in which this was given that the apostle has in view, and, consequently, not so much the amount of knowledge imparted, as the restraining and disciplinary yoke it laid upon those subject to it. The law would not have men to rest in itself, but to go on to Christ, where alone they could get what they needed, and enjoy the liberty which is suitable to persons in the maturity of spiritual life.
Vers. 25, 26. But now that the faith has come, we are no longer under a pedagogue; for ye are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,’—the advance from the nonage state, which required the services of a pedagogue, to that of comparative maturity, in which the youth is able to take charge of himself. Ye are sons, υἱοὶ—not τέκνα, merely, not even παίδες, in a mere boyish condition—but sons, with the full powers and privileges that belong to such; and this ‘through the faith in Christ Jesus,’ that is, through the faith which rests in Christ, and brings the soul into living fellowship with Him. In plain terms, the law as an external bond and discipline is gone, because as partakers of Christ we have risen to a position in which it is no longer needed—the Spirit of the law is within.