Gal. 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
19 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.
20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Last month I wrote about the Epistle to the Hebrews, trying to lay to rest the argument that the sacrifice of Christ abolishes the moral law of God, as some Christians contend. I showed, by the grace of God, that the use of the expression 'the law' in the Epistle refers in its context to the sacrificial and ceremonial law given to
through Moses, and not to the moral and civil law. In fact, we saw that Hebrews makes no sense if it were the moral and civil law which has passed away, rather than the sacrificial and ceremonial law only.
I suggested that the early Jewish believers, under Roman occupation, would be clinging to everything which made them 'Jewish' of which the most important aspect was the law of ceremonies and sacrifices. When the expression 'the law' was used, their religious life was what they would be thinking of. It would be to misunderstand the intention and context to suggest that every Old Testament commandment had been swept away by Jesus Christ, or that such was the message that the first readers took away from it.
THE LAW POINTS TO CHRIST
This month I should like to look at a similar misunderstanding of the Epistle to the Galatians. Once again, some Christians who do not care for the commandments of God propose that faith in Christ has abolished the moral (let alone the civil) law. They say 'the schoolmaster' is the moral law, that it brought us to Christ, and we are no longer under it now that faith has come. I am going to show that in fact the 'the schoolmaster' is the sacrificial and ceremonial law.
Matthew Henry says this, in his Concise Commentary on the passage: 'The law did not teach a living, saving knowledge; but, by its rites and ceremonies, especially by its sacrifices, it pointed to Christ, that they might be justified by faith. And thus it was, as the word properly signifies, a servant, to lead to Christ, as children are led to school by servants who have the care of them, that they might be more fully taught by Him the true way of justification and salvation, which is only by faith in Christ.'
There is no way in which the moral and civil laws of God point to Christ. 'Thou shalt not steal' does not prophecy a Saviour. It is only the sacrificial law, hinted at as early as Genesis 3:21 and codified in the sacrifices and ceremonies of the last four books of the Pentateuch, from Exodus to Deuteronomy, that point the way to the ultimate once-for-all and perfect sacrifice of the Son of God.
WHICH LAW WAS 430 YEARS AFTER THE COVENANT?
Let us first look at the statement in verse 17: 'The covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul..' Paul shows the Galatians that the true children of Abraham, the heirs to the Abrahamic covenant, blessing and promise, are the true believers, both Jew and Gentile: 'Know ye therefore that they which be of faith, the same are the children of Abraham' (Gal. 3:7).
But which law was given 430 years after the covenant? Was it the moral law? The fact is, God made His covenant with Abraham 430 years before He revealed to Moses the sacrifices, rites and ceremonies by which the people of
were to make atonement to God. The moral and civil law was already in place at the time of Abraham and indeed well before. Those of us following the Christian Voice Lamplight Bible Reading plan have read in Genesis and are now reading in the pages of Job that God's laws against adultery, idolatry, theft, murder, sodomy, false witness, breaking a promise, keeping back a man's wages, robbery, violence and covetousness were well understood at the time of the Patriarchs and centuries before.
We read in Genesis and Job of respect for elders and fathers, of care for the poor, about weights and measures, of not favouring persons in judgment, of inheritance, even of the obligation of men to marry their dead brother's widow to keep his name alive. Eliphaz says to Job: 'Receive, I pray thee, the law from His mouth' (Job 22:22). Even though he had miscast Job as a sinner, his suggestion makes no sense if the moral law of God was not already perfectly well known.
THE SABBATH DATES FROM CREATION
When we go back even further, we read that the law against murder was instituted by God after the flood, together with the judicial death penalty. We read of the law of marriage from creation, and the law of the Sabbath.
On the latter subject, Bishop J C Ryle wrote: 'I hold it to be of primary importance to have this point clearly settled in our minds. Here is the very rock on which many of the enemies of the Sabbath make shipwreck. They tell us that the day is "a mere Jewish ordinance," and that we are no more bound to keep it holy than to offer sacrifice. They proclaim to the world that the observance of the Lord's Day rests upon nothing but Church authority, and cannot be proved by the Word of God. Now I believe that those who say such things are entirely mistaken.
'My own Firm conviction is, that the observance of a Sabbath Day is part of the Eternal Law of God. It is not a mere temporary Jewish ordinance. It is not a man‑made institution of priest‑craft. It is not an unauthorized imposition of the Church. It is one of the everlasting rules which God has revealed for the guidance of all mankind. It is a rule that many nations without the Bible have lost sight of, and buried, like other rules, under the rubbish of superstition and heathenism. But it was a rule intended to be binding on all the children of Adam.' ('Sabbath - a day to keep' - article by J C Ryle)
The Editor-in-Chief of the King James Bible translators held the same view: 'We hold that all ceremonies are ended and abrogated by Christ's death: but the Sabbath is not.' (Bishop Andrewes on the Moral Law, 1642.) Both men, centuries apart, made a distinction between God's eternal moral and civil law and His temporary sacrificial and ceremonial.
LAW GIVEN TO NOAH FOR ALL MANKIND
The Jews believe God's covenant with Noah and for all mankind for eternity included prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, incest and adultery, eating meat with the blood in it, robbery, injustice and homicide. It is clear that respect for parents and not uncovering the nakedness of kin were also both part of what Noah's sons Shem and Japheth, at any rate, understood was righteous behaviour before the Lord.
Having given the law to Noah and his sons, the Lord divided the world into its constituent nations in order to administer the law. Sometimes it has to be explained to Christians what everyone else finds obvious: nations need laws to govern their people and to bring peace and order to the earth and these laws need to be built on a moral foundation of some kind. For that matter, the earth itself needs order. The prophet Isaiah says:
'The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the Laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.' (Isa. 24:5)
EVERLASTING COVENANT FROM THE BEGINNING
So there is an 'everlasting covenant' within which is an everlasting law. If we look at Proverbs chapter 8, we see the wisdom of God personified. In a remarkable passage from verse 22, we read:
Prov. 8:22 The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
23 I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
29 When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
32 Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.
We are reading in this passage that God set up the physical laws that govern the universe before calling it all into being. Without those laws being already in place, the creation of the heavens and the earth would have been impossible. Without the law of gravity, to take the simplest example, everything would have drifted apart. God had - and has - set up His laws to govern His creation. The laws of God which govern human society, the context says to me, date from the same time, from pre-creation, and reflect just as much the character of God as do the physical laws. Funnily enough, we do not hear of anyone proposing that Jesus has abolished the law of gravity.
With the antiquity of the moral and civil law settled, we can turn to Gal 3:24. Many evangelicals say from: 'The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ,' that the Holy Spirit uses the moral law in evangelical conversion to drag us like a schoolmaster to the feet of Jesus. They then say that, post-conversion, the convert has no further need of the moral law. It may well be experientially true that a person's knowledge of his sinfulness awakens his need for a Saviour, but this is not the subject of Paul's argument in Galatians.
JUDAISERS WERE URGING CIRCUMCISION
The main purpose of the Epistle is to argue against the Judaisers who were trying to persuade the Galatians to be circumcised and keep the Jewish ceremonial law. Paul is arguing that faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ makes Jewish ceremonies redundant. He singles out circumcision because the Galatians were being told a heresy that they could not be proper Christians without it. The law, with its apparatus of temple, priest and sacrifice, 'was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come.' This only makes sense if the 'law' in question is the sacrificial and ceremonial law which could not give life in the way faith in Jesus gives life.
So 'the schoolmaster,' which the Galatians were not and had never been under, is the temporary ordinance of the sacrificial and ceremonial law, which was, as the Apostle says, added 430 years after Abraham, at Mount Sinai. This prophetic regime was entrusted to Old Testament
to safeguard it until Christ should come and fulfil its purpose and design.
The 'coming' of faith in the apostle's argument denotes a passage from the Mosaic to the New Testament economy. Rather than being an individual experience as a sinner coming to the Saviour, it is a moment in history when the ceremonial and sacrificial law gave way to the regime of faith. Not that the Old Testament saints had not had faith, it is just that faith in Christ's sacrificial work replaced the daily and yearly 'works of the law' of the priest. Then the 'schoolmaster' handed over his office to Christ. Knowing that, this earlier verse now makes perfect sense:
Gal. 2:16: Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
THE WORKS OF THE FLESH
Circumcision becomes the totem issue at stake in the Epistle. If the Galatians were to become circumcised, they would become subject to do 'the whole law' (Gal 5:2-4). Christ would be of no effect to them because they would be back with the temple sacrifices. The expression 'the whole law' emphatically refers to the sacrificial and ceremonial and not to the moral and civil. We know this from the whole context of the letter, and even from the context of chapter 5 itself.
No sooner has been telling the Galatians not to get mixed up in 'the whole law' than he is warning them against things forbidden in the moral and civil law: