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Galatians 3:19 – 22

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer (detail), 1885


The Early Epistles—

Galatians 3:19–22

Law as temporary addition,
No possible escape

W: hy then the law?  It was appended because of transgression until the seed should come to whom the promse referred, and it was conveyed by angels through an intermediary. 20 (Now an intermediary is not fore one, but God is one.)

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid! for if a law had been given which could have imparted life, then righteousness would have indeed been by the law.

22 But Scripture consigned all under sin so that the promise, based on faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Critical Notes


(3:19) appended — The law came as an adjunct, as an addition..

because of trasngressions — literally, “for the sake of transgressions.”  The law either restrained transgression or resulted in more transgressions.  One thing is certain.  Law did not solve the problem of sin.

(3:21) promise referred— (Perfect tense) with emphasis on a resulting state.  The promise, though made long ago, was still in forece.  The law was added to the promise, bu could not cancel what God has said to Abraham.

conveyed by angels— ordered or directed by angels.  The word is often used in a forensic or legal sense.  A law is ordered or enacted: the conditions of a will are directed or executed.  Compare; Deut. 33:32 (LXX).  Acts 7:53; Heb.2:2

(3:20) There have been over 300 interpretations of this verse, but the words are simple enough and the train of thought is hardly that obscure. (The sentence indeed may be an ellipsis, but the missing words do not disrupt the natural coherence and unity.

The word mediator implies two things about the law — the law came indirectly from God, and the law was like a contract in that had stipulations contingencies.  The law mutually depended on two parties.  But the promise came directly from God, and was unconditionally given.  God acted alone.

(3:21) Now If a lay had been given — The law, of coruse, did not have this property.  The sentence is conditional, and contrary to actual fact.

(3:21) But— a small word but an important one.  the strong adversative (alla) here is the actual fact.  The law did not impart life, but his what it did do, consigned, shut in, enclosed.

consigned— used of fish caught in a net (Lk. 5:6), of men confined in a prison with no possible escape.  Compare: “Jericho was straitly shut up” (Josh. 6:1).


Literary Summary



(3:19-22) The purpose of the law can be seen by what it did.  The transgression associated with the law ultimately brought about the blessings realized by faith in Christ.  This is why the law was added to the promise.  In addition, the law was temporary and was indirectly given from God.  Be design the law was inferior in every way to the promise God had given earlier.

No law (not even the one given by God) can impart life.  That is not the function of law.  Law condemns; it brings sin and makes escape impossible.  The law brought sin, but the promise brought Christ.

Questions for Further Study

  1. Another feature of the law was that it was meant to be temporary.  God had so designed it.  In your own words trace the argument Paul is making.
  2. The Judaizers apparently thought of the law as one of the crowning achievements of God.  How would you have answered them/
  3. What could the law not do?  What actually did the law do?
  4. Sin does not have to dominate our life.  There is an alternative.  Can you explain/
  5. How might the gospel be turned into a legalistic code?

James Sanders