Monday: “Kept Under Law”
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The Ten Commandments

In Galatians 3:23, Paul writes that “before faith came, we were kept under the law.” By “we” Paul is referring to the Jewish believers in the Galatian churches. They are the ones acquainted with the law, and Paul has been speaking to them in particular since Galatians 2:15. This can be seen in the contrast between the “we” in Galatians 3:23 and the “you” in Galatians 3:26 (ESV). 1

Galatians 3:23 reads, “Before faith came”; but in the literal Greek it reads, “before the faith” came. Because Paul is contrasting the place of the law before and after Christ (Gal. 3:24), “the faith” is most likely a reference to Jesus Himself and not a reference to Christian faith in general.

Paul says the Jews were kept “under the law” before the coming of Christ. What does he mean by “under the law”? Compare Gal. 3:22, 23 with Rom. 6:14, 151 Cor. 9:20Gal. 4:4, 5, 215:18.



Paul uses the phrase “under the law” twelve times in his letters. Depending on its context, it can have a couple of different connotations.

1. “Under the law” as an alternative way of salvation (Gal. 4:21). The opponents in Galatia were trying to gain life-giving righteousness by obedience. However, as Paul has already made clear, this is impossible (Gal. 3:21, 22). Paul later will even point out that, by desiring to be under the law, the Galatians were really rejecting Christ(Gal. 5:2–4).

2. “Under the law” in the sense of being under its condemnation (Rom. 6:14, 15).Because the law cannot atone for sin, the violation of its demands ultimately results in condemnation. This is the condition in which all human beings find themselves. The law acts as a prison warden, locking up all who have violated it and brought upon themselves the sentence of death. As we will see in tomorrow’s lesson, the use of the word guard (Gal. 3:23, NKJV) indicates that this is what Paul means by “under the law” in this passage.

A related Greek word, ennomos, normally translated “under the law,” literally means “within the law” and refers to living within the requirements of the law through union with Christ (1 Cor. 9:21). By “the works of the law,” that is, by trying to keep the law apart from Christ, it is impossible to be justified, because only those who through faith are righteous will live (Gal. 3:11). This truth doesn’t nullify the law; it shows only that the law can’t give us eternal life. It’s way too late for that.

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Monday: “Kept Under Law” — 12 Comments

  1. Paul was forced to make a difference between law and grace because the Jewish Christians which expressed in this way. But in reality is not correct to make a dichotomy between law and grace because the law was given by grace of God. It must be taken together.

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  2. Neacsu Cosmin says:
    November 7, 2011 at 12:15 am
    "Paul was forced to make a difference between law and grace because the Jewish Christians which expressed in this way. But in reality is not correct to make a dichotomy between law and grace because the law was given by grace of God. It must be taken together."

    This is an excellent comment on the mind and character of God. Especially in the O.T. the word "law" included every aspect of God's kingdom. "Law" simply means, "God's kingdom" or government.

    So, when David says, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul", he is simply saying, "God's government is perfect......."

    David sees the moral law and ceremonial law working in perfect harmony to reveal God's kingdom. We call it law and gospel, or law and grace, but is all one thing in the mind of David.

    We as SDA's especially call it two laws as EGW does for the purpose of defining the function of each. And this is fine, if we understand that the two laws work together to make up a complete whole.

    Or, as the O.T. does, we can call it one law divided into two parts. It does not matter if we call it two laws that make up a complete whole, or one law divided into two parts, as long as we understand the function one way or the other.

    It is still law and grace, justice and mercy. Neither negates the other. The moral law is in full force one hundred per cent of the time, and so grace is in effect one hundred per cent of the time.

    By lowering the law in its meaning and application, we diminish grace in the same way. Neither does Paul attack and negate the principles of the "law of intercession" (ceremonial law), he simply shows this law is now in effect by way of the ministry of Christ in heaven. So Paul says the ceremonial law was "added" until the seed should come, and is now "subtracted".

    It was simply a type of the ministry of Christ. But does not, and could never be applied to the moral law, for it was not a "type" of anything. It is in fact, the foundation of God's kingdom and the revelation of the mind and character of God. It functions forever and is even applicable to the unfallen angels.

    Bill Sorensen

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  3. Bill, I do believe I agree with you in the way you stated things here. :)

    When we diminish the Law, we diminish grace. The Law is the great standard of righteousness, because it is a description of the character of God. That said, I don't believe that the "Ten Commandments" is the eternal law of God. But the Ten Commandments are a statement of God's Law adapted to the human condition. (For instance, the angels certainly don't need a law against adultery. ;) )

    I believe Ellen White stated it best when she wrote,

    In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which "seeketh not her own" has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto. (Desire of Ages, p. 20)

    Considering only the exact statements or the "letter" of the Ten Commandments is actually "diminishing" the Law. This Law is most perfectly revealed in the character of Jesus Christ (Isa 42:21), and it is only as we allow His Spirit to rule our lives that we can in any way be "keeping" the Law.

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    • The Ten Commandment law is the same law that existed in Heaven. It is not an adaptation. Adultery goes beyond what we experience as humans-unfaithfulness to the marriage vow. It also has a spiritual meaning-many times God told his people that had played the harlot and committed adultery-they had left their husband God and had gone after other husbands-idols. The angels that sinned in heaven committed spiritual adultery. Think of the spirit of the law and not only the letter of the law.

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      • Norma, the problem with your explanation is that the first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. The last six deal with our relationship with each other. And the commandment against adultery clearly deals with sexual relationships, but angels are not sexual beings.

        That marriage can be used as a type of our relationship to God does not negate the actual meaning of the commandment.

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  4. Inge said......

    "Considering only the exact statements or the “letter” of the Ten Commandments is actually “diminishing” the Law. This Law is most perfectly revealed in the character of Jesus Christ (Isa 42:21), and it is only as we allow His Spirit to rule our lives that we can in any way be “keeping” the Law."

    We should never play off the spirit of the law, from the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is simply the right motive for doing it. So the 10 commandment law is the law of faith, grace, love and the gospel. And the motive in no way diminishes the importance of maintaining the form.

    The early church began to assume that the spirit of the law was all important and the form either less relevant, or, in the case of the Sabbath, not applicable at all.

    Thus, they felt at liberty to change "the day" aspect of the Sabbath, and did it in the name of love and the gospel. And not a few, even today, will claim we keep the Sabbath by trusting in Christ, and the day is not relevant.

    But that law recorded in the old covenant sanctuary is simply a copy of the one in the heavenly temple. "Thy word, O Lord, is settled forever in heaven."

    "The law of God in the sanctuary in Heaven is the great original, of which the precepts inscribed upon the tables of stone, and recorded by Moses in the Pentateuch, were an unerring transcript. Those who arrived at an understanding of this important point, were thus led to see the sacred, unchanging character of the divine law. They saw, as never before, the force of the Saviour's words, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law.” [Matthew 5:18.] The law of God, being a revelation of his will, a transcript of his character, must forever endure, “as a faithful witness in Heaven.” Not one command has been annulled; not a jot or tittle has been changed. Says the psalmist: “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in Heaven.” “All his commandments are sure. They stand fast forever and ever.” [Psalm 119:89; 111:7, 8.] {GC88 434.1}"

    So, the spirit of the law may be more comprehensive than the letter, but never denies nor sets aside the letter of the law in part or in whole.

    This law justifies the obedient and condemns the disobedient. "By the deeds of the law, shall no flesh be justified", is the ceremonial law. Or, someone who is not "in Christ".

    Thanks for your comment, Inge.

    Bill Sorensen

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  5. “Kept Under the Law”

    Galatians 3:19-24. What is Paul saying about the law?
    To begin with, it is important to find out the nature of law Paul is referring to in these verses. Is he referring to “moral” or “ceremonial” law?

    Background: Once upon a time, way before human transgressions, Adam and Eve were given very simple instructions to follow, i.e., Do not eat or even touch the forbidden fruit. God knew that the consequence of their eating of the forbidden fruit would cost them their lives. God did not want to lose His two friends, nor did He want to see them suffer as a result of sin and so, He set up these guidelines, hoping they would listen.

    According to scriptures, Adam and Eve unfortunately did not follow these guidelines. They touched and also ate of the forbidden fruit. As a result of this (sin), they were separated from their loving Father and God. The Bible says, sin separates us from God and the wages of sin is death.

    So, back to Paul’s question in Galatians 3:19 - Why, then, was the law given at all?
    1. “… It was added because of transgressions …”(Galatians 3:19)
    Adam and Eve’s action is the transgression that led to the addition of a ceremonial law known as sin offering. This ceremony was to point human-kind to the plan of salvation, where Jesus Christ would be offered as an offering for our sins including Adam and Eve. This death of Christ would reconcile us back to God and the process is known as atonement. This ceremonial law begins in Genesis 4:4, with Abel, their son presenting an offering to God. The whole idea is better explained in Exodus 29:36.

    2. “… until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Galatians 3:19).
    So, until the Seed (Jesus our redeemer) to whom the promise referred would come, man had to take care of a few details that would continuously point them that plan of salvation. So, man had to present before God a bullock of sin offering for atonement. Again, this bullock represented Jesus Christ who would come and die to redeem us back to God.

    Finally, this long awaited dream came true! Jesus (the Seed) came to the world and at the end, He was crucified on the cross on behalf of fallen man. As a result we all do not have to die, only if we believe that His sacrifice is sufficient to take away our sins(John 3:16). Therefore, by Paul stating that the law was added until the Seed should come he evidently refers to the ceremonial law (sin offerings) versus the moral law. Meaning, we do not have to offer sacrificial lambs for the atonement of sins anymore because it has been taken care of by Christ on our behalf. As a matter of fact the day of Christ’s death on the cross, the veil of the temple (where sin offerings were offered) was rent in twain from the top to the bottom…(Mt 27:51); implying that the sin offerings were valid only until the coming of Christ.

    Hopefully the above explanation puts Galatians 19-23 in perspective.

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  6. But before faith came,....

    What are we to understand by this?

    It cannot mean faith in God, as the Old Testament faithful had faith, it was not limited to New Testament faithful people.
    Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Daniel, Isaiah and many more believed in Christ the coming Messiah, and were justified by faith in his righteousness, as we are.

    It is much better to interpret in connection with Christ's actual coming, the object of faith, who was to come to redeem his people from under law, and offer them everlasting salvation.

    We were kept under the law....

    as people confined in a prison house! Held fast as prisoners, shut up.

    What does this means?

    We need to read a preceeding text to get this context -- the memory verse says:

    Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe”

    This shows the state and condition the Jews were in under the law, for the law condemned them as sinners worthy of death; but they were also prisoners with hope.

    Through the sacrificial system they placed their hope and expectation in the Messiah's coming, who would fulfil the promise found in Isaiah 42:7 "to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house," was their hope.

    For the blood of goats and sheep could not open that prison house of death.
    Nothing that they could do would open that prison -- they were kept there but they had the hope.

    Romans 5:12 By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned..
    5:18 Therefore as by the offence of one condemnation came upon all men; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

    It is only because of Christ that the prison house of sin and death has been opened!

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  7. This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Galatians 3:2
    But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.Galatians 4:8
    ---------------------------------------
    Romans 3:9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.
    Galatians 3:22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe
    -----------------------

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  8. "This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"

    For me, the context is obvious. Since they were being told they had to keep the ceremonial law to benefit in
    God's salvation, and receive the Holy Spirit, Paul is asking, "Did you get the Holy Spirit by way of the ceremonial law, or, by the ministry of Christ in heaven?"

    The question is relevant in light of the fact in the old covenant service believers received the Holy Spirit by participating in the ceremonial law.

    Does anyone really think Paul is asking, "Did you get the Holy Spirit by keeping the ten commandments?"

    A weird question to say the least, in light of the controversy and issues Paul is dealing with.

    Read Paul's letter carefully to the Galatians. Now insert ceremonial law every time he says "Law". Now you will see how easily the whole letter flows in a perfect continuity.

    Now, try to super-impose the ten commandment law in every case, and you will see that in many cases, it will simply not fit. Yes, there are some cases where the moral law can function in parallel with the ceremonial law. None the less, in Paul's letter to the Galatians, he is simply not dealing with this issue. And in fact, if we "force" the moral law to fit in every verse, we will negate the moral law.

    Such as, "Until faith has come we are kept under a schoolmaster."

    Meaning, now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need a schoolmaster. Can you make the moral law fit this scenario? No. The moral law always functions as a "schoolmaster" and the coming of Christ does not negate this function of the moral law.

    And as I said before, unless the 2nd and third use of the law work together continually, neither has any function at all. So, if the moral law can not function as a schoolmaster, neither can it be the "rule of life" for all men. The moral law condemns those who break it, and justifies those who keep it.

    Bill Sorensen

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    • Bill you suggest that we read the letter to the Galatians by inserting "ceremonial law" every time Paul uses the word "law." As a trump to your argument, you suggest that reading "law" as "Ten Commandments" would not work.

      There's just one problem with your suggestion: Your suggestion is adding to the words of Paul. That is not what Paul said! Either "ceremonial law" OR "moral law" is very different from the generic concept of law keeping -- which is what Paul addresses.

      Paul generally used the Greek word "nomos" that is accurately translated by the English word "law" because it has the same broad meaning.

      When Paul asked, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” we need to let his words stand as they read, and then examine what he could mean. And it doesn't take much guessing, because Paul deals with the same subject in Romans, where he writes, "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Ro. 3:20) Here Paul clearly states the function of the law -- it is to reveal sin. Which law does this? Is it not the moral law? In the rest of Romans 3 he goes on to demonstrate that it is impossible to be justified by the law, because we have all sinned. He goes even further than that, when he writes, ""we maintain that a man isjustified by faith apart from works of the Law." (Rom. 3:28)

      It could hardly be clearer: Whoever is justified, is justified apart from works of the law. In other words, human works have nothing to do with justification.

      Paul is using a similar argument in Galatians, asking the people whether they received the Spirit by works of the law (unspecified) or by faith? It is a rhetorical questions, because it is clear that the Galatians did not receive the Spirit by any works, but by faith. (These were not Jewish believers, but a mix of Christians mainly from Greek background but including some from Jewish background. The argument that they received the Holy Spirit by participating in the ceremonial law is without foundation, because the necessity of keeping the ceremonial law was introduced by "some that trouble you.")

      As for the "schoolmaster" reference, in the Galatian context, I believe Paul was referring primarily to the ceremonial law, but in our context, it refers primarily to the moral law, the Ten Commandments. The ceremonial law taught salvation by the substitutionary deah of the Savior to come. The moral law serves an even more primary function in that it teaches all the necessity of a Savior to come. The law functions like a mirror that tells us our face is dirty. It can't clean us up; it can only tell us that we need cleaning up.

      In past comments, you have appealed to Ellen White, so I assume you will accept her statement that the "schoolmaster" is "Both the ceremonial and the moral code of ten commandments." The fact that she did not specifically mention this in Chapter 36-Apostasy in Galatia in Acts of the Apostles does not negate this very specific statement. (And, by the way, I highly recommend reading this chapter as a way of understanding the background to Paul's letter to Galatia.)

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      • In addition to what Inge has stated concerning Gal 3:2 and Rom 3:20 in all three times the word "law" appears in these texts there doesn't seem to be an article involved with "law". This would make that word even more general than Inge has stated.

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