Tuesday: The Law as Our “Guard”

Big Hands Protecting ManPaul gives two basic conclusions about the law: (1) the law does not nullify or abolish God’s promise made to Abraham (Gal. 3:15–20); (2) the law is not opposed to the promise (Gal. 3:21, 22).1

What role does the law actually play then? Paul writes that it was added “because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19), and he expands on this idea using three different words or phrases in connection to the law: kept (vs. 23), shut up (vs. 23), and schoolmaster (vs. 24).

Read prayerfully and carefully Galatians 3:19–24. What is Paul saying about the law?

Most modern translations interpret Paul’s comments about the law in Galatians 3:19in wholly negative terms. But the original Greek is not nearly so one-sided. The Greek word translated as “kept” (vs. 23) literally means “to guard.” Although it can be used in a negative sense, as to “hold in subjection” or to “watch over” (2 Cor. 11:32), in the New Testament it generally has a more positive sense of “protecting” or “keeping” (Phil. 4:71 Pet. 1:5). The same is true of the word translated as “shut up” (Gal. 3:23). It can be translated “to close” (Gen. 20:18), “to shut”(Exod. 14:3Josh. 6:1Jer. 13:19), “to enclose” (Luke 5:6), or “to confine” (Rom. 11:32). As these examples indicate, depending on its context, this word can have either positive or negative connotations.

What benefits did the law (moral and ceremonial) provide the children of Israel? Rom. 3:1, 2Deut. 7:12–24Lev. 18:20–30.

While Paul can speak about the law in negative terms (Rom. 7:6Gal. 2:19), he also has many positive things to say about it (see Rom. 7:12, 148:3, 413:8). The law was not a curse that God placed upon Israel; on the contrary, it was intended to be a blessing. Though its sacrificial system could not ultimately remove sin, it pointed to the promised Messiah who could, and its laws guiding human behavior protected Israel from many of the vices that plagued other ancient civilizations. In light of Paul’s positive comments about the law elsewhere, it would be a mistake to understand his comments here in a completely negative way.

Think of something good that is misused. For example, a drug created to treat a disease could be used by some people to get high. What examples have you seen in your own life of this principle? How does our knowledge of how something good can be misused help us understand what Paul is dealing with here?



Tuesday: The Law as Our “Guard” — 4 Comments

  1. I believed that the writers of the Bible when they are speaking about the “laws” are referring to specific laws and not all laws. And they jump back and fore between the laws making specific mention of things, which sometimes are not clear which law they are referring to.

    For example in Matthew 19: 17 when Jesus said to the rich young ruler “… if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. “ Jesus did not specify which ones, so the rich young ruler asked “… Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,…” etc.

    Also with Paul, he uses the word “law” but does not specify which ones. For example, in Rom 7:4 he said “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” And in verse 6 he said “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. “ this would implies all laws, but he is speaking of specific laws because he continues to refer to another sets of laws in verse 7 “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” In Gal 6:2 Paul is affirming another law when he says “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

    It behooves us to know which specific law the writers are referring to when they say “law”. I don’t believe that any writer of the Bible implies that the laws are negative, but that the result of breaking the terms of the law brings negative feelings.

    The results of breaking the law are what people don’t like. The law is just a looking glass to let us see (aware of) where we are, and the effects will let us realized (feel) where we are, but it was made or added for our benefit. Otherwise, we would be like living dead and not know it. We would have pain and can’t feel it. We would be eternally lost and don’t know it. Now if the laws are not helping us, Jesus came and showed us how to live eternally while we wait for His return.

    • Val, the lesson isn’t about whether or not the law is abolished but about its function up until we have faith in Christ. “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3:23-25 NKJV). So in that capacity the law is still active.

      As for doing away with the law there are many passages in scripture that confirm the fact that the law is still in effect. For instance, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Mat 5:17-18 NKJV) Then there are the places in Revelation that speak of the time of the end, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev 14:12 NKJV; see also Rev 12:17).

  2. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven." (NLT)

    Let's follow Jesus' example: obey God’s laws and teach them.


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