Bible Gateway's Verse of the Day


Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

28 January, 2011

Unpacking Galatians 3

When asked for Biblical evidence of the sacredness of Sunday as opposed to Saturday, many Christians come up dry, and the Catholic Church acknowledges that there is no Scriptural evidence for the change. But the one verse I hear cited most often is Galatians 3:23-25, which states that the Law was as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. In verse 25, it states that since Christ fulfilled the Law, it is unnecessary. This is, however, a passage that is very frequently taken out of context. In order to truly understand it, one must read the entire chapter of Galatians 3.

Paul begins this section of the epistle by admonishing the Galatians' thinking that salvation was by works and not by faith (also one of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses). He asks repeatedly whether they had received the Spirit by "the works of the law" or by "the hearing of the faith". He then goes into a complicated series of explanations about how the Law is impossible to follow, and yet must be followed perfectly in order to receive eternal life:
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” (NKJV)
To paraphrase, because the Scriptures say that everyone who does not follow the Law is under a curse, then everyone is under a curse (cf Deut 27:26). But because the just shall live by faith, nobody can please God simply by keeping the Law (cf Hab 2:4). Then, as the CEV states in v12, "The Law isn't based on faith. It promises life only to people who obey its commands" (cf Lev 18:5). This duality between the requirement to fulfill the law and the impossibility to please God by following it can be quite discouraging and frustrating if taken out of context, but v13 brings encouragement:
13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Yet another example in the Bible of Christ, perfect and sinless, dying for us and taking our place so that we could be saved. There are those that would argue that Christ came as an example, to show us that we could live sinless lives, but that negates the need for a Savior and highly emphasizes what Paul has said here is patently wrong: that the Law can grant salvation. In fact, because it is impossible for us to keep the Law perfectly, it required the Lamb's sacrifice. In order for us to receive redemptive grace, Perfection had to take our place.

In v15-18, Paul explains even more how the Law does not beget blessings; it is instead our unchangeable covenant with God, the original promise to Abraham.
15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Verses 17 and 18 especially important; they reinforce that Abraham's blessings ("inheritance") came over four hundred years before the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai. And if the blessings come from the Law, then what good is the blessed Promise that God would deliver the land unto Abraham's Seed (cf Gen 12:7; 13:15; 24:7).

So if the Law does not beget salvation, then what, exactly is it? This us brings us back to the passage many misquote, starting in v19:
19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Especially because of the corruption of Egypt, the Israelites needed the Law to teach them what was right and what was wrong. They needed all those little nitpicking guidelines laid out in the Pentateuch so that they could have a structured life. They didn't have committees, juries or judges (at least, not in the modern sense). They had the Word of God and that was it. Since the shedding Christ's innocent, perfect blood eliminated the need for this tutor, this reminder of what was right and what was wrong, the Law was fulfilled. And that means all of it. Oftentimes we Adventists look at two "parts", and see the one fulfilled as being the sacrificial system. But the Ten Commandments are indeed a part of the greater Mosaic Law that was fulfilled. Before you scream, "blasphemy!", I want to point out that the Ten Commandments, the guidelines for right and wrong, have not changed. What is right in the eyes of God will always be right, and what is wrong in the eyes of God will always be wrong.

This brings me all the way back to the issue of the Ten Commandments and their fulfilled nature being cause for justifying Sunday sacredness and non-observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath. The Ten Commandments were a set broad and specific statements from God's own hand of what is right--honoring one's parents and keeping the Sabbath holy--and what is wrong--murder, sexual immorality (under the umbrella word "adultery"), theft, perjury, idolatry, the cursing of God (and I might add falsifying claims in His name, which is also a form using His name in vain), and the wrongful or inordinate desire for another's property (which could fall along the lines of theft as well as coveting). Due to this fact alone, they cannot change.

Finally we come to the end of the chapter. And I think I should let Paul finish out this article.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Your Brother in Christ,

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