The Epistle to the Galatians divides itself into three parts:
Chapters 1-2, Paul denies the accusations made by the Judaizers that he is inferior to the other Apostles;
Chapters 3-4, The Scriptural arguments for the principles of freedom in Christ;
Chapters 5-6, Christian living.
Our text is found in the second section of Galatians. We summarize the verses which precede our text in chapter 3:
Verses 1-5: Paul appeals to Christians experience. Did they receive the Spirit by law-works or faith-hearing? The latter, of course.
Verses 6-9: New Testament believers are blessed right along with Abraham. Abraham was saved by faith, not by law-works.
Verses 10-14: A second argument from Scripture. The Law brings a cruse but the Gospel brings a blessing.
Verses 15-22: The Law is inferior to the covenant promise because the promise was given 430 years before the Law was given. The Law only reveals sin and enslaves people.
That brings us to our text: Verses 23-29: The Law is a bondsman but faith in Christ gives freedom from sin and the Law. The Law gives bondage. The Gospel gives freedom.
For a proper understanding of this text the preacher should go back to verse 19 where Paul asks: "Why, then, was the Law given?" The answer is plainly that it was given because of transgressions. Paul dwells on this thought to the end of verse 24. Verse 25 can be considered pivotal. Verses 26-29 dwell on what Christ did for all the world. Verses 23-24 speak about the Jews under the Mosaic Law. Verse 25 is transitional. Verses 26-29 speak about Jews and Gentiles under grace.
Lutheran commentators assume that verses 23-24 speak of the Jews under the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament. Others are of the opinion that these verses speak of both Jews and Gentiles. They interpret the word "law" in these verses not only of the Mosaic Law but also of the Law written in man's heart. Furthermore, most of these commentators do not consider baptism (verse 27) as a true means of grace.
The word "faith" means the faith as a body of teachings and beliefs, that which is believed. It denotes the fulfillment of the promises concerning Christ.
The word "law" means the Mosaic Law with stress on the ceremonial law.
Luther: Paul is referring to the time of fulfillment, when Christ came. But you should apply it not only to the time but also to the feelings; for what happened historically and temporally when Christ came -- namely, that He abrogated the Law and brought liberty and eternal life to light -- this happens personally and spiritually every day in any Christian, in whom there are found the time of Law and the time of grace in constant alternation . . . In the experience of the Christ, there both are found, the time of Law and the time of grace. . . The time of Law is not forever; but it has an end, which is Christ. But the time of grace is forever; for Christ, having died once for all, will never die again, Romans 6:9-10. . . Therefore, the proper function of the Law is to make us guilty, to humble us, to kill us, to lead us down to hell, and to take everything away from us, but all with the purpose that we may be justified, exalted, made alive, lifted up to heaven, and endowed with all things. Therefore it does not merely kill, but it kills for the sake of life.
Fuerbringer: Faith in Christ or the dispensation of faith did not first have to be instituted, because it was already there by the old covenant; but it was covered by the Law, and at the divinely appointed time it was to be revealed.
True. Verse 23 does not mean that the way of salvation was not known in the Old Testament. But it does mean that the Mosaic Law, especially the ceremonial Law, places the Old Testament believers under bondage but at the same time pointed to the Christ who was to come.
The last phrase could be translated: "for the purpose of the faith which was about to be revealed." Law cannot give life. Law cannot justify. Law prepares for Christ. It convicts people of sin. The Law always accuses. Look at the Ten Commandments. The ceremonial Law, through its many types, pointed to Christ. Compare the Epistle to the Hebrews.
"So that" or "therefore." The Law here is again the Mosaic Law.
Lenski: Paul is here speaking of the ceremonial contents of the law, all completely abrogated when Christ came, all having finished the purpose for which it was given when the faith was revealed. Yes, all the ceremonial acted just as a slave-guardian did for the boy in his charge. These regulations kept the Jew from mingling with the Gentiles, the bad boys who had no guardian and ran with those whose influence and association would bring pagan contamination. All these regulations focused on Christ; they were full of types of Christ . . . . None of them had any meaning apart from Christ who was about to be revealed.
Look at Hebrews 10:1.
Luther: Therefore the Law is not simply a custodian; it is a custodian 'until Christ came.' For what kind of custodian would it be who would merely annoy and whip a body and would teach him nothing?
The custodian was a slave-attendant assigned to and put in charge of a free-born boy. The slave had complete charge over the boy for the boy's own good. It has been suggested that a modern equivalent for this would be "baby-sitter."
The time of the custodian-ship came to an end when Christ came.
In his preaching the preacher announces the grace of God in Christ to his hearers. This announcement forensically declares the hearers justified and reconciled with God. It is the declaration of a fact.
This is the pivotal verse. It look back to verses 23-24. It also looks forward to verses 26-29.
"Since Christ by His coming has fulfilled the promises, we are not longer under the custodian." Paul is here speaking about God's plan for His covenant people. It is true that many of them rejected it but that does not come into view here.
Luther: Paul is speaking here about the faith promulgated through Christ at a specific time. For having assumed human nature, Christ came once for all at one time, abrogated the Law with all its effects, and by His death delivered the entire human race from sin and eternal death. . . . As long as we live in a flesh that is not free of sin, so long the Law keeps coming back and performing its function, more in one person and less in another, not to harm but to save. . . . If I look at Christ, I am completely holy and pure, and I know nothing at all about the Law; for Christ is my leaven. But if I look at my flesh, I feel greed, sexual desire, anger, pride, the terror of death, sadness, fear, hate, grumbling, and impatience against God. To the extent that these are present, Christ is absent; or if He is present, He is present weakly. . . . Just as Christ came once physically, according to time, abrogating the entire Law, abolishing sin, and destroying death and hell, so He comes to us spiritually without interruption and continually smothers and kills these things in us.
Verses 26-29 dwell on what Christ did for all, both Jews and Gentiles. Of course, the words are directed particularly to both Jewish and Gentile believers. Note that the Nestle text begins a subparagraph at this point. There is a "for" in Greek, which begins an explanation. Verse 26 explains verse 25.
"Sons of God" in this context means "you are free, free from the condemnation of the Law."
The is a sedes doctrinae (main doctrinal passage) on baptism. Baptism gives total freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil. To the Reformed baptism is not really a means of grace, but only an external sign of God's grace.
In baptism we have put Christ on like we put on a coat. His righteousness covers our sin and unworthiness.
Luther: In Baptism, then, Christ becomes our garment. . . . He is the divine and inestimable gift that the Father has given to us to be our Justifier, Lifegiver, and Redeemer. . . . Paul teaches that Baptism is not a sign but the garment of Christ, in fact, that Christ Himself is the garment. Hence Baptism is a very powerful and effective thing.
It must be carefully noted that verses 27 and 28 are Gospel, not Law. That is very important. This verse neither hinders nor promotes equal rights among people. It is not speaking about civil rights. It is speaking about Christian liberty.
Furthermore, this passage is not speaking about the public ministry in the church. The feminist movement uses this verse to support their view of women in the public ministry. They claim that the verse does away with distinctions between men and women in the Church. It does not. The verse is saying that God is not a respecter of persons, either ethnically or pertaining to labor and management or pertaining to sex, when it comes to the article of justification. The radical wings of the feminist movement turns this passage of Gospel into Law. No wonder they speak disparagingly of Paul!
In the area of civil righteousness it is God's will that each performs his or her duty in life. But when it comes to forgiveness of sins, justification, God makes no distinctions. Those who attempt to use this passage in the interest of women's ordination into the ministry will be held responsible for attempt to pervert the Gospel in their own selfish interest.
The distinction between Jew and Gentiles was of God. But the coming of Christ abrogated it. Look at Acts 10. The distinction between bond and free was wholly contaminated by man's sin, but hallowed by the Gospel. Look at Philemon. But the distinction still remained.
The distinction between male and female is by order of creation, 1 Peter 3:7. It is permanent. But, in the area of saving grace, there is not distinction between males and females. It is a tragedy if this passage is invoked for the equal rights movement or the ordination of women into the ministry.
Luther: In the world and according to the flesh there is a very great difference and inequality among persons, and this must be observed very carefully. For, if a woman wanted to be a man, if a son wanted to be a father, if a pupil wanted to be a teacher, if a servant wanted to be a master, if a subject wanted to be a magistrate -- there would be a disturbance and confusion of all social stations and of everything. In Christ, on the other hand where there is no Law, there is no distinction among persons at all. There is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one; for there is one body, one Spirit, one hope of the calling of all, one and the same Gospel, one faith, on Baptism, one God and Father of all, one Christ, the Lord of all, Ephesians 4:46.
One is reminded here of the altercation between the Jews and Jesus in John 8:30-59. In verse 33 they make the claim that they are "the seed of Abraham." Jesus grants in verse 37, that that is true physically. But because they reject Christ they are actually of the devil, verse 44. Abraham was a true Old Testament believer in Christ, verse 56. This angered the Jews so much that they picked up stones to kill Jesus, verse 59.
Evidently the Judaizers among the Galatian Christians were teaching a theology very much like that of the Jews in John 8. Paul had already pointed out in Galatians 3:6-9 that Abraham was justified before God not by his own works and worthiness but only by his faith.
Paul's argument here is similar to the one which he uses in Romans 4;9-25. Abraham is the father of all believers. He was an heir of the righteousness of God by faith in Christ. Now, back to Galatians 3:29.
Paul has just said that baptism makes us one with all believers in Christ. And now he uses a fact or particular conditional sentence to drive his point home. "If you are Christ's." In view of what was just said the reader or hearer would have to answer: "Of course I am." I belong to Christ. Not only did He create me, He also redeemed me.
Now follows what is inferred. "In that case you are Abraham's seed, heirs according to the promise." Abraham was an heir of the promise which stated: "in you all the nations shall be blessed." That was brought to fulfillment in Christ. Like Abraham we believe God's promise. Like Abraham we are heirs, just as the promise spells it out.