Paul's Message of Legitimate Faith
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 4 Study # 2
April 29, 2012
19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
1901 ASV Translation:
19 What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; and it was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator.
20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law.
22 But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
23 But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
24 So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
I. Paul's General Argument.
II. The Specifics.
- A. Since covenants do not change and God gave the inheritance to Abraham by a covenant of promise, what is the covenant of Law?
- B. The Law introduces a different, basic identity: an agreement between "two" (whereas the promise was the commitment of "one").
- C. This difference does not constitute an "adversarial" relationship between "Law" and "Promise".
- D. This difference does contain a very real "lesson": all flesh sin.
- E. This "lesson" was necessary until a greater development of "faith" could be put in place.
- F. Thus, "Law" was a "schoolmaster" to move us to faith in Christ.
- A. What is the covenant of "Law"?
- B. The duration of "Law" is, according to Paul, "until the Seed should come".
- C. The insertion of "angels and a mediator".
- 1. At issue is why Paul felt it necessary to mention "angels" and "a mediator".
- a. A powerful hint is given in the very next statement: he deliberately distanced "Law" from direct divine involvement.
- 1) The "Promise/promises" were given to Abraham and his Seed by divine declaration.
- 2) "Law", on the other hand, was given to the incipient nation by intermediaries. Clearly, God was behind those intermediaries, but His use of "angels" (messengers) and "a mediator" is a deliberate step back from immediacy. Just as healing that occurs by means of doctors and medical practice is relegated by human beings to something less than divine activity (as opposed to direct, instantaneous "miracle"), so also the imposition of "Law" by intermediate agents finds itself somewhat distanced from God.
- a) The question of "angels" is raised most fundamentally because the English word automatically directs our minds to those ministering spirits known as "angels".
- b) The fact is, however, that "angel" in its use in the Greek New Testament means "messenger" and is used to describe both angelic beings and humans.
- c) Acts 7:35 says it was an angel that spoke to Moses in the burning bush. Acts 7:38 directly says that an "angel" spoke to Moses on Sinai. Acts 7:53 says the same thing as Paul does here, "the law was ordained by angels". Hebrews 2:2 also claims that the Law was "spoken through angels". It may be a major error in typical thinking to automatically assign a "preincarnate appearance of Jesus" to the identification of "the angel of the Lord" since Exodus 23:21 says that God told Moses that "My name [is] in him".
- d) Likewise, the issue of a "mediator" is inserted because "Law" represents a step away from the immediacy of One-on-one communication; a difficulty of significant proportions because the information from, and about, God to human minds is most potent in the One-on-one reality and any step away simply makes understanding more complex and difficult. Moses was exalted by God as one with whom He communicated face to face (Numbers 12:8) and the record bears witness of his superiority on this basis (Deuteronomy 34:10).
- i. "Distance", "mediators", and intermediate "messengers" were all part and parcel of the dictates of "Law". The tabernacle was the illustration of "Law" and God deliberately placed multiple barriers between Himself and "the man on the street". The reason for this "distance" is "transgressions" and the Law's imposition of the death penalty for all such. Law was put in place on account of transgressions. At its very core, "Law" was put in place to highlight an aspect of God's character that was/is significantly deficient: "Justice" is not God's highest priority and a focus upon it does "injustice" to the truth about God.
- ii. How Numbers 12:8 and Deuteronomy 34:10 fit into this "distance" theme is somewhat of a puzzle except for the bare fact that Moses is emphatically "unique" to the human race and everyone else ends up in the "distance" reality. That God did not directly give the Law to Moses, or to the nation, raises the question of why He did not. The answer may well have to do with the fact that "Law" distorts the final reality about Him. When God did get directly involved, "grace and truth" stepped into the lime light (John 1:17). Additionally, those "angels" who were the direct agents of "Law" were so in ignorance because the Gospel revealed truth about God that the angels knew nothing about (1 Peter 1:12).
- b. A second hint is given in the New Testament theology of the deficiency of "Law" as a workable method of relationships (Hebrews 8:6-7 -- a text, by the way, that identifies Jesus Christ as a "mediator" of a better covenant). That God used the terminology of the "distance" reality to draw men into "immediacy" ("mediator", "great high priest", etc.) only testifies to the power that old "distance" reality maintains over men even now. Somehow we are extremely reluctant to view God One-on-one as a regular, daily, reality. "Our Father" was a foreign concept to the legalist mentality.
- 2. As an integral aspect of Paul's current reasoning, this insertion intentionally identifies a significant distinction between "Law" and the prior covenant of promise.
- a. Paul's entire point is that Promise is immutable and historically prior so that it takes precedence and that Law is a later, and temporary, insertion between Abraham and the Seed that was coming.
- b. Since it is Paul's argument that the entire issue revolves around whether a human being can be made righteous and, if so, by what means (3:21), it is clearly his intention to identify the purpose of "Law" as completely distinct from the purpose of "Promise"; purposes which begin with the essential nature of each.
- 1) Paul's "by faith for faith" description of the "promise" of Habakkuk 2:4 is the clearest direct statement of the "objective" and "intent" of "Promise". It was "to justify" (objective) and "to generate faith" (intent).
- 2) The Law, on the other hand, was established to identify transgressions and level punative consequences. No one can escape its searching examination.
- D. The most fundamental issue of a "mediator": such cannot exist except in a context of multiple persons' involvement. According to Paul's statement in Romans 4:16, the only way the promises of God can be "sure" is for God to personally underwrite them.