Galatians 3: The Tutor, the Seed, and what they tell us about the Law

The first verse sets up the crux of the apostle’s argument.  That Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified to the church at Galatia.  Paul begins this way because he is setting up the stage for the simple fact that no one can b e justified by “keeping the law!”  This is the point Paul makes in verse 11.  He writes, “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident.”  The Greek word for “justified” literally translated means “declared righteous.”  One can only be declared righteous by the blood of Christ.  Interestingly, Paul cites the evidence of this right standing with God by the miraculous.  He writes, “Therefore, He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you does He do it by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith.”  Additionally, he cites the proof of our right standing before God at the infilling of the Spirit at the time of salvations stating, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith.  Are you so foolish?  Having begin in the Spirit are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (#:2-3)  What was happening in Galatia to make these Christians think that they could only be justified by the keeping of the law?  What was going on that would make them reject the salvation by grace through faith that the apostle preached and which was verified by God by the miraculous?  It was a heresy.

What was happening in Galatia is the same heresy that occurs in Acts 15.  The first few verses of this chapter states, “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren. ‘Unless you are circumcises according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’  Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, the determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this que3stion.” (Acts 15:1-2)  This sets the stage for the Jerusalem council where the entire question of “how does one get saved” gets answered.  The Galatians had been “bewitched” by keeping the Torah as a vehicle of salvation.  Paul clearly rejects this idea, as they did at the Jerusalem council,  by saying that faith is the only requirement for salvation.  In a strange twist of irony, he uses an example from the torah to demonstrate that being “declared righteous” by God is a matter of faith, Abraham being the case in point. (Gal 3:6-9).  Furthermore, he quotes the law to those who are seeking salvation by it by saying that they are under ” the curse” but Christ redeemed us form the curse by His grace setting us free from the “works.”  To put it another way, the curse that all of us deserve because we have all broken the law, was placed upon Him because it is written in the Torah, “Cursed is he who is hanged on a tree.”  Hence, we are declared righteous before God by faith when we believe what He has done and not by the works of the law.  Again, Paul uses an authoritative reference from the Torah to make his point.  That being, that the Abrahamic covenant was given to his “Seed” and this one is Christ.  When the torah was given 430 years later at the Siniatic covenant, it did not annul the first given by God.  So, if the torah is not a vehicle of salvation than Paul and Jesus should both clearly tell us that it is null and void.  But this is not what happens in both of their teachings.

Paul states in Romans 3, “Do we then make void the law through faith?” ( Rom 3:31)  This is what th modern church would have you believe but this is not the teaching of the apostle.  He writes, “Certainly not, on the contrary, we establish the law.” (Rom 3:31) We establish it as the holy and spiritual standard by which we should order our lives.  Paul alludes to this back in Galatians.  He states, “What purpose then does the law serve?  it was added because of transgression.” (3:24)  It was added so that the people of God could discern between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy.  The law was not given to a lost and unsaved people.  It was given to those who had been saved by the Passover blood and baptized in the Red Sea (I Cor 10:1-2)  It was not given to them to “obey and be saved” it was given to them to demonstrate holiness.  It became the temporary vehicle for the expression of eternal love.  Messiah tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  This is the ultimate expression of the realm of God whose very essence is love.  The law was the earthly manifestation of this “until, the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.” (Gal 3:19)  This Seed, which is Jesus, became the mediator of the “better” covenant.  Paul states, “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been given by the law.” (#:21)  Life only comes from the sacrifice of Christ and the infilling of the Holy Spirit by faith.  The law could not give the Spirit.  The writer of Hebrews alludes to this saying that the blood of bulls and goats could not change the heart of the believer.  The law could not do this.  Therefore, the law was a “tutor” showing us the standards of holiness and love until Messiah could come and manifest those to us and equip us with the ability to stand righteously before God by faith, not by the law.  The law cannot cause one to be born again.  The law simply points out where all of us “fall short.”  However, simply because we “fall short” does not mean that the standards of love and holiness given by God at Siniai simply cease to have a role in the life of a believer.  It continues to have a place but not for salvation.  Thus Paul writes, “Now that faith has come we are no longer under a tutor.” (3:25)  Obviously, this is not a reference to God changing His standards of holiness.  It means that the heart change that every believer experiences by the Spirit releases us from the need for a tutor.  The Spirit now guides us into all truth.  However, the holiness of the law still remains.  Jesus validates us when He says, “Heaven and earth will pass away but the law will remain.” (Matthew 5:18)  My old teacher used to say, “Well, we still have heaven and will still have earth, so we must still have law.”  Jesus also says, “do not think that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets, I have not come to destroy it but to fulfill it.” (Matt 5:17)  Well, the church will have us believe that to fulfill means that He has destroyed it, but this is not the essence of the Greek.  The word translated fulfill is the Greek word “plereo” which means to “Fill up.”  It is the same word that Paul uses in Eph 5:18 when he says, “Be filled with the Spirit.”  Jesus is saying that He came to give the law is rightful place, to fill it up, to establish it.  To demonstrate to the universe the principles of love that are embodied in the law.   He was the living example of the love that is described in the law.  Thus, He filled it up and so should we, being imitators of Him.  Our walk with God has precious little to do with adherence to external principles, it has to do with love.  How much am I loving God?  How much am I loving my wife, family, neighbors, and coworkers.  Am I being the external living revelation of the love that is described in the law.  If not, I should be having been justified by faith, filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, witnessed and participated in the miraculous, and tasted and seen that the Lord, He is good.

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Jesus and the Law

Matt 5:17-20: [17] Think not that I am come to destroy the law (nomos; Torah), or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. [18] For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [19] Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus  came to be our example.  He demonstrated to us what a man, in right relationship with God, can accomplish by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, his comments on the law are of the utmost importance.

The word used here for “destroy” is the Greek word “katuloo” (Strong’s #i2647) its meaning is “to loosen down, to disintegrate to demolish, or to halt.” Messiah is telling us here what He has not come to do.  He has not come to loosen down, stop, or disintegrate the Law.  Yet, this is the position that Christianity has taken for thousands of years.  How often have we heard that the “law was done away with.”  This position is totally untenable when we examine what Jesus is saying in this passage.  The first verse totally disengages the church’s position.  The law must have a place in the life of the believer.  For years, theologians and preachers have told us that Jesus fulfilled the law, therefore, it no longer applies to us.  But that is not what Jesus is saying here.  This position is saying thatr by fulfilling the law he abolished the law.  Not so, He is telling us that it has a place.  To further discuss this, let us look at the word for “fulfill.”

The word used for “fulfill” is the Greek word “plerroo” (Strong’s #4137).  It’s meaning, is to “make replete, to fill up,  or to fulfill as in cram to the tap.”  It is the verb that Paul uses regarding the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 where he states, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  This gives us a sense of what the word means. It means that as Christians we should be crammed to the top with the Holy Spirit.  So, what could the  possible meaning be in this context of Matthew 5:17?  “Rather than being destroyed it now existed as God originally intended.  It had come to an end in one form, but continued in another, more perfect form.” (1).  It would appear that Messiah is here restoring the Law to its original intention as a lifestyle of holiness for the priesthood of all believers.  The Law had been perverted into a system of works that became a vehicle of salvation.  Jesus was clarifying that He was the only means of salvation, but this did not destroy the law.  As the IVP commentary states, “Jesus opposed not the law but the illegitimate interpretation of it that stressed regulations more than character.” (2)

If fulfill means “to do away with” then we have Jesus saying one thing (Do not think I have come to abolish the Law) while immediately contradicting Himself (I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.)  “To fulfill” obviously can’t mean “to do away with.”  Jesus reveals the essence of the Law by saying things like “You have heard it said of old that one must not murder, but I say to you that if you hate your brother in your heart that you have already murdered him.”  Jesus was clarifying and amplifying the Commandment (Law) not to murder by showing Israel what the essence of the Commandment is.  He didn’t throw out the commandment not to murder by telling us the essence of the Commandment.  But what He did do was sweep away any thoughts that one could keep that Commandment perfectly, even if one had not literally murdered someone.

In Hebrew terms, Jesus is using rabbinical terms of the time to explain His position.  “Destroy and fulfill are technical terms used in rabbinic argumentation.  When  a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of scripture, he would say, ‘You are destroying the Law!’  Needless to say, in most cases his colleague strongly disagreed.  What was ‘destroying the Law’ for one sage, was ‘fulfilling the law’ for another.” (3)  Of course, neither rabbi in the argument would ever think of negating any commandments of scripture, they were just technical phrases from rabbinical schools of thought to be seen figuratively and not literally.  The church has taken a literal position and tossed out the Law for the believer.

While many people say that Christ fulfilled the commandments at the cross (therefore we are no longer required to obey them)  we know this cannot be true, as Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law to love our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we are “free” to hate them because Christ fulfilled the Law for us.  When does He say the Law will pass?  “When Heaven and Earth pass away.”   This has not yet happened.  The Law is still in effect.

An additional Hebrew idiom can be found in phrase, “I have come”.  “When Jesus says “I have come” the English reader immediately pictures Jesus leaving his heavenly throne and, as the Servant of the Lord, coming to the earth.  But “I have come” may often be a Hebrew idiom denoting intention or purpose.” (4)  Thus, we can translate “I have come” to mean something completely different than the incarnation.  My purpose or My task rather than “this is the reason that I left heaven.” With this purpose in mind, John Lightfoot gives us an additional perspective on this verse,  He writes, “It was the opinion of the nation concerning the Messias, that he would bring in a new law, but not at all to the prejudice or damage of Moses and the Prophets:  but that he would advance the Mosaic law to the very highest pitch, and would fulfill those things that were foretold by the prophets, and that according to the letter, even to the greatest pomp.” (5)  Is this not what we see Jesus doing in this entire passage of scripture.  Elevating and establishing the Law, rather than abolishing it.

Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.  Our righteousness in keeping the Law must go deeper than the superficial external followings of the Scribes and Pharisees.  Does that mean the Law is done away with?  Well, how did Christ explain this? Rather than telling us not to murder, he tells us not to hate.  Rather than tell us not to commit adultery He tells us not to lust.  The requirements of God through Christ don’t just teach us to follow the Law, they reveal the heart of the Law that one must strive for in Christ.  To not murder is “easy” for most believers.  But to abstain from hate is impossible for most, and that is why we need His blood of forgiveness and His spirit of life, to help us to overcome our carnal nature and receive His nature, so that we can do both the external and internal Law of God.  The Pharisees followed the Laws of God – in their actions.  But their hearts were far from God (Mat 15:8,9; Isaiah 29:13)  Obedience to God is about action (thou shalt not kill) as well as heart (thou shalt not hate.)  Our righteousness must include that of the Pharisees (the external points of the Law) and go beyond it (the heart of the Law, as Jesus revealed it to us.)  Our obedience to God must be an act of the will motivated by a love for God.  Additionally, verse 19 seems to suggest that obedience to the law is a requirement for those who are in the “Kingdom of God.”  In fact, those who support the abolishment of the law are still in the kingdom.  They are called “the least” but they remain in the Kingdom.  Obviously then, obedience to Torah is not a means of salvation.

Let’s close with a lengthy quote from John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible which sums up our position:
“The moralist, the Pharisee, who obeys the Law externally, does not love it, nor delight in it (Romans 7:22) but obeys it from fear of its threatening; and from a desire of popular esteem and from low, selfish views, in order to gain the applause of men and the favor of God.  Only a man restored to God will delight in the law of God, as it is fulfilled by Christ, who has answered all the demands of it.  It is in the hands of Christ, held forth by Him as a rule of holy walk and conversation; and it is written upon man’s heart by the Spirit of God, (Jeremiah 31:33, Heb 8:10) to which the righteous man yields a voluntary and cheerful obedience (Psalm 119).  He serves the Law with his mind, freely, without any constraint but that of love.  He delights in the law, and the delight is mutual and reciprocal: the law delights in him, and he delights in the law; and they both delight in the same things, and particularly in the perfect obedience which the Son of God has yielded to it.”

Endnotes

**All definitions of Greek and Hebrew words are taken from the Strong’s concordance**

**All scripture quotations are taken from the New King James version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN.**

**Much appreciation if given to my wife Rina as the foundation of this article came from her work**

1.  Bivin, David, Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994, page 113

2.  Keener, Craig S., The IVP Bible Backgournd Commentary:  New Testament, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1993, page 57.

3.  Bivin and Blizzard, page114

4.  Ibid, page 92

5.  Lightfoot, John, Commentary on the New Testament form the Talmud and Hebriaca, Hendrickson, Publishers, 2003, page 99.