World English Bible translation
3:19What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator. 3:20 Now a mediator is not between one, but God is one. 3:21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could make alive, most assuredly righteousness would have been of the law. 3:22 But the Scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, shut up to the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 3:24 So that the law has become our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 3:25 But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor.
There are many times in the study of the letters of the Apostle Paul when this issue of the law arises. The Law of Moses, the traditions of Judaism and the proper response of the Christian to them are a recurring theme in Paul's writings. This is probably because the Jewish law was such a strong force in Paul's life. Of all the writers of scripture, Paul had the most formal training in the law. Paul had formally studied to be a Rabbi and he had rapidly advanced in Judaism before his conversion on the road to Damascus. When Paul writes about the law, he does not do so from the perspective of a disinterested party. Paul loved the law. It is just that his love for the law was overwhelmed by his revelation of his Savior.
In the discussion so far contrasting the promise that was given to Abraham and the law that was given through Moses, Paul does not mean to imply that the law was without purpose. He has stated that the law, having come 430 years after the promise, could not annul or add to the covenant that God made with Abraham. Nor was the law given in order to fulfill the promise. Why then was the law given?
Paul answers that the law was given because of the sin of men. The law was given in order to define sin and to convince man of his need for salvation. The law was like a tutor, guiding a child to holiness, but lacking the power to make the child holy. The law could define sin, but the law could never do away with sin. Sin was always present. Even the commandment and the sacrifices were a constant reminder of the ever-present sin of mankind.
So the law and the Scriptures "shut up all things under sin." "We were kept in custody under the law." The law confined and proscribed the limits of man's sinfulness. Does this mean that the law was evil to men? Certainly not. The law was given by God to mediate between God and man before the seed of the promise could be given. The law was never meant to save. The law was given to teach and to instruct men on what God's perfect righteousness was like. For this purpose the law was perfect and without flaw.
But God's purpose was never to instruct man in His perfect righteousness without offering hope. So, even before the law was given, God gave His promise to Abraham that through Abraham the blessing of faith would come to all nations. Through the faith of Abraham, the seed of the promise would become the salvation of the world. Now that the seed of Abraham had come into the world, the tutor was no longer needed to mediate between God and His creation.
Have you ever needed a tutor to learn something? What was your relationship with the tutor after you had learned what was required?
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