|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:19-22 If that promise was enough for salvation, wherefore then serveth the law? The Israelites, though chosen to be God's peculiar people, were sinners as well as others. The law was not intended to discover a way of justification, different from that made known by the promise, but to lead men to see their need of the promise, by showing the sinfulness of sin, and to point to Christ, through whom alone they could be pardoned and justified. The promise was given by God himself; the law was given by the ministry of angels, and the hand of a mediator, even Moses. Hence the law could not be designed to set aside the promise. A mediator, as the very term signifies, is a friend that comes between two parties, and is not to act merely with and for one of them. The great design of the law was, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to those that believe; that, being convinced of their guilt, and the insufficiency of the law to effect a righteousness for them, they might be persuaded to believe on Christ, and so obtain the benefit of the promise. And it is not possible that the holy, just, and good law of God, the standard of duty to all, should be contrary to the gospel of Christ. It tends every way to promote it.
Verse 19. - Wherefore then serveth the Law? (τί οϋν ὁ νόμος;); what then (or, why then) is the Law? The apostle is wont thus to introduce the statement of some objection or some question relative to the point in hand which requires consideration (cf. Romans 3:1; Romans 4:1). He wishes now to show that, while the Law was a Divine ordinance, it was yet not intended to supersede the previously ratified covenant, but rather to prepare for its being completely carried out. It was added because of transgressions (tw = n παραβάσεων χάριν προσετέθη); on account of transgressions it was superadded. As χάριν denotes that so-and-so is done in consideration of this or that; this latter may be either some antecedent fact furnishing ground for subsequent action, as in 1 John 3:12; Ephesians 3:1; Luke 7:47, or some prospective result, which the action signified in the verb is intended to forward, as Jude 1:16. Here it intimates that the Law was given from a regard to men's sinful actions, with an implied contrast with the covenant of Christ's gospel, which was concerned with men's justification and benediction. The province of the Law is to expose sins, rebuke them, pronounce God's curse upon them, coerce and restrain them by the discipline of a system of outward rites and ceremonies. The office of the Law, as dealing with sinners as continuing sinful, while unable to make them new creatures, is indicated by St. Paul in 1 Timothy 1:9, where, after saying, "The Law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and sinners," he proceeds to add a catalogue of offenders chargeable with the grossest form of criminality; which furnishes a most apt illustration of the word παραβάσεις ("transgressions") which he here uses, and which marks sins in their most wilful and most condemnable character. What was spiritually the outcome of the Law's action upon men's sinful nature, in making their "sin exceeding sinful," the apostle has vividly portrayed in the seventh chapter of the Romans. This last point, however, is probably not even glanced at here; and it is only by straining the sense of χάριν, that some commentators, notably Meyer, find the apostle to be here stating that the Law was added for the behoof of transgressions, as it were in their interest, to increase and intensify them, as in Romans 5:20, that the trespass might abound. This, however, is not naturally found in the present passage. All that the apostle here states is that the Law merely dealt with sins, having no function in relation to life and righteousness. The article before παραβάσεων indicates the whole class of objects referred to, as e.g. in τοῖς ἀνθρώποις (Hebrews 9:27). This" superadded" (προσετίθη) is not inconsistent with the οὐδ ἐπιδιατάσσεται, "nor addeth thereto," of ver. 15; inasmuch as it points to a Divine ordinance, which stood, so to speak, in a different plane from the covenant of grace, and in no way interfered with it. Till the seed should come (ἄχρις οῦ ἔλθῃ τὸ σπέρμα). The form of expression indicates the purpose of him who arranged it all, that the Law should last only so long, and was to come to an end when the seed came. To whom the promise was made (ῷ ἐπήγγελται); to whom the promise hath been made. The perfect tense of the verb, as in the case of κεχάρισται, in ver. 18, points to the still continuing validity of the promise. The "seed" is "Christ;" the historical Christ, indeed, but still viewed collectively as summing up in himself all who should be united to him. And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (διαταγεὶς δἰ ἀγγέλων ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου); being ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator. The verb "ordain" (διατάσσειν), being most commonly used for "command," "order," as Luke 8:55; 1 Corinthians 7:17, is introduced in preference to δοθείς (comp. ver. 20 and John 1:17; John 7:19), as making more prominent the notion of imperative action on the part of the Divine Lawgiver. The whole passage is tinctured with the feeling that the giving of the Law, as contrasted with the dispensation of the Messiah, was marked by distance, sternness, alienation. This is the meaning of the mention of "angels" as the medium of communication on the side of Heaven, and of "a mediator" as the selected medium of reception on the side of Israel (compare the contrast between the two dispensations in Hebrews 12:18-24). This representation of the Law as given through angels is unmistakably made again in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the words, "The word spoken through angels" (Hebrews 2:2), where also it is placed in the same contrast with the gospel as spoken by the Lord Jesus, which here is plainly implied, if indeed it is not expressly alluded to, in the enigmatic words, "but God is one," in the next verse. This view of the Law as communicated through the medium of angels is distinctly referred to by St. Stephen as the accepted belief of the Jewish theologians before whom he spoke: "Ye who received the Law as the ordinances of angels" (Acts 7:53), where the phrase, διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων, forms a remarkable parallel to the words, διαταγεὶς δι ἀγγέλων, now before us. The same view is put forth by Josephus ('Ant.,' 15:05, 3), "We having learned the most excellent of our doctrines and the most holy part of our Law through angels from God." Such, then, was incontestably the current belief of the Jewish people, both Christian and non-Christian. The Hebrew theologians directed a great deal of attention upon the doctrine of angels, of which the "boundless genealogies" spoken of by St. Paul (1 Timothy 1:4; comp. Colossians 2:18) was certainly one diseased branch. We may without improbability suppose that their exegetical sagacity, not unaided by the Spirit of God promised by him to his people upon their restoration from Captivity, detected the particular fact here indicated in Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Exodus 19:16, 19. The countless hosts of his "saints" who attended upon the Lord on that occasion were not surely mere spectators; and to their intervention acting out the volitions of God might be most reasonably ascribed all the physical sights and sounds which gave to the giving of the Law its sensible awfulness (comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:16). "They raised the fire and smoke; they shook and rent the rock; they framed the sound of the trumpet; they effected the articulate voices which conveyed the words of the Law to the ears of the people, and therein proclaimed and published the Law; whereby it became ' the word spoken by angels'" (Owen, 'Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews,' 2:2). In the hand of a mediator (ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου); by the hand of a mediator. Ἐν χειρί, in or by the hand, is unquestionably a Hebraism, being in the Septuagint the ordinary literal rendering of the Hebrew beyad; see e.g. Numbers 4:37, 45; which passages likewise show us whom the apostle means to designate as the mediator; in reference to which comp. also Deuteronomy 5:5, "I stood between (ἀνάμεσον) the Lord and you at that time [i.e. at the giving of the Law], to show you the word of the Lord." So Philo ('Vit. Mos.,' 678) speaks of Hoses as acting like a μεσίτης καὶ διαλλάκτης, "mediator and reconciler." Schottgen ('Hor. Hebr.') gives numerous examples from the rabbinical books of this application of the term "mediator "to Moses. This conception of Moses as a mediator seems implied also in the words, "Mediator of a better covenant" and "Mediator of a new covenant," which we have in Hebrews 8:6 and Hebrews 12:24, with reference to Christ. Evidently the mention of a mediator in the present passage is intended to point to the relations between the Lord and Israel as being those of distance and estrangement. If it be objected that the same inference would be deducible from the description of Christ as "Mediator between God and men," in 1 Timothy 2:5, we have it to say, in answer, that Christ, being in his nature both God and man, not only mediates between God and men, having made atonement or reconciliation by his cross, but in his own being unites God and man, abolishing actually that state of mutual alienation which the mediation of Moses by figure implied but could not in reality do away. We, too, were enemies to God before we were reconciled by the death of his Son (Romans 5:10); but now, being reconciled, we are at one with God in Christ: Christ's life in our nature both guaranteeing and effectuating our continued state of reconciliation with the Father as well as our own spiritual and eternal life.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Wherefore why then serveth the law?.... If this be the case, might an objector say, why was the law given? what ends and purposes are to be served by it? of what use can it be? there had as good been no law at all, if the inheritance is not of it, and there is no justification by it. To which it is answered,
it was added because of transgressions; four hundred and thirty years after the covenant made with Abraham; it did not succeed it, nor take the place of it, and so make it null and void; but was over and above added unto it, for the sake of restraining transgressions; which had there been no law, men would not have been accountable for them; and they would have gone into them without fear, and with impunity; but the law was given, to lay a restraint on men, by forbidding such and such things, on pain of death; and also for the detecting, discovering, and making known transgressions, what they are, their nature and consequences; these the law charges men with, sets them before them, in their true light and proper colours; and convicts them of them, stops their mouths, and pronounces them guilty before God: moreover, this law entered in, over and above any other revelation God was pleased to make, "that the offence might abound", Romans 5:20 either that particular offence, the sin of Adam, the apostle is there speaking of; the heinous nature of which, its aggravated circumstances, and the justness of its imputation to his posterity, were more clearly discerned by this law; and so the Syriac version here renders it in the singular number,
, "because of transgression"; or all other offences and transgressions, which are increased through the multiplicity of precepts, and attended with more aggravating circumstances, than if no law was given, and more eagerly pursued after, through the prohibition of them; such being the corrupt nature of man, that the more anything is forbidden, the more desirous it is of it: add to all this, that the law was given for the punishing of transgressions, for which it curses, and threatens with death, and inflicts it on Christless sinners: hence it is clear there can be no justification by it, and yet it is not useless and insignificant:
till the seed should come, to whom the promise was made; either Christ the seed of the woman, and of Abraham, who was to come in the flesh, and is come; and to whom the grand promise of life, and all the promises of the covenant were made; not for himself, but for those he represented, and in whom they are all secure: until whose coming to finish transgression, and bring in everlasting righteousness, the law was to continue in the form in which, and the use for which it was added, and then to cease as the ministration of Moses; for through the coming of Christ it received its full accomplishment, and came to an end; the ceremonial law was utterly abolished, and the moral law ceased to be a covenant of works, though it continues a rule of walk and conversation; and the whole Mosaic economy was no more: or else the seed here intends the spiritual seed of Abraham; particularly among the Gentiles, to whom the promise of blessedness, of justification, and eternal life was made; and the sense be, that till such time that a generation of faithful men, of believers in Christ, should arise among the Gentiles, the law was to continue with the Jews; but when they should spring up, the middle wall of partition should be broken down, and Abraham's spiritual seed among Jews and Gentiles make up one body, one people, and be fellow heirs and partakers of the promise of God in Christ, through the Gospel:
and it was ordained by angels; not Moses and Aaron, and Joshua, as some say; for though Moses was concerned in the giving of the law, yet not Aaron nor Joshua, nor are any of them ever called angels; but the holy elect angels are here meant, the ten thousands of saints, or holy ones, God came to Mount Sinai with, and the Lord was among, in the holy place; see Deuteronomy 33:2 and so the Jews say (l) that the Lord appeared on Mount Sinai gloriously, , "with companies", or "troops of angels", to give the law to his people: and this may be said to be "ordained" by them, inasmuch as it might be written and spoken by them, as the instruments and ministers God made use of; for though the tables are said to be the work of God, and the writing the writing of God, and to be written with the finger of God, and he is said to speak all the words of it, yet this hinders not, but that all this might be done by the means of angels; who might be employed in disposing and fitting the stones in the form they were, and in writing the law upon them; hence it is said to be given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53 and certain it is, that it was spoken by them, Hebrews 2:2 they forming in the air those articulate and audible sounds, when the law was delivered; who were also concerned in the thunderings and lightnings, and in the blowing of the trumpet, that waxed louder and louder at that time:
in the hand of a mediator; not Christ, as many interpreters, ancient and modern, have thought; for though he was present at the giving of the law, as appears from Acts 7:38 and is the Mediator between God and man, and had the law in his hand, out of which it went forth as the lawgiver; and as the surety of his people has fulfilled it, and by so doing put an end to it, and delivered them from the curse and condemnation of it; yet he is the Mediator of the new and better covenant, not the ministration of death, but of life; and so Moses and Christ, the law and Gospel, the old and the new covenant, are continually opposed to each other; besides, the mediator here seems to be represented as inferior to the angels, and as receiving the law into his hands from them, by whom it was ordained; which to conceive of Christ, is very much to the demeaning and lessening of him. Moses is the mediator here meant, who stood between God and the people of Israel; not to make peace between them, but to show the word of God from him to them, and this at their own request; see Deuteronomy 5:5, and in his hand the tables of the law were, when he came down from the mount, and was a typical mediator of Christ. So the Jews say of him, that
"he was "a mediator" between them and God (m).''
(l) Targum in 1 Chronicles 29.11. (m) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 136. 1, 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
19. "Wherefore then serveth the law?" as it is of no avail for justification, is it either useless, or contrary to the covenant of God? [Calvin].
added—to the original covenant of promise. This is not inconsistent with Ga 3:15, "No man addeth thereto"; for there the kind of addition meant, and therefore denied, is one that would add new conditions, inconsistent with the grace of the covenant of promise. The law, though misunderstood by the Judaizers as doing so, was really added for a different purpose, namely, "because of (or as the Greek, 'for the sake of') the transgressions," that is, to bring out into clearer view the transgressions of it (Ro 7:7-9); to make men more fully conscious of their "sins," by being perceived as transgressions of the law, and so to make them long for the promised Saviour. This accords with Ga 3:23, 24; Ro 4:15. The meaning can hardly be "to check transgressions," for the law rather stimulates the corrupt heart to disobey it (Ro 5:20; 7:13).
till the seed—during the period up to the time when the seed came. The law was a preparatory dispensation for the Jewish nation (Ro 5:20; Greek, "the law came in additionally and incidentally"), intervening between the promise and its fulfilment in Christ.
come—(Compare "faith came," Ga 3:23).
the promise—(Ro 4:21).
ordained—Greek, "constituted" or "disposed."
by angels—as the instrumental enactors of the law [Alford] God delegated the law to angels as something rather alien to Him and severe (Ac 7:53; Heb 2:2, 3; compare De 33:2, "He came with ten thousands of saints," that is, angels, Ps 68:17). He reserved "the promise" to Himself and dispensed it according to His own goodness.
in the hand of a mediator—namely, Moses. De 5:5, "I stood between the Lord and you": the very definition of a mediator. Hence the phrase often recurs, "By the hand of Moses." In the giving of the law, the "angels" were representatives of God; Moses, as mediator, represented the people.
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