Galatians 3:21
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness should have been by the law.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21-24) If the Law was thus inferior to the promise, does it therefore follow that it is contrary to it? By no means. The Law could not indeed give life; it could not justify, or place in a state of righteousness. Its real result was rather to place all men in a state of sin. But by so doing it prepared the way for the fulfilment of the promise in all who put faith in Christ. The Law was a close and strict, yet salutary, discipline to make us fit for faith in Christ.

(21) The promises.—Here, as in Galatians 3:16, the plural, because the promise to Abraham was several times repeated, and afterwards ratified to his descendants.

For if . . .—The argument which follows begins with a concession. Though the Law was no substitute for the promise, it yet directly led up to it.

Given life.—This is practically equivalent to “justified,” or “made righteous.” He who is justified has life—both true spiritual life in the present and eternal life in the future. That the Law could not justify had been shown in Galatians 3:11 and in Romans 3:20.

Galatians 3:21-22. Is the law then — Which requires perfect obedience, and subjects all that in any respect violate it, to the curse, against, or contrary to, the promises of God — Wherein he declares that he will justify men by faith? God forbid — That we should intimate any thing of that kind! On the contrary, it was intended to be subservient to the promise, by leading those who were under it to a higher and better dispensation, by subjecting them to the curse, without giving them the least hope of mercy, to oblige them to flee to the promises for justification. For if there had been a law given which could have given life — Either spiritual or eternal; if any law, considered in itself alone, could have been a sufficient mean of justification and eternal happiness, then verily righteousness — Justification, and the blessings consequent thereon; would have been by the Mosaic law — Which is so holy, just, and good in all its moral precepts. By this the apostle shows that the law of Moses was utterly incapable of giving the Jews life and salvation; because, considered in itself, independent of the covenant of grace, it neither promised them the pardon of sin on their repentance, nor the influences of the divine Spirit to enable them to overcome and mortify the corruption of their nature; and of consequence, neither gave them a title to, nor a meetness for, eternal life. Justification, therefore, was not to be obtained by that law. On the contrary, the Scripture — Wherein that law is written; hath concluded all under sin — Hath shut them up together, (so the word συνεκλεισεν properly signifies,) as in a prison, under sentence of death; that is, hath declared them all to be so shut up; that the promise — That is, the blessing of life and salvation, promised through faith in Jesus Christ, might be freely given to them that truly believe in him, and in the truths and promises of his gospel.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.Is the law then against the promises of God? - Is the Law of Moses to be regarded as opposed to the promises made to Abraham? Does this follow from any view which can be taken of the subject? The object of the apostle in asking this question is, evidently, to take an opportunity to deny in the most positive manner that there can be any such clashing or contradiction. He shows, therefore, what was the design of the Law, and declares that the object was to further the plan contemplated in the promise made to Abraham. It was an auxiliary to that. It was as good as a law could be; and it was designed to prepare the way for the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham.

God forbid - It cannot be. It is impossible. I do not hold such an opinion. Such a sentiment by no means follows from what has been advanced; compare the note at Romans 3:4.

For if there had been a law given which could have given life - The Law of Moses is as good as a law can be. It is pure, and truly, and good. It is not the design to insinuate anything against the Law in itself, or to say that as a law it is defective. But law could not give life. It is not its nature; and man cannot be justified by obedience to it. No man has ever yielded perfect compliance with it and no man, therefore, can be justified by it, compare the notes at Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:10, note.

Verily righteousness should have been by the law - Or justification would have been secured by the Law. The Law of Moses was as well adapted to this as a law could be. No better law could have been originated for this purpose, and if people were to attempt to justify themselves before God by their own works, the Law of Moses would be as favorable for such an undertaking as any law which could be revealed. It is as reasonable, and equal, and pure. Its demands are as just, and its terms as favorable as could be any of the terms of mere law. And such a law has been given in part in order to show that justification by the Law is out of the question. If people could not be justified by a law so pure, and equal, and just; so reasonable in all its requirements and so perfect, how could they expect to be justified by conformity to any inferior or less perfect rule of life? The fact, therefore, that no one can be justified by the pure law revealed on Mount Sinai, forever settles the question about the possibility of being justified by law.

21. "Is the law (which involves a mediator) against the promises of God (which are without a mediator, and rest on God alone and immediately)? God forbid."

life—The law, as an externally prescribed rule, can never internally impart spiritual life to men naturally dead in sin, and change the disposition. If the law had been a law capable of giving life, "verily (in very reality, and not in the mere fancy of legalists) righteousness would have been by the law (for where life is, there righteousness, its condition, must also be)." But the law does not pretend to give life, and therefore not righteousness; so there is no opposition between the law and the promise. Righteousness can only come through the promise to Abraham, and through its fulfilment in the Gospel of grace.

Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: though it be thus, yet there is no such opposition between the law and the promises, as that either of them make the other useless. Far be it from me (saith the apostle) to assert any such thing! They are not contrary to one another but subservient to one another.

For if there had been a law given which could have given life; for if there had been a law which could, by our perfect performance of it, have given us a righteousness, wherein we might have stood righteous before God, then righteousness should have been by the law; then men might have hoped to have been justified and accepted of God by me for such obedience; then indeed the law had been against the promises, they holding forth another righteousness, viz. the righteousness of God from faith to faith. Is the law then against the promises of God?.... If the law was added because of transgressions, and curses for them, and if the inheritance is not of it, but by promise, were it, it would not be by promise, then, says an objector, it is against the promises: these are contrary to one another, and God, in giving the one and the other, must contradict himself: to which it is replied,

God forbid; a way of speaking the apostle uses, when he would express his abhorrence and detestation of anything, as here; for though the law and promises are distinct things, and have their separate uses, yet they are not contradictory to each other; the law has its use, and so have the promises; the promises do not set aside the law as useless on all accounts, nor does the law disannul the promises, but is subservient to them:

for if there had been a law which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law; but the law cannot give life, spiritual life to a dead sinner; God only can do this, Father, Son, and Spirit; so far is the law from giving it efficiently, that it is not so much as the means of it; it is not made use of this way; God makes use of the law to kill, but not to make alive; he makes use of the law to strike dead all a man's hopes of happiness, by the deeds of it; but it is the Gospel he uses to quicken and comfort; that is the Spirit that giveth life. The law requires as much of a dead sinner, as it did of Adam in innocence, but gives him no life, activity, and strength to perform; could it quicken him, and enable him to do all its demands perfectly, then there would be righteousness, and so justification by it, as by the promise; whence it appears that there is no contrariety in the law to the promises: the reason why there is no righteousness is, because it cannot give life, spiritual life and strength; and if so, then not eternal life; which is the free gift of God, and not the merit of men's works: this is directly contrary to a notion of the Jews, who cry up the law as a life giving law; say they (n),

"great is the law, , "for it giveth life to them that do it", in this world, and in the world to come:''

and elsewhere (o),

"the law is a tree of life to all that study in it,

, "to give unto them life" in this world, and "to give unto them life" in the world to come.''

(n) Pirke Abot, c. 6. sect. 6. (o) Zohar in Gen. fol. 70. 3. & in Num. fol. 62. 1.

{25} 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.

(25) The conclusion uttered by a manner of asking a question, and it is the same that was uttered before in Ga 3:17, but proceeding from another principle, so that the argument is new, and is this: God is always like himself: therefore the Law was not given to abolish the promises. But it would abolish them if it gave life, for by that means it would justify, and therefore it would abolish that justification which was promised to Abraham and to his seed by faith. No, it was rather given to bring to light the guiltiness of all men, to the end that all believers fleeing to Christ, might be freely justified in him.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Galatians 3:21. ὁ οὖν νόμος κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν;] οὖν, the reference of which is differently explained according to the different interpretations of Galatians 3:20, draws an inference, not from the definition of the object of the law in Galatians 3:19 (Castalio, Luther, Gomarus, Pareus, Estius, Bengel, and others, including Lücke, Olshausen, de Wette, Wieseler, Hofmann, Stölting), but from Galatians 3:20, which is not arbitrarily to be set aside, or to be treated merely as an appendage of Galatians 3:19.[163] The law, namely, which was given through a mediator, and therefore essentially otherwise than the promise, might thereby appear to introduce on the part of God another way of granting the Messianic salvation than the promises, and consequently to be opposed to the latter. See the fuller statement at Galatians 3:20.

κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν] See Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:16. The ΚΑΤΆ is the usual contra, in opposition, to. Matthias incorrectly explains it: “Is it included under the idea of the promises?” Since the simple ἐστί—and not, possibly, ΤΆΣΣΕΤΑΙ (see Lobeck, Phryn. p. 272)—is to be supplied, the expression would be wholly without the sanction of usage. Moreover, looking to the specific difference in the ideas of the two things, Paul could not have asked such a question at all.

εἰ γὰρ ἐδόθη νόμος κ.τ.λ.] ground assigned for the ΜῊ ΓΈΝΟΙΤΟ, and therefore proof that it would be incorrect to conclude from Galatians 3:20 that the law was opposed to the promises. For if it had been opposed to the promises, the law must have been in a position to procure life;[164] and if this were so, then would righteousness actually be from the law,[165] which, according to the Scriptures, cannot be the case (Galatians 3:22).

νόμος] just as in the whole context: the Mosaic law, although without the article, as in ii. 21, iii. 11, 18; Winer, p. 117 [E. T. 152].

ὁ δυνάμ. ζωοπ.] The article marks off the definite quality which, in the words εἰ γὰρ ἐδόθη νόμος, is conceived by the lawgiver as belonging to the law (Winer, p. 127 [E. T. 167]; Kühner, ad Xen. Mem. ii. 7, 13): as that which is able to give life; and this is the point of this conditional sentence.

ζωοποιῆσαι] “Hoc verbo praesupponitur mors peccatori intentata,” Bengel. The ζωή, however, which the law is not able to furnish, is not the being alive morally (Winer, Rückert, Matthies, Olshausen, Ewald, Wieseler, Hauck, Hofmann, Buhl, and others, following older expositors), but, in harmony with the context, the everlasting Messianic life (see Käuffer, de bibl. ζωῆς αἰωνίου notione, p. 75), as is evident from Galatians 3:18 (εἰ γὰρ ἐκ νόμου ἡ κληρονομία) and from Galatians 3:22. Comp. also 2 Corinthians 3:6. The moral quickening is presupposed in this ζωοποιῆσαι. The law, in itself good and holy, could not subdue the dominion of the principle of sin in man (Romans 8:3), but rather necessarily served to promote this dominion (see on Galatians 3:19), and was therefore unable to bring about the eternal life which was dependent on obedience to the law (Galatians 3:12): given unto life, it was found unto death, Romans 7:10. Paul never uses ζωοποιεῖν of the moral quickening, nor συζωοποιεῖν either (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13). The ζεή is the eternal life which is manifested at the Parousia (Colossians 3:3 f.), and therefore in reality the κληρονομία (Galatians 3:18; Galatians 3:29). Comp. ζήσεται, Galatians 3:12, to which our ζωοπ. glances back.

ὄντως ἐκ νόμου ἂν ἦν ἡ δικαιοσύνη] then in reality (not merely in Jewish imagination) the law would be that, from which the existence of righteousness would proceed, namely, by its enabling men to offer complete obedience. The argument proceeds ab effectu (ζωοποιῆσαι) ad causam (ἡ δικαιοσύνη), for, without being righteous before God, man cannot attain eternal life: not as Rückert, Wieseler, Hofmann, and others, in accordance with their view of ζωοπ., are compelled to assume, a causa (the new moral life whereby the law is fulfilled) ad effectum (the δικαιοσύνη which would be acquired by the fulfilment of the law). The relation between ζωοποιῆσαι and ἡ δικαιοσύνη is aptly indicated by Oecumenius: οὐκ ἔσωσεν οὐδὲ ἐδικαίωσεν, and by Bengel: “Justitia est vitae fundamentum.”

[163] Also in 1 Corinthians 6:15, οὖν (in opposition to Stölting’s appeal to the passage) introduces a possible (mischievous) inference from what immediately precedes, to be at once repelled with horror by μὴ γένοιτο.

[164] This consequence depends upon the dilemma: Life may be procured either through the promises or through the law. If, therefore, the law stands in opposition to the promises, so that the latter shall no longer be valid, the law must be able to procure life. This dilemma is correct, because no third possibility is given in the divine plan of salvation.

[165] Even if ἄν be not genuine, this interpretation is not altered (Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 194, 6); and we cannot explain (with Hofmann): “If there was given, etc., then was,” etc. This imperfect (erat) would be illogical; Paul would have written ἐστίν or γέγονεν.Galatians 3:21. In view of the continuity of divine providence the suggestion that the Law contravened or nullified the previous covenant of God with Abraham and the patriarchs is dismissed as monstrous. It was incompatible with the faithfulness of God to His pledged word, and is therefore repudiated with the customary formula μὴ γένοιτο. The apparent sanction given by the Law to a new method of justification (viz., by works) could lead to no actual result, unless it had at the same time possessed the power which it lacked of quickening spiritual life.—τοῦ Θεοῦ. These words are omitted in some MSS., but the preponderance of authority is in favour of their retention. The sense is the same whether they be expressed or understood. The addition may perhaps be due to a marginal comment which found its way into the text.21. Having thus sharply contrasted the two covenants, the Apostle anticipates an objection—‘You say that God is One. He is the Author both of the law and of the promises. How then can there be the opposition between them which your argument would imply?’ To this the answer is decisive. The difference is such as to display a marked contrast, not such as to involve antagonism. Otherwise God might seem in giving the law to have retracted the promises. Away with such a supposition.

for if there had been a law given … by the law] Life had been forfeited by sin; life must be recovered by righteousness. The promise assured life to the believer through righteousness imputed; the law offered life as the reward of a perfect obedience. Had the conditions of the law been less strict, or had man been able to fulfil them, then righteousness (and life) had come to men from the law. Hence there is no antagonism between the two covenants. ‘To give life’ was the end of both. The law failed to do this; the promise succeeded. Man could not obey perfectly: he could believe, and so obtain life.Galatians 3:21. Οὖν, then) This objection may be taken from the circumstance, that the law is said to have been given because of transgressions. The answer is, that the law is not against the promises, and in regard to the answer two considerations are presented: The one is, the law in itself, though it were willing, cannot give the life that has been promised, Galatians 3:21; the other is, nevertheless, as a schoolmaster, it assisted the promise of life; Galatians 3:22 to Galatians 4:7. The first consideration is proved by this Enthymeme[29] (of the same sort as at Galatians 3:18): If the law could give you life, righteousness would be by the law; but righteousness is not by the law; supply [the conclusion], therefore the law cannot give life. The major proposition is evident, for only the just shall live, Galatians 3:11. The minor proposition, and at the same time the second consideration itself, is proved by Galatians 3:22 : and that too by Epanodus;[30] for of these four terms, to give life, righteousness, sin, promise, the first and fourth, the second and third, have respect to each other.—νόμος, the law) It is called the law, not the law of God: but we say, the promises of God, not, the promises absolutely.—εἰ γὰρ, for if) The conditional force does not fall upon was given, for the law was certainly given, but upon was able (could have).—ὁ δυνάμενος, that was able) The article shows that the emphasis is on δύναμαι. The law would wish [to give life], Galatians 3:12, for it says, he shall live, but it is not able.—ζωοποιῆσαι, to give life) In this expression death is taken for granted as threatened [by the law] against the sinner, and therefore the language becomes very distinct. The law offers life conditionally, Galatians 3:12; but does not confer it, because it cannot, being deprived of all power to do so by sin.—ὄντως, verily) not merely in the opinion of those maintaining justification by works. The matter in hand [justification] is a serious one [the question at issue is a serious reality], although it be now beyond the power of the law.—ἡ δικαιοσύνη, righteousness) For righteousness is the foundation of life. The antithesis is sin, Galatians 3:22.

[29] See Append. A covert syllogism, where one or other premiss is understood. Here it is the oratorical Enthymeme, where an argument is confirmed from its contrary: If the law could, etc., which it could not, etc.—ED.

[30] See App. It is the repetition of the same words, either as to sound or sense, in an inverted order.Verse 21. - Is the Law then against the promises of God? (ὁ οϋν νόμος κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν τοῦ Θεοῦ;). "Against" (κατά), as Galatians 5:23; Romans 8:31; Matthew 12:30. Since the apostle has already (vers. 15-18) disposed of the notion that the Law may have superseded or essentially qualified the promise, this word "against" can hardly intend adverse action of that kind, but rather imports simply contrariety of spirit or purpose. This objection the apostle meets by stating that the spirit and purpose of the Law were not contrary to the promises, inasmuch as the Law did not offer to interfere with the work which the promises were to do, but was designed, to be auxiliary to their function by preparing the way for its discharge. God forbid (μὴ γένοιτο). The tone of abhorrence with which the apostle negatives the inference (see note on Galatians 2:17) is due, not so much to its mere unreasonableness, as to the almost blasphemous character which he feels to attach to the notion. To think that one unquestionable revelation of the faithful, unchangeable God can be contrary in spirit or purpose to another equally unquestionable revelation of his! For if there had been a Law given which could have given life (εἰ γὰρ ἐδόθη νόμος ὁ δυνάμενος ζωοποιῆσαι,); for if a Law had been given such as could make alive. The construction of the article in the phrase, νόμος ὁ δυνάμενος, is similar to that in ἔθνη τὰ μὴ ἔχοντα (Romans 2:14); μάρτυσι τοῖς προκεχειροτονημένοις (Acts 10:41). The noun is first put undetermined, a narrowing determination with the article being then added: "If [in the Law of Moses] had been given a Law such as," etc. By fastening attention upon the Law as unable "to make alive," the apostle marks its character as contrasted with the new covenant, the characteristic function of which is that of imparting a life-giving Spirit. The Law made men feel their sin, their spiritual incapacitation, "the body of death" which enthralled them (Romans 7.); but the grace which should instil into their souls the life of love which they lacked, it had not to bestow. So far only reaches the unfavourable estimate of the Law's function given here: it was not "able to make alive." Verily righteousness should have been by the Law (ὄντως α}ν ἐκ νόμου η΅ν ἡ δικαιοσύνη); in very deed then from the Law would have accrued righteousness. "In very deed then." But as the case now stands, it is a delusion to think it can, as the unbelieving Jews do, and as some of you seem minded to do. Ὄντως, as Luke 23:47; 1 Corinthians 14:25. If the Law could have quickened men with spiritual life it would have brought them justification. This is what the apostle here affirms. But why so? That in the economy of grace there is no justification without spiritual quickening, nor spiritual life without justification, we are clearly apprised by many passages of St. Paul's own writings, notably by Romans 8:1-10. The explanation, however, is probably this: in the apostle's view, the gift of the indwelling Spirit, to sanctify us and enable us for living a spiritual life, is conditioned by a state of acceptableness with God; until we have been brought into a state of grace, we are not qualified to receive this the supreme proof of Divine love. It is "because we are sons that God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6). If, then, the Law can be supposed capable of imparting the Spirit of life, it must be supposed capable of antecedently imparting righteousness. The "inheritance" of Abraham's seed includes both, both accruing to them from faith. So far was the Law from having these gifts to bestrew, that on the one hand, Moses' ministering of the Law to the people was a ministration of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:6-9), and on the other, it brought quickening, indeed, but not to the sinner's spirit, but to his sin (Romans 7:9). intensifying its malignity and working death (ibid., vers. 10-13). These views, so explicitly expressed by the apostle in the two nearly contemporaneous Epistles just cited, reveal to us what was in his mind when writing, the words before us, and may be properly adduced to explain them. Against the promises (κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν)

Does it follow from the difference between the law and the promises that they are in antagonism? Paul supposes this objection on the part of a Jewish Christian.

God forbid (μὴ γένοιτο)

See on Romans 3:4. This could only be true in case the law gave life, for life must come either through the promises or through the law. If the law is against the promises, and makes them invalid, it follows that life must come through the law, and therefore righteousness, without which there is no life, would verily (ὄντως), just as the Judaisers claim, be through the law.

By the law

Tisch., Rev. T., Weiss, retain ἐκ νόμου from, resulting from the law. WH. read ἐν νόμῳ in the law. The meaning is substantially the same with either reading: in the one case proceeding from, in the other residing in the law.

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