Copyright © 1990 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.
GALATIANS 3:19-20: A CRUX INTERPRETUM
FOR PAUL'S VIEW OF THE LAW*
DANIEL B. WALLACE
1. Paul's View of the Law in Recent Discussions
H. J. Schoeps begins his chapter on "Paul's Teaching about the Law"
in his highly acclaimed work, Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the
Light of Jewish Religious History, with the remark that "the Pauline under-
standing of the law [is] the most intricate doctrinal issue in his theology."1
It deserves this accolade, according to Peter Stuhlmacher, "not only be-
cause Paul's terminology is highly nuanced but also because the develop-
ment of his teaching about the law is diversely accented."2 This is putting
it mildly! Paul's treatment of the law has sorely exercised the most com-
petent of NT scholars,3 and has flaunted itself as something beyond the
grasp of the rest of us who have been graced with less generous mental
capacities. The problems and apparent contradictions in Paul's view of the
law are legion.4 Such Pauline tensions have created over the years a pleth-
ora of diverse interpretations, so much so that "Paul has been evaluated as
almost everything from antinomian through schizophrenic to Pharisee on
Thanks are due to Drs. Buist M. Fanning, Harold W. Hoehner, Douglas Moo, Thomas
R. Schreiner, and Moises Silva for examining a preliminary draft of this paper and making
many helpful suggestions.
1 H. J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 168.
2 P. Stuhlmacher, Reconciliation, Law and Righteousness: Essays in Biblical Theology (Philadel-
phia: Fortress, 1986) 125.
3 F. F Bruce's comment is representative: "To gain a clear understanding of Paul's attitude
to the law is notoriously difficult, and the difficulty arises in some measure from the ambiv-
alence in his thinking and language on this subject" ("Paul and the Law of Moses," BJRL 57
4 For a helpful and brief overview of these problems, cf. J. M. G. Barclay, "Paul and the
Law: Observations on Some recent Debates," Themelios 12 (1986) 5, and J. A. Sanders, "Torah
and Paul," in God's Christ and His People: Studies in Honor of Nils Alstrup Dahl (ed. J. Jervell
and W. A. Meeks;
5 J. Fischer, "Paul in His Jewish Context," EvQ 57 (1985) 211. Cf. also F. Prat, The Theology
the Mosaic Law are, at first sight, contradictory. Sometimes he extols it to the skies, at other
times he seems to bring it down below the natural law." Somewhat cynically, and in a
Most recently, five monographs have been produced which threaten to
accost even the minimal stable core of scholarly consensus over Paul's un-
derstanding of the law. The volume which broke "the mould into which
descriptions of Paul's work and thought have regularly been poured for
many decades"6 is the tome by E. P. Sanders entitled Paul and Palestinian
Judaism.7 The basic thesis of Sanders' volume is that the picture of first
century Judaism that NT scholars have drawn from the Pauline homolo-
goumena is historically false: in Sanders' view, the Judaism of Paul's day
was not one of legalistic works-righteousness.8 J. D. G. Dunn, who has
adopted Sanders' viewpoint, suggests that "to a remarkable and indeed
alarming degree, throughout this century the standard depiction of the
Judaism which Paul rejected has been the reflex of Lutheran herme-
neutic."9 Space does not permit a detailed discussion of Sanders' study,
which in any event is ancillary to our present purposes. But suffice it to say
here that Sanders' work has provided a major impetus to deflect NT schol-
arship from other long-standing pursuits in favor of once again pondering
the thought and theology of the apostle to the Gentiles.
Closely on the heels of Sanders' seminal study was Hans Hubner's Das
Gesetz bei Paulus: Ein Beitrag zum Werden der paulinischen Theologie,10 which
appeared one year after Paul and Palestinian Judaism and is now clothed in
English dress.11 Hubner's main argument is that there is development in
Paul's thinking over the law. Hubner concentrates on Galatians and Ro-
mans, attempting to demonstrate not just development, but disagreement.
That is, in Romans Paul changes his view of the law which he previously
held in Galatians: " . . . between the time when Galatians was written and
the writing of Romans, there lies a far from trivial process of reflection and
development in Paul the theologian."12
slightly different connection, one writer opined that "usually one learns more about the
theological stance of the writers of these books than about the real Paul" (S. Grayzel, "Paul:
Jew and Christian,"
6 J. D. G. Dunn, "The New Perspective on Paul," BJRL 65 (1983) 97.
7 E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadel-
phia: Fortress, 1977).
8 Ibid., 33-59.
9 Dunn, "New Perspective," 98-99. Though Sanders' basic thesis is gaining many adher-
ents, there are more than a few dissidents, most notably R. H. Gundry ("Grace, Works, and
Staying Saved in Paul," Bib 66  1-38), K. T. Cooper ("Paul and Rabbinic Theology: A
Review Article," WTJ 44  123-39), D. H. King ("Paul and the Tannaim: A Study in
Galatians," WTJ 45  340-70, esp. 340 n. 1), T. R. Schreiner ("Paul and Perfect. Obe-
dience to the Law: An Evaluation of the View of E. P. Sanders," WTJ 47  245-78), and
S. Westerholm ("Torah, Nomos, and Law: A Question of ‘Meaning,’" SR 15  327-36). On
the other side of the ledger, besides Dunn, are T. F. Best ("The Apostle Paul and E. P. Sanders:
The Significance of Paul and Palestinian Judaism," RestQ 25  65-74) and, though more
reservedly, J. M. G. Barclay ("Paul and the Law," 5-15).
11 Law in Paul's Thought (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1984).
12 Ibid., 54. All references are to the English translation.
GALATIANS 3:19-20 227
In 1983 Heikki Raisanen put forth his views in Paul and the Law.13 J. M.
G. Barclay considers this study to be "the fullest and most provocative
treatment of the subject" of Paul's view of the law.14 (I would concur with
Barclay, for not only does Raisanen ask all the right questions, but he has
the most complete bibliography on the topic that I have yet to come across
[28 pages of small print].) Barclay adds that "this is a hefty book, inter-
acting in great detail with a vast range of scholarly works, but its basic
thesis can be summed up very simply: Paul's discussion of the law is wholly
inconsistent and self-contradictory."15 The difference between Hubner and
Raisanen, put simply, is that the former sees Pauline contradiction (through
development) between Galatians and Romans while the latter sees Pauline
contradiction within each of these two Hauptbriefe.
In the same year, E. P. Sanders published a sequel to his Paul and Pal-
estinian Judaism which he labeled Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People.16 This
second book, in a sense, reenters the fray which Sanders started in the first
place. That is, in Paul and Palestinian Judaism Sanders spends most of his time
on Judaism; in the sequel he spends most of his time on Paul and his view
of the law—thus contributing to the specific discussion for which his first
volume was a general catalyst.
Finally, brief mention should be made of Francis Watson's recent con-
tribution, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach.17 Watson's
argument, as the title implies, is that the bottom-line reason for Paul's
critique of the law is sociological (i.e., related to the Gentile mission on a
pragmatic level) rather than theological (i.e., related to the essence of the
gospel). Sanders' fingerprints are easily detected in this approach.
2. The Place of Gal 3:19-20 in the Current Debate
In these recent studies there are, to be sure, many focal points in the
corpus, though the heaviest concentration is in Romans and
latians. This is quite natural:
Paul uses no<moj more in Romans and
latians (approximately 74 and 32 times respectively, depending on textual
variants) than in all the rest of his letters (14 times, including the "deutero-
Pauline" epistles).18 One such focal point is Gal 3:19-20. In Hubner's de-
14 Barclay, "Paul and the Law," 9.
18 Eight of these are in 1 Corinthians; six are scattered among Ephesians (1), Philippians
(3), and 1 Timothy (2) (Hebrews has it 14 times). Since the major concentration of the use of
the term is to be found in the Pauline Hauptbriefe, this is one area of investigation in which
conservatives and liberals can engage in profitable dialogue without letting their presuppo-
sitions regarding authenticity intrude too much. Nevertheless, three points should be added
velopmental hypothesis, this is a significant crux interpretum; in fact, it may
not be saying too much to state that if Hubner's exegesis of this text is
wrong, a major pillar for his whole thesis collapses.19 Raisanen, too, finds
in Gal 3:19-20 a crux for his views. He reacts against Hubner's exegesis,20
yet finds within this text internal contradictions.21 Moreover, "when it comes
to the origin and purpose of the law, Galatians 3:19 is at variance with other
Pauline passages."22 For Sanders, Gal 3:19ff. is the central passage to be
considered with reference to Paul's statements about the purpose of the law.23
In Sanders' view, Paul is internally coherent, though not systematic. He
thus disagrees with both Hubner and Raisanen.24
Others, too, have pointed out the central place of Gal 3:19-20 in Paul's
reflections on the law. In his catalogue of Pauline tensions over the law,
Barclay concludes, "And most fundamentally of all, if the law is the holy law
of God (Rom 7:10-14; 9:4) how could Paul regard it as responsible for sin,
curse and death (Rom. 7:5; 2 Cor. 3:6-9; Gal. 3:10-13), and how could he
play down its significance because it was ‘ordained by angels through an
intermediary’ (Gal. 3:19)?"25 Cranfield points out that "Gal. 3.15-25 . . . --
perhaps more than any other single passage—has encouraged readers of St.
Paul to assume that he believed that the law is done away by Christ." And
here: (1) The comments on the law in Eph 2:15 and in 1 Tim 1:9 do make significant con-
tributions to the overall discussion; without entering into debates over authenticity, a rea-
sonable approach seems to be to consider these epistles to be Pauline at least in their basic
thought. (2) Though Hebrews is almost universally considered to be not Pauline (except on a
popular level in some circles), most would agree that the author was still very much of the
Pauline school. And the fact that no<moj occurs as much here (14 times) as in all of the corpus
Paulinum outside of Romans and Galatians may suggest something as to its raison d'etre is it not
possible that the author is attempting a refinement of Paul's statements about the law (espe-
cially with regard to the abrogation of its cultic aspect by the death of Christ)? Though it is
obvious that the author's thoughts on the law are more neatly articulated than are Paul's,
what seems to escape most is that this might be an intentional vindication of Pauline Christi-
anity. As such, the development of thought between Romans-Galatians and Hebrews is a topic
worth pursuing—especially when it is viewed as an archetype for the patristic (and even
Reformation) attempts at dogmatic/systematic theology. (3) Finally, in light of the heavy
concentration of no<moj in the Pauline homologoumena (including 1 Corinthians and Philip-
pians), it is all the more remarkable that no broad consensus exists for Paul's view of the law.
19 His primary exegesis of this text is on pp. 25-30 of Law in Paul's Thought, though he refers
to the passage another twenty times. On p. 30 he concludes his argument as follows: "Thus
Paul's entire argument in Gal 3 can be shown to be without inner contradictions by making use of
that threefold distinction: God's intention, the immanent or intrinsic intention of the Law and the
intention of the Law-givers. The basis for this interpretation of course remains a fortiori our
exposition of 3:19ff."
20 Raisanen's primary exegesis of the passage is found on pp. 128-33 of Paul and the Law.
21 Ibid., 132.
22 Barclay, "Paul and the Law," 9.
23 Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People, 65-70.
24 We will not discuss Watson here because in Watson's essay Gal 3:19ff. receives only a
passing note (pp. 70-71)—a point which nevertheless seems a bit curious since in this text Paul
is bringing to bear as many theological (not just sociological) arguments as he can muster.
25 Barclay, "Paul and the Law," 5.
GALATIANS 3:19-20 229
he adds that "it is verses 19 and 20 which contain what G. S. Duncan has
called Paul's ‘depreciatory account of the Law’."26 Finally Otfried Hofius,
in commenting on the significance of the question with which Paul begins
v. 19 (ti< ou#n o[ no<moj), states that "diese Frage stellte sich grundsatzlich;
sie wollte and musste auch grundsatzlich beantwortet sein."27
In brief, Gal 3:19-20 is a crux interpretum for the origination and purpose
of the law in Paul's thought. It is central to Hubner's thesis of disjunctive
development and to Raisanen's view of self-contradiction; it provides a
major hurdle to Cranfield's idea of the law's continuing validity as well as,
to some degree, Sanders' thesis of covenantal nomism. Yet, there is a wide
diversity of opinion about the text. In fact, v. 20 alone has been the victim
of literally hundreds of different interpretations—some say as high as
43028—rendering it arguably the most diversely interpreted verse in the
Our purpose in this paper, therefore, is to interpret Gal 3:19-20 in light
of the current debate over Paul's view of the law. The critical role this text
plays in Paul's thought (and, hence, in recent discussions) has already been
established; we believe that our topic is, therefore, not too narrowly con-
ceived. Yet, when one considers the vast plethora of views on v. 20 in
particular, he might consider our topic to be too broad for such a short
paper! Indeed, I have yet to arrive at a fully satisfactory view of v. 20
(especially 20b). Nevertheless, v. 19 functions as very much of a "quality
control" over v. 20 (hence, at least a negative assessment of several currently
popular treatments of v. 20 will be ventured). It is our prime objective,
therefore, to arrive at an understanding of v. 19 through detailed exegesis
and, secondly, to offer a critique of alternate approaches in light of our
reconstruction of the apostle's meaning.
II. Gal 3:19-20 in Context
The context into which Gal 3:19-20 falls is pretty clear with respect to
its parameters and overall thrust. Callan suggests:
26 C. E. B. Cranfield,
27 O. Hofius, "Das Gesetz des Mose and das Gesetz Christi," ZTK 80 (1983) 264.
28 The suggestion of 430 apparently was first mentioned by A. Oepke, Der Brief des Paulus
an die Galater (3d ed.;
is slightly hyperbolic language (reflecting a facetiously rabbinic-like treatment in light of v. 17).
Yet, most commentators recognize the existence of at least 250-300 different interpretations
on the text, some even as high as 400 (see the note in H. D. Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on
Paul's Letter to the
For an almost exhaustive treatment of these interpretations, see T. D. Callan, Jr., "The Law and
the Mediator: Ga 3:19b-20" (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1976). More accessible,
though considerably less recent, is H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the
Epistle to the Galatians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1873) 178-96.
29 Callan, "The Law and the Mediator," 3.
The larger section of which Ga 3:19b-20 is a part is 3:1-4:7. Paul's intention in
this section is fairly clear. In 3:1-18 he opposes his readers' apparent inclination
to take the Jewish law upon themselves by arguing that justification comes
through faith, not through the law. Then, in 3:19-4:7 he supports his argument
that justification is not the purpose of the law by explaining what its purpose was.
Paul's argument in 3:1-18 falls into three sections:
1) in v 1-5 he appeals to the experience of his readers, recalling to their
minds that the spirit came to them through faith rather than through works of the
2) in v 6-14 Paul appeals to the figure of Abraham, arguing that he was
justified by faith and that those who are of faith are his sons and the heirs of the
promise made to him, but that the law brings only a curse;
3) and in v 15-18 Paul meets two possible objections to what he has just
said, arguing first that the law is not the fulfillment of the promise, since the
promise is made to the one seed, Christ, and only through him to others (v 16), and
second, that the law does not invalidate the promise (v 17-18).30
This is a fairly representative statement.31 The basic gist of chap. 3, up
to vv. 19ff., is that (1) the Spirit was received by faith, not by works of the
law (3:1-5); (2) the example of Abraham illustrates that one is justified by
faith, not by works of the law (3:6-14); (3) the law, which came 430 years
after God's covenant with Abraham, cannot invalidate the promise
(3:15-18). The question of v. 19 (ti< ou#n o[ no<moj;) is especially to be seen
as a response to the problem created by Paul's argument in vv. 15-18.
Again, there is fairly universal agreement on this point.32
III. Exegesis of Gal 3:19-20
We begin our exegesis of Gal 3:19-20 with two assumptions: (1) as was
just mentioned, the question Paul is answering in v. 19 is somehow in
response to the problem he "created" for the law's raison d'etre in at least and
30 Ibid., 1.
31 C. H. Cosgrove argues that "though the rhetoric of Galatians is rough, the logic is clear
and compelling" ("The Mosaic Law Preaches Faith: A Study in Galatians 3," WTJ 41 
147). Cf. his outline of the relevant sections in Galatians (p. 148). For similar constructs, cf.
of Galatians 3 and 4," RevExp 55 (1973) 472-80; Betz, Galatians, 128-60.
32 R. B. Hays' statement is representative: "The promises antedated the Law; consequently,
the Law cannot impose ex post facto conditions or limitations on the fulfillment of the prom-
ises" (The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-
vv. 15-18 Paul argues that the law is subordinate to the promise in time and fulfillment ("The
Limitation of the Law as Moral Power in Paul and Selected Jewish Writings" [Th.D. disser-
tation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1963] 125-35). What is debatable here is
not that for Paul justification comes by faith but whether the law is abrogated by the death
of Christ (so D. E. H. Whiteley,
The Theology of
Preaches Faith," 146-64).
GALATIANS 3:19-20 231
especially vv. 15-18; (2) Galatians was written before Romans.33 Virtually
every phrase in these two verses has fairly self-contained exegetical prob-
lems. Consequently, we propose to handle the text phrase by phrase—in
spite of the superficial affinity that such an approach will have with ato-
1. Ti< ou#n o[ no<moj;
Two basic questions confront us here: (1) is ti< to be taken pronominally
("what then [is] the law?") or adverbially ("why then the law?" or perhaps
"why then [was] the law [given]?");34 and (2) why does Paul feel constrained
to bring up this question at this juncture?
Smyth points out that in interrogative questions, "ti<j asks a question
concerning the class, ti< concerning the nature of a thing."35 Thus, if ti< is
taken pronominally, the idea would be "what is the nature [or essence] of
the law?" Perhaps "essence" can be expanded to "significance,"36 though
this may be begging the question some. Contextually, it seems doubtful that
Paul is asking so general a question as, "What is the nature of the law?" His
argument, prima facie, seems much tighter than that.
Taken adverbially, Paul would be inquiring as to the purpose of the law.
Some have objected on grammatical grounds ("ti< is not for dia> ti<"),37 but
such an objection is unwarranted in that ti< without an accompanying
preposition often bears an adverbial nuance.38 The stylistic objection ap-
33 Again, there is virtually universal agreement on this point—in spite of whether one
adopts the north Galatian hypothesis or the south Galatian hypothesis.
34 The addition of "given" is perhaps permissible. Cf. John 7:39 (ou@pw ga>r h#n pneu?ma, "for
the Spirit was not yet [given]") and Acts 19:2 (ou]d ] ei] pneu?ma a!gion e@stin h]kou<samen, "we
have not heard whether the Holy Spirit was [given]"). Three factors, however, render the
addition of "given" (or "added") in Gal 3:19 improbable: (1) even if we grant that "given" is
implied in John 7:39 and Acts 19:2, both are dealing with the Spirit, not the law, perhaps
reflecting an idiomatic expression; (2) in both John 7:39 and Acts 19:2, the copula is present
(not so in Gal 3:19); (3) the implied "given" in the John and Acts texts is not an exegetical
certainty (note the variant dedome<non in John 7:39 [which is supported by B et al.] and a
different translation/interpretation of Acts 19:2 by D. B. Wallace, "The Relation of Adjective
to Noun in Anarthrous Constructions in the New Testament," NovT 26  157). If then,
is to be adverbially nuanced, it seems best to render the question elliptically (as, in any case,
Paul has done) so as to retain the original rhetorical effect: "why then the law?"
35 H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (rev. G. Messing;
also B. L. Gildersleeve, Syntax of Classical Greek from Homer to Demosthenes (
American, 1900) 59 (§130); A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the
Light of Historical
36 So E. D. Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (ICC;
37 C. J. Ellicott, A Commentary, Critical and Grammatical on
(Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1860) 80; identically, J. Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of
the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1869) 262.
38 In the Pauline corpus, cf. Rom 3:7; 14:10; 1 Cor 4:7; 10:30; Gal 5:11; Col 2:20. For other
examples, cf. BAGD, 819 (§3.a).
pears stronger ("Paul frequently uses ti< adverbially . . . , yet never else-
where in the phrase ti< ou#n"),39 but even here the case is weakened by the
fact that Paul rarely, if ever, uses ti< ou#n in the sense of "what then is the
essence."' Hence, this argument cuts both ways.41
In sum, there are no real grammatical or stylistic arguments against an
adverbial ti< and the context is particularly in favor of it. Hence, the ques-
tion should be read, "Why then the law?"42 In this opening query, Paul is
therefore raising the issue of the law's purpose.
But why does Paul raise this question here? It is evident that, in his
diatribe toward the Judaizers, he must somehow sense that he has argued
effectively against the law's raison d’etre. Now no<moj did not explicitly enter
the picture until v. 10 and Paul's argument clearly reached a peak in vv.
15-18: the law, which came after the promise, cannot alter the promise.
And if believers are justified by faith—as Abraham was—then they share
in the promise (vv. 16, 29). The argument thus far seems to render the
Mosaic law as having no soteriological value. Indeed, in the back of Paul's
mind might be the retort, "Well, if obedience to the law is unnecessary for
salvation, why then did God give it?"
The answer which Paul gives to this question has tremendous ramifica-
tions. Before we consider it we would do well to note two things: (1) Paul
is here restricting his discussion to the purpose of the law in relation to
soteriology;43 (2) Paul's argument—here, as well as in the rest of Galatians--
though obviously emotionally charged is nevertheless quite logically
structured.44 In other words, it is begging the question to think that Paul
6:1, 15), but admits that in none of these is the thought "what then is the essence" (or, in his
words, "what signifies") found. His one Pauline passage for that idiom is 1 Cor 3:5 (ti< ou#n e]stin
]Apollw?j), but several important MSS here read ti<j (P46vid x2 C D F G Byz syr).
41 Yet Paul does use ti< kai< in the sense of "why indeed" (1 Cor 15:29b, 30), approximating
the idiom of ti< ou#n as "why then."
42 Similarly, F. Prat, The Theology of
lation "why then [was] the law [given/added]?" see n. 34 above.
43 As opposed to its theocratic purposes, in particular. Calvin aptly remarks that "the law
has manifold uses, but Paul [here] confines himself to that which bears on his present subject"
(Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the
Galatians and Ephesians [
1948] 99). For a brief overview of the purposes of the law see J. D. Pentecost, "The Purpose
of the Law," BSac 128 (1971) 227-33.
44 Though not all will agree with Betz's reconstruction of Galatians along Greek rhetorical
lines (cf. especially Galatians, 14-25, and Betz's essay, "The Literary Composition and Func-
tion of Paul's Letter to the Galatians," NTS 21  353-79), the very fact that he can see
such an intricately structured argument in Galatians—even in 3:19-20—implies that the
apostle's emotional state did not have a significant bearing on the essence of his argument
(though it certainly did on his style!). More recently, J. Hall ("Paul, the Lawyer, on Law,"
Journal of Law and Religion 3  353), a professor of law, has argued that "It was in his
letter to the Galatians that Paul was the lawyer par excellence, refuting and attacking his
adversaries and, in his affirmative case, making use of analogy, precedents, and history. . . . He
knew how to win his case; he won it!"
GALATIANS 3:19-20 233
let his emotions get the better of him here, causing him to say what in a
calmer moment he would not affirm.45
2. tw?n paraba<sewn xa<rin prosete<qh
Each term here deserves some attention; we will consider them chiasti-
cally (which befits most English translations). But first the textual problems
need to be addressed. Most mss have tw?n paraba<sewn after no<moj; D*,
however, has parado<sewn ("traditions, commandments").46 The two-letter
difference probably points to a scribal blunder (for D*'s reading makes
little sense, whether taken with no<moj or xa<rin). A more serious contender
is tw?n pra<cewn ("of deeds") instead of tw?n paraba<sewn found in P46 F G
itdfg Irlat Ambst Spec. In all but P46 (too early for punctuation) the witnesses
regard pra<cewn as going with no<moj (thus, "why then the law of deeds?").
Such an expression is un-Pauline and superfluous; it was most certainly
added by some early "Western" scribe(s) to soften the blow of Paul's
Several mss, again of the "Western" strand, have e]te<qh ("was estab-
lished") in place of prosete<qh (D* F G itdfg Irlat Ambst Spec). As well,
many of these same witnesses (as we have seen) replace paraba<sewn with
pra<cewn. The overall thrust of v. 19 then could well be a very positive
assessment of the law:48
The lack of a verb in P46 and the verb of the Western uncials, "was established,"
makes interpretation of the law as an insignificant, parenthetical after-thought
less likely, if not impossible. Deletion of the verb "was added" also makes this
passage more in harmony with 3:15, which states, "no one annuls even a man's
will, or adds to it."49
Obviously, if the "Western" reading here were adopted, virtually all of the
exegetical work done on this text would have to be scrapped—or at least
significantly retooled. But there are compelling reasons for rejecting this
reading. Externally, it is provincial and relatively late.50 Internally, (a)
45 As Hubner
(Law in Paul's Thought, 136-37), Cranfield ("
Raisanen (Paul and the Law, 132-33) seem to assume.
46 BAGD, 615.
47 H. Eshbaugh ("Theological Variants in the Western Text of the Pauline Corpus" [Ph.D.
"Western" text is generally "anti-Judaic," it is not so in the Pauline corpus (pp. 169-70) and
(2) in Gal 3:19 "the western shows that the purpose of the law is to bring about good deeds"
(p. 172; Eshbaugh is apparently reading pra<cewn with xa<rin [in all but P46 which omits
xa<rin] rather than with no<moj).
48 Again, see Eshbaugh ("Theological Variants," 171-72), and his article, "Textual Variants
and Theology: A Study of the Galatians Text of Papyrus 46," JSNT 3 (1979) 62-63, 68.
49 Eshbaugh, "Papyrus 46," 63.
50 Although P46 is early, its overall reading (no<moj tw?n pra<cewn [omitting xa<rin
(pros)ete<qh]) is singular (hence, not shared by the "Western" Mss). Perhaps the shared
there seems to be a much higher transcriptional probability that a scribe
would try to smooth over Paul's harsh saying here about the law than vice
versa; (b) intrinsically, (i) Paul has already argued that the law came after
the promise (vv. 15-18), indicating, more than likely, its temporary nature
(in any case, Paul in v. 19 is building on his argument of vv. 15-18 rather
than advancing a new argument); (ii) the verb "was added" in v. 19
(prosete<qh) is different from the verb in v. 15 (e]pidiata<ssetai); virtually
all exegetes recognize this as an intentional linguistic shift on Paul's part in
order not to contradict his statement in v. 15 (canceling out Eshbaugh's
argument of disharmony);51 (iii) the temper of 3:1-4:7 is very much against
a decidedly positive statement about the Torah's role in Heilsgeschichte. We
must conclude, therefore, that the reading of UBSGNT3 (=NA26) viz., tw?n
paraba<sewn xa<rin prosete<qh, is the original.
(1) prosete<qh. Paul's comment that the law "was added" "is not in
contradiction with vv. 15ff., because the law in the apostle's thought forms
no part of the covenant, is a thing distinct from it in no way modifying its
provisions."52 The problem, of course, is that Paul does not tell us to what
the law was added. Prima facie, it would seem to be to the promise, or
perhaps, in a broader context, to God's dealings
has in mind, it is self-evident that he does not wish to imply that the law
placed any kind of restriction on the promise, or that it was amended to it
so as to alter the initial covenant.53 Nevertheless, his choice of words is
peculiar, and may be due to one of at least two reasons: (a) he has delib-
erately chosen a term which sounds like a contradiction with the statement
in v. 15 (for even though the verbs are different, prosti<qhmi can never-
theless refer to a legal amendment),54 primarily for a rhetorical effect;55 or
(b) he had not thought through his lexical options, knowing that, never-
theless, he wanted to use a different (though not decidedly weaker) term
from the one he employed in v. 15. If this latter possibility is correct, then
reading of pra<cewn is coincidental; as H. Schlier remarked, the scribe of P46 may have an
anti-Marcionite axe to grind (Der Brief an die Galater
[MeyerK; 12th ed.;
hoeck & Ruprecht, 1951] 151). Although the lateness/"localness" of this reading would not
affect thoroughgoing eclecticists such as G. D. Kilpatrick and J. K. Elliott, most textual critics
today would take the history of transmission more seriously (cf. G. D. Fee, "Rigorous or
Reasoned Eclecticism—Which?" in Studies in New Testament Language and Text: Essays in
Honour of George D. Kilpatrick on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday [ed. J. K. Elliott;
51 Eshbaugh, "Papyrus 46," 63.
53 By way of contrast, G. Delling renders e]pidiata<ssetai of v. 15 as "to make further
decrees supplementary to those already given" (TDNT 8.35).
54 C. Maurer, TDNT 8.167-68; cf. also Ep. Arist. 26; Jos. Ant. 1.17; Polybius 21.42.27.
55 In so doing, Paul would be employing "reverse psychology"—i.e., after he has established
his case that no amendment can be added to a (unilateral) covenant—a point with which his
audience would be compelled to agree, he then plays "devil's advocate," setting the Galatians
up to adopt the implications of his argument of vv. 15-18 which he lays out in vv. 19-20.
GALATIANS 3:19-20 235
on this score Paul's thought did develop between the writing of Galatians
and Romans. This is so because in Rom 5:20 Paul refers to the law as
"slipping in, coming in as a side issue" (pareish?lqen).56 Such develop-
ment, however, cannot harmonize with Hubner's thesis (viz., that Paul's
estimate of the law improves between Galatians and Romans), for the term
used in Rom 5.20 is decidedly weaker (i.e., it makes a less flattering pro-
nouncement) than the one used either in Gal 3:15 or 3:19.57
Two other comments about prosete<qh are in order here. (a) The passive
voice implies an agent, but whom? Hubner believes the answer is given to
us in the last clause of v. 19: diatagei>j di ] a]gge<lwn.58 Central to his view
is the idea at least that these angelic beings acted against God's will—in
fact, "the angels are now to be understood as demonic beings."59 Of course,
the crux of his argument is in the phrase diatagei>j di ] a]gge<<lwn rather than
prosete<qh. Nevertheless, even before we meet the angels in this verse
explicitly, there are four objections to Hubner's thesis: (i) If Paul had meant
to argue that angels were ultimately responsible for giving the law, why do
they show up in a syntactically subordinate construction? That is to say,
would we not expect them to be mentioned with the main verb (e.g.,
prosete<qh di ] [or, better, u[p ]] a]gge<lwn)? It is hard to escape the conclusion
that just as diatagei<j is subordinate to prosete<qh, so are the angels sub-
ordinate to the implied agent of the main verb. (ii) Paul may well have
wished to leave God's name out of the picture because to do otherwise
would detract from his argument as to the law's inferiority.60 (iii) In the
following clause another passive verb (e]ph<ggeltai)61 is used, which must
imply God as the agent. (iv) Finally, the intervening clause (a@xrij ou$ e@lq^
to> spe<rma &$ e]ph<ggeltai) is, like diatagei<j, grammatically subordinate to
the main verb and, hence, to its implied subject. By transforming the
grammar, the subject of prosete<qh and of e]ph<ggeltai are seen to be the
same. Only the explicit mention of intermediate agents (di ] a]gge<lwn) in 19c
is able to break this chain. For these reasons we cannot fail to see God as
the one who "adds the law" in v. 19.
56 BAGD, 624.
57 Further, the fact that pareise<rxomai is a much rarer term than prosti<qhmi seems to
support the second option as to Paul's choice of words. (There is, however, also the possibility
that Paul did not use pareise<rxomai in v. 19 because of his earlier use of the cognate word,
ttapctaaicros ["smuggled in" (BAGD, 624) in 2:4], to describe the Judaizers. He may have
wished to refrain from such an implicit parallel which in his mind would speak quite pejora-
tively of the law!)
58 Law in Paul's Thought, 26-27, 82-83, and passim.
60 Paul does seem to be fond of what we might call the "theological passive" elsewhere (cf.,
e.g., 1 Cor 12:13); for other NT writers, see M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples
(Rome: Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963) 76 (§236).
61 So N. Turner in J. H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek. Vol. III: Syntax (Edin-
burgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963) 58; BAGD, 281.
(b) The very statement that the law "was added" may have run counter
to typical Jewish thought current in Paul's day. Several rabbinic sources
indicate that Abraham knew and kept the law.62 And some Targumim sug-
gest that the law was kept even by Adam.63 Nevertheless, since the tradi-
tions in the Targumim are notoriously difficult to date,64 and the rabbinic
data seem to be somewhat defensive over Abraham's knowledge of Torah,65
it is perhaps better to grant that Paul's statement—harking back to v. 17—
was a point of relative agreement.
(2) xa>rin. Paul introduces the reason for the law's existence with xa<rin,
an improper preposition which can indicate either the goal or the reason.66
That is, Paul may be viewing the law's relation to transgressions (tw?n
paraba<sewn) prospectively ("for the purpose of transgressions") or retrospec-
tively ("because of transgressions"). The ultimate decision cannot., there-
fore, be based on grammar, but on usage in this context. For that, we must
turn to "the transgressions."
(3) tw?n paraba<sewn. Paul's statement that the law was added tw?n
paraba<sewn xa<rin is reminiscent of Rom 4:15—"where there is no law,
neither is there transgression." Although Hubner's argument that we must
not interpret Galatians in light of Romans I find in general to be valid the
Galatians certainly did not have that luxury), this parallel seems to be an
exception: Paul in Rom 4:15 is defining para<basij. He does this so "matter-
of-factly" that the statement looks very much like a rather vanilla dictio-
nary entry with which no one could quarrel. Indeed, both Pauline usage
and the meaning of para<basij in Koine Greek in general confirm the idea
of "a violation of a known law "67 Hence, primarily for the reason that a
"transgression" against a known law (whether written or oral; cf. Rom 5:14)
could not occur until that law came into existence, we are compelled to
recognize xa<rin prospectively: "for the purpose of transgressions."68 A sec-
62 See references in Str-B 3.204-6.
63 Frg. Tg. Gen 2:15; Gen 3:24. Cf. also F. Pereira, "The Galatian Controversy in the Light
of the Targums," Indian Journal of Theology 20 (1971) 18-19.
64 See the discussion in A. D. York, "The Dating of Targumic Literature," JSJ 5 (1974)
49-62; R. Le Deaut,
McNamara, Palestinian Judaism and the New Testament (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1983)
65 Cf., e.g, Mek. Exod. 20,18 (78b); Gen. Rabb. 44 (27d); see also Betz's discussion (Galatians,
66 BAGD, 877. The second sense, though rarer, does occur (cf. Luke 7:47; 1 John 3:12).
67 BAGD, 611-12; J. Schneider, TDNT 5.739-40.
68 This is the overwhelming consensus of the commentators. But remarkably, there are still
one or two who view xa<rin causally, ignoring in our judgment the force of paraba<sewn: P.
"transgression": "the Law was added because of sin (Gal. 3,19)" (p. 105); M. C. Tenney
(Galatians: The Charter of Christian Liberty [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950] 126), and, most
credibly, D. J. Lull ("‘The Law was our Pedagogue’: A Study in Galatians 3:10-25," JBL 105
 482-85). Lull's Achilles' heel is his statement that Rom 5:20 could "lend support to the
view that Gal 3:19 means that the Mosaic Law was given to deal with `the transgressions which
GALATIANS 3:19-20 237
and reason is often adduced to show this, viz., Paul's statements in Rom
5:13, 20; 7:7ff.; 8:3, which demonstrate that the law not only identified sin
as sin, but even became a weapon to promote sin.69 I cannot adopt this
second argument in its entirety, however, for it implies that Paul's some-
times enigmatic statements in Galatians would be clearly understood by his
audience in the light of another (and later!) epistle which they did not
possess. It is far easier to posit development between Galatians and Romans
as regards Paul's thinking and articulation on the issue at hand. In this, I
agree with Hubner.70 After all, it does seem methodologically improper to
assume, on the one hand, that Paul could not have refined his views and, on
the other hand, that the later statements (in Romans) can be conveniently
poured, in all their clarity and without regard to date or audience, into the
more embryonic statements of an earlier epistle. Those who take such an
approach would be on surer ground if Romans had been written first.71
In broad principle, then, I agree with Hubner. But in practice, I believe
his view backfires right here. Even if we take for granted the almost universal
agreement that xa<rin in v. 19 is prospective, the real debate is whether Paul
is thinking of the law's function of identifying sin as transgression or whether
he views the law as provoking sin. That many, if not most, commentators take
the second option is hardly surprising.72 After all, with the clear statements
in Romans at hand to the same effect,73 it is difficult to resist the temptation
of seeing provocation in Gal 3:19 as well. What is surprising, however, is
that Hubner belongs to this camp: "the purpose of the Law is thus to
provoke sinful deeds"!74 How is Hubner able to read provocation into the
rather enigmatic tw?n paraba<sewn xa<rin of v. 19 without glancing at
Romans? He seems to advance two arguments: (a) He does look to Romans,
but focuses on a verse which does not speak of provocation, only identifi-
cation ("the theologoumenon expressed in Romans 3.20, ‘knowledge of sin
occurs because of the Law, e]pi<gnwsij a[marti<aj; . . .' is not to be found
had occurred before this Law existed' " (p. 484), for it flounders at the feet of Paul's clear
statement in Rom 4:15—viz., there can be no transgression before the law existed.
69 So Schneider (TDNT 5.740): "The words tw?n paraba<sewn xa<rin are a crisp formu-
lation of what he says elsewhere ... about the Law and transgression."
70 Where I think Hubner has overstated his case is in thinking that Paul's argument in
Romans indicates a disjunctive development.
71 I am not here suggesting that we must a priori see theological development in Paul; nor
again—and it needs to be stressed—development to the extent and in the direction in which
Hubner takes it. Moreover, we would be on shaky ground to make too much of Pauline
development for as F. F. Bruce points out, after discussing the date of Galatians, "Even on this
early dating, Paul has been a Christian for at least fifteen years, and the main outlines of his
understanding of the gospel would have been as well defined by then as ever they were likely
to be" ("Galatian Problems: 4. The Date of the Epistle," BJRL 54  267).
72 Cf., e.g., F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
175; Betz, Galatians, 165.
73 Rom 5:13, 20; 7:7ff.; 8:3.
74 Hubner, Law in Paul's Thought, 26.
here!"). He then assumes that Gal 3:19 must be rendering a stronger
verdict.75 In other words, since Hubner's presupposition is that Paul tones
down in Romans the negative assessment of the law he
had made in
latians, it would be damaging to Hubner's thesis to find Paul in Romans
making a more negative assessment of the law than he did in Galatians. If
he can find a fairly bland statement in Romans (e.g., 3:20), then he can
argue—and does—that Gal 3:19 is far more damaging. (b) To be sure,
Hubner does touch on one of the "provocative" passages in Romans (5:20), but
he cavalierly dismisses its standard interpretation.76 We would, therefore,
argue that Hubner has read Romans into Galatians, but without giving due
In our approach, however, we find no compelling reason to see provoca-
tion in the seemingly enigmatic phrase "for the purpose of transgressions."
Paul may here simply mean "for the purpose of identifying transgressions"77
or he may have in mind "for the purpose of provoking transgressions." With-
out recourse to Romans, we simply cannot tell which of these two options
he must mean here. I doubt that the Galatians had any better feel for it
either. It is, in fact, quite possible that Paul is ambiguous here because he
did not have a precise idea himself. This is not to say that his meaning was
up for grabs (for it certainly had to rest somewhere between the two options
of identity and provocation). But his elliptical wording may simply reflect
the fact that he had not yet sharpened his thinking beyond this initial,
broad statement. If this hypothesis is correct (though admittedly we have
not at all demonstrated this), then (1) we can see development between
Galatians and Romans, but the development, once again, is in the direction
of more refined articulation, not contradiction;78 (2) the development be-
tween these two epistles certainly is not going the route Hubner believes;
as I see it, Romans moves in both directions concerning the law--i.e., it
speaks more positively of the law and more negatively.79
One final note on tw?n paraba<sewn xa<rin is in order. Paul's assessment
of the law here is in stark contrast to the Judaism of his day.80 Rather than
restraining sin, the law revealed it (and perhaps provoked it). In what sense,
then, is this phrase any kind of an answer to the opening question, "why
then the law?" Again, pointing back to vv. 15-18 as the "prompt" for the
77 In spite of the objections of Meyer (Galatians, 171-72).
78 It must be stressed that I can find no essential disharmony between the enigmatic,
generalizing statement of Gal 3:19 and the finely-tuned statements in Romans, for in Romans
Paul affirms both that the law brings knowledge of sin and that it is used to provoke sin.
79 Paul in Romans 7, in particular, makes very glowing comments side-by-side with highly
critical comments. Space does not permit an interaction with Raisanen here, but suffice it to
say that whereas Raisanen sees contradictions within one epistle, I see different emphases, as
well as multidirectional development, between Galatians and Romans.
80 Cf. the references in Betz, Galatians, 165.
GALATIANS 3:19-20 239
question, we can see the role the law was intended to play in Heilsgeschichte.
Paul had argued that faith justifies—and hence the Abrahamic covenant
was all that was necessary in the OT soteriological scheme. Why then the
law? The force of the answer seems to be—in light of Paul's soteriologically
restricted discussion (he is not speaking theocratically)—that it was given
to remind/warn the people that a works-righteousness was thoroughly in-
adequate, for the law constantly labeled (at least) sin as transgressions,
dismantling any pretense of salvation by works. In other words, the sote-
riological purpose of the law was to point to the gravity of sin and the
inadequacy of the sinner. If our reconstruction of Paul's meaning here is
correct, then Sanders' thesis that Paul did not view the law as impossible
to obey8l is severely damaged.82
3. a@xrij ou$ to> spe<rma &$ e]ph<ggeltai
We have already touched on this clause with reference to the passive
voice of e]ph<ggeltai, as well as the implied agent of the promise being God.
Happily, the meaning of this clause is rather straightforward in comparison
with the rest of vv. 19-20. The seed, obviously, is Christ (cf. v. 16).83 More
than this may be implied, however, for Paul concludes the chapter by
pointing out that those who believe in Christ become heirs of the promise
and are, by virtue of their union with him, also "the seed of Abraham" (v.
29). Hence, the concept of corporate solidarity with the specifically Pauline
application of the "body of Christ" motif is perhaps seen in "seed" form
The real issue in this clause has to do with the force of "until." That is,
does Paul mean that the law served a purpose until the Messiah came and
thus, with his advent, was no longer necessary in the soteriological scheme
of things?84 Or does he mean that the law's task of pointing out sin would
have no corresponding positive soteriological value until the Messiah ar-
rived on the scene (which would imply its continued validity)?85 It is our
understanding that the first view is to be understood, viz., that Paul meant
that the law was in some sense abrogated with respect to the community of
believers (cf. Rom 10:4). There are two considerations which lead us in this
81 Paul, the Law and the Jewish People, 43-44 and passim.
82 Our critique of Sanders on his view that Paul did not consider the law as impossible to
obey is not new (see especially Schreiner, "Paul and Perfect Obedience to the Law," 245-78).
What is new, however, is the introduction of Gal 3:19 as bearing directly on the question.
83 N. A. Dahl ("Widerspruche in der Bibel, ein altes hermeneutisches Problem," ST 25
 14) argues that this clause is reminiscent of Gen 49:10.
84 This is the standard view found in the commentaries.
85 Such is the view, more or less, of Cranfield, Cosgrove, Calvin, et al.
(1) There is some evidence of an early Jewish doctrine that when the
Messiah came, the law would end.86 Baeck writes that "if the ‘Days of the
Messiah’ have commenced, those of the Torah came to their close. On the
other hand, if the Law, the Torah, still retained its validity, it was pro-
claimed thereby that the Messiah had not yet arrived."87 This point could
be overstated however. Bruce soberly cautions that "the question of Paul's
earlier instruction on this subject is of minor importance: the logic. which
impelled him to the conviction that Christ had displaced the Torah was the
logic of his Damascus-road conversion."88 At the same time, since Paul
seems to be arguing here with his Judaizing opponents, it is possible that
he meant to employ an argument which was drawn from their traditions.
Either way, it seems probable that the apostle was arguing that the law was,
in some sense, put away.
(2) Internally, this is one in a series of temporal markers in 3:15-4:7 to
indicate the limited duration of the law (note vv. 17, 23, 24-25, et al.). It
would be difficult to imagine Paul using such strong language if he meant
less than abrogation. Nevertheless, if Paul is here arguing that the law is
now abolished, we would be rash to think that he is speaking in absolute
terms, for, as Schreiner points out, "Certain texts in Paul suggest that since
the coming of Christ the law is now abolished (Gal. 3.15-4.7; Rom. 6.14;
7.1-6; 10.4; 2 Cor. 3.4-18 . . . ). On the other hand, Paul also speaks
positively about fulfilling the law (Gal. 5.14; 1 Cor. 7.19;
8.4; 13.8-10)."89 Such Pauline tensions cannot be eliminated by appealing
exclusively either to the "abolition" texts or to the "fulfillment" texts (unless
we adopt Raisanen's view of internal contradictions in Paul!). But since a
careful nuancing of Paul's meaning here is quite beyond the scope of this
paper, suffice it to say that Paul seems to regard the law in some sense to be
4. diatagei>j di ] a]gge<lwn
It would not be too great an exaggeration to say that this clause is the
kingpin in Hubner's entire argument about disjunctive development be-
tween Galatians and Romans. His view rests on several assumptions: (1)
that "the emphasis lies plainly on God's lack of involvement in the event of the
86 For a thorough treatment of the subject, see W. D. Davies, Torah in the Messianic Age and/or
the Age to Come (Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1952). Cf. also Schoeps, Paul The
Theology of the Apostle, 171f1: Apparently, the Targumim present a different tradition, viz., that
the Messiah would establish the law (see
the Targums," 22-26).
87 L. Baeck, "The Faith of Paul," JJS 3 (1952) 106.
88 Bruce, Galatians, 176.
89 T. R. Schreiner, "The Abolition and Fulfillment of the Law in Paul," JSNT 35 (1989)
47. Schreiner's article (pp. 47-74) is quite helpful both in canvassing current approaches to
the problem and in offering another solution. His view entails its own set of problems, however,
though they are much less severe than the problems involved in the other views.
GALATIANS 3:19-20 241
Law-giving";90 (2) that dia< here must have the force of u[po<, making the
angels the originators of the law; (3) that "the angels are now to be un-
derstood as demonic beings";91 (4) that the implied agent of npoasttOtl is
different from the agent of e]ph<ggeltai;92 and (5) that Paul has a total
disregard not only for his former religion, but also for its sacred book, the
OT, for he must jettison as false not only all of OT revelation but also all
of OT history.93 We will attempt to answer these arguments seriatim.
(1) We have already argued that though God is not explicitly mentioned
in this text, he must be the implied agent of e]ph<ggeltai, as even Hubner
would admit, and hence, the unspecified agent of prosete<qh.
(2) Although it is possible for dia< (which normally expresses intermedi-
ate agency) to bear the nuance usually reserved for u[po<,94 such a case is
rare. Hubner is clearly involved in question-begging here. Further, if Paul
had wanted to express this idea clearly, why did he not use u[po<—the far
more natural choice for ultimate agency?
(3) For the idea that the angels in view are demonic beings, Hubner is
relying on two pillars: (a) the gnostic demiurge idea and (b) the interpre-
tation that Paul, in referring to the "elementary things of the world" (4:3,
9), has these demonic beings in mind. The first pillar can be dismissed quite
readily since it has yet to be demonstrated that gnosticism antedated Chris-
tianity;95 clearly, this approach then is another instance of petitio principii.
The second pillar seems to partake of the first one, to some degree. However,
it bears the weight better, for it is not dependent on gnosticism for its
strength. Nevertheless, the equation is highly questionable and although
90 Hubner, Law in Paul's Thought, 127.
92 Hubner's justification is as follows (Law in Paul's Thought, 28): "Since however Paul, as is
well known, does at times overload what he says as to content, and as we sometimes find in
his statements an accumulation of perspectives, we must in this concrete instance allow for
various intentions finding their linguistic expression in abrupt juxtaposition to each other. Of
course Paul, in dictating, did not consciously wish to switch from one intention or purpose to
another, but we may—and must—ask what the presuppositions were behind the formulation of
individual components of a sentence in any instance."
93 Hubner also gives another argument, which he considers his trump card (Law in Paul's
Thought, 28-29): "The main justification for our line of argument is however the question in
verse 21a, which may perhaps be paraphrased as follows: if the Law was added to the promises
of God to provoke sinful deeds, does not the angelic Law therefore stand opposed to the divine
promises? This question at once becomes comprehensible and indeed even necessary if our
exegesis so far is correct." There is no need to deal with this specific argument for (1) we have
already demonstrated the great probability that the implied agent of prosete<qh is God and
(2) as Hubner admits, v. 21a is more a result of his exegesis than a proof of it; hence if we can
demonstrate that his "exegesis so far" is incorrect, then nothing else needs to be said on the
94 BAGD, 180 (§IIL2.b).
95 Cf. E. M. Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey of Proposed Evidences (2d ed.;
some good scholars have argued the case,96 an equally impressive case (in
my mind, much better) can be made against the connection.97 In any case,
even if such an identification were assumed, it would still not prove that
wicked angels are in view in 3:19. Positively, we can speak of the well-worn
Jewish tradition of good angels attending the giving of the law as antedat-
ing Christianity (cf. in the NT Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2).98 Since Paul has already
made use of rabbinic arguments in this chapter (e.g., "seed" not "seeds" in
v. 16; and perhaps the Messiah-law motif earlier in this verse), it is almost
inconceivable that he could be thinking of anything else with his expression
"ordained through angels."
(4) We have already dealt with Hubner's argument about the different
agents of the first two verbs of this verse. We can add here, however, two
further points: (a) as we mentioned earlier, Paul's argument in Galatians
is well-structured (as Betz and Hall have ably pointed out); one stands on
rather tenuous ground, then, to suggest that in the critical section over the
law's purpose, Paul got sloppy in his thinking, let his emotions overrule his
debate skills, or did not bother to check his amanuensis' work; (b) in my
mind, Hubner's argument here is so weak that it in effect is something of
a backdoor admission that he has lost his case. If Hubner really wanted to
press the idea that Paul's syntactical skills were this shoddy,99 then a Pandora's
box is opened for virtually any passage with which one has a disagreement.100
(5) Finally, the larger question of Paul's view of the OT in general comes
into focus. Though Paul argues strongly for the termination of the law, he
never does so by treating the OT as less than the Word of God. Throughout
his epistles he can freely interchange "God says" with "Scripture says,"
"he/it says," even "Moses says." There is no hint that he treated—either in
Galatians or elsewhere—the OT as less than the very Word of God. In fact,
even in the immediate context, Paul appeals to "the scripture" (v. 22). All
of this is to say that Paul must have agreed with the OT teaching that the
law was given by God. He certainly holds forth this understanding else-
where (cf. Rom 7)—and such an elementary understanding could hardly
96 Most notably, B. Reicke, "The Law and this World according to Paul: Some Thoughts
concerning Gal 4[:]1-11," JBL 70 (1951) 259-76.
97 Cf. A. J. Bandstra, The Law and the Elements of the World: An Exegetical Study in Aspects of
Paul's Teaching (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1964) 149-68; L. L. Belleville, ’Under Law': Structural
Analysis and the Pauline Concept of Law in Galatians 3.21-4.11," JSNT 26 (1986) 64-69.
98 T. Callan, "Pauline Midrash: The Exegetical Background of Gal 3:19b," JBL 99 (1980)
99 Significantly, Hubner gives no references when he argues that "Paul, as is well known,
does at times overload what he says as to content" (Law in Paul's Thought, 28). It seems to be
a convenient scapegoat to charge the biblical author with saying something he did not mean
to say at the very point where one's exegesis hangs in the balance. Hermeneutics loses all
objectivity when we choose to play the exegetical "game" our way and change the rules at our
100 Similar, though much less extreme, is Cranfield's argument against abrogation of the
GALATIANS 3:19-20 243
be due to years of reflection and "development" from Galatians to Romans.
It was his starting presupposition—which he had as a Jew and retained as
5. e]n xeiri> mesi<tou
The last phrase in v. 19 is now almost universally recognized as referring
to Moses. If it had not been for Origen's influence on the link of this text
with 1 Tim 2:5 (where mesi<thj is also used), few would have ever enter-
tained the thought that the intermediary mentioned here is Christ. The real
issue here, in my mind, is whether e]n xeiri< is to be taken literally (and thus
referring to Moses' descent from
his hands) or figuratively (with the idea of "by means of"). Though Callan
takes great pains to argue for the literal sense,101 such a view is self-
destructive: if Paul is arguing that the angels were more than "official
eyewitnesses" (as diatagei<j most certainly implies),102 then he is telling us
that they functioned as perhaps some kind of go-between between Moses
and YHWH in the giving of the law. If so, then Paul cannot be thinking of
the giving of the ten commandments primarily because there was direct
contact between Moses and YHWH on that occasion.
To sum up our understanding of Gal 3:19: the purpose of the law with
regard to soteriology was a negative one: it was added (by God) in order
to identify (and provoke?) sins as transgressions. But the law's function was
only for a season; it would be abrogated (in some sense) when the Messiah
appeared. Further, it was necessarily of inferior status to the promise for the
bulk of it was administered through angels as God's representatives and
through them to an intermediary. The law, therefore, is inferior to the
promise (and, hence, to faith-righteousness) because of its temporary du-
ration, its negative soteriological function, and its indirect relation to God.
In all this, there is not a hint that Paul is condemning the law; he is simply
speaking of its limited "glory" (cf. 2 Corinthians 3!).
6. o[ de> mesi<thj e[no>j ou]k e@stin, o[ de> qeo>j ei$j e]stin
We can only touch on v. 20 here. And certainly we will not make a
positive contribution to the meaning of the text. Nevertheless, three things
can be said at the outset: (1) v. 19 is the real crux for the purpose of the law;
(2) most of the 300 or so interpretations of this verse can be tossed once a
particular view of v. 19 is adopted—hence, v. 19 does function as a sort of
"quality control" over v. 20; (3) our few suggestions will be merely negative
observations, in hopes of spurring someone else on to a proper interpreta-
tion of this text.
101 Callan, "The Law and the Mediator," 177-95.
102 BAGD, 189.
T. D. Callan's dissertation contains the most complete survey of views on
v. 20 available (though not published). We will therefore refer the reader
to that volume for a detailed treatment. For our purposes, we simply wish
to point out a few tension points which need to be addressed for a proper
exegesis of this text. (1) Most exegetes today treat both e[no<j and ei$j as
indicating numerical "oneness" (as opposed to moral or spiritual oneness).
The argument generally is that since e[no<j is numerical, ei$j must be as well.
Yet there is the possibility that Paul is thinking of "one God" in the same
way he thought of "one seed"—i.e., as primarily indicating an individual,
but encompassing something of a universal scope as well (it is to be noted
that the other references to God being one in Paul seem to imply his
universal reign over Jew and Gentile).103 (2) The consistency with which
exegetes face "one" is quietly dropped when they consider "intermediary."
Again, most would regard mesi<thj in v. 19 as referring to Moses, while in
v. 20 it becomes generic. What seems most compelling against this view,
however, is that the article is used with the word in v. 20 (after an anar-
throus first-mention of the term in 19), suggesting, prima facie, that Paul is
speaking anaphorically. In any event, I have not found any authors to be
consistent about both "one" and "intermediary." Perhaps that very tension
is a clue to Paul's meaning here. (3) Finally, "but God is one" in v. 20b is,
by all accounts, the real problem in this text. Why does Paul add this? How
does it in any way contribute to his argument? At first blush, one might feel
that this was merely a rabbinic genuflection on his part, since he just wrote
"an intermediary is not of one." But he surely is doing something more than
that here. Such a "solution" is hardly better than to treat v. 20b as a scribal
gloss! Nevertheless, in light of Paul's rabbinic approach already seen in this
chapter, it seems that there may be something of the same thing going on
here. More than likely, it is a subtle argument which has been lost to us.
Yet, I am inclined to think that a part of his argument has to do with the
Shema (Deut 6:4ff.). It may be significant that Paul uses the very soul of the
Pentateuch (Torah), in a highly rhetorical and subtly nuanced sort of way,
to point to something greater than the Torah itself; the affirmation that God
is one somehow spells out the inferiority of the law with its own hand!
In this study we have attempted to interact with current scholarship over
the meaning of Gal 3:19-20. As was soon obvious, our primary bone of
contention was with Hans Hubner. Yet, our exegesis touched on issues
raised also by E. P. Sanders, H. Raisanen, C. E. B. Cranfield, et al. With
reference to these scholars, we are now in a position to suggest four tentative
conclusions derived from our exegesis of Gal 3:19-20. These four "conclu-
sions" are, at this stage, to be regarded as little more than hypotheses which
103 C. H. Giblin, "Three Monotheistic Texts," CBQ 37 (1975) 527-47.
GALATIANS 3:19-20 345
need to be tested more exhaustively by a comprehensive exegesis of the
corpus Paulinum:104 (1) there seem to be traces of theological development
between Galatians and Romans, though not at all in the direction (nor
extent) which Hubner believes it is going—that is to say, Romans is a
refinement and articulation of the seminal thought of Galatians, but is not
in conflict with Galatians; (2) Paul presents a coherent picture (contra
Raisanen), though not one which is always easy to grasp; (3) Paul did view
the law as impossible to obey (contra Sanders) and as something brought in
precisely to cause the nation to reflect on the total inadequacy of a works-
righteousness; and (4) for the believer at least (cf. Rom 10:4; 1 Tim 1:9), the
law in some sense has apparently been done away by the coming of the
Messiah (contra Cranfield, Cosgrove).
104 Along these lines, see the two very recent studies by Douglas Moo ("The Law of Moses
or the Law of Christ," unpublished paper read at the annual meeting of the Evangelical
Theological Society, December 1987, at Gordon-Conwell Seminary) and Schreiner ("The
Abolition and Fulfillment of the Law in Paul," 47-74).
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