Westminster Theological Journal 52 (1990) 225-245.

        Copyright © 1990 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   



              FOR PAUL'S VIEW OF THE LAW*


                                        DANIEL B. WALLACE


                                               I. Introduction


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

this issue."5


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

[1975] 260).

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; Oslo: Universitetsforleget, 1977) 132-33.

5 J. Fischer, "Paul in His Jewish Context," EvQ 57 (1985) 211. Cf. also F. Prat, The Theology

of Saint Paul (Westminster, MD: Newman, 1956) 1.182: "The opinions of St Paul concerning

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," Gratz College Annual of Jewish Studies 3 [1974] 49).

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 [1985] 1-38), K. T. Cooper ("Paul and Rabbinic Theology: A

Review Article," WTJ 44 [1982] 123-39), D. H. King ("Paul and the Tannaim: A Study in

Galatians," WTJ 45 [1983] 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 [1985] 245-78), and

S. Westerholm ("Torah, Nomos, and Law: A Question of ‘Meaning,’" SR 15 [1986] 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 [1982] 65-74) and, though more

reservedly, J. M. G. Barclay ("Paul and the Law," 5-15).

10 Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978.

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

Pauline corpus, though the heaviest concentration is in Romans and Ga-

latians. This is quite natural: Paul uses no<moj more in Romans and Ga-

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-


13 Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr. The edition used for this paper is that of Fortress Press (Phil-

adelphia, 1986).

14 Barclay, "Paul and the Law," 9.

15 Ibid.

16 Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.

17 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Though originally his D.Phil. thesis at

Oxford in 1984, this study nevertheless builds significantly on both volumes by Sanders.

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, "St. Paul and the Law," SJT 17 (1964) 60.

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.; Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1973), ad loc.. More than likely this

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 Churches of Galatia [Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979] 171 n. 78).

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 [1978]

147). Cf. his outline of the relevant sections in Galatians (p. 148). For similar constructs, cf.

W E. Hull, "A Teaching Outline of Galatians," RevExp 55 (1973) 430; P. R. Jones, "Exegesis

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-

4:11 [SBLDS 56; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983] 225). So also is H. C. Schenck's view that in

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 St. Paul [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964] 83-86;

differently, Cranfield, "St. Paul and the Law," 54-65, and Cosgrove, "The Mosaic Law

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-

mistic exegesis.


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 [1984] 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; Cambridge: Harvard, 1956) 310 (§1265).

So also B. L. Gildersleeve, Syntax of Classical Greek from Homer to Demosthenes (New York:

American, 1900) 59 (§130); A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the

Light of Historical Research (4th ed.; Nashville: Broadman, 1934) 736.

36 So E. D. Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (ICC;

Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1921) 187.

37 C. J. Ellicott, A Commentary, Critical and Grammatical on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

(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


39 Burton, Galatians, 187.

40 Burton (ibid.) lists several places where the idea of ti< ou#n is "what then" (Rom 3:1; 4:1;

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 Saint Paul (1.183 n. 1). For our rejection of the trans-

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 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

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 [1975] 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 [1986] 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 ("St. Paul and the Law," 62), and

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.

dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, 1975]) points out that (1) although the

"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 with Israel. Whatever Paul

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.; Gottingen: Vanden-

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;

Leiden: Brill, 1976] 174-97).

51 Eshbaugh, "Papyrus 46," 63.

52 Burton, Galatians, 188.

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.

59 Ibid.

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, "The Current State of Targumic Studies," BTB 4 (1974) 22-24; M.

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.

Crowley ("Justification by Faith in St Paul," Scr 18 [1966] 97-111), who confuses "sin" with

"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

[1986] 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 [1972] 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 Ga-

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


75 Ibid.

76 Ibid.

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

[1971] 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; Rom. 2.25f1; 3.31;

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 Pereira, "The Galatian Controversy in the Light of

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.

91 Ibid.

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.;

Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983); and R. McL. Wilson, Gnosis and the New Testament (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1968).



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

law ("St Paul and the Law," 62).

                                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

a Christian.


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 Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments in

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!


7. Conclusion

            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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